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Dear Kiera

Recently I watched Jane Fonda giving a TED Talk with the title Life’s Third Act.  I’ve never thought of Jane Fonda as the kind of person I would take advice from (even her exercise videos passed me by); she’s a little too Hollywood for my liking – too glamorous, too rich, too contradictory. However, she is a feminist (which is a big plus in her favour) and, think what one may about her, she’s also very articulate and what she had to say made a lot of sense to me.

She talks specifically about how our life expectancy has increased by 30 years and refers to it as our 3rd Act, which I think is a rather nice way of putting it now that I’m approaching 60. She advocates that we shouldn’t regard these years as part of a downhill curve but rather as a chance to finish up the task of finishing ourselves. She has a refreshingly positive take on this stage of our lives, unlike Shakespeare whose 7 ages of man monologue describes the final stages of a man’s life as:

The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

One of the points Fonda makes really resonated with me; she talks about doing a life review and mentions a book called “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl in which he wrote:

Everything you have in life can be taken from you except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. This is what determines the quality of the life we’ve lived — not whether we’ve been rich or poor, famous or unknown, healthy or suffering. What determines our quality of life is how we relate to these realities, what kind of meaning we assign them, what kind of attitude we cling to about them, what state of mind we allow them to trigger.

She goes on to say:

Perhaps the central purpose of the third act is to go back and to try, if appropriate, to change our relationship to the past.  It’s not having experiences that make us wise, it’s reflecting on the experiences that we’ve had that makes us wise — and that helps us become whole, brings wisdom and authenticity. It helps us become what we might have been.

 (my emphasis)

 I like that: “become what we might have been”. Recently however I’ve been reflecting more on my mother’s life than my own. I don’t want to sound critical but I’ve learnt a lot from her mistakes and I hope I don’t repeat them.

“What has all this to with me?” you may well ask. Well, since you will soon be completing your first 30 years of life and have probably not given much thought to what your life will be like when you have done another 30, I thought it may be appropriate to share some of my learnings with you.

As Fonda says:

Women start off whole, don’t we? I mean, as girls, we start off feisty …. We have agency. We are the subjects of our own lives. But very often, many, if not most of us, when we hit puberty, we start worrying about fitting in and being popular. And we become the subjects and objects of other people’s lives. But now, in our third acts, it may be possible for us to circle back to where we started and know it for the first time. And if we can do that, it will not just be for ourselves. Older women are the largest demographic in the world. If we can go back and redefine ourselves and become whole, this will create a cultural shift in the world, and it will give an example to younger generations so that they can reconceive their own lifespan.

So, here goes: what I’ve learned from my mother’s mistakes:

  • It is critical to look after one’s body – to keep fit and healthy and nurture one’s appearance. Problems with eyesight, hearing, teeth, muscle strength, bone density – all the things that deteriorate with age – should be dealt with as they arise. I’ve seen my mother struggle with some of these issues because she either didn’t seek help at the time or didn’t continue with the treatment. Now it’s too late. As for appearance, I don’t mean disguising one’s aging. Rather, celebrate it and hold your head up high. Confidence is what it’s all about.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

(Maya Angelou)

  • Even introverts need social contact. I’ve discovered that making the effort to be more sociable has had many rewards. I’ve met lovely people by learning to play bridge and joining a book club and it’s led to other social activities. I’ve also been introduced to books that I would not normally have chosen to read – it does one good to get out of one’s comfort zone. As she got older, Edna became more reclusive and without company, she gets quite lonely and bored.
  • It’s good for one’s psyche to have a creative outlet, something that you can continue doing when in your dotage.

I want to approach my 3rd act very differently to my mother. I want to continue evolving and living an authentic life. I don’t want to have any unfinished business when I die and above all, I want to be happy and fulfilled.

