Saturday, January 27, 2007

x + y = ?

The universe is trying to tell me something. Employment opportunities have been throwing themselves at me out of the blue. For the last seven years my instinctive reaction to such phenomena would have been to duck. I was quite busy enough at home bringing up young children and that is where I wanted to be thank you very much. This time round I’m having to rethink and catch the balls thrown at me, rather than dodge them. Apart from the fact that youngest is now four and should soon be leaving me more time to rediscover where I am going in life, we need a second income stream, even if only a small top up one.

All last year I was trying to think of something that would fit in with school times and allow me to work part-time or from home. I’d got as far as contacting publishing houses for proof-reading work, though nothing has come through yet, writing to support my husband’s websites, which is how my blog was born (with far greater and wider application and bonusses than I’d dreamt of, I agree with all that Charlotte said here) but though it was all enriching, widening my horizons and I’m so glad I did, just for meeting all you wonderful friends, from the financial point of view apart from the $2 or so I’d earned from Adsense, it wasn’t getting me very far.

A possibility, that had never crossed my mind, came when we had our cinema outing last week. After the movie, we had lunch in a coffee shop that opened into the mall. A friendly girl approached me and asked if I’d be interested in casting for a commercial. Loads of film companies use Cape Town for shoots, and this Norwegian director wanted ‘natural’, so was casting people off the street. Initially I assumed she meant the children and said “No”, as I don’t want them to have to cope with the whole palaver of shoots, when they’re all quite shy of strangers. My sister-in-law, mentioned the money though and I thought about it under this new light. We went back to her and it turned out to be me they wanted to do the casting, there was apparently a ‘role’ the director thought I’d be perfect for. So she took a snap of me with a number, handed me the info letter and I went off to do the shopping.

My husband looked at the letter and recognised the production company as one who uses their studio for if I was called, it would most likely be to his workplace.

Fast forward to this week. I did get called, it was to his studio (handy for on site creche facilities in the form of Dad, if it hadn’t been far too hot to drag them all the way in to town). After all the usual hanging around that castings involve, I went in. Stood in front of the camera for the test shots. Was asked to do a little action.Turns out the role that the director thought I’d be perfect for is......a maths teacher! When the day before I’ve also been asked to become a real teacher, I think this is some sort of cosmic gentle tease, either that or a bludgeoning over the head of “Get on with it THIS IS WHAT YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE DOING!”

I don’t know whether they want me for the teacher role in the commercial yet, I hope so, it would be fun and one day of those sort of jobs a month would bring in more than the teaching would do. I somehow don’t think my destiny involves an acting career though – I’m being shoved from being a SAHM to being a GTSWTKM (go to school with the kids mother) ..unless I’m reading it wrong and you’ll see me at the Oscars in ten years time!

Friday, January 26, 2007

School Report

A cold front came over in the night bringing some blessedly cool air with it. At six o’clock I woke up and ran around opening windows and doors, so the house could gulp in the freshness. Now I can finally write about something other than the weather!

The first day at school went well for my daughter. I left her after assembly, lined up to go into her classroom, a shy sideways look at me as she felt her way into this new world. At the end of the morning she had loved the stories, the drawings, the songs and of course her teacher, but breaktime was boring. She was put out that her class had to play in the area around their classroom and she couldn’t go and join her big brother and his friends. At the end of the second morning, she confided over my shoulder as I drove home, that she had made a new friend. She didn’t know her name though. The next day I was instructed not to walk her to her classroom any more.

I think she is now well on her way to being settled in. She knows her new friends’ names now, says she is friends with the whole class and can’t wait for next week, cos at school she can be with her friends. She’s looking forward to getting new books to learn writing in, doing more finger knitting to make herself a skipping rope and doing more painting. A huge sigh of relief from her parents to see the second duckling paddling confidently off into the pond.

The youngest duckling is now to be addressed. Her reluctance to start kindergarten has remained unchanged. I was going to let more time go by and hope she came round to it of her own accord. Circumstances/ the universe/ whatever seem to be pushing things along though. At the end of the first morning my son's teacher asked if I would consider some part-time teaching there. One of their class teachers can only do part-time this year, which leaves them with classes doubling up for some lessons. I’d helped out by taking my son’s class last year for reading practice and drawing , more baby-sitting than teaching and had youngest along with me then, but a cling-on creature doesn’t allow much freedom of movement in the classroom. So if I’m going to accept the teaching job, she will have to start in kindergarten, at least two mornings a week.

