Friday, 27 June 2008

Egg Time

The thermometer spiked this morning. I got to work late. Milord says his bits hurt. heh heh heh

Anyone else get hungry around egg time? Really truely tummy rumbly hungry... most wierd. Having not ovulated for the past 15 years this is a new thing for me.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Rapids

I've been reading the book Rapids by Tim Parks for the last few days. I've been thoroughly enjoying it, even though I find the characters hard to identify with (middleclass pommies abroad with kayaks). His prose takes a bit of getting used to as he doesn't puntuate to help you differentiate conversations from description, or even who's talking/thinking, but once you get into the flow of things you don't notice and it makes the action flow really fast. I'm a bit of a snapshot reader anyway - I take in a paragraph at a glance - so this works for me. I'm not sure how a word-for-word reader would like it.

I assume the author is an avid wild water kayaker, because his descriptions are amazing and there is plenty of technical jargon that doesn't detract from the story. It's like being there, thrashing through icy glacial melt, trying not to die horribly and getting one hell of an adenaline buzz. I also liked the way he gets into his characters heads. The main POV is a bereaved middle aged banker, but you get to glance behind the eyes of a couple of others too. I believe there is an exciting climax coming up in the last chapter, and I'm looking forward to it. There is also a global-warming subtext to the story but so far I've been able to ignore it!

I tell you what though, it certainly doesn't make me want to try river kayaking myself! The sport sounds generally awful: cold, wet, painful and strenuous. I've been reading this in the evenings curled into an armchair with a blanket around me, sipping a glass of wine while the dinner cooks, thanking my lucky stars that I'm warm and dry!

Edit: I didn't like the ending of the book much - it just sort of fizzled off into middle aged angst. Most disappointing.

I have done a form of river riding in the past, but it was a whole different experience. On the border between South Africa and Namibia there is a large river that runs through the desert, called the Orange river. It is wide and silty, and for most of a week when I was 19 Mom and I went river rafting with about 20 people on several inflatable boats.

We would wake up at dawn on a river bank as our guides started a fire and prepared coffee and breakfast, then push off and drift with the slow lazy current until lunchtime when we'd stop and have lunch, then drift off again looking for the evening stop. Our dry clothing and food and (chilled) drink was carried by truck to meet us each night, and we'd eat and drink and chat under the stars before curling up in a sleeping bag and falling asleep under the desert sky.

The water was pleasantly lukewarm, and if the sun got too fierce during the day we would slip overboard and drift beside the boat, holding onto ropes while curious fish nibbled at our toes (a bit freaky when you can't see through the silt-laden water!).

Occasionally we'd have to paddle, if the breeze was against us and we needed to reach our stopping point before dark. And about once a day we would have to negotiate rapids. More like ripples really - exciting but hardly dangerous - half the time the boats would mess up completely and bounce down the rapids backwards with everyone screaming, only to be fine at the bottom. Quite fun actually! The whole trip was incredibly restful and de-stressing (just as well considering we wrote off our car in the desert on the way there... but that's a story for another day).

Much more my style. You can keep your wild meltwater kayaking!

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

107 Days to my Next Holiday

We're going to be doing this again in October:






Nearly 2 years ago Milord took me sailing around the Whitsunday Islands, part of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland. We'd had a turbulent 6 months, getting to know each other and coming to terms with our respective baggage... I had been extremely apprehensive about being cooped up on a boat for a week, especially as some of Milord's friends had horror stories about doing the trip with their partners! Shouting, tears, sickness... oh heavens.

It was paradise. Milord didn't raise his voice once and handled the boat like a pro. No tears, no sickness... just lazy days on the sea under the sun, with the odd stop at a sparkling white beach for a spot of snorkelling.

I think it was the turning point in our relationship, and it rates as one of the best holidays of my life. We've been itching to go again!

107 days...

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Mid Winter

We have finally passed the longest night - from now onwards the days should get longer and the nights shorter. Yay! I'm having difficulty getting up in the morning and I'm tired of leaving work in the dark.

This week has been clear and quite cold - the house we are renting doesn't have central heating and if we run the electic heater at the same time as anything else (like the kettle) it trips the house. Most annoying! So we sit around in layers of warm clothing and I've bought myself the first pair of slippers I've needed since leaving South Africa.

