Harold Porter National Botanical Garden

For the past few days, I’ve been preparing for the Garden Route drive beginning next week. Along the way, I’m excited to be joining a slackpacking group (total strangers) for a multi-day wilderness adventure exploring the Tsitsikamma Hiking Trail.

Red Crassula Kipblom

It’s isolated new territory for me and I’m traveling solo, so there’s some apprehension. Recalling the perils of a two-month African safari last year, I’m concentrating on packing and paying attention to detail, hoping to eliminate unexpected surprises.

Tsitsikamma Lodge

We hike with daypacks while porters transport our heavy bags between overnight huts. Hikers provide their own food and there is no electricity in the huts. Headlamps and candles are essential. Firewood is provided for cooking. The hike will be an adventure deep in the Tsitsikamma Mountains – a stunning untouched forest and fynbos wilderness!

Yesterday the weather was glorious, so I spent part of it hiking at Harold Potter Botanical Garden in nearby Betty’s Bay. October is spring in South Africa, but Mother Nature doesn’t seem to know that winter is over!

Sculpting along Circular Route

It’s not cold – 60s to 70s days and 50s at night – but the Atlantic Ocean puts a chill in your bones. Lately we’ve had strong wind, ominous skies, and much-needed light to torrential rain. Heavy thoughts are of Cape Town approaching a dry summer with water rationing.

History of Harold Porter Botanical Garden

During the 1930s, three South African businessmen purchased land in the Hangklip Area between the Palmiet (bulrushes) and Rooi-Els Rivers.  The three partners – Harold Porter, Arthur Youldon, and Jack Clarence – called it “Hangklip Beach Estates and divided the area into three townships – Betty’s Bay (named after Youldon’s daughter), Pringle Bay, and Rooi-Els”. They sold plots to interested parties.

Disa Kloof Waterfall

Over the years the beautiful nature reserve changed hands many times, but after Harold Porter’s death in 1958, it was left to the Shangri-la Nature Reserve Company. “Finding it too difficult to manage from Johannesburg, the corporate committee offered the land to the National Botanical Gardens of South Africa, which renamed it in Harold Porter’s honor and took on financial responsibility for its management”.

Nerine Sarniensis


Harold Porter’s ashes were scattered in a favourite spot where Nerine Sarniensis bloom every March or April.


In 1962, Hangklip Beach Estates added to the Botanical Garden property by giving it the adjoining area of Disa Kloof. Later, the Betty’s Bay Village Management Board donated another adjoining piece of land which reaches to the Atlantic Ocean.

Harold Porter Botanical Garden Vista

Today the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden stretches from the “top of the Kogelberg Mountain Range to the Atlantic Ocean, encompassing a whole river system”. Part of the land is a cultivated garden, and the rest a natural reserve included in the core zone of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve.

Harold Porters’ Legacy

Harold Porter “turned the first sod in the Garden” and marked out various pathways “augmenting naturally occurring plants with other special or colourful species from elsewhere”. He built the Zigzag Border Trail which leads to the top of Bobbejaanskop (baboon head) and is still used today.

Porter’s wife, Olive May, and son, Arthur, helped shape the garden. Arthur designed the entrance building from the stones of their home which burned down in 1960.

Harold Porter’s ashes were scattered in a favourite spot where Nerine Sarniensis bloom every March or April. A plaque of granite sunk into a large sandstone boulder marks the spot. Olive May Porter died in 1984, and her ashes were scattered near her husband’s memorial stone.

Rooi-Els River


Harold Porter Botanical Garden stretches from the “top of the Kogelberg Mountain Range to the sea, encompassing a whole river system”.


Pink Disa

The Garden’s original paths and vegetation have changed over the years. Today the centre includes a restaurant and fully equipped conference facility. “New facilities are part of a Public Expanded Works Programme, an initiative to provide wages and train previously disadvantaged individuals. South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism funds the Programme.”

