Don’t Fence Me In


Last Sunday morning, as I gazed in wonder at the beautiful bushbuck munching on aggies in our front garden, I was oblivious to the little bugger’s intentions with regards to our allotment. She has virtually annihilated every vegetable that managed to survive winter thus far, plus a newly planted bed of broccoli and cauliflower. I didn’t begrudge her the agapanthus because they will grow again come Spring when she moves on. However I do resent the fact that she took advantage of my naïveté and goodwill and left not a single edible thing behind.

In the words of the Band’s Robbie Robertson:

Now, I don’t mind chopping wood
And I don’t care if the money’s no good
You take what you need
And you leave the rest
But they should never
Have taken the very best

(The Night They Drove old Dixie Down)

Next year I hope to be better organised and plant rye grass in the field as winter feed for the buck. In the meantime I think we may have to enclose the allotment to keep her out, as much as I don’t want to do that. She must be hungry. Oh, I hate to be in conflict with nature!

You know, it breaks my heart to see what has happened in the country in the 14 years since we built our house here. In this short space of time I have seen the number of game dwindle drastically. I can remember large herds of buck grazing on our and neighbouring land as they migrated backwards and forwards from the Lowveld to the Highveld. Now there are electrified game fences all over the show, including 3 sides of our property. How I hate these game fences. One of the things I loved in America, as we travelled through Maine and Virginia, was seeing houses butting up against forest without a fence in sight. I moved to the country to escape the confines of city life, but others have chosen to bring those confines with them to the country. And I’m afraid they are the ones who call the shots here.



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What a Wonderful World

Jack Frost paid us another visit this Sunday morning and left in his wake frozen water in the pipes. Knowing that I would have to wait awhile before I could get washed and dressed, I made a cup of tea and climbed back into bed.

Yesterday was a glorious day. We had breakfast outdoors and lunch on the veranda. I even coaxed my mother outside for tea on her patio until it got too hot to sit in the sun. It is the first time since I returned from my trip to America that I have felt warm. However when we took the dogs for their walkies at 5pm the weather had turned bitterly cold. Fortunately we had filled the kettle before going to bed so there was enough water for tea and coffee when we woke.

As I lay in bed watching the feeding frenzy at the bird feeder, a bushbuck stepped nonchalantly out of the flower bed, munching on some agapanthus leaves, and onto the front lawn. I shot out of bed, grabbed my point-and-shoot and crept up to the bedroom window. It carried on walking towards me even though it seemed to be looking straight at me and stopped about 3 meters away, next to my pot of lavender. I have never been this close to buck on our property before and it was quite mesmerising staring into its huge black eyes. Slowly it turned away from me and walked the length of our garden before it stepped daintily down the garden steps and disappeared.





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Country Road

I spent the weekend of my 57th birthday in the beautiful Allegheny Valley in Virginia, not West Virginia as my choice of song may imply. (I gather that quite a distinction is made between the two states.) The Allegheny Mountains, which are part of the vast Appalachian mountain range, serve as part of the Virginia – West Virginia state line. To get there we drove south west from DC, over the Shenandoah River, with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance, through the impressive George Washington National Forest and up and over three extremely winding, scenic mountain passes.

rural Virginia

rural Virginia

As I headed in to the home stretch of my holiday I was thrilled to learn that James’ parents, Jim and Jody, were flying up from Miami and that we were all going to spend the weekend with Susannah and Mike (James’ aunt and uncle) at their beautiful farm in the Allegheny Valley. And what a wonderful weekend it was. Susannah cooked us the most amazing gourmet meals and we managed to polish off a lot of wonderful wine. Jim and Jody made my birthday special by taking me to the very posh Homestead Hotel in Hot Springs for high tea – what a treat. I then had a memorable dinner with my simpatico American family. I have to say I have never eaten so many delicious meals in one weekend, ending off with yummy cheese grits and bacon for breakfast on Monday morning before we began the 4 hour trip back to DC.

a special place: the farm in the Allegheny Valley

a special place: the farm in the Allegheny Valley

Kiera in front of the Homestead Hotel in Hot Springs

Kiera in front of the Homestead Hotel in Hot Springs

high tea at the Homestead Hotel

high tea at the Homestead Hotel

celebrating good times

celebrating good times

We are so very lucky that our daughter has married into such a warm, generous and compatible family. It feels like I’m visiting old friends when we all meet up and there’s no need to be on one’s best behaviour, which is just as well because the wine sure do flow! And, as you know, I sure can drink it. As we said our fond farewells we were already planning our next holiday together! Jim is originally from Louisiana and everyone seems keen on his recommendation of New Orleans as our next rendezvous destination.

Before Kiera moved to the States, I had never really considered it as an ideal holiday option. It is, after all, so bloody far away and expensive for us South Africans with our rand being such a weak currency against the dollar. And even when Kiera settled there, we considered our first trip as something we had to do in order to see her. However, since that first visit to America and meeting the “in-laws”, I have grown very fond of the USA and its people and am eager to return to experience more of it. Yes, it is still expensive for us South Africans but one has to cut one’s cloth accordingly, like not drinking wine when eating in restaurants! However, reasonably priced accommodation is not hard to find and one certainly gets better value for money than here in SA, especially when Kiera is making the reservations. So hopefully a trip to New Orleans will not be out of the question in the near future.

I’m home now – the goodbyes were painful but I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things here. Life goes on.






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Better Together (part 3)

On our return to Arlington, I moved into my own apartment, about a 5 minute walk from Kiera & James’ place, a 10 minute walk to the metro stop and a 15 minute walk to the nearest supermarket. Despite being so close, it was quite exhausting walking anywhere because it was so bloody hot and humid (with temperatures going up as high as 35ºC). I tried not to let that put me off and did spend some time venturing out and about in Arlington and Washington DC.

I walked to Whole Foods and the Farmers’ Market with my wheelie shopping basket on a few occasions and it was a treat to stock up on lovely summer berries and fruit pies (some of you may know from my previous trip that I cannot resist American pie). We established a habit of Kiera and James stopping by my apartment on their way home from work (they commute on the metro) so that we could walk together to their home. We would eat dinner, watch a show on telly and then they would drive me back. One evening as we were all walking to their apartment Kiera  commented on how good it would be if Peter, Alex and I all lived nearby so that we could do this regularly. It brought tears to my eyes then as it does now when I write it. I think that I would give just about anything to have my family close.

delicious black raspberries from the farmers' market

delicious black raspberries from the farmers’ market

On a Friday afternoon I visited the wonderful National Gallery of Art which is located on the National Mall and easily accessible by metro. Strangely enough Andrew Wyeth popped up again as they had an exhibition of his work there called Looking Out, Looking InI was also delighted to see the original of Monet’s The Artist’s Garden at Vétheuil as we have a print of it hanging next to our fireplace. But my favourite paintings were the Modiglianis, especially Madame Amédée (Woman with Cigarette)and Chaim Soutine. 











My feet were killing me after quite a few hours in the Gallery so I strolled next door to the Sculpture Garden where a band was setting up for an evening of Jazz in the Garden. Kiera and James joined me after work and we had prime seats in front of the band (because I had got there early). Kiera bought us a pitcher of sangria and we sat back and imbibed the vibe. It was, in the words of Lou Reed, just a perfect day, we drank sangria in the park, and then later when it got dark, we went home. It may seem strange to those of you accustomed to public transport and walking about at night, but I find being able to catch the metro and walk home in the evening without fear quite awesome!

jazz in the garden

jazz in the garden

We visited George Washington’s farm at Mount Vernon on the weekend. The kitchen gardens were gorgeous and I have plans for new plantings when I return home. It is interesting, on the one hand, how unostentatious the house is but, on the other hand, how many outbuildings there are; the kitchen and laundry are separate from the main house, but there are also buildings that accommodated a blacksmith, a spinning room, a distillery and a place to cure meat, making the farm totally self sufficient. This was quite different to anything I’ve visited in the UK, where the stately homes are very grand but dependent on the nearest village for services. Could this be because in America they had slaves to perform all the tasks?




Washington's dung repository

Washington’s dung repository 

On Sunday, James and Kiera bought buffalo chicken wings, jalapeño poppers and beers and we settled in to watch USA play Portugal. At least James did, Kiera and I abandoned him after a short while to play scrabble – it was nail biting stuff (the scrabble, that is).

Ensconced in my own apartment, I felt very independent and a little guilty for having left Peter at home to deal with a seriously ill employee, my very old Milo-dog and my mum. My mum though has been the least of Peter’s concerns. Kho has not been well since the beginning of the year. Just when we think he’s on the mend, he has a relapse. Not long after I left he became very ill and has been in and out of hospital since. Now it appears that he may have to undergo surgery. I do hope that the doctors at Northdale Hospital know what they are doing.

And Milo is giving him a bit of a run around as well. This is an extract from one of Peter’s emails:

“Milo o Milo – hell bent on giving me sleepless nights. Went off his feed and on Sunday night the squelching of his tummy drowned out the traffic. Last night I was up to him all hours. At one am I took him out and watched him sniff every inch of the lawn, several times, with no result. After 15 minutes – it was freezing – and still no result I invited him back inside and told him to poo away and that I would clean it up and not scold him. Little bugger did just that! From then on he slept through and this morning he ate. You have to admire his ability to manipulate. Anyway, that is all for now .This so called quiet country living is very demanding.”

And all the while I’m having a grand holiday!

Jody and Susannah at Willard's Pit BBQ - a truly American experience

Jody and Susannah at Willard’s Pit BBQ – authentic Southern Barbecue, a truly American experience

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery

this is how crab should be served

Maryland Blue Crabs at the Quarterdeck Restaurant – this is how crab should be served

James attacked the crab with gusto

smash ‘em and eat ‘em – James complied with gusto

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Holiday Snaps

Boston’s glass skyscrapers give the city a sense of lightness. I loved the reflections of buildings and sky, and the contrast between old and new.


More pictures of “Bawston”.


Boston in bloom. We stayed in the neighbourhood of Beacon Hill and everywhere you looked were the most colourful window boxes, beautifully bright against the red brick buildings.

Boston in bloom

Top left: hydrangeas in window boxes, bottom right: the corner garden centre; and bottom left: a gorgeous gargoyle in a public park

Boothbay Botanical Gardens – I thought the porcupine sculpture would not look amiss in my garden, but the price was a bit off-putting.



This is the Nubble Lighthouse at Cape Neddick, Maine. It reminded me of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, although the movie wasn’t shot here.



This is the Portland Head Light at Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

the Portland head Light at Cape Elizabeth, Maine


birdhouse  on the fence at Portland Head Light

And finally, some magnificent Maine mansions.

Maine mansions










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Better Together cont.

So we left Boothbay Harbor after a successful puffin cruise and travelled along the coast up to Camden, a picturesque little town with a lovely marina for the affluent New Yorkers who holiday there. We had a wonderful meal in Camden of not-lobster. Kiera has a nose for good food and she led us to a superb Asian restaurant called the Long Grain for dinner. We ate delicious steamed pork dumplings which made us reminisce about Shanghai, plump fresh mussels in a spicy broth and a Thai beef salad (Nua Nam Tok) with melt-in-your-mouth beef and mixed greens including mizuna, rocket (arugula) and mint that were like a breath of fresh air on a jaded palate. (Are you jealous Alex?)


view of camden from mt battie

view of Camden from Mt Battie

camden marina

Camden marina







Before I left home, Peter and I had started to cut down on our somewhat excessive consumption of carbohydrates and add more “good” fat to our diet (à la Tim Noakes). Many years ago I did an online course on nutrition offered by Sally-Ann Creed, a co-author of the Tim Noakes book “The Real Meal Revolution”. So, in some instances we had already begun eating more healthily as a result of that. We reduced our sugar intake (I can’t cut it out totally as I’m not prepared to give up biscuits with my morning tea or an occasional nibble of luscious dark chocolate after dinner) but I have been substituting sugar with Xylitol for ages now and Peter is diabetic so he avoids sugar anyway. And just for your information: dry red and dry white wines are low in residual sugar levels weighing in at 0.1-0.3% sugar per litre (or 1 to 3 grams of sugar per litre of wine) as the process of fermentation converts the grape’s innate sugar to alcohol!

Ms Creed also alerted me to the horrors of trans fats (hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils) and highly processed foods and I have long since eliminated them from our fridge and pantry. However what has changed is the move away from “low-fat” products. Who would have thought that it could feel so liberating to tuck into high-fat and full-cream yoghurt, cream cheese, cream and milk, not to mention eating bacon fat, without any feelings of guilt whatsoever?

However, the difficulty with our new “healthy lifestyle” lies in the notion that the demons in our diet appear to be High Carb grains (especially wheat) and that includes breads, cereals, pastas and crackers and High Carb fruit and veggies which includes our staple (well, ex-staple) potatoes. This new eating regime proved interesting. I hadn’t realised just how dependent we were on grains (especially wheat) to provide us with quick and easy meals – toast or cereal / granola for breakfast, sarmie for lunch, a snack of crackers and cheese. I also discovered that having some form of protein and fat for breakfast gave me much more energy than cereal or toast ever did. And my friend the potato, which I thought I would pine for, has been quite easily sidelined by salads and low carb veggies.

This way of eating was easy to follow when I was at home and in charge of the menu. However it has proved to be quite difficult whilst travelling in America. Most of the meals on offer have included some form of high carb grains, be it bread, bread crumbs, batter, wraps, tortillas, pastry or pasta. And although you can often get gluten-free options for an additional $1, it is not really an alternative because they’re often loaded with similar amounts of carbohydrate as the original, gluten-containing version of the food.

So, apart from the fabulous Lobster Shacks which served excellent fresh lobster and crab (albeit mostly in rolls but I could usually get a green salad instead), it wasn’t easy finding low carb food on our trip. The Long Grain provided one of the best meals; the other was a French bistro called Petite Jacqueline in Portland’s West End neighbourhood, a short walk from our B&B. It had a bold menu which included Fricasse D’escargots with fennel butter; Moelle / Bone Marrow with parsley salad and Ris de Veau Grenobloise / Seared Sweetbreads with brown butter-caper sauce. However I opted for the less adventurous but absolutely mouth-watering roast chicken and since it wouldn’t be a French dining experience without wine, we splurged on a large carafe of rosé (the one and only time we ordered wine in a restaurant).

so I confess that I didn't stress too much about what I ate and drank (Peter, note the Ashbourne wine we found in a liquor store in Boston - we thought of you!)

Most of the time was spent stuffing our faces (Peter, note the Ashbourne wine we found in a liquor store in Boston – we thought of you!)

Portland, by the way, is a charming city and, although we didn’t spend that much time there, we did saunter around the cobblestone streets of the Old Port District. It was there we found the Le Roux Kitchen shop which is a treasure trove of kitchen and foodie stuff and I bought, of all things, a cast iron kitchen roll holder. Can you believe it? Well I suppose I did buy a salad spinner on a trip to Paris in 1980 so a precedent was set. On our way out of Portland we visited the Portland Head Light, which dates back to 1791, and is the oldest lighthouse still in continuous use in the U.S.

After Camden, we drove up to Bar Harbor, via the Acadia National Park. After a picnic on the beach we hiked up a mountain and I was reminded of a walk in the ‘berg when the end was always just around the corner. This time the top of the mountain was imminent on countless occasions – but the hike was well worth it (although I sat out the next day’s hike as the glutes were a bit stressed). I loved Bar Harbor; it felt down-to-earth and unpretentious. The B&B where we stayed was called Acacia House Inn and was run by a lovely couple. It really felt like a home from home. It rained and was quite cold while we were there but we holed up in a pub frequented by locals, where the band sang Joan Baez and Bob Dylan and that was good enough for me.

the deceptively easy start to our trail, the fairly strenuous middle and the "goat jumping" last .5 kms

the deceptively easy start to our trail, the fairly strenuous middle and the “goat jumping” last .5 kms

from top left clockwise: yay, I've made it to the top; cones (not sure whether pine/ fir/cedar); on top of cadillac mountain, otter cliff (shutter island) and sand bay (Cedar House Rules)

from top left clockwise: yay, I’ve made it to the top; cones (not sure whether pine/ fir/cedar); on top of cadillac mountain, otter cliff (Shutter Island) and sand beach (Cider House Rules)

Heading back south we stopped at Rockland to eat one final lobster lunch. Across the road from the Lobster Shack, we spotted the Farnsworth Art Museum advertising a Shaker exhibition so we pottered around in there for a bit. We also visited the adjacent Wyeth Gallery. There is a picture of a dog sleeping on a bed in our vet’s rooms in Windermere Road in Durban. I always admired it but it wasn’t signed and no-one knew the artist’s name. Well, blow me down if it wasn’t there in the Wyeth Gallery, painted by Andrew Wyeth himself. That was weird. Master Bedroom 

The last night of our road trip was spent in Portsmouth. Now that is a town I could live in. It reminded me of seaside towns in the south of England. We had lunch at the Portsmouth Book & Bar – isn’t this just the best concept ever, a bookstore that serves beer? Especially since the most delicious beer is brewed in Portsmouth. From Portsmouth we drove back to Boston and from there flew back to DC.

from top left clockwise: the  portsmouth book & beer; verbena bonariensis planted in a park in portsmouth (it grows like a weed on the farm), bridge over the piscataqua river; dinnerat the portsmouth brewery

from top left clockwise: the portsmouth book & bar; verbena bonariensis planted in a park in portsmouth (it grows like a weed on the farm), bridge over the piscataqua river; dinner at the portsmouth brewery

When Kiera asked me where I would like to go on holiday, I based my suggestion of Maine primarily on movies and John Irving novels set in New England. For some unknown reason I have always been drawn to images of clapboard houses on windswept beaches. Once the decision was made and plans for our trip were underway, I started to have second thoughts. What if it is nothing like what I imagine; would we be disappointed; why didn’t I suggest the west coast – I’ve always wanted to visit San Francisco and Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Santa Barbara County (anyone see where I’m going with this)? Yes, all wine country. Maine – not so much. I started thinking about movies like Sideways and Bottle Shock and all the books I’ve read on Haight-Ashbury and the hippie movement and I wondered if I had made the wrong choice. Well, I’m delighted to say I didn’t. Yes, the wine was bloody expensive in restaurants (nothing under R300 a bottle) but I discovered you can buy reasonably inexpensive, drinkable wine in pharmacies which we enjoyed in our B&B after dinner while playing scrabble. To accompany our meal though, we couldn’t go wrong with a locally brewed beer.

One of my favourite John Irving novels is The Cider House Rules. In the movie, Homer (the main protagonist) leaves St. Cloud’s orphanage, where he has grown up, with Candy and her boyfriend Wally and admits he’s never seen the ocean; they drive to a beautiful little cove which is called Sand Beach and is in Acadia National Park, on the eastern coast of Mount Desert Island. This is where we had our picnic before hiking up a mountain trail. On this hike we also had a view of Otter Cliffs, seen in Shutter Island, Martin Scorsese’s 2010 thriller.

Not far from Boothbay Harbor is Popham Beach at the tip of the Phippsburg Peninsula, where Paul Newman, Kevin Costner and Robin Wright shot the film Message in a Bottle. Belgrade Lakes in Maine inspired local screenwriter Ernest Thompson to write the film On Golden Pond (one of my favourite movies) Marshall Point Lighthouse in Port Clyde (between Boothbay Harbor and Camden) is shown in the film Forrest Gump. And Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth featured in the movie Snow Falling on Cedars. So there is good reason why I had the uncanny feeling, more often than not, that I was in a movie.

The coastline of Maine is like a beautiful collage – of inlets and islands, of hardy working harbours and pretty little marinas, of clapboard houses and lobster shacks just as I imagined; and lots of trees, mostly evergreens but also oaks, cedars and maples. It’s rugged and windswept and charming and quaint. And I may just have to invest in a pink Adirondack chair on my front lawn as a reminder of this lovely place.


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Better When We’re Together


After quite a busy week in Washington DC (which included a morning well spent in the National Museum of Natural History, a trip to the beautiful rural village of Middleburg in Loudon County, Virginia and an amazing Jack Johnson concert) Kiera, James and I flew to Boston, Massachusetts. We stayed in a delightful loft apartment in the historic neighbourhood of Beacon Hill; in fact Kiera could not have chosen a better location. We bought a 2 day pass on a hop-on, hop-off trolley bus which was a really good way to see a lot of the sights of Boston in a short space of time. On the first day we simply sat on the bus and orientated ourselves to this beautiful city.

On our second day in Boston, we visited the Boston Tea Party museum and the USS Constitution, “a wooden-hulled, three-masted heavy frigate of the United States Navy. Named by President George Washington after the Constitution of the United States of America, she is the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel afloat” (Wikipedia). We also strolled through the streets of the North End district which has a distinct Italian feel to it. We had lunch at a bustling little Italian restaurant – sitting next to us was a group of people who could have been straight out of The Sopranos. I ate lobster for the first time in the form of lobster ravioli and it was davvero delizioso. Afterwards we ate cannoli from Maria’s Pastry Shop, both Boston institutions, and we were not disappointed. (Cannoli are tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough filled with a sweet, creamy ricotta filling, btw.)

From Boston we hired a car and James drove us up north to Portland, Maine, where we spent a night before travelling further north to a delightful town called Boothbay Harbor. For the most part we drove on back roads that hugged the coast and we stopped along the way to visit lighthouses, ice cream stands, lobster shacks and puffins. Not a bad way to spend one’s holiday.


packed in like sardines at the Jack Johnson concert - what a blast

packed in like sardines at the Jack Johnson concert – what a blast







Boston skyline

Boston skyline

outside our Boston apartment

outside our Boston apartment

the biggest and best ice cream ever

the biggest and best ice cream ever

stopping for lunch en route from Boston to Portland

stopping for lunch en route from Boston to Portland






another lobster lunch in a diner in Brunswick

another lobster lunch in a diner in Brunswick en route from Portland to Boothbay Harbor


lobster roll served in a plastic basket with plastic cutlery

lobster roll served in a plastic basket with plastic cutlery





visiting the beautiful botanical gardens in Boothbay Harbor





visiting the beautiful botanical gardens in Boothbay Harbor








puffins are just so darn cute!

a lightbulb moment in Boothbay Harbor

having a lightbulb moment in Boothbay Harbor

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