Wednesday, December 31, 2008

365 Days

As 2008 comes to an end and we wait expectantly for the New Year to arrive, I’ve been thinking about goals and priorities. At this time of the year I am also able to look back on the past twelve months and actually tick off various goals which I achieved. I thank God for guiding me in these goals; for showing me how to prioritise.
I thank God, too for the many blessings He has showered on me and my loved ones. It is only by His grace that I have life and life in abundance. Amen!
In 2009 I’ve decided to give something away every day. If I can give something tangible, then I will. On the whole though, I’ll be giving away little, no-thanks-expected, intangible things.

I’ll listen more and speak less.
I’ll speak kindly to a stranger.
I’ll release a grudge.
I’ll pray for someone no-one likes, including me!
I’ll apologize if I’m wrong.
I’ll encourage an older person.
I’ll gladden the heart of a child.
I’ll give a soft answer, even if I feel strongly about something.

I will make next year an ongoing gift of myself to others. I’ll do it without announcement, without obligation, without reservation, and without hypocrisy. I will ask the question: What would Jesus do? Then I'll do the same...
May the New Year bring you happiness, joy and peace.
(Note: Various excerpts from

Monday, December 29, 2008

Live and Let Live

Snails have their own place in my garden. Strangely the Acanthus mollis (shredded shrub just visible behind the sign), is one or two of the only plants in my garden that the snails really anihilate

This past week of Christmas celebrations and family gatherings has really made me appreciate my garden, the weather and nature more than ever. We’ve spent every possible moment in the garden with my MIL and her husband and various friends and family who’ve popped in. We’ve had morning coffee in the garden; later we’ve enjoyed breakfast together under the umbrella at the garden table. A few necessary chores indoors and then back into the garden it is for morning tea!

A peaceful and calm setting for family and friends' gatherings

Salads and cold meat (yummy left-over Christmas gammon) served al fresco just cannot be beaten. Later after an afternoon siesta - the weather is incredibly hot at the moment - I’d serve afternoon tea ... you guessed it - in the garden!

Even later my son and daughter-in-law would arrive to spend time with grandmother and hubby and to enjoy the sun setting over the garden while I served cheese, biscuits, gherkins, olives and biltong (A South African delicacy : dried meat which is similar to jerky). Life really has been mellow and peaceful these last few days.

Contrary to popular belief, snails do not destroy a garden

While we’re all enjoying freedom and the garden, the snails and other creepy crawlies in my garden are also allowed to live. Regular readers to this blog will know that I do not use poisons/ insecticides in my garden; not only that: I leave everything alone in my garden, not least the common garden snail. (You can read about the wildlife in my garden here) Ironically these little creatures are not out to destroy my whole garden. I have one section in my front garden where the snails can be seen crawling up the wall after a shower and a few Acanthus mollis bear the brunt of their hunger. Last week my husband erected a sign to mark their special place in my garden: "Snails Pub & Grub"...

Healthy blooms abound in my garden

There is enough garden for everyone!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Practical Christmas

Betty enjoying refreshments here at home the day before Christmas

A beautiful gift; a set of matching casseroles from Betty
At this time of the year, the thought comes to mind that I am so blessed with family and friends. While I’m not at all materialistically inclined, I am quite aware of the abundance with which God has blessed me. I have a very comfortable home (read: all mod cons in the form of electrical appliances - household and comfort enhancing) I have transport, resources to run my vehicle and I have a garden in which to entertain my family and friends.

By the same token, I cannot but help thinking of the thousands of underprivileged South Africans who do not even have a roof over their heads, never mind electricity and running water. And while only one of me cannot do much, I gladly give those people who are in my employ (and my son’s employ – see my extended family) whatever can possibly afford to give. My husband and I also attended the Carol Service last Sunday where we all donated gifts to the children in the newly-established orphanage. (My brother-in-law, the Pastor who with his wife delivered these gifts to the children on Christmas day, told us that one little girl just clutched her unopened gift and sobbed uncontrollably; heart wrenching stuff. )

On Wednesday morning I had a surprise visit from Betty, Emily’s daughter from Johannesburg. She arrived here with her son and with her nephew, who comes to work with Emily during the year (see my extended family). Emily poured each a glass of soda and I set out a plate of cookies. They sat in my formal lounge because Emily and Albertina were still cleaning the rest of the house; I sat a chatted to Betty and took some photographs of her and the little ones. Betty had come to greet me and brought me a Christmas present. I was delighted and really touched when I opened it later that night and saw that it was a set of beautiful casserole dishes. These people don’t have much for themselves, yet they can be so generous. When she and the two little boys had had enough to eat and drink, I took them to the taxi rank downtown.

