01 June 2010

to the Boo on his 5th birthday

Dear Boo,

You are turning 5 today.  It has been quite the year, one that has gone on forever, yet flown by all the same.  As a parent more experienced then I once said, with children “the days are long, but the years are short.”

And this year, where to even begin...  We kicked off your “4 birthday” at the Splash Pad, running with your crew.  You were surrounded by love as both Nana AND Grandma Ellen were there to celebrate with you.

Then life got crazy. 

You lived in 6 different houses in 5 different cities (and 2 different countries on opposite sides of the planet) not counting a week camped out on the floor of a brownstone in Brooklyn, NY. 

You played in the volcanic sand of the Amalfi Coast, rode the carousel in Florence and chased peacocks in Rome.  You witnessed your Uncle Chewie marry your Aunt Lydia while being distracted from disrupting the ceremony by Uncle Strafe.  You made friends in Israel while playing with a crab on a beach surrounded by excavations going back through several millennia and at least 4 different civilizations.  Then slept for over 10 hours on the plane ride home, a skill that would serve you well for our many plane rides to come. 

You said goodbye to our parrot Violet, the only parrot we had that didn’t bite you, as she found a new family.  You flew to Canada and soaked up some time with your “sisters,” Courtney and Sarah, while visiting with the crazy clan that is the Clarks. You traveled across the United States in an RV with mommy and daddy, Diego, Harley and Daisy and were so happy to be “camping”.   You made pizza with Aunt Lydia and Nana while they “kept an eye on” you as mommy and daddy took care of business up and down the Atlantic Seaboard. 

Then you smooched Harley goodbye, the big, furry ball of golden retriever love who you had been snuggling up to, climbing on top of and generally mauling since you were able to move on your own. 

Then you did the same to your Nana, your constant source of love and adoration since the moment you were born.  But you were still in the middle of our “movin’” adventure and were not too fazed, but your Nana felt the separation keenly.

You rode the subway in New York like a native and got a kick out of running through Washington Square Park as if you didn’t have a care in the world.  And finally, our visas came through and we were on a plane to South Africa.  Only we had to overnight in Dubai to get here...

Now you swim with penguins and have an eagle eye for spotting the zebra on Table Mountain. You’ve become a connoisseur of Cape Town playgrounds and pick up new friends every time we go, no matter which we go to.  You play with children who only speak Afrikaans or Xhosa or German and don’t bat at eye at the language “barrier.” 

You have witnessed a lion lolling with his lioness in the wild and are on intimate terms with the dominant male behavior of gemsbok, springbok and wildebeest.  You have found a haven of predictability in a tiny Montessori preschool on the grounds of a children’s home.  And the day is not complete unless we get out and “do something fun” - Boo-speak for water-taxi rides, frozen yogurt runs, and lots of time in the sand.

You miss your Nana, and your Harley-Barley, and your “best friends” in Arizona, but you “love South Africa” and you want to know if we love it too.

So, baby, it’s been a year.  We’ve been through a lot and it hasn’t all been sunshine and legos.  But you have never failed to amaze us at your enthusiasm for what the next day will bring and your generosity with hugs and kisses and orders about what to do next.  You make our world a bigger and better place and we’re thrilled to be on this journey with you.

Looking forward to another year of living out loud with our Boo!  Though, hopefully, with a slightly more stable home base. 

Much love, Mommy and Daddy

12 April 2010

back at the telescope again....

since the whole reason for our antipodal adventure was my taking a job working at the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), i am way overdue on writing a blog post about it. SALT itself is located at the SAAO site in Sutherland which is about 350 km from cape town and takes a bit under 4 hours to drive.

View Larger Map

the drive to sutherland is pretty spectacular. you pass through the winelands between stellenbosch and paarl, go through the impressive du toits kloof pass and a 4 km long tunnel, pass through the winelands of the breede and hex river valleys, and the pop up onto the high desert of the karoo. the place with the covered parking mentioned in the previous post is in touws rivier and is the designated stop-over point for all SAAO transport going to/from sutherland (we have a fuel account there).

the hostel at the SAAO site gets some pretty killer sunsets when it's clear. it's below the ridge where the telescopes are and also has a good view of SALT. the observatory also has a resident herd of springbok that do a good job of keeping the surrounding veld nicely manicured. there are also a lot of dassies lurking around the site and verreaux's black eagles that keep the dassie population in check. the aerial combat that the eagles sometimes perform in the evening is pretty fun to watch, though hard to capture photographically.

