Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Words on Wednesday

I just saw this cool word cloud thing on Barb's blog from this T-shirt site and tried it for this blog. I loved it. It sums up all the things that are important in my life by sampling my entire blog and coming up with the most used words - I hardly need to write a post now - it's all there!

We've had birthdays (mine), flu bugs (the girls in turn) and blogger histrionics (Blogger's own) keeping me away from my computer and keeping the words in my head. Hopefully they will spill out easily and form a lucid pool on my blog tomorrow.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Couch Potatoes

I spent the entire afternoon on the sofa, reading my favourite children's books. Decadence indeed, except that an eight year old with flu needed distraction from his aches and pains, watching TV didn't appeal, as his head was aching(when they're sick is the only time they get to watch in the afternoon, unless there's an international sporting event, so usually they leap at the chance) . My son is at all times an avid story fiend, so I got out a couple of my old favourite books - The Children of Green Knowe by L.M.Boston and The Armourer's House by Rosemary Sutcliff, forgot about anything else that needed doing and we sat engrossed in the stories for ages. It was so great to have a good reason to stop being busy and spend time just sitting with him, usually it's just one chapter before I have to go and do some work or washing or cooking or one off the girls needs something and half my attention is already elsewhere, but today I was enjoying the book so much, he practically had to beg me to stop when he'd had enough!

The girls had gone with their aunt to visit my other sister in law who is sick with pneumonia in hospital - we're a sick family at the moment - so a couple of hours went by peacefully and when they returned my six year old for the first time got engaged in a non picture story - the Green Knowe one. It's a major leap forward if I can read the same story to both of them, though it leaves youngest out of the loop, as she wriggles and squiggles on my lap, blocking my view of the book. This must be truly the only down-side of having more than two children, they all want to be right next to you to feel part of the story. Lacking any triangularity, with the best will in the world, I have only two sides to snuggle up to, which leaves my lap, thus my view of the book obscured by a mass of untidy curls. I'll have to check in with Chris to find out how she deals with the problem!

Anyway my son is definitely feeling more himself tonight, but I won't be sending him to school tomorrow, his temperature still isn't down to normal, and besides, I want to get on with our book!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Book Meme from the Escapist Reader

Here it is finally, the book meme that I invited a tag for from Planet Nomad. I’ve made up my mind, but mostly couldn’t just keep down to one book per category, so was greedy and settled for more.

1.One book that changed your life
This one was a hard one. I couldn’t remember any seminal moments related to books when I was young, though I was always reading and usually immersed in whatever fictional world and character I was visiting. In the end I settled for Journey of Souls by Michael Newton, because though it didn’t really change my life, it helped me along the path I was starting to tread. An account by a hypnotherapist, who treating patients by past life regression, found that they could reach in-between-life memories of soul life – fascinating and thought provoking.

2.One book that you’ve read more than once
I re-read all books that I enjoy and favourites over and over again for years, which does make libraries frustrating, if you find a book you enjoy it’s hard giving it back to them. Most recently I loved The Time Traveller’s Wife and managed to read it twice before having to give it back to the friend who lent it. I loved the complexities of the plot and the way it explored the nitty gritty implications of unexpected time travel in today’s society, making it seem like a real medical possibility. All the Georgette Heyers (though not her whodunnits) are our stand-by for stressful times, particularly A Civil Contract, The Grand Sophy, Venetia all with brilliant dialogue, lively wit and clear-sighted strong heroines, as well as accurate historical detail.

3.One book that you would want on a desert island
I like the idea of the Complete Works of Shakespeare too, as I still don’t know all the plays and could have a fine time spotting quotes, but I think I would end up settling for a survival guide that tells you how to make a tent out of coconut shells, fish with palm leaves and light a fire with a conch shell.

4.One book that made you laugh
Astrerix and Obelix books still amuse me and now my son howls over them too. I love the names - Fulliautomatix, Getafix, Cacofonix and the whole gamut of crazy Romans – Raucus Hallellujachorus, Obsequus, Dubius Status et al.