Later that day as my staff prepared to leave at about midday, so that they could get a little last minute shopping in, I presented each with a Christmas mpho (gift). The local supermarkets make up hampers during this season: a plastic bucket filled with essential groceries and a few luxuries. Sugar, oil, maize meal, rice, tea bags, custard powder, tinned beans, a packet of sweets, jelly, shoe polish, deodorant and much more. Privately my two gardeners and Emily were presented with their annual Christmas bonuses (a "thirteenth cheque”) and I thanked them for work well done during the year. Then my husbanded loaded them up into my little pickup and took them to town.

On Christmas day I phoned Emily at home and wished her and her family for Christmas. I also asked her where I could find the floor-whiz (mop) and told her how much I was missing her. This statement was greeted with much laughter. I’m sure she tells her family how much I dislike housework!

So while I cannot do much more for the masses than pray for them, I’m sure the people who are close to me and help me so well all year, were able to have a good festive time with their own loved ones.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Means Rebirth

One of the most powerful miracles experienced by mankind is the miracle of rebirth. On 25th December we remember the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ in Israel just over 2000 years ago. That miracle opened the way for the miracle of rebirth. When you experience the miracle of rebirth you are "born again" and your whole life changes. As Jesus came into the world, so He came into our lives, if that is what we choose.

Let the fragrance of Christmas flow through you at this time, pointing others to the One who brings joy, hope, liberty, freedom and forgiveness to all who call on His name. Share freely that you have experienced rebirth and that you are a new person because of what Jesus did for you more than 2000 years ago.

God bless you and your loved ones.

(Direct excerpt from "A Farmer's Year" by Angus Buchan

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Wonderful Christmas Day

My husband and my mum-in-law's husband off to town
for last minute shopping before Christmas
Afternoon tea in the garden on Christmas Eve

Hubby and me on Christmas Eve
My MIL, her husband and my husband; you can see by the amount of gifts we don't have children/ babies in the house !
Christmas Lunch was a resounding success

Well, it's all over bar the shouting... The lunch was superb; many recipes to follow in the next few days. *Sigh* I had too much dessert; my MIL's lemon meringue pie was delicious!

As I write this blog on Christmas night, I'm exhausted; Christmas is almost over. The sun has not even set here in beautiful Central South Africa and I'm off to bed.
I trust you all had a wonderful Christmas with family and friends.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Warm Potato Salad with Dijon Mustard

A potato salad with a difference

It's Christmas and for the first time in nine years my husband is home, We're hosting Christmas dinner. I perused my recipes to try at least one different salad as an accompaniment to the two meats I’m preparing. Yes, as a vegetarian, I prepare meat dishes, cook meat dishes, serve meat dishes. All I don’t do is eat them! I’ve also stuffed the chicken with a completely different forcing. It is my own deduction of a ready- made potted stuffing I saw on the shelf in the supermarket. If it tastes good, which I’m sure it will, I’ll post the steps/instructions.

Now back to the salad. Three months ago I was asked to make a potato dish for lunch that our church was serving for a group of delegates after a regional meeting. I found two recipes on the Internet which looked interesting so I amalgamated them. Viola! The perfect recipe. It looked and tasted divine. It is also one of those recipes that you look at, taste and say to yourself, “Mmm, delicious, but next time I’ll add this or that...”

You can serve it with crispy fried streaky bacon as a starter, or upgrade it to a main meal by adding lamb shanks, Eisbein, smoked pork sausages or even smoked chicken.

Warm Potato Salad with Dijon Mustard
(Serves 4)
20 baby potatoes
2 red onions, sliced
8 black olives, pitted and chopped
2 tablespoons soft, sundried tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoon capers, well drained
5 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup fruit chutney
1/3 cup low-oil salad dressing
Coarse salt and ground black pepper
15ml white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard (I used Hot English Mustard)
1 pickled gherkin, patted dry and finely chopped.

Mix all ingredients except for the potatoes and set aside. (Don’t refrigerate)
Boil potatoes in salted water until just done.
Spoon the warm potatoes into an earthenware casserole dish, pour sauce over and garnish with fresh parsley.
Serve immediately.

