Cape Town Travel Diary: How I Eke Out Another Post

I've really already hit the highlights of the trip to Cape Town. By now you might think I was there for many more days of tourism, but if you could see all the photos you'd note I was wearing pretty much the same clothes in every shot, because it was really only 2 1/2 days.So now, here are just the best photos I couldn't fit in as part of a cohesive story. Like these special birds of paradise we saw at the botanical garden, called Nelson's Gold, for Nelson Mandela. He's a pretty popular guy down there. I saw his face on purses, t-shirts, baby dresses, and dolls. Also all over, was hype for the upcoming 2010 World Cup. I could see them building the stadium from my hotel room.There are penguins in South Africa. If I was a penguin, I think I'd try to live on the warm shores of Africa too, as opposed to Antarctica or somewhere else too chilly. I thought it was ironic that the rock on the penguin beach also kind of looks like a penguin. Maybe they think that too and worship it like an idol? Or think of it like the Big Tex statue at the Texas State Fair?

Cape Town Travel Diary: Table Mountain

The iconic landmark of Cape Town, (and logo for the conference I was attending) is Table Mountain. So called, because it's a flat plateau on top. It's also a mountain. Our guide pointed out that when there are clouds, they sit on top of the mountain, like a clean white tablecloth. Or on our last day, kind of obscure the mountain like a drop cloth. But at least there was a rainbow to substitute!What's neat is that it's not a mountain off in the distance, but really right there in the city. This was the view from the hotel elevator:When we learned that the mountain would be closing for 4 weeks, we hustled ourselves into a cable car and up to the top for a sunset. The funny thing is that when you get to the top you start framing your snapshots and think, "Huh, this photo would be great if Table Mountain were in it..." and then you realize that's kind of impossible.
Staying for the close of the day with the last cable car down at 6 pm meant having one foot on the mountain and one foot in the cable car as the sun sunk into the ocean. It was worth it, although I wished the other tourists would shut up and take in the moment in silence. I don't know why people need to chit chat about why you're not allowed to lock bikes at City Hall in Iowa or somewhere when there's a beautiful, amazing moment to absorb. It's so inane. My coworker and I agreed on this point and relocated ourselves to another part of the mountain.

And They Lived Happily Ever After

Good news! The lost little dog, of yesterday's post, is found. The temporary guardian, the girl who'd corralled the runaway and kept her at her own home, called me tonight to share that the owner saw one of my flyers!

I'm so relieved. In the back of my head, as I fell asleep at night, I wondered, "Could I own a dog? Maybe I could take her in. Maybe she'd be a dog that likes cats... Walking a dog at 6 am in February might not be that bad..."

In my head, I'd named her Harriet. "Hattie" for short, since her stout little body, and bumbling, meandering ways seemed cute and little old ladyish.

But more satisfying than deciding upon an appropriate name, is that, whatever her name, the pup is back with the owner that loves her. And who hopefully keeps her on a tighter leash! Please.

(Painting by Andrew Wyeth.)

Mystery Dog

I am not ready for ethical, emotional dilemmas at 6:45 in the morning.

This morning I was walking to the train station when I saw a little black dog ahead of me. Near any dog you will usually find a human, with bedhead and their sweats, but this little pup was alone. She had a collar and tags, so I thought (hoped) that maybe I'd find the owner sitting on their steps, supervising their dog's off-leash outing. The dog started looking back at me. It'd stop, let me catch up, then run ahead. And again. And again. In the back of my head I was thinking, "No, stop, dog! I don't want you to be lost, please." Deeper inside I thought, "I have an 8:30 meeting, a train to catch, and a boss that hates animals."

I got close enough to bend down and check out its tags, which regrettably were just rabies vaccination tags, but no "If Lost, Please Call" directions. I walked another block, the dog now just ahead of me by a couple of paces. I stopped to drop a letter in the mailbox and bent down to consider the dog again. "Hey buddy, what's your story, huh?" I asked the big brown eyes of this small black dog, some kind of lab-terrier mix.

