The Spinning Compass: Blog en-us (C) K.D. Williams Photography (The Spinning Compass) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:02:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:02:00 GMT The Spinning Compass: Blog 120 96 Holiday Time What does this time of the year mean for you and your family?  For me its about spending time with loved ones, remembering and cherishing traditions of those that are no longer with us and just believing in all of the magic in this world.  

My great grandmother was one of the most influential people in my life and she passed in my early teens, probably when I needed her strength the most and maybe that is why I hang onto her memory, but regardless it still feels like it was yesterday to me.  I remember her all year long but around the holidays it is like I am overwhelmed with little thoughts of her.  The way she played Silent Night on the piano, even after arthritis had almost crippled  her fingers.  How she loved us unconditionally and whole heartedly.  I can remember the "doodle bugs" and her song she would sing about them.  I can remember the way her house looked and all of the little details.  Every holiday we had Christmas at her house and our family seemed like it was so huge and so full of love and happiness during that time.  It was like no matter what the world was throwing at us, the world was erased during these visits with her.  

My grandma (my great grandmothers daughter) is another one of those women that I will never forget.  She passed away when my kids were very little and I hate that my children never felt the love from these two, as I did.  I feel like after they passed everything changed - the holidays weren't the same, the family traditions changed and we all drifted apart.  

My Uncle Carl, Aunt Reba, Grandma Stanley... the list goes on and on when it comes to the people that I admire who are no longer with us.

It just seems like family and traditions are not as strong as they use to be.  Relationships aren't as strong as they use to be.  It just seems like the respect and care is lost among us now, it is hard to make time for each other and when we do we always are distracted.  It seems as if lines are blurred and its more about "tolerating" people instead of enjoying each other... oh and don't get me started on the distractions and seeing everyones heads in their phones, and yes I am guilty.  Sometimes the family dynamics are upsetting and we don't get along as well as we should and then other years we are happy and loving, so you just roll with the punches, and move on!!!  Don't get me wrong it isn't always perfect and we always have our fair share of issues but we try - and that is what counts!!!  I am not a perfect mom, wife, grandmother, sister, daughter, niece, etc but I love my family and I wish them nothing but the best regardless of what is going on at any given moment.  But that is what makes us humans - we change, we grow, we love, we argue, we aren't perfect, we move on, we come back together again.

As for my house we decorate, we try to make a ginger bread houses, we take tons of photos, we cook dinners or breakfast (depends on who is around) and we just try to enjoy each other.  Some years just seem harder then others, in the past my husband was overseas working during the holidays, or I was as well... so this year we are extremely excited because we are all here together!  This year we have been remodeling our home so it has been a little crazy, and the decorating isn't going up like I would like but oh well, we have next year and the house is looking amazing!!!  
What about you, what do you do for Christmas or the Holidays? My GrandsonIt warms my heart to see my grandson playing on the piano that I played on as a child. The very one that my great grandmother would play music for us.

]]> (The Spinning Compass) Facebook christmas expat family holiday photography Tue, 20 Dec 2016 14:00:53 GMT
First Stop! New Orleans! I have always been drawn to NOLA, I can't remember when I first learned of the beautiful and ugly history, all I know is that I have wanted to visit for the longest time for many reasons.  NOLA is amazingly rich in history (good and bad), art, music, culture and food and I couldn’t wait to experience it especially with my hubby by my side.

I felt at home from the moment that we arrived.  It was like my soul was finally at home, does that sound weird, oh well I am a little weird anyway.  After only a few hours of exploring around the French Quarter I knew it by heart.  I could tell you right now where every and anything was.  I guess I fit right in because I have always loved the “dark”, “weird”, “unusual”, the “outcast”, “free thinkers”, the artist and of course I have always loved everything related to vampires, witches, voodoo, all religions, and especially HISTORY!  I will admit I was an Anne Rice book lover, I also loved the Originals, so that was some of it as well.  But the main thing about NOLA is its history.  The good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly – it is rich in history and culture like nowhere that I have ever been.  I am one of those people who have learned a little about a lot of things, I have dreamed of being a writer so I researched tons of myths and fictions, I love history especially early US History so for me, NOLA has just called to me!!! In a way, NOLA is just like me, I do not fit into one mold, I do not identify with one thing or another – I like a little of everything and I try to respect and learn from everyone and everything.  NOLA has a history that is so dark but yet beautiful (just like a lot of historical towns), her past wasn’t easy, it was downright brutal in some aspects but through it all they have remained a place for all to come and be respected.  NOLA has examples of so many different races, religions, countries, people and cultures that you have to admire how beautiful it has become because of the good and bad.  NOLA has also been a place of inspiration for so many things and without that “melting pot” of a history that was / is there, then we would not have the beautiful history, food, art or sounds that inspired some of the best of our world. 

I highly recommend learning as much as you can about the history of this city and take a tour or two of the plantations nearby.  We went to the Oak Alley and the Laura Plantation, but there are many beautiful plantations in the area.  I will admit that I was expecting a toned down version of the horrors that probably took place so I was shocked when the tour guide at Laura Plantation gave us a very descriptive look at what life may have been like.  Our guide didn’t hold anything back as she talked about the past and I enjoyed that deeply.  Our past is something that we can’t change, but we can learn from it through honesty, knowledge and respect.  We can also look at our past history mistakes and find ways of helping things that are going on today – we can’t forget that slavery is very much still active today in Africa and other parts of the world; along with child labor, trafficking and human sex slave trafficking.    

For me touring NOLA was fascinating, the buildings are amazing.  The food was delicious and rich and I haven't tasted anything so good.  The people were so nice and helpful.  It was kind of funny that outside of the religious St. Louis Cathedral you had “pirates”, Palm Readers, homeless people conversing, voodoo sellers and etc. but yet everyone seemed to be respectful of the other.  To me that showed that regardless of the past, the present or the future that this city will make it one way or another.  I am sure we just had a few good days and it isn’t always so nice, because seriously, come on, what city has peace and harmony all the time, or maybe it was the fact that I have built this place up in my mind so much that I just didn’t see the bad things, whatever it was I loved being there.  I loved hearing the jazzy sounds from the bars and restaurants, I loved smelling spicy mixes throughout the Quarter from all of the local shops, I loved walking by the street artist set up everywhere,  I loved walking into the Voodoo shops and looking around after meditating in St. Louis Cathedral, I loved walking into the Cemeteries and exploring the history after riding in one of the many carriage rides around town.  So for me this is my favorite place out of all of the places that I have ever been. 

But I wasn’t nervous, or anxious about being here I was just comfortable and excited.  I wanted to take in as much as I could about the history, the people, the sights and sounds and especially the food.  We took pictures of everything that we could.  Did I say that the old buildings are absolutely gorgeous.   Learning the history of where the people came from, the traditions that they brought with them (including voodoo) was enjoyable to say the least.

We explored the Garden District, the Lafayette Cemetery, the St. Louis Cemetery (this one cost and you must go in with a guide now), Jackson Square, the water front area, the French Market, and so on.  I think we walked over 10 miles a day while we were here just looking at everything we could.  I personally wouldn’t do one of those paid tours, although they do give tons of history on everything that you may not otherwise have unless you google everything.  We explored most of the city on our own with the help of my pre planning and tourist guide books, but I kinda wished we did a few tours but they are just so expensive.  We did have to pay for the tour of St. Louis Cemetery and we did one of the mule driven carriage rides and that guy gave us more history and information then we could have asked for.  The few cabs that we took also had drivers that were more than eager to give you the insiders scoop as well. 

***I will post our itinerary and tons of pictures (they will be available for purchase as well) once I get my computer back from the shop so you can see how we did it all in the short time frame that we had.

One of my favorite stores that we visited while we were there: Wicked Orleans – you must stop in there and tell them that we sent you.  The staff was excellent and they shipped a jacket that my husband had fell for while browsing around so that we didn’t have to carry it too all of our destinations.  I plan to contact them some upcoming photo shoots that I am planning because they had an excellent variety of out of the norm clothing (pin up is what I am looking for right now).  Also don't forget to stop by the French Market for your local items.  While shopping there we made some friends with people from all over the world.

We stayed at Hotel Modern and it was small but very nice.  The staff were attentive and helpful. 

As you will read from the next trips, somehow I subconsciously booked hotels that were all in that “art deco” early 1900ish style.

Places we ate at:

I don’t know what it was about NOLA but everything we ate was just amazing.  It’s like people put their heart and souls into the seasoning or something because I have never tasted food like I did there and I am not exaggerating.  We have traveled a lot in the past few years and have tried everything from Wildebeest sausage to Turkish Kabob’s.  Do not get me wrong we have tasted some amazing food but for me there was just something about the food in NOLA.  You also have to remember that I get sick extremely easy after all of my surgeries.  There is no rhyme or reason for it and it isn’t one food over the other so there is no way for me to plan or predict it.  But I didn’t get sick once while in NOLA, nothing that I ate bothered me in the least bit, which was a very nice surprise (and more reasons for me to just move here right lol).



139 Carondelet St

New Orleans, LA

I must explain the story on how we found this place and I swear every time we tell people the story we can’t help but laugh and I guess you just have to know me to understand.  We were walking down the street on the day full day in NOLA and I guess the person handing out flyers (probably the owner or manager) seen us looking at the buildings discussing our breakfast options and this man suggested Hobnobbers.  Okay, I got to back up a little let me just say I mean this in the most positive good way I can explain this story but this was a bigger man, with tattoos, wearing a tank top and a hat; he had an outspoken personality and as I am typing this I am laughing to myself because we didn’t know what to think of this person and he was pointing to a place that was literally a hole in the wall.  But his personality won us over, he reminded me one of my favorite cousins and I just trusted him or maybe I was a little afraid but none the less we allowed him to walk us down the street into a building, down a hall way to our destination.  You know me I reference movies a lot so I was a little panicked by this point but I was so in love with the city that I just like okay, let’s do this thing (besides I had my amazing husband with me so I knew I was safe).  When I say hole in the wall, trust me I mean it and had he not personally walked us in I do not know that I would have tried it.  But OMG I am telling you the people were so friendly, good downhome southern people.  The food was perfectly priced (cheap I might add), the portions were huge and it tasted so good.  I hate we found it on our last day and that they closed so early because I was wanting to try everything on their menu. 


Another Broken Egg -

2917 Magazine St

New Orleans, LA

We went out to explore the Garden District and got caught in the middle of a horrible storm, but since we were on a time crunch we explored the area any way.  What is a little rain? This place was definitely needed for that chilly rainy day, we both ordered a nice cup of coffee (mine had a little amaretto in it!) along with our meal.  It was very good food, decent prices and it was a nice location. 


Gazebo Café

1018 Decatur St

New Orleans, LA

While touring the area, stop on in for one of their amazing frozen daiquiris.  I tried the peach and let me tell you it was awesome!!!  We split a ½ portion of Muffuletta along with a sampling of Fried Alligator.  The staff was friendly, it is an outdoorsy environment so you get the sights and sounds while enjoying lunch or dinner.  It was an amazing little lunch.


Café Du Mounde

813 Decatur St

New Orleans, LA

I had honestly forgotten about this famous little café when we booked our trips.  I know it is mentioned a lot in the different movies and it is world renowned but it totally slipped my mind until my aunt reminded me to stop by.  I am so pleased we did (at least 2 times actually).  We split an order of their Beignets and we had to try the Iced Au Lait.  Did I mention that I fell in love with the city and the food here? Ok, I will say it again, we were not ever let down while in NOLA.  Later when we got home we had some items shipped to us from several of the little stores that sold pralines and coffee and such – well we also got a box of mix for the Beignets and I hate myself for looking but these things are horrible in calories!!!! Just do not ever look up the calories in one of these amazingly tasty donuts.  Also make sure you have cash when you come here because they do not take cards. 


Another tip from our cab driver who by the way was the best and I wish we got his name because he gave us a lot of insight into the history and city while we were riding around with him.  But he stated to take refrigerated biscuits broken up a little fried in a little oil then topped with powdered sugar is close to the Beignet.


The Market Café

1000 Decatur Street
New Orleans, LA 70116


Again another restaurant with outdoor seating and usually a band playing.  We stopped here one night for dinner and we got the same thing here … Muffuletta, their version of the Taste of NOLA (red beans and rice, jambalaya and gumbo – like usual I omitted the gumbo for safety with my food allergy to shell fish).  And once again we were pleasantly surprised with the taste and sounds of this beautiful city.   


Magazine Pizza

1068 Magazine Street

New Orleans, LA 70130

This was one of our late night dinners in the room after walking all day sightseeing, not eating but snacking.  We ordered a Philly Pizza and it was very good and not expensive.  They didn’t take forever to deliver either. 


Frank’s –

933 Decatur St

New Orleans, LA

We had taken one of the carriage ride tours around the French Quarter and our guide suggested Frank’s.  Since I get sick so easy I was scared to eat at the restaurant, so we did take out and enjoyed it in our room.  Just like most of the buildings in NOLA, this one was narrow and small but pleasant. With that said, they were extremely nice to us and even catered to my food allergies by allowing me to switch the Gumbo for extra Red Beans & Rice on their Taste of New Orleans Plate.  My husband ordered the Muffuletta (1/2 portion that is) and we got the Tiramisu for desert.  Let me just say that OMG this was some amazing food.  Who knew that something so simple as Red Beans and Rice could taste so good!!!!  The Muffuletta and the Tiramisu were both equally as tasty!!! 


Hard Rock Café

125 Bourbon St

New Orleans, LA

After our flight and checking into the hotel, we stumbled across Hard Rock while walking around.  We have a habit of stopping in at all Hard Rocks and getting a drink at least.  I have glasses from all over the world.  The staff were very very good here and gave us a lot of tips and advice for the area.  Unfortunately, I feel that Hard Rock should change up their menu per location because I am starting to grow tired of the same menu.  We had the same thing in Johannesburg, Finland, New Orleans, Seattle, etc.  They have maybe one “area favorite” that is more of a local taste but usually it is expensive and I haven’t found them to be very tasty.  



BB King’s

1104 Decatur St

New Orleans, LA

We enjoyed the atmosphere here, they had a group performing and I will tell you that they were really, really good!  The food was enjoyable as well.  The staff was very nice and attentive both times that we went here (we went twice one because of the music playing).


We will be coming back to NOLA, probably a lot so I will update our guide as often as I can.



]]> (The Spinning Compass) Expat Explore Family French Quarter Garden District History JustDrive Louisiana Love NC Photography NOLA New Orleans Photography South Travel Vampires Wanderlust Wicked Wed, 13 Apr 2016 22:15:00 GMT
Vacation Time!!! Well what happened was….  Isn’t that how a good story always starts (well that and a few drinks) … But seriously my husband and I joked with sister that we should tag along when she visits my niece the next time she goes.  And wouldn’t you know it she was going in a few weeks and she since she is a bargain hunter like me she gave me some places to look for cheap tickets.  So the search began, until I remembered all those dang miles we built up – we would lose them soon if we didn’t use them, so I looked at that instead.

What do you do with those miles that you accumulate?

My husband and I had so many miles built up from our travels overseas that we decided to take a REAL vacation, for the first time in a long time!!!  In all honesty, my husband works so much overseas that he hasn't been home long enough to enjoy what we have here in the states, on top of the fact that this past year was one hell of a ride with my illness, surgeries and such.  So with everything we have endured I think it is time for us to enjoy some time off exploring the US.

But where do we go and for how long?  I know most people do not have the luxury of taking a month long vacation but luckily we could since my husband was home for an extended period of time (or permanently if we didn’t take another overseas contract), we had no jobs to rush back to, we had the bills paid and omg the flights would be FREE!!!!! Who could turn that down???  Plus, we figured before we do jump back into a job whether locally or abroad we better take advantage of this time and do a trip now because who knows when we would be able to do this again. 

I have always wanted to visit New Orleans, Washington State, Las Vegas, and my niece was in Colorado so that is where we started.  I challenged myself to see if I could make this kind of thing happen in the time frame that we needed it too.  We had to be in Colorado on the dates that my sister was there, and I wanted to make sure the dates we chose used the least amount of miles possible so that we could get the most for nothing. 

But we had sky miles so what, we still have to pay for a hotel and transportation, so how in the world would I pull this all together for very little and that is where GROUPON came in, and Ebates.  By purchasing online, I was able to secure the dates, get cheaper prices, and use Ebates to get money back - how is there anything better than that?  I was able to find decent cheap rooms in the areas that we needed, but I had to juggle the dates to make it all work smoothly, which was no problem as long as we hit Colorado when we were supposed to.  I will admit that I was nervous about the rooms, I had never stayed at the places we rented and the reviews were OK, not bad and not perfect, but hey how much time do you spend in a room anyways really. 