27 March 2010

the Karoo part....

We've been back from our first South African road trip for almost a month and I realize that if I don't start getting some photos up this whole "blog for the nanas" is just gonna go by the wayside, snazzy title and all... You would think with as much as I talk that blogging would be a natural outlet, but it appears to be just one more thing I 'have to' do. Trying to change that mindset. We'll see...can try to switch from my Jan Ullrich approach (i.e. all or nothing, big gear or no gear) and take a page from Lance Armstrong's book (small gear, high reps) and see if I can't get up a few pictures a day.

So obligatory Boo photo for the nanas:

The Boo ready to get this show on the road...FINALLY! (He was ready hours before we were and if you know the Boo you will know that patience is something he will learn in the future.)

So our destination was the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park where South Africa borders Botswana and Namibia.  I'll have to recreate our route in Google Maps, but if I stop and do that now, you'll never see this post.  Anyways, there are 2 ways to get there, go north and then cut east, or go east and then head north.  Diagonal was not an option and since we were planning to camp our first night on the road and the northern route was boasting temps in the 40's C (bloody hot!!) well... on our first day we went east in to the Great Karoo.

There is much to say about this amazing space that takes up 40% of South Africa's geography.  And, yes, this is where Tim spends his time when "at the telescope."  But for now let's suffice to say that:

A)  Parts of the Karoo look (and according to Tim, smell) a lot like New Mexico:

B) The travel amenities along the highway are waaaayyyy better then roadtripping in Arizona!  How come I have traveled to almost every corner of the great (hot) state of AZ and never had the option of covered parking when stopping in 110 degree F heat...yet our first stop on our first SA road trip - covered parking:

After way fewer hours of driving then we initially anticipated (I love traveling in kilometres, makes the trip seem to fly by...) we arrive at Karoo National Park. We had been tipped off by the youngest daughter of our favorite Finnish family that the campground had resident tortoises and within minutes of arriving we were delighted to see at least 5 really large ones just chomping away at the grass.

We had to educate the Boo on how to and how not to approach these large creatures (running at them with arms flailing while whooping fell in to the "how not to" category...)  The Boo was mightily entertained following them around while we set up camp.  It seems these tortoises are quite attracted to anything that is bright green, such as the Boo's Crocs.  The Boo wasn't so sure he appreciated being the pursuee and not the pursuer:

A very good start to our first SA road trip and a very happy Boo who can't get enough camping.

13 February 2010

on the waterfront

So my laptop has been in the shop for last 3 weeks.  Sorry for the disappearance.

If you've been reading along, you'll know we spend a lot of time at the V & A Waterfront here in Cape Town ("V & A" = Victoria and Albert).  It is a cool place, kinda touristy with an upscale mall and pricier then average restaurants.  But is has a nice vibe, with live music, street performers and it's still a working harbor (or harbour...still can't quite adopt the Brit-style spelling.)  The Two Oceans Aquarium is located here.

We ride on rollercoasters here:

The Boo pretends to be Batman on the Batman motorcycle on the carousel here:

We eat popcorn while riding the water taxi here:

We get chased in said water taxi by Cape Fur Seals here:

Today I was invited to a special presentation by a local women's group and it took place.... yep, you guessed it...on the Waterfront.  Since we only have one vehicle we decided to turn my meeting in to a family outing.  The Boo and daddy went to the Two Oceans Aquarium, since we are now members (woo hoo, thanks Nana!), while I went to the meeting. 

At noon we reconvened and decided to cruise over to Ferryman's, a pub on the waterfront with Bosun's Bitter on tap and a small playground that's a favorite Boo haunt.  The intention was to have lunch, let the Boo play and then get on with our day.  At 6pm...well, you guessed it...we were still there (sound familiar?!?) 

