Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How Many Lobster Tails Can You Eat?

We had a chance to answer that question last weekend. The occasion was Betsy’s birthday; the venue was a self-catering cottage in the small seacoast village of Paternoster where the locals were celebrating the crayfish festival. Wait just a minute you say. We’re not talking crawdads – we’re talking lobsters! Time for some clarification.

Wikipedia calls them Spiny Lobsters, Langouste, and Rock Lobsters and notes that they are called Crayfish in South Africa. So, since this story is set in SA, these are crayfish! You can see the anticipation on Zane’s face as he checks out what’s for dinner.

Kurt even offered one to Zindzi and Thula, our African dogs, but they were wary of the pointy bits. The rest of us broke off those parts and saved them for another meal. There were eight crayfish for the four of us (we decided that Zane was too young to indulge) when we began. At the end there was one crayfish left because someone couldn’t face another bite.

Over the next few days we bought and froze another dozen of the larger ones to take home and enjoy over the next few months. What a treat!

Speaking of treats, the entire weekend in Paternoster was a treat. The place we stayed was lovely with doors opening onto a deck and views of the Atlantic.

We were able to watch the fishermen in pursuit of our meals and time our visit to the landing beach where the catches were sold to local restaurants and locals interested in fresh crayfish.

Look closely and you will see Betsy and Kurt arranging a dinner purchase.

The process of moving the boats into and out of the ocean involves a bakkie (pickup truck) and four-wheel drive. The boats are pulled into the water where an incoming wave allows them to float further out. I’m betting that the corrosion caused by the salt water limits the useful life of the vehicles.

What do we do while on holiday in a sleepy fishing village? Eat, sleep, walk the beach, and play with Zane.

Life is good.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Zane and the Fishies

Zane Rogers Ackermann, six months old on our 46th wedding anniversary August 22nd, is a sponge. He is in the 90th percentile of height (length), the 50th percentile of weight, and a very handsome baby. But the most striking thing to me is how he reacts to new experiences. Take, for example, our recent visit to the aquarium here in Cape Town.

We are committed to saving Tuesdays for Zane. This particular Tuesday was to be our first outing so Kurt briefed us on procedures, loaded the stroller into the car, dressed Zane in warm duds, loaded him into the car seat, and off we went. Notice how pensive he is - just tolerating all the fuss.

We drove to the Waterfront, parked, assembled the car seat and stroller, and took off for the short stroll to the aquarium. Elapsed time so far was about 15 minutes. Hoping that this would be a good experience, we purchased season passes and went on in.

It was apparently the day of the week when local school classes come for an outing because there were groups of children everywhere. Our first stop was at a large cylindrical tank full of darting silver fish. Zane was mesmerized. He watched those fish for ten minutes with his mouth open and hands waving. You can only imagine what was going on in that little mind. He was not finished with those fish but we finally decided to move on before he overdosed on excitement.

We’ve noticed that this little person has an input mode. By that I mean his eyes get bright and wide, he becomes absolutely quiet, his mouth opens and he shows all the signs of intense concentration. I don’t remember my own children doing this behavior, but then I was at work most of their babyhood hours. Grandparenthood gives us an entirely new set of opportunities.

We went through a number of exhibits before arriving at one which drew interest. The penguins were moving around, into and out of the water, and Zane followed them with interest. He loved the sound of the running stream.

So we watched those little guys and gals in their tuxedos perform for quite a while.

Then we moved on to the big fishies and the kelp tank. It can be a hypnotic experience, just sitting there and watching the kelp sway with the wave action. We stayed there wondering how the neurons were dealing with the little fish / big fish issue. Were we giving him nightmares?

The next tank held fish of many sizes. The ones attracting Zane’s attention the most seemed to be schools of small darting fish that moved in waves in order to avoid the larger fish. Brightness and movement seem to be key to interest at this stage.

Betsy and I needed a rest so we tried to interest Zane in a bottle or his pacifier. Forget that! The sharks were way cool!

Eventually we wandered away from the displays and into the cafeteria for tea and coffee. Zane got distracted by the flags fluttering in the breeze, and we eventually talked him into a bottle. We left, strolling over the cobblestones, through a craft market, and back to the car, noticing that he had fallen fast asleep, input processing complete for the moment.

All in all it was a successful first outing for us as grandparents. We are looking forward to many more.


In Search Of ...

Meandering … an honorable pastime. Meandering in Cape Town … a pleasurable pastime! We began the day with two goals: breakfast in one of our favorite spots – then find a birding location for our favorite in-laws.