We had our rooms, we had our flights, now transportation – thank goodness that was a little easier to some degree.  I knew that Vegas and New Orleans had fairly good public transportation, so I googled and read blogs on that to be sure and for New Orleans we got the Trolley Pass $15 for 5 days and it pretty much took you to most of the hot spots or at least close to it.  We decided to rent a car for one day during our NOLA trip so that we could see the plantations and what do you know - HOTWIRE to the rescue (we did have some issues I will discuss in another blog)!!!  Since I had such a good experience with that I used HOTWIRE to book a car for Seattle because our plan was to spend a little time in the city but spend most of our time along the coast.  We also purchased a car for Colorado from them as well.  Vegas was a little difficult for us, we knew we could get around fairly easy but we wanted to go to the outskirts for some hiking trips, but did we need a car the entire trip or just a day or two?  So we waited on renting a car until we knew, plus we would wifi everywhere we were going, we had the apps and we could get one later.

So the basics were covered, the research was done, I had an Itinerary for our days in each city (to try and follow but not a big deal if we got lost as we usually do), now food and entertainment … OH GROUPON … Yes, I love Groupon … and I found everything I could imagine for all of our cities, but I also found by searching online that NOLA has a free guided tour from Free Foot Tours and it is pretty easy to find things to do own your own (plus like I said early we have the apps and wifi at most places), so we didn’t use it too much for NOLA.  But don’t let that deter you Groupon has a ton of listings on there for some very good deals.  We did use Groupon for several food places in all of our destinations and a few entertainment ideas as well.

We had our trip pretty much mapped out and prepaid so we knew our budget ahead of time from that point forward.  We got our flights to each spot for less than $40.00 (a few flights had a service fee), we got our rooms for very cheap and we had some of our meals and entertainment already paid for and all for great deals.  Now it was packing time – HOW THE HELL DO YOU PACK FOR 20+ DAYS???  Not only that how do you plan for temperatures that range from cold, wet & cold, hot, hot & humid?  What about shoes?  You guys know me, you know I love shoes, so how do I narrow it down to just a few items?  I Googled and searched the internet, I read Pinterest articles on how to pack from pro’s, I researched the weather for the average temperatures … BUT I still couldn’t figure out the best way to pack.  I am so impressed with those ladies that claim they can pack ONE CARRY ON that last them 30 days, really ladies I give you a standing ovation.  I couldn’t even if I had no choice to.  I don’t know if it is the Gemini in me, the ADD in me, or what but I am so indecisive and anal about the what if’s that I cannot bring myself to pack 6 pieces of clothing that are interchangeable like those articles advised.  Now listen, I am not a girly girl, I am not finicky or picky but what if on this day I want to be dolled up, what if I get there and this doesn’t go good with this… so for me it was my trusty ol’ trunk.   We get our trunks from Walmart in the automotive section, they are sturdy and are within the size requirements for the airlines.  I prefer these over any expensive luggage you can buy (and they are like less then $20.00).  My husband decided he would do the same, that way we would have room for our souvenirs as well. 

I must thank my sister for giving me the idea of the cheap flights that lead to this trip of a life time!!!  What a dream it is for me to visit these places that I have wanted to visit since before I could remember and as photographers - OMG I cannot wait at all!!!!  Plus, going alone with my hubby for 20 days to places that neither one of us have been too is just a dream in itself!!!

We were all set!!!  Now let the journey begin!!!

Oh wait, we weren't done there ... We decided that once we got home we would then drive to PA (another place neither one of us has been to) and visit some of my good friends up that way for a few days!!!!

Ok, now we are all set!


]]> (The Spinning Compass) American Airlines Colorado Ebates Expat Explore Family Groupon Hotwire JustDrive Las Vegas Love Marriage MilesforMilestone NOLA Photography Seattle Skymiles Sundays Travel United States Washington blogger ghost town nc photographer travel travel blogger travel photographer wanderlust Sun, 10 Apr 2016 04:30:00 GMT
Time to Coupon Since I came back to the States I have realized that the groceries here are EXPENSIVE!!!!  So, that means I have to get my butt back into gear and start couponing again.  I use coupon all the time this and I think I was really good at it, but when we moved to Swaziland I no longer needed to (nor did they coupon).  To me saving 10 cents is a savings!!!!

To be successful in saving with coupons, you must and I mean MUST be organized.  So I got myself a Staples Mini Binder, business card pages (to hold my savings cards), some coupon pages, sheet protectors and dividers.  I started following some amazing blogs and Facebook groups to help me get back into the swing of things.  One is Coupon Mom, this site does a great job of helping you find the best values at different stores and where to find the coupons.  Then I just get the Sunday paper and search for online printable coupons.  

I always try to get the grandson involved as I am doing things, so I came up with a fun little game for him.  As I clip the coupons I just through my mess onto the floor so that he can pretend to copy more, or just play in the mess and guess what HE LOVES IT!!!!!

Like I posted in a previous blog, I also joined programs like Ibotta, Ebates and Savingstar.  Between all of this I am hoping to take a chunk off of our grocery bills!!!!

I am new again at trying to clip coupons, so any advice is greatly appreciated.  Tell me how you save, what you do, what apps or websites that you love.



]]> (The Spinning Compass) Coupons Expat Explore Family Grandson Love Savings Shopping Travel Fri, 25 Mar 2016 12:00:00 GMT
Birthing Photography Birthing Photography

What is “Birthing Photography”?

A photographer is with you during your labor stages, while you are giving birth and some time afterwards.  The goal is to capture that once in a lifetime moment that you want to remember forever.

Why should you hire a “Birthing Photographer”?

I get asked a lot of times, why can’t Dad just take the pictures – and my answer is simple : If dad is taking the pictures then who is holding your hand, who is encouraging you to push?  And for dad, he is stuck behind the camera and while he is still enjoying it he is missing moments.

Is “Birthing Photography” expensive?

Unfortunately, it isn’t cheap; I have even seen other photographers compare it to the cost of hiring a wedding photographer.  That is because with “Birthing Photography” it can be a lot harder to do then a portrait, mini session or even a wedding for the simple fact that with child birth anything can happen at any moment, nothing is set in stone, not much can be planned.  This makes planning hard on both the “parents” and the photographer.  We keep our schedule slim during your last 4 weeks of pregnancy, so that we can do everything in our power to be by your side.  During this four weeks we have to plan our lives around the possibility of your impeding labor.  We also have to plan careful around this time for you and our other clients, so we don’t loose those precious moments for anyone.  We do everything in our power to be with you during this precious time and for a short period afterwards.

Our goal is to be there when the time is right, to the best of our ability.  We try to work with you during your pregnancy so that we get to know each other and also so that we can know what complications could arise during the labor process.  When we think you are close to giving birth, we will be packing our bags as you are yours.  The goal is to be completely ready to go with all of our gear in hand at any time of the day or night. 

As you know labor is one of those times where modesty is out the window – so I truly feel that getting comfortable before the big day is crucial for everyone involved, which is why I made a little list of our process for our “birthing clients”.  But I do know that sometimes things happen and you can’t always predict when our little ones will join us especially with unexpected preterm deliveries, so we try our best to work around all situations

Our process:

  1. First meeting with parents to be, just to chit chat and get to know one another.
  2. Keep us updated regularly on your progression during the pregnancy.
  3. We like to do a pregnancy photo shoot with our “Birthing” clients, this way we can talk more and get a little more comfortable with each other.  We can also set up a package to do several times during your pregnancy leading up to the big day.
  4. Second meeting (depending on how early in the pregnancy you have contacted us).
  5. Check with your doctor and the hospital that you will be delivering at about their procedure for having an outside photography, I can assist with this if needed.
  6. Then the wait begins.

Once you are ready or think you are ready:

  1. Call me if you have to go to the hospital for any reason, because these things can happen fast.  Once I get your call I will be on stand by waiting for further information.
  2. Once you have a confirmed active delivery, then I will head your way; this is usually around 5 – 6 cm.  Unless your doctor has other plans, then you just let me know what they are and we will work around them.
  3. What expectations do you have… any shots that I must try to get (siblings, mother, father, cord cutting, etc.).  Just remember that birth’s are unpredictable and I cannot get in the way of the hospital staff, nor can I violate their rules.  So we do our best to get as many wonderful shots as possible.
  4. I will be there during your labor and birthing process for a determined amount of hours and then after birth I will stay for an additional hour as the staff cleans the baby and finishes up their duties.  Once you are in a room and rested I will come back for another hour to get some nice family baby shots.  ***Unless we specify otherwise in our meetings.
  5. If you have chosen a package with me then we will do a newborn session roughly 5-7 days after the birth.   ***If you do no choose a package and want to do a newborn session then we can do that as well for an additional charge.


I highly recommend choosing a photography package from us so that you get the best deal. 


If you cannot or are not comfortable with a birthing photography, then I also offer a “First Moments” Package.  This is for 2 hours after you have given birth but before you leave the hospital.  I try to do this when you have your most precious visitors (grand parents, children, etc).


Contact us for more information, packages and prices.

]]> (The Spinning Compass) Birthing Photography Child Birth Children Expat Explore Family Love Marriage Photography Travel Thu, 24 Mar 2016 12:00:00 GMT
Cold Season Man this cold season has been bad for our family.  This last bought of nasty germs in our house we decided to finally try the Essential Oils with an Oil Diffuser, up our vitamin intake and use some new alternative medications.  After all of my medical situations I am a big believer in natural remedies and try anything that may help.  I also worked in the healthcare field for many years and know that FINALLY, the doctors have slowed down on over medicating for cold and virus'.  In the past they would give antibiotics and medications to treat your symptoms, now they tell you to try over the counter medications before coming to them.  I only go to the Doctor when I have exhausted all other options because I really hate being medicated and not feeling "normal".

For the household we used the diffuser with Now Essential Oils.  It made the whole house smell amazing but not only did it smell good I do feel like the Peppermint and Eucalyptus Oils really did open us open.  I will try other brands because I have heard some pro's and con's on Now Products.

For our grandson we used Hyland's Baby Tiny Cold Syrup and I must tell you that it worked wonders.  I have never been so impressed with a cold medication before in my life.  He had the worse runny nose on the first day but then it turned to being a congested little nose.  He was drooling so much because he couldn't breathe out of his nose.  That first day we noticed that he was sick, he was a miserable little fussy pot, but after one night of taking this medication he was like his old self the next day.  Even though he wasn't feeling good, he was a lot happier.  We gave him Hyland's before nap and again at bedtime and it just did the trick.  So for anyone with a small child this is a MUST HAVE!!!  We also did a few drops of the Oils (mixed with Coconut Oil) into his bathwater and it seemed to help his congestion a lot.  


If you have any information please share your thoughts and remedies!!!!

]]> (The Spinning Compass) Alternative Expat Families Family Flu Natural Natural Health Sickness Travel Wed, 23 Mar 2016 21:06:39 GMT
Savings! Hey guys just a quick update I am working on a blog on my best savings tips but for now here is my favorite savings tip:


Sign up for Ebates!!!!$encryptedUserId&eeid=28187

]]> (The Spinning Compass) Expat Explore Photography Travel family life rebates saving Sun, 28 Feb 2016 18:43:57 GMT
Surgery Update As most of you know, I had to undergo surgery AGAIN this past Wednesday (2/17)!  After returning home from Swaziland, I had to see multiple doctors to try and figure out the why’s of my illness that landed me in an emergency surgery situation and fighting for my life afterwards.  After seeing a travel specialist to rule out any “African” diseases, my PCP to rule out any “normal” medical diseases or conditions, my GYN to rule out any “female” medical diseases we decided to do an “exploratory” surgery.  Since I had seen these doctors and each one did so many test, and so many different scans and not one of them could find a definitive reason for my health issues present or the illness in Africa, since nothing was ever consistent or “normal” we decided that the best thing UNFORTUNATELY was to look inside and remove the cyst on my right ovary that seemed to pop up on the scans occasionally, varying in size from 4 – 7cm.  Going into the surgery, I was unbelievably scared and anxious but who could blame me after my last operation. 


Luckily for me, I had some of the best at our local hospital.  They were prepared for the worst and they took time with me and my situation.  In all my years of not only working in the medical field but also with my personal health scares, I have never had a team of people so thoughtful, caring, compassionate and helpful, then I did with this surgery.  I mean everyone from the check in staff to the doctor.  Having the treatment that I had made my experience so much easier on me.


Upon waking up I learned that I had once again had massive amounts of scarring from the last emergency surgery which was the cause to the problems that I was having since that surgery last April.  I am not sure about South Africa’s normal protocols for abdominal surgeries but in the states they do everything in their power to try and reduce the chances of scar tissues and that is not an easy thing to do.  I hate to ever question a doctor but I feel like had they taken the time to do some of the normal protocols then I may not have had the issues that I did.  Then again sometimes there is just nothing you can do about an emergency surgery, it isn’t neat and meticulous it is about saving your life.  But I do know that the days following the surgery last year I was not mobilized early, they kept the catheter in and kept me bed ridden for weeks which contributed to my problems in my opinion.  I do know that had they made me get up and move around I would have complained and been in tremendous amounts of pain but I would have done it, just as I have done now and with my previous surgeries.


At any rate, I am thankful once again to be alive regardless of what they did or didn’t do last time, they saved my life by removing the infection and unfortunately we will never know what caused the illness that led to the surgery or the cause of the fever afterwards.  I always tell people it is kind of like the question “which came first the chicken or the egg”, we will never know if the ovary became infected first causing the illness and the need for the emergency surgery or if SOMETHING caused the illness leading to the problem in the ovary.  Then afterwards we will never know what truly happened to me to know why I didn’t heal properly or timely, we will never know what happened or why.  But it doesn’t matter now, I am alive and all my test are getting better.  I do have to heal from this recent surgery but I am doing a good job so far.  I have 3 more scars to add to my collection on my abdomen that will remind me of how precious life is.  I am going to continue my path of living a healthy lifestyle and I will do everything I can to live for the day.


This surgery was no easier or harder then any other that I have had but since I have been down this road several times I now have a system for it, is that sad or strength?  To me I see it as strength, there is always strength in knowledge…. So I am going to help some of you out and give you my list of preparing for this process and please remember each operation, each surgery and each person is so different so adapt this to what is best for you:


  1.  First, listen to your body and know your body – if you feel something is wrong don’t stop until you get the answers you need.  Ask for test, do your research and do not ever think Doctors know everything because they don’t – no one does.
  2. Get a second or third opinion – this time I seen 3 doctors, did 4 scans and a multitude of test before I finally agreed that surgery was our last option … luckily for me I didn’t have gung ho doctors, they were all with me on putting surgery at the end of our list, they did everything that they could until they finally said “we are backed into a corner and the only option forward is surgery”, it wasn’t what anyone wanted but it was what we had to do.
  3. Once your surgery date is set, do your research on possible problems and ways that YOU can avoid them.  Don’t overlook, “Googling” can make you be too paranoid so find that fine line between being educated and being paranoid.
  4. Go grocery shopping for after your surgery.  Get easy to make items, as well as plenty of high fiber, high nutritious items like fruits and veggies.  Keep your processed foods to a minimum.  But I will admit one day I just wanted a cup of noodles but instead of water I used bone broth as the liquid so half good half bad but totally tasty!
  5. I personally suggest getting the ingredients to make a couple of soups or meals in advance and possibly freeze those so that you can heat them up when needed.  Soups are good for healing for many reasons but mainly because your bowels will need time to get back to normal after the operation, anesthesia and medication.  The soups I liked and found beneficial were: Bone Broth, Cabbage Soup, Chicken Avo Soup and of course Chicken Noodle.  But you can do any type of soup.
  6. Stock up on premade juices – I am usually a fresh juicer kind of girl but after a surgery you will not feel like standing there; so invest in some really good brand of premade organic juices like Suja (but I don’t care for the taste honestly but I haven’t tried them all so I continue to try them) but Evolution is really good as is Trader Joe’s Cold Pressed Juices.  Watch the sugar content and make sure that the only ingredients are the ones from fresh fruits and veggies.  If after a few days or weeks you feel up to making smoothies I suggest using a good protein powder, a good mixture of greens and fruits as well as almond or coconut milk.
  7. Stock up on your pharmacy items: ibuprofen (best choice for after surgery from what I was told), stool softener, laxative, Pedialite (in case you are nauseous), and anything else the doctor may suggest.
  8. Have a heating pad or blanket for the sensitive areas and for the gas pain that you may feel in your shoulders (I felt it for days, some feel it more or less then others, mine personally was horrible).
  9. Have a plan set up on where you will sleep, who will help you with your daily items, what movies will you watch while your down, etc.  Just have your area set up before you come home so that when you come you then you don’t have to burden others or make yourself any more uncomfortable then needed.  I had a chair by the couch that had my phone, ipad, a book, coloring book, tissues, bottle water, a trash can (in case I got sick), some gum, remotes, etc. right there within reach.  I used a chair so that it could easily be moved if it was in anyone’s way.  My husband, son, daughter and mom were all on hand to help as needed but I am a stubborn person and didn’t ask for help much.
  10. After the surgery try to get mobile as quickly as possible and I don’t mean running a marathon but I do mean walking to the bathroom, taking a few steps at a time, even just changing your position...  These things will help you feel better faster; it will help the gas dissipate sooner.  I personally would alternate between sitting up, relaxed, sitting straight while taking some really good deep breaths and then laying totally flat and let me tell you flat hurt like hell, it felt like I couldn’t breath at times from either the gas or pain or something but I focused on breathing and after a few times it got easier. 
  11. Breath, Breath, Breath oh and meditate – however works for you but breathing through the pain will be a lot better for you in the long run.  Focusing on breathing, or meditating will take your mind off of the pain and will help balance you during this tough time of doing nothing but healing.
  12. Keep your brain in check! Read, play video games, mediate, coloring, writing – whatever you like – just keep your brain busy so that you don’t go stir crazy and over do it trying to push this healing process.
  13. Do not compare your process to anyone else’s, we are not the same when it comes to these things.  Healing is very personal to you, so go at your own pace and do what feels good, listen to your body and when you become tired or weak then take a step back and relax!!!!