Given all of that, I have a favour to ask of you. Don’t let me give up and play the age card; keep pushing me to realise my potential and not to be fearful. Call me out if I become self-pitying, complaining, negative or small-minded. I’ll understand even if it hurts – I’m sure I’ll cry and get annoyed but at the end of the day, I’ll know it’s because you love me.

I don’t think this is too much to ask you because already you have a knack for pointing out, with alarming alacrity, when I’m being foolish. And I appreciate it, honestly I do. I wish I had done the same for my mother. I let her stop trying until eventually she won’t go out, even to visit us. If I know that you’ve got my back on this, I’ll have one less thing to worry about and I can get on with my 3rd act and give the performance of my life.

Love you,


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Lily The Pink

I’ve mentioned before on my blog that I am rather partial to alcoholic beverages. Champers for celebrations, a g&t on a summer’s day, holiday cocktails, a glass of red in front of the fire on a cold night, a pint of draught in the pub, a whiskey and soda at the end of the day and so on and so forth. And there’s nothing wrong with that, in fact society encourages it.

Alcoholic drinks have been produced and consumed by humans for thousands of years and have played an important role in religion; supplying nutrition and energy; providing medicinal, antiseptic, and analgesic benefits; quenching thirst; facilitating relaxation; promoting conviviality and social cohesion; increasing the pleasure of eating; providing pharmacological pleasure; and generally enhancing the quality and pleasures of life.

David J. Hanson: Historical evolution of alcohol consumption in society

However, the article does go on to say:

Still today, there exists a conflict of views as to whether alcohol is an attractive elixir or a dangerous poison.

If it’s only a few drinks on the odd occasion, then what’s the harm? But if one feels that the only way to experience bliss is to keep drinking, then I think it is a problem. Unfortunately for me I’m one of those people who keeps looking for “that first soft spring breeze of intoxication” by drinking more.

By the time I got down to the bottom of the glass …… I could feel the warm, suffusing glow of alcohol wash over me. There’s really nothing quite like that first soft spring breeze of intoxication. Keep drinking all you want, but you will never get it back. Nothing has changed, you’re still the same guy sitting at the same kitchen table, and yet everything feels just a little different: Several degrees less literal. Leavened. And whether or not this angle of mental refreshment offers anything of genuine value, anything worth saving for the consideration of more ordinary hours, it does seem to open up, however briefly, a slightly less earthbound and more generous perspective on life.

Michael Pollan: Cooked

Ordinarily, I’m a fairly sober, down-to-earth, clean-living person but every now and again I drink too much and it annoys me. What upsets me more than anything is all the time I’ve wasted being inebriated – it’s no coincidence that being wasted is slang for being drunk. My lack of restraint when it comes to alcohol has been an issue on and off for most of my adult life. I was a teenager when I first started drinking; it was something we did for fun and to give us street cred. We were the naughty kids, bucking the system and thinking we were oh so cool. Later, I started to rely on alcohol as a social lubricant; it helped to mask my introversion and social anxiety. After a few drinks I became more gregarious and less reserved. Again, it was fun and no harm done. Gradually however, over the years, drinking has become a habit and that habit gets a bit out of hand occasionally. Every evening for as long as I can remember at 6 o’clock, sometimes earlier if it’s been a long day (!), the drinks are poured. And at every social event my first inclination is to grab a drink before heading into the fray.

The thing is that when we were younger, getting drunk was something we all did. It used to be funny and we would even boast about our drunken escapades. However, as one gets older, it doesn’t do one any favours – slack-jawed, slurring, incoherent, unsteady, forgetful, not to mention the aging effects!

The turning point came for me a few days ago when we had a lunch party and I had rather too many glasses of wine. I went to bed after the guests left and slept solidly for 12 hours. When I woke up I could remember very little of the previous afternoon and it dawned on me that I’m throwing my life away by not being present. I’ve been told that I can be quite the life and soul of a party when I’ve had a few drinks. The problem is I can’t remember any of it afterwards and that, I feel, is a waste of what precious time I have left. If I’m having fun I really want to know about it! There’s a huge difference between the soft spring breeze of intoxication and having a blackout.