Walking Paths and Hiking Trails

The Garden has seven paths and trails of varying length and difficulty:

  • Zigzag Border Trail – difficult hike taking 6 to 8 hours
  • Leopard’s Kloof Trail – permit required
  • Fynbos Trail – via the contour path to Bobbejaanskop
  • Nivenia Path – short path to Harold Porter’s memorial
  • Disa Kloof Trail – dead ends at a waterfall
  • Circular Route – trail around the Garden’s themed areas
  • Ecosystems Walk – forests, dunes, wetlands, and fynbos

Fires and Storms

Since the natural garden consists of fynbos, fires are a “necessary part of the cycle of this vegetation type”. Heavy storms in 2005 and 2014 caused extensive flooding and damage to the Botanical Garden.  The last major fire was in June 2010. A small fire occurred in November 2013 on the eastern boundary when “a young baboon climbed the electricity pylon, causing an electrical short-circuit with the subsequent shower of sparks setting the veld alight”.


Since the Garden consists of fynbos, fires are a “necessary part of the cycle for this vegetation type”.


“As always with disasters such as fires and floods, many Betty’s Bay residents have come to the aid of the Garden, helping put out fires and repair damage.”

Flora and Fauna

The garden is home to mammals, butterflies, insects, frogs, reptiles, and 900 species of birds. Some of the animals include:

  • Leopard
  • Caracal
  • Baboon
  • Porcupine
  • Klipspringer
  • Grysbok
  • Genet
  • Clawless Otter
  • Mongoose

Palmiet River

The variety of flowers at Harold Porter is magnificent, including:

  • Guernsey Lily (Nerine Sarniensis)
  • King Protea
  • Honey Flower
  • Red Crassula Kipblom
  • Disa
  • Sugarbush
  • Blue Star

The streams, ponds, and waterfalls are lovely – it’s an incredibly beautiful paradise. I hiked the Disa Kloof Trail to a waterfall and will return to the Gardens. There is much to explore and enjoy in this peaceful environment!

Cape Town – MOCAA and Magic Club

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa

I drove to Cape Town Monday to run errands before exploring the Garden Route later this month. The scenery along the way is wonderful, but driving over Sir Lowry’s Pass isn’t my favorite. Drivers are erratic and aggressive, and most of the N2 is not divided, so there’s no median strip to separate opposing lanes. It gets to me every time, especially when it’s windy.

Cape Town is one of my favorite places (no surprise to anyone), not only because of its exceptional beauty, but also its special charm, energy, and friendly vibe. It was nice to see Table Mountain, visit friends I haven’t seen for a while, and eat at favorite restaurants. The two days were fun but hectic, and I stayed overnight at a B&B.

Garden at Sea Point B&B

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa

The only disappointment was not being able to visit the new Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Mocaa) which opened on September 22. The museum is closed on Tuesday and free to the public on Wednesday. I peered through the windows, walked around the exterior, took a few photos, and hope to visit the Mocaa soon!

Cape Town Waterfront Silo District

The unique, magnificent museum has a five-star hotel and features African artists like Nandipha Mntambo and Nicholas Hlobo. The Silo District is Cape Town’s newest art, culture, and design area. It sounds like the opening event was quite a soirée!

“The Zeitz-Mocaa building is in a converted grain silo overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. The area was regenerated 30 years ago for retail, real estate, and tourism. Development was on the remnants of two dilapidated 19th-century harbour basins (Victoria and Alfred). The silos were built over coal sheds that once supplied steamships. They were part-funded by capital from slave compensation received after slavery abolition in Cape Colony.”

Cape Town Magic Club

Since I was in town Monday night, when many performing arts venues are closed, I decided to attend a Cape Town Magic Club performance. The show is in the “original basement bank vault of the 5-star luxury Taj Cape Town”. The small creative theater has a back entrance and is especially set up for each magic performance. The venue allows the audience to sit close to the magicians and interact with them.

Three magicians performed, and it was clear that they loved what they were doing and put their heart and soul into it. The show included two young, talented magicians:

The third seasoned magician / mentalist was impressive Larry Soffer. His magic and synergy with randomly selected members of the audience was mind-boggling!

“Larry Soffer is one of the most influential names in magic across South Africa. As his brand grows, he’s fast earning an exceptional name abroad. Larry has performed for royalty, celebrities, politicians, and sports stars. His popular live show and corporate event performances inspire his audiences to ‘Believe to See’ instead of ‘Seeing to Believe.’ In so doing, he truly opens their minds to new possibilities by believing in the impossible and thereby creating their own dreams.”

