Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Where I am from

I've been reading these wonderful 'I am from' poems on a few blogs recently (Coasting Richly, Toddled Dredge, Owlhaven) and they make such a wonderful writing project and recollection of childhood, as well as a family scrapbook of words that I was inspired to have a go too. If my brother is reading - check out the template first and have a go, then we can compare our memories and I'd love to see everybody else's version too.

Where I am from

I am from crammed bookshelves,
from Ready Brek, Marmite and Club biscuits.
I am from the warm, ham-stone manor house on a hill,
transformed into a school,
the sound of a hundred pairs of feet in long corridors,
in the holidays just my own echoing quietly,
from climbing over the roofs and carving my name in the lead,
and deep yew hedges to hide in with a book.

I am from the beech woods dropping golden, coppery coins in autumn,
gleaming new conkers, blackberries and sweet chestnuts,
from the snowdrops and primroses heralding spring,
from blossom and daffodils, buttercups and daisies.

I am from blazing log fires and huge Christmas trees in the hall,
Mullens, Hoares, Freres and Wachers gathered together,
the carol concert from King’s College, Cambridge resonating along corridors,
from treasure hunts and the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

I am from the car packed up and ready to go half an hour early for holidays,
from reading maps and planning routes, avoiding crowds and busy roads.
From simmer down, there’ll be tears before bedtime
and switch the light on to read by or you’ll strain your eyes.

I am from an old Norman church every Sunday,
grassy graveyard with ancient tombstones and a massive yew tree.

I'm from Somerset, roast beef and crispy roast potatoes,
trifle, apple crumble and apricot ambrosia,
from weighing out ingredients for baking
on huge old-fashioned balance scales
and scooping flour from an enormous bin,
from an old bunch of housekeepers keys to unlock the larders,
the irresistible, illicit taste of dried fruit mix purloined.

I am from Flanders and Swann, Gilbert and Sullivan
and classical music on the gramophone to send us to sleep.

From the one grandmother awe inspiring,
creating perfect English country gardens,
other Grandpa playing pontoon with us,
mischievously betting four shells or none,
and Granny shopping in a Morris Minor,
spoiling us with home-made ice-cream and Golden Nuggets.

I am from family photo albums
and boxes of pre-war slides of holidays driving around France,
studio portraits posed and retouched,
standing framed on the chest of drawers,
a reminder that all these ancestors
were young once too.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Clothes Line Zen

Here’s a picture of my 15 year old drying rack, to add to Jenny - Prairie Farmeress’ Clothes line Zen theme! This is the Italian clothes drying rack that travelled back to London with me after a season working in Italy. It worked hard holding clothes to dry next to radiators in corridors through several different flats and houses there and has since accompanied us all the way to South Africa. Getting a little rickety in its old age it can still accommodate a whole wash, when necessary. Great for rainy days and to supplement our clothes line on mega wash days. I don’t know what I’ll do when its hinges eventually give way to gravity. Maybe I’ll have to start importing them from Europe!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Father’s Day and Stray Cats

Yesterday wasn’t Father’s Day officially, but it was in our house! The previous Sunday we’d had a house full of guests for our Midwinter Celebration and I’d been too focussed on that, to supervise the drawing of cards and breakfast in bed, so my husband missed out. The children decided that we’d do it this Sunday instead. My daughter insisted on sewing a felt picture of flowers and stars, my son had brought back a picture from school and youngest decided to formally present him with her book of drawings from kindergarten. Then there was a scurrying back and forth between kitchen and bedroom with offerings of a cut up orange, cereal, hot chocolate, toast and honey (which skidded across the plate, in youngest’s enthusiastic delivery, landing honey side down on the duvet of course!). The best present had been that they all woke up late at half past seven, so a lie-in was had by all!

Friends were coming for Sunday lunch, so the leisurely start to the morning was abandoned at 10 o'clock, to running aroung tidying the house, getting the casserole cooking in a slightly snappy mood (I’d started off first thing, by bleary-eyed putting my slipper into some dog poo, in the middle of the kitchen, our elderly dog generously distributing it around the house at night, so my sense of humour was challenged from the start!).

Anyway lunch was achieved, equilibrium restored. Before coffee I go through the playroom in the middle of the house and am hit with a wall of stench – cat spray...yeugh! In the spare bathroom too. Our cats are neutered and generally don’t do this , so I knew it was the ugly stray tom, that is trying to move in. We usually leave the upstairs windows open for our cats to go in and out over the roof, but this gives access to all the open underroof space and I’ve seen him curled up on the insulation there, giving me a “so what are you going to do about it" look. Our cats don’t seem to defend their territory at all, probably being neutered they’re lower in the pecking order and don’t have much say, or possibly they’re saintly Buddhist cats, what’s mine is yours, please help yourself to my food there’s plenty for all. Luckily it’s a sunny day, so we all go for a stroll, as the smell is pervading the whole house by now.