I hope this list will help you, I am no doctor and I can’t make any claims about what I am suggesting but this is what worked for me.  I hope you never have to use this list but if you do, I hope it helps you in some way.

]]> (The Spinning Compass) Expat Explore Health Marriage Photography Post_Surgical SouthAfrica Surgery Swaziland Travel adhesions always_something appendectomy breathe cyst healing ovarian pain relax scar_tissue tips tricks Sun, 21 Feb 2016 19:22:34 GMT
Update I am sorry it has been so long since my last post.  I have had a lot of medical appts and flying back and forth to Swaziland, so I have been extremely busy.  BUT I have been writing like crazy, now I just have to put it on the website.  I am having surgery next week and will have a lot of down time to work on this, so be prepared for several good blogs. Some topics will include: more about Swazi, some product reviews, and just life topics such as gun control/conceal carry (I know its a hot topic lately). 

I am also looking for a few models and businesses to do some collaborations with - free for the first 10 potential clients.  Email me if you are interested.  

Come back to catch the new blog very soon.


]]> (The Spinning Compass) Africa BigGameParks Expat Explore Family Going Health Home InternationalPets JustDrive Love Marriage Missing Mlilwane Photography RescueAnimals Safari South SouthAfrica SummerfieldBotanicalGardens Sundays Swaziland Travel Traveling_with_pets Wildlife blog chronicappendicitis femalehealth health surgery update Sun, 14 Feb 2016 04:48:01 GMT
International Pet Travel I have not been on here in a while due to all the craziness going on but (I promise to be posting more soon). I wanted to put an update for my fellow expats that need pet travel information.  I will update as I go but for those leaving Swaziland, this will help.

From my experience and what I know .... you should use a company close to your home in the states, but we had to use one based out of Atlanta I will include her contact information at the bottom,  they are great to work with I absolutely love them .... I can walk you through the steps if needed or help in any way, just email me ...
I will tell you coming from the US to South Africa was some hard prepping but I was nothing but pleased with everyone involved.  She arrived safely and happy.  During the travel I did get updates and I knew where she was at any given moment.
The company contact we used: Igna Traub International PMC Animal Land Pet Movers Tel: 404 713 3766 Fax: 678 466 7042 - the communication with Igna and her contacts from SA were absolutely wonderful.  Any question that I had was answered within a few hours (time difference included).  Everything was explained and they were so understanding to our situation.
The vet we used in Swazi is (00268) 7820 2600 or 78249736 Dr. Alberto Sabbione's he will come to your home, is easy to work with and are great as well... here are the steps that I had to do for justice to travel back home (traveling there was harder so this was a breeze):
There is a lot of paper work that has to be filled out in advance, and Pet Movers will go over this with you.  But for us to get Justice home here is what we had to do:
2. DA2PP, BORDETELLA, and Updated RABIES VACCINE (others maybe needed depending on exiting country and entering country)
5. Current Heartworm medication updated
Cage (cage has to be big enough for her to turn around, stand up, sit down and lay down - the normal travel mate carriers)

Two screw in bowls attached to it. - it is recommended depending on your situation to fill those with water and then to freeze it overnight before putting it in the cage, this will melt as the animal travels and makes it easy for transport so it doesn't spill out.
Collar and Leash hooked to her cage (not on her)
Bag of dog food
Any medication or heart worm medication labeled with her name tapped to the cage.
Because we had to go through a very strict procedure to bring our dog into South Africa and Swaziland, we were prepared for the exit.  Our cage was purchased in the US, but I am sure you can find a similar one in SA. 
I will update this information the more I travel with our little baby girl.
]]> (The Spinning Compass) Africa Expat Explore Family InternationalPets Photography SouthAfrica Swaziland Travel Traveling_with_pets Wed, 06 Jan 2016 16:10:17 GMT
Mkhaya We have been in Swaziland over a year and still haven’t went to Mkhaya, so guess what… EXACTLY…. we scheduled our tour and went this past weekend.  We didn’t realize that the tour was an over twice as long as the other safaris in Swazi but that just made us even more excited!!!  That just meant we would have more time to capture photos of more animals. 


When you make the appointment they tell you the directions for the location but what isn’t explained and I think it should be is that you are going to park and wait BEHIND a small community store near a “village”.  There is a sign there that lets you know that you are at the right place as well as advising you to not encourage begging.  I will admit I felt uncomfortable sitting there behind this little store on a dirt road and before long we had a bunch of children playing around our car and asking for everything from water to money to things inside our car.  It is hard to not give them a bottle of water or a pack of candy while we are sitting there in cars waiting for our guide.  We joked and laughed with the kids as they danced and tried to keep our attention while begging us for things.  Our guide was extremely late meeting with us and we had no way of contacting anyone since the main office is closed on weekends.  Once our guide arrives we are taken to a “farm house” and told where to park our cars, where the bathrooms are, and we are treated with juice and water bottles as we wait for our guide to return with a safari vehicle.  The first half of the safari was absolutely wonderful.  We learned a lot of interesting information about the animals, the park and our guide during our tour.  They have a lot of the usual safari animals except big cats.  They also have a few things that we haven’t seen at the other places such as lots and lots of babies!!!!  Seeing a baby zebra or giraffe is something that you have to see for yourself to truly understand the feeling we got.  I was overjoyed to see the babies in the park; it made me realize that Swaziland is a leader in conservation.  


Around lunch we are taken to the central destination for those that are staying over night as well as where the lunch is served.  They offer a buffet type lunch that includes bread, an entrée and a dessert.  You have a little museum and a shop right there as well.   I must say that this lunch break was so enjoyable mainly because of the people.  As we were eating we had monkeys watching us from a distance in the trees and a few Nyala’s just walking around without a care in the world.  We were slightly disappointed to learn that they only do the traditional dance for the dinner guest, but they surprised by quickly changing and coming back to do a few songs for our group.  Afterwards they joked with us and wanted to see our pictures of them before we left. 


On the second half of our park safari we were greeted with another driver Unfortunately this driver wasn’t as friendly as the first driver because he was in a rush to get us back to the gate because we were running late (at no fault of our own).  We didn’t see but one animal on this return journey and the driver was flying through the park.  He kept saying how we took too long at the lunch and he had to meet his next guest, we tried explaining that our trip had been behind from the beginning because the original guide was late.  But it didn’t matter he was determined to make it on time for the next guest, but for us it was really upsetting.  He did slow down when he came across a rhino but after I got one picture of it he continued saying he must get back and sped off from the animal.  Unfortunately, we didn’t see even one elephant during this safari trip and since they are one of my favorite animals I was disappointed just a little. 


I will admit, I couldn’t believe we paid so much more then we usually do for what we thought was going to be a longer guided safari and lunch to only REALLY have the same amount of time as the other safari’s, but we just basically paid extra for the lunch and to top it off we even saw less animals and were treated poorly on the return journey.  


Even with the disappointment of the trip back to our car, our trip at Mkhaya was amazing.  In the US, we have no idea the feeling of what it is like to see these animals in their true natural habitat outside of a zoo or a cage.  To be able and witness a baby only a few weeks old surviving and being in the wild is one of those things that I will never forget.  The animals that we did see at Mkhaya were just beautiful, healthy and WILD plus I did see a few “first”, which is just plain unforgettable to me.  The first driver and the women at lunch really made this trip special and that is why I know I will return to try Mkhaya again.


I will say that I still think Hlane is my favorite safari in Swaziland even though I do plan on returning to Mkhaya so that we can see the progress of a few of the babies.  Mkhaya is different from the other safari’s by the fact that you have more time in the park and I assume as long as you are not running late, then you get to see a lot more animals then the other parks, it was just a bad day for our tour.  In no way does the few negative events that happened during our trip change my mind about how wonderful the park and all the parks in Swaziland are.  I know everyone has a bad day from time to time, we are human and mistakes happen. 


You will see:

Black Rhino

White Rhino







And more


A few notes about Mkhaya:

In order to visit Mkhaya you must reserve your safari in advance. 

Do not be discouraged at the meeting point (although I do think they need to make it a little more “tourist friendly”.)

They have 10am or 4pm safaris




]]> (The Spinning Compass) Africa BigGameParks Expat Explore Family JustDrive Photography Safari South SouthAfrica Sundays Swaziland Travel Wildlife Tue, 28 Jul 2015 01:45:00 GMT
Hiking in Swaziland We woke up this Sunday with the intentions of going on a Hike, like last weekend we are trying small hikes to build up my strength.  This weekend I was tested a little more than last weekend, the hikes were more then we thought they would be, but I didn’t give up so ultimately I am proud of myself and I had an “AHAAA” moment.  While we were hiking I kept doubting my own strength’s and I was putting up blocks in front of me.  I kept saying I can’t do this, it will be too hard, too difficult and I didn’t even want to try the trails that looked more difficult.  At one point my husband made me mad because he kept being so sweet and supportive and I was just like “you don't know how this feels both mentally and physically, you are not healing from ANOTHER surgery” and he just looked at me and said “but I know you, you will regret it later if you don’t do this, you are the strongest person I know and I will carry you back if I have too”… how could I argue any more, I knew I was having a pity party, I was having a mental block on my own strengths.  So down the trail we went and when I say down I mean DOWN!!!!   Once we got to the bottom, I kept looking back up thinking “up is harder omg, I won’t make it”… but we when the time came to come back up that path, I pushed through the fear and just kept going!  After this hike, I got tricked into the next one, we wanted to see the rock art but didn’t know that it would be another DOWNWARD hike which meant the uphill hike back was going to be hard on me.  But I kept wanting to stop but not wanting to disappoint myself and my husband I kept going.  Once we were back up to the top of the hike after we seen the art I was amazed at how far I have come in my healing.  Hearing my husband say that he was proud of me was the best feeling in the world.  But my “AHAA” moment was really seeing how lucky I was at having someone beside me who was willing to carry me if I couldn’t carry myself, don’t get me wrong I have known this since I met him but some times you forget that and to be broken down and need that support then realizing through your own self pity that you DO have that support is just amazing, and my other “AHAA” moments is that I can do anything that I set my mind too, I can prove anyone and everyone wrong including myself, I may be a little slower then others or I may complain a little more but I will always accomplish anything if I truly want too.  We finished our day laying on the couch relaxing from a hard day out in the beautiful land of Swaziland under the hot African sun.



With the beautiful untouched mountains and land the Malolotja Nature Reserve is the best place to spend some time.  Whether it is the canopy tour, a short hike or a long hike the choice is yours.  They offer campsites and cabins to accommodate your needs.  The reserve has 44,479 acres (18000 hectares) of mountainous terrain.  The area is home to a variety of animals and birds as well as plants and wildflowers.

We only wanted to do a short hike since I am still recovering so the receptionist was very helpful in helping us pick a path and marking our map for us (they provide a map for you).   The scenery is amazing but that is nothing new with this little country.  We are novice hikers so we had a hard time understanding the map vs. the markers.  But we found a view point and decided to just take our chances and go as far as we could.  I was skeptical because of my weakness from my surgery but I did my best and we went as far as we could.  I will tell you these trails are not easy but the views are AMAZING!!!!  The paths are defined but I admit I was confused on the markers, but that is probably just me. 


Nsangwini Cave Shelter / Bushman Cave Art

You get to the cave by going toward Piggs Peak / Maguga Dam from the Maguga Dam Road watch for a sign that is posted off of the road (but the first sign points to the right and has no road near it but keep going there is another sign) it is approximately 7km from the Maguga Dam. Once you are on the well-maintained dirt road drive about 7km.   The path to the starting point is a little discouraging but keep going and follow the signs.  Once you arrive you will see a little hut with someone sitting inside it, the fee for the hike is E30 per person.  They will be your guide down to the cave and it is a DOWNWARD HIKE, make sure you have on your good shoes because it is very rocky and some areas are slightly slippery.  The Bushman Cave Art is suppose to be Swaziland’s best example of the time past.  They were discovered in 1955 and have been a popular view point since.  The artwork ranges from 400 to 4000 years ago, the guide told us the clearer images were the more recent ones.  The Bushmen used coal, animal blood and red ochre to make the paintings.  Each image has a meaning too it and it is believed that these images were painted during a shamanic trance.  The images depicted were animals that were important to the group and their people.  The pictures they drew of themselves were hunters but they were portrayed as being taller than what they were in real life, some had feathers, some had spears and then they had more “other worldly” with heads of a preying mantis (according to the guide).   It is thought that this den/cave was used for rainmaking ceremonies due to the images of the elephants (which is believed to be a symbol for rainmaking).  The guide will let you stay there as long as you like and she will answer any questions after she goes through the speech about the art.  Take your time because the hike up is not so easy (at least for me but again I am healing from a surgery), but our guide was so understanding and took several breaks for me.


]]> (The Spinning Compass) Africa Bushmen Cavemen Expat Explore Health JustDrive Malolotja Marriage Photography Rockart SouthAfrica SummerfieldBotanicalGardens Sundays Swaziland Travel Mon, 20 Jul 2015 08:47:09 GMT
Summerfield Botanical Gardens I know its been a while since I posted anything, but I have had to focus on healing and we haven't done a whole lot.  We did go to Hlane again and as usual we loved it.  But other than that we haven't been out much.

This past Sunday we decided to try and find the “only” baobab tree that is SUPOSEDLY in Swaziland… well we were not lucky in our search, we found a few references to it online but no one mentioned the exact location. We used the references we found as guides, but we did not find the tree!  If anyone knows where it is please let me know.  We will find the trees in the countries that they are native too but I wanted to share this tree with the guest of Swaziland and if we ever find it I will let you know where the location of it is.  I have never seen one in person but I hear that they are amazing. 

After driving around Manzini for a while we decided to head to Summerfield Botanical Gardens for lunch.  I must say that this is probably one of the prettiest resorts that I have seen so far.  I basically have no words to describe Summerfield because it is absolutely stunning.   We toured the grounds and took a few pictures to share with you.  The bungalows are spacious and well decorated.  The pool is very nice and fairly large in size.  The grounds/gardens are well kept, beautiful and serene. 

I must say that the restaurant is so far my FAVORITE “sitdown” restaurant here in Swaziland.  The restaurant is not only relaxing, but the views are also amazing and the food is delicious.  The seating at the Grand Palm Cascade is very “quaint”; you are on a small Gazebo or in the Pavilion’s with a thatched roof and you have views of the lake no matter where you sit. I tried the Sirloin Skewers, which came with rice and veggies on a pie type crust.  The food was perfectly prepared and tasted very good.   The price is a little on the higher side but so worth it because of the setting, the portions and the quality.

I must say we plan to return many more times in the future!


Check out: 

]]> (The Spinning Compass) Africa Expat Explore JustDrive Photography SouthAfrica SummerfieldBotanicalGardens Sundays Swaziland Travel Mon, 06 Jul 2015 07:32:20 GMT
My Little Swazi Guide Before I give you MY guide to Swaziland, let me tell you about the country since most of you are probably like me and have never heard of this amazing little country. I can not give you an accurate description of this “valley of heavens” because you have to see it to believe it. When you are here, you are literally in the middle of these amazing mountains, surrounded by both beauty and not so beauty (but the beauty outweighs the not so). You can pretty much do everything here from seeing big game, hiking. rafting and so much more.  This country is great for families as well as individuals.  Not only is Swaziland an amazing country, you can drive a few hours to Maputo, Mozambique to beautiful beaches, or into South Africa for more things to do.  Swaziland is also a few hours from Krueger as well.  The views are amazing, it would be a great vacation spot for anyone wanting to come to Africa. 

This is lengthy so you can skip the demographics and history lesson if you want.

Some of the not so good:  The roads are decent but not the best maintained in some areas, there are potholes and in some areas you do not have much room on the “shoulder” for any errors (we blew a tire because we got a little to close to the shoulder and hit the rocky broken up pot hole edge). At night, you do not have many street lights so be careful. Also if you are from the states, please read up on the driving here before you venture out. My first time was scary because cars kept passing us and Justin kept getting too close to the “shoulder” to let cars pass, but now I know that it is normal for South Africa (I will admit it still scares me). You will see houses that are as basic as they can get, some are less than basic, you will question how anyone can live in them, most don’t have running water or power. One of the more upsetting things to me is something so simple to prevent - TRASH, you will see it just thrown out onto the roads, sidewalks, wherever and it takes away from this beautiful country and is such an easy fix.  

From what I have encountered you will not meet any person more appreciative, happy and respectful than those here in Swazi. I hope my guide can give you a little insight to this magnificent place.