I've been up since 4am. I roasted the chicken; (remember, hubby - no eat turkey) and it's waiting to be carved by himself. I've also cooked a huge gammon and will glaze and decorate it with pineapples rings and cherries in a minute. Then it goes back into the oven for that delicious browning until it resembles rich toffee. I've kneaded dough for my special Foccacia; I'm waiting for it to rise. MIL (read Mum-in-law) is making her delicious lemon meringue pie. DIL (yes, that's right, daughter-in-law) will be here mid-morning to help set the table.She does it beautifully. We're placing all the cold meat and salads on the top of the pool table and serve it buffet-style. SIL (mmm, you know the drill by now) is bringing a Malva pudding. (a scrumptious baked pudding with a sticky sauce)

The other guests arrive at 12.30 and we'll have another spate of gift opening.

Last night MIL, her husband, my husband and I exchanged gifts. Great fun. I gave hubby a framed collage of his favourite wife (how about that for being in-your-face? Ha!) Well, he'll soon be off to work in Canada and I don't want him to forget me. He gave me a brand-new pair of secateurs. (pruning shears)

Above all I want honour the most important Guest here today, the Lord Jesus. I dedicate this special day which remembers His coming to earth now and forever. Amen!

To all you beautiful bloggers out there, have a wonderful Christmas.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Food for the Road

Some of the beautiful scenery on our trip through Eastern Free State to Kwa-Zulu Natal
The sandstone cliffs rise majestically alongside the road

Our family (and a few dogs) enjoying padkos yesterday

Having spent five years of my childhood in Zimbabwe, (then Southern Rhodesia) I knew all about long car journeys. No matter where we travelled in that country, it was always a L O N G journey. Once a year, we crossed the border into South Africa on our annual holiday and then the long journey became a three-day-long journey.

In the sixties there were no fast-food outlets to relieve the distances or a traveller's hunger between towns. This was not a problem because my mum would pack “padkos”. Translated, this is “road food”. The night before we were due to leave, my mum would prepare the “padkos” . Traditionally this was a wicker basket packed with cake tins filled with meatballs, boerewors (Farmers Sausage), hardboiled eggs, cheese sandwiches and hot, sweet tea in a flask. She also packed a tin of homemade rusks and fruit in season.

We’d leave home in the early hours of the next morning. The car was always dark and quiet, everyone too sleepy to talk. I remember we’d always fall asleep again and wake up an hour or two later with the sun streaming in through the windows. My mum would hand us a fruit on a serviette. We'd eat this and afterwards we'd sit forward in our seats anticipating the time when my dad would stop for breakfast.
Not long and my dad would pull up at a concrete table and chairs under a copse of trees, with a deep concrete refuse bin to the one side. I always marvelled that my dad would find a spot exactly at the right time. We’d all stand around the table while my mum spread a snowy white linen table cloth on the concrete table. She'd unpack the basket which my dad brought from the boot/trunk of the car. First out was the tin of rusks and she'd offer them around. Then she set the meal out and we’d enjoy what was a feast to us. I still maintain to this day, that nothing tasted better than my mum’s cheese sandwich and hot sweet tea in a tin mug. Other early motorists driving by would hoot and wave just to show they also had the holiday spirit.
Once we'd finished eating, we'd all help tidy up. No paper or mess was left lying around. We'd even pick up litter that was left by others, in case, as my dad always said, "people thought it was us." (!!) To allow our food to settle, my parents would let us play outside around the car as long as they could still see us. My mum sat knitting in the car with her door open; my dad would tilt his seat back a little and catch forty winks. A few minutes later we’d all be back in our seats, my mum’s door closed and my dad would pull out onto the tarmac for the next part of our journey. Everyone replete, relaxed and happy.

As parents,my husband and I, whenever we travelled a significant distance with our children, always stopped along the way for “padkos”.

Yesterday we met John and Debbie (our older son and dil) in Kwa-Zulu Natal. He’d brought his grandmother and her husband to this point; we collected them there and brought them home for the Christmas holidays. Earlier this week John phoned and asked if I’d bring “padkos” along so that we could enjoy it together in the outdoors. (Like me, my son had not forgotten this enjoyable part of his childhood.)

I’m pleased that the tradition lives on...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Four-legged family members preparing for Christmas!