As soon as our friends have left I go onto the internet to find out what to use – mopping with disinfectant had no effect whatsoever. I find a FAQ page full of suggestions ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous – vinegar, peroxide, others saying that home remedies don’t work and you must buy this really expensive product (possibly a vested interest there, seeing as it has a link to the product website) and other weirdos who just seem to enjoy talking about pee and poo. I had to discount all the product recommendations anyway, the chance of finding a shop open here, selling American products on a Sunday afternoon is nil. I went with the vinegar suggestion. 3 parts vinegar to one part water, sploshed onto the area, covered with plastic so it doesn’t evaporate and left overnight. It worked! Hurray! So now I have to do the same in the spare bathroom and we’ll have a sweet smelling house again, a little vinegary perhaps but a heap better. The upstairs windows are closed, our cats have a litter tray at night and I’ll have to be vigilant about him sauntering in through the door in broad daylight, which he may well have the cheek to do, as once he’s in there are too many inaccessible places for him to hide.

In case you think I should be as saintly as our cats and adopt the poor homeless creature, let me explain. Our farm has given homes already to two stray kittens, who managed to produce a family even before we thought they could, so they and two of their offspring live in my sister-in law’s house. Another ginger tom showed up and demanded board and lodging at my other sister-in-law’s house, he was duly neutered but is still pretty full of fight. We have our two London cats and share one of the offspring who likes to eat at both houses. So we are rather cat-full here. With our four dogs, three cats, rabbit and guinea-pig we are a family of fourteen, so I am henceforth repelling all invaders!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

I wish

My three-year-old's first ever kindergarten painting.

Her independant spirit has been making itself felt from the very beginning of her life. This is a conversation we had yesterday.

We'd been out shopping at a leisurely pace - me and the two girls, while my son was at a birthday party. Instead of the usual fast walk, me dragging them in a hurry past the tempting windows of all the pretty but non-functional shops, I'd let them gaze to their heart's content at baubles and teddy bears, wishing for each new thing as fervently as the last. As we headed back to the car, holding hands and carrying only the nappies we'd been to the supermarket for, my youngest turned to me and said calmly:

"I wish I didn't have a mum and dad, then I could do whatever I wanted."

Luckily I was feeling laid back at the time, so instead of ignoring her or getting irritated, I let her hand go, took one step away and replied, "So what would you do right now if you didn't have a Mum?"

Slightly surprised at being taken up on the wishful thinking, she stood there for a minute and then turned to her big sister, who wasn't really paying attention to what we'd been saying:
"What would we do if we didn't have a Mum or a Dad?"
"We'd go and buy one." came the practical answer.
"But you can't buy people...." she retorted.

We didn't resolve that one, I think they still need me for driving the car at the moment.


This is my almost-six-year old's painting. She says it is a peach with the pip showing. I'm using my blog as an extension of my kitchen wall now, for pinning up paintings! I'm enjoying seeing it look so pretty.

I'd love to see your favourite children's paintings or pictures - if anyone would like to make this into a meme theme please do carry it on! I did ask the kids' permission first and promised to respect their copyright...!

O Lady Moon

The end of term has brought a flurry of paintings and school work home to be admired and I'm going to be a doting mum and share some of them with you - one for each child , just to be fair! I love the way they learn to paint from the word go in Waldorf schools, proper painting paper, wetted, then good quality paints that cost a bomb here but have such a depth to them. We used to produce powder paint daubs at school. My son's paintings just seem to glow from the wall. His aren't any better than the rest of the class, they all have done their own interpretation of the same scene and are all gorgeous!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

My Mug Shot

Here's my contribution to the mug shot meme, from Meredith at Found in France.

This mug is from Montalcino in Tuscany, now weathered, slightly chipped - the soft maiolica ceramic they use doesn't stand up to children very well, or continuous use generally. This is the sole survivor of several individual mugs that I used to bring home at the end of every season working in Italy, organising walking holidays and best of all, the food. There were several towns noted for their ceramics and I had small espresso mugs from Orvieto and Siena, but there was a workshop in Montalcino that did its own variations on traditional patterns and I loved the colours and swirly pattern in this one.

At the end of each season, some of us would have the task of driving the minibuses back to England...empty. Now for several months we would have been travelling light, living out of a suitcase, moving between the trips we were working on, with no base to dump excess baggage. So we used to compile mental shopping lists as we travelled and devise a route home that took in all the places where the coveted items resided. My list usually included olive oil from Montichiello, wine - Rosso di Montalcino, the Brunello was more of an investment to be put away for a few years, so I usually went for the more immediate gratification, ceramics, sometimes even a couple of enormous terracotta pots, folding clothes airers of the sort that take a whole washing machine load, designed for European flat dwellers, which weren't then available in England, shoes from Siena, the list could be endless. All these purchases we hoped would help us over the culture shock of returning to a stationary, city-bound winter existence before spring sent us driving out again to the Italian countryside for more wonderful food and wine and perpetual motion. The minibuses would then trundle north over the Alps, up the French autoroutes and onto the cross Channel ferries, groaning under the weight of our shopping sprees.

