The White Cliffs of Dover

The myriad ways we use story to cope with the world make it hard to imagine that narrative isn’t part of our fundamental nature…We dream in narrative, daydream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, construct, gossip, learn, hate, and love by narrative… We see our own lives as a kind of narrative, too.  (Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction by Jack R Hart)

In the narrative of our lives, we are the protagonists; heroes or victims depending on the circumstances. And how we remember events depends on the stories we tell ourselves about what happened. The story I’m going to tell you however is not about me, it’s about Edna, but it will be my story none-the-less.

10 months ago my mother took a decision that would put us all to the test. She decided that it was time to die and that she would do it on her terms – in her sleep, in her bed, in the wee house. What precipitated this decision, I’ll never know for sure; I can only speculate.

Prior to this, she had been struggling with mobility issues. Several years ago, Edna complained that she had lost the sense of where her feet were when she was walking. We took her to a neurologist who explained that it was as if the message from her feet was not getting to her brain. She was prescribed vit B-12 jabs and physio, which helped for a while but she started having panic attacks whenever she went out with us and eventually she no longer wanted to go shopping or out for a meal. She even stopped coming round to our house, which was next door.

Last year, despite our encouragement to keep exercising, she gave up her daily walks with Peter. The less she used them, the more her leg muscles wasted and as a result she became very unsteady on her feet. She developed a pathological fear of falling which, in turn, lead to a fear of going outside. It frustrated her terribly because it put a stop to her one passion, gardening. Wherever Edna lived, she singlehandedly created beautiful gardens. She once told me that as a child she longed to have a garden and would imagine it full of flowers. She couldn’t be bothered with colour schemes or massed plantings; the more plants and flowers, the merrier.

As well as being confined to indoors, Edna had also become hard of hearing and blind in one eye. It made following what was on telly more difficult. You could always count on Edna to know what was happening in the world, especially if it involved British and South African politics or any disasters worldwide. But gradually she lost interest in keeping up-to-date with current affairs as well as the goings-on in EastEnders and stopped watching telly altogether.

As arthritis in her fingers made knitting, sewing and crochet impossible some time ago, she took up sudoku instead. Before sudoku, she had been an avid crossword puzzler but she had grown tired of doing them. We also got her onto audio-books which, for a time, she thoroughly enjoyed. Then, it seemed as if it happened overnight, she gave up on the sudokus and audio-books as well. I think that she had just had enough, that the act of living had become too difficult and that she wanted out. My mother was like that, once she made up her mind about something there was no way to convince her otherwise.

So in November last year she took to her bed, turned her face to the wall and willed herself to die. And every morning when she woke up to find herself still alive, she became more frustrated and more depressed. Once she put the process of dying in motion, the old Edna (the mother I knew) began to withdraw from us and life. She couldn’t rouse herself when Alex visited over Christmas nor when Mike came to see her in the New Year. She didn’t want to speak on the phone to her sister in England and often when I visited her, she would turn away from me. She just wanted to sleep and quietly slip away. This went on for 5 months until we realised that we were not coping. Edna refused to have a live-in carer, she was becoming confused and delusional, and behaving more and more like a petulant child. She had lost interest in everything that had once kept her busy and engaged. She no longer did anything for herself, she was lonely and she was bored. We knew that this situation could not go on, for her sake and for ours.

In April we moved Edna to the Amber Valley Care Centre and I can honestly say that it was the best thing to do in the circumstances. I had hoped that she would find more to occupy her time and even find some companionship and that the old Edna would reappear. And for brief moments she did but, you know what, she still wanted to die.

Unfortunately, the bad behaviour continued and got worse, we just didn’t see it on our visits. Not long after moving to the Care Centre she stopped using her walker and became totally dependent on the carers. She also became quite disruptive, so much so that after 2 months she was moved to the frail care section. I was horrified, as was she, to discover herself put amongst all the “loco’s” as she loudly referred to the other residents suffering from dementia. However, it was the right move; she got the care she needed and she did eventually settle down, although at the end she was still fighting with her carers, telling them to bugger off and leave her alone!

