My garden has breathed a sigh of relief, following some impressive afternoon thunderstorms, so typical of Johannesburg at this time of the year. Many a seedling wilted and died last month, after weeks of unrelenting, frustratingly rain-less heat which rendered even the toughest of our garden plants (aloes and crassulas) gasping for relief. January 2019 has offered some rainy respite, bringing with it a sense of fresh renewal and the garden has responded accordingly. Not that we haven’t had some failures: seeds lovingly planted have mysteriously not produced (I have learnt to accept that this sometimes is just so), seedlings have shriveled and expired in the heat, and our lovely lettuce was set upon by some bug or worm with a very large appetite. In this case I have been determined not to use chemical insect repellents, and thankfully our preferred organic alternatives are slowly making an impact.
Please enjoy the pictures to follow. Each one snapped by me earlier today:
When I spied this poisonous Brown Button spider and her eggs clinging to the underside of a piece of garden furniture, I felt a strong pull of sympathy and fascination and less of the horror and alarm that some might expect. I even felt a bit guilty for not having noticed her when I initially pulled the chair away from it’s normal shady spot two days ago, and placed it on the lawn in the baking hot sun where it has been ever since. Waiting to be scrubbed clean along with some other pieces of garden equipment. (We will get round to that). I felt a distinct sense of kinship with this spider mother who was after all, just trying to give her kids a home and fighting chance in a harsh world, and here I come along and spoil the whole plan by exposing them, belly side up, to the blazing summer sun and the possibility of predators, such as certain birds.
I have come across venomous spiders before in Johannesburg gardens, and I knew by sight that this one was not severely venomous. It’s the Black Button (Widow) that you’ve really got to be careful of: typically a bite from one of those results in a hospital admission and having your vital signs measured for about 24 hours. A bite from the Brown Button is less severe and more localised, and symptoms in a healthy adult will normally clear up within a few days. Button Spiders will only attack if threatened; not exactly the vicious predators they are sometimes made out to be.
Well anyway, there we were: myself, the spider and her little brood of two, with me wondering what to do next. A nice photograph of the little family seemed appropriate, so I leaned in slowly with my phone and clicked. She immediately darted into her nest, which you can clearly see in the above pic: it’s the pocket shaped mass to the right of the photo, with her balancing at the mouth. Pleased with my nicely detailed close-up, and feeling somewhat bonded with this little trio, I felt inclined to offer them some shelter, so I lifted the chair (easy enough; its made of a light plastic) and moved the whole lot into a shady spot on the patio.
And that’s where we are now. But the harder part comes later, because clearly a decision will have to be made. We are encouraged to ‘get rid’ of poisonous creatures from our homes and gardens, and that can mean different things to different people. So when my husband gets home later from an undoubtedly long and hard day, we will still have a little date with Mother Nature to attend to.
I have stayed away from the shops today, and I will not be going online to look for Black Friday deals. Yesterday on a local radio station the guest for the morning was a representative from SADAG, Africa’s largest mental health support and advocacy group. She invited listeners to go to the SADAG website and make a donation. “Do Something Memorable This Black Friday: Save A Life”, says their Welcome Page. I went ahead and made my online donation, pleased to know that my contribution is enough to cover their costs for telephone counselling for 10 people in need over the holiday period, or any other time.
Amongst its many services to thousands of South Africans in need, the group manages a crisis and referral call-in centre, managed by volunteers. One of the things she discussed was the rise in numbers of calls that they can expect over the upcoming holiday season. For many people, whether they live with mental illness or not, Christmas brings stress, anxiety, feelings of loneliness and a sense of being unable to cope.
And even amongst the luckiest of us, who doesn’t feel like skipping Christmas sometimes?! I consider myself fortunate to have friends and family to spend time with over Christmas, but it can feel like a lot of hard work and sometimes an ‘alternative’ Christmas, one that you can appreciate on your terms, sounds like the way to go. Like watching series for the day, on the couch, on your own, with just the dog and the cat for company. Or floating in the pool with a glass of bubbly or a cocktail (Southern Hemisphere Christmas has that kind of climate, so we have the advantage on this one 😉 ). Or just being able, guilt-free, to turn down that lunch invitation because you just don’t feel like it! How many of us get THAT one right? …. Or how about donating your time for the day to a good cause? Five years ago my husband and I spent the day helping prepare and serve a Christmas lunch for a special needs group. Thing is, there is always more than one way of spending our time and our hard earned money, whether its for Christmas or for Black Friday. So maybe spend a little on a good cause. Its worth the effort, and you will feel the better for it 🙂
I treated myself to a few online purchases recently: 3 movies, 1 series and 3 books. Part of the fun is that sense of happy anticipation while I await my order and that Yes! feeling I get when the parcel arrives and I just know that the wait was worth it. Now there’s the fun of looking forward to indulging in my new purchases in the weeks or months to come, when the time is right. The books are for my husband, while I now have two covetable classics: ‘The Misfits’ and ‘Roman Holiday’, and ‘Luther’ an historical drama to enjoy over the holidays. We have already started watching ‘Borgen’, a Danish political drama from the popular Nordic Noir series, which we love, subtitles and all.