I tend to drink too much whenever I’m anxious about being judged and criticised by others – when I publish a post on my blog or when I’m mixing in a crowd, for example. I think it’s a hangover (pardon the pun) from my closet introvert days when I suffered from social anxiety and felt I had to pretend to be something I wasn’t. Sometimes one needs a little help to just be oneself.

So my challenge is to recognise the triggers and learn to drink in moderation. Habits are hard to break but I’m dettermined to change my ways and writing this post has really helped me to work through some of the issues. It’s helped me to see that things are not as bad as I sometimes think they are but also that things could be better. I would still very much like to enjoy the benefits of alcohol but without the detriment of inebriation.

I’m inclined to agree with Desmond Morris when he writes:

This new style of social drinking … was a marvellous invention of the first great civilizations – a form of shared, chemical day-dreaming that provided vital opportunities for social bonding. Those that drank together stayed together.

It was important that early drinking was most commonly associated with great celebrations and other festive occasions. These are times when those present are in a mood to enjoy themselves. This is essential if alcohol is to play its best role. For it is not a stimulant, but an inhibitor of inhibitions. And there is a subtle difference. Whatever the dominant mood of the drinker, alcohol will exaggerate it by removing the usual social restraints. If the drinker is happy he becomes happier; if he is sad he becomes sadder. There is absolutely no truth in the idea that alcohol helps to ‘drown your sorrows’. If you are sorrowful to start with you will only sink deeper into despair as the night wears on. For this reason, the happy social occasion is the ideal environment for the human ritual of ‘taking a drink’. As such it has always had – and will always have – great social significance.

Social and Cultural Aspects of Drinking: Foreword by Desmond Morris

g&t anyone?

g&t anyone?

celebrating my 55th at Linga Lapa

celebrating my 55th at Linga Lapa









celebrating Alex's graduation

celebrating Alex’s graduation

Mothers' Day 2013

Mothers’ Day 2013






Christmas 2014

Christmas 2014

celebrating Kiera and James' wedding 2013

celebrating Kiera and James’ wedding 2013









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New Recipe Page

I’ve had a complaint that it’s not easy to find the recipes I’ve posted on my blog under the title Food Glorious Food. So I’ve created a page specifically for all these recipes. If you are looking for a particular recipe, open the page, press Ctrl + F and type in what you are searching for.

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Food Glorious Food

It is blowing a howling gale here today. Power lines have been brought down by falling branches, causing disruptions to our electricity supply as well as starting several fires. The wind has also ripped the shade cloth cover clean off the allotment – never a dull moment. It’s a good day to stay indoors, drink tea, eat leftover carrot cake and write blogs!

Once a week I play bridge with three lovely women who live in the nearby village of Nottingham Road. We take turns to host the games, which are very social occasions and call for tasty tea break treats. The others are all very accomplished bakers (Sharyn actually runs a specialty cake business). I, on the other hand, am not. Whenever I’m required to bake, I tend to fall back on my very limited repertoire of foolproof recipes, namely banana muffins and banana bread. However, my bridge friends have inspired me to be a bit more adventurous. After all, how many times can one serve variations on a banana?

So, when my turn came around this week, in a bold move I switched from fruit to vegetable and made a carrot cake instead. It was simple to make and turned out quite well I thought.  What I like about this recipe is that everything is in cup measurements, i.e. no weighing of ingredients.

Carrot Cake


  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 ½ cups brown sugar
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil (I used light olive oil)
  • ⅓ cup golden syrup
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 cup self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 ½ cups firmly packed grated carrot
  • ½ cup drained crushed canned pineapple
  • ½ cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 160ºC. Lightly grease a 23 cm round cake tin (I have a springform pan which is ideal) and line the base with baking paper (I didn’t have baking paper and the cake came away from the base quite easily without it).

