Monday, November 29, 2010

When did my kids get so old?

Aiden has always seemed a bit big for his britches but over the last couple of weeks I think he has become a little man right before my very eyes. Most mornings he wakes up at 6 a.m.-ish and gets himself completely ready, finishes up his homework and makes himself cereal before my eyes even open. But I nearly fell out of bed yesterday when I woke up to see him standing there completely dressed in his church clothes from head to toe, including a belt, doing his hair! Then to top it off he made scrambled eggs and toast all by himself and brought it up to me while I was getting ready! Who is this kid?

Giving Thanks

We have so much to be thankful for and while I try to express my gratitude to our Heavenly Father daily, I love celebrating a holiday dedicated to giving thanks. It wasn't quite the same this year seeing as it is not recognized here in South Africa but it ended up being a Thanksgiving we will always remember. Trent worked all day, which was weird, and I spent the day with all my new very tan children. That evening I represented the U.S.A. at a Relief Society activity about Christmas around the world. I knew Trent was hoping for a turkey but there was no way I was going to make a huge turkey for just our little family, especially in our hot little condo with a very little oven. So instead I paid about $40 American dollars for a 1 pound turkey breast! For some unknown reason turkey is not very popular here, hence the high price tag. Anna ended up going out with a friend so only Aiden and Trent were home to eat their tiny turkey, potatoes, rolls and veggies! Trent sent me a text later and said it was a very good dinner but I know it's only because he hasn't had anything like it in months!

As part of the church activity I was asked to bring a sample of a traditional Christmas food from the States and I opted for pumpkin pie! I was a little concerned at first because canned pumpkin doesn't exist here and I wasn't sure how to make a pie without it! Thank goodness for smart friends who suggested I cook a real pumpkin and then puree it. I thought that sounded a bit extreme but since I couldn't think of any other traditional food they may not be familiar with here, I decided to try it out. I ended up making 8 pies and I have to brag...they were DELICIOUS! It was a huge hit with the ladies at church or at least they were able to swallow and pretend to like it!

Although, we didn't really celebrate Thanksgiving on the actual day we were invited by a family in the ward to come over for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday. It was extremely thoughtful of them to prepare a large turkey and all the fixings just for us! They even had a paper turkey centerpiece that said Happy Thanksgiving! They have a large family so it was nice to have so many people to celebrate with! We spent most of the afternoon at their house and had a really great time. It meant so much to us that they would take so much time and effort to celebrate an American holiday! We were sad to not be with our own family this year and I thought it would be better to just forget about the holiday. But the Fourie family didn't let us do that and I am so grateful to them for that!

This has been the best year for our family. It started out a bit rocky but that just makes this last few months even better! I don't know if you can truly appreciate how blessed you are if you don't have some hardships mixed in, so I am even grateful for the bad times too! I am literally bursting with gratitude!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Spreading a Little Christmas Cheer

PhotobucketA few weeks ago I was talking with some of the students, at the school where I volunteer, about Christmas. One of the darling little 3rd grade girls said to me "I really want a baby doll." When I asked her if she had any baby dolls at home she said "no". My heart ached for her. How does a 10 year old not have a baby doll to play with? This may be just my opinion but shouldn't all little girls have a doll? It was at the moment that my brain started it's never ending thoughts about how I could get this little girl as well as all of her classmates a baby doll. I asked their teacher for some ideas on how I could reasonably and fairly provide a nice Christmas for the students. She simply said to me "toys are luxuries and don't meet their basic needs, and we have to focus on that". That really got me thinking. In most cases, these children's basic needs are not even being met especially when they are at home and here they are getting ready to finish the school year and be home for more than a month. I realized that if we were going to be giving them anything this Christmas it probably should be the necessities.

