Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Game Ranger or Chef?

Our nine year old son has wanted to be a game ranger for a long time now, since Animal Planet came into his life when he was about five (before that he wanted to be a pilot). Last week after they had been watching Aladdin, my husband asked the children what three wishes they would ask for, if a Genie appeared in their lives. Our son gave serious consideration to the question.

His first request was to have the materials he needed to make all the projects in his The Science and History Project Book. This is a brilliant book that a friend of his had. He requested it for his birthday present and has been browsing through ever since. It has hundreds of different things you can make, from rockets out of plastic bottles, volcanoes with bicarb, flour and vinegar, suits of armour and foods from different cultures and times in history.

Next after due thought he said he'd like to be a great artist. He gave me more details later. Though he likes the painting he does at school, it's a bit too simple and he'd like to learn to paint like Grandpa, doing very detailed watercolours.

The third wish he would use to set the genie free, like Aladdin did.

Our hearts swelled with parental pride at this mature and considered disposal of his imaginary wishes!

On Thursday, as I was wrestling in the kitchen with some naartjies to make clever naartjie sorbets for the upcoming birthday dinner, he came and sat down with something on his mind. The great question was, what did he need to do to become a game ranger and if he went to college to do that, could he also study to be a great artist? Plus he thought he'd like to open a shop to sell all the things he was going to make from his Science Project Book. If he was working as a game ranger, would his boss let him open a shop right there, so he could keep an eye on the shop while he was working? Then maybe in his holiday time he could do his art. How much holiday did I think he would get as a game ranger? And what would he need to know to run a shop? He thought that even children who were just used to plastic guns from big toy shops would find something they liked in his shop, maybe the suits of armour and swords.

We had a half hour conversation on his career aspirations. I think he has the makings of an entrepreneur, as by the end of it he had shops in several different countries with managers and a team of people that he'd trained to make enough things to sell. My husband then threw some more ideas into the mix, that maybe he'd like to make wild-life films and earn enough to buy his own game farm, then he could open his shop there and sell to his visitors.

He also has the makings of a chef. He recently rediscovered his Cooking with Herb - Herb the Vegetarian Dragon cook book, that he loved when he was small. His grand plan was to cook something from it for Dad's birthday dinner, maybe the spaghetti sandwich or the strawberry slush. My elegant dinner plans were preserved by a diplomatic suggestion from Dad, that he would like him to cook supper on his actual birthday, just for the family and that maybe he could find three recipes for Dad to choose from. This was duly done and the menu decided - Dragonian Quesadillas with spicy tomato salsa. It didn't matter that he doesn't like tomatoes, he was doing this recipe for Dad and maybe he'd try a bit. I questioned the availability of tortillas in our neck of the woods. He reassured me. There was a recipe for them in his Science Project Book.

So yesterday, after the birthday cake was disposed of, we got out the recipes to see what we needed to do. The Science Project Book obliged with a recipe for Aztec Tortillas. He duly measured out ingredients, kneaded the dough, carefully divided it into twelve and weighed each piece to see that they were even. Rolling them out thin needed a little help, but he did half of them before handing the rolling pin over to me and getting on with grating the cheese. He came into his own with the frying of the tortillas though, timing them to the second and flipping them with panache.

All this took a lot of time. 'One minute each side for twelve tortillas, that's twenty four minutes, I think supper will be at quarter to seven'. He was right. I swiftly did the salsa for him, mashed some avos for guacamole, as he concentrated on the tortillas. A whole hour and a half of hard cooking and the birthday supper was on the table. The quesadillas were light and crispy, the salsa spicy (just right for Mum and Dad) and he had triumphed!

His next idea is to get up very early and make them for breakfast and take some to school too.

Sometimes I get nostalgic for the baby years, but nine is a whole new voyage of discovery that delights at every turn.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Five More Things Meme

Cooksister tagged me for this meme ages ago, but a rigorous regime of cooking, baking, power cuts, and birthday preparations have kept me from my computer for the last few days. I'll write a full report of the first grown-up dinner party that I've cooked in living memory, soon.

What were you doing 10 years ago?