I’ve got a couple of weeks to ease things along. The kindergarten classes are just about to move into their new building, which wasn’t finished in time for the beginning of term, where there’ll be two age groups and I’m hoping the younger group will be a gentle start for her. It helps a little that she is finding it quite dull at home with me in the mornings, I’m on the computer, with only short periods of time to read to her and have snack with her. The separation anxiety stage that started last September has got lots better, but I guess I’m worrying that forcing a start in kindergarten will set things right back to square one.

At least worrying about her, takes the place of worrying about whether or not I can cope with a classful of seven year olds. My experience is limited to those lessons with my son's class and eight years as a mother, though that should have equipped me for quite a lot of things. I propose a motion that motherhood should be awarded at least a thousand points on any CV assessment. I’m hoping that they will mostly need me for craft and reading practice type lessons and that a firm countenance will keep all the children in order!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Hot as a Pizza Oven

Yesterday everyone on the radio was talking about the heatwave - 35 degrees C in Cape Town but out here in the wheat country 30 mins from Cape Town it was 41C / 108F degrees. Sweltering. In this weather our straw bale house is wondrous, it keeps out the worst of the heat, but by no stretch of the imagination could the inside temperature be described as cool. In a moment of utter lunacy (my brain obviously affected by the heat), from the sanctuary of the swimming pool, I decided to cook us pizza for supper. This decision was made on the strength of what ingredients there were in the larder (not much, as I had failed to go shopping that afternoon) rather than on considerations of heat and energy being exuded into an already heady atmosphere. Of course once the promise of pizza reached the kids there was no going back. I struggled out of the balmy water of 29C/84F degrees, so nearly bath like, and up the sandy hill to the house, wondering just which connections of my brain weren’t fully firing.

At six in the evening the house was still cooler than outside and opening doors would only let in a hot wind. So I shut myself in and got the dough going, realised we had no bread for tomorrow either, so flour and sweat mingled as the bakery went into action. In the heat the pizza dough rose extra fast, so I had to keep knocking it down until I’d made the tomato sauce. Extremely reluctant to turn on the oven with all the doors closed and sacrifice the last vestiges of cool in the house, I left it as late as possible. So it was that we found ourselves eating pizza on the stoep as dusk fell and the breeze attained a marginally cooler temperature. Bedtime was far too late for a school night but when it is this hot some things just have to give a little.

Pizza Recipe

Great for heating up your kitchen on a cold winter’s night!

The Dough
Makes two thin crust 23cm pizzas

200g/7oz flour
15 ml/ 1 tablespoon instant yeast
2 ml/ ½ tablespoon sugar
125ml/ ½ cup warm water
1 ml salt
15 ml/ 1 tablespoon sunflower oil

Mix together the yeast, water and sugar and let stand till it froths. Stir it into the flour and salt, then mix to a stiff dough. Add the oil and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover the bowl and leave the dough to rise for about twenty minutes until it has doubled in size. Knock down and divide into two pieces. Roll out each piece to about 23 cm in diameter and put onto a lightly oiled baking sheet. Leave for 2 minutes before adding the toppings. Bake for 20 minutes at 200C / 400F.

I usually do one garlic pizza, just spreading 2/3 tablespoons good olive oil on the pizza and sprinkling chopped garlic and salt over it. The rest I put a thick fresh tomato sauce on, grated mozzerella and bacon, spinach or salami as those are the flavours of the moment. I usually have to double or triple this recipe to feed this family and cook the pizzas in relays.

Monday, January 22, 2007

School Starts Tomorrow

My daughter has her first day at big school tomorrow – starting Class 1 and emerging from kindergarten into the big wide world of her brother’s school. She is chuffed to be going to the same school as him and hopes to be able to play with him at break time. I hope he’ll be a tolerant big brother for long enough for her to settle in. There will be five children from her kindergarten in her class, so it is not the big unknown for her and she has been there every day to collect him for the last two years, but it still feels like a big step to me.