Let me do a little bit of a history and geography lesson on Swaziland before we jump into the modern-day Swazi (I will try to be accurate as possible from what I have learned, if I am missing something or have something incorrect please let me know, I don't want to state anything wrong about this beautiful country):

Geography / Climate:

​Swaziland is a little smaller than New Jersey and is the smallest country in Africa.

It borders South Africa and Mozambique (both are beautiful places and within a few hours drive).

It is very mountainous (such a beautiful scenery) and has a few plain areas. The Great Usutu River is 21m (68ft) above sea level, making it the lowest point and the Emlembe 1862m (6108 ft) above sea level making it the highest point.

It has several “big” cities: Mbanane (capital), Ezulwini and Manzini. These are the “hubs” of Swaziland and very modern with shopping centers, technology, restaurants and places to stay.

They have 4 “Districts” which are Hhohho, Lubombo, Manzini, Shiselweni.

The Temperature is very diverse, hot and dry in the low areas and cool in the mountain regions, and it does have a “rainy season”. It has 4 distinct seasons but they are opposite of the US in the northern hemisphere.


​The ancestors of Swazi traveled south in the 1700’s to what is now or near what is now Mozambique, but after some battles with others in the area they had to travel south in the northern area of what is said to have been Zulu’s territory. After that wasn’t as safe as they would like they moved north again and eventually established the heart of Swaziland around 1800 (but I have read several stories that state The Ngwane people settled in Swaziland in the 1700’s).  The British ruled Swaziland from 1906-1968, after the Anglo-Boer War. They gained their independence of Sept 6, 1968. It is the last absolute monarchy in Africa.


​The people are called “Swazi(‘s)”

The country is 97% African, 3% Other (from what I have experienced that other is huge and multicultural, I met Portuguese, Afghans, Pakistanis, South Africans, Indians and other Americans)

They speak Siswati and English

Religion: Zion is the primary religion at 40% (this is a mix of Christianity with ancestral worship), Other (includes at Methodist, Mormon, Jewish, etc) at 20%, Catholic at 20% and Muslim at 10% .

Population is around 1.4 million (this is the sad part due to AIDS/HIV this country has a very low population of people over 55 years old):

55 and older is at 7.9%

25-54 is 33%

15-24% is 22.3%

0-14 is at 36.5%.

The median age is 21 years old; compare this to Japan where the median age is 48, France is 39 and the US is 36 but just to show there are some with a younger median age: Uganda has a median age of 15 years old).

HIV Population: 26.5% (they have the highest population of HIV/AIDS in the world)

Education: To me the system is very confusing to me and frustrating to think about, because I come from a country where education is a RIGHT and given to everyone, it is simple you go k-12 and some then go to college. It just breaks my heart that these kids are not allowed the same rights. We all know that a country is only as good as the people and without educations the people cannot truly thrive, neither can the economy or ultimately the country.

There is Preschool which is usually community driven

Primary goes from 1st grade to 7th (only the first two years are free), and then at the end of the 7th year of education you get a certificate and that determines if you are eligible for continuing education

Secondary and High school (3 years junior secondary and 2 years senior secondary)

Only about 20% go to anything past primary because of financial burdens, limited spaces, and the need of the family to be working.

Tertiary Education or College (can be paid by the government if the student qualifies).

Only about 5% will receive Tertiary Education

Currency: Lilangeni / emalangeni which is connected to the Rand (You can use Rand here but you cannot use Lilangeni anywhere but in Swaziland). Swazi will accept Rand or Lilangeni / emalangeni.

**Please remember to cash out or exchange your Lilangeni / emalangeni before you leave the country because you will not be able to ANYWHERE else nor will any other country accept it.

Interesting facts:

Artifacts and cave drawings indicate that there was activity in this region going back 200,000 years ago. Some of the drawings date back as far as 25,000 BC

Some of the world’s oldest rock formations can be found at Malolotja Nature Reserve.


Ok, Ok, enough of that, I am sure by now you are just wanting to know about the fun stuff. My guide is simple and straight to the point. I will give you my opinions of the places that I have had the pleasure to explore and please remember these are just my opinions not facts, and they are my opinions based off of what I am use to from where I am from. I will update regularly as I explore more of the area, also I will make a separate blog for most of the places that we explore so be sure to check those out as well.

Swaziland has some rich history for such a small country. But how many of you have ever heard of Swaziland? I had never heard of it until my husband got his job offer. But once we moved here I heard several references to Swaziland; once in the movie Expendables 3 and then there was a pilot show that I read about that had a scene where they entertained the King and his wives (yes more than one wife). So maybe the knowledge of this beautiful country is getting out there more. With some advertisement and some assistance I think this country could be one of those vacation destinations that everyone puts on their bucket list.

We have been in Ezulwini Swaziland for 1year and I love the country, I will continually update the blog as we explore the area but I will tell you what we have experienced so far.


Handi-Crafts / Souvenirs

​You have several options throughout Swazi but the ones that I have frequented are:

The one at Corner Plaza, the one near MTN, and the one at Swazi Candles.

Several little shops of handicrafts made by the local Swazi people. Take your time and look at each shop before you purchase anything because they all have great items, unfortunately most of them are exactly the same but different prices. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to ask for a better offer or to combine a price if you are buying several things from one shop.

I truly wish they would be more creative and individualistic with their handicrafts, it seems like everyone uses the same patterns and I know these are some talented and creative people, they just need to trust their selves and be a little different from the stall beside them.


Dinning Out:

Calabash – A really nice restaurant, the food was delicious and some of the best that I have had here so far. It was not crowded at all and the staff was pleasant. Only complaint which isn’t really a complaint is that the decor was out dated but that added to the style of the place.  Eat in.

Summerfield – I have no words to describe Summerfield because it is absolutely stunning.   The gardens are beautiful and serene.  The restaurant is not only relaxing but the views are amazing and the food is delicious.  Check out my blog on Summerfield as well.

Mandella/House On Fire – The style of the place is very artsy and modern with a heritage charm. There are several little shops here that offer beautiful handicrafts. They use the location for concerts and other activities and I can see why: the view and artsy feel make for a perfect location. The first time that we went here we were amazed at how good the food items that we purchased were. The next time we were disappointed and vowed to not return due to the lack of customer service and quality of the food. But every restaurant has bad days so we will try it again.  Eat in.

Oceans Basket (The Gables) – Be prepared for a long wait but it’s worth it if you are wanting seafood and sushi. The sushi was really good, as was most of everything that we tried.  Eat in or take away.

Mugg N Bean (The Gables) – Great coffees and drinks. The Lemon Pie is absolutely amazing but be warned it is soooo sweet and I am sure it contains more calories than two meals. The food is pretty good as well.  Eat in or take away.

Debonairs Pizza (The Gables) – My favorite thing on the menu was the Jalapeno Poppers. You have to try those, they are so simple yet OMG, I could eat them every day!!!! I wasn’t a huge fan of the pizza’s but they were decent and we do order from there occasionally, but remember I am just so use to the NY style pizza’s back home.  Eat in, take away or delivery.  Tel: 2416 2555

Spur (The Gables) – Our go to place to eat. Service is usually excellent and most of the time the food is very well prepared. They have a pretty large menu with everything from nacho’s to ribs. The breakfast menu is very good as well and they have cheap specials (I think my meal I usually order is like 3.40 and it is a good-sized breakfast).  Eat in or take away.  

KFC (The Gables) – I will have to admit that this KFC is better than back home! TJ would eat this every night.

The Great Taipei (The Gables) – We tried this place 3 times and every time we had to wait a LONG LONG LONG time, and one time a family came in way after us, ordered way more than us but were served way before us, we figured they either knew the owners or were family. Other than that it was decent food (although nowhere near as tasty to the Chinese I am use to back home in NC). No one offers General Tso’s or “American Chinese”, and we can’t find a Thai or Japanese restaurant anywhere.  Eat in or take away

Galito’s (The Corner Plaza) – My Son’s second favorite! I have to admit I love their seasoning and the chili bean salad!!!! Great customer service and usually pretty fast delivery.  Delivery, eat in or take away.  Telephone: 268 2316 2090 

Luxy Garden Chinese (The Corner Plaza) – We enjoyed this one, the service is usually fast and the food is pretty good.  Eat in or take away.

The Bakery (The Corner Plaza) – I pass by this place many times but haven’t had the pleasure of trying it just yet. When I do you will be the first to know!

Mvubu Falls Pub - Beautiful!  That describes this place perfectly.  The food is good but the tranquility is absolutely amazing!  Eat in.


One note: we haven’t been to many places in Manzini or Mbabane but as we do I will update the guide. We have been to a Chinese restaurant at The Swazi Plaza in Mbabane and it is my favorite here in Swazi, it isn’t like the Chinese back home but it is really good.

Grocery Shopping:

Gables - Gables is in the main area of Ezulwini. You can get all of your shopping done here. Not only does it have Shop Rite for groceries but it also has Pic N Pay and Woolworths (a very small selection but the qualities is wonderful). You also have a little mall with clothing stores, a health food store and many other options. You have a large variety of restaurants as well. Don’t forget after you have done all of your shopping and eating out, you must try out the gym that is located in the shopping center.  Website:

Corner Plaza - At Corner Plaza you have pretty much everything that you need. You have Spar where you can find great grocery items. There is a pharmacy, a housewares store. Several Restaurants for dining in or take away. Galito’s is my sons favorite and they deliver as well. Several businesses are in this area as well like a Dentist (we have used him and he is GREAT!), a Therapist and several other offices.

Mbabane - In the city center you have The Mall and across from it you will see The Swazi Plaza. You have more options here as far as the shopping goes. There is a Mr. Price and Sheetstreet among the bigger stores in the Swazi Plaze. At the Mall there is a Super Spar along with many other stores. Unfortunately I can’t give too much advise on this areas because we only go there for housewares items at Sheetstreet and Mr. Price, just because it isn’t as close to our house as The Gables is.


Game Parks (see more information at the specific blog about each Park):

Mlilwane - Does not have the big game that some of you might be looking for, but Mlilwane is absolutely beautiful and peaceful. It is never over crowded and you can walk, bicycle or self drive through the entire park at your own pace. – see more on the blog for Mlilwane

Hlane - This is so far my favorite of all the parks that we have been too.  -see more on the blog for Hlane

Mbuluzi Wildlife Reserve – haven’t went here yet but it is on our to do list.

Mhkaya - haven’t went here yet but it is on our to do list.


Drives, Falls & Gorges:

Mantenga Falls - haven’t went here yet but it is on our to do list.

Phophonyane Falls - Absolutely serene, beautiful, majestic and my favorite place to go for a hike (so far).


We will continually update our blog with information about our adventures but if you have some advice or suggestions please feel free to comment and share your stories or thoughts.

]]> (The Spinning Compass) Africa Expat Explore Swaziland Travel Sun, 05 Jul 2015 22:00:00 GMT
The Lion Park Attacks Recently the Lion Park has been in the news a lot due to the attacks on self drive tourist.  It got me thinking about several things that we have seen since we have been in Swaziland. 


I am not sure what the Lion Park would be considered (zoo, sanctuary or just a tourist location) but supposedly they breed the animals and sell them to Zoo’s around the world.  But they also put these animals on display and they stay in captivity for their entire lives.  The attacks recently made me think about their facility even more.  Who is to blame for these attacks and who should be punished?  They are not opening the one section to the public right now while they have an animal behavioralist watch the Lions, but they could end up sepearating the lioness from her pride.  Why should that happen, she is just being what she is – A WILD ANIMAL – right, or is it something more than that?


So here are my thoughts:


You have several options to this park.  The first one is that you can take the private tour (we took this one because we wanted the one on one time with the guide and we wanted to see the animals interact with each other up close).  You can also take the big guided tour (a big safari truck/bus) or you can do the self driven tour.  Personally I love the guided tours of any park because the guides will tell you so much information about the animals and area.  But I have also found some of the bigger tours are a little over crowded and you cannot get that personal time with the guide (sometimes you can’t even hear them), so we usually choose a private tour if it is possible.   Regardless of which option you choose, the park has signs everywhere and you sign a consent, so you know the rules and you should follow them to stay safe.


The photography/quiet drive around the park gives you an upclose experience.  With this drive you get your driver, who tells you a lot of amazing facts about these creatures and you also get another park person that feeds the lions and keeps them in check. When we did our tour, we had cars following us around and trying to get as close to the lions as we were.  So I started thinking that maybe these private tours are confusing both the animals and the other visitors.


The self driven tour guest may be making a horrible decision to roll down their windows to snap a quick photo because of seeing the private tours.Maybe the people who are doing the self drives are seeing the people out of the cars and feeding the animals with the private drive and maybe they think these animals are “tame” compared to a wild lion.  They are not considering the fact that these animals have been with these park guides since they were born, they are trained and taught to listen to them and respect them (within reason, these are wild animals).  I am also wondering if these self drives are also confusing the animals because they do feed them chunks of meat to lore them closer to the vehicle, which could make them think that all vehicles might be handing out goodies (our guy put a chunk of meat on the cage of the car and it fell in on my foot, but they put it on the cage to get the animal to stand up and grab the meat). 


Another theory is that maybe it could be that these animals are getting tired of being harassed all day by the noise and commotion of the cars.  You have to think that the natural insticts of these animals kick in and they get agitated just like we do.  They aren’t able to run long distance, they don’t catch their own prey, they don’t get to excerise all of the things they should and maybe that causes them to lash out.  I know after the drive I felt horrible about the park, I admit I loved it because I have never been so close to a lion, I have never seen them interact with their cubs like I got to experience, so yes it was an amazing experience… but then later as I was thinking about the park and was going through my pictures I started thinking about the fact that they are caged FOREVER.


We alos have to remember that cats are curious by nature (big or small), they hear and smell very well and when a person rolls a window down you have to wonder what they could experience – are they curious then the person screams and we all should know that these animals love the chase and play; do they smell your cheeseburger you were eating, do they just want to be an animal and attack?


So is it the facilities fault for allowing self drives, or for maybe pushing these animals too far with all the tours?  Is it the humans fault for rolling down the window after watching a guide pet the lion?  Is it the lions fault for attacking?  I obvious answer here is DON’T ROLL DOWN THE DANG WINDOW and ultimately at the end of the day the person being careless and not following the rules is the one to blame, but can the park do a little more than just putting up signs?


My conclusion:  I do think the park needs to review their purpose, mission and goals.  In my opinion the park probably needs to just shut down the self drive tours to save everyone from future attacks and to hopefully keep the animals safe as well. 

]]> (The Spinning Compass) Africa Expat Explore Photography SouthAfrica Travel Mon, 15 Jun 2015 07:17:14 GMT
Zoo's, Sanctuaries, & Safari's First let me explain a little about this post.  We are from the US as you know and for us to be able to live in Swaziland and drive to South Africa is an amazing experience for us.  We want to see, do and take in as much as we can.  With that said, we have had a hard time finding information on things to do in South Africa, maybe it’s us, maybe we aren’t researching properly but it is our experience.  We can search and maybe find some places but there isn’t much information or reviews other than what the company has on their websites.  So usually we go to place based on referrals from others or what we do find online.  Sometimes we regret it later, but no matter what we will take pictures and write our opinion on the place so that maybe we can help someone know what to do if they visit this part of the world.  Also, I do not in anyway condone or support caging wild animals on any level.  I think breeding in captivity or capturing wild animals to put them on display is just wrong.  Being in Africa has brought some questions to light for me, I say I don’t support these type of behaviors but as a whole is that true?  Most of us do go to zoo’s, right?  Some of us have had the pleasure of going on a safari or two, right?  Is there any comparison to the pro’s and con’s of places like Lion Park in Johannesburg, Hlane in Swaziland and a Zoo around the world?  Are we hypocrites by saying the Zoo is ok but the Lion Park is not, do we even say that?


In the states we don’t have the wild animals within driving distance so we take our kids to the zoo’s or aquariums so is that wrong of us, are we supporting animals being caged?  I know for me, I have always wanted my children to love animals, to respect them and to learn about them as much as possible.  I have always found ways to teach them or show them about the world.  So I have taken them to any and every possible place that I could in our area.  We have been to zoo’s, aquariums, big cat rescue centers in NC and so on from the time that they were very little.  Our schools even do fieldtrips to the zoo’s.  Is that wrong, are we encouraging and supporting caging animals?  Zoo’s are nothing more than upscale caged facilities in a way right?  Is there any difference in these attractions?  I will briefly discuss a few of the arguments of each in this blog.  Again this is just my opinion as are all of my blogs.


I can’t speak for all safari’s but a few that we have been to, have huge amounts of land but are fenced in at some point, is that not considered caged to some degree?.  The animals are considered wild with very little or no human contact other than the vehicles that come through to observe them.  But they do get use to the cars and are not afraid of them.  They do get to be in their natural habitat and act like they would in the wild with the exception of having to stay within the boundaries of the safari’s land.  I know from reading that a few Safari’s do not have fencing of any form and are completely and totally wild animals, but again these animals become desensitized to the cars and the presence of people watching them.  Then you also have some safari’s that are for trophy hunters, where they can hunt, kill and display the wild animals.