This life suited me well in my twenties but as the big 30 loomed, a more settled existence beckoned and I used to do just a couple of trips a year. The last trip I did, I had just found out I was pregnant with our son and in those early stages of pregnancy I could hardly eat a thing. Such a waste of all those wonderful 5 course meals, that I still had to sit down to with clients every night, explaining to every restaurant that the food was lovely but the connoisseur tour manager couldn't eat it because she's expecting a baby. I wish I could have sent those meals fast forwarding in to the future - now, when they would be properly appreciated!

This mug and the clothes airer and a respectable amouont of other ceramics have now made it as far as South Africa, sadly the terracotta pots stayed behind in London.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Festival cheese biscuit recipe

We've been baking cheese biscuits again today, for the kindergarten end of term festival tomorrow. Time flies. My very first post was written at the end of last term and we were making the same cheese biscuits amid the baking heat of late summer. I just re-read the post and was stunned to find that I'd also baked a special Easter bread and ginger biscuits for the festival, as well as a beef casserole for supper. What was I on that day?

Today I had the five year olds in charge of the biscuits, kneading then rolling out and cutting out with animal shaped cookie cutters. This required a fair amount of timely intervention, to get the dough to hold together before frustration set in and make sure youngest got a chance to cut out some shapes without destroying her older sister's carefully ordered scheme of things. I did get a batch of bread done out of necessity, but that used up the rest of the energy reserves so we had baked potatoes for supper. The oven was on anyway for the biscuits and bread so it was all in aid of energy conservation...mine and the world's in equal measure.

Here is the recipe for the cheese biscuits

100g/4oz finely grated cheese
50g/2oz self-raising flour
25g/1oz soft butter
pinch of cayenne pepper

For the cheese you can use a strong cheddar or 80g mild cheddar with 20g parmesan cheese. Put everything into a bowl and rub in, squidge and knead for about 5 minutes until it comes together into a soft dough. It will do, just as you are about to give up hope of it doing so unaided. Roll out the dough to about 2.5mm/ 1/8" thick and cut into whatever fancy shapes you have cutters for. Bake at 200C/400F for 10-12 minutes until golden. Cool on a rack. This amount disappears very quickly, even before you've turned your back on them sometimes, they're very light and moreish, so I usually make double or triple quantities for the festivals.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Present Shopping

The social silly season seems to have arrived. I looked at my diary this morning, coming back to normal after our celebration weekend and no less than three children's parties are happening this week. Plus it's the end of term on Friday, leading on to three weeks of winter holidays which feature my five year old's birthday too. Her also-five-year-old cousin's birthday is the day before hers as well.

An emergency trip into our local small town to buy presents for this weeks lot was made this afternoon. The children just about trust me enough to choose a present for their friends but quite like making the decision themselves. I had thought of taking them to the ToysRUs in Cape Town, but quailed at the picture it conjured up of dragging the girls away from the Barbie pink girls section (all the birthdays scheduled are boys) and trying to find a present acceptable both to adults and children that fitted the budget and wouldn't break before they unwrapped it...x4 (one birthday is twins!). So I chickened out and we went to Malmesbury, a functional farmers town, where toy shops aren't on the agenda and seem to go out of business with alarming rapidity. The supermarkets usually have half an aisle of toys, though of the plastic variety and I thought I'd try one I don't usually go to in the hope it would have a more inspiring selection.

So an adventure of the milder sort, unknown supermarket territory. We march in hopefully, look around for the relevant aisle but all the signs are in Afrikaans (this is rural South Africa) and I can guess most of them but none looks like toys...luckily the children spot the stationary section and dive in. In 2 minutes flat they have selected coloured pencils in a pack with sharpener and a pencil case for each of the turning-eight twins and a bargain pack containing coloured pencils, scissors, glue stick, sticky tape dispenser etc etc. and a blank drawing book for the kindergarten friend's birthday. All coming in within budget too.

I am standing there concealing my amazement that they consider these exciting gifts and surreptitiously trying to peer round the corner to see if any toys are lurking. I don't want to discourage them from their extremely sensible choices though, much better than plastic guns and army camouflage stuff, and the last thing I want to do is trek around every supermarket in town looking for something else, so now we just have to find something for the 1 year old cousin. They have already found the baby food aisle and it's youngest's turn to choose for him, so she carefully selects a bright orange cup with lid and we're done. Huge sigh of relief, no-one has set their sights on some pink sparkly monstrosity for their own birthdays, we've knocked off four presents in ten minutes and can go home and spend the next hour wrapping them and making cards... they fall out over that instead, I never did work out why, I guess some emotional release was necessary after such impeccable behaviour out shopping!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Winter Solstice Celebration