5.One book that made you cry
The Heaven Tree trilogy by Edith Pargeter. Beautifully written series about a brilliant wood carver, in medieval England – the moral dilemmas caused by love, loyalty and honour. Does it have to be just one? I also wanted to put in Love of Seven Dolls by Paul Gallico – again an exquisitely crafted story, exploring the light and dark sides of human nature and how interwoven they are, in an engaging story about a young woman and her relationship with a puppet show that brings love into her life.

6. One book that you wish had been written
I love reading about everyday life long ago, the details, what did they eat how did they cook it, did they have toilet paper and what did they do about their periods. So it would be The Five Year Diary of a Girl in Ancient Rome or Greece.

7.One book that you wish had never been written
Beware the Story Book Wolves. When my son was three I got this for him, thinking a light-hearted story in which the story book wolves were made to look silly and ran off with their tails between their legs, might help him deal with his fear of wolves...WRONG! ever since he has had nightmares about one particular illustration of these cartoon wolves with bared teeth in a dark black page. I have since read that it is bad psychology to try to diminish or belittle the objects of fear, but I didn’t know that then. We gave away the book but that image is still in his head and still bothers him.

8.The book that you are currently reading
I have a couple on the go. One Georgette Heyer - Friday's Child for relaxation and enjoyment and winding down at bedtime. One library book – I go with the children to the library every few weeks and while they are rifling the children’s section I whizz round, grab anything remotely attractive from the shelves, in a random ‘what will the universe be telling me next’ way, then I see what I’ve got when I get home. Only occasionally is it unreadable, sometimes it does resonate with a message from on high and sometimes it doesn’t. The current one is seeds of doubt by James Ryan. The first part set in Ireland and exploring how imposed silence over a traumatic event of childhood, makes it impossible to escape and move on from it even forty years on..I’m not sure where it is going with the next bit which seems completely unrelated, but we’ll see. Probably not one I’ll read again but interesting enough.

9.One book that you have been meaning to read
I’m always meaning to read the classics from A-Z, but don’t currently have any spare intellectual capacity. Though when I occasionally get down a black-spined Penguin classic from the shelf I am usually surprised to find how readable it is – perhaps the black spines are too intimidating, or maybe it is a reluctance left over from ‘Literature’ at school.

10. Books that you don’t enjoy
Anything badly written. The Celestine Prophecy was so hyped by our friends, wonderful, life-changing message, but it was so badly written and irritating that I couldn’t get beyond the first chapter, life-changing message or not. The Da Vinci Code was a bit better – I made it to the end, but the plot was so thin and contrived and the ‘revelations’ I’d read already, twenty years ago in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail..... but it was quite nice to read them all again. And Mills and Boon – I’d need to be on a desert island without even the survival manual to read before I’d be tempted to enter their pages again (OK, I confess, it was when we were doing O’levels, as a relaxing alternative to revising, that I last lapsed into one!)

11. Book that you remember as a real page turner
Recently I read The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davies. Her whodunnit series set in Ancient Rome, with a private eye type hero, took a bit of getting used to (I couldn’t get my head around the modern style and language combined with ancient setting) but now I love them and the characters are great – all tongue in cheek but properly fleshed out, plus it is a long series with constant development of the relationship of the main characters, so if you start in the middle as we did you have to go back and find out how they met. This was the first book, so I did..

12. Non-fiction books that you have enjoyed
Food books. Especially Nigella Lawson How to Eat and Feast – all her books combine good, approachable food and entertaining writing, knowledgeable but friendly, you could have her round for dinner without being intimidated, sure she’d muck in and help.

13. Children’s books your family has loved
Inevitable the Narnia series. I found them too scary aged seven and gobbled them all up in three days when I was given them for Christmas aged eleven. My son though has been having them read to him since he was three and loves them, the girls are only just getting into them a bit now, having seen the movie (scary bits fast forwarded past). The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper is another brilliant children’s set. The Light and the Dark are at work here too, the children helping the Light win through. Magic in everyday England.

Who hasn’t been tagged for this yet? Meredith? Jenny? Nicolle? Your turn if you’d like to.