Most of the safari’s that we have been too (remember we aren’t expert’s and have only been to a few) have some fencing to protect the public and neighboring communities as well as possibly protecting the animals from each other so that they can promote breeding.  With the population of humans increasing and we are encroaching on the territories of wild animals so I see the need for the fencing and at these places that I have been usually have 100’s or more acres fenced, giving the animals a sense of freedom.  It also protects certain animals from poachers, supposedly (although some places still have poaching present – the poaching laws are just not strict enough in some countries).  With a safari regardless of the type, we are entering the animals habitat and are doing so at our own risk.  With a safari you cannot interact with the animals, only observe them from a safe distance.  I also seen that in the States that we have some “safari parks” and you can interact with certain animals by feeding them food provided by the park as you drive through, which is really blurring the line of attraction and wild.


Zoo’s are well maintained, well established facilities, with very educated and trained care takers. They offer people the chance to see animals up close in a safe environment.  They also protect the animals and try to encourage breeding, which could be useful in endangered animals.  Some of the people that goes to zoo’s would otherwise never see or learn about the animals that are in the zoo’s.  It is very educational for the children.  The animals are in a way caged up, in living quarters and are on display. In a zoo, we get to view the animals from a safe advantage.  Zoo’s offer some protection from poachers, extinction, and habitat loss.  At a zoo, sometimes they will allow interaction with certain animals, they also offer educational seminars where they may bring out the animals to show as they talk about them (example: the bird’s of prey).  Some zoo’s are involved in some amazing research on animals and they provide funding for projects across the globe, so that accounts for something, right?  Zoo’s maybe a true conservation for the future of these animals, especially endangered animals.  If they take endangered animals and use their expertise to encourage breeding and then place them back into the wild, that will be amazing, right?  But is that what happens at zoo’s?  I have always loved zoo’s because of the joy it does bring to the kids faces and to my own.  Before coming to Africa, I never imagined that I would see a lion on a safari so going the zoo was the only way to enjoy and learn about them.  But after my experiences in Africa I now question zoo’s and places similar to that.


Sanctuaries are a safe haven for wild animals.  They rescue or take in animals that can either no longer live in the wild or who have been removed and raised outside of the wild as pets or show animals.  They do not sell, breed, buy or trade their animals.  Some sanctuaries are rehabilitate and release centers that will try to introduce animals back into the wild.  Usually these facilities are not for profit and also do research on animal behavior.  Some offer educational experiences for the public as well.  Some facilities allow human interaction and visits while some centers actually try to limit the interaction the animals have with humans so that they learn to be more wild like.  They will use puppets to feed humans so that these animals do not associate humans with food (to me this sounds like a good idea).  The pro’s and con’s of limiting the human interactions on sanctuaries are hugely debatable. 


An article that I read stated that most animal activist were for animal sanctuaries because they rescue wild animals from bad situations but were against zoo’s because they cage wild animals for our entertainment.  It stated that both zoo’s and sanctuaries put the animals on display, may charge admission, cage the animals and are usually non-profit organizations.  They state that the main difference is how the animals are obtained; zoo’s breed, sell or buy the animals and sanctuaries rescue them from situations and only if they cannot live in the wild.


The bottom line I guess is personal opinion because the research out there has a wide array of statistics, opinions and research attached to all sides.  You have to make your own decision on whether or not you should visit a place and if it fits your beliefs.  But some things to consider is that in the wild some animals like elephants have large families (maybe 100 in the herd) and these bonds are naturally formed.  In captivity these animals are forced to form bonds with animals that may not be “family”, yes they end up creating the bond out of the need for family but is it a true bond?  In the wild animals will walk over 40 miles a day, grazing, hunting, sleeping, living wherever they choose.  In captivity they may or may not get that experience.  There has been some research that suggest wild animals live longer in the wild then they do in captivity.  In the wild predators stalk, hunt and graphically kill their prey.  Truly wild animals never get use to a car driving by, nor do they relies on humans to feed them chunks of food and they don’t have names that answer to.


As for my opinion:  Well I honestly do not know, I do enjoy seeing the animals up close and learning about them and maybe that is selfish.  But, I do not like to see them caged up.  I hate to see the animals “catch” or “show off” for their food, nor do I like to see them thrown chunks of meat.  I do not want to hear that a place sells their animals for “killing” safari’s and I love places that protect their animals from poachers!  I love to hear that places like Hlane allow the animals to hunt their food because to me that is what being wild is!!!  I love to see the animals in their natural habitat and watch them go about their normal routines like we aren’t there and see the interaction with their young or other members of their groups. So I guess my opinion is as mixed as the research is.  But that is the best part of being human – we can decide for ourselves what we want to see and what we want to support.  Maybe a child visiting the zoo will be intrigued by the visit to learn so much about the animals and have an interest in it that they grow up to be one of the best activist for animal reform and protection.  Maybe seeing a sanctuary will encourage people understand the harmful affects that we are having on these animals and will help change our ways to protect their future.  These places wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a need or want for them and none of these places seem to be going away any time soon, they are only gaining in popularity so instead of attacking each of them or each other, lets just give some unbiased, educated information and opinions and let everyone decide for themselves.






]]> (The Spinning Compass) Africa Expat Explore Photography Safari Swaziland Travel Wildlife Sun, 19 Apr 2015 07:15:00 GMT
My Health I haven’t been taking many pictures or posting many blogs and that is because of some recent health issues.  As you guys know I am always vaguely mentioning my health but I today we will discuss what I mean by those occasional comments.  I am a big advocate for patient education and healthcare so maybe by me sharing my story I can help someone just a little.  It is so frustrating when people look at you like you are a cry baby or weak.  No one can see the scar tissue or the inside of my stomach so they don’t understand the pain that I feel.  Sometimes I hide how bad I hurt so that people aren’t judging or misunderstanding me.  I have been accused of faking it, playing victim or over reacting and that makes me so upset even by doctors in the begining.  Sometimes people get upset with me because I turn down invitations to go out to eat, or I won’t eat at their gathering and I try to explain it is nothing personal, but sometimes they don’t understand.  I wish we as people would really pay attention to how we treat each other, because we do not understand what others are going through.  My own health issues is why I always tried to be so understanding and compassionate when I worked in the medical field.  We do not know the journeys that others are traveling, so we shouldn’t hate on them.

First back in 2000-2001 when my kids were very little I started having these pains in my lower right abdomen and went to the doctor many times during that year for a myriad of things: I had ovarian cyst – the doctor said give it time to work it self out if it gets worse take the pill or do surgery.  Then they said I had Endometriosis – never did anything more just gave me pain pills.  Then one ER doctor said I had appendicitis but after test, he said that I didn’t and sent me home with pain medicines.  This went on, test after test, doctor visit after visit,  ER visit after ER visit.  One trip to the ER with a CT scan put my body over the edge and it decided I would not have any more IV Dye in my system, I had an antiphalatic reaction and literally almost died, but they didn’t see any sign of appendicitis on this visit either and sent me home, they literally discussed if I was addicted to pain medicines and my response was … I have bottle after bottle that you guys have given me with every visit STILL sitting in my cabinet if you want them back, I was furious to say the least and this made me not want to go back to the doctor.  I would literally lie in bed with pains for days but then I would be fine again which is why they really thought it was related to my cycle.  But eventually I became so sick (TMI WARNING) that I was having liquid come from both ends, I literally laid in the bathtub, this caused a few trips to the doctors where they did labs and gave me fluids, but all my labs were normal so they sent me home with instructions for gastroenteritis.  That evening my ex and I had an argument (it wasn’t a good relationship) – he made a comment that he hoped I died, well that was all it took …. No one was going to get the pleasure of me dying (I know very dramatic but it is how I felt).  We went to the ER, I was determined to get better, I would not give him the pleasure of me dying, I would not leave my kids behind, I would get better for them.  The ER was shocked at how bad I looked and after a few test they realized my BP was bottoming out, my potassium was deathly low and I was rushed into the back with tubes inserted everywhere.  Two days and a bunch of test later (including fluoroscopies, scans, blood work, etc) they still didn’t know what was wrong and this one amazing surgeon walked into my room and looking back I swear he reminds me of the doctor off of the show House.  He was cocky but nice, he was investigative and concerned.  He said something about me being his zebra in what he called a black and white career, he said doctors are so clear cut and text book that sometimes they miss things.  And that sometimes some peoples bodies are so strong that they fight and hide things very well (all my labs and scans were always normal, which is why they always missed my appendix).  He asked for permission to just do a exploratory surgery into my abdomen, I agreed because by this point I was knocking on deaths door.  I woke up from surgery and the doctor was in my room shaking his head, he told me that I had a guardian angel because he didn’t know how I was waking up or even there to begin with.  The only thing he could conclude was that around my period my bloating would push up against my appendix causing it to “leak” but my body would fight it off the best it could and I would be fine again, until it couldn’t fight anymore.  He said that there is a dispute in the medical community about whether “chronic appendicitis” was real and this is the only way he could explain the normal labs and scans and why everyone missed this even him for the first few days.  He continued to explain and apologize for my open abdomen, he tried to make a clean cut but unfortunately the damage and severity of the surgery it wasn’t so pretty.  My stomach was cut from my belly button down, and was open, it had to be healed from the inside out because my entire cavity was engrossed with adhesions and the poison from my dying appendix.  He removed it and most of the scar tissue that he could.

I healed and recovered but those adhesions caused me years of pain and problems, especially around my monthly visitor.  I had another surgery in 2007 because they thought a had a 8-19 cm cyst but it was really scar tissue, so the doctor saved my ovary and cleaned out as much scar tissue as possible, but on all my records he noted that there was still massive amounts of scar tissue and that if future surgeries were required then they would have to go in on one side or the other due to the midline was nothing but a wall of scarring.  I still have problems with my iron and potassium levels at time, which could be due to all this or not.

In 2010-2011 due to some life situations I was so stressed that my appetite was non existent and I lost 40 lbs in a matter of weeks.  Basically I was doing a crash diet even though it wasn’t on purpose and if you read how bad crash diets are, well I caused my body a lot of undue problems for a stupid situation.  But I couldn’t physically eat, if I tried I would throw up and no it wasn’t an eating disorder, I just wasn't hungry.  But basically this caused my gallbladder to basically quit working and it was removed.  On the report they noted scar tissue present but not the cause – OMG on my gallbladder !!!! 

But now, it seems as if I can’t retain or absorb the nutrients that I need and I get sick very easy from eating.  I am sure I have more doctors visits in the future to try and figure this out but for now I just deal with it and take many supplements and vitamins.  I have been tested more recently for everything from Crohn’s to Celiac and many other stomach issues, but no one has went back to the consideration of Endometriosis and we cannot find out why I get so sick.  I literally have episodes where I can eat something and 30 minutes later I am in horrible pain and have horrible bouts of diarrhea.  The pain still comes and goes and I have had scans to keep an eye on the scar tissue and monitor the pain.  I worry all the time that what if they miss something major because they blame everything on my scar tissue, what if I end up with ovarian cancer but it is ignored because they don’t want to do another surgery to remove the scar tissue until it’s too late. 

I have learned that if I cut out most processed foods that I get sick less, but not completely better.  I try to go gluten free and eat more fresh fruits and veggies.  I am not perfect at this and I love my “cokes” but I have learned to cut back on the bad stuff, I know we have to give ourselves a little room for error.  I also do a little yoga (I am still a beginner) and I try to walk at least a mile daily because I feel that being active does help with the pain. 

I found out recently that I have a mass on my left ovary and we are pretty sure it is scar tissue, so I will be going to Jo’burg to speak with a doctor about my options.  I don’t want to fly home because then Justin would have to leave work for weeks to help take care of me after the surgery.  So I will keep everyone up to date. 

May 1 Update:  I didn’t get a chance to really see what my options were because after visiting the doctor a few times I got extremely ill.  I started with a fever, I felt like my body was on fire but it is winter here so we figured it was the flu because I didn’t have any other symptoms.  The doctor calls us in some antibiotics but the fever still doesn’t go away and my symptoms don’t change: fever, exhausted and weak.  We decided to go to a local doctor and they do an ultrasound but the look on the doctors face told me that something was wrong and he basically told us he didn’t want to do anything and that we needed to get to the doctor in Jo’burg now because the mass had changed in size and was “HUGE”.  So we head to Jo’burg.

Once we arrive they do scans and you can see the look on the doctors face that something wasn’t right.  They admit me due to the fever and to monitor my symptoms.  Later in the night my fever must have skyrocketed because everyone freaked out and they were putting cold rags on me, the put a fan to blow directly at me and removed my covers.  Next thing I know the doctor was back and the anethesiaologist was both there talking to me but honestly it was all a blur.  I just remember the nurses looking so concerned as they wheeled me into the “theater” / operating room.  I woke up the afterwards to find out that they cut me using my old scar.  I didn’t understand what was going on but the doctor made a comment that if I wanted to get pregnant I still had my right ovary and I wanted to cry – what did that mean, what happened???  I was too weak and ill to ask questions.  Justin was there and the nurses were too, everyone was checking on me and everyone looked so worried.  After a few days of trying to heal and walk, I started throwing up and on that Saturday they decided to transfer me to another facility because I wasn’t getting better and because they were not staffed on the weekends.  I was transferred to another hospital, they did test and scans and determined that I had ileus and just needed more rest.  I started feeling better and after 3 or 4 days they released me.  I was only at home for two days before I started throwing up uncontrollably and had to return to the hospital but because of how bad I was we went to a closer one.  I was there for maybe a week and had round the clock antibiotics (2 different ones).  Again I started feeling better and they released me.  Again I was home for a few days and then I started getting high fevers, so back to the hospital we went and again I was there a week.  The doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.  They literally tested me for every parasite, infection, disease and condition but yet found no explanation for the fever.  The only thing that they could do was a blood transfusion (b/c of my lab work) and put me on a strong antibiotic and pray at this point.  I had two physicians – 1 gyno and 1 physician and then we had a wound specialist as well because part of my surigical site hadn’t healed properly.  After a week and only low grade fevers they decided that maybe I was doing better and to send me home.  If I came back they would reopen me and search for a possible reason for the fever, but thank God… I am still home, I am struggling to heal and rebuild my muscles but I am home and I am alive!!!

Some days I question “why me”, “why do I keep having to go through this?” but I know that I am not the only one that has been through this, and I also know some people have had it worse then me which is why I am so grateful to be alive and able to have a normal functioning life (for the most part lol).  My path and my experiences have made me who I am and for that I would not change anything.


I appreciate all of the prayers, thoughts, love and support that I received during my times of both good and bad. 


]]> (The Spinning Compass) Expat Family Health Oophorectomy SouthAfrica Travel appendicitis chronicappendicitis femalehealth ovariancyst Wed, 01 Apr 2015 07:30:00 GMT
Johannesburg It was my first official trip to Jo’burg and I must say I was pleased.  We have driven to the airport a few times but never really spent time in the city to see all that it has to offer.  I must say I was impressed.  I always here nightmarish stories about carjackings, bad areas, etc so I was nervous when we made my doctors appointment in Sandton, but Swazi just didn't have the specialist that I needed, so we had no choice to go to Jo’burg (or we could have flown back to the states).  We decided to make a weekend of it, the appointment was around Justin’s break for easter (we didn’t know this when the appointment was made), so we got a room at the Michelangelo Hotel for the few days that we had to be there (day 1 was a scan at 7am, day two was originally the procedure but it got moved to day 3). So we had most of the day 1 and all of day 2 to explore the city. 

First the hotel:

Michelangelo is not cheap but is extremely nice and well worth the money.   The hotel itself is just beautiful, it has that old world classic feel to it. The rooms are elegant.  The staff was one of a kind.  The room service was amazing.  The hotel is connected with the Mandela Square, so you literally walk out of the hotel into the shopping areas.  My only complaint is that the parking isn’t free, it is secure and safe, but it isn’t free and every morning we had issues with our ticket and had to get help with exciting the parking deck.

Mandela Square:

It was nice, several buildings were under construction so it was a little hectic and dirty in some areas.

The shopping area:

Wonderful selections of eateries and shopping.  We found stores that we love: Victoria Secrets (although it was just the make up/perfume part of their line), Nike, etc.  The shopping centers are all modern and everyone was pleasant.

Every store we went in people asked where were we from because of course we didn’t sound like South Africans and when we would say the US, conversations immediately were struck.  We were in a coin store in the mall and we stood there and talked to them a good 15 minutes, they ended up giving us a coin to bring back with us. 

We found a vape shop in another mall at the Melrose Arch.  Again the staff was so friendly.

Eating out:

We had Chinese food at one of the places in the food court – I have missed my General Tso chicken and they had something similar so I was in heaven with that place.  It broke our healthy diet but it was worth it.

We ate at the Hardrock Café and I am always pleased with their selections.  The staff were very friendly.

We got some sweet treats from the Bread Basket Bakery.  Again we totally broke our diet but we were on a medical vacation retreat so we could splurge right?  We tried their Baklava, Coconut thingy’s, Lemon Pies and Pecan Pies… Absolutely Delicious!!!!