In a large mixing bowl, lightly whisk together the eggs and the sugar until the mixture is frothy. Stir in the oil and syrup and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth. Sift both flours, the bicarb and cinnamon into the egg mixture and mix until smooth. Stir in the carrot, pineapple and pecans. Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin and level the top. Bake for 1 – 1 ¼ hours, or until golden and firm to the touch. Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

I’m not a great fan of very sweet cake icing but I do like cream cheese icing, despite it being loaded with icing sugar. To make cream cheese icing, beat 175 g of cream cheese with 60 g of  butter until combined. Continue to beat while gradually adding 1½ cups of sifted icing sugar, 1 teaspoon of finely grated lemon rind and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.

Poached Eggs

Because our chickens keep us well supplied with eggs, I’m always looking for different ways to cook them. I think poached eggs are the tastiest and since the best poached eggs are made with very fresh eggs, I’m in luck. And by poached I mean the proper way, simmered directly in water and not in a poaching pan or silicone pod. The taste really is quite different.

I have written about the poaching technique before but the other day I learnt a new trick that has ensured 100% poaching success and is worth sharing. The key is to place the eggs still in their shells in the simmering water and gently move them around for about 10 seconds, before poaching them. This seems to thicken the egg whites so that when you place the broken eggs into the water, the whites fold beautifully around the yolks. Works perfectly every time! My brother once told me that poached eggs are called uova in camicia in Italian – eggs in shirts. Since then I always imagine the yolks wrapped in foppish, flouncy white blouses.

So: half-fill a medium-size pot with water, add a teaspoon of vinegar and salt and bring to a light simmer. Place the eggs in their shells in the water and roll them around for about 10 seconds. Take the eggs out and break each egg into its own small bowl / saucer. Swirl the water to create a medium-strength circular current (I used a balloon whisk which worked well) and gently slide the eggs, one by one, into the heart of the whirlpool. Allow them to poach for about three to four minutes or until the whites are set. Use a slotted spoon to remove the eggs and dab them with a dry cloth or paper towel before serving. Only cook four eggs at a time.

Spinach Tart

The other food that we always seem to have in abundance is spinach. This is an Annabel Langbein recipe, from her website: a free range life

She writes:

My mother made this savoury tart often, and it’s still the best I’ve tasted. It has a denser texture than a quiche and a wonderful green colour. I have doubled the recipe so you can freeze one for later – they freeze beautifully.

Get the recipe here.

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Castles in the Air

Recently a friend sent me this picture with the caption: Don’t worry about getting old …. worry about thinking old.

Old Vintage Clothes

Good advice, it reminds me of a warning I once read against making old fogey noises when exerting oneself. In the good old days when I still made an effort to work-out in public, I always made a concerted effort not to grunt and groan as I exercised muscles best left resting. Of course I would like to think that I don’t have an old mindset, let alone make unattractive noises, but if truth be told I have been known to – occasionally – resort to both.

One of the ways in which my “thinking old” manifests itself these days is in the dread I have developed as I’ve aged of the drive from the farm to Durban and, more especially, the airport. The heavy duty vehicles that turn the N3 into scenes out of Mad Max terrify me. I dose myself up on Rescue and am still a gibbering wreck when I finally reach my destination. It wasn’t that long ago when I hit the road in my little Postman Pat panel van to make the trip between the farm and Durban every fortnight. I batted along the freeway with the music blaring, singing at the top of my voice and never gave it a second thought. Now I’m white-knuckled and silent, concentrating for all it’s worth. Yup, I’m afraid that’s thinkin’ old.

But enough of thinking and acting old, what about worrying about getting old? The other day I was chatting to Kiera on Skype and, as usual, the future of the South African economy came up for discussion. Is the president, Jacob Zuma, trying to take control of treasury, what will happen to the exchange rate if Pravin Gordhan is fired, should we be worried about escalating costs? “Come to America” says Kiera, and it’s tempting, very tempting. But I’m happy here and right now I can’t imagine living anywhere else. And even if I wanted to leave, I can’t – I couldn’t abandon my mother, or my dogs for that matter, nor could I afford the move. Whatever we have saved for our dotage would not translate well into dollars.

