Leaving Kruger Park (see previous posts!) was of course sad as it’s arguably the most incredible place I’ve been in my entire life. However it is hard to feel too sad whilst driving through the gorgeous South African countryside:


Lots more pretty citrus farms:


I think I managed to actually nap in the car a bit and we were back in Joburg and installed ourselves in Mike and Linda’s gorgeous guest room, which among other things had the most glorious long, narrow, deep soaking tub in the bathroom. We also asked about laundry because our clothes from the park were soaked in sweat and about a gallon of bug spray… and Linda went, “Oh we don’t have a washer and dryer here so we’ll just have the staff do it.” Gosh, owning guesthouses is NOT a bad gig. (Well, although it’s a ton of work. They were hosting a Dotors Without Borders group and Mike was making gorgeous tiramisu and a giant meringue with berries and whipped cream for their lunch… someone got a mouse in their room… some South African soap opera star had gotten chicken pie for lunch so had to have a different dinner… and just gazillions of calls related to bookings and confirmation and payment.)


We settled in and then spent the evening with our cousin John and his (37 weeks pregnant) wife Greta. We went to dinner at a trendy Asian fusion place and talked about cats for a long time (of course). But we also heard about the interesting Johannesburg neighborhoods and the weird ways people lived during segregation. Greta is getting a creative writing PhD from Vitsrasserzurfenlordknowswhat University (I just looked it up, it’s actually called University of the Witwatersrand). She also gets some support from their migrant studies program and works with a lot of sex workers, many from Zimbabwe (from where immigration to South Africa continues to be vast). Greta was spending the week leading a training with the end goal of passing on this sex worker organization’s newsletter to be managed independently by its members.

Sashimi taco mm:


The next morning involved more fabulous breakfast made by Mike.


I tried this tasty friend for the first time!


It’s cool that it’s B12 enriched. And it was not dissimilar to miso when smeared atop a generous layer of butter.


The day began with yoga on the deck, next to the pool. Rough life! We had a later start to the day since the plan was for Lee to take us to the apartheid museum in downtown Joburg. Lee took us through the winding back roads in little ethnic enclaves (the Ethiopian area, the Indian area) and pointed out people illegally mining in the abandoned mines for smaller gold bits they carried out in buckets (apparently the gangs controlled all that stuff and you had to be on our gang’s turf to do this safely).


We had about an hour and a half at the apartheid museum. It was dense, with lots of written sections highlighting people and events, photos, objects, mini films… It was hard to tell exactly what order to go in at various times (though I think being accustomed to keeping to the right versus the left may have been part of the confusion).

Hearing about the nationalism that led to apartheid felt far too familiar in this era of Trump. I also was just struck at the greed of the Afrikaaners- they hated the black people and wanted them gone yet ultimately wanted and needed to keep them close to the city to exploit them for cheap labor in Johannesburg. I also hadn’t realized that part of the reason the US and Britain didn’t do more to push against apartheid was because of their fears of Soviet power- yet another part o the world where they tolerated a regime that violently suppressed all dissent. Another surprise- that more people were killed in the clashes between 1990 and the first elections in 1994 than had been killed in the previous 40 years. Also didn’t realize that leaders like Steve Biko, part of the Black Consciousness movement, got inspiration from America’s black power movement. Oh also, toward the end they listed the Bill of Rights from the South African Constitution and it’s beautiful and made me want to sob.


Peek at the World Cup stadium on the way home!


Lee gave us a ride back to Mike and Linda’s and then we went grocery shopping with Mike to make dinner for the night. I impulse purchased a variety of exciting cheese and a smoked trout dip and Malindi and I made a nice collaborative meal.


Malindi made gumbo… she brought a seasoning mix from her home in Louisiana, yum!


I made Thanksgiving-ish green beans since we were missing Thanksgiving.


And we also made real guacamole since they hadn’t had it, and again, SOUTH AFRICA HAD ALL THE HUGE AMAZING AVOCADOS. It was a tasty meal.


We wanted to eat outside since it was probably 65ish degrees? But poor sweet Linda had to wear three sweaters and a vest to sit outside comfortably in that weather haha.

Again, Lee took us out in the first part of the day to the place I requested- Soweto. The first place we went was the Hector Pieterson Museum. In 1976 the schoolkids in Soweto were very brave and took to the streets to protest the new bizarre demand that they do the work for 1/2 their school subjects in Afrikaans. The schools already had pathetic funding for balck students compared to white, not enough teaches (and poorly trained ones), students having to go in classrooms in shifts. But now this dumb ***ing law that after all this work of learning English and submitting exams etc in that language they now had to newly learn Afrikaans just to placate the nationalist Afrikaans nut jobs. Anyway, the kids walked out of class. The result was tear gas, rubber bullets, and eventually real bullets, and these kids had only rocks and shields made from trash can lids to defend themselves (pictured below)


(Of course, all the official police statements said the same crap they say today about the kids being violent and provoking them). There was national and international outrage and the government was not keen to allow any public mourning or funerals since these kids were rebelling against state authority or some dictatorial ***, but eventually one symbolic funeral was held for this one poor 12 year old child, Hector Pieterson. The museum was mostly photos/videos/eyewitness accounts of that day. Then outside its doors was a path to the spot where he was actually killed.

Our next stop was Nelson Mandela’s old house:


And it was just interesting driving around and people watching in Soweto. The sort of dome shaped roofs you see on some of the houses below are old and made of concrete. They are pretty crappy insulators. Nonetheless they’ve now been there so long they are kind of symbolic of Soweto.

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We stopped for lunch at a wee little spot where the sweetest lady had her restaurant. It was just us and one other guy in a little courtyard on a back street in Soweto. Our mission was to try pap!


Pap is that big white lump of cornmeal. It’s a staple food for a lot of the people in South Africa. As you see below it serves as both starch and utensil in the meal. Your goal is to make a ball of it using only one hand and then use that ball to scoop up the other things on the plate (in this case, spinach and the most wonderfully seasoned beef). Lee of course made it look effortless. I, after I managed to stop burning my hands, was less than adept and ended up with sauce all over everything hahaha.