We were so happy to see that the agoraphobia had gone now that she was confined to a wheelchair. During our visits she thoroughly enjoyed being taken for walks in the garden. We would chat about the flowers and the animals and she would always ask after Kiera and the baby and Alex and the farm and the dogs. She always knew who I was and she was always pleased to see me. I am so grateful that for the last 5 months of her life I was able to enjoy time spent with my mum in such a caring and pleasant environment.

On the 9th August (Women’s Day here in SA), I visited and took her a posy of gerbera daisies, her favourite flowers. The residents were being entertained by someone playing a guitar and singing all the old songs. She seemed quite withdrawn and not even the songs or flowers cheered her up. I showed her some photos that her sister’s daughter-in-law had sent me but she seemed confused and unable to relate to them. The staff told me that she had stopped eating and was refusing to take her medication (for high blood pressure). I asked them to respect her wishes. A week later I showed her the photos again and tried to get her to dictate a letter to me so that I could email it to her sister care of her daughter-in-law. She was still very distracted and this was all we managed, with a lot of editing:

Dear Elsie

It was such a surprise for me to write you a letter like this. The photos that Heidi sent were very nice. Hope you are well health-wise.

I haven’t heard from Michael so I don’t know how he’s doing. I had a funny dream. I dreamt I was a prisoner of war, I was in a death camp and I went on a march. They were putting me to sleep and I was so thirsty and couldn’t get any water. Cutting down our rations. It was so strange to think they were killing me off.

I can’t read much anymore, it needs to be big print. Doesn’t time go by so quick.

At the moment I’m feeling in a mood of blue. You go through periods of colours – a blue one is rather serious, you want to die and kill yourself off.

I have flashes of memories – they’re out of your mind for years and suddenly they hit you.

It wasn’t long after this that Edna became too frail to get out of bed and quite delirious. However, she was still determined to die and spat out anything the carers tried to give her. The last time Peter and I saw her, I had prepared myself to say goodbye. She held my hands and drew them up to her mouth to kiss them. I was so relieved that she drank the water I offered her, mindful of her dream and hating that she might feel thirsty. I played some Strauss waltzes for her on my phone and talked to her about all the people I knew that she would’ve liked to have said her farewells to. I told her she could let go of this life, that we would all be fine, that she would be free of all the discomfort and pain that she was experiencing. When I said goodbye to her, she was calm and looking at me with her beautiful blue eyes. I like to think she knew who I was, even though she seemed to be back in her childhood. After our visit, we asked her doctor to give her some morphine, which he did and she slipped into a deep sleep from which she did not wake.

A few days ago, I was listening to a podcast in which Patti LaBelle talked about how, when her sister was ill with cancer, she asked for an egg sandwich. Patti was too tired at the time to make it straightaway but the next day she made it and phoned to say she was bringing it round, only to be told her sister had just died. Her lesson was to “make the sandwich, don’t wait”. I like to think that Peter and I made the sandwich.

Rest in peace Edna Mary Peek (born Lambert) – born 11th January 1924 and died 1st September 2018.

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A Change is Gonna Come

I’m looking forward to my stint as assistant cook and bottle washer in America when my first grandchild arrives in October. 5 months may seem like a long stretch to be away from home but when you get to my age, it all flies by so quickly that in no time at all I’ll be back on the farm, picking up where I left off and wondering where on earth it all went. I need to adjust to the idea that it is highly likely that America will in fact become my home from home in future and I must start regarding any prolonged visits there as a continuation of my life and not as a break in it. In other words, Kiera and James, watch out, I’m setting up home in your basement! And, with better planning, I should be able to escape our dry, dusty, sinus-clogging Midlands’ winters and enjoy summers in the North.

It’s a truism that one should see opportunity in change – change is good. But as one gets older one tends to resist change, we find it unsettling. Perhaps that’s why we get old! At first, I must admit, I was having minor panic attacks every time I thought about how a grandchild living so far away was going to impact on our lives here. But now, as the dust has settled, I’ve become more philosophical about it. In the words of Tim Gunn you’ve just got to make it work.

I feel very privileged to be able to help by going over for 5 months. I’m grateful (a) that the kids want me there, (b) that we can afford for me to be there and (c) that Peter is willing and able to hold the fort in my absence. I sure am one helluva lucky gal!