I dug into my backpack for my phone, considering a call to 311 to see what one does with a stray dog. As I worried and hesitated, I heard the sudden screech of tires. The dog had decided to cross the street. A small yelp followed and I looked up, alarmed. By some minor miracle, I saw the small dog underneath a pick-up truck, most fortunately between its tires - untouched. All activity on the street stopped and I crossed quickly to try to call my acquaintance back. No luck, the spooked dog bolted down the middle of the street, then turning a corner. I followed, but she was gone.

I spent the morning troubled and sad. I'd made the wrong choice. I'd worried about a meeting and a little dog almost died... and know who knows where she was now? Clearly dogs don't have that survival instinct that teaches them to look both ways before crossing the street. Or at least not this pitiful, adorable little one.

All I could think was that maybe I could donate some money to an animal shelter, but is that just a rich person's way of erasing their guilt? Midday, on a hopeless whim, I pulled up craigslist. And discovered: "FOUND: little black dog," just a couple blocks from where I'd lost my little friend.

I found a cute little black Lab/terrier (???) mix this morning. She looks about 4-6 years old, maybe 30lbs, has a mole on her nose and a purple collar with rabies vaccination but no ID tags. She's very playful and affectionate - practically followed me home. Please reply to this ad to get my phone number so we can work out getting her back home!

I emailed the author of the ad to express my overwhelming relief that this dog was saved by someone, even if it hadn't been me. I offered to help and the girl who found the dog suggested I post a few flyers in my area of the neighborhood with her ad. She reported that the dog was hanging out in her bathroom, with a bowl of food and water.

I might still give a little donation, in honor of Mystery Dog, with a hope for her return home.

Cape Town Travel Diary: Sharks!

This is a little out of order, but as I contemplated what else I could share from Cape Town, I thought the sharks might be the most interesting.

It's not something that I might have thought to do myself, but when my travel buddy suggested it, and I considered it, it seemed like I couldn't say no. What an adventure! What a thrill!

Great white sharks cluster around South Africa's coast. Shark diving ventures motor out to an ocean alley between two islands in Dyer Bay, drop a cage into the water - although still safely affixed to the side of the boat, along with a big fat tuna head as bait to lure in the sharks. Six divers drop into the water, all of us in wet suits and scuba masks. The dive instructor tells you to make sure to put your suit on right-side-out, with the black on the outside, "because you want to look like a seal!" he jokes. The bait guy tosses out the fish head and drags it past the cage, allowing a long view of the shark swimming by. You take a deep breath, dunk down and watch the show.Was I scared? Probably only with the anticipation of waiting in the cage, since it took a little while for the first sharks to show. The dive instructor shouted down to us, "Divers, is the bottom of the cage still there??" I looked down, even though it was just a joke. When the first shark arrived, the trepidation disappeared as I was awed by what I was seeing. I don't think many other half hours of my life have gone by quite as quickly. The sharks were probably at least four feet away at all times from my side of the cage, although there were a few bumps of the cage, closer to other divers.

After a few passes from different (or maybe the same) sharks we popped out of the cage to allow others a turn. Even standing on the top deck gave spectacular views of the sharks, where I took my photos.

And I checked to make sure that all my fingers, toes, and limbs were in place, and took a deep satisfying breath. We made it!

Cape Town Travel Diary: Been There, Done That

Our tour guide was right, I had the Cape of Good Hope on my list. As we approached the lookout point he began, "When you first heard of the Cape of Good Hope, whether it was from a school teacher, or a geography textbook, you probably never imagined that you would be here. Well, now you can say that you were there." Then he paused, "But we will only be stopping for just 8 minutes, because a photo is about all there is to do here, and we want to get on to Cape Point, which is really the more interesting and scenic place." There was actually a scenic hike that you can take at Cape of Good Hope, but we were on a tour van with about 10 others, so there was an agenda to stick to for the day. As we drove away the guide said, "Okay, now you can say 'been there, done that.' Yeah, not the real explorer spirit, but, you know.