Lighting up the darkness - our lanterns bobbing down the river of light and around the circle. Ok , so you can't see much and the photo gives no idea of the magical atmosphere - children carefully carrying their lanterns, down the path of glowing lights, the stars coming out as dusk fades. Then all crowding inside our circle to give thanks together for family and friends, for the return of the sun that brings life and warmth. Then the lighting of the bonfire, a frenzy of sparklers fizzing. Older children making a volcano. The spicy warmth of mulled wine in the chilly air. Sausages sizzling on the smaller braai fires. Thick butternut soup in mugs. The strange excitement of being outside after dark giving new energy to the eighteen children, all playing happily together, focussing on their volcano, feeding their fire - one night when they can indulge their pyromaniac tendencies to the full! Later having to drag everyone indoors to have pudding, way after normal bedtime, 3 year-olds falling asleep into their food, older children on an adrenaline rush, playing kick-the-can in the dark, while adults talked around a long table, snug inside until a rush of cold air blast in, as one of the revellers dives through the door for a fill up of pudding. Yes we did over-cater on the puddings...we always do, but they were so good that we won't mind eating them for the next two days!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Midwinter Celebrations and a recipe for Butternut Soup

I’ve been slaving over a hot stove, preparing vats of butternut and lentil soups. Tomorrow we are having our midwinter celebration and it looks like being a loaves and fishes occasion...well maybe not five thousand turning up but getting close to fifty!

We started this, when we first arrived here. As an English girl in South Africa, finding the seasons all topsy turvy, I felt that we should have some of the traditional winter/Christmassy things when it is really winter here. Things like mulled wine, mince pies, bonfires and sparklers don’t really ring true in the middle of summer. So we decided to have a Christmas in winter weekend – a bonfire and lantern celebration on the Saturday night and a traditional Christmas family lunch on the Sunday, with the roast turkey, sausages, bacon, roast potatoes, stuffings and all the rest.

Over the years it has evolved from a few friends to loads of friends...people who have been once want to come again next year. The children love it. A festival of fire. We make lanterns from jam jars covered with red crepe paper, with night light candles in and at dusk, carry them in a procession to our ‘sandpit’, a natural sandy depression in the middle of our farm, they arethen hung aroung a circle of sticks in the centre. The way is lit by more candles in brown paper bags with sand to weight them. They glow with a warm light. Then the bonfire is lit. For the kids there is a magic in all this – light out of dark – the fire they helped build, roaring skywards. Then they have the thrill of sparklers too, writing in the air, the youngest ones slightly afraid to hold this madly fizzing fire-stick but fascinated nonetheless.

There is a spiritual feeling to all this too. Giving thanks for the sun and all the life it brings, that the days will soon start getting longer, bringing blazing light into the darkest time of year. Everyone can take what meaning they will from it. I think the meaning is felt in the heart rather than the head, people have a deep connection to the passage of the seasons and what they bring to the earth.

Last year we cooked sausages on smaller fires nearby and drank the mulled wine watching the fire. This year we’ll take the soup out there too and stay out as long as we can under the stars (pray for a fine night!), before coming inside for pudding.

This is my butternut soup recipe, which I have multiplied by four today to make an enormaous stockpot full.

1 butternut squash
1 large onion
1 clove of garlic
2 small apples
20g/1oz butter
½ teaspoon cinnamon
salt and pepper
1 litre/2 pints stock

Chop the onions roughly and saute gently in a generous amount of butter. Add the peeled garlic. Peel and chop the butternut into cubes. When the onion has softened without becoming brown add the butternut. Continue to saute gently. Peel, core and chop the apples and add to the pot. Sprinkle over the cinnamon, salt and pepper. Stir well then add the hot stock and simmer until the vegetables are soft. Puree the soup and reheat to serve. Sprinkle parsley over if you like. I use a stock left from our Christmas gammon, but chicken stock or vegetable stock would be fine too.

Now I need to bake the loaves for the five thousand, sorry , fifty expected tomorrow and do another layer for my sun jelly – stripes of red, yellow and orange with peach slices to make a sun shape in the middle. Very festive. Then my sister in law makes wonderful mince pies and we have to have guava fool and chocolate pudding too...just in case. Our family is always terrified of not making enough, so we usually have left-overs...I’ll let you know on Sunday how full the fridge is!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Parsley and Parents meetings

Today was better than yesterday, though it went by in a blur. Dropping kids off at school, food shopping, just time to unpack the shopping, do the washing up, wipe the breakfast table before going out again to fetch them. Come back with a couple of extra kids in tow - six plus me at the lunch table. Get on a load of laundry, start a lamb stew for tonight cos I have to go to my son's school parents' meeting, right at supper time. More washing-up, disentangle some knitting, copy edit an article for a website my husband is building, hang up washing to dry on airer inside cos it's still damp weather outside....cup of tea and the house is still a tip, beds unmade but it's time to go to the parents' meeting. Deep breath.

My son insisted on coming with me, he thought other children from his class would be coming and that they might be doing a gum boot dance to show us. So the girls stayed behind to help their aunt lay the table and light the fire, while we drove off into the darkness (it's winter here remember, just coming up to the shortest day, so the sun is setting around 5.30 at the moment). It's fairly unusual for us to be out and about after dark, so it felt like an adventure, just the two of us off into the unknown.

