Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Visitors - Part I

In the 3 years that Mr B and I have been living in Bots we've been quite lucky with visitors. My parents have been 3 times, once bringing my Uncle with them, Mr B's have been twice, and so far two lots of friends have been with another one on the way.

When we first told people we were moving to Bots, many people had heard of the country but really had no idea where it was. Most even now think it is part of South Africa, which I guess is sort of close being as they are neighbours and both part of the group of countries deemed as Southern Africa, but it is its' own country and despite the fact that it is probably the safest African country in terms of living and travel, it is often not known or thought about.

So when we left Australia those 3 years ago I said to many of our friends and family, that this was a brilliant opportunity for them to visit Africa if the idea has ever crossed their radar; come visit, use us, and make the most of us being there .....

Well like I said, so far 3 friends have done that, another is about to, and a few had intentions but unfortunately for them it hasn't worked out yet. It is a long way to come, expensive to a certain extent, and unknown too I guess. The unknown is always scary, and Africa's reputation doesn't necessarily help. But Bots is perfectly safe with lots to see and do and is a good jumping off point for the rest of Southern Africa.

Tanya and JC were our first non-family visitors. Tanya is my oldest and dearest friend - we've been in each other's lives since we were 6, growing up through Primary School and High School together, and she has stuck by me always, despite my being shipped off to boarding school, and all the moving around I have since done once school and uni finished. We've always managed to keep in touch, and stay in each other's lives. Months can go by without talking but we always pick things right back up. She's in London now with her fiance JC, who is an absolutely lovely, wonderful guy. And lucky for us, they both have the travel bug bad!!! When I told T we were moving to Africa, she looked it up straight away and started making a plan. She was determined to come visit.

And so they did. Unfortunately their visit ended up coinciding with our return from a visit to Australia when LL was 7 months. It wasn't a big deal though and we instead organised for them to head straight to the Okavango for 4 nights, while we returned, unpacked, did washing and then re-packed and drove to Maun to pick them up.

Their visit was actually perfect timing. It meant Mr B and I had no time to dwell over leaving our families and Australia, and we got right back into life in Bots. It was also perfect in that until then we hadn't been anywhere in Bots since having LL. We needed to get back out there, and give travelling in Africa with a baby a go. (Yes we had just been brave and travelled to and from Australia with a 6  month old, but this was completely different. This was Botswana, Africa, with a baby .... ) Of course it was all perfectly fine, and we managed and had a wonderful time.

Because we were tired and the drive to Maun from Francistown is just over 5 hours we decided to overnight there with Tanya and JC before driving on to Kasane first thing the following morning. I contacted Glen, a travel agent in Maun that we often use, to ask for accommodation recommendations. He suggested Thamalakane River Lodge. It was a great suggestion - comfortable rooms with just enough space for a travel cot, a nice outlook onto the Thamalakane River, neatly manicured gardens, and a delicious restaurant.

We were up early the next day with a plan to reach Kasane by about 1pm. We were keen to make an afternoon boat cruise that run from several of the lodges. But first we had to dodge a few roadside animals ....

I had booked us in to River View Lodge, a small guest house run by the parents of the owner of the local Francistown pharmacy. Several friends in town had recently stayed there and said it was worth trying as it was a lot more reasonably priced than the bigger lodges, more initimate, and possibly better suited for those travelling with a baby. They were right. Elna and Wilco could not do enough for us. Their individual chalets were comfortable, spacious, and more than large enough to comfortably stay with LL, a travel cot and all his baby paraphenalia.

River View Lodge is right on the Chobe River, which was in flood while we were there. The Lodge has a pool, as well as separate bar, dining and lounge areas. Breakfast is included, and other meals can be provided upon request. The food was delicious and we dined there both nights of our stay.

First time in the travel cot

Much preferring the big bed!

Because we arrived in Kasane a little later than we expected, we did a quick check-in, left Mr B and LL at the guest house for a nap, and sped off to Chobe Safari Lodge to see if we could make one of their afternoon boat cruises. For some reason I thought these cruises left at 2pm; thankfully they didn't leave until 3pm and we made it with plenty of time to spare. Time enough in fact for some lunch by the pool.

The cruise as always was fantastic, and Tanya and JC thoroughly enjoyed it. We saw lots of birdlife, cape buffalo, elephant, crocodile, and hippo. Unfortunately no lion or other cats, but as the river was in flood, many of the inland waterholes would have had water and as such a lot of animals then have no reason to come down to the river. T and JC were elephant spotting though; they had seen LOTS of lion and leopard in the Okavango!!

The next day we did a self-drive in the National Park. Mr B and I prefer this as we can then take our time, drive around for a while and see what we see. Thankfully Mr B doesn't get too flustered when we come across a bull elephant or a matriarch herd blocking our path. Being the scaredy cat that I am, it is usually me "quietly" telling him to BACK UP, BACK UP!!!!!

We saw many of the same animals as the day before, as well as kudu, giraffe, and mongoose.