I sat next to a fun woman – Portia – and her husband. It was their first time at the Magic Show. Portia’s husband interacted on stage with magician Josue Musenge. The exceptional magic delighted the audience and blew us all away!

Nandipha Mntambo Artist

“The Zeitz-Mocaa is in a converted grain silo overlooking the Atlantic on the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront……”

Table Mountain Backdrop to Silo District

Victoria and Alfred Waterfront Boats Silo District

Garden Route and Durban

On the way back to Hermanus I took a break in the lush Elgin Valley. Found out about a four-day slackpacking trip along Green Mountain Trail in the Kogelberg Biosphere.

Nicholas Hlobo Artist

Larry Soffer inspires his audiences to ‘Believe to See’ instead of ‘Seeing to Believe’.

I’m anticipating a slackpacking adventure somewhere along the Garden Route, if I can find an affordable one. Slackpacking is “enjoying the benefits of a multi-day hike, beautiful scenery, and fresh air – without carrying a heavy backpack”.  Sounds great – but some of the trips are pricey.

Back in Hermanus, I’m concentrating on planning the solo Garden Route drive beginning October 25th. Decided to take the N2 coastal route with a few inland side trips. I’m booked to arrive in Durban November 1, leaving 7 days to explore!

Whale Festival – Celebrating Marine Life

Whale Fluke Walker Bay

Last weekend was the 26th Hermanus Whale Festival highlighting efforts to protect whales from extinction. The festival’s “ocean-themed activities emphasized education and environmentally responsible adventures”.

Kayaking with Whales and Dolphins

The people of Hermanus “look after their destination, both from an environmental and conservation perspective”. The festival focused on creating awareness and celebrating the annual return of the beloved Southern Right Whale.

Spouting Southern Right Whale

Festival features included cultural activities, food, quality crafters, and sports events:

  • Music Stage
  • Vintage Car Show
  • Marine-Themed Eco Exhibits
  • Adventure Activities

Whale Twins?

Whale Watchers

An Eco Marine Tent featured local ecotourism operators sharing information and interacting with visitors. The operators have “embarked on a major campaign to change the way people view ocean wildlife on the Cape Whale Coast”.

Breaching Whale with Cormorant Audience

Whale Watching

Hermanus is recognized by the World Wildlife Fund as “one of the 12 best whale watching destinations in the world”.  In honor of the Whale Festival, I booked a boat-based whale watching tour in Walker Bay! Most tour companies I contacted were fully booked for the weekend, but I didn’t give up. Hermanus Whale Watchers managed to squeeze me into a Sunday morning tour!

Their boat, Unathi (“God is with us” in Xhosa), is designed for whale watching with engines that “minimize underwater noise”. Unathi seats 36 people and is smaller than most boats run by other operators. The tour was well worth $60 for 2 hours on the Bay – FANTASTIC experience all about the whales!!! A few people got seasick, but we stayed on the upper deck!

Getting so close to the whales was an unforgettable experience! The sight of their massive bodies and hearing their beautiful sounds will stay with me!

Our knowledgeable South African guide, Phillip, wasn’t a marine biologist but has led whale watching tours for over 7 years. As a marine sports enthusiast, Philip enjoys surfing, kiteboarding, kayaking, and sailing.

New Harbour

The whales were aware of our presence. We approached slowly to avoid disturbing them. Philip said he wasn’t sure if whale watching boats irritate the whales – no one knows. It’s possible that they become accustomed to the boats. He thought returning whales recognized certain boats and didn’t seem to mind sharing the sea. Philip knows the whales by their unique markings.

Facts about South Right Whales show they have an average lifespan of 50 to 100 years. Many of the same whales visit Walker Bay every year.

The best whale watching is in shallow areas close to the coast where warmer water facilitates mating and is gentler for vulnerable newborn calves. Whales further out to sea dive deeper and stay down longer.

Breach – Barnacles and All

Three species of baleen whale visit South Africa:

Before I Learned to Get Down for Photos

Whale Hunting and Exploitation

I was unaware that a major reason for whale hunting and exploitation by Russians and South Africans was for making munitions. It’s unbelievable that “between 1914 and 1917 over 175,000 whales were killed to make explosives” used during World War I! Thankfully, whales are now protected. This season, officials have spotted almost 250 calves in Walker Bay!

