Sunday, December 31, 2006

This was 2006

I've just come from Charlotte's Web, where she was doing this meme for a review of her blogging year. I liked the idea as it seems to wrap the year up nicely and succinctly, without too much mental exertion on my part, after our New Year's Eve family dinner and the loud and exuberant game of Pit that finished it off. Not to brag... but I won...an unholy, competitive streak revealed!

So here is the first sentence from the first post of each month that I have been blogging this year. Sometimes I included the second one too, as I seem to be a master of the brief first sentence, which isn't always very illuminating.

March: It's supposed to be autumn, season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.

April It's market day tomorrow. Once a month I run a stall at the local market to raise funds for our kindergarten - mostly this means baking fairy cakes, decorating them garishly and selling them along with my surplus jam stocks and second-hand children's clothes.

May: A long time since my last post, due to technical hitches. In the meantime winter has descended upon us here in South Africa, the long awaited rains have started to transform the countryside from brown to green and freezing cold draughts whistle in through unsuspected holes in the eaves.

June: 1 Being able to retire to the loo for 10 minutes with a book, without an invasion of kids needing attention.

July:
Where have I been these last few days? Immersed in a sea of birthday preparation, for my one-more-sleep-till-I'm-six year old.

August: We have finally finished the leftovers from Sunday's feast.

September: Today was officially our first day of spring.

October: Living on a farm as we do, it is easy to allow an excess of animals into our life.

November: Come and have tea at our house today.

December:
It was only when the aunts came up to say goodnight to the children that I realised how much we had packed into today.

It seems from this that my life revolves around the children, animals, seasons and importantly food - a pretty accurate summing up of this year!

Happy New Year to you all. See you in 2007 - may it be a wonderful year bringing peace, prosperity and good health to you.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Christmas Passed


Christmas started early in our house as anticipation and speculation sparked off chirrupings in the children’s bedroom at 5.30. By 6 o’clock we caved in and let them onto our bed to demolish their stockings. The compensation for this was that we had a gentle stroll outside in the early morning sunshine, cup of tea in hand, watching the swallows swooping to catch their breakfast, while the children were watching a DVD and examining their booty.

One of the advantages of a summer Christmas is that we eat the traditional fare cold, with salads, so we were able to do a lot of the preparation beforehand and spend time on the phone to far-flung family without burning the sprouts. Our gammon was already sitting cooked in its cidery stock, ready to be glazed with mustard and treacle sugar. Some of the stock transformed the couscous from plain starch into a flavourful salad that sings in its own right with mango, nuts and herbs. My sister-in-law took charge of the turkey and stuffing, as well as the sausages wrapped in bacon and other sister-in-law is the salad queen, so the food front was divided and conquered. The puddings were ready in the fridge – a succulent summer pudding made with the berries from our farm and these stripey jellies that I love because they are so pretty and jelly is an intrinsic part of the Christmas feast for me, plus some meringues and the de rigueur Christmas pudding (a small bought one for the traditionalists).

The Christmas feasting is now over for another year. Our fridge was groaning with the leftovers, enough turkey and ham, summer pudding and stripey jelly to re-enact Christmas lunch for four days in a row and we still were enjoying it – that ham was soooo good!. The Christmas cake stands proudly aloft bearing its plastic donkey and sparkly angels that were selected to adorn it this year. Despite the enormous lunch on Christmas Day we did manage to sample a sliver of it for a late afternoon tea time. Gastronomic heroism on the grand scale.

The earthquake rumble of new skateboards on wooden floors, the shrieks and giggles as they crash, bright streaks of paint from craft sets on new Christmas outfits, soaking in Biotex in the bathroom, folded wrapping paper rustling, as it is restrewn across the sitting room floor the girls re-playing their best part of Christmas by wrapping then unwrapping their presents once more, the crunch of plastic cracker novelties underfoot, these are the soundtrack of the aftermath of the festivities....those skateboards may well meet an untimely end fairly soon!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Happy Christmas

Apologies for the long absence...I might even get back to posting after Christmas - right now the words section of my brain has been highjacked by the food and present making part - not enough megs to complete all applications without crashing!

Have a wonderful Christmas all my blogging friends - I've really enjoyed meeting you this year and discovering such a wonderful community full of warmth, wit and wisdom.


Here is a virtual mince pie for you -succulent spiced fruit and crumbly pastry.
Lots of love to you all

Thursday, December 14, 2006

How to eat a Mango

Take one ripe juicy mango, smelling of the tropics.

Slice off a large section lengthways just skimming the side of the stone.

Cut a grid through the flesh without going through the skin.

Press upwards on the skin side to turn it inside out.


Voila! A mango hedgehog.


Repeat on the other side and enjoy!

Take turns sucking the stone, then go straight to the kitchen sink for a wash down.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Icing the Christmas Cake

I've hardly been near my computer in days. We are living in a flurry of felt, tissue paper, coloured card, bright scraps of wool, overlayed with a fruity aura of jam-making that has the kitchen at the centre of our life, now it is the holidays. An undercurrent of barely suppressed excitement about the upcoming day of presents occasionally bursts forth into sibling squabbles, giggles and play fights.

The children are a hive of industry making cards and presents to send around the world to friends and family. We rushed the fruits of their labours to the post office today in the optimistic hope of them reaching England in time.

This year though their projects are far more ambitious than last year. Gone are the days of being content with sewing a few sequins onto a circle of felt to hang on the tree. My six year old made herself a cushion at kindergarten from hessian, embroidered with her own design of Christmas tree, stars, flowers and angels. So pleased is she with her new skills, that each Christmas present is a long labour of love.

Youngest needs considerable input from me in her creations but is equally ambitious, the problem being that she loves the end result too much to part with it..so far she has made herself one present and two cards....! My son started off with a prodigious output of intricate little felt decorations but now has decided to tackle a felt angel and occasionally disintegrates into frustration, when the thread knots yet again and the head looks too wobbly.

Meanwhile I try not to burn the jam, huge amounts of plums and apricots having arrived to make up for the meagre strawberry crop. My shelves are finally filling, I'm running out of jars, so we should be in good shape jam-wise for the year. Phew!

Now the Christmas Cake needs its layer of almond paste/marzipan . It is supposed to go on about a week before the royal icing, to give it time to dry a little. Two or three days before has always been fine for me, as we are usually eating it fairly soon after.

Here is my favourite recipe, in case any of you are bravely tackling the Christmas Cake recipe and have been left high and dry by my failure to post the next step.

Marzipan Recipe

(for an 8inch round cake)
335g/12oz ground almonds
165g/6oz icing sugar (powdered sugar) sifted
165g/6oz caster sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons brandy or sherry
4 egg yolks
apricot jam

Mix together all the dry ingredients, then stir in the lemon juice, brandy and egg yolks. Knead it into a stiff dough, but don't overdo it with hot hands or it can become slightly oily. Brush the cake top and sides with the apricot jam (warm it a bit if it is too thick). Dust a surface or pastry board with icing sugar and roll out half the almond paste/marzipan till it is just a bit bigger than the top of the cake. Put the cake upside down onto the paste and trim to fit. Roll out the rest of the paste to go on to the sides of the cake. It works best if you aim for an oblong twice the height of the cake and half the circumference and cut it in half to get two strips the height of the cake. Press them firmly onto the sides of the cake and press the joins together. Turn the cake the right way up and trim any ragged bits. Wrap it back up in greaseproof paper and foil for another week before putting on the royal icing. Don't worry if it doesn't look perfect and you can see all the joins, the last layer of royal icing covers it all up anyway.