The vista at Cape Point was breathtaking, it was hard to concentrate on our lunch when there was such an extraordinary view. One that wouldn't fit into my camera's lens. An important cultural lesson I took away from lunch was that "catch of the day" is called "line fish" in South Africa. As in, whatever is pulled off the line that day. I must have been nodding off due to jetlag when our tour guide explained the best fish to have in South Africa, so somehow I thought that the indigenous fish that you must try in South Africa was a fish called "line fish." When my friend asked me what kind of fish I was eating, I simply replied, "line fish!" He waited until the next day when I was eyeing the line fish on the menu again to politely explain that this might be a different fish from what I'd had the day before. I left South Africa not really knowing what kind of fish I ate, or should have eaten.

The whole time my friend (a co-worker who'd also flown in early) and I walked around we marveled that this is actually winter in South Africa. Unbelievable for those of us who make it through Chicago's dreary, bitter winter season. It was probably in the high sixties tempurature-wise. The sun speaks for itself. On the road, our journey was a mini safari, spotting baboons and wild ostriches. This ostrich made me laugh, since the bushes now look like his body, exaggerated.

Cape Town Travel Diary: Seals

I'm back from my 9 days in Cape Town, South Africa. Since I got a very satisfying amount of sleep on the plane (a journey > 16 hours on the plane, >24 hours shuttling to, around, and from international and domestic airports) I'm up for sharing some of my photos and adventures.

Although I only had cumulatively about three days to be a tourist, I made the most of my time so I'll have to spread the photos and stories across a couple of posts. Seals, Cape of Good Hope, penguins, shark diving (!), Table Mountain and the waterfront will be some chapters you can look forward to reading.

Day 1 - Seals: I booked a tour to the Cape, including arrangements to see fur seals and penguins. Really not the kind of animals that come immediately to mind when you think of Africa, but I've learned there's a big difference between northern and southern Africa.

Here's the harbor where we gathered for a morning boat ride to see the fur seals in Hout Bay. It was beautiful and serene as the mist lay like a gentle veil on the water and boats floated quietly in the harbor. The seals have the most blood vessels in the tips of the flippers so they hold them out of the water to best stay warm through the sun's rays. But it also kind of looks like they are all waving 'hello' to you as you pass by. We met a guy who has been working with a particularly large seal for the past 20+ years by creating photo op's for the tourists. I had to ask, "Where does the seal sleep at night?" The guy explained that at the end of the day the seal just pops back into the water and knows to meet him on the dock the next morning for more photos. I can't quite tell you how strange it is to feel the hot breath of a fur seal on your hand as you dangle a fish above him to nosh on. We later noted that this trained dock seal is far more plump than any of the seals we saw on the island, likely thanks to his steady diet of tourist-dollar-funded fish.

Today I leave for my trip to South Africa! I'll try to post while I'm there, but it might be kind of busy with the combination of work there, work still churning stateside, and just two days for fun. And that 23 hour flight and seven hour time difference that I'll be recovering from.

For Sale

It was a mid-year realization that I had taken few, if any, steps towards my new year's resolution to get rid of my storage unit that had me writing a few craigslist ads last week.

#9b. Become a patron to the Salvation Army. Get rid of stuff that I don't wear or use. Take the books I won't read again to Half Price Books to sell them, or give them to friends. In general, don't let the new big apartment mean that I just accumulate lots of nonsense stuff. Get rid of the storage unit.

$90 later I am closer to an empty storage unit! (I also called the Salvation Army and have a bag ready for Half Price Books.)

I made the initial mistake of overvaluing my stuff because everything looked far more attractive and meaningful because it was mine. But to a stranger about to part with money in their pocket they see the scratches, the chips, the wobbly legs. (I sobered up after assembling a table for someone to look at and ended up emailing them to say they could just have it for free since it was, as Jason later described it, "one bad break away from firewood."

This Spike Jonze IKEA commercial perfectly captures my struggle to get rid of stuff. I do dread putting something out in the alley, facing an uncertain future. Maybe someone will pick it up and take it to their warm, welcoming home considering it a precious found treasure. Or some hoodlum will kick it or throw it against the wall crushing it into pieces, carelessly. Or the trash men will just come and it'll go off to some dump or trash barge.
This is why craigslist makes me happy. I know that chest of drawers I have always meant to refinish is going to another woman with that same intent. And I optimistically believe that she'll make it happen when I didn't.


This is one of the saddest, then happiest, then saddest-again stories local Chicago nightly news has to offer.