But then again it's not a patch on winter in the UK! The sky is light by the time I finish my shower in the morning, and by the time I am halfway through my walk to work I am warm enough to unzip my light jacket and remove my gloves. No scraping ice off my car and arriving at work in the dark.

Milord and I have just booked ourselves a sailing holiday in October as something to look forward to. Woohoo! We are a bit stressed out with our renovations and I'm not looking forward to moving into the new place at all because it will only be half finished. I reckon that by October we are going to need a break! I've been squirreling money away for the last couple of months as a holiday fund and we have about half what we need to cover our hol - by October the rest will be paid off too so that's ok.

The house is coming along... 90% of the ceilings are in and the builder is starting work on the new floor joists. We've bought the internal doors and have decided on our paint colours (pale grey and gloss white outside, pale cream and gloss white inside). The plumber should start as soon as the floors are up, and the electrician should be able to finsh off shortly. Our main issue now is that we somehow ordered our bathroom tiles from Italy (!) and they won't be here until August. We'd hoped to be in the house by then but I am. not. moving. into. a. house. with. no. decent. bathroom. There is a truly foul shower room out the back but I can't bear it! Milord reckons he can get the old shower room liveable... we shall see!

Passion killer: "My boob is not a joystick!"

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Gyms

Weight today: 69.5kg
Actually I was expecting it to be worse after my weekend of excess! So I'm not too upset.

I have got to get back into my gym routine. I used to go religeously 3 times a week, but now I find myself looking for something else to do instead. Lunch with Milord, running errands, even just sitting reading blogs!

I think my problem is... I don't like my gym! It's just too busy and crowded. I like to do floor work for toning so I need a space for my mat, ball and free weights, and the available space is tiny and being fought over by other people including personal trainers and their clients. Large sweaty men invade my personal space and it's just too uncomfortable! Last week I only went once because it was my "treadmill" day - I'm running 5km once a week and trying to get my time down (36 min down from 37 min, yes I know that's pathetic, I'm working on it!).

There is another branch of my gym a few blocks away which is much bigger. I think I will go and check it out today - apparently it has a "Ladies Only Training Area". I don't mind working out with blokes but that does sound rather nice! Plus they have yoga and pilates - good for toning and I can count on a space in the class if the work out areas are full.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Lazy Sunday

I've had an awesome weekend so far.

Milord has been away since Friday night on a boy's golf weekend. These happen every 3 months with the same bunch of 10 to 15 blokes. They party real hard, have a couple of games of golf, and he comes home exhausted, smelly, and craving salad and girl company... I used to mind him going but now I totally relish the time on my own. Generally I'd catch up with some girlfriends but they're all out of town too, so it was all about me!

On Friday night after work I had a meal of fresh white french bread and pate with a side of salami, washed down with a crisp sauvignon blanc. I then took my book into a long hot bubble bath with the rest of the bottle, and emerged like a wrinkled lobster much later. This was followed by channel surfing the cable TV with a few glasses of Baileys until about 11pm, when I went to bed alone and stretched out across the entire bed.

I woke up at 11am. Yes, 12 uninterrupted hours of glorious sleep later! After reading the (delivered) Saturday newspapers in bed with coffee and pate on toast, I eventually dragged myself out to run a few errands in the cold wet blustery day. When I got home as the sun was setting at 4:30 pm (God I hate winter) I poured myself a glass of wine and swiftly cleaned the house (gotta love little houses, the whole place takes about an hour including bathroom) and changed the bed linen. Then I headed into the bathroom for a good pampering - I applied a deep cleansing facemask and did my roots and anything else that required shaving, plucking or exfoliating. After I emerged glowing and beautiful I curled up in the armchair with my book, a glass of wine and a bowl of salty rosemary breadsticks. At about 6pm Mom let me know she was awake in England (9am there) and I phoned her for a 2 hour chat! (It's not that bad, I buy phonecards with brilliant overseas rates so that call was less then $5) Then I made myself a meal of stilton, sharp cheddar and toasted french bread, accompanied of course by more white wine, and watched rubbish on TV. I wasn't tired after sleeping so much and I ended up channel surfing until 2am while returning emails... I only realised how tipsy I was at that point - I totally can't work the keyboard after a few (!) wines!