Another landmark of Soweto is these two towers. People bungee jump off of them. Dumb crazy people lololol.


Then as we were driving back to Mike and Linda’s we went by Johannesburg’s largest hospital, Baragwanath, which is also the third largest hospital in the world. It’s where a lot of doctors from all over Africa do their training, because they can see so much trauma and other exciting things. Apparently the care for patients isn’t especially good :/ Once we got on the subject of medical things, Lee shared that his wife died of tuberculosis two years ago. He said the disease had hidden in her bones and she was initially given the wrong diagnosis and treatment. We also talked some about the AIDS epidemic, about PREP, and about condom use. I never turn off my public health brain hahaha.

I really have a hard time articulating Mike and Linda’s relationship with Lee. On the one hand he has worked with them for about 12 years and Linda says he’s invaluable like in circumstances where you need some complicated permit and there’s a long wait list and then Lee goes behind the scenes and fixes things. On the other hand, they still refer to him as the “driver”. I have no idea how much money he makes. We enjoyed talking to him about his beloved pet corn snakes and grey African parrots.

Lee dropped us off with Mike and Linda and then we went from seeing the big poor black area from Johannesburg to the ultra rich white fancy area of Johannesburg, all in the same day. They wanted us to see a store by one of their favorite South African artists, Carrol Boyes. We browsed that shop and Linda sweetly bought Malindi a wedding gift there. Then we split up for a bit and strolled around the mall. I fell in love with Poetry, a store that’s a bit like a South African Anthropologie except the quality and prices are both slightly better. I got a fabulous flowery green dress. I also ducked into Exclusive Books, an interesting bookstore. I wish I knew which authors were good to get South African stories.

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We met up for what I’d requested- a little mini bridal shower tea for Malindi. We went to a cute shop in the mall called Tasha’s and sat out in the courtyard. We all got fancy coffees and I got some sweet treats for the table. Linda likes talking about weddings a lot.

I got a cappuccino with whipped cream on top, *sigh*.

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That night Mike cooked us yet another fabulous dinner.


Chicken with prunes and capers and onions and delicious seasoning; mashed sweet potatoes and squash


This meal was the day before Thanksgiving and I’d call it a tiny bit Thanksgiving-y!


The next morning it was Thanksgiving! We arranged to meet John and Greta for an early breakfast (before they left for work and we left for our flight) at the most dreamy open air café/coffee shop near their neighborhood. The shop had this neat little tiny windmill fans to keep bugs away from the baked goods and had delicious samples of items like Cronuts. There were cute little shops nearby but unfortunately we were zooming along to get ready to go to the airport so didn’t get to browse as much as I would have liked.


I deeply approve of bakeries with samples.


Corn cakes+sauteed mushrooms+pesto+poached eggs


Fam! Malindi, cousin John, me, cousin MIke.


Next stop, Capetown!


kruger park part 2

More from Kruger Park, the magnificent national park of South Africa!

“This place looks like a herd of elephants just came through” is an understatement. Elephants are large and very casual about knocking over trees mid-snack.

They are also really beautiful and seeing them with their families makes my heart soft.


More warthogs.


A story: our third of four days in Kruger Park was an UNBELIEVABLE day of nature. We got up and ate the left around 11 to see animals. Our plan was to drive to the hippo pools then drive to the nearby camp at Crocodile Bridge to stretch our legs.

We saw more delightful animals including a really great warthog that grew irritated with the birds on its back and spun around in a circle and then bucked to get them to go away. We also saw a gorgeous bird, a lilac breasted roller, that seemed so beautiful and full of colors (lilac, teal, gold) that it couldn’t be real.

We arrived to the hippo pools and the plan was to get out and walk around because usually there’s an armed ranger who will go with you. However we realized there was no one there because it was Sunday. There were no hippos in sight but we took a few pictures of the pretty landscape by the river. We began driving away when we noticed a car approaching from the other direction as we made our U turn, the driver sticking his hand out the window. Then Malindi, who’d been zoning out gazing out her window, went “LIONS! LIONS!”


And freaking five lionesses walk past maybe 10 feet from our car! They were perhaps slightly smaller than I’d thought them to be but also much scarier. From the looks on their faces and their posture there was no doubt whatsoever- they were hunting. They were going to kill something and did not remotely care about the nearby cars. I also took note of their disproportionately large front claws. One (the alpha?) went a few meters ahead of the other four and they headed straight for the group of impala grazing by the river. The next minute or two were chaos as the impala realized what was happening and leapt in every direction. Malindi saw one she thought was toast manage to jump directly over one of the lionesses.

Initially we thought all of the impala might have gotten away as the lionesses seemed to be wandering around.


However, then abruptly, their amazing eyes all simultaneously saw that one of the lionesses had gotten their target, and they all bounded over to her to share the fresh kill. And then the predatory steel was gone and they just looked like relaxed kitties eating lunch together with their gal pals (albeit with faces covered in blood… and periodically you’d see one rip off a bloody hunk and take it over to a separate area) (At this point we were watching the action through binoculars since they were maybe 30 meters away, lounging by a bush).

It. Was. Incredible. Alll of us in the car had a huge adrenaline rush (at one point the lions were so close we had to roll up the windows!) It seemed like it shouldn’t have been possible to see what we’d just seen- it was 12:30pm! Lions are nocturnal! What were they doing there??We were also rather grateful it hadn’t been a day we could wlak around outside, since an armed ranger with a gun would not have accomplished much against 5 (!) lions determined to have lunch. Though as Mike pointed out, to get away, you don’t have to be the fastest. You just have to be faster than the guy behind you!

We finally drove away, tipping off the game ranger driving some people nearby that they could spot the tail end of the lions’ lunch. Coincidentally John called Linda sort of mid attack (lol) so she called him back and told him the story and he was extremely jealous.


We drove back to camp, with more incredible animal sightings along the way of course. Including a mama monkey with her baby grabbed onto her belly! It was bad- she was eating human food (though Mike says that’s rare, most people respect the rules and don’t feed the animals). She was adorable though, holding the sandwich or whatever and eating like a person. And her sweet baby!