We get to the school, a small country Waldorf school, just in time and I get to go and sit at my son's desk, while he plays outside with his friends (in the dark, but all the more exciting for that!). All the children's work for the term is there for us to look at. I'm impressed by how neat his numbers have become in the last term and his writing too. In Waldorf schools the children make their own books, with all their work for each main lesson subject and they're beautifully decorated with pictures, borders of patterns around the pages.

A blank page sits in front of each parent. I look around and see that we're meant to be trying our hand at form drawing - elaborate patterns of curly lines - copying from the board, the same lesson that our children have been doing today. I am amazed at how hard it is to reproduce nice even loops and get my head around the complexities of the individual loops. My son's are far more regular than mine. When he comes in I ask him for some tips on getting the shading nice and even...he reassures me that he doesn't always get it even I feel better. They do get to do their gum boot dance - a fine stomping, rhythmic, gum boot slapping, forward and back movement. Learning to feel the rhythm helps them with their times tables and multiplication, getting the idea and feel of multiple groups of numbers and so on.

I really enjoyed getting a glimpse of my son's school life. He does get past the monosyllabic response of 'fine', these days when I ask how school was. I even get rundowns of the latest story, or how much skipping they did, but actually sitting in his place taking part in a drawing exercise, really gave me a feel of how the school works and how Waldorf works too. Gorgeous paintings on the walls too. I wish I'd learned to paint like that!

The parsley...what was I going to say about that? This was my rediscovered flavour of the day. I've been trying to get parsley to grow by the house in our herb garden. My four plants spent the whole summer shrinking into the sandy soil, instead of burgeoning with new growth for me to harvest into my cooking. I know it's a matter of compost - not enough, water - not enough. I'm too lazy a gardener to coddle plants though. Put them in with some compost, water them regularly and see if they survive - if there was a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Plants I'd be in trouble. Anyway they didn't, so I finally gave up hope and bought some parsley..cut parsley in a supermarket and I live on a farm! Sprinkled on the lamb stew though, it tasted so fresh and flavourful, plus it's full of vitamins, minerals and the rest. In spring I'm going to have to plant a new lot in a special, compost-rich tub, by the back door so it gets watered. I can't believe I went through a whole summer without it.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Now the children are in bed and the cat has decided it's his turn for attention, eyeing me reproachfully from beside the computer screen as I've ousted him from my seat, objected to his tail draping artistically over the keyboard and moved him from in front of the monitor. He's still purring though. He settles for my approximation of an in-tray (a cut up cereal box) in a forgiving manner. I need that today.

It's been one of those good-intentions-out-of-the-window, shouting-then-regretting-it-immediately kind of days. I blame it on the rain last night. Much needed winter rain, but I wish it would come in the day, it drums so loudly on our tin roof that I wake up and then run round checking for leaks (none luckily).

Anyway I was scouring my mind for something to cook for supper, hadn't defrosted anything in time again (no microwave, my choice so can't blame anyone for that!), thought I'd do potatoes in the oven the way our friend Ursie used to do, (cut into wedges lengthways then tossed in olive oil and baked at a high heat with a bit of rosemary and salt), baked butternut and then some burgers that the kids like but we don't, cos they're the processed sort.

Mindful of an article I'd just read by Anna Wahlgren, saying that children need to feel needed and have a part to play, however minor/apprentice in the adult world, I graciously allowed my three year old to come and help, even though I was feeling like getting on quickly and I knew it would take longer. She helped scrub the potatoes, held the knife handle as I cut, put the cut pieces in to the towel to dry them. I was thinking - great, she's involved, pleased with herself, not clamouring for attention elsewhere, I can be patient....then she held up the towel and just as I was saying 'hold it over the counter'...oops a corner fell and all the clean, dry, ready for the oven potatoes cascaded to the floor.

My thin veneer of patience was pierced to expose the irritable, sleep-deprived grumpy mum underneath. I yelled - big oops. I said sorry straight away but youngest gets mortified at the slightest accident ( except wetting herself which she is quite happy with), her pride and dignity were wounded and she retreated to the bedroom to console herself. I am not allowed to come near - any attempt at reconcilation has to wait. So now I'm annoyed with myself for spoiling a good learning mother/daughter moment. I return to get the rest of the supper in. The bonus is that she goes to sleep and has a much needed nap that she will never voluntarily take. (Should I shout at her every day to get her to nap?) When she wakes up, just in time for supper she makes straight for me and is a total cling-on for the next little while, forgiving each other for our outbursts, making sure we still love each other.

I guess it was still a learning mother/daughter moment, just not the one I'd intended. It must still be good to learn that we can shout, or be shouted at, recover, say sorry and still love each other...just as long as it's not too often. It's raining still. What happened to those earplugs!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Gnomes in the Family

I thought I’d share these little gnomes with you, that my daughters made in kindergarten. Gum nuts, or the seed pod of the eucalyptus tree to be more scientific, make up the bodies of these gnomes, wooden beads for heads, a bit of sheep’s wool for hair and felt hats, sewn by the children. My youngest hasn’t got to grips with sewing so her gnome is bareheaded – I hope he gets through the winter!