PhotobucketPhotobucketOver breakfast my friends, Lisa and Mandy, and I started talking about ideas of what we could and should do for the students. While I am a dreamer and a thinker I am not always a do-er! I often get so carried away in my thinking I don't even know where to start! I made the girls promise that they would help me get this off the ground or it may never actually happen! Mandy spoke with the owner of the school the following day and before I knew it we had planned a party for the whole school as well as a lunch box full of necessities for each student! I was a bit overwhelmed to say the least but extremely grateful that my good intentions where being forced into action! As we started talking logistics it occurred to me if everyone I knew gave just a little bit of money we would have enough to really make this Christmas special for these kids. As a 5th generation Mesa, Arizonan I know a lot of people and those people know a lot of people! So with little to lose out went an email and I waited to see what would happen. I didn't have to wait long and the response was overwhelming! I knew that people would want to help, but what I didn't expect was that everyone was just as ambitious and excited as I was, and they haven't even met the little beauties! Mandy put together a page for Facebook and even more people were able to be reached. As we were talking to the principal of Anna's school asking her about some local stores where we could buy the items, she asked what it was for. When we told her what we were doing she was so excited she asked us to put something together to ask for help from all the parents at the school! So now the Acacia school is involved as well!

I don't have a total yet, but from what we have already received we have been able to buy each child a lunchbox (the fabric cooler type); grades R (kindergarten) through 4 boys: marbles, matchbox cars and a top, grades R though 4 girls: BABY DOLLS :), grades 5 through 7 girls make-up bags with lip gloss, nail polish a bracelet and a magazine (they love love love teeny bopper magazines), backpacks for the boys moving on to secondary school and something (still undecided)  for the grade 5-7 boys. With help from Acacia we are also going to be filling their lunch boxes with toothbrushes, toothpaste, washcloths, soap, chips, candy, fruit, erasers, pens and crayons!!! We are also giving them a pizza party with cookies and milk (it may not seem very exciting but they eat the same bland food every single day)! Even better we are giving each of the incredibly deserving, hard working teachers a basketful of goodies and may even have left overs to give the school cash for their unending needs!!!!! This has to be one of the coolest experiences I have ever had and I am loving every minute of the planning, shopping and organizing of this incredible event!

PhotobucketThrough this experience, I have realized that I am extremely spoiled as are my children! I have found myself asking several times, will they really like this, should we be giving them something bigger. And I always receive the same response: "they are happy to be given doesn't matter what it is as long as they finally have something that is just theirs"! These are truly some of the happiest, loving, most beautiful children I have ever met. They have so little and yet they seem happier to me then those of us that have everything. I can't wait to see the look on their faces when they are given the gifts that a group of strangers from all around the world helped to provide! This is going to be the best Christmas ever....for me too!

Becoming Xhosa

PhotobucketOn Elaine's last night here, we decided she should experience real South African food. I must admit that although I have been here since July, I haven't really experienced South African cuisine so I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. Friends of ours told us about this restaurant in Sandton that is an authentic African dining event. It was a beautiful restaurant and had a very cool vibe. The menu had some interesting items such as ostrich fillet, springbok (a cute little antelope) medallions and crocodile curry! While we waited for our food they came around and washed our hands in a bowl with vanilla water. Then two girls came over to paint our faces as the Xhosa tribe does for celebrations. This is one of the tribes with clicks in their language, that I have yet to master. I pronounce Xhosa "Zo-sa", but the X is actually a crazy click. The girl laughed as I tried to say it correctly! As she was painting my chest she said "I am very jealous of your breasts, I am going to cover them up!". I have learned that they are very blunt here and say whatever they are thinking! Trent refused to get painted like a Xhosa warrior but Elaine, the kids and I looked amazing!

PhotobucketI stepped out of my box once again, and ordered the ostrich fillet! It was delicious! Elaine decided to stay in her comfort zone and order the chicken but it was still an interesting dish and very flavorful! All in all it was a fun night and a great way for Elaine to end her stay in South Africa!!!!

"Are we really in Africa?"