Recently it occurred to me that, over this past year, my mother and I have unconsciously been working our way through the classic five stages of grief together; learning to live, as it were, with the loss of the person we both knew even though she’s still alive. After denial, anger, bargaining and depression, we have both finally reached the stage of acceptance. The last time I visited she told me that she was “ready to go home” and I was able to reply with complete honesty that that was great news! She seemed, for the first time, very at peace with her situation and I was heartened to discover that she has asked the carers to call her by her maiden name, Edna Lambert. I see it as a sign of her stamping her individuality on the world before she departs it. Go Edna, indeed!

I’m currently wading my way through Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and am in total admiration of his writing skills. He has the uncanny knack of nailing things on the head in the most lyrical way. And it’s got me thinking about my own writing skills, or should I say, my lack thereof. My writing is very limited to recalling what happened to me in the past and sometimes even musing about what may happen to me in the future. But I just don’t have the skills to create fictional characters or scenarios. Although, it does give me great pleasure to use my writing to tell a story – if I can. I’ve always been an absolute sucker for a good story well told (see Lazy Sunday Afternoon, to see how much of a sucker!!) Although I’m a lover of storytelling, I’m not very good at it myself, preferring to write rather than speak, but give me the company of a good raconteur and I’m in heaven.

Which is why I enjoy The Moth  so much – The Moth stories are all true. I’ve just finished reading The Moth: All These Wonders and if, like me, you love storytelling then get yourself a copy of all these wonderful stories compiled into a compendium of magic. The Moth book somehow manages to capture the immediacy of a story being told even though you’re reading it, not hearing it. Recently I discovered the Podcast app on my phone and it’s become my portal to another world as I drive to and from Howick to visit my mum at the Care Centre. I listen different podcasts but The Moth is by far my favourite.

I first came across The Moth when someone posted this video on Facebook of Aryana Rose telling her story of falling in love with a younger man. Not only did I love the story but also the telling of it is so exquisite.

This is another Moth story that resonated with me recently.

I’m standing on a stage, almost stark naked. They start to laugh. This is not a bad dream; this is real life. It’s 1969, and I am about to do the hippie dance of love in a San Francisco nightclub so the tourists can have that “wild experience” in a safe place with drinks in hand.

I had two toddlers at home and far from a showgirl’s body: short legs, wide hips, wide hair. And my partner, the dance teacher who came up with this gig, looked more like a grumpy botanist than a hippie. But for four glorious weeks, I got paid for what I loved to do: improvising with an ironic twist, hence the laughs.

Now, to look at me, you might not think “naked hippie dance of love.”

These days, I’m a librarian. When you see an old lady with frizzy grey hair, you have no idea what she’s been up to.

I believe this is the manifesto. I believe we are like Russian nesting dolls; everything we’ve done is still inside us. Twist off the top and there it is.

Told by: Neshama Franklin, 77.

I love the image of the Russian nesting dolls – of holding all these life experiences inside us. How empowering it is to carry the secret that we are more than what we look like; that the grey hair and wrinkles that make us disappear in public also hide amazing, interesting lives and wonderful stories.

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Food Glorious Food

We don’t entertain nearly as much as we used to, which is a shame because I miss the lively conversation around our dining room table and the cheering company of good friends. What I don’t miss is the bloody performance I used to turn it into, back in the day. I often complicated what should’ve been a simple pleasure, making it a time consuming and expensive exercise. I would always try to create the perfect atmosphere when people visited and this often involved frenzied cleaning, tidying and decorating.

All of that, of course, is not necessary in order to have a good time and I remember some of the most fun times were those that happened spontaneously, without any pre-planning or preparation. One such occasion happened over 40 years ago when Peter and I lived in a tiny, one-bedroomed flat off Umbilo Road. (And when I say tiny, it was so small you could not open the stove door fully as it banged against the opposite wall). We had arranged to go for a picnic in a nearby park with friends John and Des. However, on the day it rained and Des, determined to go ahead with the picnic, suggested we have it in our flat, which we did. We sat on the floor, spread the food out on a blanket and proceeded to have the most wonderful, convivial indoor picnic.