Does anyone know where the tradition of gnomes in pointy hats comes from? I didn’t grow up with them at all in the UK, unless you count Big Ears in the Noddy stories, but they seem to be big in Waldorf schools and kindergartens for the younger children. Perhaps it’s a German/North European tradition?

The gnomes in the picure seem to me to be having a serious discussion, but this was the best I could come up with:

Caption: "We really must get junior a hat this winter"

If anyone has any better ideas do let me know!

Anyway the girls are enjoying their gnome family, which is growing apace. They brought back three more each on Friday, this time in felt cloaks, stuffed with wool instead of the gum nuts, so there are Mummys, Daddys, Aunts, Uncles, Granny, Grandpa and children gnomes cavorting merrily around our house at the moment!

Sunday, June 11, 2006


My son has learned to knit. At school the first thing they produced was a lamb, 3D, stuffed with wool, four legs and all. I've never knitted anything like that myself, so I was dead impressed. Anyway a craze for knitting has hit the family - my five year old daughter decided she wanted to learn too and not to be left out, the three year old also put in a demand for knitting needles.

So one day, when I feel as patient as I'm ever going to be, I dig out some needles and wool, cast on for my son and leave him to get on with it - he has knit a lamb already after all. The clamour rises as the daughters compete for next go. I reckon on age taking precedence. I know the three year old won't have enough coordination for the job and am still trying to think of a diplomatic solution for her. So I cast on and cast my mind back in search of how I was taught by my grandmother. Give up. Ask my son how they learnt at school.

He comes up with a great rhyme - "in through the door (needle through the stitch), run around the back (wool wrapped round), peep through the window (bring needle through the stitch), and off jumps Jack!(slip stitch off the needle)". So to the accompaniment of much chanting of this rhyme my daughter begins.. and starts to get the hang of it after a while. Much salvage required, after every row I pick up dropped stitches for her.

She has really stuck to it despite the endless dropped stitches, inexplicable unintended patterns, tangles and the rest. Within a week she has progressed to doing one whole row without dropping a stitch. Sometimes I still have to surreptitiously gather up the knitting, retire to a corner and spend half an hour reformatting it to resemble the scarf it is intended to be. To anyone who enjoys puzzles and has good eyesight I recommend this as an excellent form of entertainment.. those of us whose ever more long-sighted eyes require longer and longer arms, might find it a little trying!

The other night we had a power cut at bedtime. We spent half an hour locating and lighting the paraffin lamps, by which time the power was of course restored. The older children were wired by this excitement and weren't sleepy any more. I went in to find them both sitting up in bed knitting and chatting away happily to each other, like little old grannies.

We solved the problem of the youngest's knitting. She was quite happy for me to cast on and knit for her. It's her knitting and we all take a turn on her behalf - her brother, aunt and I. She decides if she wants to change colours and is in charge of design. Now she wants me to help her with sewing instead - still fairly labour intensive for me, but at least she can put on beads and sequins and pull the needle through, so feels involved in the process. It's hard keeping up when you're the youngest!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Winter Flowers

Rain comes, turning the land green, strewing the sand with bright flower jewels, like stars in the night sky. These oxalis wake up and smile at the sun. Refurl their petals and sleep at night.

Marmalade with Zing

Making marmalade is pure self-indulgence for me. Nobody else in our house likes it...but I love the zesty tang of marmalade on hot buttery toast. Maybe the taste for it is peculiar to the English – peculiar taste buds we must have to like marmite too with its salty bite. Anyway a few times each winter I make a batch of marmalade, sell a few jars at the market and keep the rest to last me till next year. My parents also like it when they visit.

I tried a new mixture of fruits yesterday, adding a couple of limes and tangerines to the usual orange, grapefruit and lemon. True marmalade is made with Seville oranges, a sour variety grown especially for the English marmalade market, but I haven’t ever found any out here, so have to mix our sweet oranges with the sourer lemons and grapefruit to get the requisite zingy flavour. When I tried with just oranges, I got a rather dull, sweet orange jam, that I christened Mellow Marmalade – fine for soothing the troubled tastebuds but not very stimulating.

My marmalade production is still in the experimental stages, each batch turning out different, so I have to think up appropriate adjectives to describe the flavour, to remember which is which. It might help the research process if I remembered to write down what I did each time...but I prefer the random element of surprise when it comes to tasting the results, so maybe I never will.

Yesterday’s batch is going to be called Fragrant Citrus Medley – the limes give it an extra hint of perfume, and keep the zing alive!

Here is the recipe I use as a basic guide, provided by my mother, who also makes her own supply.

Three Fruit Marmalade

2 grapefruit
2 lemons
3 oranges
4 pint/2 litres water
3 ½ lbs/1.6kg sugar (if you use sour Seville oranges you need more sugar - 5lbs)

Wash the fruit, scrubbing the skins. Cut the fruit and rind into shreds, however thick you like your peel in the finished marmalade. Remove any very pithy bits and pips. Usually one should tie these in muslin and cook with the fruit, to get the most pectin available, then remove the whole package pips and all . I haven’t bothered the last cuople of times and the marmalade still seems to set.

