Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy Christmas

Wishing you all a wonderful and joyful Christmas time!

This picture sums up a summer Christmas for me. A miniscule smidgen of cake consumed alongside copious slices of watermelon for a late tea, followed by a gentle stroll around the farm just after the sun had gone down. It was cool enough to have a hot Christmas lunch with roast potatoes, bread sauce and the whole caboodle, so we indulged mightily until we could scarcely move. I'm happy to say that we managed to make more inroads into the cake this morning, with the help of visiting family, and are dealing well with the leftovers.

The fridge should be nice and empty by the time we go off on holiday on Sunday. A week away at a house in Knysna, near beaches, lagoons and boats and more family... then two days on safari, for our first time ever, all courtesy of my mother who is staying with us now. We have to pack lightly with six of us in the car, but I'm going to find room for some of the art materials that I got for Christmas and have a play with paints and pastels.

The children got Twister for Christmas and so are now in a tangled heap on the ground, amid constructions of 'Planx' (another present that Dad has also been enjoying), and wearing sparkly princess jewels and dresses (not Dad though).

The star on top of the Christmas tree is bowing lower as the tree wilts slightly in the dry air. We'll leave it up when we go and come back to a needleless tree skeleton probably, but it would be too sad to take it down so soon. We get back on the 6th, so it will be the first thing we do when we come home, putting away the decorations and sweeping every last needle out of the house on the last day of Christmas.

In case I don't get back to my blog before then I'll say Happy New Year now too. May it be peaceful, prosperous and full of happy surprises!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Trees

At last I am starting to feel a bit Christmas-y. It's the scent of pine that does it. First of all we cut some branches of a wonderful, almost lemoney smelling, pine for the children's nativity scene, which has taken over the fireplace. It's way too hot to gather around a log fire here, so the fire place has been turned into a stage for Mary and Joseph, who are tortuously making their way day by day, painfully slowly, to the stable at the front. An angel is sitting on the roof with the baby Jesus. The plan was to suspend her from a wire on the chimney, which needed Dad's expertise to attach, and then lower her a tiny bit every day until she alighted on the roof on Christmas Eve. But she is quite happy lolling on the roof with the babe in her arms and Dad has been busy on other things, so there she has stayed throughout Advent.

We chose our tree carefully from the ones flourishing at the back of the farm. There were loads of big ones and loads of tiny self-seeded baby pines, but it took us ages to find a good shaped tree the right size this year. In the end we decided on a siamese twin tree. Two trees had grown so close together that they made one tree, so we cut them together and they are now looking festive, if slightly drunken from some angles.

The two dolls houses both got a tree this year. There were so many seedlings that we just pulled a couple up for the doll's house family to celebrate with.

We had our Summer festival yesterday, which was lovely, so now there is nothing else between now and Christmas. I anticipate a flurry of making marzipan and icing the cake, wrapping presents, painting the rest of my presents and finishing off last bits of work.

The other Christmassey scent of smoked gammon, which has been tantalising me every time I open the fridge, will pervade the whole house on Christmas Eve, when I am going to cook the hams, mingling with clove notes and cidery fumes, and we'll have them cold with salads and cold turkey on the day itself. Cinnamon will find its way into the couscous salad, aslo filled with mang and toasted almonds, so those traditional spices redolent of Christmas will still get a look in despite the hot weather.

Hope you are all having a wonderful lead up to Christmas!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Christmas Heat

Feeling Hot hot hot!
It’s 38 degrees C out there and was hotter yesterday – summer has come blasting in, making it hard to think of Christmas. Baking and spicy scents of cinnamon pervading the house just don’t really work when you are melting in the shade. Candles, firelight and warming spiced food are so much part of the Christmas atmosphere to me that it is hard to get in the mood sometimes.

Christmas carols waft through the house, shimmering like snowflakes: ‘earth stood hard as iron, frosty wind made moan’. They demand huge leaps of the imagination, as we swelter in T-shirts trying to think of a Christmas present to make that does not involve sewing felt – just thinking about felt makes me hot.

Christmas as a hot weather festival hasn’t really made it into my sub-conscious – here people take off for the beach and have big barbeques for Christmas, but it just don’t feel right to me! I need turkey and ham, Christmas cake and mince pies, candles and frosty carols... here’s wishing for cooler weather, so I can restore the illusion of Christmas festivities for my inner child!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Camping Rediscovered - Part 2

My husband is fond of quoting his father’s adage “Any fool can be uncomfortable”. This means that camping for him is not a matter of roughing it, but more about assembling the barest minimum of comforts and then adding some more. As we are at the beginning of our camping career we haven’t got anything like the amount of equipment that would create a home from home, and not enough space in the car to transport it. Last weekend though our friends had suggested a weekend foray to a beautiful place in the mountains that we’d heard about from all and sundry, and rashly we agreed to go even though end of term madness was in full flow.

So into the car went the tent that their aunt had just bought for the children for Christmas in honour of the class camp. Out went the borrowed family-size tent that took up half the luggage space in the car and didn’t allow room for the foam mattresses. Back in went the mattresses taking up 2/3 of the available space. A mental shopping list was started there and then: item number 1 – blow up mattresses.