Royal icing

525g / 1 1/4 lb icing sugar
3-4 egg whites
1 tsp lemon juice

Put the egg whites into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar a few spoons at a time. Add the lemon juice. When it is all mixed in, beat with an electric beater until the icing is thick enough to stand up in peaks. I like a rough finish to my Christmas Cake so just slap on the icing with a palette knife in one layer and rough it up a bit more to look like choppy seas, but you can also do a glassy smooth finish. This icing can set rock hard in hot weather, so if you want to make sure of not losing any teeth, you can add 2 teaspoons of glycerine to the icing. In England the icing used to stay soft for ages, in the nice cool damp climate, but my first Christmas here in South Africa the cake needed a pick-axe to access it!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Apricot Ambrosia

A bowlful of glowing, ripe sun-filled apricots,

Sliced unmercifully into succulent chunks.


Submerged in sugar, till their juices weep.
Simmered into jam, all year to keep.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Christmas Cake Recipe

Our Christmas cake is baked at last. The dried fruit had been soaking in brandy for a whole week in the fridge, but seemed none the worse for it luckily. Not huge amounts of brandy I hasten to add – three tablespoons and the alcohol content long ago evaporated away. So yesterday the kitchen exuded a gentle spicy aroma as the cake cooked extremely slowly for four and a half hours. Just one whiff is enough to conjure up Christmas.

It is just the sort of rich, damp, heavy fruit cake that Captain Hook put out to poison the Lost Boys in the original Peter Pan story. That detail seems to have been omitted in the updated versions, maybe these days it seems too old-fashioned to believe that rich cake is death to young stomachs! My kids aren’t really into the cake itself anyway, but they love the marzipan and icing, so will nibble meagrely at the cake in order to justify feasting on their icing and that of the adults as well, who Jack Sprat-like tend to prefer the cake and leave the excess sweet icing to the children.

At Christmas time I usually get out the reliable old Delia Smith cook book to check out the cake recipe and quantities for the marzipan. Her recipes almost always work and are accurate if not always inspired. I almost remember when she was the hot young TV chef and her ‘One is Fun’ was the latest innovative bestseller in the food book arena. Now she is long supplanted by the younger, sexier Nigella, but her books are still at the back of my shelf for when I need to check details of some ordinary but useful dish.

Rich Fruit Cake recipe

450g/1lb currants
175g/6oz sultanas
175g/6oz raisins
50g/2oz glace cherries(optional)
50g/2oz mixed candied peel chopped
3 tablespoons brandy
225g/8oz plain flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon mixed spice
225g/8oz unsalted butter
225g/8oz soft brown sugar
4 large eggs
50g/2oz chopped almonds
1 dessertspoon treacle
grated rind of 1 lemon
grated rind of 1 orange

The night before you want to make the cake, soak all the dried fruit and peel with the brandy. Leave it in a covered bowl over night or at least twelve hours.

Grease and line a 20cm/8 inch round cake tin or a 18cm/ 7 inch square one.

Sift together the flour, salt and spices. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy (make sure you do this thoroughly). Beat eggs and add them a little at a time to the creamed mixture, beating well each time. Next fold in the flour and spices gently. Stir in the dried fruit and peel, treacle and the grated lemon and orange rind. Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin and spread it out evenly.

Tie a band of brown paper round the outside of the tin and cover the top of the cake with a double layer of greasproof paper (with a hole cut in the middle of it) Bake the cake at 140C/275F on the lower shelf of the oven for 4 ¼ - 4 ¾ hours. Don’t open the door to check until at least 4 hours have passed. Once the cake has cooled wrap it in a layer of greaseproof paper then foil.

Delia recommends feeding it with brandy every week or so, by poking a couple of holes with a skewer then letting a few teaspoons of brandy soak in. It depends on your own tastes, whether you want it very rich and decadent. I don’t usually do that myself, I like it as it is.

Now the cake is well wrapped in grease-proof paper and foil and stored on a shelf in the larder to steep in its own flavours. A week before Christmas I’ll make the marzipan to go on it. I’ll have a lot of help with that as the children vie to gather up any scraps that fall or are trimmed off. We’ve even converted marzipan haters in the family to our variety of almond paste, just by leaving out the almond essence, which gives the strong almost metallic taste to shop marzipan. Without it the real almond flavour gets a chance to shine through, more mellow and delicately nutty.

On top of the marzipan goes the top layer of royal icing, made with icing sugar and egg white, put on rough to resemble a snowy scene. When I was growing up we had a set of figures for a Nativity scene that always decorated the cake and it was my favourite job to arrange them with a few tiny pine trees for added effect. Nowadays I try to get an African feel by borrowing the children’s little plastic zebra, giraffe and elephant and have them cavorting through the snowy icing – totally incongruous, but then I don’t think the Nativity scene played out among snowdrifts either!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

After the NaBloPoMo

I couldn't help myself. I didn't do NaBloPoMo for the promise of prizes. More as a challenge to myself...but yes I have been checking Fussy's blog to see if I won anything and no I didn't. But she did do this badge to download that says it all!

I think I've been suffering from blog fatigue after all, with no inspiration on the weekend to post. I'm getting back in gear again now, will be posting my Christmas cake recipe soon..

Friday, December 01, 2006

End of Term Exuberance

It was only when the aunts came up to say goodnight to the children that I realised how much we had packed into today. The clamour of voices vying to tell their important news rose in a voluble crescendo.

Youngest was first to show off her proud purchase – the first thing she has ever bought with her very own pocket money. She had saved her three rands for several weeks since her birthday, following her brother and sister’s example but today she couldn’t bear it any longer. We went to do the food shopping in Spar and she brought her money along. She had in mind the delights of the cheap plastic toys in the supermarket and with the dizzy sum of R23 in her purse was sure to be able to buy a hideous pink concoction guaranteed to break in a day. First we went to the bank though and on the way from there to Spar passed the enticing windows of Sheet Street - garish duvet covers and knick knacks in the window have often had us lingering, so on impulse we went in there. Youngest went from one possibility to another – a mug with a soft toy in, a cushion, a small teddy, a little painted box with a drawer and a butterfly in – all within her price range. Only when she’d checked out everything and considered the possibility that Spar might have something even better, did she make her decision. She would invest her funds in the butterfly box to keep her special things in. We went to the till and I counted out the cash for her. She solemnly took possession of the bag and put the receipt carefully into her purse. We even made it round Spar and past the toy aisle without her changing her mind and regretting her purchase. The joy of her new possession is just about equalled by the grown upness of the purchase.Sshe has been proudly informing everyone that she has a Receipt!

Once the aunts had admired the box sufficiently, my six year old was in line to show off her mouth, now devoid of front teeth as the tooth fairy is expected to visit again tonight. Those grown up teeth are coming through slowly so nothing but gaps make up her smile.

My son next to show off his glowing school report, written with such depth and understanding that it had our hearts melting with pride. He was completely quiet after we read it to him, but you could see gleams of satisfaction and self-worth emanating from him as he walked off with it carefully in its envelope.

The beautiful advent calendars that Granny brought from England were finally paraded for all to appreciate – the Twelve Days of Christmas for my son, The Journey to Bethlehem for my six year old fresh from playing Mary in the Nativity play and a lovely snowy town scene with animals in the stable for Youngest. Granny did a fine job choosing just the right one for each child and they are all pleased as punch!

The accounts of the school assembly then had to be listened to, and of the concert last night, as well as plans made for the holidays, including a proposed first ever sleepover at one of the aunt’s houses. Eventually all the important things had been communicated and bathtime ensued, hopefully to lead on quickly to an early night after all the excitements of the day.