We regrouped back at the camp and prepared for our drive with the game ranger at 4:30. It was us and another group of 4 and we climbed up in a big open air buggy where we were elevated so our eyes were maybe 10 feet up above the road. There was canvas all around us but no windows.


The night drive we had an initial bout of excitement when we saw a hyena (!) loping through some trees. The ranger said it’s not uncommon to see them alone since they’re scavengers. They’ll go off on their own looking for a lion or a leopard with a kill and then start yipping/laughing to call in the rest of the pack to help them steal it. (Oh also I spotted the hyena first and the ranger complimented me and I was v proud).


In general the night drive had fewer sightings than the daytime ones, but we did see a genet. It’s not technically a cat but… in the important ways it looks like an adorable kitty with spots on its body and a striped tail. It was quite small and in some dense branches so I have no idea how Mike spotted it (by this point it was quite dark so they had people shining flashlights out of the side of the jeep) but I’m so glad he did. As Malindi put it, the expression on the cat’s face was like when you’re trying to call a cat and get it to come to you and it just stares at you hahaha.


More facts from the game ranger:

  • Hyena poop is a calcium supplement. It’s just crushed bone. They do it all in one place and mark their territory (it looks like white clumps). They’ll cough up the fur elsewhere. (lions, conversely, cough up a mix of fur and bone).


    • Dad rhinos stay around 2.5-3 years after the birth of their babies. Also, the rhinos have an 18 month gestation.
    • Rhinos will have a big pit in their territory. Visiting males can’t poop in it. If they poop outside it and keep their heads down when passing through, it shows they’re just there for food, not trying to mate. But if they lift their heads it’s a fight to the death.

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    • Elephants have a 22 month (!) gestation


  • Impala wait until there’s rain to give birth to their babies. If it doesn’t rain they can keep in the fetus for up to a month (?!) and can actually resorb it if it doesn’t rain at all.
  • Kudu give birth in a thicket and hide the baby in there the first 2-3 months. If you see a smaller baby, stop the car- there’s probably a bit cat around that has compromised the thicket.

After the night drive we got back to camp and made another fire and Malindi was standing next to it alone singing to herself looking like a real crazy person. But she said there were little creatures of some kind in the branches above her and when she sang she’d hear them peeping at her.

What we ate:

More wine from South Africa. This bottle was purchased based solely on its name I think ❤


More tasty salads. Malindi made this gorgeous one. I continue to marvel how I got to eat ALL THE AVOCADO I WANTED. And it was beautiful and ripe and perfect and gorgeus.


More meat on an open flame


Breakfast of championnnnnnssss. Obviously they in South Africa also like the Full English breakfast.



On one of the days we stopped by a larger camp and did a bit of souvenir shopping. I also got some rusks, a traditional South African crispy bready thing that is dipped in coffee. Well- I liked it on its own! It’s made with buttermilk and is rich and crumbly and a bit tangy- it has a lot of the positive qualities of a traditional British Scone but it’s a bit drier and more toast/Weetabix/crackerlike in texture. Anyway I ate them straight up.


It’s hard to overstate the carnivorousness of our family. This was a meal of leftovers. CAN YOU EVEN WITH ALL THIS MEAT.


Papaya (they call it pawpaw) makes for a wonderful fruit salad.


Breakfast our last day. Freakin’ feast.


Finally, my sister took some really fabulous pics of the animals with portrait mode, so please take a moment to admire/giggle at them.

Glamorous warthog:


Thicc zebra:


Sweet tiny dik dik (or possibly duiker? I was terrible at telling all the wee antelopes apart! they are all precious angels!):


Opera singer buffalo:


kruger park part 1

For four days of our South African adventure we were lucky enough to stay in Kruger Park, the enormous game reserve about a six hour drive north of Johannesburg. It contains multitudes and definitely cannot be covered in a single blog post. (Well, or in a blog in general. I recommend that if you really want to know about it, you go there!)

A statistic shared by my cousin’s husband Peet: if you drive on every single road in the Kruger (and it’s enormous, larger than Israel), and could see simultaneously 30 meters in every direction… you’d still only see 5% of the park.

A good way to start is by meeting the impala:


The game rangers love to say the impala are like McDonalds- they’re everywhere, and they have a big M on them (on their rumps!) We saw probably hundreds of them during our trip to the park. They truly become ubiquitous. Like let’s talk about how wild it is to spend enough time in a place that you’re like “*yawn*, another antelope”.

But let’s start with the trip there. We drove a long ways, first through the Joburg suburbs (I saw a community with solar panels on the roof and Mike said it had been constructed as an athlete’s village for the Africa Games and then became affordable housing- actually v successful which apparently is not a guarantee with that kind of project. They added that the World Cup had been great for Joburg). Then we went through countryside and saw cows grazing.

We stopped for petrol and it was wild- the gas station had a breeding program so back behind it there was a water hole surrounded by rhinos, zebras, buffalo, and more! We got interesting snacks and then kept driving. The terrain changed and it got very hilly and lusher and greener and gorgeous, and we drove past lots of citrus farms (we stopped at a farm store and got a mix of fresh and dried fruit). Then rather abruptly we exited the highway and began driving over a bridge and… there were elephants! Right there in the water! We weren’t even in the park yet!

We went through the gate and Kruger majorly showed off for us.


We also saw a warthog that had just been swimming, lots of impala, some monkeys, elephants (what looked like a mom, a baby, and maybe a teenaged niece and nephew), a family of zebra with a baby who was stretched out on the ground napping. And more!


We made a joke that it was National Giraffe Day because Mike and Linda said that in the past they’d see maybe 1 or 2 in a weekend, yet we saw a few dozen in just an hour or so. Some were so close to the road (eating leaves from trees next to it) that we could see their eyelashes.


Most of the giraffes had a couple of birds balanced on their back who kept gaping their beaks open in a very amusing way.


We made our way to camp and discovered that a short walk from our cabin we had a beautiful overlook down into the valley. That valley had an adorable family of elephants, which included a sweet little baby as well as some teenagers.