Monday, August 21, 2006


In my latest exploration around the web, I've just discovered a tantalising site. Called Book Mooch it is a book swap site. You can sign up, post a list of books you are happy to give away. People email you to request one, you mail it and get a credit, so you can ask for something you want from someone else. Brilliant idea! It's tantalising, because there is no listing for South Africa, so no-one to swap with, sob, but I thought I'd put up a link to it for those of you in France and in the States, in case you hadn't come across it. I will comfort myself with the thought that my sister-in-law buys plenty of books and often gives them to be before she's even read them herself, so with such generosity in the family I'm not too deprived of reading matter!

I've been feeling inspired by reading Planet Nomad's post, the Omnivorous Reader, with her response to the latest book meme. Then I found another different one going around on Charlotte's Web, also inspiring.

I blithely thought I'd have a go too. Now I have books bouncing around in my head, asking to get a mention. I'm too full of indecision to finish it, nominate the finalists in the listings and post. I have also discovered something about myself in the process - I couldn't think of any impressively highbrow books that are genuine favourites. Judging by the books that have jostled their way onto the draft version, my main motivation for reading is light entertainment and escapism. So I'm confessing to that in advance and plan on posting my list soon as long as you promise not to be shocked and horrified.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Future Shock

My children are growing up fast.

Today, as I casually asked my eight year old son to light the fire for me, I realised how quickly time has gone by. Even a year ago the thought of deliberately putting my child, newspaper, wood and matches together in an inflammable situation would not even have entered my head. Now it it one of his favourite evening duties and my six year old gets to light the candle on the supper table.

The other day out shopping, on my own as all the children were at school, I heard a howling issuing from the next aisle. It progressed inexorably around the supermarket, until it and I arrived at the till at the same time. I looked across to see myself five years ago - a mother with baby sitting in the trolley and toddler, still howling and dragging his heels and her arm out of its socket. Her face was deadpan. The baby then started crying too. She proceeded with all due speed to pay for her groceries, as I watched sympathetically and wondered whether to say anything in solidarity. I didn't, then wished I had.

One thing that stopped me was the memory of how intimidating all those mothers of older children used to seem, when I was at that stage, how nonchalantly they used to manage their offspring. Just as when you're pregnant with your first, all those second or third time mothers have a slightly superior, knowing look....and once you're there yourself you know that you can't help feel like you've earned it, with the sweat of your brow and all those sleepless nights, but's that 'human nature, climbing the rungs of the ladder, you can never catch up with your older sibling cos they've moved up another rung while you've been busy climbing' thing.

I've been looking ahead up the ladder and seeing the teen years ahead - ok still a long way ahead but time is starting to slip past very quickly now. The thought of my children as teenagers terrifies me, they already seem to know it all, how will I retain any semblance of authority when they are already challenging me at three years old pretty convincingly? So all you who have already been through this particular rite of passage can lean back down the ladder with a kindly, reassuring and only ever so slightly knowing and superior smile and give me a little pat and say "it'll all be all right in the end dear".

Here I am feeling a little nostalgic that the baby stage is over. We're not planning any more, our heads tell us that three is fine, we're too tired for any more, though four had been our original ideal number. Then bombshell strikes: as a birthday present my sister in law sent me to a numerologist/psychic, who will do a chart-reading using your name and birth date and any business names to help you work out where you're going. I was interested in going, to get some insight into how I should start getting into work and earning again, now that I have some time with the kids all at school in the mornings. I've put out various feelers, but nothing has come back yet and we need me to be bringing in some income at the moment. So it was all very useful. She was sane, objective and completely on track with what she said, very helpful about pointing out which ideas might be fruitful and which were useful, community-building but not about money (like this blog!) I was nodding away in agreement until she said:
"You're going to have another baby"...
She didn't see when...and she sees me working from home earning my living by writing (which is great - but if any of you out there do already, I'd appreciate some tips on where to start the earning part of the equation!).