P.S. After all I said yesterday about being relieved NaBloPoMo is over, here I am posting again already. I found myself composing in my head as I was cooking supper and had to write it all down to free up some head space..this looks like a pernicious blogging habit - I've got hooked!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Arrivederci to NaBloPoMo and Lemon Tree Kindergarten

The last day of November the last day of NaBloPoMo! Posting every day has been enjoyable but demanding. Finding something to write about and the time to write about it was often challenging to say the least. I think I can guarantee that I’ll be relapsing, with a hefty sigh, back into posting three or four times a week here. I have been neglecting my book review blog and the writing of articles, which I’m supposed to be doing to get our websites seen out there on the big wide Net.

Food and Family is always going to be my place for friends and family, for me to relax, visit friends and swap stories. The fun part of NaBloPoMo has been discovering other blogs through the Randomizer, and have new people show up here.

We’ve just come home, laden with baskets of crafts, paintings and presents from my six-year old’s Kindergarten festival and leaving ceremony. They did a very sweet Nativity play with us helping out with singing the carols that we knew, especially the endless Gloria in Ding Dong Merrily on High., we duly admired all their hard work of sewing and embroidering cushions for themselves and then came the farewell. One of the mothers had proposed adopting their German tradition of singing farewell to each child leaving kindergarten as they walked out through a flowery archway. We gave each one a rose to take with them to symbolise beauty. It was lovely but nearly caused a tear to be shed.

There is an extra cause for nostalgia, as we don’t know if our kindergarten will be continuing next year. Our teacher is moving on to another school, only four children will be still in kindergarten, so unless Camphill can keep it going as a small playgroup and reabsorb it as part of their organisation, it will have to close. Youngest has still shown no signs of being ready to go back to kindergarten. Perhaps when she does it will be to the new kindergarten building at Dassenberg Waldorf School, where my son is and his middle sister will be starting next year. It still feels sad to be witnessing the end of an era though. Four and a half years for me of taking one or other child to this tiny kindergarten in leafy Camphill village, its atmosphere so sheltered and safe like a little cocoon enveloping the children and filling them with music and beauty. Youngest did have a few months of it before she elected to stay at home with me, but I wish she could have had a whole kindergarten career there, before facing the hurly burly of the real world. Who knows... maybe it will keep going and she will. Che sera sera.

Anyway it was a lovely final festival for the children, something to remember and value when they are in big school. I seem to be splashing Italian around today, so Arriverderci tutti! See you soon.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Today

Today was the sort of day where you plan what you're going to do and then ditch the plan and go off in the other direction. I'd worked out what I needed to do: make cheese biscuits for the kindergarten end of term festival, they are an essential element by now; put together the drawings that the children had done, to make a book as a farewell gift to their teacher; sort strawberries; make Christmas cake, I started soaking the fruit days ago intending to make it last weekend; maybe with the leftover time catch up on some writing or accounts.

Instead I ended up working on the end of year newsletter for my son's school. A marathon of cutting, pasting, selecting artwork to photograph and then load onto the computer, finding photos from earlier in the year then putting it all together in some sort of order. My husband has kindly undertaken to get it ready in a more computer literate way to go to the printers tomorrow.

This left me at 6pm with all the more essential things to do from my first list plus cooking the supper and of course writing my blog, as there is no way I'm going to fail on the eve of the end of NaBloPoMo having made it thus far! So apologies for the unadorned account of my day making up most of the material.

The only deeply philosophical thought that popped into my head today - "Trust in the process" - it may feel like you're walking blindly through a bank of fog with no idea where you're going, but just the process of putting one foot in front of the other is getting you somewhere that you are meant to be going.

So with that rather incoherent philosophobabble, I'll leave you to collapse on the sofa!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Cornucopia

This time of year in South Africa should be the time of harvest festivals. I have bowls brimming with fruit on my window sills. Apricots from our tree, with a blush of pink on their warm skins, wait ostensibly to be turned into jam, but they are too delicious – sweet and juicy – to resist. Every time I pass the glowing bowlful, I sneak one and dribble juice down my chin. There are still strawberries in the garden to be picked tomorrow. Youngberries also ripen on their brambly bushes, tempting you to reach in carelessly and prick yourself on a briar. There are peas from the veggie patch to pod, or just eat raw from the pods. I let the kids do this, as they won’t eat them cooked, but give them a basket of fresh picked peas, they’ll scoff the lot in no time. Gem squash too, those small squashes the size of cricket balls, that steam into delectable mellow flesh in minutes – there are far more than we can eat, gifts of plenty to go home with any visitors.

Our nectarines and peaches aren’t ripe yet, but the shops are full of them, whole trays for R20. The first grapes and litchis are sneaking into the shops under exorbitant price tags. I’ll be waiting till after Christmas to buy them when they are properly in season here. Then the mangos will also be at their best and cheap – we’ll be feasting off mango hedgehogs at every opportunity (I’ll take a photo to show you when we first have them again, it is a clever way of cutting them to eat easily, but defies clear explanation by words alone).

South African Christmas should be a fresh fruit festival, with all this overflowing abundance. The dried fruit of the traditional feast, the mince pies, Christmas cake and Christmas pudding, stollen and all those other good things, come from winter when dried fruit and citrus fruits were the most extravagant things to celebrate with. We should be piling pavlovas high with fresh fruit, quaffing smoothies instead of mulled wine, feasting on summer pudding with cream and leaving the dried fruit confections to the Northern Hemispherites who need it to lift their winter gloom. The trouble is, it is too good - we want mince pies too, we want it all!

Monday, November 27, 2006

A Word

I like the word valiant. It evokes images of knights in slightly dented, well-used armour vanquishing dragons against overwhelming odds to rescue those eternal damsels in distress. Courage, brave endeavour and determination.

The word popped into my head this morning as we set off on the school run and I noticed the hopeful shoots sprouting from the base of a wild plum sapling that didn’t make it through last summer. The dead wood above ground belied the vital force still coursing in its roots. A good winter’s rain nourished it and this spring it is trying again, growing from nothing, confident that we will water it properly this summer and not let it down. Valiant.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Christmas Mince Pies

While I’m on the subject of all things Christmassey, I thought I’d share my recipe for the fruit mincemeat filling for mince pies. I don’t know if they are traditional Christmas fare in the US, but in the UK by now the shops will be brimming with packets of ready-made mince pies. Towers of packets will loom at the end of supermarket aisles, extra special gourmet ones will be found in up-market stores promising real brandy in the ingredients. Next week one of the Sunday papers is likely to do a comparative tasting of popular brands and award them star ratings for flavour and pastry texture and tastiness. South Africa is more moderate in its mince pie consumption, probably because of the hot weather at this time of year, but they still make a regular appearence in the Christmas displays. Our family is fairly immoderate in our mince pie consumption. One batch disappears in the briefest of nanoseconds. I make twice the amount of fruit mince in this recipe and we use it all over the festive season.

I always used to make my own pastry and fill the pies with bought mincemeat, until I found this recipe which is 100 times better. I leave out the traditional suet binder/preservative, so my version is genuinely vegetarian and has a fresher flavour. It keeps perfectly well in the fridge for a couple of months too. This recipe makes enough for several batches of mince pies. If you just want to try making one batch, use half quantities.

Christmas Fruit Mincemeat Recipe

350g/12oz raisins
225g/8oz sultanas
225g/8oz currants
225g/8oz mixed candied peel, chopped finely
450g/1lb cooking apples
350g/12oz soft dark brown sugar
grated rind and juice of 2 oranges
grated rind and juice of 2 lemons
50g/2oz almonds chopped into slivers (optional)
4 teaspoons mixed spice
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ nutmeg grated
6 tablespoons brandy

Mix together all the dried fruit, add the peel and juice of the oranges and lemons. Peel the apples and grate them coarsely into the mixture, turning them into the juice so they don’t go brown. Add the sugar and spices and mix everthing well. Cover the bowl and leave to soak in the fridge overnight. Stir in the brandy, then spoon into clean jars, packing it in quite tightly. Leave in the fridge for another week for the flavours to develop if you have time.