(Malindi and Linda)


(Oh hai elephants!)

The place we stayed was called Biyamiti Bush Camp. It was a small area that really was not dissimilar to camping in the US. No frills, nowhere to shop (you have to drive elsewhere in the park to do that), just little rooms with cots to sleep on (no air conditioning!) and a wee kitchenette with a fridge. There was no living room- you just soaked up the outdoor space!

As you can see, we had a really nice porch and yard type area.


There was lots to amuse us just around our camp. In our own little backyard, cute little hens pecked about and beautiful more exotic birdies (like electric blue starlings and crested barbet) (I just paused journaling to go out and ask Mike the name of that bird. He is a treasure trove of information). We kept going down to the overlook down the little path and seeing everything imaginable- impala, water buck, elephants, zebras, warthogs. Sometimes we heard the elephants trumpeting at night too!


Meanwhile there are four adult brown bats (two with babies tucked under their wings) roosting adorably, upside down, under the porch roof. From time to time the babies squirm around and annoy their moms and we see everyone stick out long pink tongues.


And thennnn on our last day we were hanging out with the cute little birdies who liked to hang out with us in the yard begging for snacks and eagle eye Malindi spotted a little green snake in a tree! We were all “Hi little snek!” And it was peeping its head out at us adorably (see if you can find it in the last pic). And then we discussed it with our family and they were all “… that’s a boomslang. It is highly dangerous and full of neurotoxin.”


A big about eats and evening activities:


Apparently avocados grow very happily in South Africa so they are abundant and cheap. I don’t know if ever in my life I’ve really had All The Avocados I Wanted and am thrilled to say that I had that opportunity in South Africa.

They had the Hass kind like we have here but I saw these guys pictured above more… larger, greener (even when ripe), and thinner skinned.

Gas station snacks are better too:


Breakfast would typically involve gorgey fruit (that’s papaya glistening on the lower right… mm, so good!)


And this stuff… I don’t know exactly what the fat content is of “double cream” (!) yogurt but I deeply approve of it.


For the keto/carb averse, you actually have some solid options in South Africa because the low carb thing was big-ish there and still somewhat is.

I eat carbs like it’s my job but I still enjoyed this muesli a lot:


As for dinners, after finishing our drives ogling at the animals each day, we’d grill around the fire (charcoal is cheating… you buy wood and cook it down to the coals!) and watch bats and owls swoop around and chat about family and so on.

One thing we talked about was the difficult work of the game rangers who look after Kruger. They don’t get paid much and in recent years have basically served as military, dealing with poachers who are actively trying to kill them as well as the ivory-tusked animals. They don’t get paid well despite having a demanding job with difficult hours (most game drives are dawn and dusk).

It’s a bit tricky for me, hearing these animals referred to as game, as in the US I’m used to thinking game= things that’s shot for sport.

Another thing we learned is that the Kruger connects to another park in Mozambique but that area is poorer and also still has villages of people living in it, so it’s somewhat easier for the poachers on that side of things. Again, it leads to extraordinary demands placed on the rangers.

We’d talk about such matters while gnawing away on the most wonderful stuff.

Tasty grilled meats, more avocado <3, fresh pineapple and papaya (mm), more veggies.


More Kruger to come!

christmas vacation

My holiday celebrations began at my home in NC. My roommate got a cryptic call from her dad on a random Wednesday saying, “Are you home?” She said “… yeah… why?” and he said “I’m coming over. Don’t go anywhere.” And refused to tell her anything else. Thus proving all dads everywhere are real weirdos.

It turns out he was dropping off this adorable wee Christmas tree!


We turned it into a holiday wonderland (ish) with an advent calendar and presents below it.

It made for a nice backdrop to a pre-Christmas party with the First Wives Club! We decorated cookies and had the following:


  • My fondue (Trader Joe’s has a microwavable fondue. I acknowledge that this is DANGEROUS INFORMATION TO SHARE) with apple slices, carrots, baguette, and pistachio pomegranate crisps
  • More Trader Joe’s goodies from Lesli: smoked salmon and cream cheese wraps, Melba toast with tapenade, summer sausage
  • COOKIES! I used this Sally’s Baking Addiction recipe which was really good and easy to work with (even when you, like me, have no rolling pin and use a wine bottle LOL)

My sister got me the CUTEST Christmas cookie cutters last year for Christmas and it was so fun to pull them out. The little elves were DEFINITELY my favorites.


Lola the kitty helped me set up the decorating station hahaha. Just made plain white icing, and had sprinkles and a few colors of decorating icing.


IMO, I think we produced some REALLY adorable cookies. I made Lesli and Emily take some and then gave the rest of them to my coworkers and family.


I wrapped up work on the night of Friday December 21st (it was the clinic’s karaoke filled Christmas party, very fun) and then zoomed up to Virginia (whilst listening to Uncover: Escaping NXIVM, a wiiiiiiiiild podcast that I highly recommend).

And what was I rushing to, you ask? Of course my family. But also…



Guys, my best friend had a baby. It’s the craziest thing ever. She’s my best friend.

It’s been very cool watching her take on this whole mom thing because she’s still the person I can have ridiculous shorthand conversations with and swap recipes with and share an ongoing love of musical theater with… and yet now… she has a real, legit, grown up Family that she’s made. She has a husband and a (CUTE CUTE CUTE) baby!

So of course, getting to spend time with her for the first time in the six months since her bb was born (!!!) I definitely sought to make up for lost time.



They are a big fan of this baby. He’s not very good at letting them sleep, yet they forgive him. It helps that he is the most good natured, sweet, curious, giggly little man.


Because it just wasn’t enough for me to be her best friend and the maid of honor in her wedding, I got to be Lydia’s baby’s godmother 🙂 I was so ecstatic when she asked me. The service was super sweet (I like baptisms much more than weddings… no threat of divorce looming!) and the baby was a champ… he focused mostly on chewing on the programs.


Lydia’s family had a sweet little shindig afterwards at which time I admired this cheese Christmas tree.


