Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Pros and Cons - going home

We'll be home soon. As in, we fly back this weekend. So we've been looking forward to some things:

Having our own room again. That's big.
Seeing our old friends, and especially the new baby in town
Our normal diet again with food that won't spoil within 48 hours.
Driving in our own car on the right hand side of the road
Get two of the kids in school, one starting for the first time, for some one on one time with JT
The kids haven't mentioned it particularly, but I'm sure they will be delighted to have the Wii-U again and access to all our movies.
We will have our own washer and dryer again - no more hand-washing five people's laundry!

The cut glass here means we get rainbows in our room every morning. Bye-bye rainbows.
We have to clean up after ourselves again
No one is making us breakfast and pre-prepared dinners will be much more expensive again
Leaving our new friends at church:
         Really, we were all gung ho about returning home until Sunday. Then they wished us a fond farewell over the pulpit and the entire Primary sang The Goodbye Song (the Hello song appropriately renamed) to us and ... yeah, we teared up. Bunch of folks invited us back. Great people we're going to miss.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

"Zoo" comparison

As of yesterday we have visited four of the many animal parks in the area: the Pretoria Zoo, the Johannesburg Zoo (yesterday), the Cheetah Center, and the Rhino and Lion Reserve.

Princess immediately tells me she liked the Cheetah Center best. "I wanted this [plush] baby cheetah and then I fell in love with it."

Four out of five Watsons, however, pick the Rhino and Lion Reserve. John-Thomas says "I want lion again. Zeeba. Ride in truck. Want cheetah again." Superstar, after much contemplation, initially voted for the Pretoria Zoo, then switches to the Rhino and Lion Reserve. "Because the lions. I also like it because I got [my plush lion] Fuzzy." Joy liked seeing the baby rhino and "because we got to see the animals in families and living together. It felt really loving and unifying." I liked having the fewest fences between me and the animals.

We are glad we went to each of them because they have their own strong points:

  • Pretoria Zoo has the most beautiful grounds, you can rent a golf cart to drive around, and they have the best collection of birds. 
  • The Joburg Zoo has the best collection of monkeys and apes and the best collection of South American animals. They also have slides, jungle gyms, and other playgrounds every few minutes' walk away (if you like that kind of thing).
  • The Ann van Dyk Cheetah Center had the most knowledgeable guides, you can get the closest to the cheetahs and wild dogs, and the best gift shop. They have separate tours for groups with small children (because they look like LUNCH to the cheetahs) to keep them safe and still show them around. They also have the most environmentally-friendly mission.
  • The Rhino and Lion Reserve is partway between a zoo and a nature reserve. They very cleverly put water and food next to the road so that animals congregate where they are easy to see. There are the fewest fences between you and the animals. Several people called it the poor man's safari - it's kinda like a safari, but you're guaranteed to see the animals and it costs 1/5 as much, in exchange for which you are on a more controlled environment.
Even though R&L has cheetahs and wild dogs, we came away very thankful we had already been to the cheetah center to see both of them and learn more about each. We are glad that we got to see so many different places - one just doesn't do it justice.

Friday, September 23, 2016

She lifts her gaze aloft

Honeydew Mazes

Just a bit NW from Johannesburg is the Honeydew Mazes. In Feb-Mar or so their big maze is a corn maze (or a maize maze) and the rest of the year they have a maze based on the five elements (fire, water, air, earth, and thought). It's a reed maze with five gardens, ten quiz/riddles, and a set of hidden toys scattered along its paths.

JT reaches for the clue - smell and guess the spice

Unlike most such mazes, the maze also has guides. We arrived just as they were closing the gates at 2:30 and, partly as a result, the normally helpful guides became exceptionally helpful in encouraging us to find the last pieces of the maze. Oh, we had plenty of opportunity to run around in circles and bump into dead ends, but at the end we had a guided tour. Which is probably about the right mix for a 2-2.5 mile long maze.

Superstar loves mazes of all kinds so being in one was a real treat.

Mind you, I couldn't tell one secret garden from another. They all had a water feature. The more barren one (right) might have been fire, but the quiz for that station was based on sound which ought to be in the air garden, and it also had a water feature.... so I'm still confused. Our new family picture on the right is in that maybe-fire garden, right next to the button you push to hear a big cat roar. (Ah, but which big cat is it?)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Along the Dassie Trail - Botanical Gardens

Here is the more natural beauty of the Botanical Gardens in Pretoria, which you can tell goes through several very different climate zones. We'll be heading back next week to see if a couple more weeks of spring bring out some more blossoms.