However, the conversation got me wondering whether we should be more proactive when it comes to making plans for getting old. I realise that it’s a bit late now, we really should have made more provision for that when we were younger. And I don’t know what else we should be doing to prepare for getting old. I’m a great believer in the ostrich approach to problem solving but is it wise to simply ignore the reality? We are, after all, aging in a country that is not particularly kind to old people. Poverty, neglect and physical / mental deterioration are very real fears as we age. How do we ensure against that?

Having my mother live with us has taught me a lot about aging. I’ve come to realise that caring for an aged parent need not be considered a burden; an inconvenience at times, yes, but certainly not an insurmountable problem. Since she lives on the farm, it’s easy for me to care for her and she is able to continue living in her own space, which gives her a huge amount of joy (especially her garden). She seems content and has never expressed a desire for anything else.

My dream, my castle in the air, is that circumstances will allow us to continue to live on the farm for as long as we have a decent quality of life here. A lot will depend on our finances (or how much of a burden we will be to our children). And a lot will depend on the political economy of the country. These things are beyond our control. What we can control is our response to aging and the difficulties that it entails. We can, and should, simply refuse to get old in spirit. We can try to stay positive; enjoy life while we can; and really appreciate and take pleasure in the simple things. But most importantly, I think, we need to be kind and generous and have faith in the law of karma.

The theme for our September Camera Club meeting was “reflections”. I cheated and photoshopped this picture which was taken in the everglades last year. I didn’t win the trophy.


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Watching the Wheels

Ta-da! This is my 200th post  and as I was mulling over what to write on this momentous occasion, it struck me that I’ve really gone to seed since I started my blog, just over 5 years ago. There is no denying it; my early blogs record my spirited attempts to create a new life in the country. My last post was about how much I love my bed. Oh, how the wheel has turned!

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it is a concern of mine (one of many, I’m afraid) just how quickly time flies as one gets older. Until I reached my 50’s, I measured change by my children’s growth – in my mind I stayed more-or-less the same. My children’s milestones were the significant events in my life – from birth, first smile and starting school to finishing school and leaving home. I was 52 when my youngest flew the nest and since then I no longer have the children as my yardstick when it comes to measuring the passing years; the focus has  shifted uncomfortably to me.

I’m startled when I look back at where I was when I started this blog. Recently I spent some time replacing pictures that I accidentally deleted from my blog in 2011 / 2012 and it was quite an eye-opener. I realised that jeez, I’m not getting any younger folks! And, if I’m brutally honest, I haven’t been looking after my body or my health as well as I should have. It seems more difficult to multitask as one gets older; I tend to focus my attention on one thing at a time. So, fearing Alzheimer’s, I’ve concentrated on encouraging mental acuity at the expense of my physical well being.

The importance of maintaining one’s physical stamina and health was brought home to me recently when I noticed that my mother’s eyesight had deteriorated. She is not one to complain about her health (immigrants in the UK, yes but physical discomfort, no). To cut a long story short I managed to get her to agree to see an ophthalmologist. During the consultation she just happened to mention that earlier this year she had a burst blood vessel in one eye. She never thought to tell anyone at the time and, as a result, now that the blood has dried and cannot be removed, she is virtually blind in that eye. The other eye has a cataract compromising her vision even more. She agreed to have the cataract removed only when I pointed out to her that if she were to go blind in a few years’ time she would not be able to continue living on the farm. Cruel but true. I learned a lesson from this – deal with health issues as they arise and look after your body, it is as important as your mind.

On a lighter note, I won the coveted camera club trophy this month with these silhouettes of the sculptures outside the Brahman Hills Hotel at Mount West.