So of course I could juggle this laatlammetjie (pronounced lartlammakie - Afrikaans meaning late little lamb or little afterthought) with my hands tied behind my back.... BUT I'm nearly 41 and there'd be a big age gap and I've given away most of the baby clothes now.....internal panic...I know she could have got it wrong and, going by the conversation of the dads at a birthday party I was at today, I'm stark staring bonkers believing anything a 'so-called psychic' says anyhow etc.etc. but the thing is, even though our heads have ruled it out our hearts never did quite fully agree, so I could see it happening by 'accident', even though our heads are trying to make sure it doesn't, and, after all, the kids are all desperate for another baby in the family...! And don't faint Mum if you're reading this, we're not going to get pregnant intentionally, it's the last thing we need right now!

Now what I really need to do is forget about the putative baby (after all it could have been symbolising something completely different, like maybe a new puppy, though I could do without one of those too!) and concentrate on the career bit of her advice. I'm going to be moving along from being a SAHM to being a WAHM (stay at home mother to work at home mother - mind you the distinction is academic since stay at home mothers seem to spend most of their time working pretty hard) and that's going to be challenging enough to deal with.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Quoth She

Youngest has been prolific with the quoteworthy remarks lately.

Today at bedtime I accompanied her to the bathroom and found the floor liberally spattered with pools of water, from some earlier girls' acquatics (and it wasn't a bath night, so I have no idea what had been going on).

In theatrical mode, I declaimed sonorously:

"Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink!"

Whereupon she indignantly replied, with furrowed brow:

"I didn't drop a drink"

Sunday, August 13, 2006

No Gym Required

Workout Tip

To tone flabby buttocks and thighs: transport your children, one at a time, the 40ft distance between sofa and the bathroom basin to clean teeth, each child standing on your feet and holding on round your waist. If they obligingly weigh in at the end of the trip, you will find that you have moved 136.4lbs, quite some distance, mostly using your bottom muscles.

The request to further move them on the short distance to their bedroom in the same manner was peremptorily denied, due to workout being already at maximum level - I said my bottom was too achy.

I then heard youngest questioning my six year old, " Why is Mummy's bottom too flaky?"

You can extend the workout to include biceps and stomach muscles (it is important to engage these in order to protect your back), by having your 35lb three year old decide to be a baby, unable to walk (though still able to talk in commanding tones) and need to be carried between the bathroom and the bedroom several times to complete the various pre-bedtime rituals.

You will now be able to dispense completely with any gym or other fitness routines and have earned a sit-down in front of computer to visit blog-land.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Cut to the Car Chase

My children’s current obsession with law and order, (cops and robbers being the favourite game of the moment) has recently extended to encompass the school run. To my recipe for a South African country school run post of a few months ago, I can now add a new ingredient. Every white car (and in South Africa 50% of cars are white) is a police car and every other car is a robber. Our car is silver grey,(encrusted with red clay mud from our road), so we are robbers escaping from the police. This calls for much screeching and ducking down in the back, whenever a white car pursues us... sighs of relief, when we escape undetected and they pass us by. I am Robber Mum, they are Robber Children going to Robber School. Their teacher has a white car...but that’s OK cos she stole it from the police and she is really Robber Teacher!

Interestingly enough, a real police car causes far less excitement than a plain white car – maybe the reality doesn’t quite fit with the fantasy life of inverted justice, the robbers being the good guys – bad is good, good is bad. Reminds me of another favourite game, (luckily now losing ground to terrible Knock Knock jokes), where Yes means No and No means Yes, You can get horribly tied up in knots with that one. I hope this tendency to turn the world on its head and look at it through the wrong end of the binoculars is a normal part of moral development and experimentation for young children and not a sign indicating an urgent need for a child psychologist!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Frolicking in the Daisies

We had a perfect spring day yesterday and the daisies agreed. They're not at their thickest yet, next week our farm will be carpeted in white, but enough to start trying to capture this year's 'children in the daisies' pictures. Every year I have a bash at getting the elusive perfect shot and am frequently foiled by the bright contrasty sunlight (which is what makes the daisies unfurl their petals) and the glare from all these white flowers. The kids are usually squinting in the brightness, with dark shadows thrown by their hats on their faces. I'm aiming for an album with a page for each year, full of our children frolicking in the flowers, growing up in the daisies.