Another pre-Christmas day I went to the nearby banh mi joint (banh mi= the most deliiiiiiicious Vietnamese sandwiches. Perfect crunchy baguette filled with some kind of protein- pork is traditional but I always get the sugar cane shrimp and this place has veggie options too- then smeared with mayonnaise and fish sauce and topped with cilantro and thinly sliced cucumber and carrots and… also some magic). Got treats for my whole family. All the sandwiches are under $5 and often last two meals.


The main things I miss about Northern Virginia are my family (obvi) and some of the foods you can get. In North Carolina you can get legit Mexican food which is wonderful because VA doesn’t really seem to have it. On the other hand, DC/Northern Virginia you can get the most extraordinary: Korean. Vietnamese. Peruvian. Ethiopian. El Salvadoran. Bolivian. etc. etc.

Before too long, it was CHRISTMAS DAY!

My cousin Kate has in recent years been gallivanting all over the world with her hus doing cool and interesting things. She currently resides in Germany. There, she purchased… truly unforgettable aprons for the whole family.

Stephen and Tom look deeply proud of their toned figures.


And here’s me and my aunt Kathy. I enjoy that my torso is bare, yet I wore a scarf to keep my neck warm?!


My aunt Kathy to my right was hostest with the mostest who made the most incredible Christmas brunch including a million delicious kinds of cheese, a million delicious breakfast casseroles, and the true highlight of Ina Garten’s roasted salmon tacos which are just God’s gift. I ate a lot more than this plate (and def said hello to a mimosa or two as well) but I was just too busy soaking up the merriment, yknow?!


And last in the apron series (for now anyway haha) here’s sis, me, and mama. I love how Malindi has four hands, two on her hips and two at her sides. I’m also a bit alarmed that I’m the only woman in my nuclear family who got a dude apron…?! Also you can see in this pic I’m wearing some fetching Mrs Claus socks, a Christmas gift from my wonderful sister.


So Christmas brunch was smashing as always.

Yet because I am a child of divorce, I never have just ONE Christmas. Rather, instead of rolling home from that wonderful brunch and throwing on sweatpants, I instead embark for an evening celebration with my dad’s family.

We started by playing Wits and Wagers (my gift to my dad last Christmas!) and eating artichoke dip. That was pretty fun.


And then we ate yet more epic food. My sister made this ABSURD pumpkin bread stuffing that has so much butter and sauteed mushrooms and deliciousness. My aunt Jeanie made smashing scalloped potatoes and roasted brussels sprouts. I made a salad with bleu cheese, craisins, candied walnuts and homemade vinaigrette. And my dad, as he will do every Christmas until the day he dies, made lamb.


So Christmas round two was a success, and then in the next few days I relaxed. I once again contemplated eating my best friend’s baby because he’s so freaking cute (that hat was a baptism gift from me… CAN YOU EVEN WITH HOW CUTE BABY CATS ARE?!)


That day we went to Sweetgreen, which is another of my Northern Virginia must-visit destinations. It was helpful to eat something that actually contained fiber in the sugar-fueled days surrounding the holidays, but also this shroomami bowl is just legit delicious any time.


I may not have any human babies but the family cat, Sheila, was very happy to spend lots of time with me. Most of my clothing I brought home for the holidays is coated with a thin layer of ginger fur. I have to say, some of my best moments at home were spent lying on the couch with kitty. Sometimes chatting with family. Sometimes listening to Christmas music. Sometimes drinking tea. Sometimes just spacing out and staring blissfully at the tree.

This photo is not particularly flattering but I love that it includes a Christmas tree/stockings/snow globe.


Oops, yep, better see the baby again. Lydia and I reunited with Lawrence, one of our pals from high school. We did Model UN together so, uh, yeah. We’re all awesome.

We hunt out at the Korean bakery and stared at the baby, talked to the baby, made the baby laugh, etc.


And then in the following days I did an increasingly poor job documenting my fun activities as I got towards the end of winter break, one because rudely Lydia and her family left to go to their “home” in their “town” where they “live” which is unfortunately far too far away in Illinois. Oh and also I was starting to get bummed about going back to work. Oh and also my epic travels and various life experiences have led me to do some heavy, deep ruminating on the nature of family.

So I don’t have any shots of our annual family post-Christmas house but lo there were cookies and lo they were good. Nor do I have pictures from the various outings I did with some old grad school friends who all ended up having a mini reunion in DC (Erin from Boston! Claire from Tanzania!)

But I will fondly remember my final event of Christmas vacation, which consisted of actually going *out* somewhere and *celebrating New Years Eve* for the first time in, legit, 8 years.

Aaaand all I have to prove for it is a blurry Instagram photo where my face is mostly obscured. This is probably for the best hehehehe. But there was a 90s DJ and mad dancing and I still left early enough that we got an affordable rate on an Uber and I went to bed at a reasonable hour and we are going to call all of that a WIN!

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Hope everyone’s 2019 is off to a good start! I am hard at work on South Africa posts and can’t wait to revisit my adventures there ❤

South Africa- the arrival

Oh hello I went to South Africa! Spoiler alert: I had a fantastic time and have fantastic pictures.


But let’s start at the beginning. This spring, when I got an astonishing email from Mike and Nick.

  1. Mike and Nick are my dad’s first cousins. Their dad, John, was brothers with my dad’s dad, Jasper.
  2. Mike and Nick are also identical twins. That is just a fun fact.
  3. I had met Mike literally once, and Nick maybe two or three times (stateside).
  4. None of the things listed above explain why on earth this happened, but… this spring, Mike and Nick sent an email to me and my sister Malindi that left us TOTALLY SHOOK. That email invited us to South Africa. That email offered to PAY FOR OUR FLIGHTS to South Africa. That email promised us a lengthy adventure seeing a new continent, getting to know a whole new part of my family tree, having all the adventures anyone could possibly want. I MEAN. Who does this happen to?!

Some things happened in the ensuing days (general gaping, emailing my aunt to make sure no one was being this bafflingly generous because they were dying– she was like, “No, they’re just like this!”) but it was a relatively short decision because… WE WERE GETTING TO GO TO SOUTH AFRICA! Who would ever say no to that?!