Angie helps sweep the patio!

Chip keeps a close eye on my husband in the workshop. He built her this special "place" above his workbench where she loves to lie all day!

Tigger has all the gardening and birdwatching under control

Pudding supervises the cooking and baking from the top of the fridge. My husband had to secure the freezer door with a cord. Pudding pushes it open with her hindleg when the heat gets too much!
Clarice keeps an eye on Emily cleaning the entertainment area!
The refurbished cathouse welcomes all visitors!

Felix checks to see if I'm cleaining the cathouse
The cats have their own table to eat on and baby carry cots to sleep in

When this post appears, we’ll be travelling down to the Natal Midlands to meet my older son and his family. He's bringing my eighty-year-old mother-in-law and her new husband to that point from Durban (you can read about their recent wedding here).

Meanwhile, the days leading up to this point have been filled with activities as we prepare for the Christmas holidays. A dab of paint here, a new outdoor light re-wired there. My darling husband has even refurbished the cathouse. David, the gardener has painted the floor a brilliant green. (Eewyeww!) Hubby removed the bulky storage unit I had in there and erected beautiful and practical shelves .

Of course, while everyone on the property is getting the house and garden ship-shape for Christmas visitors, the four-legged members of the family just lie back and relax.

I captured a few "action" photos...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Traditional Christmas Carols

"Oh Holy Night" beautifully rendered by a men's duet
at the Traditional Carol Service last night
People brought gifts for underprivileged children while Izelma, with the window behind her, sings a solo. On her right, in the corner is the organ which I played for fifteen years

Last night we attended the annual Christmas Carols held at the Methodist Church here in our town. The event always reminds me of the many years I was the organist in this same church.

I remember one particular Christmas Carol service where I played the church organ while one of the other younger women, Izelma, set her keyboard in up in the front of the church. By arrangement, I accompanied the congregation on certain carols while she had other carols to play.
As normal at this time of the year, the heat was unbelievable. Just prior to the last carol, I looked at my watch and saw that, although it was almost seven o’ clock, the sun was still blazing through the window behind me. Under cover of a Scripture lesson by one of the other people involved in the carol service, Izelma turned around and asked me what key she should play her carol. When she whispered “Do I play this song in ‘G’?” I thought she’d said “Would you like a cup of tea” (Crazy, I know, but I was hot and thirsty and thought she was offering me refreshment!) So I nodded. Well, as the crowd began to sing, we realised the notes were far too high and after a bit of juggling, Izelma managed to transpose her keyboard and the carol was sung with much more ease.

Yesterday, 21st December, the longest day in the Southern Hemisphere, was also very hot. Once again I watched the sun pour in through the window behind the organ. Only this time I was sitting in a pew joining in the singing and not playing any instrument!

The church was packed evveryone enjoyed the singing very much. At the end of the proceedings, people placed wrapped gifts in the front of the church. These will be handed to the children of a newly established orphanage in town.

After the service we all repaired to the Retirement Village where the ladies of the Methodist Church had prepared a finger supper for all to enjoy.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Summer Storms

Above a storm gathers momentum
as the sun prepares for bed

Regular visitors to this blog will know that I love rain. Rainstorms, raindrops, showers of rain; anything to do with rain! I also love storms. Dark, ominous, black-clouded, rumbling, flashing storms. Why do I like storms? Because generally they herald rain. Now WHY do I love rain? Because it brings new life; it refreshes the earth; it rejuvenates the spirit.

Here in Central South Africa, with a prairie-like landscape, rain is not something we take for granted. We are grateful for every drop that falls.

My "baby" cat, Manduline is afraid of storms. I always know heavy weather is imminent; I find her in this corner of my diningroom. If you look carefully, you'll see her tongue protruding from her mouth!

More signs of stormy weather to the northeast of my garden

Over the past two weeks, the days have dawned sunny and bright. By midday we are sweltering in the summer heat. By 4pm, the clouds begin to gather overhead. Within forty minutes, the first drop of rain splashes on the ground. We’ve had heavy electric storms followed by good showers of rain. In the Free State, electric storms are violent and have claimed many lives in the past. It's best to take care in a storm; not to be out in the open and near any rocky outcrops . Do not shelter in a tin shed. (many of these storage barns in the area).

Eventually the rain arrives and pours down

and down, and down...