Making the Mince Pies

I’m not the world’s best pastry maker, and my sister-in-law is, so she usually does the making of the pies in our family. You can resort to bought pastry or use your favourite shortcrust pastry recipe. Flaky pastry isn’t traditional but could work too. You’ll need a tart tin that takes twelve 6cm/2 1/2 inch tarts – not the deep muffin tins, the shallower sort.

Once the pastry is rolled out to about 3mm/ 1/8 inch thick, use a 7.5cm/3 inch cutter to cut out the bottoms of the pies and a 6cm/ 2.5 inch cutter for the tops. Fluted ones are nice but if you don't have any you can also use glasses of a similar size. Grease the tins, and line them with the pastry bottoms, put in a teaspoonful of the fruit mince being careful not to overfill, then dampen the edges of the pastry with water and put on the lids. Lightly press around the edges to seal. Brush the tops with milk and using the point of a knife poke a small cross in the top to let out the steam. Bake at 200C/400F for 25-30 minutes until light golden brown.

Eat warm with cream or brandy butter or cold with a cup of tea.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Wind, Sand, Mince Pies and Carols

I optimistically made a long list of things to do today, starting with baking the Christmas cake (I know I was talking about doing it last week, but talking hasn't yet resulted in it happening yet), making fruit mince for the mince pies, baking bread and ambitiously ending with writing something for each blog plus an article or two...

An SMS from a friend proposing a trip to the beach put paid to all that. I had soaked the fruit for the cake in brandy and was half way through preparing the fruit mince. I knew the kids would love to get out for a bit, so we went.

Their energy was overflowing into scuffles as we got into the friend's minivan. We rechannelled it into singing our way through all the songs they're practising for the end of term ('Away in the Manger' heading the request list) and by the time we arrived at the beach my voice was fading from the effort of holding any sort of tune over the rumble of the bus and the blustering of the wind....the wind.

The beach was empty except for kite-surfers. We should have turned around at that point and gone somewhere else. But no! We'd said the beach and the beach it was going to be. The playful south-easter was hurtling sand along the beach, exfoliating our legs and mocking our attempts to put up the wind-break/shade tent by whisking it away from us as we tried to slide the bendy support poles up their sleeves.


One of us had to sit in it at all times once we'd finally succeeded in putting it up, as an anchor and tent pole combined! But the kids had a good enough time. They jumped around in the cold Atlantic Ocean and then dug in the shelter afforded by our tent, my son finding some rocks that broke the wind enough to make a castle. We had a fine view of the kite-surfers leaping high in the air and powering along the length of the beach. To see Table Mountain we had to be facing into the sand stripping wind, so we didn't admire it too often.


On the way home they were begging me to get out the Christmas Carols CD as soon as we got home. I've said not until it is December. I know that they'll be wanting to listen to it all day every day once we start and I really don't want to be sick to death of the beautiful carols sung by the King's College Choir before we've even got near Christmas. For me the CD is a nostagia trip back to childhood Christmas Eves , when we always had the radio tuned to the King's College Carol Service, while we wrapped last minute presents, made brandy butter for the pudding and stuffing for the turkey.

Once home, where it had hardly been windy at all, I finished off the fruit mince and we found ourselves debating whether it would be too soon to make a batch of mince pies tomorrow. We really ought to leave it for at least a week in the fridge, enough time to soak up all the spice and develop the flavour, but greed and anticipation of my sister-in-law's wonderful pastry was leading us astray.

It was only later when I thought about it, that I realised the irony - sensibly confining Christmas carols to December, but considering baking mince pies already in November. Greed overrules good sense every time!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Moving to Beta

Last night I took a deep breath, girded my loins and switched my Food and Family blog to Beta Blogger. It was getting so that I couldn’t see the Dashboard for their insistent reminders to do so and I was beginning to get the impression that old Blogger might go up in a puff of smoke any day and take my precious blog with it.

I am already slightly acquainted with Beta through my new book blog Great Books Reviewed, so the prospect wasn’t too alarming. Jennifer at Coasting Richly made the switch a little while ago and was having fun labelling all her old posts. So with that encouragement I pressed the buttons and switched.

It was easy. The only unforseen repercussions have been that my two seperate blogs now share the same profile and sign-in name, so Great Books Reviewed has my blurb about food on it instead of my blurb about books. Signing my book posts as Food Mum doesn’t seem quite right either. I’m having to abandon my fancy sobriquets and schizophrenia and write a profile that fits both. Probably I should have opened a separate account and kept them separate, but by the time I realised that, it was too late and I couldn’t face the thought of trying to untangle it all again. So I’ve come out - I am both Food Mum and Original Orange and henceforth I shall be posting as Kit on both blogs!

P.S. I’ve just been reading a fascinating book called ‘Married to A Bedouin’, which I’ve reviewed here at Great Books Reviewed.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Skirt Dilemma

I love wearing skirts and dresses in summer, I do, but what about pockets? I am the proud possessor of two new cotton floaty summer skirts, comfortable, cool and pretty. But as I changed into one, out of my trousers after an incident with the sprinkler, I wondered where on earth I was going to put all the essential detritus from my pockets. Several coins, a tissue, two crystals, one of which is supposed to protect against the ravages of cellphone waves, a purple plastic ring and the car keys were all now homeless.

Now a floaty cotton skirt doesn’t want to be bothered with pockets and loaded down with all that rubbish, it is above such mundane issues. The vest T-shirt that goes with it has no space for junk either and wearing a bum-bag with such an ensemble just ruins the effect. My sister-in-law is famous among the children for carrying her lip balm tucked into her bra, but having the kids fishing down my front for something essential doesn’t appeal to me either.

So the question is to everyone out there, what do you do with all the trouser pocket contents, when you're wearing a skirt? Are you organised enough to carry your handbag everywhere you go and never weigh yourself down with all that in the first place? Or do you go round all summer, like me, without a tissue on hand?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Strawberry Wednesday

Wednesday is strawberry sorting day. They are picked and brought to our house by Ryan’s mum, heaped, gleaming and warm from the sun, in tupperware containers. I then sort through them, packing the firsts in 250g punnets to take to our client tomorrow morning. The seconds, that are pecked by birds, munched by tortoises, deformed by bugs or just not good enough, go into a big bowl to be made into jam another day. The slightly squishy, marginally overripe ones, I eat as I sort, or give to the children when they come begging for just one. They have the best flavour, but won’t keep till tomorrow, either for selling or jam-making.

Today as I sorted through the first container, at least two thirds of the strawberries were not making the grade: twisted, scrunched up with a possible bug inside, pecked, scorched by the sun on the black plastic around the plants. Usually it is the other way round. Two thirds good, a third or less seconds. I recalled my post on Monday, hoping that the universe would allow me a few more batches of jam this season and laughed wryly to myself. I started composing in my mind a post about being careful what you wish for and suspected that there was some mischievous angel gently mocking me! At the rate I was going with the sorting there would be hardly more than a kilo to sell and I’d be up to my ears in jam-making for the next two days.

As I carried on the disjointed musing with Garth Brooks’ nicely corny lyrics - “some of God’s greatest gifts are all too often unanswered prayers” - echoing around the empty recesses of my mind, the ratio of good strawberries improved and by the end I had nearly four kilos for sale and two for jamming, which was just right. I also had consumed an above average number of deliciously overripe berries, flooding my system with vitamin C and antioxidants, which should help with warding off whatever bug is trying to get a hold on me today. So it seems after all there is some rhyme and reason in this crazy world – to quote Garthy (one of my favourite washing-up CDs - how uncool is that!) from the end of the same song “maybe the Lord knows what he’s doing after all”!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Asterix the Educator

Children never cease to amaze me with their ability to retain and synthesise information. Also their uncanny knack for bringing up complex subjects when you are distracted, brain-impaired and in a hurry, so that you have the additional challenge of finding simple and suitable but accurate responses.