Our family at the Botanical Gardens

Our family is a sucker for waterfalls. They were the best part of Ithaca, NY's natural beauty and they are the best part of the Botanical Gardens' man-made artificial beauty. These are pictures of us, mostly at the waterfall.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A morning ritual

On the breakfast table are salt and pepper of course, some ketchup packets, and Worcestershire. And some strange bottle called "Peri peri sauce." What could that be, my curious children wondered. So one day we opened the bottle and everybody smelled it.

HOOWEE that'll wake you up in the morning! We all smelled it and agreed that was pungent stuff and we didn't care for it. Then the next morning JT asked to smell it again. *sniff* "Mmm. Yuck." The next morning he asked to smell it again, pronounced it Mmm-Yuck, and repeated it the next day and nearly every day since.

(If you can't hear the video very clearly, a translation is below the fold)

Image result for gerber picante sauceSince he was so interested, I asked one day if he'd like to taste it. Why yes, he would! So I put a little dribble on his plate. He dipped some bread into it, tasted it, and ... had no words for the experience he was having. He sure had some interesting faces for it, though!
So I looked it up. All the bottle admits to are the banal ingredients of vinegar, garlic, and chilies (and a few other things). What it neglects to mention is the Scoville rating of the variously-spelled piri piri chili or African bird's eye chili.

Poblano chilies are a meager 1000 Scoville. 
Jalepenos are 3500-5000, even without their tilde.
Tobasco sauce is 30,000-50,000.
Piri piri chilies clock in somewhere between 75,000 to 150,000 Scoville!

And I gave that to my toddler! I felt terrible.

In repentance, I asked him if he would like me to taste it. Why yes, he would! So I put a little dribble on my plate. I dipped some bread into it, took a bite, and enjoyed the feeling of clear sinuses. WOW! That's some good stuff! (For those wondering about my man card, I did not rush to the water but enjoyed the slow burn.)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Bug eyes at the botanical gardens

JT clearly likes movies that scare him just a little bit, like the cartoon Hobbit and Willow. He asks to watch them, but then later tells us he is scared of the bad guys. Or as he puts it, "Cared bug eyes!"

This was a prominent topic of conversation while we wandered the Dassie Trail of the Pretoria National Botanical Garden.

"Cared bug eyes!"
What bad guys are you scared of?
"In a movie. Gandaf."
Are you scared of the dragon? "Dagon say Raaaaar!"
Are you scared of the goblins? "Yes." Are you scared of the spiders? "Piders, yes!"
Do you want to watch The Hobbit again? "Yes!"

Well, JT has found a new bug eye, er, bad guy. This bad guy has bug eyes: ants.

A tree suitable for nesting
We loved wandering through the Botanical Gardens. They were beautiful. The day was exceptionally pleasant. We hope to go back again just before we go back home to see what new flowers have blossomed.

But going to the arboretum was a mistake. The arboretum is not a building or a covered structure - it's just a place where the trees are particularly good for building nests so you can hear the birds sing. It's also a place where the dirt has gathered into ant hills on the road.

My hero!
Ants COVER the ground. It's not quite an eat-Indiana-Jones level ant invasion, but there are a lot of em. JT sat down for a moment to examine the ants. He was suddenly covered in ants biting him. He held up his hand to us and you couldn't see his thumb for how thickly the ants were crawling. We brushed and batted them off, but more were climbing onto him (and us, I suppose).

We picked him up and made a run for it. We couldn't run far enough to get away from them because they were everywhere.

We did finally find a place where we hoped the ants were different and hadn't been alerted to eat him, set him down, took of his most of his clothing, and brushed the remaining ants off. He was grateful.

JT spent the rest of the walk telling us he was scared of bad guys and ants. Princess was also feeling ... antsy. I couldn't blame either one. When we sat down for a second, I kept my feet off the ground too to make sure more didn't join us. Joy was fascinated by the sideways-growing tree, so we got a picture of that.

