Saturday, January 24, 2009

Extra-Murals and Pitta Bread

My girls have been asking for pitta bread the last few days. I meant to make it last night for supper with meatballs, but forgot and ended up making shepherds pie with the defrosted mince instead. So this morning I’ve kneaded up some dough and left it to rise, hoping it will be ready in time for lunch after a leisurely start to the day.

In term time we treasure our Saturday morning lie-ins, which threaten to become a thing of the past if our son decides to join the cricket club. He is going to go to a training session and see how he likes it on Monday and they have matches most Saturday mornings. Our days of staying home at weekends are fading. Youngest has finally got us to arrange riding lessons for her, also starting Monday, so I have visions of us getting caught up in a whirl of our children’s extra mural activities just like those city parents I have been sympathizing with up till now.

We felt that we should offer Middle Daughter the chance to start some activity too, so found out about dancing lessons. She dithered a bit and only quite liked the idea. What she really wanted was for Dad to teach her photography, she said, as she wants to be a photographer when she grows up, like him. After looking at all the uniform and shoes required by the dancing school I breathed a sigh of relief - one less place to have to chauffeur a child, one less set of engagements to cram into a potentially hectic schedule, one less set of expensive equipment for a child to grow out of and need replacing. So Dad is committing to one proper lesson a week for her.

It’s not that we want to be mean and deprive our children of the chance of creative expression – it’s just that living in the country we already do 90km per day just on the school runs. Most of the activities they could do are in one or other local town, further away than school, at times that mean a separate round trip of another 50 – 90 km each time. Our clever idea of finding activities for all three that coincided more or less, just doesn't seem to work - different days, different times, different places. So up till now we have reckoned that they get enough creative expression between home and school.

So we shall see how all this goes. At 10 our son needs the chance to develop his natural sporting talents and that is the one thing Waldorf doesn’t really do – they do plenty of ball games and physical activities, just not conventional competitive sports.

And Youngest has been crazy about horses for a while now (unicorns too, but we couldn’t find a unicorn riding school in our area), so we thought she should learn properly now she is 6 and see if it will become a true passion or not, before we are cajoled into giving a horse a home on our farm. We have the space but I know they are demanding creatures and I am not a natural when it comes to horses, we just don’t have that telepathic connection – there is a blank wall between our minds.

The last time I rode, the horse bolted at the sight of a hare and I slid gracefully to the ground breaking a rib or two. I also have memories as a child of being left dangling from the low branch of a tree by the pony that was nominally mine, as he took the shortest route home, undeterred by my attempts at steering him. Nor could he ever be persuaded to go over the lowest of jumps for me, though he would do it for other people.

So if Youngest becomes a horse-mad girl she will have to do most of it herself and I will be venturing into new territory and a new social scene – the world of gymkanas and rosettes and horse boxes. But my imagination is leaping ahead here. Her first lesson is on Monday, Let it take her where she wills and may she not be dumped to the ground too often.

This post was going to be about food. The pitta bread is now shaped into rounds and rising once more. Now I need to bake it, so my extra mural digression will have to be the post itself. More about food another time.

How do you all cope with children's extra-mural activities?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Summer Holidays Draw to a Close

Swimming in the dam and trying out the kneeboard

It’s the last day of the summer holidays. Back to school tomorrow with Youngest starting Big school – Class 1. She has been apprehensive about the change and not sure whether she’ll like her teacher; worried about whether she knows enough for Class 1. She is only slightly reassured when I point out that she already knows a lot of her letters and numbers and can sing several songs in Xhosa and Afrikaans, having learned from her brother and sister. She counters with the fact that she only knows big letters, not little letters and can’t do sums. I tell her that little letters come at the beginning of Class 2 and she has a whole year to learn things before that. The biggest advantage that she can perceive is that she will now be able to choose what she wants from the Friday bake sales and not just have things doled out to her like in kindergarten. I’m keeping fingers crossed for tomorrow that her newly discovered self-confidence will get her through the first morning and that she’ll find that it’s all so easy after that.

We’ve just spent the last weekend of the holidays camping on the edge of Clanwilliam dam with friends. They have a motor-boat and all the toys, so the children were introduced to the delights of being pulled through the water fast behind a boat, on a doughnut or a kneeboard.

Youngest proved to be the speed-queen with the older two more cautious, but at the end of the day their favourite activities proved not to be the fast stuff. For Youngest it was swimming back from the boat to shore with Dad (quite a distance, but they were wearing life jackets and had boogie boards to rest on).

