Monday, December 31, 2007

Wishes for 2008

It's time for New Year's resolutions again. I can't remember if I made any last year, but I do remember that we always used to make ones that were doomed to failure within a week and thus were discarded as a bad job for the rest of the year.

So this year I had another idea of what we could do to mark the change of years without over-facing ourselves. We're making paper streamers. On one side we write a thank you for all the good things that last year brought and on the other a wish for all the things we hope for in 2008. Then we'll pin them to a stick in our circle and leave them to flutter there, fading in the sunshine, dissolving into the rain.

This way they aren't resolutions that we feel bad about if we fail, they are wishes and we can keep on trying at them until we get close, or they can evolve through the year - there'll be no stark lines of writing to remind us of our shortcomings, as they'll have long ago weathered away, but our hearts will bear an imprint that is kind enough in its interpretation to allow us a whole lot of leeway and multiple tries.

At least that is the idea!

The children have already done theirs - their thank yous are simply for the happiness of last year and wishes for more happiness in the year to come, Middle Daughter's phrased as 'I wish for more happiness to come to earth', which touched me in a melting, gooey mother kind of way! Mine is filled with reams of detailed personal thanks and wishes - far less universal and altruistic than hers …

For all my blog friends I wish you a 2008 filled with love, joy and abundance, with plenty of new opportunities for creativity, work and play!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Puddings in a Hot Climate

Our Christmas Day feast has to end in far too big a choice of puddings! Summer pudding has become our traditional pudding for Christmas, made with our own berries, frozen specially so we have some left for the big day. And stripey jellies have become an essential component of the pudding spectrum - I have to start at least a day before to have time to build up all the layers and take great pains to get random colour combinations, so that each one is different! A real Christmas pudding always appears, but is usually barely nibbled at on the day, leaving me with a big bowl of brandy butter to find a use for. Has anyone got a clever way of using up brandy butter, once the Christmas pudding is finished? I'd love some ideas ..besides just eating it with a spoon on surreptitious visits to the fridge!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The end of an era

Father Christmas has officially been rumbled in our family.

I've been anxiously expecting it for the last three years, unsure how I was going to handle it, worried that our son would feel a sense of betrayal, that we'd tricked him. He was six the first time he heard rumours of parents putting presents in stockings and asked me about it. The younger girls were around at the time, so I placated him with a half truth and ever since then he has happily made cards for Father Christmas and left carrots for the reindeer.

He is nine and a half now though and I was beginning to fear the other extreme - him getting mocked at high school for still believing in Father Christmas!

I made the tactical error of buying some glittery mosaic pens, that they'd been admiring in the crystal shop a couple of weeks ago, to put in their stockings. This, combined with our son's friend and his family coming to lunch on Christmas Day, he who was bursting with the knowledge of the Father Christmas conspiracy, meant that before the day was out, just as we were waving off our friends, our three children went into a secretive huddle.

Middle daughter emerged and made a bee-line for me:

"Did you buy the pens and crystals in the crystal shop?"

I deflected her with a "What do you think?" and a quizzical look, not quite ready to start explanations in the middle of all the goodbyes.

A hurried confab with my husband ensued and we decided to wait for any more questions, rather than make them face bald truths that they weren't sure they wanted to know.

I felt a bit sad that Youngest had also been disillusioned when she is still only five, but I guess that is the way it goes in families where the children share everything, knowledge included.

Nobody asked questions at bed -time to my relief, but I couldn't quite relax, trying to work out an explanation that would make sense to them.

In the end the questions came the next morning, when I came through bleary eyed at 6.30 to find them all sitting on the sofa, not watching a video as usual, but individually playing with their favourite Christmas presents or reading.

Middle Daughter was the one determined to get a satisfactory answer. She repeated her question of the previous day.

I looked at them and asked if they wanted me to tell them more. A solemn "Yes" came from them all.