Put the fruit and water into a large pan (preferably thick bottomed) and bring to the boil, then simmer gently for 1-2 hours until the rind is tender.Add the sugar off the heat and stir till it dissolves. Don’t let the marmalade boil again till it has dissolved. Boil briskly for about 30 minutes. Test for doneness by putting a drop on a cold plate. If it forms a light skin that wrinkles when you push your finger through it is done. Keep testing every five minutes if not. The bubbles also change to be slower, larger rolling bubbles when it is ready. Pour into hot sterilised jars and seal.

You can vary the fruit with limes or tangerines until you find the perfexct combination for you.

Zingy, zesty, tangy, sprightly, mellow...what other adjectives can I use? Please help me out with my literary marmalade mission!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Waldorf School in the Rainbow Nation

Coming back in the car from school yesterday my five-year-old came up with a solution for the world crime problem

“If people give the robbers some food, then they won’t need to steal and then they wouldn’t have to go to jail.”

It’s quite simple when you look at it like that!

Poverty is much more in your face here than in Europe, which is why this simple solution seems so logical to her. Every day going to school we pass an “informal settlement”, Witsands, where most of the houses are shacks, cobbled together from corrugated iron, planks and plastic sheets to keep the rain out and a lot of the children at my children’s schools live there. If their parents are both working they have enough food and clothes and maybe even the luxury of a chest freezer run on a gas bottle, but still no electricity or running water and the toilet is a pit one, shared between twenty families. Our children have been to a couple of birthday parties here at their school friends’ houses and there is a huge cultural and economic gap that they can’t help noticing. They know that the people in Witsands are poor but it’s very hard to explain to them why this is.

I just hope that by going to school with such a representative mix of children from our ‘rainbow nation’ (50% black Xhosa-speaking mostly from Witsands; 30% coloured Afrikaans-speaking from Atlantis the nearby town, who are mostly from more middle class families and 20% white English and Afrikaans-speaking from the surrounding farms), that my children will gain in knowledge and tolerance of the differences that make up South Africa. I hope that they will gain in understanding, without feeling that they are in any way superior because of material possessions or the academic head start they have by having English as their mother tongue, when a lot of their class mates have had to acquire it at school.

I think that is going to be a hard one to tackle, there seems to be a natural arrogance to kids who are quick at something, thinking everyone else is stupid for taking longer – my son from the lofty height of an eight year old who has learned to read and write, dismisses his sisters’ kindergarten experiences as ‘just playing and having fun...WE have to work hard at school’. Their drawings of course are vastly inferior to his, ‘cos they don’t look like real things’...we have a way to go on the tolerance and understanding...sigh!

One thing I do know is that they are all getting a great start to their education. The Waldorf philosophy is ideal for our multi cultural, multi lingual society, as in the early years it is very creative and pictorial, with lots learnt through the telling of stories, singing and rhythm. It is also suiting my son down to the ground – he is bright with a penchant for numbers, which is encouraged, but his coordination, creativity and imagination are also being developed. It is one of the main Waldorf tenets to educate the whole child - head, heart and hands. We have two great Waldorf teachers from Canada here for this year and hope and pray that they will stay for longer.

In the meantime we just have to do all we can to keep our schools going, as the policy that welcomes all children to the school, means that a lot of fundraising is needed, as over half the children pay only a minimum fee, there is no state support as it is run as a private Waldorf school.

I need to get on with learning CorelDraw so that I can produce a new leaflet for the kindergarten, my husband is brilliant at it but very busy with work, so I feel bad getting him to sit back down at a computer as soon as he gets home in the evenings. Too many things to do and I meant to write this post about an owl we encountered, he’ll have to wait until tomorrow.!

P.S. I should just add that my children have had no personal experience of robbers, but seem to spend an inordinate amount of time playing cops and robbers, hence the fascination with going to jail!

P.P.S. If you are interested you can see the school on their website

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Rosemary for Remembrance

Today I was writing an article about rosemary, which seems to have subtly taken over most of my recipes lately and looked up in my herbal book to see what its medicinal properties are.

Lo and behold - "it is an energiser of note...for the over-stressed, depression, anxiety, to improve memory, concentration and to restore a positive outlook and get up and go - a tonic, rejuvenator and a revitaliser" wow, this is just what I've been needing the last couple of days - energy and get up and go and all it takes is a cup of rosemary tea?!

Well I've decided to be the guinea pig and test out this new wonder drug - so I'll let you know if I start bouncing in Tigger fashion. It also contains easily absorbable calcium, so you can take one cup of tea every day for 10 days, break for 3 days then repeat to keep the dreaded osteoporosis at bay. All this comes from my copy of Herbal Teas for Healthy Living by Margaret Roberts. She is our South African big name in herbs and has also written a really useful book on tissue salts, that I use all the time for minor family ailments.