Bear, the police dog, ran away a couple months ago when he was scared by a sudden strike of thunder while his handler was walking him in his backyard. Capable Bear scaled a six-foot fence and ran off.

But, what a relief he was found.

Only to run off again Friday!

Bear remains at large tonight.

TRU Delights

Saturday we had a night of enjoying that we are both wealthier and more famous than we really are, by dining at the 'kitchen table' at Chicago restaurant, TRU. Tucked in the back of the restaurant's kitchen a small private dining room gives you the behind-the-scenes vibe of a hustle-bustle restaurant kitchen.

We started with a tour of the kitchen where you see the cabinets of glasses and Versace teacups; the small closet of a service bar; the warm and cold marble tables where chefs adroitly assemble the plates with garnishes and sauces; the meat freezers with hanging pigs' feet; the fresh fruit and vegetable refrigerator; the ceiling high stainless steel spice cabinet. As soon as the doors opened we could smell all the seasonings inside. It might as well have been a magic cabinet with all tricks and spells hidden inside. After a meet-and-greet and photo with the Executive Chef we were seated in the intimate dining room with two windows looking back out to the kitchen, and one out to the street. Tourists strolled by and peeked in, some more obviously than others. I wondered if they were trying to figure out if they'd seen us in the pages of a magazine somewhere. I suppose if we were real celebrities, we would have closed the blinds.
Our hosts even pulled out a little stool for my purse to have a seat! The dinner is a ten course chef's menu, meaning you never pick up a menu but instead sit back and put your trust in the chef. And the sommelier who selects your wine pairings, a glass with nearly each dish (9 glasses by the end of the night, but it was about a four-five hour meal. We had lucked out with a reservation on a night when no one else was booked for the table.)
I don't know if I can recount the dishes in any way that rivals the presentation and taste. (Photos from Jason and one of our companions, Liz, will help.) Lots of fancy dishes like a staircase of caviar, frogs leg's, lamb, and foie gras, all in very small morsels that kept you satiated but intrigued for what be on the next plate lowered before you.
I proved myself a rookie by dropping some caviar on the tablecloth, but the attentive host swept in with a napkin to cover my clumsiness.Jason enjoyed this too much.
The wine and the food didn't really catch up with me until the end of the night arrived, and the cheese and dessert carts rolled away. What an amazing meal. Good company too, with friends Geoff & Liz who suggested the evening of TRU delights.


It's evident that Jason and I won't be able to enjoy leather furniture for at least the next 15 years - the estimated remaining lifespan of our cats. Our cats with claws.

So I wonder what might be an appropriate replacement for the leather chair I love but am watching slowly deteriorate with feline companionship?

Would it be over-the-top to make an investment in an Oberlin womb chair? Four years at school and I never knew it's really called a Ball Chair.

"The iconic Ball Chair is the cornerstone of any mid-century or retro-modern lounge area or living room. Building on the revolutionary concept popularized in the 1960's by Eero Aarnio and his original Ball Chair, we have essentially redesigned this piece to accommodate the needs of a new generation, while staying true to authentic materials and craftsmanship."

It even comes in practical microsuede fabric. I'd give up years of birthday and Christmas presents for one of my own! The perfect escape for a nap or a Russian history reading assignment. Sometimes I miss you Mudd Library.

You can design your own ball chair here. Then let me know what you'd think of it in my living room.

Total Failure of Discipline

Just minutes after committing to future discipline in project initiation, I put the wheels in motion for a new, different project.

I showed Jason the hip and adorable suitcase cat bed, and he took to it as something that we might make ourselves. It is perhaps a productive shared project. He gets to tear something apart and then use his drill. I sew.

This suitcase we found on eBay for $9 is already making its way to our home. I found some little legs online also, but am also considering stopping by the furniture maker that keeps his shop adjacent to my train station to see what 4 mini hand-crafted legs run these days. An old bed pillow can probably be the cushion and I'm looking at fabric online for the cover.

Although a fun pillowcase might work just as well, possibly be cheaper and mean less work.

The goal here will be to make sure that we don't end up paying more to make it ourselves than to buy it from someone else.

But either one will be preferable to Teedie's taking to bed in my real suitcases as I try to pack for trips.

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