I suppose we should have taken this as a warning
JT does still want to go back to the botanical gardens for another Dassie Trail walk. That was nice. But we won't be visiting the arboretum again!


This morning he pointed at a decorative statue of an Irish soldier in the breakfast room.
"Is it bug eye?"
No. He's a good guy.
"Oh. Fun joke."

Sunday, September 11, 2016

JT gives a review

We held family council today. I had been pondering King Benjamin's injunction in the Book of Mormon that a good parent will teach their children not to fight. It occurred to me that we do a good job of stopping fights and sometimes tell the kids to work things out themselves, but have never given much instruction on how to do that. So I decided Joy and I would role play a typical argument for the kids and they would help us resolve the problem.

"Fairly innocent, right?" Joy asks. "It's what happens every day at our house"

We started by explaining to the children that we were role-playing as brother and sister. Then I started fidgeting with a ball. Joy took it right out of my hands. I demanded it back. She refused. I said I was playing with it first. She said she was playing with it now. I called out, "MOM!" When no answer came, I stood up and tried to take the ball back. This meant, happily for me, that I got to put my arms around my wife and hug her close while pretending to try to get the ball, with our backs to the kids.

It was at this moment, that little John-Thomas let us know that we had gone too far in our play-acting. He cried. He screamed. He was terrified. He had never seen Mommy and Daddy act that way. Daddy was not being soft with Mommy! (he thought)

We stopped at once and tried to comfort him and reassure him that we were just playing and we loved each other very much. It took a LONG time.

"Poor kid."

The other kids got the point about how contention is harmful to everyone!  They worked with us to find places where we could have stopped the problem from escalating. We admonished them to go and do likewise. JT is fine now and trusts both of us to be loving and happy. Hope our family council didn't scar him too badly.

JT is our most tender, loving, cuddly kid. He has been giving both of us great big hugs, saying "I love you, Mom" or Dad as the case may be. He prays for each of us at the top of his lungs, "Thank you for DADDY!" or Mommy as the case may be. It's very important that this loving little boy feel safe.

UPDATE 9/12: Superstar woke up this morning disappointed. He told Joy that he was all ready to be a peacemaker and avoid contention ... only there was no contention to avoid! No means of proving his kindness and fortitude. Oh well, maybe tomorrow.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Overheard in Pretoria this week

"I watch a lot of couples, and I just think you two are the ideal of what a married couple in love ought to look like" - sister in our ward here
Our ward here is holding a special event for married couples, but since no one has said anything about babysitting, I doubt we're invited. That's what I thought. What I said was, "Well, that's the day they have the thing for married couples, but that's not us." I got a REALLY funny look on that one.
Tonight both our hosts and our neighbors asked Joy why we keep our kids inside so much. "They're never outside to play!" The reason is because our two year old likes throwing rocks into the fish pond and knocking over the statue, and if he can't go out when the other kids do he will scream and cry ... so no, they don't get to go out without supervision. But they do go out!
JT - Want watch Hobbit! Biwbo. Gandawf. DAGON! Bweave fiow! Raaaaaaar!
   (We introduced the kids to the Rankin/Bass cartoon Hobbit. JT loves it and Princess would just as soon never see it again. Both for the same reason: Dragon! Breathe fire! Raaaaaar!)
Princess - Dad, can we watch some more Jurassic Park?
   (Um, she's referring to a My Little Pony parody of Jurassic Park. But really, even that is a lot scarier than anything she usually tolerates....)
Princess - "When I was JT's age, I was a tiny teenager and teenagers can't talk very well."
The weird thing about driving in the left line isn't actually driving in the left. It's not being on the right side of the car, which seemed really weird when we first got here. It's turning right. It's turning right when you are CERTAIN that you are turning in front of someone coming up behind you on the right and will plow into you, when actually the drivers on your right are all in front of you.

Saturday, September 3, 2016


Part of the fun of staying at a B&B is getting to meet other travelers. For a couple weeks our neighbors were some seldom-seen Mauritians (tiny little island east of Madagascar). Nice people who looked Indian. Some of them reminded our youngest of Hispanic friends from Texas.