Of course, due to the profusion of rain, my garden has flourished. It is lush and cool; and it's my pride and joy at the moment. Early this morning, while doing my Quiet Time, I walked through the garden and all I could do was to thank God for the bounty of blessings which He has showered us with this past year.

My garden after the rains.

A cool shady part of my garden

The green path draws the reader's eye to even greener pastures!
My three ponds are all interlinked; two have waterfalls and this one in the foreground has a fountain which is only just visible in the photo. The whole effect is tranquil, cool and relaxing

It would be great if it rains on Christmas Eve. As we’re having quite a large family gathering on Christmas day, I’ve decided to serve lunch in the garden. If it has rained, the air will be cooler and the flies will be less inclined to share our meal!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Too late for tears

One minute she's there and the next she's gone. It is indeed every parent's worst nightmare not to know where their child is, or what's happened to her.

While in the city a few days ago, we noticed many families in the malls; young families. Mum, Dad, little guy and little girl. Sometimes, a really young mum, dad and baby in a pushchair. At breakfast in a fast-food outlet, we sat across from a middle-youth (Ha! I'm not getting myself reprimanded for saying middle-aged) woman with two beautiful teenage daughters and a little boy of about four. In my wild imagination, I often make up stories/create lives for people I see. In the case of the above, I imagined that the lady had two daughters from a previous marriage. At some stage she married a man with no family and they wanted a child together. Hence the little boy who is so much younger than the two girls. When I voiced my thoughts to my husband, he said he noticed nothing “different” about the group I was referring to. I told him I’m glad I don’t rely on him to help me with my writing!

By the same token I often feel panic if I see people walking along with their little boy/girl tagging on behind. Don’t these people know how often little children are stolen in broad daylight? And no, I’m not a doomsayer and I don’t "do" negativity. It just makes me mad to see how nonchalant people can be with the most precious possessions they’ll ever own. I mean, would they leave their handbag/wallets/backpacks with credit cards, cash, and cell phones, not to mention all manner of personal items, on the floor of the mall and saunter ahead? I think not.

I was still thinking along these lines when I popped into the ladies restrooms. As I passed a row of closed doors, I saw one door ajar. Just before I pushed it open completely I realised it was occupied, albeit by someone whose legs didn’t reach the floor. Even here I wondered, “Why is this child in a toilet on her own?” No matter what, the safe thing would be to take her into the toilet with you.
I managed to find an open stall, and when I came out again, the little girl from the half-open toilet was at the washbasins chatting to the cleaning lady. (No harm in this; black people in this country love little children and would never harm them) The cleaner helped her with soap as she was too short to reach the dispenser. Then the little girl stood on tiptoe and tried to reach the tap over the basin next to the one I was using. I leaned over and turned on the water. She thanked me politely and I asked her where her mum was. She said her mum was at home. So I said, “Who are you here with?” And she answered: “Auntie Miranda”. Then she asked my name (this blonde-haired, blue-eyed little girl was as cute as a button and not at all shy, which could bode worse for her if she was dealing with a stranger with bad intentions) When I told her I was Jo, she said her name is Chantelle Smith. (Not her real name) Then I asked her where Auntie Miranda was, and she pointed to a closed door halfway down the row of cubicles.

There and then decided I could not go for two reasons: one was that I didn’t want to leave the little girl alone in the restrooms while her “aunt” stayed in the toilet for goodness knows how long. The second was, when “Auntie Miranda” (whom I imagined was the little girl’s mother’s not-too-responsible-younger sister,) emerged from the toilet, I wanted to point out to her that it was not safe to leave young children alone in Shopping Malls, let alone in a public toilets where any pervert could pick them up and whip them out of sight in no time at all.

Finally Auntie Miranda came out of the cubicle clutching at least six shopping bags (see, it’s more important to keep your recent purchases under your watchful eye than a five-year-old.) At once I saw this was no younger sister. The woman was at least in her forties and immediately it dawned on me that she is a childminder or Day Mother as they are known here in South Africa. These women look after the children of working parents; often caring for them “privately” which means they’re not affiliated to any official body that checks up on you where you’re minding these children. For instance, do you have enough space for the amount of children; do you supervise them at all times; are the facilities adequate and clean, etc. Now, while I don’t want to go into the dodgy Day Mother/ Care Centres in our country, once again, my mind jumped to the fact that here was a Day Mother who had only one child at this [holiday] time of the year. She obviously had to come to town and of course, the most natural thing was to bring the child along. However, surely she’d be extra vigilant with a charge in her care?