Somewhere around 1 or 1:30, a beautiful pale blonde showed up who could hold her own with the rampaging boys and our little man was smitten.

They played under the play structure:

He brought her flowers:

She returned the sentiment:

They played and played for a solid 5 hours.  The bushes surrounding the play area became steadily denuded of flowers as they gifted each other.  I have no idea what her name was as we were at no time invited in to the relationship.  We left well after 6pm and she was still there and the Boo was sad.  But he passed out in the car and his face was happy.

23 January 2010

save a frog, save yourself

As I've mentioned before, the Boo, like his mother, is not real thrilled to do the same thing everyday no matter how much he enjoys it. Even though he loves his preschool, he occasionally needs a mid-week break. On Tuesday this week, I came home from my morning workout ready to rush him off to school, but instead of jumping in the car, he  asked to stay home and play with me. Knowing full well the time is fast approaching when he won't want to hang out with me and since I had no set appointments for the day, I figured we could get out and about and have a little fun. 

The Boo and I made a deal (if you know the Boo, you know he arranges his life via "deals"). If he would come with me and not fuss while I took my defective laptop to the iStore (SA version of the Apple Store) to get it serviced, then I would take him to the Two Oceans Aquarium (conveniently located at the Waterfront just a few blocks from the iStore) for some fishy fun. The Boo said "deal" and we were off. The Boo was on his best behavior and the iStore was remarkably efficient, so with a quick stop for frozen yogurt we were soon on our way to the aquarium. My mom and Aunt Sharon had given us some money for Christmas, so we splurged and purchased memberships for each of us so that we could enjoy the aquarium at our leisure throughout the year.  Thanks Mom and Auntie Sharon!!


The Two Oceans Aquarium is one of the cooler aquariums I've been to. It has a kelp forest that has such realistic wave action that it makes me almost seasick upon first viewing, but eventually I get caught up in the hypnotic movements just as I do with real waves at the beach. The wave action is vital to keeping the kelp alive, so a healthy captive kelp forest is no mean feat (and there are only 2 kelp forest exhibits in the world). Kelp forests are common along the coast of the Cape peninsula and it is cool to get the underwater perspective here without freezing your butt off in the cold Atlantic.

 The "Two Oceans" theme refers to South Africa's unique coastal geography where the cold Atlantic Ocean meets the warm Indian Ocean. Since the water temperature, and therefore the aquatic life, varies so greatly between the oceans the various exhibits are separated accordingly. The Boo is a big fan of what he calls the "Nemo tank" in the Indian Ocean area:


There is a large predator exhibit with ragged-tooth sharks, rays, turtles and other aquatic predators. The first time we visited the aquarium, a couple of months ago, we got to see the sharks being handfed by divers. This was rather entertaining as the loggerhead turtle kept sneaking up on the divers, giving them a bit of nudge, trying to snag some of the sharks' food. This visit, we arrived just in time to see the general feed. Even the rambunctious Boo sat still long enough to see these normally slow-moving big fish display some serious speed when zeroing in on dinner.


As with so many of our experiences here in South Africa, the aquarium was quite kid-centric. There was an entire floor devoted to kids with craft tables, play areas, a puppet theatre AND a small snack bar with juice boxes for the munchkins and cappuccino for the parental crowd. Additionally, the stairway down to the kid floor was one big play structure. There's an additional play area in the main cafe too. The Boo is a toy and play aficionado and ate up these areas with a spoon.


The aquarium eventually closed for the day but by this time the Boo and I had moved out on to the deck of the cafe overlooking some of the docks. Just below us there were several dozen South African fur seals (aka Cape fur seals) basking in the sun with occasional barks, grunts and downright aggressive growls when passing seals got a bit too close. This is one of the great pleasures of life in South Africa, being able to plop yourself down and just observe wild animals in their "natural" habitat (to the extent that docks in the Victoria and Alfred basin of the Waterfront are "natural") for as long as they care to put up with you.