I launched into my prepared speech: about how St Nicholas was a real man who lived a long time ago, who started the tradition of secretly leaving presents for the children of his town around Christmas time. That after he died the parents decided to carry on his tradition. That the story of Father Christmas comes from him and is all about the spirit of Christmas, of loving and giving. That younger children have the whole Father Christmas story but when they are old enough to ask questions they are also old enough to understand what Christmas is all about. That Father Christmas may not be a real person but his spirit is out there - just like with angels, you can't see him. That even though parents have to do the actual buying of presents, the spirit of Father Christmas is still a part of it.

What amazed me was how comfortable they felt with the angel comparison - they could relate to that and it helped them understand.

Youngest has said a couple of times that she hopes she forgets so that she can enjoy it all next Christmas and our son would also rather forget and keep the illusion going. It is our seven year old Middle Daughter who, in the scientific spirit of investigation, keeps coming back to me with questions about whether I bought everything and was it Father Christmas who took their thank you cards.

All in all it was easier than I feared and I hope they manage to let it all settle into the nether reaches of their subconscious and enjoy their stockings next year too.

I'm wondering how long it'll be now till the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny get their cover blown!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Spirit

I've achieved a measure of Christmas spirit at last! I've finished the last bit of work, told my clients I'm having a break till New Year and I actually baked the Christmas cake yesterday despite the sweltering heat!

We always go and cut our tree on the Saturday before Christmas, so that everybody can be there. The week before, we stroll up to the top of our property, where there are innumerable self-seeded pine trees - alien invaders that it is our positive duty to clear - and we choose the prettiest small one to be our tree.

Yesterday we waited till the end of the day, when the heat was beginning to fade and inspected our short-list of trees. The thing about looking at a tree outside under the sky is that it always looks too small. Our house has high ceilings, but even so one year, the monster tree we'd lugged down the hill had to have a couple of feet trimmed from the base before we could stand it upright. This year we had to vote three trees and the adults managed to sway the kids towards the smaller one, that was a nice shape and a whole lot easier to carry. They were a bit concerned that it would be too small and not have enough room for all the decorations, but lo and behold, when we got it into the house, relieved to be carrying a lightweight rather than a back-breaking monster log, it was the perfect size!

Then comes the traditional sense-of-humour-failing struggle with the Christmas tree lights. It is always supposed to be the Dad who has steam pouring forth from his ears, as one bulb blows the whole string, but in our family it is me. I climb the ladder, keeping the kids in check in their eagerness to pile on tinsel and decorations, get the lights perfectly balanced, yell for extension cables and adapters to test them out. This time they worked fine, looked great and I let the children loose on the tree, while I cooked a belated supper. After supper I couldn't resist fiddling - I put the star on top of the tree and noticed that the bulb behind the star, which ought to highlight it, wasn't working. No problem, I thought, I'll simply change it with another one lower down that doesn't show so much. I promptly managed to tear the bulb wires loose from their socket and the whole string was rendered useless. AAARGH! I couldn't leave things alone till morning. I had to get it right that night, a half dressed tree is too a depressing a sight, so I spent an hour fiddling with bulbs, looking at all the spare strings of lights to find the same type of bulb as a replacement. Nope. This was the only string with that particular shape of bulb. There was no alternative. The children now long gone to bed, I tore off all their carefully arranged tinsel, took down the lights and started again. There was a certain grim enjoyment of all this, at last I got the tree to myself and once the lights were sorted I spent the rest of the evening, half watching Shall We Dance, but mostly re-arranging tinsel and baubles to my satisfaction.

I'm now sitting at the computer once more, this time printing off endless blank calendar pages, for the child sweat shop/elf calendar production team, who have decided that this year's presents are going to be drawn rather than sewn. Present making is a last minute business this year - whereas we usually start making things for Christmas in November and I have plenty of time to help sew, untangle knots and thread needles, this year I've been leaving the children to their own devices, while I try to be a WAHM.

Middle daughter has set to drawing with speed and a light touch and has made two and a half calendars of twelve drawings each, is working on a picture book with plans to make her brother and sister something too.

Youngest battles, with her abilities not quite meeting her high expectations of herself, but is persevering and has nearly finished one calendar. Our son is painstaking with his pictures but tires after one or two and dives back into his latest book He has decreed that this one calendar is for posting off to his name-parent (godmother), so has nothing to give the family here. I've dragooned him into agreeing to make lemon curd for the rest of his presents, as I can't see him producing anything more than a card before Christmas and we have two aunts, a grandmother and an uncle besides our little family to provide for.