Breakfast this morning, the usual school day hustle to get up and out of the house. An impromptu lesson in comparative religion comes out of nowhere:

“Mummy, does everybody in the whole world have Christmas on the same day?” – my six-year-old’s thoughts are never far from the anticipation of Christmas right now.

“Well Christmas is always the same day but not everyone celebrates Christmas.”

“Oh yes, some people don’t celebrate birthdays either” – she ponders, they’ve dealt with the astounding fact of some children not having proper birthdays, as there are a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses at school, who can’t come to birthday parties or eat birthday cake.

“Well there are lots of other religions in the world that don’t believe Jesus is the son of God, and Christmas is his birthday so they don’t celebrate it. They celebrate at different times”

“He was born a long time ago.” She is being Mary in her Nativity play and is thinking herself into her part.

“2006 years ago”, chips in my son who likes to be accurate, “like St John in the year zero.” They were learning about some of the saints last term.

“When there were dinosaurs?”

“No, they didn’t still have dinosaurs then!” My eight year old son is getting a grip on the vastness of time now.

“That was when the ancient Romans ruled a lot of Europe,” I put in, to get time into perspective “like in Asterix......Jesus was born a Jew and they believe in one God. The Romans believed in lots of different gods.”

“Mercury and Jupiter” agrees my son “and Juno.”

Here I obviously look amazed at his knowledge - they haven't touched upon ancient Rome at school.

He explains: "In Asterix the Romans are always saying by Jupiter or by Mercury.”

Here the conversation draws to a close as cereal bowls have been emptied and there is a rush to get dressed and organised for school. My brain reeling, I rewind to check that I haven’t given any inaccurate information, that will be retained and brought out to confound me at a later date. No platitudes or sweeping generalisations are safe in this family, I’m having to sharpen my perceptions and redefine and clarify my own beliefs in order to keep up with my children.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Strawberry Jinx

This time last year I was afloat in a sea of strawberry jam. Our organic strawberries were prolific, we sorted them and sold the best quality, then I was left with all the seconds to jam. Twice a week I would preside over a madly foaming fragrant pot of strawberry syrup as it converted itself into jam and stack the latest jars onto shelves already groaning under the weight of the previous weeks jamming. I sold loads of jam at the local market, gave it away as Christmas presents and still had enough to see us through to the next strawberry season.

This year I have a sneaking suspicion that the universe has taken me at my word with my mild grumblings and reluctance to face up to the labour of another strawberry season, overflowing with brilliant red fruit to sort, process and jam. Plus I committed a crime against frugality by carelessly letting my very first batch of jam burn, so it is fit only for baking. The strawberries started fruiting as normal, but after a week or two went on strike. Instead of the usual 5 or 6 kilo harvest twice a week, we were getting a mere kilo. We just supplied our one customer with whatever there was, ate the seconds ourselves and had none left over for jamming.

Finally the strawberries seem to be picking up again. Their flavour is sweeter than it has been for ages, they are fewer but less affected by bugs than last year and this week I finally had enough to make a batch of jam. Today as I lovingly stood over it, stirring far more often than necessary, determined that this time it would not burn, I was once again seduced by the bright colour, the rich aroma and the prospect of stocking my shelves again. My three jars won’t last us long but maybe if I’m careful not to complain about the extra work and admit that I love it really, the universe will allow me a few more batches of jam before the end of the season.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Stormy Post

Post everyday I will ! That Pomo monster is trying to get me though.A storm has knocked out our phone lines - power cut too this morning. I am writing against time before the next storm gets overhead, at my sister-in-law's house. If we get power back at home I'll edit to write more but for now I'm going to hit that publish button while I can.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Nine Men Morris

This is a game that my son brought home from school. I'd never heard of it before. It is simple enough for a child of 6 or 7 to grasp the rules, but it has the potential for enough fiendish cunning ansd strategy to keep an adult interested. I haven't mastered the finer points of it yet.

Each of two players has nine pieces. White starts and places a piece at any of the intersections or corners of the grid. Black places a piece and you take turns until all the pieces are on the board.

The aim is to get three of your pieces in a row. When you manage that you can choose any piece belonging to your opponent to remove from the game (you cannot take one that is already in a row of three). So you are also trying to stop your opponent gettingthree in a row. Once all the pieces are on the board you take turns moving your pieces one space at a time, still aiming to get three in a row. Usually one person's pieces get decimated fairly quickly, but there is a fall back position. Once you are down to just three pieces you can hop one of your pieces wherever you like on your turn. This can turn your game around. The game ends when one person is down to two pieces and can no longer form a row.

The beauty of this game is that you can play it anywhere. At the beach you could draw the grid in the sand - (three concentric rectangles connected by the four vertical lines) - and use pebbles versus shells as pieces. At home you can draw the grid on paper and use beans or bottletops.

My six year old has mastered the rules and has even on occasion caught me unawares, when I've been trying unobtrusively not to win too easily or to allow her to get ahead, she's suddenly knocked me right out of the game with no mercy. My son of course goes all out to win on all occasions and makes unashamed use of the strategy of moving a counter in and out of a row of three picking off my counters turn after turn. Once I've worked out the secrets of success maybe I'll share them with you...or then again maybe I'll keep them to myself in a devious ploy to win all tournaments when it gets played on the internet!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Kiss Chaste

My daughter has only two more weeks of kindergarten, she is growing up so fast. The school year ends on Dec 1st and next year she'll be going to Big School. Her interview went fine, she wasn't too shy and she is definitely ready for Class 1. Yesterday she glanced sideways in concealed adoration at her big brother and said "Next year I'll be able to see you all the time."

He is taking his duties as older brother seriously and took it upon himself to prepare her for the rigours of the playground by teaching her the finer points of kiss chase today. I kept well out of the way, overhearing things like "You have to kiss him on the lips, then he has to chase you" as I couldn't trust myself not to pour the cold water of parental angst on this necessary rite of passage, which was accompanied by cascades of giggles.

My children are growing up far too quickly now!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Christmas in Summer

Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat. Suddenly we are rehearsing Christmas carols for end of term nativity plays. My son wants to practise 'The Holly and the Ivy' on his recorder. I've dug out my Christmas cake recipe and stocked up on dried fruit and ground almonds for it.

All this festive preparation still seems weird to me coming as it does at the beginning of summer. The long summer holidays lie ahead of us, days of swimming and going to the beach and in the middle of all that a festival that to me says winter, cold, snow, huddling by the fire by candlelight. I think this is the hardest cultural difference to adjust to moving hemispheres. Christmas is such a nostalgia-inducing traditional festival and hot weather just doesn't fit the picture. The Christmas lights are duly strung up in our local town, but we never see them lit as the sun is still shining at bed-time. Mulled wine is best saved for our Midwinter Festival but we do feast on mince pies around Christmas, my sister-in-law being a master hand with melt-in-the-mouth pastry. The traditional turkey and gammon stay on the menu but we usually eat them cold with salads.

For the children this is Christmas though. We wondered about taking them to experience a real English Christmas with Granny and Grandpa one day, and maybe we will, but they might wonder at the thrill of muddy, damp Christmasses in Southern England, not a snowflake falling, dark at four o'clock and never a swimming pool in sight. We're creating a different nostalgia template for them here. One composed of stripey jellies, cutting the tree from our own farm and dragging it to the house only to find it too huge to stand inside even with our generous high ceilings, sewing funny felt tree ornaments for all the family, swimming, beach and braais, picking the last of the strawberries for Christmas lunch and singing Christmas carols by the light of the setting sun rather than candle light.