We were living in our photographic studios in London, running them as hire studios, old warehouses enmeshed in a triangle of train tracks, with a mezzanine for a bedroom and lots of white studio space everywhere else, but no windows to look out of. We were just about to get pregnant with our first child, and rushing over to South Africa as my father-in-law was dying. I was still working on a few walking holidays in Italy each year, the last one to be in September, when having just found out I was pregnant, I was suffering from being 'off food' and so the joys of a gourmet trip in Tuscany were lost to me.

Five snacks you enjoy:

Toast and marmalade
Vegetable crisps
South African rusks

Five songs you know all the lyrics to:

Away in a Manger
Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen
Green grow the rushes O
Summer Loving - Grease
I got friends in low places - Garth Brooks

Five things you would do if you were a millionaire:
(I hope this is in pounds, rather than rand, otherwise one million won't cover it!)

Pay off the mortgages of all the immediate family.
Hire a school bus for the high school kids, that I give lifts to, who hitch 25km to school every day.
Visit all my friends and family on a leisurely, luxurious, world tour.
Eat out in all the wonderful restaurants I've been reading about in all your blogs.
Provide some of the buildings that my children's school needs so badly.

Five bad habits:

Waiting till the petrol gauge is on red before filling up.
Leaving receipts in my purse till it reaches exploding point

Five things you like doing:

Reading in front of the fire.
Eating good food not cooked by me.
Looking at a distant view.
Filling the house with friends and food.

Five things you would never wear again:

Silver lipstick, which gave an unhealthy pallor to the skin though I'm still quite tempted by the silver nail polish that I wore with it.
Stilettos - my feet can't take anything other than comfortable shoes these days.
School uniform - any uniform.
Blouses with ruffles, ruffs and metallic gold thread stripes down them.
Miniskirts, though I'm in complete denial about this as I still have about four of my favourite Jigsaw mini skirts from the early Nineties in a suitcase upstairs.

Five favourite toys:

My Canon digital camera.
My blog.
Secateurs - pruning is my best bit of gardening and the only thing I do consistently.
Astrology books - western and Chinese, I find it all intriguing.
Crystals - from trips to the Scratch Patch with the kids, that sit in my pocket, smooth and polished for my fingers to turn over - right now it's a gorgeous piece of blue lace agate with delicate lacy stripes.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Cluttered Mind

Two things resonated with me from this post of Charlotte's. The first that she finds it hard to ask for help and expects herself to be able to go it alone and the second the eternal housework dilemma. How, if you're not very good at housework yourself, to train your kids at least to have some idea of keeping the house moderately liveable in?

The asking for help thing is also a big hurdle for me. I always assume that everyone else has enough on their plate already and that the least I can do is sort out my relatively-unimportant-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things troubles without bothering them. So a retreat into a non-communicative comfort zone with general anaesthesia of a nice, undemanding book until I feel better, is my usual response to stress. The current interruption of blog posting, probably reflects my current struggle with the transition from cosy cocoon of stay at home mother, where I'm comfortable and confident in my abilities to bake bread, sew funny things out of felt and kiss things better, to the economic demand that I find my feet again in the strange and scary working world. I'm trying to straddle the two by working from home but it's a slow process building up a freelance business from scratch and it needs a lot of self-confidence to go out there and market yourself. I'm trying to be philosophical and read it as the universe using economic necessity as a kick up the b*m, to make me shift out of a comfort zone and stretch previously unsuspected muscles. Sometimes the philosophy slips though and chocolate and a Katie Fforde are the best recourse.

I love Katie Fforde not least because her blurb claims that her hobbies are ironing and housework but unfortunately she is too busy keeping up with the sitcoms to indulge in them. Her heroines are usually balm to the reluctant housewife, cheerfully untidy and chaotic, which makes me think that she is like that too - we're best friends already.

The divide between the untidy and the very tidy isn't quite so polemical in the blog world as, say, the hectic daycare debate that springs up and ruffles feathers at regular intervals, but there does seem to be quite a bit of sympathetic bonding between fellow messy mavericks, with bewildered incomprehension of the opposite camp.