I just heard today that her teacher will be the lovely teacher that my son had in Class 1 and that she has adored from afar ever since. She said back then that she wanted to have her as her teacher when she came to Class 1. At the time it seemed unlikely as Waldorf primary class teachers usually move up the school with the same group of children. However I think my daughter must have a powerful connection with the universe, as her wish has come true.

This is an article I wrote for the school newsletter at the end of my son’s first year there. I wish for the same happy glow and sense of purpose and achievement for my daughter in her school career.

First impressions

My son’s first day at ‘big school’, a big day for him but also a big day for me as a parent. The step up from kindergarten to Class 1 is huge, from a small cosy environment of only twelve children to a busy, bustling school.

So it was very reassuring to attend the first day’s school assembly, where the new Class 1 was welcomed by the whole school, each child presented by the older classes with some useful or intriguing piece of equipment or materials for their classroom. Long pieces of dowling from which they were later to fashion their own knitting needles, a basket of beanbags for dexterity and coordination, right down to a brush for sweeping their classroom.

It felt like they were immediately given a sense of purpose, a curiosity to go and see what they would learn with all these things. There was also a sense of the older children passing on the baton, of the things they had already learnt and become familiar with, and of them including and welcoming the new children into their school.

The new Class 1 then returned heavily laden to their classroom with the raw ingredients of their year’s journey of growth and learning. As I watched my son walk off without a backward glance, bearing a basket of pebbles, I felt happy to have chosen such a warm, caring environment for him.

Since then I have watched the burgeoning and blossoming of a whole new set of skills. The learning of letters and numbers of course, but also the coordination of ball skills, the intricacies of finger knitting, songs in Xhosa and Afrikaans as well as English, the beautiful and ever more detailed pictures telling stories and also the growing independence and confidence that comes with finding ones own place in life.

Observing the older children it seems that self-confidence is one of the great gifts of Waldorf education: they know who they are, are able to talk confidently with adults, to put on a play involving the whole of the class and speak out their lines. At the Spring fair open day, I saw the exhibition of children’s work and admired the beautifully put together work books, with intricate drawings, diagrams, handwriting and poems. I look forward to all this for my son too, as he progresses through the school and becomes in his turn one of the older children welcoming the new ones to his school.

Dec 2005

P.S. My youngest has informed me that she doesn't intend to go to school until she is old enough for Class 1 and maybe not even then, so my plan for gentling her back into kindergarten, after her bout of separation anxiety last year, seems thwarted from the start.. I'll have to give it more time and see - stubborness is one of her great skills in life.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Feeling hot hot hot

I remember back in August sitting at my computer, my feet slowly turning to ice in the draughts, reading blogs about heatwaves, beach trips and ice cream. Now it’s my turn to swelter as you all shiver. It’s hot hot hot! Summer stepped up a notch this weekend. Yesterday a fierce wind blew from the east over the land, heating up as it went. The only thing to do was to shut ourselves inside our relatively cool straw bale house, that retains the night-time cool most of the day, as long as you keep all the doors and windows tight shut. We only braved the scorching wind for a foray to the swimming pool to refresh ourselves and work off some energy.

Today was better with a gentler wind from a more sensible direction. The sun was still fierce enough to burn through factor 40 sun cream on my shoulders this morning at the pool. We were there for ages, scrubbing off the incipient algae, anything to put off the moment of getting out of the water and being instantly hot again. Lunchtime saw us sealed inside the house, though the cool was by now only relative to the outside temperature. Some quiet time on computers, jigsaw puzzles and play. Ice lollies doled out and then another swim.

A braai was declared as the only possibility for the evening meal, the thought of cooking anything inside the now less than cool house unappealing. My husband, the braai master, heroically braved the hot coals to turn the spicy chicken wings and boerewors sausage until they were cooked to perfection.

His trade secret is to keep my Le Creuset casserole on the side of the braai, with a generous slug of white wine in. The sausage goes into this as soon as it is cooked and makes an amazing sauce with the juices and wine amalgamating mmmmmm..

The children found a new way of cooling off in the sprinklers.

