Wednesday, 21 September 2011


Now that the dust has settled somewhat and I can place my focus on areas other than the twins tummies and rear ends, I have started indulging my fantasy of being a farmer - on a very small scale that is.
I come from a long line of farmers: my maternal great-grandfather owned an enormous sugar cane and cattle farm in the north of the country, which was passed onto my grandfather. But after the Apartheid Government set up the Homeland system, forcing ethic groups to leave their homes and live within designated areas, my grandfather lost his workforce - two tribes that shared his land in return for seasonal work - and he decided to sell the farm. He then moved to the coast and bought an Aberdeen Angus cattle stud farm which my father managed. My paternal grandfather also returned to the country in his later years to farm chickens and dairy cows.
As a child I would accompany my dad on his morning farm rounds, checking fences and newly-birthed calves. I loved it and couldn't wait for the school holidays so that I could immerse myself in the daily farm activities. It always bugged me that we only had cattle and horses as I wanted all types of animals around me. So it was from this early age that the feeling of striding out into the dewey morning with one's gumboots on began to appeal to me.
But what I didn't observe as a young aspiring farmer was that farming is actually quite a lot of hard work and, costly. In those days farming was subsidised and labour cheap - a far cry from the reality of living off the land now. Albeit in my typical Airies nature I threw myself at this new vocation with blind enthusiasm, only to be stopped abrubtly in my tracks by the dull reality of time - lets not forget about the kids - money and management.
Growing food, which I always thought of as a quaint and grounding experience, is actually quite a lot of, often thankless, work - especially if you try do it organically. Once you have finally found the time between school runs, playdates, grocery shopping and cooking dinner to get the seeds into the ground you would think that at least half the job is done and very soon you will be reaping the rewards of fresh, nutritious vegtables. Not so. If half the seedlings survive the snail onslaught it is good going, and if the rest survive worms, aphids, blight or powdery mildew you are really doing well. It is a never ending fight from beginning to end to get a worthwhile yield and I now understand why certain farmers use chemicals. But I won't - my ideals are stronger than my convictions. Instead I set up little traps of honey and yeast to drown the snails which is really cruel and mostly doesn't work. Or I use Margarate Roberts organic insecticide. Finally after a shakey and disappointing start I have decided to go small and leave the large crops to my husband, who knows a whole lot more than I do.
   Chickens - another quaint farmy must-have - poo everywhere, frequently under the kitchen table. They also have the potential to destroy neatly tended gardens in minutes. Not only this but they have intricate family feuds where hens banish bands of chicks to the cold, leaving their human mothers sleepless with worry. And a classic 3am worry attack: do we eat the nasty hen? But she's laying two eggs a day - aaargh, decisions!  
Complaints aside, my chickens have so far been my most successful farming enterprise. I started with six, three survived and now I have ten chickens and one handsome rooster. We also have had a great supply of eggs. So I am moving forward with this venture and investing in a bigger hen house. Perhaps this is where my fortunes lie, eggs.
As grounding and enriching as it all can be at times, I cannot deny that my most rewarding farm activity of all, still remains to ride my horse across the lands without a care in the world - for that moment at least.


Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

It is just over 3 months until my girls turn four, officially leaving toddlerhood behind and embarking on the next phase of life as Little Girls. A phase which I am already finding a lot more fun than the "eat, sleep, poo" phase and the "I can walk and talk, but see no reason" phase.
After nearly four years of wishing for a little extra sleep in the mornings instead of dealing with a dirty nappy at 5am and having tea demanded at 5.30am; we now don't see them until 7am! Charlotte, who is so determined to grow up, is now in the habit of dressing herself - including socks and shoes - before coming to say good morning and Anna has finally seen the light and realised that sleeping later is actually quite nice.
Although this is a very warmly welcomed development, I have caught myself feeling a bit rejected and starved of their warm little bodies on a cold winter's morning.
However, along with this growing up - there was a time when I was so overwhelmed by them as babies that I forgot they were going to grow up at all - comes a whole lot of new challenges that make sychronised feeds, mid-night wake-ups and 18 nappy changes a day seem like a walk in the park.
Firstly and most notably you can't pull the wool over their eyes because they know that "weetbix doesn't have sugar in it already, ok Mom" and "the biscuit Anna got is definitely bigger than mine!" You definitely can't dress them up to look as cute as you'd like them to. If you put something off until tommorrow, there is no way of getting out of it. And ofcourse the most difficult to adapt to: you can no longer talk about them in front of them, or swear, as they now, very inconveniently, understand almost everything. I find this one the hardest and hence it came back to bite me:
It was one of those days when your chíld decides to have a problem with everything and today it was Charlotte who challenged me at every point right up to throwing a tantrum in front of the school's admin office - an ideal position for the school staff to observe my excellent parenting skills! But I stayed calm and tried to meet her needs, no luck, she continued to scream and stamp her feet as mothers and teachers gave us a wide birth. And then, as if she felt my level embarrassment was not high enough, Anna promptly whipped down her pants and tried to show me her privates!
To hell with concious parenting! Panicked and crimson with embarrassment at the chaos my children were creating, I scooped them up under my arms and marched to the car.With both of them screaming, I managed to strap them into their safety chairs. Determined to get out of there as fast as possible, I'm sure I uttered more than a few vulgar words as I battled with the f*&#$ing seatbelts.
Once I had gained a bit of composure they got a calm yet lethal tongue lashing. The trip home was silent.
The afternoon unfolded quite pleasantly, considering its start, until Charlotte pushed me a little too far again -insisting on climbing on the roof of the car - she ended up in her bedroom with the door locked.
Time out for Charlotte has never been very successful, she doesn't grasp the concept of "be quiet and it will be over in 3 minutes" She gets quite angry, really angry. So I expected the thumping and screaming, but boy did I stop in my tracks when I heard: "Mom, I can't get this f*&#$ing door open!"