This year we had an ulterior motive too. We're setting up a photo library on our A Flower Gallery site, where you can download photos for a small fee, hence the letters on this pic. I've been learning, more than I ever thought I would, about Photoshop - resizing, retouching, adding letters to the sample photos so that they can't be used so easily without permission, and staring at my computer screen, instead of the enticing view through the window, to the daisies and mountains.

The kids were cooperative models for a short time, but as it got closer to lunch time patience wore thin, and the appropriate captions for the resulting pictures were more likely to be 'Stomping off in a grump through the daisies'.

We had decided on a policy of using only the generic pictures of them for the library, not portraits where they are easily recognizable. So trying to get pictures of them walking away through the flowers hand-in-hand was the aim...and we did get some...but how eloquent backs can be! Some of the shots clearly say, 'my Mum made me do this and I actually want to go and pick up pine cones over there and now I think about it I'm hungry'. Still there's always next week.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Domestic Goddess Pancakes

"When can we have pancakes for breakfast again, Mum?"
Once long ago, when I had just got Nigella's "Feast", I tried out her recipe for banana and buttermilk pancakes, one Saturday morning, deviating from our usual cereal and toast routine. Ever since the cry periodically goes out "Pancakes, pancakes, pancakes".

So I've promised them for tomorrow. We have a mid-week public holiday. South Africa celebrates its public holidays on the actual date, rather than moving them to Friday or Monday as in Britain to make a convenient long weekend. This results in the charming custom, if the holiday falls on a Thursday or Tuesday, of taking the intervening single day off as well and declaring it a school holiday, so lucking out in a four day long weekend! We've had two of those this year so far,, but tomorrow - Women's Day, falls on its own in the middle of the week. I'm not sure why we get a holiday for ourselves, there isn't a Men's Day but I'm not complaining, the men get to have a holiday tomorrow too, fair shares.

Anyway these promised pancakes: I went back to "Feast" to look up the recipe and was reminded again why Nigella Lawson is my favourite food writer. She writes:

"Whenever I'm trying to be Nice Mummy, rather than normal Bad-tempered Impatient Mummy, I make pancakes. Unfortunately, it can often be counter-productive, but the sad truth about parenting is that it's virtually impossible to learn from your mistakes. The whole thing is a Dantesque punishment: you're trapped in the cycle, knowing what you're doing, but seemingly unable to stop."

So here I am, about to prove the truth of that by getting up bleary eyed tomorrow morning to cook pancakes, instead of having a lie-in, and hopefully not getting cranky with the children, as youngest decides I have to take her to the loo, just as I've put a perfect blob of batter in the pan and everyone is eating faster than I can cook and hang on a minute, I want one too!

Here is her recipe:

Banana Buttermilk Pancakes

1 very ripe banana
150g/5oz plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 egg
250 ml/1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon caster sugar
30g/1oz butter melted

Put all the ingredients except for the melted butter in to a blender and liquidise to a smooth batter. It can now wait till you're ready to cook. Stir in the melted butter just before you start cooking. On a heated smooth griddle or thick-based frying pan, dollop tablespoons of batter to form 7-8cm/2-3inch pancakes, flipping them over once the underside is set, a minute if that, by which time it will have turned a deep golden brown. Half a minute or so on the other side should do it, then transfer on to warm plates while you continue to cook the rest.

My kids like them with cinnamon and sugar, but inspired by the picure in the book, my middle daughter disappeared off this afternoon and came back with a bowlful of early strawberries, gleaned from our established plants, which don't call a south African winter 'winter' and insist on flowering through it, so we'll have one or two each alongside our pancakes tomorrow, hopefully not too early in the morning!

This limerick from my Easter post seems appropriate here to finish off.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


We have often jokingly said that my son must have been Chinese in a previous life. He will happily eat plain rice every day of the week, his favourite meal is rice and baked beans and he never tires of rice, rice, rice.