The other two loved it when we took the boat upstream and landed on a sandy beach, to spend an hour digging and lining their own dams with clay and constructing elaborate waterways. The whole weekend was a great end to the holidays and also distracted them from the imminent return to school and the incipient gloom that was engulf us all.

Bleary-eyed breakfast outside our tent

We are now hooked on camping. After last time we sorted ourselves out with inflatable mattresses and a better tent, a table and folding chairs, so we were much more comfortable and even got to sleep a bit the second night. (The first night the campers next door stayed up till two o’clock setting the world to rights and declaiming loudly over a beer or two, which didn’t leave much time for sleep before the dawn chorus in the tree above our tent got going.) We are now all set to discover all the wonderful places around us, determined that this year will will go exploring more often and make the most of all the beautiful places around us.

This afternoon we have managed to use up most of the casualties of an inadequate cool box: the milk that miraculously survived two days but wasn’t going to last any longer and was just developing a yoghurty consistency; the butter that had liquidified on the return journey and then set to golden hardness in the fridge overnight. Crustless milk tart is a very forgiving recipe and we have now done our own magic – turning the inedible into a treat! Maybe it will even make it into tomorrow’s lunch boxes to brighten up the beginning of term.

View from our tent at breakfast time

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mosquito Frenzy

Today I have been sewing sequins onto our mozzy nets. Not just to make them look pretty, but in a last ditch attempt to patch up every single last tiny hole or ladder that could permit entry to the desperate breed of mosquitoes that have just taken up residence here.

We’ve had these nets ever since we got here seven years ago now. It is dry where we live, so usually we only have a few mozzies around, but even just one buzzing in your ear is enough to ruin a night’s sleep, so we tend to sleep under them anyway. The children like the security of them and choose to sleep under them even in winter, when never a mosquito dare brave the chill. At least, there was one point when Middle Daughter, aged about three or four, refused to have the net put over her at bed-time. Our son, an Animal Planet devotee, then casually enquired how exactly it was that female mosquitoes could kill you … she reached for the net without another murmur and has slept under it ever since!

Anyway these nets are now well-worn and patched, with multiple little ladders where the fabric has caught on Velcro or bed posts or something. Our usual run of mosquitoes aren’t really very cunning and have never found their way in. I have been able to hear a buzz behind my head and go back to sleep, knowing that it can’t catch me from that side of the net.

Not so this latest mozzie gang. They are masters of the break in, veterans of the smash and grab. I’ve sewn up the big holes, tucked in the nets and still woken up to the jeer of a well fed female mosquito as she buzzes away from my hand. They lurk all day at the top of the net, just waiting for you to come back to bed. I’ve upped the stakes and used a mosquito repellant on us. The overhead fan whirs all night long. They don’t care. The last few nights I have been found at midnight leaping around on the bed, trying to squash the latest mozzie that is just out of reach at the top of the net …and then again at four o’clock. They’re fierce and persistent this lot. Youngest has also been plagued, coming to ask Dad to catch mozzies at midnight too.

So lots more sequins have been sewn on today and she is now firmly tucked in. We all need our sleep and have donated quite enough blood already. The nets are nearly as pretty as the Christmas tree by now and I’ve had enough of trying to thread needles when I can no longer even see the eye... must get some new glasses. Now I'm off to find the antihistamine cream - they've been chomping my ankles as I've been writing this!

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Water Holiday

A summer holiday in South Africa absolutely must involve water of some sort.

It could be a swimming pool, where, even if it isn't warm enough to swim, you can fish for leaves with your new nets, in front of a stunning view.

Or a lagoon at low tide where you can paddle for miles and collect hermit crabs until your net is bursting.

Or a forest rock pool with peaty brown water fresh from the mountains, to cool off in after the precipitous scramble down from the ridge.

It could be a pristine beach in a Nature reserve, deserted even in the busiest holiday week of the year...

... where you can relocate sea snails into dense urban colonies as the waves wash them over the sand.

Or perhaps best of all for swimming is a calmly flowing river, brown with peaty mountain water, salty from the lagooon tide and just wide enough to make swimming the whole way across feel like an achievement, with little fish to catch in nets once more.

If you're very lucky you could have all those water experiences in one week, especially if your holiday is in Knysna, with rides on boats an added extra.

Thanks to my mother for treating us to a wonderful holiday up there. We're back now and slowly and reluctantly adjusting back to our everyday routine. I hope you had wonderful holidays too, even if of a more wintry variety for most of you!

Happy New Year!