Another time, also in Amaryllis Court, we invited friends, Jane and Jeff, together with Peter’s sister, Sue, and her husband, Corrie, for dinner. We had bought a huge box of prawns but hadn’t thought the evening through as the prawns had not been cleaned and we had no idea how to cook them. So most of the evening was spent, again sitting on the floor, with everyone peeling, cleaning and helping to cook the prawns. But with lots of chatter and laughter in the process. A few days later Jane bought us a Kitchen Devil – our very first sharp knife!

A few years later we had moved slightly up in the world and were living in a semi-detached house just off Davenport Road. Friends of ours lived down the road, in a block of flats and, on a weekend, John (another John this time) would take his toddler, Bronwen, for a walk. If they walked past our house, Bronwen would stop and rattle our gate to get our attention. They would come in and often there would already be a few people around – in those days, our house was like a railway station with visitors coming and going and friends popping in. John would call his wife (we could see their front door from our back garden and he would literally shout for her to join us!), the braai would come out and we would cook and sit around the fire until dark when the records would be put on and the dancing would begin.

Later, when we entertained more formally, as in actually inviting people over, I used to make the mistake of slaving away in the kitchen while everyone else was having fun. Now when we have friends over, I like to prepare as much as possible in advance. When I was younger, there never seemed to be enough time to get everything organised but since we “retired”, I have more time on my hands and Peter is more available to help get the meal ready ahead of guests arriving. Tray bakes are perfect for this. There is already a Mediterranean Vegetable Bake on my Recipe page, however I have prepared this vegetable bake a few times and just love the flavours (especially the lemon), so I’m including it as well.

Vegetable Tray-Bake with Haloumi

Ingredients

(Use your discretion when it comes to quantities, taking into account how many people you want to serve and size of the baking tray.)

  • baby potatoes
  • carrots
  • peppers
  • courgette (zucchini),
  • 1 garlic bulb
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 T fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 60 ml olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 250 g haloumi
  • 12 black Kalamata olives, drained and pitted

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F) and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Cut the potatoes, carrots, peppers and courgette into bite-sized pieces, cut the garlic in half crosswise and cut the lemon into thin wedges. Place in a large bowl and add the rosemary. Drizzle over the oil, season to taste with salt and pepper and toss until well coated. Transfer to the baking tray and bake for 25–30 minutes or until the vegetables are almost tender.

Break the haloumi into bite-sized pieces and scatter it over the vegetables along with the olives. Change the oven mode to grill, increase the temperature and grill the haloumi, olives and vegetables for 5–10 minutes or until the haloumi is soft and golden and the vegetables are tender and golden.

Serve topped with a handful of something green, a sprinkling of nuts or seeds and seasoning and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

We had friends over to play bridge one Sunday afternoon and to stay for supper afterwards. I prepared the above tray-bake in advance but just before I popped it back in the oven to finish it off, I added some par-cooked, spicy Italian sausage – made locally by Franco. I tossed diagonally sliced pieces of sausage, together with the haloumi and olives, over the veggies and they crisped up rather nicely under the grill, making it a more substantial meal for meat-eaters.

Salad greens grow with great abundance in my allotment and, as a result, we eat a lot of “green” salads. Tabbouleh is a great way to ring the changes every now and then and I’ve become quite partial to the nutty crunchiness of bulgur wheat. I couldn’t find bulgur wheat in Kiera’s local supermarket when I was last in America but perhaps one could substitute it with other grains like couscous or quinoa.

Tabbouleh is a Middle Eastern salad made of mostly finely chopped parsley with tomatoes, mint, onion, bulgur and seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Some variations add garlic, lettuce or cucumber. This recipe, based on one in Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Companion, uses winter vegetables.

Winter Tabbouleh with Cabbage

Ingredients

  • 1 cup bulgur (prepare the bulgur wheat according to package instructions)
  • 2 spring onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1 celery stick, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup cabbage, shredded
  • ½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ cup mint leaves, shredded

Dressing

  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place all the ingredients in a large salad bowl. Pour in the dressing and mix everything together very well.

Instead of the olive oil and lemon juice dressing, one can add pesto. I also like to add roasted veggies, especially butternut and orange sweet potato.

Roasted Butternut and Sweet Potato

  • 1 cup each sweet potato and butternut, cut into chunks
  • Enough olive oil to coat the vegetables
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • Good pinch of dried chilli flakes – as hot as you like
  • salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and tip onto a lined baking tray that is big enough to spread them around. Lining the tin just makes the cleaning up so much easier. Roast for about 50-60 minutes (depending on their size).