We were able to go to the Lion Park, which I wrote about in another blog.  That was a great visit to say the least.

We drove around trying to find several buildings that I wanted to get photographs of but the GPS wouldn’t pick up any locations and I heard enough stories to know that you don’t want to drive aimlessly around the city.  So we will do this again another day.

Overall I must say that we had a very pleasant stay and plan to return many times if possible. (and my appointments went as well as expected)


We had to go back for a follow up and since the appointment was early morning we had to stay another night, so we tried the Radison near where we stayed last time.  This place was the opposite of the Michelangelo, it was a modern flare.  The staff were extremely friendly and the food was amazing.  It was much cheaper than the Michelangelo and worth every penny.  We will definitely stay here again. 

We plan to go back and explore because Johannesburg is just a beautiful city with a lot of culture and future.  I want to see as much that we can possibly see before we leave Swaziland and South Africa, so stay tuned.

]]> (The Spinning Compass) Africa Expat Explore Johannesburg Photography South Travel Sun, 29 Mar 2015 09:45:00 GMT
The Lion Park I think it is just selfishness but I absolutely loved the Lion Park in Johannesburg.  I know that they have gotten a lot of bad reviews due to rumors that they sell their lions to hunting game parks.  I don’t know if any of that is true and I don’t agree with breeding captive wild animals, but I like to visit places, learn what they do and then write about them so that others can make informed decisions. I also know that the staff at the Lion Park are quick to give you any information on their facility and animals, they answer questions that you may have as well.  From what I encountered on our visit was nothing but pure joy.  The people were so friendly and helpful.  The guide was more than just a driver, he loved what he did and was so insightful during our tour.  We did the private “quiet vehicle” tour or “photography tour” (whatever you prefer to call it), it was a little more expensive then the other tours but we wanted to get some one on one time with the guide and get up close with these magnificent animals.  With our tour we had an extra guide or care taker following us around in a truck, this was for safety as well as to make sure that we had an amazing experience with the animals.  Like I said at the start this was pure selfishness to be able to see these amazing animals up close, to be able to see their interactions with each other and their cubs, to learn about them and their behavior, so it was something I will never forget. 


Don’t get me wrong, I questioned why this facility exist, why the animals are caged, are we supporting this type of tourist attraction, are we harming the animals by doing this, etc.  The facility wasn’t like our Hlane tours where the lions were basically free and the guide had to track them, so the fact that these lions were in caged areas was a little sad.  They were given more space than what we seen with the Cradle of Life so that was a plus and they seemed to have room to run around, they also had their family units.  Unfortunately they were fed by humans, so they didn’t have that natural animal pleasure of hunting and killing their food; again a little disheartening.  But overall, they were healthy and well taken care of, but is that enough, shouldn’t they be wild and use their natural instincts?. 


From what I read the Lion Park sells their animals to zoos around the world or to other game parks.  Which brings up another question for me that I will write on in another blog but if we condemn this facility what about the zoo’s around the world?



]]> (The Spinning Compass) Africa Expat Explore JustDrive Photography Safari Sundays Travel Wildlife Sat, 21 Mar 2015 22:00:00 GMT
A Birthday Party This past Sunday Justin and I attended a birthday party for one of his co-workers little boy.  It was a little nerve wrecking for me because I haven’t met a lot of people that were going to be at the party and we had a real challenge finding a gift for a two year old here in Swaziland, but luckily we did find two toys that we thought he would enjoy (I hope).  The host and hostess were extremely polite and took care of their guest like they were family. 


We arrived to the party and had a very good time. I looked around several times and was just amazed at the different cultures and ethnicities of the people there.  The kids didn’t see any difference among themselves either, they just laughed and played like they were the best of friends forever.  The adults chatted and hopped around from one group to the next just talking, laughing and having a good time.  I can’t tell you exactly the number of people but I know that there were at least 5 different ethnicities if not a lot more than that, but from the way everyone acted, you would have never known there were any differences among us.  I haven’t developed friendships with anyone over here really but watching these people showed that everyone is like family and accepted for who they are and that is such a beautiful thing.  For me it is hard to just start conversing with people or to start friendships and only because I am so SHY at first, it drives me crazy but I can’t help it.


We have gone to a few different parties since we have been in Swazi and it never ceases to amaze me at how well everyone treats each other, it is like a family bond among the guys.  It doesn’t matter where they came from or what their past may be these guys take care of each other and it is a beautiful thing.  I wish more people could see these and take notice. 


]]> (The Spinning Compass) Africa Expat Explore Family Photography Sundays Swaziland Travel Tue, 17 Mar 2015 07:15:00 GMT
Mahamba Gorge Wow, what did I do to deserve the life that I am living?  I woke up to the sound of my hubby jamming out in the kitchen.  I snuck up on him and scared the living crap out of him while he was in his zone cooking pancakes and omelets.  He made me get back into bed so that he could bring me my food when it was ready, so yes sir I followed his orders and back to bed I went.  Before I knew it I had Gluten Free pancakes (I bought from Woolworths – did I tell you I love Woolworths?), 2 cheese omelet along with some fresh pineapple and mango spears topped with pomegranate !!! And all of that was topped off with a kiss from this amazing husband of mine - you know what all this means? - well of course it meant that this was going to be a great day!!!

So today we decided to try our luck on finding the Mahamba Gorge. We packed or gear and a cooler, tried to wake TJ but that failed so we left him a note about breakfast in the fridge and off we went. Unfortunately the internet doesn’t give you the best directions, address or anything close to the GPS coordinates so that we could find the place but after searching for over 20 minutes online earlier this morning Justin finally found something that was close to where we needed to be so off we went (to be totally correct - I found actually found directions but Justin was determined to go the way he found by using the GPS coordinates).  Another Sunday to get lost (YIPEE, seriously I was excited)!!!  But as I explained last week getting lost is the fun and excitement of it.

Finally the dirt road nightmare comes to an end, it only took 5,000 years and caused me a headache and an upset tummy, but we knew we had gotten somewhere new, so it was worth it – I hoped!  Once we were on the paved road we seen some industrial plants and died laughing because one said HO Warehouse ---- hahaha a HO warehouse really… okay us silly American’s, I know but after the day we were having we had to laugh at anything and everything.

We decide to turn right at the end of the road, okay not really we turned left and then decided to turn around and went back the other way because Justin had a hunch he had to follow.  He was right, we were coming up to the border post and I had remembered reading that if we seen the border we were to take a right on ANOTHER dirt road…. As I am checking out signs Justin is ready to turn around and I yell “turn HERE-right here” and of course the MAN of the car is like no way, why - don't question a woman 😋 .... but he trust me and turns down the road .... FINALLY he see the sign that I had seen that clearly says Mahamba Gorge Lodge.

After driving for a few minutes down another dirt road we come across a cute little church that I had to get some pictures of .... then I seen it ... wouldn’t you know it that cross on the mountain, the one that Justin had seen from the other dirt road was right here on this mountain and it isn’t just a cross it stays MAHAMBA MISSIONARY, all in rocks on the side of the mountain – pretty cool if I do say so myself.  After a few more stops to take pictures of ourselves and the beautiful scenery we finally make it to the Lodge and the huge rocky mountain in front of us.

We take a trip inside to see the “café” that we read about, pay our admission fee and the guide gives us the rundown and warns us that this is a HIKE to see the other side of the Mahamba Gorge, I am not kidding you when I say a HIKE – you have to walk up a mounting around a “bowl” in the mountain up higher on the other mountain and then down to get where you are going, the guide points to some cows that look like ANTS from where we are and tells us that is where we need to go!  OMG is not even the correct expression.  Well we packed and planed for everything but I forgot to bring pants and only have shorts on.  I switched from my flip flops to my tennis shoes, we load the camera gear in the backpack, a few water bottles and the granola’s… but my silly butt didn’t bring stupid pants.  Oh well we are here, so we decided to try the walk anyway.  We make it up the first mountain and it wasn’t too bad except for the stupid grass that the cows forgot to eat that were scraping against my skin and causing me to itch like something bad!  I wanted to try to make this so bad but I was literally dying and I didn't want to whine.  Then it hits me that we are out on these mountain tops, rocks every where and I mean everywhere with little crevices perfect for snakes… wait snakes OMG they have spitting cobra’s and black mambas in Swaziland… holy shit ... I am wearing shorts, no boots, ankles exposed what the hell was I thinking????  Now my mind has taken over, the itch was getting worse and I had to turn back there was no way I could go any further once I brought up stupid snakes and not just any little garden snake.  So I apologize and we turned around and headed back down.  I was happy we made it up one mountain and I still could breath and still had energy, but I was sad that I had to think about SNAKES!  By the time we make it back to the bottom my legs are red and puffy with little bumps and scratch marks where I scratched my legs to death already.

To make the best of it we played around taking more pictures and decide on the way home we will try to go a different way back.  And that was the best decision, we saw new sights, learned where some new adventures could take us on another Sunday and called it a great day.


Once we got home we decided to go to a restaurant that we hadn’t been too.  Some of the guys that Justin works with said it was a decent place to try with a little creek and some falls in the background.  We pulled up to Mvubu Falls and were pleasantly  surprised by the tranquility of the lodge.  It was completely empty but for us and the waitress, which was a really nice way to end the evening.  The restaurant/pub was really pretty and had a tropical feel to it with the way it was designed.  The falls were a little walk up so we didn’t get to see it since it was already dark by the time we arrived.  But having dinner in this setting with the creek rippling over rocks beside us was just a fabulous setting.  The meal was decent, I wouldn’t say it was my favorite but I had no complaints.  I was actually surprised by the menu, I was expecting burgers or pub like food but instead I was able to order Pork Chops with Fries and Veggies and Justin ordered a Steak with Fries and a Salad.  The staff was very friendly as well which is always a great plus to any restaurant.  Even though the food didn’t WOW us, we do plan to return during the day so that we can take a trip up to the falls and see what other beauties this little lodge holds.


So here is my extra’s for you:

If you read the websites it states that it has a “newly developed tourism centre with a café”.  Basically what I found is a building with the Lodge’s registration desk and a very small area that I guess was the café.  But do not get me wrong this place is beautiful and the guide was so friendly like everyone that we have encountered during our time in Swaziland but I was just a little thrown off since I was expecting maybe something more like Mantenga Lodge style restaurant.  So it is my fault for reading too much into the description, it is a gorge and a hiking place not a four star hotel!

We plan to add this to our return list.  We would really like to get here early with PROPER attire and take the hike over to the other side and have maybe a nice picnic.



Mahamba Gorge is west of Nhlangano, near the Mahamba Border.  I described the route we took last week in my previous blog but here it is again:

The route we took was past Mlilwane, down past House on Fire and then MR4, MR13 through Malkerns and Mankayane.  Once you get close to the border you will see a sign to turn left to Nhlangano, yes you have to take that dirt road for a long long ways!!!!  You will eventually come to a split with a gas station on the corner across the dirt road.  Take a left, yes you will continue on a dirt road.  You will literally go to the end of this road until it makes you turn left on a paved road – If you are like me then you will never be happier to see a paved road then right now ;) . So after you turn on this first paved road you will travel it until it ends as well and turn right, drive a little ways and when you start to see the border post ahead of you start to look for a sign that says Mahamba Gorge and you will turn right onto yes another dirt road and take it to the end.  There ya have it, you are at the Gorge!


A side note: It looks like they plan to pave these roads in the near future.

You can also travel (this is the way we came back) and much easier:

Take MR9 all the way to Nhlangano about 70 miles (from manzini) until you see the border post and that is where you will turn right onto the dirt road that takes you to Mahamba Gorge.

I hope to have a follow up to this blog after we finally to make it to the other side!



]]> (The Spinning Compass) Africa Expat Explore JustDrive Mahamba Marriage Photography South SouthAfrica Sundays Swaziland Travel Wildlife Sun, 08 Mar 2015 09:45:00 GMT
Just Drive

We woke up late and didn’t want to make the drive to Nelspruit as originally planned, so the question was: “what will we do today?” the answer was easy: "just drive".

As we were discussing it and getting ready we did our usual packing for the day – Camera bag with all our gear. My pink Victoria Secrets bag with snacks, extra socks, bug spray and little extras.  Leaving the house we still weren’t sure of our plans but finally the answer was “Just Drive.”

We decided to head South toward the Mahamba Gorge in Nhlangano,we had hoped we would find it but the GPS wouldn't pick anything up and we didn’t get the directions before we left the house; so it was just another day that we picked a mark on the GPS that we thought was close to where we wanted to be and we would wing it from there. It was our usual way of doing things.  But for me all I could think about is all those movies where you literally take the “wrong turn” or even worse because some of Swazi is really off the beaten path. But with how enthusiastic Justin was and I know that I am safe with him I just went along for the ride and swallowed my fears (like always and we usually have a blast). But you really have to understand the area, while it is modern there are some really rural areas, dirt roads, very high superstitious people and we stand out any where we go. 

I forget about my fears as the drive continues because the views are beautiful as we are passing through Malkerns and Mankayane. We stop at several view points to take some pictures of the amazing valley below. On the way I hear Justin say that he will get gas later, well later seemed to never come on our drive until it was almost to late. We get all the way to the Swaziland / South Africa Border and realized that we went to far. So as we turn around Justin tells me to GPS a gas station and I immediately start to panic silently. The GPS pulls one about 15 miles away and it is the closest one to us. Problem is that it says to turn down a dirt road – really a dirt road we are in a small Toyota Corolla almost out of gas, it is getting later in the day and my head is spinning with all of those stupid movies that I insist on watching. But once again the country side amazes me. The forest, the valleys, everything about this country is untouched and beautiful. We see several abandoned buildings and I have to get some pictures of them because they are so overgrown with the vegetation and it makes you wonder, how long have they been closed, why are they closed what happened to the people who use to visit them and “ OMG we need this gas station right now!”. But at the same time I am thinking about the movie Rest Stop and while it isn’t exactly the same thing, it reminds me of the run down building that the couple stops at to stretch their legs only to be viciously harassed by some crazy man. Again I shake my head and get back in the car ready to go get gas and get back to civilization and I remind myself no more movies! As the gas continues to go down the question becomes do we continue or turn around, but the problem is if we turn around we may not make it back to the last gas station that we actually seen, so we take our chances down this crazy long dirt road. Passing the locals as they walk on the dirt road breaks my heart, do we have to drive so fast to stir up the dirt, don’t we have anything we can give these children? Words cannot explain what we see as we drive through these rural areas but they all seem happy, the kids are playing and everyone waves as we drive by. We finally get to this gas station that the GPS says is a Shell Station and wow… wow… wow… it is a hole in the wall, a few pumps a lot of people and a building that can only hold maybe a cash register. But we realize that this is our only hope of getting home or going forward so Justin pulls in and realizes he forgot to bring cash with us and from the looks of this station we will not be able to use a card. Immediately the digging begins to find change and luckily we find a few emalangeni bills stashed in our gear and in the car, not much but enough to get us where we need to be. We pay the attendant and again are pleasantly surprised at how nice everyone is.

Now what ... take our chances to continue forward with our few dollars of gas or turn around and head toward the house and modern civilization. Home is what we chose due to the time and the situation, so we turn around and head back the way we came. We haven’t given up, we will try that route again but this time on a full tank and with cash! We should know by now that you always carry cash because you never know when you will see a little market that you want to buy some handicrafts from or when you will almost run out of gas and find a hole in the wall gas station that doesn’t take cards. We are not in the states where there is a gas station every few miles!

While the country is so beautiful they have to figure something out about the trash!

Once we were home it became relaxing time! We spend the rest of the night with my son TJ playing Evil Within– did I mention a stupid scary game that has literally made us all jump several times! But it is worth it because there is nothing like being scared and being held by my husbands strong arms or hearing my son laugh at my screams.

There is a quote that says the world is a book and those that do not travel are only reading one page. This doesn’t have to mean travel across the globe but if you never come out of your normal routine then you will never truly experience the world around you. Take time to experience life and just get in the car and drive. I have done this since the kids were small, I would search the internet to find hole in the wall places that were not on the big tourist websites, and if that didn’t work we just drove around until we found something interesting. Because of those trips I saw my kids smile, I learned things and seen things that I normally wouldn’t have seen. I over came my fears and I hope that I taught my kids to try to do the same thing. 

So next time you don’t have anything to do rather than sitting in the house all weekend just drive!

Extra tidbits in case you are wondering:

The route we took was past Mlilwane, down past House on Fire and then MR4, MR13 through Malkerns and Mankayane.


]]> (The Spinning Compass) Africa Expat Explore Family JustDrive Marriage Photography South SouthAfrica Sundays Swaziland Travel Wildlife Sun, 22 Feb 2015 09:45:00 GMT
Hlane We have gone to Hlane 3 times now. So far I would have to say it is one of my favorite places in Swaziland.

Why you ask?.....

Well, Hlane is our “go to” place on our Sunday adventure days, along with Mlilwane. If we do not have anything planned or we want to see the big game then we will always go to one of these locations, because Hlane just never ceases to amaze me. Well first off the guide (I think his name is Johannes – if I am wrong I apologize) is absolutely amazing at tracking the animals, as well as telling you tons of information about the animals and area. Every time that we went to Hlane we had the same guide; and every single time he never failed to impress me with his skills. I am sure you are still wondering but why do we keep going back to this one park; well I will try to answer that for you because the answer is easy.