On the way home from Kruger, Elaine and I decided to take the "Panoramic Route" which included a drive through the Drakensburg Mountains and Blyde Canyon. From what I had seen on the internet I expected the scenery to be beautiful, but it was actually better than I could have imagined. Elaine and I must have asked ourselves "are we really in Africa?" hundreds of times. The drive was breathtaking as we winded our way through the canyon, across acres of farmland and rolling green hills. One of the most popular scenic points is called God's Window and is literally a perfect hole in the canyon that gives you a glimpse of the beautiful landscape below. Unfortunately, our view was blocked by fog so thick we couldn't even see 5 feet in front of us. I am pretty sure we were so high on that mountain that we were actually in the clouds. Even though the weather wasn't the best, we were still able to enjoy the drive and stopped in a couple of towns along the route. One of them was called Pilgrim's Rest and is a fully restored historical sight that is literally frozen in the early 1900's! Again, I found myself asking "where the heck am I?". Before coming to South Africa I imagined vast deserts and brush with flat canopy trees everywhere (and maybe an elephant or lion on the side of the dirt roads). I never expected to find such vast terrain and stunning settings. This really has to be one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

PhotobucketPhotobucketAfter leaving Pilgrim's Rest, we decided we better head back to Jo'burg as the weather had yet to improve and it was getting dark. I was slightly stunned to realize that we still had a 4.5 hour drive ahead of us, considering we had already driven over 2 hours and it only took us 5 hours to get to Kruger. Although, I knew the "Panoramic Route" was a slightly longer drive I didn't do a very good job of figuring out how much longer. I was slightly concerned to be getting into Jo'burg so late at night but was comforted that the roads and route felt safe. About half-way down the mountain, Elaine asked how we were doing on gas. My heart stopped as I looked at the gas gauge to find that we were on 'E'! I'm not sure how you forget to check such an important feature before heading out onto long stretches of nowhere but up until that moment the gas hadn't even crossed my mind! Thank goodness for GPS as we were able to locate the closest gas station (which wasn't that close-28km-yikes). By the grace of God we literally rolled into a gas station on fumes! I have never been so happy to see a gas attendant in my life. I had promised to give Elaine the trip of a lifetime but I don't think being stranded in sketchy South Africa was her idea of a good time. Fortunately, we made it home safe and sound and I am certain it will be a road trip neither of us ever forget!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

On Safari

PhotobucketPhotobucketMy friend Elaine, who I have known for over 10 years (I worked with her at Tri-City Management), decided to take advantage of the amazing opportunity of me living in South Africa and come for a visit! I of course am happy to have visitors (hint hint) and will take any excuse to be a tourist in this beautiful country! In an attempt to see the best of South Africa in just over a week we strategically planned 3 days total in Joburg (which is a fun place to live, not necessarily the most tourist friendly) 2 ½ days at the Kruger National Park, and 2 ½ days in Cape Town. As I have mentioned in previous entries, there is nothing quite like taking a game drive through the bush and seeing wild animals and birds up close and personal. I am now realizing there is nothing quite like going on a game drive through a major, seriously massive, national park. . . Kruger is huge!!! We stayed at the Mohlabetsi Lodge, which is one of the many private reserves located in Greater Kruger. While there is a boundary fence, there are no dividing fences inside the reserve, allowing the animals to roam as freely and naturally as possible.  Because Kruger is so large, it is possible to drive for more than hour without seeing a single animal. Fortunately, we were able to go on a total of 4 drives during our stay, increasing our chances of seeing the Big 5 and my favorites the giraffe and zebra. At first I will admit I was slightly disappointed to be driving for so long and only seeing some birds and Impala, but then I realized that because this is a much more natural environment when you finally discover one of the more fascinating animals it is that much more exciting. On the first night here, our tracker and guide were able to locate 2 male elephants. While I have seen large herds during drives through smaller reserves, I felt very lucky to see these large bulls as there not many elephants roaming the area we were driving, as they travel wide spans of land and typically stay near permanent rivers and there are none located in the nearby surroundings.  Even more exciting, our guides allowed us to get out of the vehicle and very quietly walk closer to these massive mammals in order to get a better look. Strangely I was not as terrified as I should have been, knowing the power of these great beasts, as I trusted the judgment and knowledge of the guides.  Based on the body language of the elephants, the guides felt that we would not alarm them nor were they a threat to us and therefore, it was perfectly safe. It was exhilarating to tip toe through the bush and see the animals from that vantage point.  After that adventure we stopped for some snacks and beverages while we watched the sunset. Once it was dark our tracker turned on the spotlight to find the nocturnal animals. I have yet to see a lion on an authentic safari, but I was hopeful as the guides told me my chances were much better during a night drive. Sure enough just about 30 minutes into the drive another ranger called to report they had spotted some lions. Our driver, in an attempt to see the lions, sped through the bush hoping to catch them before they disappeared. We were disappointed when we arrived to learn that the lion had run off. However, just a few minutes later the tracker was able to locate the lions laying around lazily in the bush. It was a lucky find, as they can be quite difficult to spot since they blend in with the dry brush. After watching them for a bit we headed back to our camp. On the way, our tracker spotted a Bush Baby, which I was very excited to see, as they are a silly little nocturnal monkey with giant eyes and are as cute as can be.