Our foofy slide is a pulley on a sloping wire with a bar attached to hang from, leaping from the step ladder you can go at a fair speed. Very refreshing with the sprinkler to swoosh through.

The wind was starting to cool and, though it brought a haze of smoke from a bush fire somewhere miles away, felt fresher. We sat outside on the stoep licking spice from our fingers and dipping potatoes into the sausage juices and felt that it doesn’t get much better than this...except for the homemade strawberry ice cream in cones for afters.

Tonight we have the relief of evening cool, that was denied us yesterday with that hot inland wind, so all the doors and windows are flung open wide, the crickets and frogs chorus and the new moon sets behind our hill.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Screen Test

A very different sort of outing today. Spier was the ultimate African experience – food for the soul and memories for life. My sister-in-law has this week off work and had promised the children another expedition. We went from the sublime to the mundane, choosing to go to see Charlotte’s Web at the movies. We haven’t taken the kids to the cinema for a year and a half. The last time we tried, when youngest was 2 ½ , it was too loud, too dark and too scary. The movie was Madagascar, but the trailers were very in-your-face and the volume up so high that she was way too overwhelmed. I ended up walking the mall with her, while Dad watched with the others.

Charlotte’s Web sounded great though. I haven’t read the book to them yet, but the story is so gentle, that I didn’t think there could be too many scary bits even with Hollywood adaptations. I love Dakota Fanning too. So we went. Most of the schools have already started, so the morning show was deserted. We had the cinema to ourselves. Armed with popcorn we went in, trailers still blaring out.

Youngest hung back as the others deliberated over seats, with the whole theatre to choose from. It wasn’t as loud as our previous experience, but “ TOO Dark!”. She stood firmly planted in the doorway, where the light from the corridor still shone. Visions of another hour spent shopping instead of watching the movie began to loom. Standing in the doorway seemed to be light enough though and we found we could sit down just outside on the carpeted floor and still see the whole screen. So that is what we did. Our own private viewing of Charlotte’s Web, with personalised light settings. There was no-one else to fall over our feet, we were able to chat through it and ask questions without being shusshed. She loved the whole thing and wants to know when we can go and see it again.

Maybe in another year and a half we will even make it to see a movie inside the cinema on the seats.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Holiday Highs

Yesterday we made clay pots on a wheel, learnt how to play the drum, picnicked by a river, stroked a cheetah and some owls and held an eagle. This trip to Spier wine estate was a splendiferous end of holiday treat from my sister-in-law to the children.

We have spent most of the holidays at home, busy with Christmas preparations, singing carols, swimming and playing, playing, playing but my son’s “What I did in the holidays” essay was going to look rather sparse. Now he has enough material from our one day out to fill several pages.

He was over the moon with his pot. Jimmy, the potter guided our hands to achieve extremely respectable pots, which we were able to bring home after they had spent the rest of the day drying in the sun. He now has plans to get a potter’s wheel at home and make a few vases, as he reckons he’s got the hang of it now and can do it on his own.

There are two animal conservation and rehabilitation initiatives at Spier. This is the Cheetah Outreach program, where you can pay extra to spend five minutes in the enclosure stroking and getting to know a cheetah.

The sound of a contented cheetah purring in the shade on a hot day as we stroked it I hope will stay with the children for ever. My son had a big grin on his face, all the time we were there.

Then the raptors – the birds of prey. Some of these are being rehabilitated after accidents, for release into the wild. Others have been kept as pets by misguided humans, so think they are human themselves and will have to remain in captivity.

Youngest was entranced by the barn owl, as we sat stroking its soft feathers and my son was daring enough to don the leather gauntlet and hold Wally the Walbergs eagle. We then got a personal viewing of the flight training session, as we were the only ones there. After being an ardent viewer of Animal Planet, and having decided to be a park ranger when he grows up, it was amazing for my son to be up close and personal with the flesh and blood animals.

He later waxed lyrical on the subject of pots but hardly mentioned the animals at all. I think therefore I can deduce that the animal experience went pretty deep and is still being absorbed and processed. I guess I'll find out, if that essay gets written when the new school year starts on Tuesday.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Green Meme

Charlotte is suffering from unseasonably mild weather in Germany and was inspired to start this Green Meme from a Newsweek report.