Guide Philip – In the Middle

New Harbour

I thought the white patches around their eyes were barnacles, but our guide explained that they’re “eyebrows” unique to each whale. Southern Right Whales also have identifying white patches on their underside.

Hermanus is recognized by the World Wildlife Fund as “one of the world’s 12 best whale watching destinations”. 

Windy, Choppy Sea

Photography is difficult in a moving boat. The wind and sun glare didn’t help. I need to study the video and action photography features of my digital camera… For me, it was difficult taking photographs and holding on at the same time. Like others, I learned to stabilize myself by sitting down along the side of the boat, where I could lean against the guard to watch the whales and take photos at the same time. It was fun!

Nimble Whale

The sea was choppy but we missed the strong wind that came up later that afternoon. Recently the wind has been ferocious! A tree outside the house I’m renting touches the siding and when strong wind comes up in the middle of the night, the pounding branches roust me. Wind is my least favorite part of this spectacularly beautiful place!


Whale Behavior

There are two types of whale groups – mating and calving. It’s rare to see both hanging out together. The best viewing was along the coast close to Walker Bay Nature Reserve in nearby Stanford. The first sighting was a male and female, who were clearly soul mates. Later, we observed groups of 4 to 8 or more whales mating. None of them breached, but we saw typical whale behavior – fluking, spyhopping, logging, spouting, and lobtailing.

New Harbour

“The most spectacular whale activity is when they launch themselves up out of the water and then twist and fall back down. This is called breaching, and it’s believed whales do it for several reasons – to communicate, attract females, dislodge parasites, get a higher view, drive off predators, or just play. Southern Rights usually only breach about three-quarters of their bodies out of the water. Other species, like Humpbacks, jump clear.”

Cormorants in Walker Bay

Southern Right Whale and Calf

Garden Route – Hidden Stretch of Paradise

Outeniqua Pass

The Garden Route between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth is South Africa’s “hidden stretch of paradise”. Although I visited some of these places years ago, the Garden Route is my next South African adventure.

Kwena Lodge Garden Route

Beginning in late October, I’ll be driving the route, and I’m researching the area to decide which direction to take and what attractions to include. There’s so much exciting territory to explore, it’s a challenge deciding where to stop and for how long.

“Be at one with the indigenous forests, ever-changing sea, mysterious rivers, and wondrous lakes.”

Knysna Lagoon

The Garden Route “can be driven in five hours, but hidden destinations and side roads are the region’s secret jewels”. The two routes to choose from are inland and coastal.

George Golf Course

Inland R62, the route less travelled, has “stunning mountain scenery and quaint, historic towns”:

Great Karoo

It’s recommended to take at least 3 days for the R62 and allow an extra day for the Prince Albert Circuit. Prince Albert is in the arid Karoo Plains, an “oasis on the southern edge of the Great Karoo”.

Prince Albert Bungalow

The town’s water supply flows from springs in the Swartberg Mountains. The spring water “runs in irrigation furrows bringing gardens and orchards to life” and makes Prince Albert one of South Africa’s prettiest towns.

De Bergkant Lodge Prince Albert

Bridge N2 Garden Route

As it “meanders along the coast from Heidelberg in the West to Storms River in the East,” the Garden Route has breathtaking scenery!

Jeffreys Bay South Africa’s Surfing Capital

“Serene Prince Albert has beautifully restored Cape Dutch, Karoo, and Victorian buildings, a number of which are National Monuments”. Founded in 1762 on a farm called Kweekvallei (Valley of Plenty), after it gained municipal status in 1845 the town was “renamed Prince Albert in honor of Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg”.

The Garden Route “can be driven in five hours, but hidden destinations and side roads are the region’s secret jewels”.

Dolphin Hiking Trail

Jeffreys Bay Surfers

Coastal N2 is a “brilliant marine drive” along the Indian Ocean passing:

Canola Fields Swellendam


Prince Albert Farm

Inland R62 and Coastal N2 Garden Routes

Parks and reserves along the Garden Route include Tsitsikamma National Park. Tsitsikamma (sits-ee-cah-ma) is a coastal reserve that protects South Africa’s indigenous forest and giant trees like the Outeniqua Yellowwood.