I looked her straight in the eye and said: “Good morning, I waited here with little Chantelle. I didn’t want to leave her alone while you were in the toilet; it's not safe.” (My family has often said that I stick my nose in – interfere - where I'm not wanted) The woman looked at me and said: “Oh.”
Just that.

When I met up with my husband waiting in the Mall, I told him the story as we walked quickly to the escalator/moving stairs. He asked if it was a young woman with this child and as I was about to answer him, the woman walked past him and around the bottom of the stairs. So I quietly said: ” There she goes” and then I realised she didn’t have the little girl with her. My husband turned around to look at the woman while we ascended on the stairs, and saw that she was walking back in the direction of the ablutions. She had left the little girl behind!

I don’t know the outcome of this story. All I know is that I felt sick for the rest of the day, worrying about this little girl (who was probably OK, as my husband pointed out) and hundreds of little children who are not held onto securely while out in public with the adults.
I am not generalising here, please don’t get me wrong. We saw many, many a mother holding a child securely by the hand, or a father carrying his toddler. I’m talking about the odd person who doesn’t care enough to watch their child or charge when they’re out shopping. And to me, ONE child lost/abducted is a tragedy.

I remember, shortly after I had my second son in 1979, a friend and I went on a three day shopping excursion from the farm in Zululand to Durban, at the coast. She had a baby girl whom she strapped to her chest. I did the same with my tiny baby. My older son, then four years old, was secured in a pretty blue child harness with teddies on the straps; I clipped the matching leash to the ring the back of the harness (on my child's back) and in this way, my friend and I kept our children safe and close to us. While walking down the sidewalk, an elderly lady coming in the opposite direction, stopped me and pointed a gnarled finger at my son in the harness. She said I should be ashamed tying my child up like a dog and then she stalked away. I was young, sensitive and felt terrible at her accusations. Nevertheless, I kept my son on the leash, and used it later with my second child. Today I know I did the correct thing by ensuring my children were always safe when we went out into the public. I have always taken the same care with my grandchildren...

Friday, December 19, 2008

God's light reflected

I pray that God's light is reflected in my life

When you get to know Jesus, it is like stepping out of darkness into bright sunlight. God does not only provide light; He is Light. The advent of Jesus which is the period now until Christmas Eve, is a revelation of an earlier mystery. God’s purpose for mankind was shown when Jesus was sent to earth. The light that He brought is available to us all.

There is a moral aspect to the assertion: “God is Light”. Darkness is related to the Evil One and sin. Crimes and sins are often committed in the dark. People who commit these deeds think that God cannot see them but then the guilt which originates from the deeds, cast a dark shadow over their conscience. God’s untainted holiness and purity stand out in stark contrast. There is no darkness in Him.

Our lives on earth should be a reflection of God’s light in Jesus.

I pray that God’s light shines upon every facet of my life; that He makes my life on earth a reflection of His light to brighten and lighten the situation of those around me, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Meet my extended family

At the moment I am blessed with four gardeners. From left: David and John, Simon and Kleinbooi
A year would not be complete without posting about my extended family. Under normal circumstances I have Emily, housekeeper and maid who “does” for me in the house. I also have two gardeners: John and David. You can read about John here.

Even though there are three areas to eat in my home (dining tables and chairs) Emily, left and Albertina prefer to sit on the floor or like the men in the top photo, on logs/stones under a tree

Emily, who was the first baby to be born in the Clocolan hospital (a town 34km/ 21miles away) on 1 January 1953, is the same age as I. She is a widowed mother of five and a grandmother of two. She lives in the township adjacent to our town. Her youngest daughter, Erica and HER nine-month-old baby, as well as Emily’s oldest daughter’s seven-year-old son live with Emily in a neat, two bedroom- with-an-open-plan kitchen/sitting-room brick and tile house. My husband has just had a shower installed for Emily as well as the toilet moved from outdoors to inside the house. Emily came to my door in 2002 and asked for work when I needed her most! She came to help me clean up after having an extension built onto my house and stayed. She is looked after my home and [many] pets while I lived in another country for three years.

Emily with her nine-month-old grandson strapped to her back, while she works

This week I found employment for Erica, who could not continue with her school studies because she fell pregnant while in her final year. The father of her child, a youngster himself, is not permanently employed and seems to have disappeared completely. Emily has brought Erica’s baby boy to work,and with him tied securely to her back, she gets on with her chores.