1. What do you for the birds and the bees? According to the report, we need to plant a pollinator garden to counteract the effect pollution, pesticides and habitat destruction are having on birds, bees and insects. Bees, for instance, like yellow, blue and purple flowers.

This part we can polish haloes on if nowhere else. We live on a smallholding, so have loads of space to plant trees – indigenous ones that support local bird and insect populations, plus lavender for the bees. There are loads more birds around, than when we moved here, when the land was overgrown with Port Jackson, an invasive alien that crowds out all the indigenous fynbos.

2. Household products. Chemical or organic? Household chemicals contribute to indoor and outdoor pollution.

Not so great here – I’ve tried switching to Ecover products, but they don’t work so well - the laundry didn’t smell fresh, the dishes were greasy. I’m interested in finding out from Zia about her lye soap recipe, which she says works great and is soft on the skin.

3. Do you junk?

We get very little junk mail and no catalogues at all. Most of my junk comes via email so is eco-friendly junk!

4. Air-dry or tumble-dry? Line-drying saves money and stops carbon emissions.

Always line dry. In South Africa there is enough sun to dry most of the year round. If we have a rainy spell in winter the dirty laundry just builds up until the sun shines again.

5. Old gadgets. Recycle or toss ‘em? According to the report, we have to find a way not to fill up landfills with electronic objects.

There are so many people here on the poverty line that if an appliance breaks we can give it away to an employee, who will know someone to fix it and sell it on. That goes for a lot of things we’d otherwise throw out.

6. Lightbulbs - incandescent or fluorescent? Fluorescent light bulbs use 70% less power and last ten times as long.

We changed over to the fluorescent ones a long time ago. We are bad at leaving lots of lights burning in the evenings though and several all night long, for insomniacs to wander the house.

7. Meat or veg? Meat production is energy inefficient. It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat.

We do eat meat, several times a week, but the price of meat here has soared recently, so I usually alternate, one day meat, the next pasta, rice or soup.

8. Loo paper. Virgin or recycled? The paper industry is the third largest contributor to global warming. If every U.S. household replaced one toilet-paper roll with a roll made from recycled paper, 424,000 trees would be saved.

We totally fail the eco-friendly test here. For one thing recycled loo paper isn’t that widely available here and for another I have a family of delicate bottoms, who require two ply comfort. It’s not worth it for the sake of domestic harmony.

9. Tap or bottled water? According to Newsweek, it takes a lot of oil to make and ship water bottles, and most end up in landfills.

Always tap water from our borehole, which is the nicest water around anyway. Occasionally I buy a bottle of water when we’re out, then it usually gets reused multiple times. There are no facilities for recycling plastic bottles around Cape Town, that I know of. The worst offender here is our plastic milk containers, which build up into a mountain very quickly.

The only downside on the water front is the amount of electricity needed to drive the pump that sends the water from the borehole to the houses. Solar panels would make us much greener.

10. Dating - metrosexual or ecosexual? Newsweek says two recyclers are better than one.

Theoretically we’re both into being as green as possible. We’d like solar panels to heat our water, a reed bed to recycle our grey water and all the rest - money to install these things is the issue. Having said that though, lack of money is the greatest incentive to recycle, mend, reuse and save energy

Our straw bale house is very energy efficient and well insulated. We don’t need too much heating in winter and have no air-con in summer. That hopefully offsets the amount of energy used in other areas like the water pump.

We do a fair amount to live greenly but there is still room for improvement. As we live on a farm far from urban recycling facilities, we don’t always manage to recycle all we should, plus once you’ve factored in the petrol to get there, it doesn’t always make sense. South Africa is also way behind Europe on what can be recycled. Rubbish is usually burnt here at municipal dumps. Our worst offence is burning our own rubbish in a pit, but we do then plant a tree over all the ashes once the pit is full. The tree usually does brilliantly so that salves our conscience a little.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Yesterday Evening

Summer swallows swooping,
Perform an intricate dance,
Meeting midair,
parents beak to beak with adolescent offspring
slip them succulent morsels of mozzies.

As the evening sun slips away
Landscape that was bleached straw
Now is drenched in golden honey.
Sacred Ibis in V formation
Wing purposefully overhead.