Ostriches Oudtshoorn

“Serene Prince Albert has beautifully restored Cape Dutch, Karoo, and Victorian buildings, a number of which are National Monuments.”

Garden Route N2 Beach

“Rivers in the area carve deep gorges as they wind down from the plateau to the sea. The Tsitsikamma Forest is also home to adventurous activities like bungee jumping at Bloukrans Bridge, the Storms River Adventure Center, the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour, and the Tsitsikamma Waterfall Zipline. Hiking choices are abundant, including the Otter and Dolphin trails.”

Chris Davies Otter Trail

The Otter Trail is one of South Africa’s most famous hikes through coastal forest, river crossings, and viewpoints with gorges and waterfalls. It’s a 5-day hike along 27 miles of Tsitsikamma coastline, from the Storms River mouth in the east to Nature’s Valley in the west. Bookings are essential. They open a year in advance and sell out quickly.

Dolphin Trail

The unique Dolphin Trail is a challenging hike covering 10.5 miles in Tsitsikamma. The hike begins at Storms River mouth and winds east through fynbos and pristine indigenous forest. It ends on the banks of the Sandrift River at The Fernery. This hike is on my bucket list!


Port Elizabeth marks the end of the Garden Route, but it’s also the gateway to Addo Elephant Park and the Eastern Cape’s private Big 5 game reserves:

Elephant Family Addo Elephant Park

Addo Elephant Park

I’ll probably vacillate between the inland and coastal routes, hike, and enjoy the more affordable game reserves. Tsitsikamma Waterfall Zipline sounds fun. Planning the itinerary is a bit overwhelming, but I have a few weeks to get things together. There will be more blog posts in October, when I encounter some of these spectacular places!


Cape Town Opera at Simonsig Wine Estate

Although the time in Hermanus is peaceful and wonderful, I miss Cape Town’s energy and incredible performing arts venue. It’s only a two-hour drive, but unsettling not knowing what weather might occur while crossing Sir Lowrys Pass at night. Wind and fog on the Pass can be fierce, and there are no lights or dividers along the two-lane freeway. If something happens, you’re toast.

When I heard that Cape Town Opera was performing at Simonsig Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, I jumped at the chance to attend the performance! Although I still had to cross the Pass, it’s only about an hour away. The fact that it was a dinner concert at Simonsig’s Cuvée Restaurant was an extra added delight.

Singers from Cape Town Opera appear at Simonsig every year performing arias and ensembles from well-known operas and musicals. The spectacular opera program was entitled “Love In All Its Splendour 1750 – 1950”. It was thrilling to be so close to the singers while they performed! I don’t have friends in Hermanus interested in opera, so I went on my own.

Sir Lowry’s Pass

There were about 8 tables seating 12 or so people and I sat at a front table with five couples – four German and one South African. Everyone at the table was a transplant from Germany. I’m sure that, except for me, everyone spoke fluent German, Afrikaans, or both. The Germans were interesting and I enjoyed our conversations. One German woman had a small vineyard specializing in champagne and another a PR firm. Most of them lived near Paarl in the small town of Windmeul (Windmill). The South African couple was friendly and interested in my African travels.

Simonsig Wine Estate

I’ve seen several Cape Town Opera performances at Artscape Theatre and have never been disappointed. The Germans were a bit critical of the diction and pronunciation of some singers. The MC for the evening was quick to notice. Before she introduced the second set she discussed the libretto (text of an opera) explaining that many were written so long ago that even native speakers don’t always understand every word. The singers were brave to perform for a small audience of discerning Germans.

Thomas Mohlamme Bass

Cape Town Opera singers have performed internationally at festivals and productions throughout Europe and the world. I spoke briefly with Melanie Daniels, Cape Town Opera Development Manager, who said it had been difficult to find venues in the US.

Sir Lowry’s Pass

I’m not an opera expert but enjoyed every song performed and thought the singers were all magnificent!