The passing months I discussed my plans, but discussed them as one might discuss one’s plans to meet and fall in love with the actor Chris Evans. Sounds great but in no way was something actually real or actually happening.

Until… November 13th. When I got in a Lyft and rode to the Raleigh Durham airport with a ticket in my hand that said my destination was SOUTH FREAKIN’ AFRICA!

And so it began.

At RDU, I met my sister, and together we took an hourlong flight to Atlanta. There we had a brief layover followed by… A FIFTEEN HOUR FLIGHT! Over the Atlantic Ocean! To Johannesburg, South Africa!

On the long flight, I learned that (white) South African men hold their own with the British and Germans with drunken obnoxiousness. I ordered a vegetarian meal which apparently to Delta means “meal for someone who is on a diet.” The highlight was when Malindi got a pack of milanos as her side dish and I got… a pack of water! Hah!

And then after that loooong flight it had gone from November 13th to November 14th and I was v tired and the sun was setting over… AFRICA! AFRICA! We were in Africa!

Our cousin picked us up at the airport. After a bit of getting lost (in part because many of the fancy northern suburbs have gates at the end of the streets… though once you actually go up to them it’s illegal if they don’t let you through, so it’s really more of a deterrent)  we arrived at our cousin Rudi and her husband Peet’s new house.

Initial impressions of Johannesburg: the “nice” neighborhoods (even middle class) have high fences and metal security grills outside the front door. Purple jacaranda is blooming everywhere and gorgeous (though it’s not native and overuses water so they’re not replanting when this generation of trees die out).


We ate dinner at Rudi and Peet’s. Their place is GORGEOUS, very open air. The grill setup is very fancy- basically an outdoor kitchen with all the amenities. The meal was incredible. Our family was warm and welcoming and knew a ton about American politics in a way that makes me embarrassed about how little I know about the recent ousting of President Zuma.


We ate three types of grilled meat (<< you will see this will be a common theme in these posts), a delicious salad with wonderful feta and carrots olives and tomatoes (November= SUMMER in South Africa!), quinoa salad with avocado, roasted sweet potatoes, and asparagus.

Plus cheesecake with ripe gorgeous berries.


Plus wine 🙂

We were extremely exhausted when we got into bed that night. Mike and Linda’s business is running guest houses. That night we slept in one of the guest accommodations that is just on the other side of their yard. Random separate small houses are a legacy of apartheid which had the bafflingly ridiculous law– baffling ridiculous laws being a common theme in apartheid– that black and white people could not share walls. Therefore black people who worked for white people would be in these weird little separate rooms at the other end of the yard. So that’s where we slept- it’s now a cozy comfortable guest accommodation.

However despite that exhaustion we had as we collapsed into bed, both Malindi and I had a very peculiar night’s sleep- I was up from 3:30 to 5am but then slept til 1pm. Most of it was jet lag but also in Johannesburg there are loud yell-y birds called HA-di-DAs that sound like a cross between a goose and a seagull and they had a lot to say throughout the morning.

I got up and salivated at the loveliness of Mike and Linda’s porch.


And pool, and view of the city.


And happy succulents.


We ended up spending the day being a bit touristy. We got a ride from Mike and Linda’s driver, Lee (Lee is an integral part of the guest house business and does all kinds of things- he will come up a lot in these posts!) to the fancy mall at Rosemont where one can pick up the hop on hop off double decker tour bus.


(My glamorous sister)

We saw the fancy northern areas first (like Stanton, where the $$$ people live) first…


(Cool mural- lots of interesting street art to be seen)

…then switched buses at Constitution Hill (which used to be a prison but now houses the constitutional court—like the Supreme Court—and various museums)…


(Miners’ memorial- Johannesburg is actually a really new city, only becoming one in 1893 when gold was discovered. A lot of people whose names will never be known died mining in very hazardous conditions)

… and then the Southern part of the tour took us to downtown Joburg. The area is veeeery segregated still- less than a handful of white people to be seen in the crowded, rowdy downtown. Apparently many of the big businesses (like banks) have fled the downtown. The audio o the tour bus had some very interesting parts but also some technical challenges- though we heard the spiel about Ghandi and Ghandi Square about four times I’m not sure we actually saw it.



(Public transportation remains meh in Johannesburg so a lot of people still rely on taxis- they were necessary for the black workers to commute to the city during apartheid when they were segregated to the townships, and they remain a pretty vital part of the transportation infrastructure. Like New York City cab drivers, they know all kinds of secret routes, and drive like absolute maniacs.)

We got back to Rosemont and had a few extra minutes of strolling around. We drank delicious chai lattes (about $2) though I bet my mom would have picked the beet and ginger latte (!) on the menu.

We peeked into a grocery store for the first time– always one of my favorite things to do when I travel– and cracked up at “American” section.


Some of the selections were spot on but I thin it’s safe to say there aren’t a lot of Americans who regularly eat canned mushy peas (!)


Then one of Johannesburg’s typical thunderstorms rolled in. It was fabulous and cooled everything down. We had dinner at home, occasionally interrupted by a cantankerous guest at the guesthouse causing problems that Linda troubleshot by phone. Then off to bed.

LOTS more South Africa posts to come- the morning after our bus tour, we embarked for KRUGER PARK to go on SAFARI! WOO HOO!


I am in catch up mode because I have some blog posts to write about MY AMAZING TWO WEEK TRIP TO SOUTH AFRICA FROM NOVEMBER 13TO TO 28TH HOLY COW IT IS THE COOLEST THERE THE BEST.

But I have over 1000 photos to properly sort and brilliant text to write.

So I will first recount some fun activities prior to that trip which I also do not want to forget.

I now always refer to Colton and James as “my husband and his boyfriend” and oooooh how it makes me laugh.

We went to Smith Street Diner in Greensboro, midway between me in Chapel Hill and Coltie in Winston Salem. (James was visiting for the weekend). Smith Street Diner is SO good and SO cheap. So we all opted, along with the $4.95 breakfast combo, to go for it and each get a side of a giant pancake for an additional 95 cents. IT WAS WONDERFUL.