PhotobucketWhen we arrived back at camp we had an incredible dinner outside in a “boma” which I learned is a circular formation bordered by straw fence that is purposely designed to keep out predators to allow for a safe dining experience! Because we were outside we dined with more than just the other guests, as there were bugs everywhere! Only on a safari would I allow a beetle to crawl across my plate without flinching.  Our beverages were covered by this pretty beaded mesh thing to keep the bugs from getting in. I was hysterical when I realized that I had seen these mesh things at several local markets and I thought they were some kind of decorative religious hat, like a Yamaka! Now of course, I see how practical they are and I will have to get some! I told Elaine what I had thought they were and of course she told everyone at dinner. One of the guests suggested I should put on my “hat” for a picture!
The trackers and guides along with the great friends we made.
Each drive we went on was exciting and rewarding as we were able to see giraffes, zebra, elephants, various antelope, eagles, reptiles, and a hippo! The highlight of the entire trip was the game drive on the last night.  After dark, as we were driving around with the spotlight, an elephant was spotted just off from the road. We could hear another elephant in the area, snapping branches and waited to see if it would emerge. The guide backed the Land Rover up a bit, just in time to catch the other elephant with the spotlight. He did not seem to pleased to have his late night snack interrupted and eventually walked in front of our vehicle. It was a terrifying experience to have this incredible large mammal standing in front of us, head on, clearly challenging us.  He flapped his ears in a warning and stared at us for what was probably less than a minute but felt like forever. I had my camera ready for the best photo op however, I was worried that my click may trigger him to charge and I would be the one who caused us all injury so I didn’t take the picture!! After that scary but awesome encounter we drove around for another hour or so without spotting a thing. I was sad to go back to camp, knowing it was our last night drive but it was time for dinner so I went back to my room to get ready. As I was on the phone with Aiden telling him about the elephant, we received a knock at the door and the owner telling us that there has been a leopard sighting and to hurry back into the vehicle. Leopard are by far the most difficult of the Big 5 to see on safari, as they are shy and elusive. I apologized to Aiden, hung up before he could say goodbye and was back in the jeep in record speed. Our guide took off in the direction of the Leopard and although it had been several minutes since it was last seen, the tracker was able to locate the female. It was a lucky and wonderful opportunity to see the leopard only to have the added excitement of seeing two cubs run Photobucketout behind her. We were able to watch the Leopards for probably 10 minutes before they wandered deeper into the bush and we were unable to find them again. I was so grateful that Elaine was able to see so much including 4 of the Big 5 (we never did find Buffalo, which was disappointing but they aren’t one of my favorites anyway). This was definitely one of the best trips I have ever been on. It was such a tranquil environment and without t.v., computers, cell phones and sounds of traffic,  it was a peaceful and relaxing holiday. I am not sure why I am so blessed to have these opportunities. I thank God everyday, for the many blessings he has bestowed upon me and especially for his beautiful creations he has given to all of us to enjoy. These experiences remind me how much he loves us, and what truly matters. As I prepare to go back to Johannesburg, the “concrete jungle” I hope that I can incorporate the things I experienced out in nature into that busy, noisy life. But even if I can't I will always have the memories!