 The Boo showed very little patience with this activity when we first arrived almost three months ago, but since then we've had enough wildlife encounters that he is starting to get as fascinated with animal behavior as his parents. So we found a warm vantage point on the dock above the seals and settled in for a good hour of observation alternating between enjoying the show and debating the whys and hows of certain behavior. There was a mother seal with at least half a dozen pups who cuddled together with her on top:


The seal in the bottom of the above photo has piece of plastic or twine caught around his neck resulting in the conspicuous line in his fur. Of the 20+ seals we observed during this time at least 4 had similar attachments. These "nooses" are the result of litter, specifically packaging materials, washing in to the sea. The assistant director of the aquarium goes in to the water every day to cut the "nooses" off as many seals as possible, but it's a delicate process as these are large wild animals not interested in sitting still for the procedure. Without removal, the material becomes embedded in the seal's skin leading to an open wound that often gets infected and leads to an early death. It's a stark reminder of how human pollution and behavior (the aquarium is trying to educate the public to make sure they cut the ties on packaging material to limit the potential threats) have such negative impacts on the wild animals with whom we share the planet (and is all this packaging truly necessary?)

 OK, off the soapbox and back to animal behavior....the seals on the deck seemed to get a bit ornery when a newcomer would get too close. This larger seal in the photo below seemed to actively goad the mother of the pups, though did not appear to be threatening the pups directly. The mom didn't seem too concerned with his intentions but eventually roused herself enough to tell him to get lost in no uncertain terms:

When they weren't jawing at each other, the seals seemed quite enthralled by the sun:

South Africa definitely has a way with water!

16 January 2010

a playground with Guinness on tap

Our kinda/sorta plan (our plans are always up for debate and Tim's brain generates more options then decisions, so we never know exactly what we are up to until it's already mostly complete) for today was to head out somewhere for lunch and then maybe hit the beach.  So when we were debating our lunch options the Boo piped in that he wanted to go to "that place we were at with those people and their mother."  Decoding the Boo-speak, we figured out he was referring to our last trip to Forries with Benne and Robin ("those people" ;) and Benne's mom, Janke, visiting from Holland.  Since Forries is one of our favorite pubs, who were we to deny the wishes of the 4-year old.

Forries, aka Forester's Arms, is an English-style pub that has been around since the late 1800's.  It has a wonderful, leafy beer garden and an entire section of it is given over to a playground and family area.  The Boo has always found cool kids to hang with here and the families attached to those kids have invariably been quite friendly.  Forries is about 5 minutes away and has Guinness on tap for about 20R (<$3).   The menu is extensive, the service is usually quite attentive (except when a big cricket match has just ended down the road in Newlands), and there is almost always a cricket or rugby game broadcast inside.  For those of you who know Tim, I think I just described his equivalent of nirvana!

We got there around 1:30 or so.  At 7pm our server, an engaging Zimbabwean, was asking us to pay up so that he could end his shift.  So much for the beach...

But it was a perfect afternoon outside under the trees, we chatted with each other, with those at the tables around us, with our friend Bruno when he showed up about 2/3 of the way in to our stay.  The Boo climbed, swung, twirled, slid and dug with a revolving cast of other kids for a solid 5 hours. I discovered a lovely drink called the rock shandy (the South African version is soda water, lemonade and a dash of Angostura bitters, delish!!) that kept me hydrated as I morphed in to the designated driver for the afternoon. We had nothing we had to do nor any place we had to be...so very relaxing...

I think all playgrounds should come with table service...and Guinness on tap!

09 January 2010

the scenic route

The weekend before Christmas we took the above road - Chapman's Peak Drive - to get to the below beach - Nordhoek.

I can't really explain in words what great rejuvenation I am gaining from being so near to so much ocean.  Due to the (amazing!!) geography of the peninsula, this beach is basically a wind funnel and consequently the sand is powdery soft.

At one point I just sank down in to that velvety sand and zoned out staring at the waves.  I actually achieved a state of calmness that I have only ever approached through guided meditation.  I was so zeroed in to my own consciousness that I was completely unaware of anything or anyone around me except the movement of the waves.

Fortunately, Tim was on the ball enough to keep a close eye on the Boo as they navigated the rocks, the tide pools, and the pounding surf.

Happy day...