The heat wanes.
Sprinklers release the scent from the baked earth,
mercifully slaking the parched grass.
The cricket chirrup resonates incessantly
Harmonising with frog song.

Children in short pyjamas
asleep under mozzie nets
the fan twirling industriously above.
Doors and windows agape
To ensnare the evening breeze.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Lamb for Lunch

I have been struggling to find adequate words to describe a lamb recipe that I tried on Sunday. Simplicity itself, it comes from one of Marcella Hazan’s Italian Cookery Books. She always stays true to the authentic flavours of Italy and this one transported me right back in time, to my days working in Italy. The lamb cooks to tenderness in a small amount of white wine, flavoured with rosemary and garlic. This reduces itself to what high falluting restaurants used to call a jus (maybe they still do, it’s a long time since I’ve been to one) a concentrated drizzle of intense flavour that coats the lamb and leaves just enough to mop off your plate with some new potatoes or oven-roasted potato cubes. With some salad or green vegetables it is a meal fit for a king and the best thing I’d cooked us for a very long time. I was still mopping the juices from my plate with potatoes long after I was full.

Italian Lamb Stew Recipe

This recipe works for most cuts of lamb, from large hunks on the bone, to chops, to boneless cubes for stewing - the only difference is the amount of cooking time needed to make the lamb tender. For large pieces about two hours, small 1 – 1 ½ hours should be enough, but check for tenderness – the meat should start coming away from the bone easily.

750g-900g (1 ¾ - 2lb) lamb
4-5 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cloves of garlic
1 sprig of rosemary or ½ teaspoon dried rosemary
125ml/ ½ cup dry white wine
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan, to which you have a lid, over a medium-high heat. Put in the lamb, garlic and rosemary and brown the lamb on all sides. (Don’t let the garlic darken too much). Once the lamb is nicely browned, add salt and freshly ground pepper then pour over all the wine. Let the wine bubble and turn the meat over in it a couple of times, then turn down the heat and put on the lid. Cook at a gentle simmer for 1-2 hours depending on the size of the meat pieces. Turn the meat once or twice during this time. If all the liquid has evaporated before the end of the cooking time, add two tablespoons of water. Once the lamb feels tender when you pierce it with a fork, take it out on to a warm serving dish. Draw off most of the fat with a spoon. If there is a lot of liquid in the pan, turn up the heat and let it bubble to reduce. If there is hardly any, add a couple of tablespoons of water and scrape up the cooking residue to make a delicious gravy. Pour this over the lamb and serve immediately.

There are lots of variations on this basic recipe. If you ever tire of this simple version, try adding one of the following:

1 red pepper peeled, deseeded and cut into thin strips added to the lamb near the end of its cooking time

225g/8oz tinned tomatoes with their juice, added after the wine has bubbled, before you turn the heat down.

450g/1lb fresh French/green beans topped and tailed and added after the wine has bubbled, before you turn the heat down.

I’m already wondering how long to wait before I cook this again. The children loved it too and I don’t want to dull their appreciation into “Oh, this again” too soon.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Down with Decorations

6th of January – Epiphany – the day the Three Kings finally made it to Bethlehem and the day all the Christmas decorations MUST come down. Every pine needle, every scrap of tinsel, every holly berry must be expurgated from the house before the day is out or else dire, but unspecified, consequences could befall least so the ancient superstition goes.

I think it was invented by some Scrooge Bah Humbug type, who would have really rather chucked the tree out on Boxing Day. Unfortunately for him (and it was definitely a him) the church and its Twelve days of Christmas upheld the rest of the family clamouring to keep on celebrating and singing Christmas Carols for a further eleven blooming days.... but the twelfth day was his.

OUT with the Christmas cards that make it so hard to dust the mantle piece (and give the wife every excuse not to bother for a whole month), out with the annoyingly huge tree obscuring the living room, out with the oh so jolly festoons, swags, stars and greenery decking picture frames, window sills and every darn surface in the house..out with it all OR ELSE. Plus you better dust and sweep every inch of the house cos those pine needles get everywhere and one speck of glitter undetected in a corner could jinx the whole of the rest of the year.