The joys of house work haven't yet claimed me. I'm one of the clan proud to proclaim that a messy house is a sign of creativity and yet there is always a slightly defensive note to the fanfare. However much I know that I feel more comfortable when the house is looking a bit rumpled, hate it when the book I'm reading gets tidied away and can only find a jumper if it's just where I left it, I still feel that I should be tidier and teach my children to be too. This usually results in a rush of ineffectual clearing up, getting irritated with the kids when my handiwork gets rendered nul and void by another layer of played with detritus, then a surrender to the force majeure of chaos, until the next time my Virgo sun sign asserts itself.

One of Charlotte's commenters suggested a helpful site for the housework-challenged. I visited and perused its pages thinking that maybe I could do some of this, until I read the section of basics which included detailed instructions on how to achieve a shiny sink, involving soaking it in bleach, rinsing it extremely well and ever after drying it tenderly with a cloth after every use...aaaaagh! If I ever invested that much effort in a shiny sink I would be held hostage to it, standing guard over it day and night to ensure that everyone who came near gave it the same TLC. Gone would be the days when the kids could wash their sand-encrusted hands/toys/plates in it and get away with a minor request to use a bucket next time. My fleeting interest in gaining brownie points and becoming a better housewife was abruptly curtailed as I realised the devastating effect it could have on family life. Another of Charlotte's commenters remembered her mother's passion for keeping a clean house and how the children always used go next door to play. I jumped firmly back on to the messy = friendly house bench.

I've settled for decluttering as a means to improve the surface visibility in our house. Decluttering seems to be the Feng Shui of the moment. Getting rid of the excess stuff that is why your house is so untidy in the first place, and trying to change the mentality that makes you hang on to things that you don't use any more, makes more sense to me than spending hours cleaning, only to have it look exactly the same minutes after three kids and four dogs explode into the house. At least decluttering seems to last for a few days.

A mouse visitor in the larder inspired me to try the method. Our larder was getting harder to get into as the pile of stuff at the far end was making a bid to take over the entrance. The counter was overflowing with half used packets of this and that and boxes of empty jam jars filled the storage space. A few hours spent being ruthless on the weekend and I have a gleamingly clear counter space, can see the floor and there is even room for the cats to get in and catch that darned mouse...unfortunately the hall is now cluttered with the excess boxes of jam jars, which I still intend to keep for jam-making in strawberry season, and more boxes destined for the garage with all the recycling..!

Now whenever I need a morale boost I can go and stand at the door to the larder and admire its orderliness, and as long as I keep my back to the hall my halo glows brightly.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Winter Holiday

Winter in London is a long drawn out affair of short dull days and chill, damp weather enlivened by mild, muggy weather with the occasional crisp, frosty day. Snow always a rarity in a city warmed several degrees by the exhaust fumes and central heating systems of its seething masses! The twinkling festivities of Christmas lights give way to the endurance of January and February before brave spring flowers raise hopes of warmer days and sunshine. It is about survival, SAD and battening down the hatches.

Here in the Western Cape of South Africa winter is a more light-hearted affair. The days never get as short as they do in Europe. In between the periods of winter rainfall, (which we welcome as a blessing and insurance against summer drought) we get days of bright sunshine - cold nights and foggy mornings, but then the sun breaks through to tease off our layers of warm clothing, until the children return from school in T-shirts, laden with armfuls of shed clothes.

The Breede River

For some reason we seem more likely to go on holiday in the winter holidays than in the summer. We go to the Breede River with friends and just chill for a few days, pooling the children and the cooking duties, so that everyone gets plenty of time to lie around reading books, fish, eat rock buns and braai. The chill is actually a night time thing, when we huddle in the rather hard beds of a rental house, while the day's warmth exits through the minimally insulated roof until our breath mists. In the morning we stay in bed, with tea, rock bun and book, until the sun penetrates the mist and its warming rays thaw us until we are mellow again.

Fishing rods, rock buns and coffee

The children kept each other busy for hours. The first project they set themselves was to build a house in the reeds, working hard to clear out some dead brush that filled a natural hollow in the reed bed, then forming a cooperative chain gang to cut and stack reeds with which to build extra walls and roof. Our son was in his element, having recently saved up enough money to buy himself a Swiss Army penknife, here was the perfect use for it. Youngest took on the important job of receiving the cut reeds and stacking them neatly, while the others formed the middle of the chain ferrying them from cutter to stacker.