Recently I cooked, for the first time, a small pork fillet – which I marinated in ½ cup soya sauce, 1 T brown sugar, 1 T honey, 2 crushed cloves garlic, 1 sliced red chilli and a glug of olive oil.

After browning it in a hot pan, I transferred it to a roasting pan and roasted it in the oven at 180°C for 10- 15 minutes. I added slices of the pork fillet to a tabbouleh and it made quite a delicious meal.

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For What It’s Worth

I have a reputation for burying my head in the sand and where better to do it than on a smallholding in the beautiful KwaZulu-Natal Midlands? That’s not to say I don’t care about what’s going on, I do – deeply, but politics is just not my thang. That said, every now and then I do venture up into the stratosphere and have a look around. And for what it’s worth, these are some of my thoughts on what I see.

I was an avid fan of the Handmaid’s Tale season 1. Based on the novel written by Margaret Atwood and published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a dystopian future and “explores themes of women in subjugation in a patriarchal society and the various means by which these women attempt to gain individualism and independence” (Wikipedia).

Season 1 ends basically where the novel ends but without the epilogue.

I eagerly awaited season 2. The writers apparently had help from Atwood in creating season 2 but I just don’t feel her presence. For me, season 2 has lost all the subtlety that made season 1 so riveting. It’s such a blatant political statement on the rise of fascism and I find the overall message so brutal and in your face, that I just can’t watch it. Yes, it needs to be said, and if you have the stomach for it, it needs to be watched but I can’t do it – it’s that ostrich mentality of mine!

Perhaps the difference is that Atwood was writing about an imaginary future and the show’s writers are seeing that future as the present.

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Food Glorious Food

For a while now I’ve been concerned about my overall lack of routine and, more specifically, my non-existent mealtime regime. It started going downhill when I relocated to the country and lived on my own for few years. I felt so liberated not having to accommodate anyone else’s needs that my routine went completely out the window, with mealtimes suffering the most, becoming erratic and sporadic. I seldom bothered with meal planning, simply eating whatever was to hand whenever I felt hungry – lots of baked beans on toast. When Peter joined me here, the situation improved somewhat but I still couldn’t get into a daily rhythm. And then, when we had to prepare lunch every day for my mum (who complained about every meal), I just lost interest in cooking. Not that I got skinny because of it, mind you; I was just eating really badly and piling on the weight.

After 40 years of marriage, Pete and my eating habits are still so very different. He likes to eat first thing in the morning so that he can take his multitude of tablets! I can’t eat before 10 am and usually by then I’ve had at least 4 cups of tea and feel too full for breakfast. I often don’t bother with lunch whereas Peter will fix himself something to eat (he always seems to be in the kitchen, leaving a tell tale trail of breadcrumbs on the counter and eating the leftovers in the fridge which I had my eye on for dinner – drives me bloody crazy!). Come supper time, I’m so hungry I tend to shovel the food in and overeat. And since it’s winter and we’re going to bed earlier, all that food is giving me massive indigestion at night.

So, I’m trying to establish a routine which includes a daily breakfast before 10 am but after 8 am, a main meal at lunch time and a light meal for dinner.

Some of the light dinner ideas include omelettes, scrambled eggs, frittata, soup, pizza (frozen base but fresh toppings), Welsh rarebit, toasted sandwiches and kedgeree.

Kedgeree always reminds me of Peter’s professor when he was a lecturer at the University of Natal. One evening we were invited to the professor’s house for dinner. The occasion was to meet a visiting lecturer from Oxford, Stan Trapido, and his author wife, Barbara. She had just published her first novel Brother of the More Famous Jack, which I had read and loved, so for once I was excited to attend one of these academic functions. I don’t really remember much of the evening other than the meal that we were given, which was kedgeree. Unfortunately someone had grossly under catered and all we got was a measly spoonful of rice mixture and a slice of tomato each. In my mind’s eye I can still see the professor toasting his honoured guests while we all sat around the dining room table, transfixed by the small bowl of kedgeree in the middle.