Speaking of friends and brunch, I hosted a ladies brunch for my lovely friend Lesli’s birthday.


I served:


Another weekend, some lady friends and I went to the reliably amazing Designer Consigners sale in Cary. It’s a twice yearly event where one can purchase items from J Crew etc. that are used but in perfect condition and sold at a v. considerable discount. And it is sooo well organized and things are so well labeled and like a solid 25% of my professional wardrobe is from there.

Then, because we are already in Cary, we have to go get brunch at La Farm, because it is incredz.

I was honestly aghast when I ordered french onion soup and this arrived.


Like… the entire top of the bowl is supposed to be one large cheese and bread explosion.

That said, the broth was DE-LISH, as was the (still too small) bread and cheese involved. So.

I got some additional goodies from La Farm to go and brought them to Coltie to hang out in Winston Salem for the night. These were:

  • A pear and almond tart
  • a strawberry poppy seed meringue
  • a chocolate pretzel macaron


That night in Winston Colton tried to make me watch Gay Best Friend which is a truly horrible fake high school movie. And then at a certain point I had to make it stop and we watched the West Wing instead.

Another weekend and even more sugar- I was invited to tailgate with Kyle and Shaylen and Kyle’s law school bros (seriously it was all men hahaha. They stood around in a cluster playing cornhole and talking about jury trials. Shaylen and I gossiped. It was a real cliche).

I cannot show up to anything empty handed so I made Smitten Kitchen’s salted chocolate chunk cookies. Magnificent. And so quick to execute!


Another pre-Halloween weekend, I went with Emily to see Hocus Pocus (!!) which was showing at the Carolina Theater as part of their Halloween movie festival. The movie HELD UP- young Thora Birch is just delightful. And some of the people who attended dressed up, which was adorable.


More Halloween festivities… my friends held their annual pumpkin carving party and I made this cute thing! Of course I wanted a template that involved a kitty cat.

As usual, the deer destroyed it, but at least they let me display it for a couple of days. They’re such dicks, though… they take a bit out of its face and then spit it out next to it. YOU DON’T LIKE PUMPKIN. WE BOTH NOW THAT NOW. SO STOP EATING MY PUMPKIN EACH YEAR THINKING YOU’LL CHANGE YOUR MIND.


Oh also we had a bunch of hurricanes.

Florence was REAL hyped up and then rather abruptly at the last minute she seemed to essentially detour around the Triangle of North Carolina. We got so, so lucky when so many people did not.


The memes were pretty strong throughout the crisis.


Also MY OLD FRIEND FROM SUMMER CAMP WENT VIRAL. She went to pick up some shelter doggos to shelter for the weekend and took a pic and THE REST IS HISTORY.

Also it is nice to see people be good.


The day Flo came in I took a morning walk and parked my car in the gym parking lot (so as to avoid any of my neighborhood’s numerous trees falling on it).

And then… my friend Emily just drove over in her Jeep in the middle of the storm?! And we ate pizza and salad and drank La Croix and watched scary movies?! RIDIC.


And then the next day everything was still fine but I felt like I’d maxed out my nervous system pre-stressing about the storm so I comforted myself with comfort food. Aka had a reuben for the first time in… 10 years? It was obviously delicious.


Also when you are anxious about bad weather and get very stressed maybe it is not the smartest thing to choose to purchase this Ted Bundy book for your hurricane reading:


Lola understood my anxiety.


So after all that Florence was fine and then the relatively low key Hurricane Michael which no one freaked out about that much… knocked out my neighborhood’s power for a couple of days. Go figure.

For some reason my gym had power (apparently it is just my safe space now?) so I went there and took a yoga class as I charged my phone. Then again I sought out comfort food in the form of a colossal sandwich:


And that first power-less night I walked out into my yard and looked at more stars than I’ve seen in a really long time!

And then I heard a voice in the distance and started thinking about Ted Bundy and sprinted back inside.

Fortunately things had calmed down by midweek the following week because…

I SAW MY FAVORITE MURDER LIVE! You can listen to their hilarity for yourselves because it was the Durham show which they posted it as a podcast episode! (But if you don’t already listen to My Favorite Murder please understand that it is a comedy show yet is also about gruesome true crimes and is not for everyone haha).


Being surrounded by other murderinos was v. exciting and in my same row there were two other fabulous ladies flying solo and we all shared our exciting hometown stories with each other.

More work things… The clinic continues to be awesome and super extra about celebrating people’s big life events. The nurse practitioner had her baby shower and they went all out on decorating.


This sign in particular cracked me up.


My organization also held our fall retreat. It was pretty cute. I always wish there could be a happy medium between the soul crushing reality that can be our day-to-day (fighting our crappy new software system, dealing with the drama of our patients’ very difficult lives) versus the superficial games that have nothing to do with patient care that were all we did at the retreat… but whatever. I’m not in management. (THANK GOD).

There was a very large dessert table- I opted for one of these cupcakes, one because the decorations were amazing and two because they looked homemade.


One of the activities was making pumpkin emojis (…) and these were some of my favorites.

IMG_3055 IMG_3056

But anyway, I have to brag about BY FAR my greatest professional accomplishment to date which occurred at the retreat:


Now, to be clear, this says “Winning Team”, but the hula hoop challenge had single competitors… and I CRUSHED IT. I don’t know what it is, because I am far from an athlete… but it is like my body was made by God to hula hoop. I can easily do it for 40 minutes at a time. The balance is not difficult, the motion is not difficult, I can zone out and just hula hoop and hula hoop and hula hoop. It’s great. So I, ILEANA, rocked the hula hoop competition. There was no team effort.

Actually, the dietitians as individuals did EXCEPTIONALLY WELL. There were two of us in this retreat of more than 100 people and I won hula hoop and Chelsea was on the two person team that won cornhole. So. DIETITIANS REPRESENT.