I also need to make marzipan for the cake, start on making stripey jellies, wrap presents besides feeding us today and keeping the house clean what on earth am I doing blogging now, when everyone else is too busy doing their own Christmas preparation to read it!

Happy Christmas to all my blog friends - have a lovely family time and may 2008 bring you all good things, peace and happiness!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Colour Coded

I wanted to share this little snippet that happened on my son's class camp a few weeks ago.

Towards the end of the camp my son's teacher was brought a form to fill in by the education centre's admin. It asked her to give the statistics for the racial make-up of the group. She looked at it distastefully and our guide apologised but said they were obliged by government regulations to keep records, presumably so they can make sure that "previously disadvantaged" groups are adequately represented.

Some of the nine-year old girls were hanging out with the grown-ups and were interested in the form, helping count up the numbers of black, coloured and white, boys and then girls. At one point one of the Xhosa girls reached a different total to the teacher and started naming each white boy that she had counted to make her total of four. My son and the twins who live at Camphill (a village community for slightly mentally disabled adults, down the road from us, with quite a group of the children of the co-workers living there), were counted off and then she added Danny to the list. Danny is the adopted son of one of the (white) Camphill house parents, his skin a dark brown, but he has grown up with the same cultural background as the twins and she saw him as white, even though his skin was no lighter than hers.

The teacher and I looked at each other, secretly thrilled that this pigeon-holing for the sake of statistics had been cancelled out by a child's perception of how things are.

It really seemed to illustrate that for our children's generation culture is more of a racial identifier than physical colour. It also give huge hope that our country can eventually become more unified as our children grow up and share their cultures with each other and a solid middle-class of all colours gives us a foundation on which to build.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Our Summer Festival

While the top half of the world is shivering and wrapping up warm, we've finally achieved some summer heat, gently glowing in cars that have lost sight of their air-conditioning, the kids having up to the three swims a day and food simplifying to salads for every meal.

Today was officially Midsummer's Day here, hardly even recognised in the run up to Christmas, but we'd already had our Summer Festival last Saturday, giving us enough time to recover and get into gear for the next big celebration.

Last Saturday started off as a real scorcher and after the unusually cool start to the summer we've had, it took us by surprise. We wilted around the house, as I fired up the oven to bake two huge plaited loaves of bread and only in slow motion got into the making of windmills.

I pinched Jenny's idea for word birds from her Prairie Farmeress blog, birds being creatures of the air and fitting in with our Air theme at a stretch, and the children got completely into them, begging to do more than one as they got inspired by new words. The idea was to take a word that is positive and made you feel good, write it in gold on the bird and then decorate it. By the end we had a fine treeful of positive energy!

One of our friends is an incredibly practical engineer and constructed an amazing windmill, with cogs and all, intended to churn out industrial quantities of bubbles, but as all mad inventors discover things never go quite as planned and the bubbles had to be hand blown after all.

We also got ambitious and decided to string a line of streamers right across the whole sandpit, involving major feats of engineering to secure poles and line.

Earlier on in the day we thought our Air festival was going to be windless, with hardly a breath of wind to turn the windmills and waft the flags, for the first year ever. Around five o'clock though, some cloud drifted over bringing a north-westerly breeze, which is the direction that rain comes from. By the time we were ready to carry the flags to our circle it was blowing merrily and we were all peering skywards going "Tut tut it looks like rain" à la Christopher Robin.

One thing that struck us all was how much the children have grown. A couple of years ago the tall poles, that we tie our gauzy flags to, were too heavy for most of them, needing adult intervention to avoid others being bopped on the head by falling lengths of wood. This year we had a fine show of flag-bearers reminiscent of the Palio in Siena.

They proudly processed with them into the circle and planted them around the edge of our sandpit, clutching paper windmills and pots of bubble mixture as well.