Goal one is a little café in Blaubergstrand. You might want to translate that as the beach of the blue mountain. Betsy is watching a family meandering over the shoreline rocks in search of tiny fish. The blue mountain, Table Mountain, is in the background. Our breakfast was terrific.

Goal two sent us to locations on the other side of the blue mountain. We didn’t know exactly where we were going – just a general idea. Our first stop was a good-sized, as it turned out, dog-walking park named Island Park. Winter in Cape Town is the time for many of the bushes to bloom. Betsy is standing beside an eight-foot tall shrub covered with little white blossoms. Stunning!

Yellow blooms covered other shrubs and there were Calla Lilies everywhere.

We finally spotted some (significant) birds. There were any number of coots cruising around and a few pelicans. I get a kick out of the fake red eyes on the coots. They’re actually deemed attractive by females during the breeding season.

The area seems much like we we’ve seen along the waterways in Florida, only on a smaller scale. The boats tied up at the docks tended to be canoes instead of yachts.

Other neat stuff that we spotted on Park Island included a Pelargonium (Geranium) that only my brother Marshal would recognize,

and a Weaver Bird nest under construction. A finished product was nearby.

We had come out to this specific location because of a rumor of a pod of resident hippos. When we asked a dog-walking couple about them, they said we were in the wrong place and that we should backtrack down the main road a bit to a location called Rondevlei (Ron-de-flea). So, off we went.

This was a real park, admission fees, brochures, toilets, museum, the works. The trails were over four feet wide and covered with a heavy-duty rubberized mat. There were occasional breaks in the matting – round in shape with a pattern on one side which looked a lot like animal toes. Never any more than three or four in a row – it looked like a hippo might have used the path for short distances between grassy areas. This realization brought some degree of discomfort, particularly when we saw the Hippo Crossing sign and the path through the rushes.

Rondevlei has two observation towers from which you can see the bird hides and locate the large gatherings of waterfowl. We did not see the pod of hippos, so we set off down the trail.

Along the way we found some interesting flora. This plant is one whose flowers are pollinated by rodents. I rather suspect that it is not native to the area but belongs several hundred kilometers to the North.

We did find some birds including this group of Sacred Ibis.

However, the find of the day came as we sat for a minute at the end of the trail. This little critter, a mongoose, seemed to be scouting for a meal. Perhaps a cobra?

So, did we find what we were searching for? Hard to tell. We had a great time – took a nice long walk in the fresh air – found some beautiful flowers – saw some interesting birds – met Riki-Tik-Tavi. I’d have to say that, yes; we found what we were looking for.


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Isikhokelo Primary School

"You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you."
— John Bunyan

We encountered this quotation the other day on a billboard in Cape Town. Well, not exactly, because the billboard left out the word today. You can feel comfortable with the quote missing that key word. It’s much more difficult to deal with today.

In that vein, Betsy and I have spent a good part of the last month working at the Isikhokelo Primary School in Khayelitsha, one of the townships on the fringes of Cape Town. The parts of Khayelitsha seen from the expressways tend to be pretty disreputable despite government efforts to build housing.

The problem is that once a family gets into a nice new house, the relatives migrate in, build shacks in the yard, and bring in their livestock. It’s impossible to get ahead of the problem.

It’s a bit convoluted, but this was our route to Isikhokelo Primary School. Betsy has, for years, been in a state of despair over seeing the tons of fairly new books from our US public schools going into land fills. She volunteers at SCARCE in Glen Ellyn which rescues books and gives them to schools that need them. She carries a suitcase full each time we go to South Africa and gives them to a pre-school for their library. We also worked with an organization in Glen Ellyn, IL, to ship books, along with medical and computer equipment, to a rural school in Ghana where we helped to establish a library and create a computer lab a few years ago.

We’ve tried to find a way to get a container load of the same books into South Africa and failed due to their protectionist taxes. Recently, after complaining about the government policies, a member of Central Methodist Mission in Cape Town suggested that we try the Help2Read organization. Help2Read provides volunteer reading tutors for schools. The volunteers work with individual children on a one-on-one basis. We attended their training session in January and quickly recognized that our skill set was much different than their normal needs.

It turned out that they had been receiving requests from some primary schools for help with libraries. We offered our help through them and they responded with the Isikhokelo opportunity.