This superstition still manages to linger in my head, however much I know it is rubbish. I still feel the tree must be outside, the floor swept of needles, the decorations packed away before the clock strikes twelve. A fit of New Year spring cleaning threatens to engulf me in its tentacles and I am tempted to consign all the unmatched plastic miscellany that strews the floor straight to the bin, vital part of some Christmas present or no.

The sitting room looks dull divested of its Christmas baubles. No green photosynthesising presence bringing the outdoors in. I think I need to get a huge wild vase of flowers to riot and shed leaves and blooms in the fireplace..I miss that tree.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Cross-Dressing Ben

Barbie is finding that riding off into the sunset after her wedding is not quite what she expected of the happyeverafter.

Oh Ben that is just soooo last season!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Addicted to Numbers

Substance abuse, apart from chocolate, has never been attractive to me, maybe luck, maybe genetic, but I made it through my teens and twenties with only the barest of whiffs of other people’s joints in passive smoking passing. No so with meaningless number games.

My son was given a Sudoku board game for Christmas. We must be truly in a backwater because this was the first time I’d come across it, though apparently it is all the rage the world over. The challenge of arranging little squares of card numbered 1 to 9 into coherent and unrepeated sequences has grabbed me, tied me up and rendered me impervious to general conversation, behindhand with cooking supper, neglectful of bedtimes....must be an addiction.

The last time this fatal tendency had me by the short and curlies it was Minesweeper on the computer that was my undoing. Through my first pregnancy I spent disproportionate amounts of time clearing minefields by rapid fire assessmemnt of the numbers, constantly trying to improve my speed, without getting blown up by the slip of a mouse click. Who knows what the attraction is, but even now when my eight year old is beginning to explore the treacherous ground of computer games, I have to be careful not to get too involved with demonstrating the ways of Minesweeper...he probably absorbed all he needed to know in the womb anyway!

Luckily there are only 100 possible puzzles in the Sudoku box to work through, so there is a finite amount of time I can dispose of honing my numbers skills. The Minesweeper section of my computer I leave to my son now, the fatal buzz of clear space exploding out to a rim of numbers all his. I’m trying to put my numbers to use, harnessing them to learn numerology, which is a demanding combination of number ability and intuition, but for relaxation and down time, organising numbers into patterns for no reason whatsoever has got me hooked.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Camping In

Sleeping bags wrapped up into satisfyingly large presents awaited the children under the tree this year. One of our New Year's Resolutions is to take the mega step of going camping, a move hitherto prevented by the sheer hideousness of trying to pack three children, the paraphenalia of life under canvas, as well as enough toys, clothes, snacks for an army of toddlers into one ordinary estate car. With youngest safely past her fourth birthday it suddenly seems like a possibility – all the idyllic camp sites of South Africa enticing us to try out for ourselves the adventure of leaving the security blanket of home behind and heading into the wilderness.

My experience of camping dates from years back, when as a teenager I went on my parents’ school camp, acting as quartermaster general, boy scout style – doling out corned beef, tins of stew and bacon and eggs to be cooked on open fires. Tents were two man A- shaped canvas, we washed in the stream, if we bothered at all. Modern family camping seems to be a whole new ball game, requiring a lot more equipment and comforts. We need to acquire a two room tent, a gas bottle camping stove, blow-up mattresses for older bones to rest comfortably on, folding chairs and tables (because any fool can be uncomfortable, as my father-in-law is renowned for saying).

So we’ve made a start with sleeping bags for the children. These of course must be road tested, so tonight they have decided to sleep on the floor of their bedroom in their sleeping bags. The original plan had been for the older two to venture a sleepover at their aunt’s house (100m down the hill) but that had to put off till the weekend, so the floor of the bedroom it is. Much arranging and rearranging of territory, toys, pillows and PJs went on and the novelty of it all has them still awake chatting.

It feels like a good start to get them used to sleeping at a different angle. It has been more than a year since we slept anywhere but in our own beds (sad but true, but then we live in such a lovely place that it is quite hard to leave it) – full on camping cold turkey might have been too much for youngest, who was already feeling strange, just with her own mattress and duvet on the floor right next to her bed! The next stage will be to get a tent and pitch it outside our house, somewhere on the farm and try sleeping out in it...then freedom to travel will be ours.