An ill-timed stop off in our local town to buy rolls for lunch and a camping lamp delayed our journey a bit – it happened to be the last Saturday of the month, when the whole world flocks to town and queues at the cashpoints to draw out their wages, then potters through the super-markets en famille.

However the mountains aren’t too far away for us – only and hour and a half, so a game of I-spy and a packet of Sugus (Opal fruit type sweets) was enough to get us there fairly painlessly.

And the reward was the wonderful view from our tent.

Mountain rock pools, with accommodating tadpoles willing to be caught and relocated, cool breezes and sunshine, shady trees in a space a long way from anywhere much. All those rocks and mountain streams created a powerful energy – peaceful and deep.

Older bones are less resilient than they used to be and sleep harder won these days. The foam mattresses weren’t quite thick enough to make-up for the sounds of late-night revelers nearby; for Youngest, nappy free at last, who didn’t make it through the night and had to move into Dad’s sleeping bag half way through; for the barking dogs, which belonged to the campers who had set up their tent next to the ablution block and which decided that it belonged to them, defending it volubly against any night-time wanderers in search of the toilets; for the guinea fowl, who provided an resounding dawn chorus in the trees close by. If you have never heard guinea fowl, think peacocks, or roosters that are off-key and competing with each other – they are Loud. Nature in the raw also provided backing vocals by the Haadedaas, whose strident call sounds like the name they bear.

A rather grumpy set of adults emerged to greet the stunning dew splashed view of the sunrise. The list of essential shopping before the next camping foray grew longer: chairs; a second tent for Mum and Dad to sleep alone; extra thick blow-up mattresses; ear-plugs.

Tea and rusks in early morning sunshine helped restore a little equilibrium and the children had a great time, plus it is a beautiful place that we would like to go back another time to explore some more. But in the end the best thing about camping is the wonderful night’s sleep that you get, when you arrive home exhausted from fresh air and sleep deprivation, to crash out at 8.30 in the comfort of your own bed and sleep without stirring until morning!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Camping Rediscovered - Part 1

This has been a week of discovering the joys and discomforts of camping. Having never spent a night under canvas since my teens, I suddenly had two consecutive bookings for a night out in nature.

The first was my son’s class camp, that I was inveigled along to, as a parent helper: a night away with 24 kids and only just enough tents at a campsite on the beach, with 30 loaves of bread and a ton of sausage to sustain us.

It was a beautiful campsite, literally on the beach, with flat grassy lots to pitch our tents and an ablution block with hot running water – luxury compared with the camping of my youth, which was more of the scout camp, roughing it variety.

All I had to do was keep an eye on the kids and make sure that none of them headed out to sea, help pitch tents, which are a whole lot easier to put up these days than I remembered, with their pop up poles and so on.; plus try my hand at lighting the fire and braaiing half the shed-load of sausage that fond parents had sent along to make sure their cherished offspring wouldn’t starve.

My husband is usually the one to braai in our house, as a good South African male - it is a gender thing! But I hadn’t watched in vain and managed to produce a decent fire and cook the sausage without charring it too much. One tent had been forgotten at home and another turned out not to have the right poles, so the boys were re-allocated six to a tent, fitting in like sardines in a tin.

With the beach right there at hand we hardly had to organise any activities at all - they went from collecting crabs and coralling them with seaweed, to making kelp horns, to fishing, to splashing in the chilly water, to playing cricket and finding starfish. The girls, on the verge of adolescence, seemed to dive into the showers at every opportunity and spend ages in their tents eating chips and trying on make-up, until chased back out onto the beach, turning back into children again as they splashed in the water and dug in the sand.

I had a foreshadowing of what it will be like in a couple of years when Middle Daughter reaches that age and wanted to stop the clock and make these childhood years last longer...

A day full of unremitting sun and salt exhausted them enough for them to sleep eventually, once scary stories had been told and screeched over, until their teacher patrolled the tents to quiet the chatter at 10 o’clock. I managed to find a reasonably comfortable sleeping position on my foam mattress and the sound of the waves on the shore lulled me to sleep too, though dawn broke far too soon.

I felt sorry for the young couple who had set up camp on a deserted site earlier that day only to have us arrive and shred the peace and quiet with girly screeches and boyish hollering, as the bunch of 10 and 11 year-olds took over the air waves. They were up at dawn packing up their tent and trying to get a recalcitrant bakkie started, and I watched them push start it with a slightly guilty feeling, while I endlessly stirred a pot of 30 eggs in an attempt to scramble them for breakfast without burning them into an inedible mess.

A sunburned lip was my souvenir of the trip – Botox for free – plus a fine collection of shells. Our son brought home about forty stones he’d collected on the beach, weighing down his rucksack until it could hardly be lifted, plus sunburnt feet and backs of legs that made him tired and cranky on the second morning. I was relieved that we were having one night at home in our own beds before setting off on out first ever family camping trip.

Part 2 tomorrow, when far less sleep was had by all!