This morning I awoke a bit parched at 8am, and just lay there for a while enjoying having the bed to myself and smelling the freshly laundered sheets. Milord doesn't smell bad ever, but still, the bed just doesn't have that same freshness after a boy's been in it... or is that just me? I gathered up the Sunday paper from the doorstep and went back to bed with coffee and pate on toast for a few hours. At midday I wandered into the kitchen and prepared a slow-cooking lamb shank dish which is now in the oven on low heat. It is now just after 1pm. I am back in my armchair with a glass of wine, the laptop warming my legs as the cold wind outside thrashes the trees about.

It is perfect weather for a run. Yeah, right.

It is Father's Day in South Africa (Hi Dad! I love you) and I'll be phoning Dad when that country wakes up... about 4pm my time. That's got to be the hardest thing about emigrating here - the time difference to my loved ones. Whenever I really feel like a chat it's 1am where they are. And I'm sure they're fed up with me always being tipsy when they've just got out of bed! (Stay sober? Me? Shaddup! No you shaddup!)

Plans for the rest of the day:
1. Take shower and blow-dry hair for the first time in ages to look pretty for when Milord Husband gets home. He won't notice but that's ok.
2. Chuck the last load of laundry in the tumble dryer. Whoever invented that thing should be sainted! Also Saint Dishwasher and Saint Washing-Machine.
3. Curl up in armchair with book and wine and bowl of plain salted chips, smelling lamb shanks and fresh warm laundry throughout the house. Ahhh I'm such a domestic goddess.
4. Stay sober enough to ring Dad. hmmm whaddya reckon?

So how was your weekend? Did you get a chance to unleash your inner decadent girly domestic goddess? Apologies to the boys... what would your ideal weekend be then?

Oh yeah, Milady Saffa's Lamb Shanks, feeds 2 gluttons:

- 2 or so Lamb Shanks (the pack in the supermarket had 3 so I'm doing 3. whatever)
- 5 stalks celery (approximately. who counts celery stalks?)
- 3 carrots (I only had 3 left)
- 1 bulb of garlic (use less or none if you're not into garlic. I adore it)
- 2 onions
- beef/lamb stock (actually I only had vegetable stock cubes in the pantry, it doesn't really matter but don't use fish mmkay?)
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes (ok so I forgot to buy these, but I found a neglected litre of tomato juice at the back of the frige and used it instead)
- Olive oil (go wild, it's not like this is a diet dish anyway, right?)
- Seasonal vegetables (zuccini and pumpkin in the fridge left over from the week)
- 2 Potatoes (peeled or not, whatever you feel like, the peel is good for you and I hate peeling things)

- In a deep ovenproof cooking pot on high heat brown the lamb shanks in olive oil. I don't know why you have to do this but all the good chefs do so I do too. Remove lamb shanks to a plate but hang onto the used oil.

- Chop up celery, carrot, onion and garlic and fry them up in the reserved olive oil in the cooking pot, until glassy. What kind of adjective is "glassy" for food? Why can't I think of anything better?

- Add your stock to the pot along with the tomatoes. How much depends on the size of the pot - you need the liquid to totally cover the lamb. (I used 2 stock cubes. I won't be adding any more salt now because the cubes are damn salty) Bring to the boil.

- Add any other seasoning you fancy. Today I finished off the tubes of fresh minced oregano and basil that we had in the fridge into the pot, plus a fair amount of freshly ground black pepper. Rosemary would be nice but I've run out of fresh and don't feel like dried. Call me a snob.

- Add the lamb shanks, ensuring they are fully covered.

- Put the lid on the cooking pot and put it into the oven at 150C for at least 3 hours. If your pot can't go into the oven then simmer on the stove on very low instead, but keep an eye on it so that it doesn't stick and burn.

- About an hour before serving add chunks of potato and chopped vegetables to the pot. Don't do this sooner because they'll turn to mush... tasty mush yes, but that's not what I want today!

- Remove the lid for the last hour to allow the liquid to thicken into a kind of gravy. Yum.

- Serve in deep plates. Like those lovely pasta plates you get that are deep enough for sauce but you can still use a knife and fork. You know what I mean.