Shortly thereafter I hadn’t seen my mom in awhile, work was kicking my booty, and I had to pick up a suitcase at home for my South Africa trip (!!) So what that led to was me deciding at about 7pm on a Friday to go home and see my mother… and leaving like 15 minutes later and driving the 4+ hours to DC. I am rarely spontaneous but it was really really great. I got in quality time with my mom, who very sweetly stayed up til midnight on Friday to wait for me so we could visit together and gab about life.

AND, and I got in quality time with pho. I had felt a cold coming on and this nipped it in the bud. I love North Carolina but the pho here just does not measure up to Northern Virginia.


Sheila was also very pleased to see me. In this photo I am wearing a workout top because I had good faith intentions to go to the gym. But… who is going to turn down a cuddle with this sweet little ginger cat?! Once I’d petted her for, yknow, half an hour or so and she was finally sort of satisfied, I gave up on going to the gym and just took a long walk in the park. Which was v. nice.


Every time I have gone home in the past I’ve been all “Ugh, this is a real house with central heating and air conditioning and proper walls and proper doors and no random holes in it and a bathtub that isn’t covered in orange rust stains that are resistant to a magic eraser and it doesn’t have a washer in the bathroom and a dryer in the kitchen and I don’t have to duct tape the bathroom door so it’s always unlocked and can be pushed open, because otherwise everyone gets trapped inside the bathroom every time they shut the door” and so on. BUT. In fact, my personal home has had recent CONSIDERABLE improvement. First of all I found this fabulous chair at the Habitat for Humanity Re-store for $60. Lola has taken it as her own and loves it.


But bigger things have also been afoot! In short:

  • We signed our lease this summer
  • Our (sketchy) landlady almost immediately sold the duplex
  • The new owners, instead of renting out the other half of our duplex, renovated the @*#& out of it. It was loud. And exciting things would happen like our heat would suddenly be going full blast in the middle of August and the only way to stop it was to figure out which switch on the circuit breaker controlled it.
  • We were informed as they began this plan that they hoped we would move in to the newly renovated side so they could renovate our side, and we were like “Yep, sounds great, as long as we keep paying the same amount!”
  • We got this @#@#)%* email out of nowhere


  • I sent the following response to this (@#%&(@# email:


  • We negotiated. My landlord referred to me as combative. I wanted to punch him in the nads. Fortunately my roommate stepped in and was good cop and did it beautifully and we came to a reasonable agreement with only a slight rent increase.
  • We moved into the other side and it is REAL HECKIN FANCY! Basically looks like HGTV threw up on it. For example, this is the new shower/tub:


Having something pretty waiting for me at the end of the line was good, since moving is the worst, even when one is moving next door!

Fortunately I got some laughs in the exhausting process of cleaning out every inch of the old place… because getting behind and under the stove/refrigerator/washer/dryer resulted in my finding a certain someone’s stash of hidden hair ties:


Okay now we are roughly caught up on my pre-Africa life. Chronicles of my THRILLING TRAVELS are soon to come!


Oh hello yes I am 30 now.

It is weird.

I thought I should reflect on all the years of my twenties and have all these insights about what I learned about myself and then I just… didn’t hahaha.

Myra and Alex and their bb took me to brunch! It was great! Kipos, which I’ve long loved, does brunch now!


Fauna is super interactive and yell-y now it’s the best. Also featured in this picture is the app we split, hot delicious pita with a trio of dips- fava bean, lebneh, and melitzanasalata (eggplant dip)


For the main event I got lemon ricotta pancakes 😍 I went through a real dumb phase where I was trying to make pancakes with protein and whole grains and stupid nonsense and guys. No. Pancakes are cakes made in a griddle. Don’t fight it. Let them be light, fluffy, crispy-edged, sweet cake.


Myra got the french toast and I had to take a picture of it. It was essentially sandwiched with walnutty baklava filling. And then topped with several cups of whipped cream. She is a nursing mother and had no problems taking this down.


After brunch my sister came to town and whisked me away. We went to Lucette Grace and got all the lovely pastries:

  • bourbon pecan caramels 😍
  • macarons in fig and tiramisu flavors 😍
  • Two cakeys, one chocolate and hazelnut that tasted like a Ferrero Rocher, and one that involved apples, pears, and pecan cream 😍


We picknicked on them in a field, listening to nostalgic music and putting on temporary tattoos. Can you even think of a better outing?!

We had a little slumber party that evening and then went to brunch the next day at Acme. We split the crab and cream cheese omelet (I MEAN) and the pumpkin french toast baked in an individual tureen (CAN YOU EVEN).


And then, since my birthday hadn’t done quite enough to fatten me up for winter, my friends cooked me dinner that night!

Kyle was slaving away over a hot stove.


Whilst Colton kept his eyes on the cheese tray hahaha.


Colton brought me birthday socks HAHAHAHA.

So tangent: Coltie was a Mormon missionary (!) in Germany for two years so he knows a lot of German and knows a variety of weird German traditions. Apparently when someone is still unwed on their 30th birthday (…) they are referred to as “alte Socke”, or, “old sock.” And that someone’s friends buys them socks as an amusing gift.

Kyle and Shaylen spoiled us rotten and made us a FEAST of arepas and a variety of incredibly delicious trimmings. K+S lived in New Haven while Shaylen went to grad school at Yale and grew terribly fond of a local arepas establishment and so sought out to recreate their dishes.


So along with Spanish rice (with lots of yummy tomatoes and olives and sazon and beans and loveliness) and salad and plantains (!!) I had a big ol’ arepa topped with a gazillion toppings: black beans, sauteed vegetables, sour cream, queso blanco, guacamole, pico de gallo, etc. etc.




And thennnnn because K+S just got The Cake Bible, Kyle made me a duh-licious chocolate and almond cake. It was very glamorous and rich and delicious. And Shaylen found CANDLES WHERE THE FLAME IS THE COLOR OF THE CANDLE WONDERS NEVER CEASE TO AMAZE ME.


It was a very festive few days and though birthdays are kind of gross when you’re weird about celebrating them as an adult, it’s also so so lovely getting warmth and kindness from your people.