This is an easy peasy recipe adapted from an Antony Worral Thompson recipe:

Smoked Trout / Haddock Kedgeree

(serves 4)

Ingredients

  • 1 T cooking oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 T curry paste / powder
  • 1 cup basmati rice, cooked
  • 200g hot-smoked trout / (I use poached haddock if trout is not available)
  • Chopped parsley and chives
  • 2 T Greek yoghurt
  • Lemon juice to taste
  • Freshly ground salt and black pepper
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped
  1. Heat oil in a large, non-stick frying pan and fry the onion over a medium heat for 8-10 minutes until softened.
  2. Add the curry paste / powder, stir to combine and gently cook for a further 3 minutes. Add the rice and cook for a further 2 minutes, then flake in the trout / haddock and add the herbs and yoghurt. Stir to combine and heat through gently to prevent the pieces of fish from falling apart.
  3. Season to taste with the lemon juice, salt and pepper, fold in the eggs and serve.

Egg dishes tend to make a light meal. However, our chickens have been playing up and not laying as bountifully as they used to. After months of no eggs Kho found, hidden in the tall grass at the back of the chicken run, a couple of hollows in the soil and in them, some 35 eggs! Since we uncovered their hiding place, the hens have stubbornly refused to lay more than one a day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favourite egg dishes is frittata. This is one of the first I ever made – a Seville Tortilla – from a scrapbook of recipes I collected when I was in high school. I see that it serves 4 and costs about 55p!

Since then I have tried many different recipes. The trick is to master the method and then vary it according to what ingredients one has to hand. I like it with cooked potato, spinach (or some green) and cherry tomatoes. Really, you can add whatever you fancy – cooked courgette, sautéed mushrooms, cooked asparagus, prosciutto / salami / chorizo, goat’s cheese, marinated artichokes, marinated peppers, caramelised onions ……..

Frittata

Ingredients

  • 6 large eggs
  • 100 g baby spinach leaves / kale / bok choy roughly chopped
  • A handful of cherry / roma tomatoes, halved
  • 2 cooked potatoes, peeled and sliced
  • A mixture of chopped fresh herbs
  • Salt and pepper
  • ½ cup freshly grated parmesan (or cheddar)
  • 1 T oil

In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs lightly with a fork. Stir through the spinach (greens), tomatoes, potatoes and herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a 23 cm non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Swirl the pan to coat with oil. Pour in the egg mixture. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 12-15 minutes, tilting the pan so that the egg runs to the sides of the pan. The bottom should be firm and the top a little runny. Sprinkle with the cheese and place under a preheated grill for just long enough to set the top.

A good frittata should be firm but moist. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 2 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, sliced into wedges.

And finally, a soup to warm the cockles of one’s heart – an amalgam of soup recipes but based on one in Quiet Food.

Smooth Butternut, Sweet Potato, Ginger and Orange Soup

(Serves 4)

Ingredients

  • 500 g butternut squash and sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 15 ml oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 2 cm piece of ginger, grated
  • 5 ml black mustard seed
  • Pinch of crushed chilli
  • 1 litre vegetable or chicken stock
  • Juice of one orange
  • Coriander microgreens / sliced spring onions to garnish

Heat the oil in your favourite soup pan and fry the mustard seeds until they start popping. Add the onions and sauté until soft. Add garlic, ginger and chilli and fry for 2 more minutes, stirring. Now add the butternut, sweet potato cubes and stock and simmer until the vegetables are very soft.

Remove from the heat and with the help of a hand blender or food processor cream the soup. Return to the heat, add the orange juice and adjust the seasoning. Garnish and enjoy.

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What A Wonderful World

4 years ago, I decided to include a regular “photo-essay” type post on my blog featuring photos which weren’t essentially of flowers or vegetables (which, by the way, I usually include in Growin’ in the Wind posts). I called it What a Wonderful World and I hoped that my photos would tell the story when words eluded me. At the time I said that I thought it really is a wonderful world, that there is always beauty even in the worst moments. Have to say though that I’ve sort of lost sight of that sentiment lately. Feeling so helpless to ease my mother’s unhappiness and her wanting so desperately to die has dimmed the light somewhat and I’ve allowed myself to slump into a kind of a fog, just like her. Instead of seeing the beauty, I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by the gloom. As a result I’ve been hiding out in my warm, cosy bedroom and watching way too much telly.