All you need to make the tea is one thumb length sprig of rosemary, pour over a cup of boiling water and leave it to infuse for 5-10 minutes. I really like the flavour, it's clean and fresh but you can add honey if you like. I know I read this before and even started drinking the tea, but I gradually lapsed back into ordinary tea again and forgot about it. I guess it's like remembering to take vitamins or anything else that you should ..the enthusiasm lasts for a little while before old patterns reassert themselves - need to rewire the brain or something.

I've just remembered that rosemary is the herb of maybe taking the tea will help me remember to keep taking it..?!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Waiting for Blogger...

This message is what I've been staring at in a dazed fashion for the last couple of days..until it blurred into reminding me of Waiting for Godot, the play by Samuel Becket that I can remember very little about, except for the title and an image of two men sitting on a park bench just waiting.

Too dramatic to describe it as an existential crisis, but being unable to communicate on the internet was very frustrating. On Saturday our server was so slow that every attempt to bring up a blog timed out...emails had the same result...I had to take it as a sign from above that I've been spending too much time on the internet recently..too hooked on exploring the blogosphere or maybe just a gentle hint to go and bake instead. Yesterday every comment I tried to post came back to me with Server Error, so I gave up and read on the sofa instead, which is what I used to do pre-blog.

So maybe the frailties of the internet can be interpreted as divine intervention to keep my life in balance or maybe they just are...who knows.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Sunshine zaps dust mites!

Today was one of those days when the horizon seems dauntingly far away, it’s easier to set my sights low and concentrate on soothing, domestic tasks that, though monotonous, are not too challenging, on another day they wouldn’t make the grade as escapist activity..but hey at least I’m getting something done.

Today then is the perfect day to drag mattresses, pillows and duvets out onto the stoep to air in the sun for the morning. A while back, I read somewhere that direct sunshine is the best way to get rid of dust mites in bedding. My son isn’t severely asthmatic but he does get chesty, and needs an inhaler escpecially around winter colds or if an allergy has closed up his chest, so worrying about dust mites is an optional extra – a precaution rather than a necessity.

This solution appeals to me – low-tech, no cost, no chemicals and today there is abundant winter sunshine, so I set about hauling the children’s bedroom out onto the stoep, festooning the washing line with the blankets, heaping pillows on the swing chair, leaning mattresses against the walls. The sheets come out of the washing machine and join the party.

Now to discover what is lurking under the daughter was convinced that she heard a snake under her bed this morning, not an impossibility here, but it would have been a first for our house. Only when I had flashed a torch underneath and promised there was no such thing was she persuaded to come and get dressed. Further investigation reveals that it could have been the rustling of plastic bags she heard, of which there are a few, accompanied by some of the missing socks, mysterious parts of small plastic toys, dust, fluff and the rest.

By the end of the morning the children’s bedroom is pristine. I wonder if there is the equivalent of hairspray, or varnish that I could spray over it to keep it like that for longer. Preserved in aspic. I know that within two minutes of arriving home from school, it will resume its more comfortable lived-in look.

Raising my eyes to the horizon, it is still a mile off, but at least I have polished my domestic halo and can now indulge in some legitimate escapism, reclining on the sofa with a novel for a while – letting the bread rise by itself, the children play by themselves and waiting for the planets to realign themselves into a more favourable position for conquering the world!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Barbie on the toilet

I was clearing the lunch table yeaterday, becoming an invisible presence as my two daughters played with Ryan, the son of our farm employee, who is at kindergatren with them. They were playing with Barbie...when girls play with Barbie she usually goes shopping or gets married...a boy added to the mix, she is on an imaginary toilet making farting noises amid raucous hilarity.

I reflect on the advantage of learning a second language early on. Ryan started learning English this year in January when he was plunged in at the deep end, coming to our English medium kindergarten. Afrikaans is his mother tongue and his father wanted him to have the chance to learn English well. Already in May he is fully integrated into their play, taking part in most of their games and initiating some himself.

Todays play gives me a few ideas for advice to parents whose children are starting school in a foreign language – teach them the following few words to enable them to have a grasp of kindergarten humour – this is all you need to be hailed as a wit of the first order: poo, toilet, vomit and a repertoire of farty noises. Your child will then be fully equipped to hold their own in kindergarten society.

I guess there are some comedians on the stand-up circuit that haven’t felt the need to acquire a wider vocabulary than that!

Friday, June 02, 2006

10 luxuries money can't buy - for a mother of small children

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

2 Lying on the floor, to do yoga or just lie, without an excited horde taking it as an invitation to pile on board.

3 Walking out of the front door, carrying only the keys and a small, light bag, only 2 minutes after having made the decision to go out.

4 Sleeping right through the night.

5 Wearing clothes that say Dry Clean only...(oh I don’t think I have any any more!)

6 Listening to your own choice of music.

7 Breakfast in bed on a weekend, on my own with a book

8 Even better would be a long lie in, just the two of us, with the children magically whisked away for an hour or two – dream on...!

9 Some Mary Poppins magic to tidy up the nursery, just like she does.

10 And since we are leaving the realms of reality how about a proper Italian restaurant sending a three course dinner over every night for a little while, that lands ready on my table and the kids enjoying eating everything.....