Friday, November 5, 2010


PhotobucketI frequently get asked by the locals, "where are you from?" and "what are you doing here?"! It's not everyday that they meet an American, seeing as we are not exactly a neighboring country. I always explain that my husband is working here, which always leads to the discussion of what does he do that would bring us all the way to South Africa. Even an explanation of "he installs power lines" does not usually suffice and then I have to provide a more detailed answer. What Trent and the 9 other American and Canadian linemen are doing here is really quite spectacular. They with only a small number of other lineman are trained to work on High Voltage power lines while they are still energized, allowing them to make repairs and replacements without having to shut off the power, which could effect thousands of people in the area. One of the coolest parts of Trent's role here (in my opinion) is that they are here to not only do energized line repairs and installations but to train the local lineman to do similar work.  If everything continues to go well they can have similar opportunities in other countries as well (sorry fam-this adventure may just have to continue).

PhotobucketWorking in a foreign country on a fairly new contract, definitely has it's challenges. There are lot's of kinks to work out and things don't always run smoothly.  Trent's patience has been tried, and I know that if the kids and I weren't here, he would have left a long time ago! While it's been a bit rocky he has had some really amazing work experiences that have hopefully made this all worth it.  Recently they had the opportunity to remove a damaged tower (while the power was on) and replace it. This was such a big deal, as it has never been done here before, that many of the lineman and higher ups at the local utility company came out to watch. Trent said it was pretty cool when as the tower was being removed (successfully thank goodness) everyone started clapping! I could tell he was quite proud of himself and his crew! I don't understand most of the jargon or what this job actually entails but I know it was a big deal and the pictures are very impressive.

PhotobucketAfter I finish telling someone what Trent does the next question I usually receive is "isn't that dangerous, aren't you scared for him"? Which I always respond with, "yes, I pray a lot and he has a very large life insurance policy!".

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The World is Yours

Trent clearly does not have an issue with heights, seeing as he works on top of 150 ft. poles on a regular basis, but I am still so impressed by his fearless attitude and sense of adventure. When he first moved to S.A. he decided it would be a good idea to bungee jump between two towers in Soweto. While he admits that it was very scary, he loved it and figured if he could jump 100 meters above the ground, why not try the highest bungee in the world and jump 220 meters off a bridge! Trent, along with his pals Chris and Joe took off for a boy filled weekend in Cape Town. After sightseeing and doing who knows what else in the Cape they headed for Gansbaii to swim with the sharks and then drove 7 hours up the coast to Tsitsikama for the big jump. They stayed the night, in a lodge that I found for them and it was quite funny when Trent called to report that the accommodations were most likely for honeymooners as there was a hot tub with roses and champagne as well as chocolates on the pillow! The best part was that Trent and Joe had to share a bed! Fortunately, I was forgiven the next day when they reported that the bed was very comfortable. The following morning they headed straight over to the bridge and Trent was the first lucky jumper of the day! A picture really is worth a thousand words Photobucketas I could completely read Trent's expression of "am I really going to do this" and "who thought this was a good idea". Trent said there was definitely that moment when he thought he may reconsider, however, it isn't really an option as once you hop onto the ledge they count down from 5 and give you a little push! My brave, foolish husband dove off that bridge with Photobucketnothing but a couple of bands around his ankles attached to a giant rubber band. He said it was a scary and awesome experience. The worst part is as you are bouncing around upside down it feels as if everything in your head is trying to escape through your eyeballs! He called me after the big jump and I could hear the shock, adrenalin and excitement in his voice. As I watched the video, I was in awe that someone could have so much trust in the crew that runs the jump and in a man made bungee rope. After Trent got back up onto the bridge, one of the guys who works there, said to him "congratulations, now the world is yours"! I envy Trent for being able to push past all fear. If he can do that I know that he can do anything!Photobucket