Edit: The lamb shanks were divine! I cooked them at 150C for 3 hours, then turned the oven down to 100C until Milord got home at 6pm. Then I threw in the vegetables (I skipped the potato because there was so much) and turned the oven to high for half an hour, and then turned it off and let the pot rest for half an hour. Total cooking time: 7 hours! The meat shredded off the bones and the gravy was thick and savoury. We couldn't finish it all!

Friday, 13 June 2008

Peeing onna stick

So.

This morning I did a pregnancy test because... well, I was just curious I guess.

I'm not late but I'm due in a couple of days - and I'm planning a decadent weekend of wine and pate and all the things you shouldn't have so I wanted to check first just in case I should be having water instead...

Yeah. Funny thing.

That's the first time ever that I've been disappointed to see a negative result!

South Africa 2008: Kruger Park and home


Last year Milord and I were in South Africa and we spent 5 nights in the Kruger National Park. This is a game reserve the size of a respectable country, where animals roam free with the barest human influence. Various tarred and dirt roads wind through the park and every couple of hundred kilometres there are rest camps: bungalows with a restaurant and shop enclosed in an electrified fence where you can stay the night. We had a blast – I’d not actually been to a game reserve before so it was new for the both of us. We drove many miles and saw oodles of animals, although we were disappointed not to spot a leopard – the only one of the “Big Five” that we didn’t see. We were very excited to be going back again for 4 days of our honeymoon!

It’s a fairly long way from Sodwana to the Kruger Park, so we left the dive resort by mid morning. For some reason I had no road atlas, so I had copied a few directions from someone’s Lonely Planet and we hoped that those combined with a compass would get us there! It was interesting navigating without a map, and the compass proved invaluable! Our route took us though the Zululand district, along the border of Swaziland (a separate kingdom which is apparently good for a visit too but we didn’t have time), over the Drakensberg mountain range, and into the Mpumalange province (have a go at pronouncing that… it’s mostly phonetic) where the park is situated.

Wow, what a drive! We travelled past dozens of little villages of grass huts huddling alongside tin shacks on bright green hillsides, and had to watch out for cows and goats and people in the road. It was fascinating – a side of Africa you don’t see when you stick to the big cities. I never felt unsafe, although I would not have liked to be driving there after dark (especially with the cows and people in the road!). The scenery was spectacular, especially as we climbed into the mountains. In the early afternoon it began to rain, getting harder all the while. We saw lightening and heard thunder getting closer, and then all of a sudden we were engulfed in rain so hard that we couldn’t see the road! I squealed and Milord coasted to a stop, and we sat there with the hazard lights flashing for several minutes until the storm moved off and we could see again! It was a bit thrilling!

Then onwards, out of the rain, out of the mountains, and finally into the Kruger Park. By this time it was late afternoon and we had been driving for 8 hours. Luckily I had assumed we’d be tired so we had booked into a rest camp just a couple of kilometres from the gate. We didn’t expect to see anything interesting in such a short distance, but as usual the Kruger surprised us… we came around a corner to find a huge elephant walking towards us in the road. And he had the biggest engorged willy you can possibly imagine – it seriously looked like a fifth leg! We couldn’t go anywhere, so sat as quietly as possible as this intimidating sight strolled past us, absolutely boggling at the appendage. By the time we got our wits about us and dug out a camera and followed him he’d, uh, calmed down and his willy was tucked away again. Not something you see every day, that’s for sure!

We stayed in a very nice modern bungalow in the Berg-en-Dal (Hill and Dale) rest camp. We bought steaks and salad and cooked over coals, then had an early night. The following morning we had a lazy start, and I relaxed in bed with coffee and my book while Milord showered. We’d left the screen doors wide open as there were no bugs and it was a glorious morning. Suddenly out of the corner of my eye I saw a cat walk through the living room… a cat? I jumped up and scared the daylights out of several vervet monkeys who were silently helping themselves to our bread rolls on the kitchen counter.

One thing to remember about the rest camps: While the electric fences keep the big bad animals out, little agile monkeys can jump over, and burrowing animals can dig their way under!