Then there are the spontaneous, unplanned ways to have fun, when opportunities suddenly pop up and you find you’ve been gifted with a little surprise. This afternoon for example, following several days of dry, baking heat, the clouds started to gather overhead and I lay, flat out on a patch of lawn as a few tiny, delicious drops of cooling rain came softly down. I rolled around a bit on the cool grass, full length, from side to side, reminded of childhood days when my siblings and I would play at tumbling down the grassy slope near our house, laughing all the way. After a few minutes I got up and went back inside feeling quite refreshed and revived after my little brush with nature. Speaking of unplanned fun (and nostalgia), a few weeks ago I switched on the TV in the middle of a weekday (not my usual routine) to test whether the remote was working, and Lo and Behold, there was a re-run of an episode of Magnum PI… Tom Selleck, shorts and botanicals printed shirt and all! I couldn’t resist. I used to love watching Magnum PI in the 80’s. I ended up watching the best part of a full hour while I did the week’s ironing. True nostalgia…and loads of fun 🙂
There must be as many ways to have fun as there are people on the planet, considering that we all come with our individual likes and dislikes, available resources, and whether we are aged 6 or 60. Then of course we get fun on different scales, like the big overseas trip which you’ve been planning for ages, or fun on a tiny scale such as a quick game of Soduko on your phone to see if you can beat your previous score. We all sometimes need a break, a distraction, from the everyday, the ordinary, and the things that have become frustrating and infuriating. We need fun for our peace of mind and to help us keep a sense of perspective in our lives and also just, well, for fun.
Simple is not always the same as Easy, and I find this to be so as I go about my efforts to reduce waste, and my carbon footprint in general. I’m doing my bit to live simpler/ lighter/ less cluttered/ more focused, and this has been largely a hugely rewarding process, but it takes effort and perseverance. It’s a bit like detoxing: you have to go through some pain before you come out clean on the other side! I look forward to the time when Simpler becomes altogether Easier. For instance, as I try to be a conscious consumer, a weekly groceries shop at the mall is a challenge where I brace myself for an encounter with rows of overpackaged items on shelves, much of it in single use plastic. This will only really change when producers of goods and the retailers who display these goods make some major changes. And here in my Johannesburg home, where I am in a process of decluttering and have made good progress with clearing out shelves and cupboards, there have been unexpected obstacles. My husband, for instance, has proved to be surprisingly sentimental about letting go of some of his old stuff, including clothing that he literally never wears, and a set of golf clubs that hasn’t been used for about 10 years (he hates golf and is happy to admit it!)
And then sometimes the simplest, most effortless things are there right in front of you, for your enjoyment. If we open our eyes and ears, we may be rewarded for our efforts in the loveliest of ways, just by being receptive to the simple beauty that surrounds us. And very often it is that thing that we live with and so often take for granted. On that note I was inspired to write this mini-ode (that’s clearly not a real word) to my beloved pets one Saturday morning…..
Entry from my diary:13/10/2018-
Early on a Saturday morning, my first cup of tea of the day:
Annie may have the world’s biggest doggie eyes, as she peeps up at me with those big, dark, almond -shaped orbs from her cozy spot on her aqua -coloured doggie blanket; head tilted slightly sideways and resting on her little white outstretched paws.
Jasper positions himself next to me and proceeds to give himself a thorough cleaning, as only an agile kitty cat can do. Lying midway between his back and his right side, he licks with firm, head -rolling strokes his furry white tummy and chest, and then with a gentle sigh, rests for a moment before proceeding to paws, ears and other kitty bits.
My husband called me a perfectionist the other day. I was taken aback. I’ve never really placed myself in that bracket before, thinking instead that I am simply not good at prioritising, too easily convincing myself that there is something more important that I am avoiding, and that I am focusing on the wrong thing, the easier thing. I had been complaining to him about my own procrastination on things that I have good intentions of doing, and then finding that somehow they remain undone, or partly done and unfinished. This kind of constant second guessing about what to do and when, leads to time wasted as I pause in doubt of what I should be doing with my own adult 55 year old time. It feels strange sometimes that this adult who studied yoga and yogic thinking for years, who has taken comfort from and offered comfort in maxims like “Just go with the flow”, so easily slips into that insecure space where making a simple choice just feels so hard.