With the support of the Principal, Mrs. Qomoyi, library volunteer staff member Lindikhaya and the library committee members we were able to help:
- Setup a bar-code scanner compatible with a PS2-Interface keyboard. The USB-Interface keyboard, purchased with the computer system, was not compatible with the scanner
- Put a software back-up procedure in place
- Train Lindikhaya on the method for making computer generated barcoded labels for the books
- Train Lindikhaya on the method for making computer generated spine labels using Dewey Classification system
- Move the computer station to its administrative position at front of library
- Determine with the Library Committee members the length of the book check out period, how many books could be checked out, how to roll-out school’s library use program, what was to be policy on book fines and lost books, etc.
- Train the 7th grade student team on the process for identifying which bar-code labels go in which books
- Train the 7th grade library student team on how to shelve books and on how to put the barcodes and spine labels on books
- Import the integrated student file for grades 1 through 7, provided by Barbara, into Libwin (Microsoft Access database system) in order to enable the borrowing process
- Facilitate the printing of the learner and teacher bar-code labels by grade and class
- With Lindikhaya, write orientation programs for parents and for students
- Ensure the computer process for taking out books works properly
- Purchase return library book bins and display shelf bins
- Put bar-codes and spine labels on hundreds and hundreds of books
- Install a new printer

Our experience there has been wonderful. The children are like children everywhere. The staff has been warm and welcoming. We continue to learn about the challenges they face on a daily basis. As an example, it was normal to have power outages at about 2pm each day and all computer work would cease.

It turns out that the Western Cape has committed to install over a hundred libraries this year with this same set of books, same software, same computer setup. We ache to be able to help them all in somewhat the same fashion we’ve been able to help at Isikhokelo. We plan to be back in August to continue doing what we can.

We’ve learned to find a way to utilize the skills accumulated over a lifetime. It is incredibly uplifting.

Betsy & Floyd

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Zane Rogers Ackermann - February 22, 2010

Last June Becky told us that she and Kurt were expecting a baby. It came as a shock – we had come to grips with their plan to have no children. They had been deeply affected by Lisa’s death and the discovery that Becky has the same genetic factor leading to blood clots, as do both Betsy and I. So when she told us, we were quite conflicted and kept it quiet for some time in hope and fear.

Time passed, and we returned to Cape Town in December to find a lot of preparations underway. Kurt’s office was turned into Zane’s nursery – Zane Rogers Ackermann by the way. Stroller, pram, furniture, in place - plans for car seat, clothing, bottles, etc., waiting for completion. Becky was still working, busy finishing up papers for submission and completing book reviews - Kurt working madly against deadlines for television scripts – all the while the inevitable deadline of February 22nd approaching.

In case you were wondering, the medical care in Cape Town is every bit as good as anywhere in the States. Yes, it is Africa, and yes, this is a first-world city with all of the good and bad bits that come along with that designation. Becky had weekly doctor visits where they took ultrasound pictures. It’s quite – I’m at a loss for the right word – an emotional experience to see the face of your unborn grandson while he’s still in the womb. It makes me rethink the whole abortion issue.

Betsy and I have forgotten how our lives changed with our first child, or at least I’ve forgotten. We were so young. This grandparent thing is an entirely different perspective on the event. We’re able to view events from a distance; not needing to worry about diapers, bottles, formula, car seats, and the like; focusing on the wonder, the fear, the future, the past – you know, the scary stuff. Wow!

 February 20

February 21 

The weekend before surgery was spent walking on the beach and clowning around. Becky was blessed with no morning sickness throughout, but some lower back discomfort. She feels quite fortunate.

With surgery scheduled for noon on the 22nd, they left the house at ten to check into the Cape Town Medi-Clinic. Kurt was with her throughout the entire process – we waited in the lounge. Kurt kept us posted via text messages and Zane made his appearance at 12:45pm – kicking and screaming into the world. Weighed in at 2.83kg (6lb, 3.6oz) and measured 47cm (18 ½ inches).

The initial challenges with new babies are simple in concept: get enough food into them to avoid weight loss; and learn their communication signals (hunger, discomfort, etc.). Deceptively simple.

In practice, new parents can become quite stressed with these challenges. I don’t know how much help we are but I’m glad we are here.

The new family formation arrived home on Thursday, three days after the preceding picture.

The entire family turned out to see the new arrival. The dogs were clueless at first, not knowing if it was a new puppy, a squeaky toy, or just something to smell and lick.

Several days later, the dogs are adjusting well – the parents,…? Zindzi (the older, black village dog) tells the parents when Zane needs changing – so funny. Again, I have forgotten, perhaps blocked, those difficult times.

We had one of those high/low moments as Becky opened a bottle of wine that Lisa had given them in 2001. It was saved for a special occasion – not too many more special than this.

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Floyd & Betsy, aka
Oupa & Gogo