T and JC were very keen to see Victoria Falls in Zim, but Mr B and I weren't so sure about doing the trip with LL, as we still needed to do a 6 hour trek back to F'town the same day. So we organised for Wilco, the host of the guest house, to drive them across for a quick morning visit. From their accounts it was worth the flying visit.

After a quick lunch we made our departure for F'town. It was the quickest visit to Kasane/Chobe/Victoria Falls Mr B and I have ever done. We have since realised you really need to stay for a minimum of 3 nights in order to see and do everything at a more reasonable pace. T and JC didn't have a lot of time though, they were due to be back on a plane in the next day or so, and they still wanted to see where we lived.

We filled the remaining days with a tour of Francistown, some quality playtime with LL, and a visit to Mr B's worksite.

Before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye. But thankfully not for long .... Christmas in Australia was on the agenda for all of us ...

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Weaver Bird

For the last month or so LL and I have been enjoying watching the work of the weaver birds in the garden here at the complex.

For those that don't know the weaver bird, or weaver finch, gets its name because of the elaborately woven nests they build. The nests vary in shape, size, material used, and construction technique. Many species weave very fine nests whereas others form massive untidy nests. Most nests have narrow entrances, facing downward. Weavers build their nests together for protection, often several to a branch.

The thing about the weaver birds that I find the most interesting is that it is the male bird that builds this intricately designed nest, and uses them to lure prospective females. If the female does not like the nest, she will pull it apart and the male will have to start again!!

Hmmmm..... sound familiar to anyone???

This pic was taken early October - there were only a few nests in the tree ...

Come mid November we had a few more visitors...

(Apologies for the quality of the photo - it was a pretty overcast day).

It's fascinating to watch them enter the nests through the downward facing entry. Makes you wonder where the eggs are resting and how much room really is in there ...

Just goes to show I guess, you don't need a big house to have and raise a few babies?!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

A Happy Cake to Say Goodbye

Is there any better way to say goodbye than with cake??

After seeing Beth's version of the rainbow cake on her blog, Mr B and I knew we wanted to have a go at making it too. It looked so impressive, and so delicious; how could we not? But when to make it and for what occassion??

And then we thought .... what better way to say goodbye to our wonderful friends Theunette and Francois than with this bright, happy, and hopefully yummy cake?

So we did ...

I made the cakes over several days, freezing a few as I went (which I actually recommend if you are doing this during hot weather, or it is humid, as the frozen cakes were more moist than the ones I made the day before and just stored in tupperware).

I used the butter cake recipe in the Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book. If you don't have it here it is -

125g butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1&1/2 cups SR flour
1/3 cup milk

Have butter at room temperature
Beat butter with vanilla until light and creamy
Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition
Stir in half of the sifted flour and half the milk, until combined
Add remaining milk and flour, stir lightly, and then beat lightly until mixture is smooth
Spread into greased and lined tins.

It's super easy to make and was easy to divide into two round cake pans. Cooking time was exceptionally quick and it took me a few goes to get it right. I think I ended up cooking it at 160 degrees fan forced for about 12 mins or thereabouts. The first 4 cakes were a touch more cooked than the rest. And one lot was a little undercooked, so much so that I had to throw my first purple cake away and re-do on the day of the dinner. It was all a bit of a learning curve.

I also used the Vienna Cream recipe from the same book to do the icing. It required 3 batches of the following:

125g butter
1&1/2 cups icing sugar
2Tbs milk

Have butter and milk at room temperature
Beat butter until it is as white as possible
Gradually add half sifted icing sugar, beating constantly
Add milk gradually
Then gradually beat in remaining icing sugar
Mixture should be smooth and easy to spread

And then on Saturday before the farewell dinner party we put it all together. It looked GREAT, even if I do say so myself !! :)

Here's some pics as evidence:
Red and yellow and pink .... Mr B starts stacking the cakes together ...

Green and blue ... for some reason my cakes had air bubbles (still trying to figure this one out) and we had to hide the blue cake in the middle as it was a little sorry for itself with a bit of a hole (Uh, oh!!) .....

LL loves to be in the mix, watching, "helping", tasting ....


You could leave it at this:

But we decided to go one step further ....

Maybe we should have left it?

Everyone at the party liked it though ....

Wow, right?

So easy and so much fun to make .... go on, give it a go!

Undomestic Goddess

Living the expat life here in Bots also means that I am currently a stay-at-home-mum. I could possibly work here if I really desperately wanted to, but it is often difficult to get a work permit, jobs in town are limited, and one of the reasons we took up this opportunity was so I could stay at home with our children, as opposed to dashing back to work once my maternity leave was over in order to help pay the mortgage.

Despite being a stay at home mum, I am by no means a "house-wife" in the old-fashioned sense of the word.

For one I am not big on the clean and tidy front. Thankfully we have a maid here in Bots so our house is always clean. It may not always be "tidy", but it is without a doubt, clean. This is not to say that before a maid our house was dirty. It was never dirty. I am just not fantatical on the cleaning thing. I HATE doing the dishes (I have already locked Mr B into buying a dishwasher on our eventual return to Australia) , mopping and dusting, but on the other hand I quite like ironing and vacuuming and washing clothes so I guess that kind of balances it out?!