The prunus nigra is flowering which always heralds the end of winter. There has been a hint of DSC_0001 spring in the air; we’ve had a little rain and some warmer weather. Hopefully there’s a lot more on the way.



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Give Peace A Chance

The best mornings are those when the dawn chorus wakes me up and there are no plans for the day. I can have a leisurely lie in; check emails and Facebook, play a round of online bridge and other keep senility at bay games, write a bit, or just simply gaze out the window – all from the warmth and comfort of my bed. Once I’m up it’s all go, go, go. My bed is a sanctuary, the eye of the storm – I’m with John and Yoko on this, I stay in bed for as long as I can, for peace.

Of course it’s not always like that, some days are quieter than others but that’s the joy of living on a smallholding – you never know what it’s going to throw at you next. There is always something that needs doing. We do have help, thank goodness, and our staff (Kho and Thandi) are great but I like being hands-on and staying on top of things, like making sure that the water is clean and the JoJo tanks are full; that we have dry logs and kindling on hand; and that the chickens and veggies are flourishing. On top of that one has to be quite adept at fixing stuff – getting people in to do repairs is expensive because of the added transport costs, as well as frustrating since they tend to be very unreliable in this neck of the woods. So if things aren’t working, we’ve learnt to tackle the problems ourselves, even if it takes all day and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. And by “we” I mean me, more often than not, as Peter is not the most practical of people.

When I first moved to the farm I used to wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, asking myself: “what the hell am I doing here and how I did I get here?” Now, when I reflect on how I landed up living in the country on a smallholding, it is with a great deal of pleasure and contentment. I no longer panic about the lifestyle choice we made; it feels like we’ve grown into it and I can’t imagine living any differently. There’s something very special about living close to nature and being responsible for the upkeep of the natural environment. I feel so much more at home since I took the decision to let the bush grow up to the house and the garden to become naturally wild. I consider myself very fortunate to have a spectacular view of the countryside and see for miles and miles over rolling hills to the Drakensberg Mountains in the distance; to be able to retreat into solitude when it suits me; and do all the things I love to do right here in a beautiful setting.

Funny, isn’t it, where we find ourselves at different stages in our lives? I can’t say that I was particularly unhappy raising my family in Durban but I always had a sense that I didn’t belong there. When I moved to the country, the plan was to live in a community with the other people on the property. However, when it became clear this was no longer a desirable option and they sold up, I was pretty much left here on my own. I’m so thankful that I didn’t give up on my dream to live in the country after that initial unpleasantness. Instead it made me even more determined to make this a viable place for us to find happiness and peace.

DIY sometimes requires a workbench and I have, for some time now, been eyeing a gorgeous, refurbished one that is for sale in a rather trendy Howick décor shop (yes, they do have such things in Howick!). Since most visitors come into our house via the garage and not the front door (a design flaw that can’t be fixed), a workbench, as well as being functional, needs to look nice –after all I am house-proud, in my own way. However, as “retirees” the inflated price could not be justified, no matter how hard I tried.

I happened to ask a friend of ours, who is a dab hand at restoring old furniture, to keep an eye out for a workbench for me and within days he called to say that he had found one in his cousin’s backyard in Pietermaritzburg. Many years ago the cousin bought a factory and this workbench had been left in it. No-one knew quite what it had been used for – it had solid 2 inch planks, excessively sturdy for a normal workbench, and a metal cover over the work surface. I was thrilled. Bill picked it up and took it back to his workshop in the Champagne Valley where he proceeded to restore it. He discovered drilled holes in the top and lots of oil and battery acid soaked into the planks and realised that it had been used as a bench to stand as many as 16 car batteries on to charge them. The planks had to be cleaned and sanded and sealed and when they were all put together again I had the workbench of my dreams.




after – Bill, you are a genius.












a lovely piece of furniture

It just goes to show, good things do come to those who wait.


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