After we'd read all our blessings and returned to the house for supper the last lingerers called us back out onto the lawn. The sun had set, turning the overcast sky to fire and the most amazing rainbow I've ever seen was suspended high in the sky against this background of glowing clouds. It's ends didn't touch the earth, the sun had dipped below the horizon and was projecting it way up high. We all felt like the universe was smiling down on us in affectionate amusement and joining in our thanksgiving.

We then went back inside as the rain started to pour down and addressed the serious business of food and whether or not there was enough chocolate pudding…there wasn't quite, for the first time ever there were no leftovers to be consumed for brunch the next day, but a fine evening was had by all nonetheless!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bowled Over

Our son's career aspirations have shifted, for the first time in several years. As his dad was tucking him up tonight he confided that he is going to be a cricketer until he's 40 and after that a film-maker… the game ranger scenario seems to have been ousted for the moment.

He is surrounded by a glow of exhilaration, brought on by the final morning's match of his four day cricket clinic, where he distinguished himself among the group of nine-year olds by bowling two boys out, almost catching out two more (but the ball escaped his grasp at the last moment) and hitting two balls for four, thus winning the match for his team!

This was only the second time he has been to a holiday cricket camp and he doesn't play at school, (though he had some great coaching when Grandpa was visiting recently and practises bowling and batting at home with Dad), so he is doing really well. Visions of playing for South Africa are floating rosily in his eyes.

The girls were less enamoured of the cricket groupie scene. Sitting beside a grassy field, being blasted by the wind for three hours had them grumbling madly, even though I'd had the forethought to bring a book to read to them. They put up with it as patiently as is possible for five and seven year olds, and made it through the rather lengthy prize-giving and certificate presentation afterwards. We redeemed ourselves by going out for a pizza afterwards, hitting the heady heights of Kloof St and a smart pizzeria instead of our usual chain pizza place. I was away from my computer for the whole day and it felt like a complete holiday. Relaxed into wind and sun blasted languor we only got home in time for a late supper.

Tomorrow is a full day of work, some shopping and baking in preparation for our summer festival on Saturday, when we're going to have a house full again, so I might not be back on the blog till next week. Next week I'll have to make that Christmas cake, I've left it till the last minute yet again. Will I ever be organised enough to bake it in November, or even October? Maybe one day!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Snowed under in Summer

Oh! I've just remembered I have a blog - one on which of late I seem to spend my time writing posts apologising for not having written posts, instead of actually getting on and writing the posts I meant to write in the first place.

Things are starting to calm down a bit now after a hectic end of term last week. One where I almost single-handedly produced the school annual 10 page newsletter, burning the midnight oil, having squeezed the content from the teachers drop by drop, whipped it into the printers and dropped off 100 copies at the school as if by magic just in time to go home with the children. Phew!

My school photographer career also kept me busy printing off last minute photos, as children desolate that they didn't have one persuaded their parents to pay up.

And I had a new writing client, needing copy for her website, which is an ongoing job that I'm enjoying.

We also had our end of year belly dancing evening, where we performed, strictly just for our own families, our two dances that we have almost mastered, and then were able to relax over supper. It was at our house, so our children got prime position on the sofa and I was able to hear Youngest's partisan remarks, "Mummy looks the nicest". Nice to know that there's a fan club out there! I'd thrown together a quiche in the shortest time ever for me - we'd been invited out to a neighbours birthday braai for 1pm onwards (I should have been suspicious at the onwards part). We went expecting to eat maybe at 3, as they are always on the late side. The kids had a great time playing and we were all chatting, so we hardly noticed that it was already 5 by the time we actually started to eat, and the belly dancing crowd were due at 7 and I hadn't made the quiche or pudding that I'd planned on…. just before 6 we dragged the kids away protesting, only by dint of asking to take some of the pudding with us, and rushed home to tidy up, wash up and cook, hoping that everyone would arrive late. They were 10 minutes early… but the quiche was in the oven and the floor swept, dirty dishes clean and draining, so we heaved a sigh of relief and had a nice evening.

Sunday I had scheduled for collapsing in a wobbly heap on the sofa, which I duly did, armed with the end of a Rosamunde Pilcher and the latest Dick Francis.

So now here I am tiptoeing back into the blog world and hoping that I'm not going to be told off for staying away so long. Regular service will be resumed shortly!