Perhaps all that sense of darkness was in keeping with the lead up to the shortest day of the year here in the southern hemisphere. However, since the winter solstice has just been and gone and it is, after all, a celebration of light, I feel that the time has arrived to start focussing on the rebirth of the Sun and not its demise (which is rather ironic since I’m not going to experience a summer sun this year). And the reason for that is worth celebrating.

I’m going to be a grandmother – talk about silver linings! Kiera and James are expecting their first child in October and already I’m planning some major changes in my life, starting with me missing Spring and Summer here and experiencing three Autumns and Winters in a row. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures! I’ll be away from home for 5 months and am feeling slightly apprehensive about that – I have visions of hacking my way through the garden with a celemba (machete) to get to the house after a spring and summer of neglect – but am very excited to be part of this wonderful event.

So I’ve started seeing the beauty again – it really is a wonderful, albeit funny, old world. Or as my dad always used to say, “It’s a great life, if you don’t weaken”!

exciting times

a sounder of warthog visiting the old folk at Amber Valley

as well as a dazzle of zebra

Yes, you’ve guessed it – I’ve been brushing up on my collective nouns since our trip to Nambiti.

just another spectacular sunset

our garden shed resident

late afternoon walkies

me and my shadow

“In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer” (Albert Camus)

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Cold Little Heart

8 years ago I swopped half a century of city life for a new start in the country. I had grown disenchanted with the life I was living and when Alex left home to go to university in the Cape, I decided it was time for me to make a move too. I was fortunate to have the smallholding near Nottingham Road as a place to escape to as I began the process of “finding myself” again.

What I had not seen coming was how much the empty nest syndrome would affect me and the year that followed my move to the farm (as we somewhat pretentiously call our smallholding) was a rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows. I started writing about my experiences as a means to make sense of it all and eventually this turned into my blog.

When I first started my blog, a long and close friendship had just ended. I felt manipulated and hurt by this person and was tempted to give vent to my feelings via my blog. Not a good idea – not long after voicing these feelings I deleted some of what I had written because it had been written while I was still reeling from the betrayal and wasn’t yet able to be objective. I resolved then to rather stick to the Thumperian principle of “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” But, as we all know, life is messy and people are not always nice. I would like to write about such things but I’ve discovered that it’s not so easy to do without coming across all bitter and twisted, especially when it involves someone close to you. Emotions get in the way and it’s hard to remain detached. It’s a lot easier to keep quiet and pretend that life is all hurrah and jolly hockey sticks.

I’ve always enjoyed reading a well-written memoir; we can learn so much from other people’s lives. I’ve just read actor Alan Cumming’s memoir Not My Fathers Son in which he exposes his fraught relationship with his father. I think he writes about it beautifully, no sense of anger or vindictiveness, just a need to make sense of it. As A Peek at Life has evolved, it has become a kind of serialised memoir of my own. But I’m aware that I’ve left out huge chunks of my life, the messy bits that I’m not ready to go public with and that includes family dynamics.

I’ve mentioned before that writing is my breathing space. “I write to understand as much as to be understood” (Elie Wiesel).  So recently, when I felt utterly let down by someone, I decided to write about it, not for publishing but for my own edification. And as I wrote a wonderful thing happened, I had an epiphany. I realised that it’s not about what other people do to you, it’s about how you respond and the choices you make. In fact, what caused the problem in the first place is that someone got hurt, blamed someone else for it and let the resentment fester. The resulting bitterness has clouded judgement, destroyed family relationships and broken hearts, irretrievably. And who benefits in the end? No-one. Bitterness can make a heart cold and small, leaving no warmth for any one but yourself.

People let us down, we let others down; sometimes intentionally but mostly through miscommunication. Sometimes our expectations are unrealistic and we just want people to be something they are not. So I’ve come to believe that best course of action in cases like these is to let it go. If there is nothing left holding you together, if you know beyond doubt that you are better off without this person in your life, take a deep breath and let it go.

let it go – the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to
go

let them go – the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers – you must let them go they
were born
to go

let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go
dear

so comes love

~ e. e. cummings ~

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