Albertina and Emily relaxing a while before breakfast

John, who is 26 years old, has a common-law wife and lives in a tin shack in the township. He has no children, as far as I know. I think a female member of his wife (aunt/mother/wife's sister/cousin - who knows?) lives with them as well. She has two or three children who also live in this house. John is open to suggestions on how to budget (i.e I deduct a monthly amount from his salary and Emily pays his account at a furniture chain store in another town) and to care for his wife. He also seems to be faithful to his wife which is quite unusual.

David at 34, has no wife or children, although he often borrows money from me for taxi fare to fetch his “children” from a neighbouring town! He lives under dire circumstances and tends to drown his sorrows at the Tavern when he has been paid. Emily tells me that he lives in a shanty similar to John's. Apparently he lives with his mother, although this is not clear. There is also a younger female in this house who David assures me is not his wife. I’ve deduced that perhaps the older woman, who calls herself his mother, is a relative who took him into her home as an orphan many years ago. Now, according to her, it’s pay-back time. Perhaps the younger woman is her own daughter. David has an old blanket on the floor in the corner and I think when he arrives home late and a little worse for the wear, the women go through his pockets and remove any money he may have made that day. It’s all very sad, but a fact of life. So many unmarried men live like this in the township.

In 2005, my darling husband had a shower built adjacent to the gardeners’ toilet, at the back of the garages. Both David and John have no running water or flush toilet in their homes in the township and I felt that this bit of luxury here at work could help towards making them feel better at home. (who doesn't like to be fresh and clean?) This year, when the weather turned cold, I realised the men weren’t showering as normal before going home. Obviously the water was too cold and so I asked my husband (dear kind husband!) if we could install a gas geyser. He agreed and it was done. Now the men can shower winter and summer. John is responsible for keeping their ablutions clean at all times.

John and David came to work for me as casual gardeners in July 2006 when I returned from West Africa. They are now permanently employees and firm additions to our extended family!

At the beginning of October, my older son sold his house here in town and together with his wife and children, is attending a discipleship school in Kwa-Zulu Natal. He has kindly given their housekeeper, maid and childminder, Albertina, as well as Simon and Kleinbooi, the gardeners, six months' notice. All three these people come in to help here at my house in return for two cooked meals (mieliepap, stewed meat and vegetables) while my son continues to pay them.

I have placed posters and flyers all over town advertising Albertina as a domestic. Simon may be employed by the people who bought my son’s house, else I’ll advertise his skills in the New Year as well. While working for my daughter-in-law, Kleinbooi had his eyes tested and he was fitted with prescription glasses at my son's expense. My daughter-in-law also took him for his Code 14 driver’s licence which is the heaviest duty driving licence in South Africa. I’ve advertised Kleinbooi’s skills and we’re hoping to get him employed in the near future.

Even though it is all very well to help people like this, it is vitally important to try and motivate them to help themselves as well. I notice that all three my son’s employees are not looking for work elsewhere, even though I've exhorted them to do this.They are quite comfortable being paid by my son and being fed by me. They all help in and around my house, by their own choice, but I, for one, don’t want them to become complacent in this situation. It is human nature to sit it out while the going is good (being paid, fed for now...) until the end of February.

Emily is on a Pension Scheme. I initiated it myself; it is not law in this country and many domestic employees are not on any type of scheme to help them when they can no longer work. All three my employees are on Unemployment Insurance Fund, which is compulsory.

So there we have it: a long story about my extended family that I love dearly. However, as with any adult family members who are in your home, there is a fine line between helping them to improve their circumstances and encouraging them to become totally dependent on you, the benefactor. A work in progress...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Traditional Mieliepap

I often make mieliepap for my husband to enjoy as a light meal. Above was a case in point. Instead of eating it with grilled meat and tomato and onion relish, he asked for steamed spinach!
One thing that struck me when I lived in West Africa, was the fact that the local people didn’t eat (or even know)” Mieliepap” there. The staple diet in that part of the continent was rice. Living up there and as South Africans we enjoyed mieliepap with a braai (barbeque) so we’d have to take this heavy item back with us in our luggage.