Frances du Plessis Soprano

Program Before Main Course

Cecilia Rangwanasha Soprano

Program Before Dessert

  • Giuditta – Franz Lehár Solo Cecilia Rangwanasha
  • Paganini – Franz Lehár
  • Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow) – Franz Lehár
  • Camelot – Lerner & Loewe
  • West Side Story – Bernstein Solo Johannes Slabbert
  • Porgy & Bess – Gershwin
  • Der Vogelhändler (The Bird Seller) – Zeller

An amazing pianist, Paul Ferreira, accompanied the singers.

The talented singers included:

Cuvée Restaurant

I enjoyed the entire program. Johannes Slabbert’s Maria from West Side Story was magnificent. The bass, Thomas Mohlamme, has a mesmerizing voice, and the sopranos, especially Frances du Plessis, were all amazing. It was a memorable evening!

Johannes Slabbert Tenor

Colca Canyon Peru

Colca Canyon is still a very vivid memory – incredible hiking adventure! Seems longer ago than February 2015!!!


Colca Canyon Peru Colca Canyon Peru

My trek into Peru’s Colca Canyon exceeded expectations! The canyon’s beauty is indescribable and experiencing the magic of its isolated grandeur was the best. February is off-season for trekking in the canyon but actually it’s a great time since the weather is cooler and the vegetation is green and flourishing.

Chivay Mother & Daughter Chivay Mother & Daughter

I shared the trip from Arequipa with a fun Australian couple – Tasha and Aaron. Our adventure began at 6:00 a.m. driving with guides through high patapampa plateaus surrounded by the magnificent Cordillera de Chila. We passed rivers, volcanoes, mountains, and national reserves with grazing “camelids”. Still have trouble distinguishing between llamas, alpacas, and guanacos, but now I recognize vicuñas.

As we passed through Chivay the terrain changed and became more like Cusco and Machu Picchu. We stopped in Yanque, a small village outside Chivay. For our first outing my Peruvian guide…

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Fernkloof Nature Reserve Hermanus

Maanskynbaai from Fernkloof

Fernkloof Reserve is one of nature’s bright gems, and it’s a short 15-minute drive away! I’ve hiked the waterfall trail and am learning other routes. Fernkloof trails are gentler than Table Mountain with spectacular views of Walker Bay, Hemel en Aarde Valley, and Maanskynbaai (Moonshine Bay)!

Fernkloof has four “routes” – green, red, blue, and orange. I’m working up to the more challenging orange route and its inner and outer circuits.

Fernkloof covers 7 sq. miles in the Kleinrivier Mountains. The reserve includes 37 miles of hiking trails, flowering fynbos, thick shrub vegetation, forests, and secluded dams where you can swim on hot days.


De Bos Dam

Fernkloof’s luxurious fynbos is magnificent! The word fynbos derives from the Dutch word ‘fijn bosch‘ or fine bush. It’s a “collective name for a myriad of evergreen shrub-like plants with small firm leaves, including woody plants with hard leathery leaves”.

Fernkloof is known for around 500 varieties of Erica. Colorful ericas (Cape “heath“), disas, and proteas are endemic to South Africa.

The climate is “Mediterranean with cold wet winters, hot dry summers, and strong south-easterly winds”. I can vouch for the extraordinarily “strong” winds!

Caterpillar Photo from Fernkloof Website


“There is no other place on earth where so many distinct fynbos species grow in such proximity. More than 1250 species of plant have been collected and identified in Fernkloof.”


During my hike yesterday, I didn’t see any large mammals but enjoyed birds, mountain pride butterflies, unusual beetles, and lizards. There are several creeks and waterfalls, and I heard, but didn’t see, frogs. Hikers are known to encounter interesting species of turtle plodding along the trails. It would be thrilling to see an elusive Cape Leopard.

Lizards and butterflies are too fast for photos, but I followed a lizard to a rock outcropping near “Adder Ladder”. Considering the name of the trail, I retreated.

Rock Hyrax – Dassies

Beetle, Locust, or Alien Creature?


Grey rhebok, Cape grysbok, klipspringer, baboon, mongoose, and dassie are present in small numbers. Nocturnal animals in the Reserve are seldom seen but include the porcupine, genet, hare, and Cape Mountain Leopard.”


I plan to hike Fernkloof often not only for the exercise but because the refreshing, pristine environment is uplifting and makes me feel happy and content!