Elaborate 'experiments' with river mud, employed most of the plastic cups in the house.

Fishing with river prawns as bait from the boat and the jetty brought in large quantities of river weed. Luckily the cooks weren't relying on the catch to provide supper.

The river was still and smooth on a winter afternoon, ours the only boat to ruffle its surface. In summer we would have been on a major boat highway, with motorboats and waterskiiers hurtling past and a summer afternoon wind competing for attention. Today it was us disturbing the water birds and the peace of the still winter afternoon.

The background narrative to our four days at the river was Catweazle. I took it along and our friend nobly took it upon himself to read aloud to the children at any time that they needed a little quiet time... or we did. Gales of giggles ripped around the house at Catweazle's confused grappling with the 20th century and a few chuckles emerged from bedrooms where the other adults were pretending to be still asleep. Probably Catweazle was the reason that we didn't catch any fish - a chapter in the boat caused enough uproar to send them fleeing down to the river mouth!

This is the colour of winter at the Breede River - bright aloes set the stony, dry hillsides on fire.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Ex-pat Meme

I found another meme that I couldn't resist joining in with at Charlotte's Web. It is the Ex-pat meme. I don't particularly label myself as an ex-pat, with no language barriers and a lot of similarities with English culture here (though before I offend a whole bunch of South Africans, also a whole lot of unique qualities too!), South Africa doesn't have the feel of a Foreign Country to me. Since I have started blogging, though, I have found a huge community of like-minded bloggers residing in countries other than their native ones and the experience does seem to give us all a whole lot in common, especially that of bringing up our children in a different culture to the one we grew up in. If anyone would like to join in consider yourself tagged.

5) Name five things you love in your new country

  • The views of the mountains and wide, open spaces.
  • The sunshine
  • The wonderful fresh fruits in the shops and the gardens. Trees loaded with lemons for the picking, though not in our garden yet unfortunately.
  • The pioneer spirit and maak'n plan attitude and that it, as yet, doesn't suffer from the European overburdening of rules and regulations on every single aspect of daily life.
  • The variety of people, language and culture.
4) Name four things you miss from your native country
  • Old buildings and the sense of history and continuity
  • Green fields and hedgerows, spring flowers - primroses, daffodils, bluebells, cowslips
  • Family
  • The proximity of Europe and its diverse foods, languages and cultures

3) Name three things that annoy you in your new country

  • The lagging behind in telecommunications, we've just got a 24 hr wireless connection but the international portal is still so slow. This is why I still haven't really got to grips with You Tube.
  • Banks, though that applies to most countries.
  • We're talking annoy here, which implies minor irritation, so I won't get into the major political issues of which there are plenty to rant about. How about picking a mild one - that in a country with year-round sunshine and an electricity shortage, too dependant on an elderly nuclear power station for most of it, solar panels are still not widespread and are expensive… could Eskom, the only national power supplier, have useful contacts in the government?

2) Name two things that surprise you (or surprised you when you arrived) in your new country

  • Seeing people crammed into the open back of bakkies (pick-ups) driving down the fast roads.
  • That major supermarkets run out of ordinary things and don't have more in the back. At the moment it's Cadbury's Hot Chocolate, which has been off the shelves for about two months, they have other brands but the children like Cadbury's..! Maybe what you're after will come in a couple of weeks later, maybe it won't.

1) Name one thing you would miss in your new country if you had to leave.

  • Our lovely house and farm with its view of the mountains.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Hell freezing over?

I read this on Ryze.com when I was dutifully networking this morning. It gave our muscles such a great workout, with the gasping and spluttering with laughter that I thought I should share it with you:

The following is an actual question given on a University of Washington Chemistry mid-term.

The answer by one student was so "profound" that the professor shared it with colleagues, via the Internet, which is, of course, why we now have the pleasure of enjoying it as well :

Bonus Question: Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)?

Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle's Law (gas cools when it expands and heats when it is compressed) or some variant.

One student, however, wrote the following:

First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So we need to know the rate at which souls are moving into Hell and the rate at which they are leaving. I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving.

As for how many souls are entering Hell, let's look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Most of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell.

Since there is more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all souls go to Hell. With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially. Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand proportionately as souls are added.