From then on we always kept our screen doors closed! Another camp we stayed in (Orpen, very nice, small and newly built) had baboons and a honey badger raiding people’s food (we saw them at it!). If you forget to turn your fridge (always outside for some reason) to the wall to jam the door there is nothing to stop the buggers helping themselves, day or night! It was cool seeing the honey badger slinking through the rest camp though, as you never usually catch sight of one!

Our days in the park were excellent, and we managed to spot all of the “Big Five” in one day: Lion (lolling around in the distance), Leopard (eating a deer under a tree), Rhino, Elephant, and one lone Buffalo at twilight. We were very chuffed! Apart from that we saw warthogs and impala and kudu and waterbuck and jackal and eagles and vultures and mongooses (mongeese?) and baboons and monkeys and birds and more leopard and lions and yeah, it was very very cool. Awesome.

Then we drove 4 hours to BestGirl’s place, freshened up and went to a family gathering, had a good night’s sleep, packed, drove to the airport and flew home. Back to reality, back to job hunting and renovations and rain.

sigh

What a fabulous trip. Perfect, all of it!

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Birds 'n Bees

Milord and I are trying for kids (sort of, we're not shagging to schedule just yet).

I had my contraceptive implant taken out when we got home from honeymoon 2 months ago, and I've been monitoring my waking temperature with one of those sensitive thermometers during the first snooze of the alarm clock on work days (apparently your body temperature elevates a little bit when you ovulate). I haven't worked out the pattern yet, and it would probably help if I did it on weekends too!

I'm not stressed - it's only been a couple of months and we're not exactly making like bunnies. During the first cycle I reckon we missed the fertile window completely due to us being tired from work and renovations. This cycle we were active around the right time and I'm waiting to see how that turns out, but I actually think we missed it again.

So yeah, not much chance of me being pregnant just yet. Milord shocked me a couple of days ago. We were making dinner together and he came out with the statement that he didn't think we'd be having kids.

"What? Why do you say that?"
"I thought you'd be pregnant by now. We've had plenty of sex."
"Sure we have, but probably not at the right time."
"What do you mean - the right time? You have sex and you get pregnant, right?"

Milord is 48 years old. He tried for kids briefly with his first wife when he was in his 30s (until she realised she really didn't want any). How can he not know how small a girl's fertile window is? He honestly thought any day would do the trick!

I had to explain ovulation, and how you only have the time the egg moves through the tube to fertilise it, and if you miss that day then you have to wait another month, and that's why I've been doing the thermometer thing... He was stunned.

"How do people get pregnant by accident then?"
"Chance, babe. Pure chance!"

Friday, 6 June 2008

South Africa 2008: Sodwana Bay

I’d always heard that the place to scuba dive in South Africa is Sodwana Bay. It’s about as close to the equator as you can get in SA, and the warm current travels south along the east coast bringing lovely warm water with it. To be honest that’s about all I knew about the place. When I started looking online for a place to stay there I noticed that the pickings were rather slim, and that the emphasis seemed to be a little, uh, rustic. For example, only a couple of the places offered en-suite bathrooms, and a few expected you cook for yourself over open fires. Yes, lovely if that’s what you want, but I was on honeymoon dammit!

I ended up choosing the Sodwana Bay Lodge, as they advertised a “honeymoon cabin”. They also had an on-site dive operator, and good sounding accommodation plus diving packages. I have to say, I was very happy with the place. Our accommodation included dinner and breakfast, and not the one-buffet-suits-all variety either. Breakfast had a bit of a buffet going on, but you could have your eggs or an omelette made to order, and toast and coffee is brought to your table. Dinner is a la carte, and very good too. They also have a good wine list, which while not included in the price was not expensive.


Our room was basic but nice, a spacious thatched bamboo hut with en-suite and veranda. We had a spa tub (I think that is what made it the “honeymoon” cabin) and plenty of hot water, and a kettle for coffee. Our bed was huge and very comfortable, with a decent mosquito net to drape over it (it is a malaria area so you really don’t want to be bitten by mozzies) – you need this as the bamboo isn’t exactly bug-proof! Or soundproof… our neighbours had a toddler and we could hear him whinging and wailing every minute he wasn’t asleep – a bit of a passion killer actually! The bay itself is a marine reserve, so the accommodation is several kilometres away outside the park boundaries. We were disappointed not to be staying on the beach, but our bush view was lovely too.