Every year I leave baking the cake until the week before Christmas and then read in the recipe that I should have baked it months before and wrapped it up, just peeking at it occasionally and dousing it with brandy. I keep telling myself that this year will be different, but convincing myself to bake a Christmas cake when it's hot outside is hard..I never really believe deep down that it is going to be Christmas until the last minute. I hereby promise myself to bake that cake before the end of November, as for Christmas cards....will email ones do? That last posting date for overseas always comes before I've even sprinkled the glitter near a bright coloured piece of card, usually we put together a digital montage of pics of our delightul offspring and email it to all our friends and family on Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve on some years. Six weeks left though - plenty of time - remind me again in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Musical Hats

With all these different Hats to don, today has gone by in a blur of metaphorical millinery.

I started off in Kindergarten Hat. The morning was not quite a smooth as yesterday. The day’s grace accorded guest teachers had been used up and the boys decided to test boundaries a little – just the odd surreptitious bounce off the walls and each other to see what I would do. Holding them all in my consciousness felt more like being pregnant with twins busy kicking and elbowing at the walls of the womb.

The main feature of outside play was a snail race, with the construction of an elaborate track of bark and some slices of log as the winners circle. Much pushing and prodding, lifting up and redirecting was necessary to cajole the snails into competing.


Home to a brief respite in ordinary Mum Hat before putting on Photographer Hat at a jaunty digital angle to resize and fit into a template all the school photos that I took last week. We had a false start with Fireworks on the weekend and had to redo the template in Photoshop to get a better resolution for printing. I did one class of 19 before my bottom became numb and I got up to find it was past four o'clock already.

I flung away that Hat and reached for the billowy, floury Baker number. I’d baked yesterday but we seem to have eaten all three loaves already, so to avert a crisis tomorrow morning it had to be done. Once a batch of Rye Bread was rising I glanced across at the yawningly empty biscuit tin – in for a penny, in for a pound – might as well do a batch of biscuits while I’m at it. Then some dough for pizza for supper, I think this hat must have some extra energy tabs in it. All this to then collapse in a heap, only to remember the NaBloPoMo monster. With no lyrical prose on the go there was nothing for it but to catalogue my day of musical hats, except... bother... I never got round to giving Numerology Hat a twirl today.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Kindergarten Hat

Something out there in the universe has decreed that I shall try on numerous unaccustomed hats recently. I’m being eased out of my full time mother role and forced to take a look at the big wide world outside. Not all that far outside really, no further than my children’s schools. I wasn’t proactive about any of these experiences, in fact I hung back, looking round to see if any one else would volunteer first. When they didn’t I took a deep breath and stepped forward to accept the profferred hat.

In the last week I’ve tried on School Photographer Hat, Numerology Hat and today Kindergarten Teacher Hat. Our teacher at the little Waldorf kindergarten here had to be away for a few days this week. It was a choice between no school, or me taking school.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Maybe the kids would take one look at me and riot, realising that I wasn’t the genuine teacher article? Would I get in trouble with them for doing things ‘wrong’? In fact it all went fairly smoothly. They are so accustomed to the rhythm of their mornings that when it is time to tidy up after craft, drawing and free play, all it took was for one of them to start singing the ‘tidy gnome’ song and they all gradually joined in the tidying and in ten minutes the whole place looked spick and span. Now why doesn’t that work at home?

After an optional procession to the toilet it was Ring Time. The allotted task was practising Christmas carols for their end of term ‘play’. A few more rounds of some ring games ensued, then it was time to take snacks outside for a picnic. This is inspired on the teacher’s part, as it saves yet another tidy up of crumbs and spilt juice inside, and runs seamlessly into outside play time.
The girls spent at least three-quarters of an hour working hard to demolish a huge log, picking off great chunks of ‘gold’ with the trowels and observing the scurry of ants and beetles as their hiding place was revealed. A couple of the boys took over the watering from me and mostly managed to water the plants rather than each other. The slide proved irresistable in conjunction with the hose though!

I was sitting there thinking that this was a complete doddle, but then reflected that this was mostly due to the teacher’s hard work initially to get all the routines established. By the end I suddenly felt quite tired, not from any great physical or mental exertions but from the constant holding all the children in my consciousness, just being aware of them all the time. It requires a different sort of energy to be a kindergarten teacher, similar to that of a mother of young children, except that for the span of a morning without any other claims on your attention, you can be the perfect mother, patient and and gentle, using humour to deflect tantrums or squabbles. The only problem seems to be that by the time I got home I found that I had used up all my reserves of those qualities for the day, so the kids had short shrift thereafter.

I’ve got another two days of it, which I will enjoy, but I don’t think I’d want to take it on long term. The pace and feel of it is the same as the mother space that I’m just emerging from, trying to get my brain back up to speed in the adult world. Kindergarten would be lulling me back into dream time again. I might wake up to find a hundred years had passed by!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Stubborn? Not me!

I’m determined, you’re stubborn, he is pig-headed.

There seems to be a lot of stubborness going around these days. Last week Charlotte and Nicolle both wrote about their daughters’ determined natures. Mine are also like that. This started me on a new theory. Everyone is actually pretty stubborn. It’s a universal human characteristic. Look around you. Do you know any placid, biddable children, who do what they are asked without digging in their heels? I can’t think of any of our acquaintance. Some may be a bit better trained in toeing the line but all of them are capable of strong demonstrations of stubborness.

One part of the numerology course yesterday could account for today’s children being extra stubborn. The numbers from the date of birth are entered into a grid and full or empty lines, noughts and crosses style, reveal certain character traits. The early years of this century with all the noughts and little variety of numbers means that a lot of young children could be without the numbers 4,5,6 in the grid. That line empty shows a predisposition to stubborness. Lo and behold both my daughters have that empty line. The numbers for their name make up for it, by balancing out the grid but the stubborness is there all right. This left me wondering about my son, who was born in May 1998. Stubborness not indicated there, but he is also hard to sway from his opinions...a full diagonal line for 1,5,9, indicates determination – the positive face of stubborness.

The parents in this family also have that determined streak, so we end up with loads of stand-offs in our daily life.

If you know of any compliant, sweet-natured, biddable children do let me know, but this is my theory and I’m sticking to it...regardless!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Numbers

Today I went to an intensive one day Numerology course. I fully expected my brain to be fried by the end and it was. We started off gamely adding lists of numbers in our heads but by the end it was a struggle to add two and two. I'll write about it one day when it has all had time to sink in and be absorbed and synthesised. For now I've had all the cerebral activity I can take today, so even this writing is in danger of blowing a fuse or two. I need to re-acquaint myself with the sofa and some nice, undemanding library book for the evening. The scintillating prose will have to wait yet another day!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

La Meme Chose

Following Jen at Coasting Richly and Charlotte at Charlotte's Web, I am abandoning any idea of writing scintillating prose and succumbing to the lures of the meme.

1. Explain what ended your last relationship
He sensibly realised that we were both just filling in time till we met our real soul mates. I met my husband later that same year.

2. When was the last time you shaved?
This morning. It's a summery Saturday, my official day for washing my hair and using up all the hot water for my shower. There isn't enough time in the week, as I'm not one to get up early in order to attend to my appearance. Our hot water tank wouldn't stand for it either and my husband doesn't like cold showers!

3. What were you doing at 8am today?
Laying the table for breakfast, after having read everyone's blogs. I woke up early, which was annoying as on Saturdays we can lie in bed late till eight o'clock, while the children stew their brains on Animal Planet and Disney DVDs.