In Siswati, Hlane means wilderness and that is exactly what this park is. Hlane was the private hunting grounds before it became a public viewing park. It also has the largest herds of game in the Kingdom sitting on 22,000 hectares (roughly 54,340 acres). They offer several self drives as well as guided safaris. We usually go with the guide because we want to see the Lions (if they are out) and you cannot get to this part of the park in a private vehicle.

Hlane is in the flatlands of Swazi which makes viewing of the animals very easy (if they are out and about) but having the mountains in the backgrounds make the park picture perfect. The guides will get you as close to the animals as humanly possible without putting you into any danger. They will give you time to take photos as well and they do not rush you during any of the sightings.

It seems like each time that we venture out to Hlane we get to experience something new. On our first trip we we’re really close to the elephants and got to watch them as a family unit. On our second trip we seen more rhino’s and elephants then we could count but the funniest part of this trip or even the best part was that a huge storm came in with thunder and lightning and a downpour of rain; because of how bad the storm was the guide high tailed it back to the entrance and when I say high tailed it I mean we were basically mudding and getting drenched but he asked if we minded or if we wanted him to slow down and we said NO because it was a blast.

On our most recent trip we got to take the safari alone and had one on one time with the guide who asked us what we wanted to see most and he didn’t fail to show them to us. We got to hear one of the many venison do his fighting call, challenging another buck right at the beginning of the trip. We were so close to a family of giraffe, and a few bull elephants that we could have touched them. But the kicker was that Johannes was watching a couple of vultures and listening to the birds and explained to us what he was doing and before we knew it we pulled up to about 5 or 6 lions; it was a family that had just killed a prey for dinner and Johannes got us in positions to get some amazing photos. I was in just awe because the vultures and the lions are two of my favorites (Okay I have a lot of favorites). After we left there it was time to head back and the guide must have overheard us talking about the birds so he made sure we seen some of the beautiful birds in Hlane and we even found a Monitor Lizard by accident. I am telling you this man is very good at his job!

Near the reception area they have a restaurant that has an amazing view of a fairly massive lack that usually is occupied by a pair of Hippos, along with elephants and rhino’s basking in the sun and kudu running about. We have never stayed late but I bet having dinner with that view at dusk is absolutely stunning!

If you are ever in the area please make a trip to Hlane it is well worth it, it may not be as big as the famous Krueger but it is less crowded and has a large amount of game for viewing.

Side Note:

I almost considered not to write this blog because of the concern for the animals, poaching is a serious situation and a serious crime in some areas. In the states I had heard about poaching but it wasn’t really a big concern for me because it didn’t hit home. But being in South Africa and Swaziland, hearing the stories and seeing the lengths that the conservationist are going through to try to protect these animals I have realized that this does affect me. These animals are beautiful and majestic. And we do not need to let the poachers win!!!

In 2011 a war broke out against poachers in South Africa and yes it was a war. It is stated that 30 suspected poachers died during a shoot out against the anti poachers unit. Two rhinos were poached in Hlane after South Africa stepped up it’s forces against poaching. In Swaziland if you are caught poaching a rhino you could get a minimum mandatory sentence of 5 years in jail; traffickers of the products from poaching could get a mandatory sentence of 7 years and then the criminals MUST replace the animal or get another 2 years mandatory time added to their sentence.

Some things that we have learned by the guide:

  • Follow the vultures when doing safari’s because vultures equal dead animals which could equal a recent hunt.
  • Some of the birds will “talk” or “sing” when animals are close.
  • Usually in a group of elephants it is about 15 animals per “family” usually related and almost always led by the oldest in the group. The female will usually decide where and when they move and rest, day-to-day and season to season.
  • Elephants will topple over trees for several reasons: to clear out for the ground vegetation (for better growth and eating), to get to the roots of the tree and all lingering leaves or to get to the leaves up high (but usually not the case a lot of times because an elephant can reach higher than a giraffe – how you ask; well they can stand up on their hind legs and use their trunks to extend their reach).
  • Rhinos look for several things to be “comfortable” in their resting periods (after they haven eaten)– water, shade (thick brush) and “scratching post”.

Check out:​​



]]> (The Spinning Compass) Africa Expat Explore Family Hlane JustDrive Love Marriage Photography Safari South SouthAfrica Sundays Swaziland Travel Wildlife Sun, 15 Feb 2015 09:00:00 GMT
Chimpanzee Eden - Nelspruit Usually on Sundays we are up early and out the door trying to find something to do, not this Sunday, we woke up late and almost didn’t go anywhere. It has been crazy since coming back to Swaziland from being at home for 2 weeks, I swear it has been hard and almost depressing, I am sure I have said this already at least once (or twice) but it is the truth. Anyway after slowly getting up and going we decided to just ride to Nelspruit and sight see, we have been wanting to try to catch the tour at the Jane Goodall Chimpanzee Eden, so we knew that we would find something to do in that area. We put on our “safari” gear, got our camera gear ready, a few bottles of water and hit the road. The journey was the same beautiful route as always when we go to Nelspruit. I can never get enough of the scenery; the mountains go on as far as your eyes can see and they look as if they touch the clouds. In pictures it is hard to get the total view of layer and layer of the mountainous terrain. It almost looks as if we are high enough in the sky to just “pop” on of the clouds. We made the 2 and a half hour journey without incident or “causalities” (another post topic), and we made it in time to do the last tour of the day at Chimpanzee Eden. I was so excited because Justin and I love all types of primates and I have a great respect for the Chimpanzees, after all they are our closet relative, right?...

So we knew this was going to be a great experience for us.

Upon arriving you have to sign a consent and read the information sheets, they have a restaurant and a souvenir shop. The guides and staff were amazingly friendly and sweet. As we start the tour at 2pm we had a group that had a couple with their daughter (maybe 10) and 2 ladies with us. You walk about 40 steps from where you meet up with the group and the guide, you walk up to an enclosure that is electrified and the guide grabs a metal bowl as she is standing on a stump and begins tells us the do’s and don’ts and she also warn us about Cozie who throws things and is in the other fenced area. She makes a few comments that we don’t understand – about her seeing expensive cameras going in but not coming out, or having your limbs and groins ripped off – I almost wanted to turn around at this point and I am worried about having a child on this tour but we continue on anyway. The guide goes on to talk about us as consumers and the dangers that we pose to the chimpanzee population because they are becoming endangered. After a few minutes of talking she starts calling out names and throwing ice, peppers and butternut squash and you see these amazing animals come from around the corner. I am standing there in awe watching these magnificent creatures, they are so smart and curious and you can see it by looking into their eyes. As I am standing there I am recalling the years that my kids were growing up and every vacation since they were little had to be based around their love of animals… so it was always animal parks, animal research, animal attractions, aquariums, museums, etc... So I have read enough stories and been to enough rescue facilities to know how strong and aggressive they can be and stay back a little. I feel a false sense of security because of the electric fence and I start to stay near the front to watch these animals interact with each other. The guide explains the family dynamics of this group, she talks about each monkey and where they came from. Unfortunately these animals were rescued or surrendered to the institute and all came from bad situations. Some were dressed in clothing and treated like a child until they showed sign of natural animal behaviors and were discarded like a broken toy, others were captured while their families were being murdered and served up on plates in countries where superstitions are rampant and some actually came from zoo’s that could or would no longer care for the animals.

After watching the first group for a little while guide tells us to follow her, to stay close and if for some reason we have to leave she will call up for someone to come get us. We walk around the chain link electrified fence and the chimpanzees are coming out to see who and what is in their territory and a few literally walk with us around the enclosure almost like they are making sure that we don’t get too close and one continues to throw nuts or rocks at the fence as we are walking by. This made me wonder if they were trying to warn us, scare us, or test the fence???. Once we are on the other side we walk up onto a platform that has a mesh fence and the guide tells us about more about Cozie and explains that the mesh is to prevent Cozie’s throws from making contact with our heads. We see Cozie throw a few sticks, another one uses a stick to retrieve food that has fallen behind the fence and 2 others groom each other. Several times while we are there we hear them make their primal screaming sounds and it is terrifying to say the least but amazing as well. After a few minutes the chimps start making their way back to the cover of the trees because it is one hot day, and we hear screaming (monkey screaming) off in the distances at the other enclosure and the guide tells us it is a fight but nothing to be worried about and it is broken up before we can even make out which monkeys are mad.

At about 3 pm the guide tells us that it’s time for the monkeys to go in for the night (its only 3?) and we are escorted back to the entrance. This makes me wonder…are they really put up that early, what do they do all evening? In the wild they wouldn’t be going to bed this early…They are kept inside at night according to our guide and she explains this by saying that they are afraid of the electrical storms at night. She also explains why Chimps are not good “pets” and how they should be wild, but unfortunately they can never put these monkeys back into the wild because according to her, a new law passed saying that monkeys released in to the wild have to go back to the countries that they came from. Well these monkeys have been born all over the world basically and being in the institute they are now a family unit so they shouldn’t be separated.

I don’t know which story was worse in either group but in the second group we heard about the 70-year-old monkey that was at a zoo and came to the institute not having interaction with other monkeys but the group had accepted and respected him or the story of Cozie that was a research monkey from the states and had mental issues because of the research that he had been under and after they were done using and testing him they SOLD him to a couple who dressed him up like a kid but once the husband died the wife was too afraid of him to properly care for him and left him in the cage at all times until the institution rescued him. Only then were the jeans that he had on from where the HUSBAND dressed him before he had passed, THREE years earlier. They were so tight from where he grew into them that his hips and waist were extremely small in comparison to his body size.

I was happy with the tour, as well as the guides and before we left we bought some souvenirs to take back to the states with us. We drove around trying to find our next stop but I had so many questions in my head from the tour and was actually happy that we ended up getting lost and it was too late to see anything else (everything closes early); so we headed home. The entire ride home we were discussing monkeys, and that was just fine by me.

All in all it was a really good day.

Once we got home I was looking on Pinterest to find a picture of Chimpanzee Eden so that I could add it to my “places that I have been” board. I seen a story about an attack at the institution; of course I had to read it and ruin my opinion of the place.

Justin and I get into a good debate and conversation about this facility, the attack and other places that I have been that are similar to it. The article in a way blamed the young guide who was basically destroyed and defended their purpose and security methods at the facility. My understanding to what I read was that the young guide was doing a tour or came back afterwards and seen a chimp trying to get a rock from under the fence, so he went to move the rock and they grabbed his foot and drug him under the fence, he was being electrocuted while the chimps were ignoring the surge of electricity and continued until he was in their enclosure or they were outside of there’s (not really sure) but none the less they continued to beat him, ripped off an arm, ear, fingers, toes and did some damage to his groins (this is why she made the comment in the tour); he barely escaped with his life and was saved by the manager shooting and chasing the monkeys back into their enclosure.

For me I don’t care whether or not he made a poor judgment call because as a manager or researcher or activist for these animals YOU know their strengths better than anyone, you are in charge of the facility and you are taking the lives of your staff and your animals into your hands… so the security of the facility for both the chimps and the humans is of the utmost importance. Are the warnings to the public enough. I think about a sign they had posted, it said basically, if there is an escape chimpanzee go to the nearest chimpanzee proof building – which is the restaurant but if you are at the second enclosure go under the platform – is that enough, could you escape a running jumping angry chimpanzee? Do these guides carry tranquilizer guns or guns? There should have been no way that the chimps can scrape under the fence to retrieve a rock or a LEG, there should be no way that this happened at all. I was disappointed at the fact that the article sounded like it blamed this guy, yes maybe he made a poor decision and got too close but is it that easy for them to hurt the staff and visitors? Yes we were instructed not to go close and I am sure the staff is highly educated on this, but maybe the guy was afraid that if that monkey got the rock he could throw it at the visitors and injure someone, himself or the fencing causing them to escape. With these animals history they probably have issues with certain people, smells, colors etc and if something triggers them to become so aggressive that even the fencing is not going to stop them.  From the article they state that the fence is not going to do much, that the animals were paying it no mind and had no fear of its powers. It also said that they were trying to rehabilitate these animals to go back into the wild and I started thinking about that as well; how can they go back into the wild when you have them caged up in less than an acre of fenced land, you throw them food as if they were still circus animals, you call them by their names, you put them up inside at night to sleep. I’m not an expert by any means but I think that you can’t have it both ways they are either going to be wild or show animals. If you want these animals to be “wild” and rehabilitate them to be released into the “wild” then why wouldn’t you shut off most contact with humans, not show them off to the public by coaxing them to the fence with food, give them more land, build a bigger better parameter and let people view them from afar without interaction. I was thinking about the zoos that I have taken my kids too and they have structures like cement enclosures that the monkeys can’t climb up and “viewing” windows or areas for the public but there is no interaction, no public feeding and these animals are “wild” or at least more wild than the ones at this facility. At the same time you can have these animals as “show” animals in an almost wild state where you want them to form a family and be their natural selves; because they will be territorial, they will show their aggressiveness and people will be hurt.

After we debated the good and bad of the article and incident, I found ANOTHER attack a few years after the first one that I read about. It was the same 2 chimps, the person was surveying the fencing to make sure of its integrity and she got attacked; again one monkey wasn’t injured or stopped by the electric fence the other one was slightly halted by it.  This time the article didn’t blame the person but did want people to understand where these monkeys have come from and why they are being aggressive. Again I get that these animals are naturally wild, aggressive, strong and smart; I get that you saved them from a horrible situation but what good are you doing to them if you are allowing them to hurt themselves and humans? Are we causing them more damage by keeping them “caged” and “shown”? I remembered the guide telling us how one of the other staff members was teaching one of the chimps to paint and how they are so smart so they try to keep them entertained. Again isn’t that mixed messages to these animals that you are trying to give back to the wild? Do they think they are attacking the “visitors” who could be harming their family / “guards”. I know that the guide said that they were no longer a rescue, rehabilitate and release center because of the new law so what is the purpose of the facility now – just a rescue center, a studying facility, a tourist attraction, or a home until they pass on? What have they done to prevent future acts of violence toward staff or visitors? Looking back to our day I felt like the one that was throwing stones or nuts at the fence was “testing” the fence, Cozie is an accident waiting to happen since there is no alpha in that group, none recognize him and he already throws things at the visitors. So my question I guess is are we doing the right thing by these animals at places like this?

These animals need the acknowledgement and the help as they are being killed off/dying off/pushed out by so many different factors. Chimps are our closest relatives, they are so smart, strong and in a lot of ways better than us. I was telling my husband that yes Lions scare me to death and could kill you in an instant but I am more afraid and have more respect for Chimpanzees; think about it a chimpanzee is as smart as us in some ways, they use tools, they study and test something until they figure it out, they can run at high speeds, jump higher than us, climb, swing, and have undeniable strength that can tear you apart. The only thing you could hope for if being attacked by a chimpanzee is finding a lake or river because they can’t swim!

The fact that this center rescues these animals is so awesome and do not get me wrong I think that this place does amazing work and these animals lives were saved. From everything that I have read, Miss Goodall is one of the most outspoken, educated and good-hearted people who truly loves what she is doing with these animals. She knows them better than probably anyone so I am pretty sure she believes in these tours and these centers and what they teach, so I am not saying anything bad. I also think about safari’s and other places where you are putting yourself into some sort of danger risk, so is this place any different from those places? Being there just left me with a lot of unanswered questions and my opinion is undecided, so maybe a trip back to the Eden would be a good idea and maybe ask the questions that I have. I am not downing the facility or its work at all I am just wondering out loud about places like this, should they be for show to the public in this matter, is it safe for the animals or humans? I will do my part and help facilities like this and the animals as well by watching what I purchase and by donating when I can. Please do not take this as an attack on these sanctuaries, I suggest visiting them and making your own opinion. Do your research and if you can donate time, energy or items to centers like this. I plan to return and I will always support the good that these type of facilities do!


Interesting Facts to Consider:

Chimpanzees are our closet relatives, they share 98% of our genetic make up.

Chimps can run approximately 25 miles per hour (the current world running record for a human is 27 mph)

They are very social, like humans and can experience forms of depression when they are lonely.

Chimpanzees usually walk on all four limbs but can be taught or can learn by mimicking to walk upright.

They use tools to help with their daily lives.

Chimpanzees ARE an ENDANGERED species!!!! The main reason: hunting/poachers, habitat destruction, logging and disease.

Jane Goodall is one of the best primate researchers and activist (my opinion).