Right now our neighbors are Russian and only the dad speaks any English. They are getting a house and so they'll be our neighbors until we leave (halfway point!). Food is less expensive around here* so we've been buying more prepared meals than normal, but they're making full use of the kitchen to prepare multi-layer cakes, use all six stove burners on different veggies, and have other food fun. (The mom gave JT some rice and it was weird seeing how DELIGHTED he was eating plain white rice. Really, kid? We can serve you more rice at home if you like it that much....)

They have a little girl somewhere between Superstar and Princess' age. Superstar and she have really hit it off. They have a great time playing together outside even though they don't say word one. They blow up balloons and then let them spit at each other. I watched them playing and it was a bit surreal, seeing a cute, laughing girl grab Superstar's arm to lead him down a path.

Wuh? Buh? No. I'm not worrying about this yet. I've got years left to worry about this, right? RIGHT?

Then Superstar uses her grip to turn them into a spinning top and he spins away and spends much of the rest of the time dodging her. (Phew. For now.)

* - Seriously! Large pizza from Dominos with toppings for $6 and no delivery charge. Really good chicken pot pies for $1.25. Large quiche for $4. It does a lot to make up for having no shelf life!

The reluctant medical tourist

I have the dubious distinction of having been x-rayed in four different countries now. The US any number of times, eastern Germany for my broken arm and to test for TB (negative), Nigeria for my spine (badly misdiagnosed by the radiologist), and now South Africa for my chest.

One of our hosts had the flu that was going around. Then JT got it and we stayed from church that Sunday. Then Princess got it. Then I got it, only I seemed to have it harder than the others. Frau Maska once joked that whatever injury or illness was going around, I always seemed to say, "Ooh, I'll have some of that!"

Next door to the local pharmacy is a doctor and dentist office open 7 days a week, no appointment needed. JT was mostly better by then and Princess had an earache too, so our host most graciously drove us down to the doctor. The doc found that the earache wasn't a formal ear infection yet, gave her some antibiotics anyway, and Princess has been steadily improving since. Cost to take uninsured Princess to the doctor: $25.

My problem was that I coughed so hard and so much every time she asked me to inhale, she couldn't listen to my chest to see if there was a problem. So I got sent off to the formerly-nun-run hospital for x-rays, with another ride from our B&B hosts.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Drought in southern Africa

The number one, defining experience of Nigeria was the power going out. Multiple times every day. When new in country, this was shocking and disturbing. You'd be talking with someone or working or doing anything, and then suddenly the power would go out. When would it come back? Would it ever come back? And then it came back as the generator turned on. Only to turn off again when we switched back to public power. By the time we'd been in country a while, the power going out was merely a comma in a conversation - you keep going with what you were doing. Sometimes we'd turn it into a running gag: "Welcome to Nigeria! Have a nice day!"

When we came back to the States, there was a power outage in the first week or so. We turned to each other and said, "Welcome to Nigeria! Have a nice day!"

In preparing to come to South Africa, we learned they had the occasional problem with their electricity supply too - nothing to Nigeria's scale of course, but for several weeks this year they had rolling blackouts. So we were prepared with our standby jokes.
The power has stayed on just fine. Oh. Right, developed country and all that.

But there has been a drought in southern Africa and last night our hostess came to inform us that they were out of water. City had just shut it off and no one knew when it would come back on.

She talked as if she expected it back on this morning or maybe last night, but it was entirely possible it would last more than a day.

In Nigeria when we ran out of water, it was because there was a strike at the water bottling plant, so we were boiling tap water for over a week to make sure we had something to drink. After that we stored up two weeks of drinking water. Besides, our stake here has been talking up emergency preparedness.

So our first reaction was to start filling every bucket, mixing bowl, and container we could find while we still had water at the upper house. We started asking a lot of silly questions, like what to do about toilets -- if they won't flush for days on end, where does a body ... do what a body does? In Nigeria, people just defecate on the road as a normal thing, in Italy #1 is socially acceptably, and in Texas they're both illegal. I worry that our hostess did not appreciate any comparison to Nigeria: yes, I'm sure there are parts of South Africa that are not developed, but I like to think that around here we are not where they are.... Not that things are illegal, one wouldn't just ... ugh.

But she humoured us in filling a bunch of buckets while our tap water still flowed.

This morning the water is back on. We'll see for how long.\
UPDATE: We have been informed it's not the drought. They are fixing the water mains and had to shut water off to various parts of the city to do work.