4. What were you doing 15 minutes ago?
Resizing the school photos that I took on Thursday and learning more than I ever thought I'd need to know about Fireworks.

5. Are you any good at maths?
Afraid so, or at least I used to be. I chose it as an A'level subject, cos I thought it'd be a doddle and was slightly peeved to find I had to work at it to get through my exams without disgracing myself. Now I don't do any Maths stuff but I'm fine around numbers.

6. Your prom night?
We didn't really have one, unless you count the Leavers Dance which as far as I remember was a non-event. There wasn't any of the glamourous date or dress wow factor.

7. Do you have any famous ancestors?
No. I do remember thinking for a long time that I had a great grandfather who was a butler, which I thought was quite fun. Then it turned out his surname was Butler - nothing like as interesting!

8. Did you have to take out a loan for university?
I was one of the last generation in England who still automatically got grants and tuition fees paid regardless of parental circumstances. Mine was the minimum grant, which meant my father had to provide more for living expenses, but I emerged debt free for which I am suitable grateful.

9. Do you know the words to the song on your Myspace profile?
Do I have one?

10. Last thing received in the mail?
Tax statement

11. What beverages have you had today?
Rooibos tea x 4

12. Do you leave messages on people’s answering machines.
Usually, unless I suddenly turn blank and can't think what to say.

13. Whom did you lose your CONCERT virginity to?
Can't remember if it was Brian Adams or Motorhead. I only ever used to go with my younger brother, so it reflects his taste rather than mine!

14. Do you draw your name in the sand when you go to the beach?
Yes. And the children's and play hangman and doodle patterns.

15. What is the most painful dental procedure you have ever had?
I'm fairly lucky in that my wisdom teeth came through late and turned out to be pathetic undersized specimens. It was OK under local anaesthetic.

16. What is out your back door?
A ficus, struggling, because the patch of earth at the back of the house doesn't seem to be a good place for trees.

17. Any plans for Friday night?
Friday night is DVD night with my sister-in-law. Yesterday she got out 'The Lake House' which we hadn't heard about but was great. Complicated time dislocation plot, romance, well acted and it keeps your brain engaged with the intricacies of the plot.

18. Do you like what the ocean does to your hair?
Not really. I didn't grow up with sea, salt and sun, rather earth, wind and rain. I have long hair and it gets tangled and sticky. What a wuss I am!

19. Have you ever received one of those big tins with three different kinds of popcorn?
Don't even know what they are.

20. Have you ever been to a planetarium?
Nope. There is one in Cape Town and I'll take the kids one day.

21. Do you re-use towels after you shower?
I'm also amazed that anyone doesn't - unless it is asking if I use them to mop the floor or fashion them into a fetching turban, both of which sometimes.

22. Some things you are excited about
I'm going on a numerology workshop tomorrow, a surprise early Christmas present from my sister-in-law. Excited to be stretching my brain in new directions after all these years of pure motherhood. Also excited about writing so much, for my blog, articles etc. It seems the brain likes the exercise.

23. Your favourite Jello flavour
I quite like the stripey jellies I make for Christmas, purely for the nostalgia element. It just tastes Christmassey to me.

24. Describe your key chain
I just use the standard- issue beeper thing that operates the car alarm. It is quite satisfyingly ergonomic though.

25. Where do you keep your change?
Useful silver in my wallet. Those annoying 5c go into a bowl with a candle in it. It's supposed to show the Universe that we're taking care off the pennies and would like the pounds to take care of themselves. I hope it will start taking effect soon!

26. What winter coat do you own?
A dark blue wool duffel coat that was a hand-me-down from the friend of a friend in London years ago. Winter here isn't so cold that I wear one out often enough to replace it and it is warm and comfortable.

27. What was the weather like on your graduation day?
Can't really remember - I think blustery but dry.

28. Do you sleep with your bedroom door open or closed?
Open for the same reasons as Charlotte, otherwise we'd have to get up every five minutes for the dogs, cats and even the children.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Born in the Bathroom

The children have been much taken with the idea of visiting England, since Granny and Grandpa’s visit to us. It suddenly seems like a possibility that we’ll be able to go the year after next, with the help of the grandparents’ enormous air-miles credit earned by visiting us over the years. Our son has worked out how old they’ll all be and is planning on being a brilliant soccer player by then, so he’ll be able to impress the children in Granny and Grandpa’s village with his prowess.

Overheard this morning at breakfast time:

Son:”I remember England cos I’ve lived there”

Daughter: ”I know England too, I was born there. You’ve never been to England. You were born here.”

Youngest retorts emphatically: “I wasn’t born here, I was born in Suzie’s bathroom!”

This is one incontrovertible fact that she can cling to, in the face of their one-upmanship. She knows exactly where she was born, can go and see the spot any day she wants.

She is the child that bridges our old life with the new. She was conceived on our last night together in our London house. We knew we wanted a third child, but were waiting, to be sensible, until we got settled over here in South Africa. I really didn’t want to move continents while pregnant. On our last night we threw caution to the winds, after all we’d be there soon, so let fate decide. Fate did. I was pregnant while moving, but only just and I didn’t yet know it.

We were very happy to have number three on the way but it did rather put pressure on us to get our house built as soon as possible. My sister-in law had very generously vacated her cottage and moved into our caravan on the farm until our house would be ready. We thought it would take six months, so might just be finished in time for our baby to be born in our new house. Very neat, or so we thought. In the way of all building projects though, it took much longer than expected (and of course cost more, never believe anyone who tells you different!). The foundations were laid in autumn, poles and roof went up next, but for the walls we had to wait until the harvest brought fresh straw bales in November. What was available in winter had already been exposed to the elements for too long and musty straw isn’t the best thing to build your house with. So we waited and while we waited youngest’s due date approached.

We planned a home birth and found a wonderful, confidence-inspiring midwife. My older daughter had been born at home in London, so that made it easier to envisage a home birth on a farm at least 40 minutes from the hospital. We did wonder slightly what we would do with the kids in the small, open-plan cottage while the birth was going on, but my two sisters-in-law would be able to whisk them off if necessary. In the end there was no need to worry. The contractions started at the children’s bedtime. We told them to go to sleep, it would take a long time till their sister arrived. So they did.

We summoned the midwife straight away and she made it here with half an hour to spare, as our youngest daughter arrived in under an hour and a half...in Suzie’s bathroom. The children miraculously slept through all the groans and moans and comings and goings. Our midwife did brilliantly. Having seen how fast things were going she’d told her partner not to bother coming and oversaw the whole birth and welcoming of the new baby serenely, warmly and unhurriedly. My sisters-in-law were able to come straight over and see their new niece while she was still attached to me and then hold her while I was being seen to. Then a bath by candlelight for me and the baby. The children woke up the next morning to find their baby sister had arrived and could get straight into bed with us. It was such a wonderful experience for all of us, made easier for me because it was so quick..if we’d planned a hospital birth she might well have been born in the car!

All this to say that she might not have experienced England yet, but she has very strong roots here on our farm...in Suzie’s bathroom!


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Faking It

Today I tentatively tried on a new hat - School Photographer for the day. I had a hard act to follow - my husband did the photos at our son's school last year and as a professional photographer set a standard way beyond normal school photo levels. Unfortunately the whole job took up quite a lot of time, not the taking of the photos but the digital resizing, compiling and printing of the photos afterwards. Being a perfectionist he also retouched all the incipient teenage acne and blemishes, effectively providing them with a studio portrait.

So this year, with him being too busy, they asked me. I'm technically fairly competant with a camera, knowing my apertures and depths of field and stuff, and have the benefit of access to a decent camera, excellent advice and a kind of absorption by osmosis of photographic techniques, but I suffered a degree of anxiety about the other part of the job. There is more to people photography than exposing correctly and clicking the shutter release. What my husband is so good at is getting a rapport going with the subject, relaxing them and so getting a natural smile rather than a plastered on mask of a grimace. Not to mention the organising of a hundred people into a whole school group shot.