]]> (The Spinning Compass) Africa Expat Explore Family JustDrive Love Marriage Photography RescueAnimals Safari South SouthAfrica Sundays Swaziland Travel Wildlife Sun, 08 Feb 2015 09:45:00 GMT
Phophonyane Falls One of our many “just drive” days we woke up with no destination in mind but since it was a day to explore we decided to head to the Maguga Dam area. The drive to Maguga is beautiful once you escape the highway roads, but we have already been here a few times so we decided to keep going down this main road. I started looking on the GPS for things near me and we came across Phophonyane Falls and thought why not. After you go through what seems like the largest tree farm (Pine I think) in the world and make a turn or two heading towards Piggs Peak you will see a sign for Phophonyane Falls pointing you to a dirt road on the left running parallel with more trees. I wasn’t so sure about this road and was going through my usual movie references and what if’s and Justin was laughing at me but kept going. Once we got to the gate of the EcoLodge and paid a small fee to enter it was like a secret world was nestled into this massive forest.

The lodge itself was gorgeous and peaceful. A guide walked us around showing us the different hiking trails and everything that the lodge has to offer, which is a must see for everyone. Of course we were not prepared for a strenuous hiking adventure but we wanted to get some pictures of the falls and I reluctantly agreed to take the route that the guide suggested. Somewhere along the way we forget the route and end up walking for ever!!!! I was hot, exhausted, my feet hurt and I was trying not to freak out from all of the spiders that I had seen. Just when I am about to start whining we see the falls and I am in the “photography zone”. These falls, or at least what we seen are not large but more cascading and truly beautiful.

It was getting late, I was over the hike and we decided to head back up to the car, but we forgot that we started WAYYYYYY back up at the top of that mountain and that tiring walk down is going to be worse going up. I am not kidding you when I said it was going to be worse, it seemed to go straight up the mountain with steep steps after steep step. Did I mention we forgot to pack for a hike, since we weren’t planning on hiking and oh yeah we didn’t bring our water with us. Yeah so after what seemed like forever climbing stairs I just had to sit down and OMG a millipede was already using that log for his resting spot. After my initial freak out I jump up and I was instantly revived to make it up the mountain. Once we are at the top and jugging water I look out at this beautiful place and remind myself that all that pain was worth it. Words nor pictures can truly describe how this amazing Lodge is nestled in the middle of no where, not touched by housing developments, or chaos of modern times. We didn’t get to see half of the landscape because of our late and unprepared arrival but it is one my return list. I would love to spend a full day there or three just exploring and relaxing. This was another successful journey out in what is an amazing country.

Extra Information:

Phophonyane Falls Nature Reserves sit within the Barberton Centre of Plant Endemism. There are more than 600 hectares of amazing forest and botanical diversity and for that reason 200+ species of birds call this location home.

The cascades and falls that you will see here travel over the world’s oldest rocks, called ancient gneiss. These rocks were formed over 3.6 billion years ago.

Be prepared for long strenuous trails (they have easy trails but if you are like me the easy ones are HARD!).

A bit of a warning every time that we have went in this direction we have seen wrecks on the road leading right to Maguga Dam.


]]> (The Spinning Compass) Africa Expat Explore Family JustDrive Love Marriage Photography Safari South SouthAfrica Sundays Swaziland Travel Wildlife Sat, 27 Dec 2014 09:45:00 GMT
Going Home

Omg we'll be home before we know it I cannot wait!!!! I want to hug my daughter so tight and then when that baby boy joins us I will squeeze him and smother him with my kissies!!!!! I want to hug all my family and friends, I will cry for hours I'm sure. I want to talk to my Parrot, Echo. Boy, I have missed everyone so much.  Traveling is great but there is no place like home. This has taught me a lot and I've seen some amazing things, done things for the first time and tried foods I've never would have imagined (wildebeest sausage for example) and I appreciate everything we've been able to see and do. I'm blessed beyond words for the life I have but I still miss home!!! Our stay in the states won't be long enough before we return to Swazi but I have grown to feel at home (it's not home that is in the states!!!) here and I will miss my Justice and Kitty so there's a good/bad to this lifestyle and it's not for everyone - I'm undecided if it's for me but I am not a quitter and I have met a few people here that are just wonderful which makes life away from home easier. So I guess we'll see what the future holds and take it one day at a time but right now home is where we'll be in just a few weeks!!!

My emotions are in over drive I can’t wait to see my daughter and for her to have my grandson.  It makes me cry just thinking about it but my mind immediately drifts to how in the hell am I going to leave them, so I try not to think too hard on this.  The thought of having time with my close friends and family is just making this month fly by.  We are doing a late Christmas Dinner and Secret Santa Game just to try to see as many people as we can in one visit.  Two weeks isn’t enough to make your rounds to see everyone.  I have realized from when Justin has come home we spend so much time preparing him just to leave again, getting the things he needs to take back, working on small projects that have to get done, etc. it is like you run out of time before you are even comfortable in your old bed.

There is so much I want to do and EAT… you have no idea what it is like to have a craving for something that you just cannot get!  A week or two ago we finally got our containers in that had some AMERICAN items that I have been dying without.  I have made do with local products that are similar but there is nothing like A1 sauce or Rotel!!!  But back to eating at home, I want to finally have real “American” Mexican food, real “American” Asian food!  Just a normal hot dog would make me cry right now.  

Then the thought of getting in my Ford and just driving to a gas station would be so amazing.  How about a day at the Mall eating a fresh made fattening cookie from the Cookie house at Hanes Mall… that is pure heaven and a tradition that I have had since I was little; no mall trip is complete with out a pretzel or cookie!  We take these little things for granted! 

One thing that is hard for a lot of people to understand is that I will be happy to go out to eat and not worry if I will get sick after it and if I do where will I go?  I am not meaning in the since of nastiness, I have had a lot of stomach issues and one day I will go into depth but because of these issues I get sick super easy and there is no rhyme or reason it.  Things will make me have WARNING - yes this is nasty - but uncontrollable bouts of bad things from either end and I need a bathroom as soon as I get that feeling.  It makes me not want to eat a lot of times and being in Africa there isn’t gas stations or a lot of stores with bathrooms or “sanitary” bathrooms so I am always dreading driving long distance and eating out; you could literally drive for miles before you see a public store and the chances of it having a bathroom could be slim to none, gas stations are even more rare to see in a lot of areas.  So to be able to go for a two-hour drive after eating chicken wings will be such an experience for me because I know that we have bathrooms EVERYWHERE and they are CLEAN!!!! 

But really it is the little things that you miss and you don’t realize it until its gone - cliche I know but it is true.


]]> (The Spinning Compass) Africa Expat Explore Family Going Health Home JustDrive Love Marriage Missing Photography Safari South SouthAfrica Sundays Swaziland Travel Wildlife Sat, 20 Dec 2014 09:45:00 GMT
Our Anniversary

Today is our first anniversary.  The present for your first anniversary is supposed to be paper????? Paper that is boring, who wants paper?  I racked my brain, art is paper but since we are traveling we don’t really need a bunch of art lying around that we have to pay to ship home… paper … what else… OMG!!!  Not only do I have no idea of what to get, I also do not have means of transportation.  I am not sure how many of you are up to date with my story but I am living in Swaziland and currently do not have a car, so I have to wait until my husband gets home to take me to the store.  The next problem is that all the stores close supper early here and nothing is open by the time he gets home.  I am not complaining because honestly being here with the hardships is better than I could imagine, I love the country and being with my husband.  So anyway what in the world am I going to do ???? After wracking my brain I decided to do something simple using paper but it required a lot of thought on my part.


As I reflect on the past few months I see how important it is to keep that love alive and not just say it but show it.  I have had a really hard time with the Expat life lately and I know I have taken it out unfairly on Justin.  So I decided that I would make a year of dates to show him that I love him and that no matter how bad things maybe we don’t loose each other in those bad times.  I want to make sure that no matter what we always come back together.  A marriage is all about being a team, learning, growing and changing but always staying connected.  One goal with both have talked about doing for a while now is learning a new language so I also incorporated that into my little plan.


Here is my idea’s for my "connecting" ideas/book:


The Rules:

1. Choose a language to learn one night a week we will practice it (at the end of the year this will come into play).

2. You get Three Dates A Month, It’s all been planned, You just have to choose the day!

1 at-home

1 out

1 off the “bucket list”


You cannot open the envelope until a week before the month starts so that you may choose a date and a bucket list item.


I have twelve envelopes on the outside I write the month and give a clue along with the rules.  On the inside I have placed the details of the date.


The bucket list is a little more risqué and adventurous, this way if I didn’t do a great date idea he still has some input on our events. I have the bucket list in it’s own envelope at the end of the stack.


I will give you a few examples of my book but think of stuff that will break you out of your and your partners comfort zone, think of things that can teach each other about the other and think of things that you can learn together :


Since we have been gone six months we are going home.  So since our plan is to be home with family and friends, in a non-stop 2 week vacation we have to try to squeeze in as much as we can.  We have also had so many changes this past year that we decided to do a dinner party to celebrate everything at once.  We wanted to give thanks for the past year, welcome our new son-in-law and grand baby to the family and to welcome us home.  I decided to have a big dinner party to welcome my grand baby to the world, to welcome us home, to welcome my daughter’s new marriage.  So our dinner in will be a night of celebration, I figure that Justin and I can cook and plan everything together and just enjoy our family.


The clue is A home without family, friends, love and books is like a body without a soul.

On the inside the letter reads:

Look at where we were and where we are now, thank you for this amazing journey!


This month (January) is about US and family, so our night in will be our dinner party.  Since we will be home we will include our family something as well, let's have everyone play a game over dinner (game to be decided).


We are going to do a book challenge:

Step 1:

We each have the same set of rules and we meet back up afterwards to discuss our findings:

Find a new recipe you would like to try.

Find a new idea for a future date; place, food, etc.

Find a picture or map of a place you would like to visit.

Find you favorite children's book.

Find a book you think that your date would enjoy.

Find a book that you read in High School.

Find a book that has "happily ever after" somewhere in it.

Find a self-help book that applies to you.


Step 2:

Sit down in a quiet area or cafe if your bookstore has this and discuss your books.  Maybe even copy the recipes or map.  Take this time to get to know each other.


Step 3:

Next: find the play area for kids and spend at least 15 minutes just exploring the kid section playing with the toys and enjoying each other.


Step 4:

Each of you pick out a crossword puzzle book, or Sudoku book, something to do together and purchase that item (and any other items that you find that you like).


Step 5:

Go out to dinner or just a dessert.  While you are sitting there complete on of the puzzles together.


The month is February - The clue is: Spread the Love

On the inside the letter reads:

Happy Valentines Day to the most amazing man!


This month is about love.  Let’s make a bucket list of things that we want to do together over dinner and then we will give each other an at home spa treatment to remember.


We are going to show the world our love by volunteering and helping a community together.


September - The Clue is: I love Country Boys!!!!

On the inside the letter reads:

We both know that you are not a country fan and I do but I think our similarities are what makes us great but I think our differences are what make us AMAZING!!!


How about a Honky Tonk Night.  We will cook a country inspired meal and eat a country inspired desert, even learn a line dance move or two.


Put on your cowboy boots (we will buy them if we don’t have them) because we are going to ride into the blue yonder together



For December - The clue is:  IT’S OUR MONTH!!!

On the inside the letter reads:

I love you for your persistence and drive!


It’s our Anniversary, Christmas and the end of the year so lets celebrate!!! We will spend the whole month celebrating each other, our love, family and this past year!


Our night in will consist of a special dinner at a cabin or hotel room that we rented for the weekend and for the entire night let’s speak in the language we have practiced all year!


Get our picture taken with Santa, pick and cut our own tree and find some snow and learn to ski.


We are going to go to or do a Christmas Party and New Years Party to celebrate with family and friend!


So here is were some of my ideas came from:

I got a few off Pinterest but you can find plenty other ideas there as well:


Marriages are not always easy and sometimes you get in the routine of life, you forget to show how you feel and just assume that your partner knows how you feel.  By doing little things like this you can make time for each other and have fun!  You are spending your life with your best friend, the one person that you love more than anything so why not enjoy that to the fullest.  As we age, have kids and just get comfortable we forget to be adventurous, we forget why and how we fell in love in the first place.  Don’t forget that, make your love story better than a fairy tale!


A little about my man:


I had a horrible previous marriage that destroyed my self-esteem, my trust and almost my life in some ways.  We won’t go into this as I will not ever give anyone that kind of power again. Truth be told the way things went, the lessons that I learned, the heart ache that I endured taught me a lot and when my marriage ended it was actually the best thing that had every happened to me.  Living that life and moving on from it gave me clear eyes to see my life with, it gave me a true understanding of my worth and it even helped me know what true love really is and to know what I had then was far from true anything.


I met Justin by chance and it was an instant connection, he was handsome and funny and sweet and he had this charm that is so hard to explain.  After I spent time with him I never wanted to be without him and we haven’t really, I mean he worked overseas so we spent months Skyping, messaging and on the phone but we went from a chance meeting to be completely and madly in love in an instance.  My life was flipped upside down in the best way.  I traveled for the first time, I did things that I had never done, I made it my motto to try everything once and to live without fear or regrets and he helps me achieve this every day.  He holds my hand, encourages me and lifts me up whenever I need it and even when I don’t think that I do.  We are true partners in life and we value each other as equals, neither is better than the other at anything EVER.  We are so opposite that we are the same and we learn from being opposites by teaching each other.    I will never take this man for granted! He is my best friend, my soul mate, my lover and my FOREVER!


]]> (The Spinning Compass) Africa Expat Explore Family Love Marriage Photography SouthAfrica Sundays Swaziland Travel Wildlife Mon, 08 Dec 2014 07:15:00 GMT
Mlilwane Mlilwane is a small but beautiful park.  It may not be able to stand up to the other parks as far as the big game goes, but it surpasses the beauty and serenity of the other parks, in my opinion.  The park has about 4,560 Hectares and is located in Ezulwini.  Mlilwane or in Siswati “Little Fire” got its name from all of the little fires that started from many lightning strikes that occur here.

Regardless of how you choose to spend your day in Mlilwane, I am sure you will agree that the scenery is absolutely stunning.  I will admit that our first drive was disappointing, when we signed in and paid our entrance fee we were not given a map or any instructions so we got lost and drove into the wrong area and didn’t see many animals; we left very upset with the park.  (So make sure you use your phone and take pictures of the map that is sitting on the desk.)

When we told our friends about the experience and how disappointed we were they kept telling us that we just didn’t take the right roads, so we decided to go back and try again.  This time we seen that there was a map on the counter but you cannot remove it so we took pictures of it with our phones.  That map saved the day!  I know that money is an issue and they can’t print up maps for everyone but I wish they would explain to new visitors about the map sitting on the desk.  So during our second drive we were able to get pictures of all of the animals and I don’t mean off in a distance, I mean up close.  Actually having my longer lens was a waste because of the proximity we were with the animals, they are literally a few feet away.  The mountain backdrop and the cool breeze make it a perfect trip to see these animals.  

On our last trip we were able to capture the hippos in the water and at a fairly close (but safe) distance.  For me this was amazing because I have tried to get photos of the hippos since I arrived in Swazi but they would never come out of the water, or get close enough for me to capture their size and beauty.  So we would call them the elusive hippos but on this day we were so lucky to have seen them.  We arrived at a location where you can park your car off of the roads and I kept hearing what sounded like a horse puffing, then I seen the water moving and we knew they were close but just didn’t know where.  A few seconds later you could see a black form in the water maybe 20 feet away that was making ripples in the area.  Before we knew it they were looking back at us.  It was a pair and as they came up from the water every few seconds they would make a noise that is just hard to describe, almost a warning to move or maybe a warning to other hippos.  These animals are both terrifying and beautiful.  They kill people every year because of their size and territorial behavior.  I also think people forget that they can move as fast as they can and misjudge how close is too close.

We have gone back several times since our first visit and will continue to visit the park, it is absolutely stunning.  I am on a mission to capture some amazing photos of the hippos and the rest of the animals that live in the park. 

They have a restaurant that is located in a serene part of the park, it is shaded by the tree’s and situated right off of a little lake.  I must say they have delicious food as well, so if you go to the park you must try the restaurant.


Extra Info:

Mlilwane was previously a private farm owned by Ted Reilly, who is considered by Swaziland as one of the founding fathers for the conservation efforts in the country.  In the 60’s Mr. Reilly approached the King at the time about creating a national park. After the approval from the King they begin the process of moving the animals from Hlane, which at the time was the Royal Hunting Grounds to their new home in Mlilwane. Years later Reilly was asked to help turn Hlane into a nature reserve and game park as well. The park is one of 3 owned by Big Game Parks of Swaziland and is the headquarters of Big Game.


At the park they have many options for your stay:

A rest came where you can rent a beehive hut.  There’s also a restaurant here that overlooks a watering hole/lake that is frequented by crocodiles, birds and hippos.  They also have Sondzela’s backpackers lodge, Reilly’s rock hilltop lodge.


Activities include:

Hiking either guided or self

Self guided game drives

Mountain bike that you can rent hourly

Guided horse back riding


Animals that you might see:

• Hippos (remember they stay in the water most of the day so they are hard to see at times).

• Crocodiles

• Many antelope species

• Zebras

• Warthogs

• Several species of birds



]]> (The Spinning Compass) Africa BigGameParks Expat Explore Family JustDrive Love Marriage Mlilwane Photography Safari South SouthAfrica Sundays Swaziland Travel Wildlife Mon, 10 Nov 2014 09:45:00 GMT