My sister-in-law brought the children back chopsticks from her visit to the States (as well as assorted, astoundingly cheap toys from Walmart). Now we are sure of it. Yesterday evening they decided to try out eating their supper with chopsticks, never having used or seen chopsticks being used in their life before. My son picked them up, exactly right and just started eating his rice and chicken, as if to the manner born. We were mildly gob-smacked! My six year old picked it up quite quickly with a bit of trial and error, and an extremely protracted supper ensued, with every grain of rice painstakingly cleared from plates, then a bowl of cut up apple embarked upon, then more grated apple - all with chopsticks. It was an hour later that they were at last persuaded to finish eating and go to bed, taking their chopsticks with them...who needs toys, you get more mileage out of a cheap pair of chopsticks!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Signs of Spring

The first blossoms are out on our tiny almond tree, sparkling with rain drops.

There is a whisper of spring in the air, with sprinklings of our snowy white daisies appearing in the sand and grass. Later they will become carpets, too thick to avoid treading on them.

Arum lilies are blooming (they grow in the ditches at the side of the roads here - I couldn't believe it when I first came from London and saw a hundred quid's worth of choice blooms just there at the side of the tarmac, mine for the picking!).

I have completely missed the boat with pruning our ornamental vine. I’ve been waiting for the last scarlet leaves to drop, before setting to and reducing its volume by half. Today I looked at it and saw the first buds breaking into leaf already. A mad frenzy of gentle trimming of loose ends ensued, like untangling knitting - a patient puzzle process. Any time I cut too close to a burgeoning bud a drop of watery sap welled out of the cut like a tear, making me feel guilty for spilling such vibrant life force.

For now though, warm sun is followed by squally showers, floods and cold nights to remind us that August is actually still winter and hot water bottles are required for a while longer.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Wheat-Free Chocolate Cookie Recipe and Ramblings

We have finally finished the leftovers from Sunday's feast. The last chicken carcass is being reduced to stock, as I write, the gentle aroma of chicken soup pervading the house and driving the dogs crazy with its tantalising nearness! I haven't had to cook a meal from scratch for the last few days as we had a whole roast chicken left, as well as scrummy bits of ham and stuffing to pick at, not to mention the choccie pudding.

Today though I had to roll up my sleeves and start baking again. Bread gets devoured at a rate of a loaf or two a day here. My son brought back three friends from school today and the lunchtime loaf was practically inhaled in seconds. The slow eaters had to make do with Ryvita for a second slice. Eight seems to be the age where a child makes the transition from picky eater living on air and crumbs, to voracious appetite never satisfied...with four eight year olds in the house, I thought I'd better do a batch of biscuits - chocolate oat cookies, in self defence or at least in defence of the rest of the supplies in the larder. Even with those the apple bowl was emptied.

They did use up enough energy to justify the depredations on the larder though. Hurtling through the restios in elaborate games of chase, outfitted in my son's camouflage trousers (he being the smallest, they looked like army fashion victims in 3/4 length baggies), then cricket, then bicycling down the farm road, with a short rest inside playing with lego. My six year old daughter valiantly trying to keep up and be included with the big boys, youngest wisely staying well out of it and playing her own complicated game inside, talking away to herself.

So now I have to decide whether to publish my recipe for wheat-free chocolate oat cookies, for those of you who also have ravening eight year olds to feed. I adapted this recipe so much that it is now my own personal recipe, that has nothing to do with the one it first evolved from, a new species altogether and as such I am quite protective of it, but now I think it is grown-up enough to go out into the world under its own steam and evolve some more.

Wheat-Free Chocolate Oat Cookie Recipe

115g/4oz margarine or soft butter
1/2 cup soft dark brown sugar or treacle sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup oat flour
1/2 cup rye flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 dessertspoons cocoa powder
1 cup porridge oats

Cream together the marg or butter and sugars. Beat in the egg. Sift in the flours, bicarb, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cocoa and stir to combine well. Stir in the oats. Grease two baking trays and put generous teaspoons of the mixture in dollops, well-spaced. Bake at 160C/320F for 15-20 minutes until firm and slightly coloured. Cool on a rack, they firm up as they cool.

This recipe started out as a way to keep my son off wheat and still happy, when we were trying to help his asthma/bronchitis tendency, but now we all like the cookies anyway and the wheat-free aspect is just a bonus. Now you know they are healthier than your average cookie you can eat more....!.