I’ve seen Lynda posting about puthu and maize meal, so it’s obviously

available in Tanzania. Is there anybody in North or Central Africa reading this post, who can tell me if they are able to get this food-stuff in their part of Africa? I know that it is available in Basingstoke, in the UK. My brother-in-law, who had a large and very successful South African butchers in that area, imported all manner of South African products for sale, one being Mieliemeal.

Mieliepap is staple starch eaten by most South Africans. It is maize which has been ground into flour. It is cooked slowly with water

on top of the stove, depending what type of pap (porridge) you require. You can have mielie porridge: thick, creamy and runny. Else you may have puthu (pronounced poo-too) which is crumbly and slightly dry. Or you can have it in stodgy/sticky lumps called sadza, (pronounced sudzu – with the *a's* as *u's* in *sun*) by which you take a handful of the cooked maize, form a lump by carefully squeezing it in your palm, dip it into tomato and onion gravy and enjoy.

Most of the above cooking methods are long (ranging from 1 – 2 ½ hours). However, a few months ago my husband and I were in Ndumu Game Reserve in Northern Kwa Zulu Natal with his brother and sister-in-law. One evening after a wonderful day of birding (my s.i.l. is a bird fundi and a wonderful guide to have along on a trip such as this one)

and game watching in the bush, we came home exhausted and hungry. The men (as all South African men do,) quickly lit a fire outside our huts and proceeded to braai a selection of meat. My sister-in-law who is a wonderful baker, but a self-confessed non-cook, offered to make the mieliepap. I mentally rolled my eyes, thinking we’d never have supper that night (ha!) Nevertheless, she made a bowl of steaming “sadsa / puthu” within a few minutes - 6 minutes, in fact.

It was deilicious.

Mieliepap - a la sis

2 1/2 Cups boiling water
1 Cup Braaipap* meal
1 t salt

Mix all ingredients together in a plastic bowl
Microwave on high power for 4 – 6 minutes.
Stir after a minute.
At 3 minutes add ½ tin Cream-style Sweet Corn (optional)
When cooked, add a blob of butter and mix through with a fork.
Serve with tomato and onion relish

*Note: Braaipap is a coarse maizemeal, yellow in colour with bits of gritty mielies in it. Ironically, although this maizemeal is very popular with white South Africans it’s not so with black people. They prefer their maize meal to be superfine (the packet must state this) and snowy white.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Carols with a Difference

We all know Christmas Carols, Carols by Candlelight and 9 Lessons in Carols. As a child I attended Christmas Trees (Christmas parties for children) which were organized by various clubs, church organizations or Ladies Societies in our area and held early in December.
Then a week before Christmas, it would be the church carols service in which children were dressed up as angels, shepherds, the Three Kings, Mary and Joseph and placed in the front of the altar rail while everyone sang Christmas carols.

All the instruments were transported from the church up the main street to the hotel

In our town these functions are always arranged by one of the other churches. This week our band decided to put on a Christmas Worship service whereby we would sing traditional Christmas Carols - with a difference. We went a step further and decided to hold the service in the beautiful gardens of the newly refurbished Hotel in town. This was a lot easier said than done. Our band consists of a lot of equipment, mostly fragile: three guitars, a keyboard and a set of drums. Then there are amplifiers, monitors, microphones and stands, music stands and a sound system. All these things are linked together with yards and yards of electric cable.

All hands on deck!
Lukas, the young soundman wires up the system with the help of the drummer (in red) and the worhip leader, while a backing vocalist practices harmonising on my keyboard
Nevertheless, after church yesterday, the band members all stayed behind and proceeded to pack up the instruments. Everything was loaded on/into pickup trucks and transported the 500 meters up the main street to the hotel. After unloading and carrying it by hand to the hotel veranda, we set it all up again. We were ready, and everyone dispersed for a quick lunch and freshen-up at their homes.

My husband and I spend some time together before the service

A glimpse of the many instruments and attachments which were brought from the church to the hotel for the service
We re-assembled at 4.30pm. After ensuring that all the technical requirements were met, we practiced our repertoire and we were ready for the evening. After the congregation enjoyed a light supper and coffee in the hotel’s beautifully decorated dining room, the people gather on the lawn and in the tea houses just beyond the veranda. Have you ever sung Silent Night to a double drum beat backed by a bass guitar? And O Holy Night with wind chimes and sleigh bells tinkling in time? Stirring stuff...

Christmas Carols with a Difference.

The end result and the congregation's response made all the organization worthwhile