So feeling a little apprehensive I hustled us all out of the house in good time, dropped off the strawberries to sell at the farm stall, my six year old at the kindergarten and met my kind husband at the school, where he was going to help me set up. He checked the cameras for me, took a few trial shots and with a reassuring "You'll be fine" left me to it. In the end it was fine. He'd chosen the right outside spot with a background of dappled sunshine on leaves, with the subject in shade, set the camera for fill in flash to soften the shadows, so all I was left to do was to coax an approximation of a smile out of each child. Some of them looked like I was torturing them, then would smile beautifully just when the camera flash was recharging.

I had youngest along with me. She spent most of the time sitting under the tripod, only occasionally saying she wanted to go home. When we did get home I immediately downloaded the whole lot with trepidation. Would there be a usable photo for each child? There was. Maybe room for improvement to reach my husband's high standards, but good enough and as I am no perfectionist myself that will be good enough. Now all I have to do is crop, resize, fit into a template and print eighty or so portraits and class photos. Luckily my husband is also an expert on the necessary computer skills so I'll be learning fast over the weekend.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What Mums like to eat

Today's post comes from my four year old's perspective

Mums like:
Crusts from sandwiches, but not if they’re sandy.
Half eaten apples.
The crusty end of a rusk still slighty soft from dunking in her tea.
Tea full of mushy crumbs.
Little bits of vegetables from the soup.
Those mints from pizza restaurants, that I sucked once and didn’t like cos it was too strong.
Soggy cereal, when she has to take me to the loo, just when she’s poured her milk.
The cones of ice-creams when I’ve licked the ice cream too far down to reach.
I think Mum likes cake and biscuits and chocolate too!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Interview at Big School

Today my six year old is going for her interview for ‘big school’. She knows the school from picking up her brother, she knows the teacher who is the mother of two of his friends, so her experience will be completely different from his interview two years ago. For him our little Waldorf school seemed a huge place teeming with large kids, after his tiny kindergarten. The teacher seemed stern and alarming and when he found out that he was expected to be alone in the room without me for his interview he dissolved into sobs and clung to me, completely unable to recover his equilibrium.

We rescheduled with another teacher and I was allowed to sit in on his interview. He did fine, taking each task very seriously and concentrating, as if his life depended on it. He was asked to do a drawing and reproduced in huge detail a picture that he had seen on the wall in the Class 4 room the previous week at the aborted interview. Even through his emotional outpouring he had been taking in detail of what the big children did, remembered and reproduced what he thought was expected of big school children! I remember him being asked to climb on a table ( a test of coordination, I guess), the teacher casually said “ OK now you can hop down”. With a frown of concentration he balanced himself on one leg and hopped off the table, landing rather clumsily...this whole big school thing may be mystifying but he was going to do it! The teacher had only wanted him to jump down but you have to be exact with your words around my son.

My daughter is showing a few signs of anxiety: the other night she said she dreamt she did a drawing for the teacher but it wasn’t very good; this morning she looked sideways at me and wondered if she would feel shy with the teacher. I won’t be able to go in with her, as I’ll have youngest with me and Ryan our employee’s son is also having his interview, so I’ll be outside with them. I think she’ll be fine though. The second child gets the benefit of their older sibling forging a way through the wilderness of unexplored life and has a slightly easier time following in their tracks. They do have the constant urge to catch up though, always slightly behind, so it all balances out in the end..

This milestone brings home how quickly the children are growing. My daughter is now the big girl in kindergarten, helping the teacher, knowing all the routines. Youngest is still holding back though, hanging on as long as she can to being the baby still at home and not quite ready to take that huge step back into school.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Fluff’s Story


Once upon a time as a kitten, Fluff had a proper boy’s name. He was christened Freddy. Very soon though he succumbed to the nickname, something to do with his wonderfully fluffy tail and general all-round soft purriness. He was our first animal in the days before the children arrived, when we were subconsciously trying out for parenthood, so with a lot of attention lavished on him, he soon showed his remarkable personality. He was a true 'boy', uncomplicated and loving but a thug too and he loved eating banana and broccoli. One month later we felt sorry for him being an only cat and got him a sibling, a black cat who we called Horatia. She poor thing got landed with the nickname 'Horror'. Fluff was not impressed by her arrival and for a few days used to leap on top of her, squashing her flat. After a while they decided to call a truce and cuddle up together.

In those days we lived in our photographic studio in London. It was in a semi-industrial yard surrounded on three sides by railway tracks. Fluff became Urban Cat, padding over the rooftops at night, socialising with the photographers and models using the studio by day. Our lives became more domesticated once the children arrived and eventually we moved in to a house. We worried about moving the cats from the studio – they were studio cats with an important role to play in the rodent department and we also knew we’d be moving to South Africa sooner or later. Would they make the transition to rural farm cat in Africa, coming up against snakes and worst of all farm dogs (they were both terrified of dogs)? Maybe it would be kinder to leave them at the studio where they were at home, where they had grown up?

Eventually, reassured by the vet that cats are adaptable animals, we decided that they were too much part of our family to leave behind. They moved to our suburban house and two years later, joined us on our great move to Africa. Friends, or shall I say acquaintances, thought we were barmy paying good money to transport two furry creatures all that way, when we could have got new ones on arrival....

The plans were laid. We would fly out first, travel to visit family for a month, then the friend who was staying on in our London house would despatch the cats to join us. Paperwork was completed, the house packed up, children bundled up and we flew into our future.

Two months later we heard that our cats had been booked on a flight. Then that they were on the way. We were full of anxiety for them. How frightening it must be to be bundled in a box, surrounded by strangers, strange noises and smells. Had we done the right thing?

The next morning we had a phone call from the airline. Apologetically the representative relayed the news. “Your one cat has arrived, but the other escaped at Heathrow...”

Escaped! How could he possibly escape, which cat was it, what was happening to him? Horrible visions of our baby wandering loose in a terrifying environment trying to find his way home..we should have left him at the studio after all.

We were reassured that he was contained in a warehouse in Terminal 4, that he couldn’t get out and would be caught soon. The airline personally escorted the cat that had arrived, who turned out to be Horry. So Fluff was the escapee!

For three days, our personal airline representative called us twice a day to let us know that there was no news yet. We appreciated her calls, better having her call than not, but we were getting desperate.

On the fourth day she had good news for us. He was found! At Terminal 1. At least 13km over runways, among aeroplanes taking off, taxiing and landing, our Fluff had trekked, in completely the wrong direction for home, but perhaps all those radio waves confused his internal homing device. He was bruised, paws worn raw, airfuel burns on his belly and scratches, but he was alive! He spent the weekend at the vets' and then another month with our friend to recuperate before being flown out to us. He was escorted out to our farm, personally by our stalwart rep, who was not too scared to phone even with no news. We expected a sad, shivering wreck, but as soon as his cage door was opened, out he came, tail up, purring!

Since then he has taken on his new environment with aplomb. There is not a dog who will mess with Fluff. They cringe if he approaches. He takes unkind advantage of this by lying in wait on a kitchen chair and swiping at their noses when they pass too close. One of the border collies is obsessive about him, she is desperate to chase him and quivers as she points at him. He stares her out and if he gets bored of the staring match will charge her, sending her whimpering down the hill. He knows who’s boss!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Inner Voice


Embrace the unexpected

Explore the side roads that meander away from the wide main road

Listen to the suggestions the universe whispers in your ear

Deviate from your plan and discover a better one.

Detail of a decorative ceramic plate by Rodney Blumenfeld