This gives two possibilities:

1. If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose.

2. If Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.

So which is it?

If we accept the postulate given to me by Teresa during my Freshman year that, "It will be a cold day in Hell before I sleep with you," and take into account the fact that I slept with her last night, then number two must be true, and thus I am sure that Hell is exothermic and has already frozen over. The corollary of this theory is that since Hell has frozen over, it follows that it is not accepting any more souls and is therefore, extinct......leaving only Heaven, thereby proving the existence of a divine being which explains why, last night, Teresa kept shouting "Oh my God."


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Angel Party

"An angel party " she said, when we discussed her upcoming seventh birthday.

"Fine, that's no problem" I replied.

Then I started thinking about it. How should an angel party be, how would an angel treasure hunt work, what treasure would angel treasure be?

I wandered the shops in search of any little trinket with an angel motif. Nothing. The angels had been knocked out of the running by those pervasive, persuasive fairies. The fairies had taken over the sparkles and shoved the angels into storage, whence they'll emerge triumphantly singing Halleluja, only at Christmas time, which we all know doesn't start till October.

Inspiration was also lacking on the treasure hunt clue front. The fairies of the previous year had had flowers as clues, but I needed angelic inspiration to come up with anything that would pass muster with a group of seven year olds.

I returned to the shops, a bigger centre this time. But forgot my glasses. Eventually tracked down in a craft shop a bag of small charms that could possibly be angels, though without my glasses I wasn't quite sure. Held them at arms length to try and focus better but in the end resorted to accosting another shopper to ask what she thought. She hadn't her glasses either, so passed them to her daughter.

"They're angels and they say Season's Greetings", she replied in a patient tone.

I hadn't been aware of any writing at all. I ditched them, thought laterally and blew the treasure budget on pink and silver chocolate coins, some mini rainbow pens, big shiny marbles and star stickers.

The day before the party arrived and I still hadn't worked out the treasure hunt. I'd decorated some white duck festhers with gold pen to go in the treasure boxes, made origami star boxes to hold the goodies and it all looked pretty, but what would lead them to the treasure? Pirate parties have long stories of buried treasure, army parties have special missions, what do angel parties have?

Eventually my own guardian angel took pity on me and sent inspiration my way. Feathers as clues, each with a gold letter on. The Class 1 children are learning a rhyme for each letter, that they all know, so the rhyme could be the clue. So simple! T is tall, tall tree, D dirty door, G golden goose, R racing rabbit etc. Treasure Hunt sorted.

We watched the Diana concert the night before the Birthday and I cut up paper and gold doilies for the little angels to make their own angel books as a craft activity. I usually just rely on the children to play and have the treasure hunt as the only organised activity, but this time there were a few children who didn't really know each other, so making the angel book was to be an ice-breaker.

The birthday girl herself came up with the Smartie design on her cake, arranging them in the colours of the rainbow, on her actual birthday morning, as I left the baking to the last minute, after having over-faced myself on the treasure and book preparations the day before!

The party went beautifullly, the angels took care of us all and the sun shone, the birthday girl had a wonderful day, with not a tear shed.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Retrograde Inaction

It's useful to have a scapegoat and I can confidently say that it is all Mercury's fault that I haven't posted for a week. Mercury is retrograde at the moment,which I only discovered yesterday, but which explains the series of mixed up phone calls and miscommunications that have been flourishing recently. Mercury is the planet of communication and when it is travelling backwards through the heavens it sends all our communnications awry. That explains the confusing phone call last night when my cell phone rang and a friend started talking about a whole series of arrangements that I knew nothing about. I finally interrupted and said it was me, and it took a little while longer to work out that she'd thought she was answering her phone (to someone else), though I knew it was mine that had been ringing. And another call which my husband answered in a feeble, suffering from a bad cold, grunt to be met with a long, drawn-out groan. He, leaping to worst possible scenario, thought it was his sister in a dire emergency, only to find it was a friend teasing him about his wan voice...he wasn't very amused, even when his heart beat returned to normal! All these tricks that Mercury plays, when it is reversing through our charts..and it is retrograde until the 10th, though the fact that I'm posting again may mean that its influence is becoming less severe!

If you want to read more about its effects from the experts here is an explanation and here are the dates to watch out for.