Anyway the one house-wifely task that I often struggle with is my domestic goddess skills in the kitchen. I enjoy cooking and actually find it is like a time out for me sometimes, particularly on the weekends. Mr B will play with LL while I cook, and I'm happy with that. But what I have in enthusiasm, I sort of somewhat lack in skill. I will give myself credit for trying, and continuously having a go at new things. But most things I do, or try, never quite turn out how I expect them to.

Take the family roast for example. This is a challenge I have set myself over the last few months - to become good at it. Most people I know say cooking a roast is easy. Not for me. I cannot tell you how many "roast" chickens I have thrown out this year because I just haven't cooked it properly - it's either still been quite raw or overdone. There's not been a happy medium. Until my Mum introduced me to Continental's Cook-in-a-bag. Those I can handle, and have done successfully a few times now. As well as the chicken flatties that I buy here in town from the local Woolworths. But I feel like I'm cheating. I have followed Donna Hay's instructions to a tee and every single time .... fail! I have no idea what I'm doing wrong. ..... But I'm not going to give up yet.

I do think half the problem with my undomestic skills in the kitchen, is our lack of good quality ingredients here in Bots. I think good ingredients make the world of difference in your cooking. As do your utensils and instruments.

(I have promised myself one of these also when we return eventually to Australia!!)
But I'm not going to blame my lack of cooking prowess on my machinery. I am determined to perfect the roast sooner rather than later. It might just take some lessons at Mum's and my mother-in-laws over the next few months while I am back in Australia, before I get it right.

Over the last few months I have become somewhat better at roasting beef fillet and also potatoes - this recipe and this one has helped me there. But I am still lacking all the trimmings and when I serve it all up, it never looks as good as Mum's or MILs! I'm lacking something. Maybe I'm too rushed because I have a toddler demanding his food now. Maybe I just don't have the patience to be overly pedantic with it. Maybe by the end of a long day I'm just too tired to care much, and like LL want the food on the table asap.

Whatever the problem, I will rectify it. I am determined to improve my cooking skills and my everyday menu options over the next 12 months (which is hopefully not too great a challenge with a new baby and a two and a half year old??). I got Mr B to buy me Jamie's 30 Minute Meals, and I am getting a lot of inspiration from this blog and this blog. If these Mummy's can cook some incredible looking, and by the sound of it tasting, meals for their men and kids, surely I can too, right?!

Watch this space as I will be sure to post about any successes ... fails will not be mentioned :)

Goodbye, Farewell, So Long, Bon Voyage, Good Luck ..

Living in an expat community, it is inevitable that you will eventually have to say goodbye to friends that have become like family. This year, sadly, I have had to do that three times already, and will do so again this Friday. It's tough. It's sad. And it causes everything to change all over again.

Earlier this year we said a very sad farewell to the Smith Family. Ange was a neighbour, a friend, a surrogate-mum, a confidant, babysitter, personal shopper, and a giver of advice on just about everything from cooking to raising a boy to how to clean your carpet to how to grow tomatoes. She was one of those neighbours that you are privileged to live next door to. And a friend who would give you the shirt off her back anytime, day or night. She has a wicked sense of humour, loves a beer, and is an all round generous heart. She even bought LL his first pair of jocks (never mind that he was only 16 months old and had no idea what a potty was, let a lone number 1s or 2s!!!). Ange left a huge hole in my life for quite a while. I missed seeing her outside in the complex. I missed our daily walks and cups of tea, and popping next door for an onion or some milk or whatever else I needed.

Theunette, Elaine, Ange and me - by early next year all these ladies will have left F'town :(

And then of course there was Dee and little C. I've said before how much these two meant to LL and I, and how much I hoped they would return to Francistown one day soon. This is unfortunately seeming more and more unlikely ....

June saw us say goodbye to Mr B's colleague and my wonderful friend Penny. What a loss to our little expat community this was. Penny's love of life, exuberance, enthusiasm and natural friendliness was appreciated by everyone in Francistown that knew her. Again she was my neighbour, fitness partner, confidant, venting ear, teacher of all things geological, fellow lover of good books, a shoulder to cry on and lean on, and someone I just plain loved being around, so much so that I decided to send her off with a bang and organised a trip for a small group of us to the Okavango for a weekend. It was a lovely last hurrah (and something I am yet to post about ... coming soon though!). And helped to make saying goodbye a little easier I think.

But life goes on for them and for us and you learn to adjust and things eventually go back to "normal".

And then you do it all over again ...

As I will on Friday when my wonderful friend Theunette, and her also fantastic family, leave us for a new life in Australia. I can't be sad about this change. As much as I will miss Theunette (her kindness, generosity, support, friendship, and her food!!!), what an adventure they are in for. What a brilliant opportunity for them to hopefully better their children's lives, and their own. And because they are leaving us for Australia, I know deep down that this is not farewell, but rather, see you soon :)

Lovely farewell dinners like this are the only way to say goodbye :)

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