So, the diving… Milord and I have dived all over Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and in the Red Sea, and I have also dived in Thailand. We agreed that the diving at Sodwana was world-class, better than any diving we have done in Australia and the best we’ve had since meeting in the Red Sea back in 2005. The water is warm (26 deg C when we were there, we didn’t need wetsuits), the reef is close to shore and quite shallow (I didn’t go deeper than 20m) and teeming with life and soft and hard corals. But the best part had to be the service we received from the diving operator. I have never been so spoiled while diving… I didn’t carry a tank once! On our first day a lovely bloke called Thulani took charge of us and from then onward looked after our gear, hooked it up, loaded it on the boat, took it off the boat, washed it and prepped it for the next dive. On the boat the driver and dive master help you into your gear, and after the dive they take it all off you in the water and you don’t touch it again! What a pleasure! The dive boats are big rigid inflatable boats launched from the beach and you all sit in a row on the inflated sides, hanging onto ropes as the boats bounce through the waves to deep water. Great fun actually, and even more fun coming back to shore “surfing” the waves right up onto the sand at a million miles an hour with everyone whooping and screaming!


Apart from one white guy all the dive masters are young black men, and they’re very good. This is their livelihood and they’re thrilled with it. I’m really enjoying the younger generation of black people who have grown up post-apartheid. In general they’re friendly and joyful and don’t have any baggage with the white people, it’s such a nice change from the “bad old days” and gives me hope for the future of my homeland. It was Milord’s first brush with black South Africans and I think he was pleasantly surprised.


All dives are guided, which I don’t mind as long as they don’t rush me. Not a worry at Sodwana! The dive masters try to find the little funky creatures like nudibrancs and paperfish and ghost leaf pipefish (tiny little weird critters that divers get very excited about because they are hard to find). The group moves along the reef slowly, examining every crevice and coral and clownfish in its anemone. The fish life is abundant, and sometimes you can barely see the reef for the fish. Visibility wasn’t bad considering how close we were to the beach – about 15 to 20m I reckon. And of course we saw big stuff too – moray eels and turtles and manta rays and dolphins and a whale shark!

The whale shark was awesome! We had just finished our dive and surfaced when the dive boat came racing over. We threw our dive gear aboard and scrambled on, keeping our fins and masks on (that’s flippers and goggles for you uncool non-divers!), the boat dashed across the water a little way and we all rolled off… to find ourselves a couple of metres away from the biggest sea creature I have ever seen! Ok, everything looks bigger underwater, but this thing was easily 3 or 4 man-lengths long. It was huge! Milord and I took up position just to the left of its head and finned along beside it. It was a meter or so under the surface, just cruising along, and we kept pace with it for probably 20 minutes. Wow. I will admit that I was thinking “Do they call it a whale shark because it’s a really big shark, or because it’s a whale with a pointy dorsal fin?” and was a bit freaked out to be so close to it! It’s a whale with a dorsal fin by the way – it eats plankton!


That yellow snorkel is me!

We did 6 dives over 3 days in Sodwana Bay, and I totally recommend it for divers. There’s not much for non divers though – maybe fishing – as the surf is a bit rough for snorkelling and the reef is too deep. If you go, stay at the Sodwana Bay lodge and tell Ben Jones (the Liverpudlian dive instructor) the loud Aussies say Hi and buy him a beer on us, ok?

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Weight Update

Another month, another update… eek not good. No excuses, I’m just struggling with my willpower lately! Down a smidgen, but far from convincingly…

I have just signed up for the City to Surf 14km fun run in August again. Hopefully that will be a decent incentive for me to get out and do some exercise on the weekends. We have been hibernating a bit during winter, watching far too much TV and eating and drinking too much, which undoes any good achieved during the week.

Last year I overdid my training a bit and hurt my ankle, so I’ll keep things sensible this time. I’ve also worked out that the running shoes I had last year were crap, because the moment I replaced them my ankle trouble cleared up almost immediately! That will teach me to buy cheap running shoes!

Milord has bad knees so he won’t be joining me for the fun run, but I hope I can talk him into picking up our Bay challenge again. I really used to enjoy racing him, and it was a huge boost to know he was chasing me!

Weight Graph May:



Weight Graph to Date: