Milo

The 2nd of September dawned as any other day in our household. I awoke to the sound of the birds twittering in the garden outside our bedroom window. I got out of bed to let the dogs out for their morning constitutional and put the kettle on for tea and coffee. The bloody water had frozen in the pipes again but the kettle was full, so that was okay. After his coffee, Peter went down to the pump to sort out the water and then we showered and got dressed. But this was no ordinary day. September 2 was the day that had been chosen by us as the day that Milo would die.

In the three weeks since I wrote the By Your Side post Milo had rapidly become more confused, withdrawn and unhappy. When he wasn’t sleeping he wandered around aimlessly and seemed to constantly forget what he was doing. He was always looking for us and when he found us he would go looking for us again. He stopped interacting with us, showed no interest in being petted and even shied away when I tried to brush him. It became impossible to take him on walks as he couldn’t remember whether he was coming or going and would head off in the wrong direction desperately looking for us. I finally realised that his quality of life had diminished so much that I had to let him go.

I could not have done this without Peter. Although he has felt for quite a while that Milo should be euthanized, he let me come to the decision in my own time. He contacted the vet in Nottingham Road and arranged for her to come to the farm to carry out the procedure here so that Milo would experience minimal stress. And when it was over, he sent me off with a cold beer to sit on top of the koppie behind our house while he buried Milo in my Buddha garden.

When the vet arrived she squirted a liquid tranquiliser into Milo’s mouth. He followed me into the bedroom and lay down on his bed. I sat on the floor and stroked him and after a few minutes he started to drift off. Peter and the vet then came into the room and, while Peter held Milo’s head, the vet shaved a patch on his foreleg and inserted a needle. He didn’t even flinch – a trooper to the end. The vet then suggested we say our goodbyes, which we did while Peter held him and I stroked his head. He closed his eyes, gave a gentle little snore, the vet injected him and then, within seconds he stopped breathing. It was an incredibly peaceful death. I can understand why people use the euphemism “put to sleep” as he really did die in his sleep. Bravo Milo!

I am bereft, of course, but also relieved that his suffering is over. He gave me 16 years of loyal friendship and I owed him a good end to his life.

On the eve of his death, we helped him to take a final walk by keeping pace with him and nudging him along in the right direction.

milo's-last-walk

Milo’s last walkies

Rest in peace my little Milo Dog.

 

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What a Wonderful World

August has been a weird month weather-wise. We’ve had horrible hot, dry berg winds which have whipped up dust and dirt and stirred feelings of intense disgruntlement and buggered sinuses. For ages the horizon has been a haze of dust, until the other night when a thunderstorm cleared the air and at last we could see the mountains again. The morning after the thunderstorm we woke to the most beautiful mist in the valleys, and snow on the ‘Berg.

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As the bush creeps closer to the house, so does the wildlife!

grass mice enjoying the seeds and grain that we put out for the birds

grass mice enjoying the seeds and grain that we put out for the birds

Southern boubous are frequent visitors to the garden and have become quite bold.

Southern boubous are frequent visitors to the garden.

Njabulo has been helping us out on the farm and has been a real godsend. His brother, James, came to visit him last weekend and both of them pitched up to work on Saturday morning. After work, we decided to have a lunchtime braai. Njabulo got the fire going and cooked the food perfectly. Alex had better watch out, he has got some serious competition as the best braai master!

James, Njabulo and me

James, Njabulo and me

 

 

 

 

 

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A Place In The Sun

 

While I was in America I started reading a book called Quiet by Susan Cain which had been left on the bedside table of the apartment in which I was staying. Although I didn’t finish the book before I left, I found some of what I did manage to read to be quite a revelation. Cain argues that the world favours extroverts and that the classroom and workplace environment is geared towards those who function well in groups. She also argues that instead of thinking that there is something “wrong” with those of us who prefer to work on our own and be quietly reflective, the world should value the role of introverts.

In fact, I have always felt uncomfortable in large groups; they often make me feel like I’m “on the outside looking in”. I remember when I was working in the ngo sector in the early 80’s, group work was the in-thing. Those who liked the sound of their own voices tended to dominate and the ideas of the quiet ones were mostly overlooked. It also used to drive me crazy when the most idiotic comments made by the most verbose were earnestly received by the group and a simple decision could take an entire day to make. Not only that but when we were running workshops, we used to play icebreakers which always left me feeling totally distraught, especially when you had to say something nice about someone you didn’t know from a bar of soap. I just didn’t have the skills to do that!

Once I was attending a week long, interactive training programme in Cape Town which ended with an activity where everyone had a piece of paper taped to their backs. All the participants had to write something about each other on the piece of paper. I was beside myself for two reasons: I could not think of anything to say about any of the other participants and I was terrified that no-one would make a positive comment about me! Peter and our friend Clive were attending a Carnegie Conference on Poverty at UCT at the same time and came to pick me up early. I was so relieved to see them and felt that they had rescued me from a fate worse than death. They took me to listen to Jazz at Kalk Bay and were most consolatory as I cried into my drink and bemoaned the fact that I was a horrible person and no-one liked me!

If only I had known then that it is common for introverts to:

  • find small talk incredibly awkward,
  • often feel alone in a crowd,
  • feel like a phony when it comes to networking,
  • find mingling with strangers difficult, and
  • feel drained by social interaction.

Yay, I’m normal after all (although the jury may still be out on that)!

When I got home from the States I did some follow up research on Susan Cain and came across her Ted Talk on the power of introverts which I found very interesting. For most of my life I have believed that there was something wrong with me because I found it so difficult to do what others seemed to accomplish so easily, like mingling at a party and talking to strangers. It was good to discover that not only are there a lot of people like me but, according to Cain, we should be as highly valued as extroverts. And since I made this discovery I have become much less self-critical of my social ineptness, which is quite liberating. What I have Susan Cain to thank for is that I now feel more comfortable being me in situations where previously I would have felt that I had to put on an act of some sort.

My surfing of the net also turned up this interesting review of her book by Jon Ronson (author of The Psychopath Test).

And then, I got sidetracked (as one does on the internet) and listened to Ronson’s very entertaining Ted Talk on the gray areas between crazy and sane. It has nothing to do with introverts / extroverts but I thought it fitted in here nonetheless. Perhaps it’s a caution against labelling people too specifically. As much as I identify with introvert characteristics, I know that I have extrovert characteristics too. There’s a fine line between being determined by labels and being liberated by them. Fortunately for me Susan Cain’s explanations of what I considered to be my foibles released me from years of self criticism, rather than defined me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day is Done

 

“O, with what freshness, what solemnity and beauty, is each new day born; as if to say to insensate man, “Behold! thou hast one more chance! Strive for immortal glory!”

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Every day the new dawn offers us a chance to start over for the better. And each day we manage to screw it up by unconsciously repeating previous days’ bad habits. I am a repeat offender of many faults which include drinking too much wine and wasting time, among other things. Of course, none of us is perfect but I would think that if something bugged me that much, I should be able to change it. But come 6 pm the first glass of wine has been poured and more often than not I’m toasting absolutely nothing. Ah well, there’s always tomorrow, or perhaps not. I think we really need to internalise the notion that tomorrow is not guaranteed before we are jolted out of our complacency. And there’s nothing like confronting mortality to get one going.

It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth – and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up – that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

During the dark days of Thabo Mbeki’s HIV/AIDS denialism, which disputed the existence of HIV or its role in causing AIDS, we became aware that our employees on the farm were showing symptoms of HIV / AIDS. No-one was comfortable to talk about the disease back then because there was so much stigma and ignorance attached but I had watched a friend and colleague (a remarkable woman who had so much to offer the new South Africa) die of the disease because she was too ashamed to admit that she had AIDS. I could no longer keep quiet on the subject, like I had done with H, so I asked Mike, my brother, who is a doctor in Phuthaditjhaba, to come and speak to our workers, and those of our neighbours, about HIV / AIDS and its treatment. He brought a Zulu-speaking man with him who had been very ill with AIDs and had made a recovery after taking anti-retrovirals (ARVs). After the talk, everyone came forward and asked Mike to examine them. They all showed signs of AIDS and he advised them to get tested. Our farm worker and our neighbour’s domestic worker were the only two who asked for our help to get tested.

Since the state-run clinics were not keen to test for HIV (the government was trying to keep the statistics down) I took them to McCords Hospital in Durban to be tested; both were found to be positive. Then began the long and agonising process of getting them on to ARV treatment; first there was training (in those days the treatment was a lot of tablets taken throughout the day and the patients had to understand that once they started they had to take the medication for the rest of their lives); and next came the TB treatment. Our farm worker was really at death’s door by the time he finally started taking the ARVs. My worst memories of that time are of him and I sitting for hours on end in the waiting room at McCords surrounded by emaciated people (some as young as 12 years old) while the hospital admin staff treated everyone as if they were invisible.

Our employee made a fantastic recovery once he started the treatment. Sadly, our neighbour’s domestic worker developed complications due to also having been infected with hepatitis B and she had to come off the ARVs because they were shutting down her pancreas. She died a few years later, but not before she became an advocate of making HIV / AIDS less stigmatised in her community.

Our farm worker has been healthy for the past 12 years, however in January this year he developed cryptococcal meningitis which one only gets if one has a low CD4 count (which would only happen if he had stopped taking his medication). Since then he has been in and out of hospital until finally he was sent to the TB hospital in Richmond. We went to visit him there last week and I was impressed with the hospital but surprised to find it virtually empty despite having a physiotherapist, dietician, occupational therapist and social workers on duty. I was shocked to see how frail our farm worker had become despite assurances by the doctor that he was getting better. Time will tell. I have to say I have been angry since the visit – angry with him for stopping his meds; angry with the doctors at Northdale for discharging him when he was so ill and waiting 6 months before referring him to Richmond; angry with H for dying because I sure could do with her company right now; and angry with myself for squandering the time that I have by procrastinating and drinking too much.

Perhaps tomorrow I’ll turn over a new leaf.

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By Your Side

 

Recently I popped in to our local hardware store to collect some lagging for our water pipes which keep freezing up whenever we have any frost. I got to chatting to John, the owner, about the weather, as one does, and I mentioned how difficult it had been for me to acclimatise to the cold having just come back from visiting Kiera in a very hot Washington DC. The conversation then veered off into how one’s life changes when the children leave home and how hard it is having our offspring scattered around the globe. (His daughter lives in some godforsaken place in Australia and he misses her terribly.) I commiserated with him over the fate of parents who, when their children leave home, are left with the dogs and then the dogs bloody well go and die. “It’s a cruel life”, he said.

It reminded me of the first verse of the Roger McGough poem, A Joy To Be Old:

 It’s a joy to be old.

Kids through school,

The dog dead and the car sold.

My very old Milo Mutt has been deaf for some time now. He also shows signs of what I think is doggie dementia in that, for the most part, the character of Milo is no longer recognisable. He simply exists in a world of his own and appears very confused most of the time. When he is on the move, he is constantly underfoot and in the way. He drives us crazy by following us around and always standing just behind us or in doorways and passageways so that he can keep tabs on where we are. And when he is taken out for his late night piddle, our patience is sorely tested (especially in the middle of winter) by the incessant dithering that goes on. When he is not on the move, he can be found sleeping, gently snoring, on his bed in the bedroom.

However, there are moments when the old Milo reappears. He is still a trooper. Dogged (as in dog·ged ) is the word that comes to mind when he slowly eases his arthritic body off his bed first thing in the morning and lurches down the passage, through the kitchen and garage and into the garden where he finally releases the pee he has been holding in. His tail, which has been held straight down during the journey, suddenly springs back up as we tell him what a good boy he is, even though he can’t hear us. Sometimes he doesn’t quite make it but we give him an A for effort anyway.

Later in the morning, come rain or shine, he takes himself off up the driveway to Edna’s wee house. If her door is closed he barks to be let in and then he makes a beeline for the titbits that she leaves out for him in the kitchen. When he is finished, he turns around and walks straight out and back home. Recently, instead of turning left at Edna’s front door to come back, he sometimes gets confused and turns right and gets a bit lost. But he doesn’t let that deter him from his daily dose of Edna’s leftovers.

And most afternoons, if he is awake when it is time for walkies, he insists on accompanying us all the way, slowly and laboriously on wobbly legs. However, on the home stretch the spirit of Milo the Younger seems to kick in as he races down the driveway at breakneck speed. We hold our breath as he careers around the corner, missing the garden shed by inches, and into the kitchen where he waits excitedly for us to catch up and give him his treat.

Earlier this year he lost his sense of balance and I really thought that his time had come. But he rallied after being put on cortisone and antibiotics and that’s the trooper in him. So despite being deaf, doddery and demented, I don’t think that he is quite ready to shuffle off this mortal coil just yet.

top left: Milo's first bath; bottom left: drinking tea out of my mug when he was little.

top left: Milo’s first bath; bottom left: drinking tea out of my mug when he was little.

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Milo, 15 years old, October 2013

 

 

 

 

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Food Glorious Food

I have a favour to ask. Alex pointed out to me recently that most of my recipes are for chicken and that he would like more ideas for cooking cheaper cuts of beef and lamb. That has me stumped. I don’t have a big repertoire of red meat dishes, and those that I do cook are not usually the cheaper cuts. So if you have an old standby, an economical and simple beef or lamb recipe, please share it with me in the comments section.

In the meantime I want to share this recipe (adapted from Sarah Graham’s book Bitten) for roast chicken which, after many years of roasting chicken, I have decided is the only way to go for meat that is succulent and full of flavour. We buy all our chicken from a woman called Zoff who farms free-range chickens here in the Midlands. My four, fat floozies are definitely not intended for the pot.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 4 Tbsp finely chopped mixed herbs (Sarah Graham uses fresh lavender leaves and fresh thyme leaves, but I like to use chives, sage & thyme)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 whole chicken
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and quartered
  • About 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup white wine
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
  2. Mix the butter with the herbs and seasoning.
  3. Use your fingers to stuff the herb butter under the skin of the chicken.
  4. Place the lemon halves and any leftover fresh herb leaves and stalks in the cavity.
  5. Place the chicken in an ovenproof dish, drizzle with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper, add in the onion and garlic and pour in half the wine. Cover with a lid or tin foil and cook for 45 minutes.
  6. After 45 minutes, pour the juices from the chicken into a small saucepan, and then return the chicken to the oven, uncovered. Cook for a further 10-15 minutes until the skin is golden and crispy.
  7. Add the remainder of the wine and the chicken stock to the saucepan, and leave to simmer for about 10 minutes until it starts to thicken. (I know it is not the done thing in foodie circles but I have to confess that I always use a bit of Bisto to thicken gravy.)

I like to keep ready-made herb butter in the freezer. It’s a good way to preserve herbs and since butter is back in favour (yay!) you can pop it into any number of veggie dishes as well. You simply mix 250 g butter with chopped herbs (you can do this in the food processor – chop up the herbs first and then add the diced butter). And a tip from Jamie Oliver is to:

“Get yourself a good-sized piece of greaseproof paper and place the butter into the centre. Fold the paper over and roll it around until you have an even-sized log. Twist up the ends to seal then pop in the fridge or freezer until needed.”

I always think of it as a waste of electricity to roast something on its own in the oven. I usually put a baking tray of potatoes and pumpkin / butternut in the oven as well. But I know that Alex is not crazy about roast potatoes and pumpkin (what is wrong with that lad?) so perhaps one could tuck a few other vegetables in around the chicken to cook in the wine, like carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, courgettes, green beans and perhaps some mushrooms.

Otherwise, a Mediterranean Vegetable Bake would be tasty with roast chicken. This is an adapted Jamie Oliver recipe.

Ingredients

(basically anything will do as long as they are roughly the same size, but here are some suggestions)

  • 1 red and/or 1 yellow/orange pepper, halved, deseeded and cut into 4 pieces.
  • 1 red onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges.
  • 2 courgettes, sliced into 2cm chunks
  • 1 brinjal / aubergine, cut it into quarters, then into 2cm chunks.
  • 1 handful cherry tomatoes
  • 1 handful button mushrooms
  • 3 cloves of garlic, in their skins but squashed
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
  • Olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
  2. Arrange the vegetables in a large roasting tray and season with salt and pepper. (I like using Melissa’s Cook’s Sea Salt with Chilli, Lime and Coriander.)
  3. Scatter the rosemary over the veggies and drizzle well with olive oil. Toss to coat thoroughly.
  4. Roast the veggies for about 50 minutes (so put them in at the same time as the chicken). Give them a good stir every now and then to ensure that they cook evenly. They should be soft and caramelised.

And here is another tip from Jamie:

“If the vegetables seem crowded in a single roasting pan, divide them between two. Overcrowding the pan will stop enough heat getting to the vegetables and they will steam rather than roast.”

(I never knew that!)

Alex phoned me a couple of weeks ago to say he was cooking one of my recipes for chicken breasts in spicy yoghurt and wanted to know how long to cook them for. He made me laugh when he complained that in Cape Town the only place he could find deboned chicken breasts was in Woolies but the trouble with shopping at Woolies was that you always came out with a lot more than you intended buying when you went in. I commiserated with him as this is a problem I know only too well.

I’m reading a book at the moment called A Private History of Happiness by George Myerson. It is a compilation of 99 written accounts of things that made a wide range of characters throughout history happy. Following each account, George Myerson gives a short commentary on the writers and the context of the stories, with information about what was going on in their lives at the time. I have been reading one story a day and it has made me more mindful of those little moments in one’s day when everything just seems right.

Myerson writes:

These focused glimpses of other lives and times add up to a bigger idea. They bring real human happiness before our eyes. We can see here the potential for joy hidden inside ordinary life….. For many of us in the twenty-first century, happiness has become a riddle, a goal that remains strangely nebulous. Politics and economics, education and psychology all have happiness as their promise or end. But we need to grasp the happiness that is a strand of everyday life if we are to make good on any of these promises.

Who would’ve thought that such a moment of happiness could spring from a casual conversation between mother and son, about recipes and shopping at Woolworths?

Alex sent me this picture of his Chicken Baked in Spicy Yoghurt, with the ready-made salad and garlic rolls that he had not intended to buy. I was impressed by the addition of the fresh herb garnish.

Alex sent me this picture of his Chicken Baked in Spicy Yoghurt, with the ready-made salad and garlic rolls that he had not intended to buy. I was impressed by the addition of the fresh herb garnish.

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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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