But he may have a point. my husband, that is. Perfectionism can be debilitating, especially when you believe you lack that boldness, that flourish, that ability that is required to tackle the job perfectly. The sad thing is that one then ends up feeling stifled, reluctant and even unable to move on and try, and instead finding it easier to stick with things easier or more familiar. Fearing a lack of certainty, a lack of perfection, one misses out on the chance to aim for the stars (and if you miss, you may just shoot the moon instead ;)) In constantly awaiting perfection, or waiting for that perfect moment to try something, one misses out on life. So yes, perfectionism can cause procrastination, and I have at times been frozen into inaction by my own reluctance to try something that may turn out less than perfect.
It takes me back to my days as a yoga instructor. From time to time I would have a brand new student say to me ahead of class “I can’t do a headstand or a shoulderstand yet, will I be OK in this class?” assuming that they may be at a disadvantage if they can’t manage these things in class. These things, bear in mind, are postures (asanas) that no yoga beginner should be expected to master, and in fact can cause serious injury if attempted too soon. Being prepared to embark on a journey toward self-mastery is part of the wisdom and beauty of yoga. True yoga (not the yoga that belongs in glossy magazines and inside sweaty gyms) requires patience, perseverance, self-compassion and the willingness to take the necessary steps towards a desired outcome.
It’s the same with any task: for instance, I have decided to refurbish the second hand, vintage wrought-iron table that I bought for my bedroom, and I have come up with 3 options:
Do the research on doing a thorough renovation. This involves sanding down the metal to remove the old paint, and then priming, painting and finishing, using materials specifically intended for metalwork.
Sand down the table a bit, leaving some old bits of paint visible, giving the table a deliberately distressed and aged appearance.
Use some of the leftover paint that I used to paint a small cupboard in my bathroom to paint over the table, leaving some old bits of paint visible, giving the table a deliberately distressed and aged appearance.
You may agree that option 1. is for the perfectionist, whereas 2. and 3. is for the casual crafter with little time on her hands, and a budget to stick to.
My life as it is right now dictates that option 1. is just not on the immediate horizon and that if I want a pristine job done, the perfectionist in me will take it to the specialists who are paid to do such things. But then my budget tells me that paying more for the renovation than what I paid for the table in the first place does not make sense, so I have decided to go for option 2 or 3 instead. I’m still deciding. Either way, I can accept that sometimes perfection is just not on the cards and that good enough is good enough.
I needed a mobile case for my new Samsung cellphone. My husband returned from shopping with this very nice phone glove which fits and showcases my phone perfectly. What’s not so perfect is the packaging (plastic and cardboard casing with a plastic hook) which weighs three times as much as the phone glove, 54 grams to be precise, as compared to the phone glove’s 18 grams. The packaging did include some information about the phone glove’s features, durability tests (apparently it has been drop tested to military standard) and short history of the company, Body Glove. Very little reading really, which could quite happily have fitted onto something far more size- appropriate considering the weight and dimensions of the actual item which it contained.
The casing was clearly designed for display; hung up as it was for viewing by its little plastic hook in Vodacom’s accessories section. I understand that companies need to showcase their products in a way that consumers can see what it is that they are buying, but surely they can do better than this? In a time when there is a groundswell of support for individuals and companies to refuse excess packaging, especially plastic, this just seems unnecessarily wasteful and makes me think that companies who use this kind of marketing are out of touch and irresponsible. I say: rather set the bar higher for yourselves and for other companies to follow, and consider the environment when it comes to packaging and promoting your products. Yes, items such as electronic devices and their accessories need to be well packaged for protection against damage; this too needs to be considered. However when it’s a single layer of flexible silicone to wear over your cellphone, surely a too-large, box-like casing containing a layer of plastic and another piece of loose moulded plastic and a plastic hook is excessive. Especially when the packaging weighs 3 times as much as the product. Something is just wrong with that picture. Maybe I should write a letter of complaint/ suggestion to Samsung. And Body Glove. And Vodacom. Where to begin…….. 🙂
‘Leftovers’: Their mention is often unwelcome in the home, not least for the unlucky cook who has to tackle those bits and pieces before they finally expire in the fridge. Having said that, I really try to avoid throwing food out, whether leftovers from a meal, or food that was left uneaten in the fridge till no longer edible. In fact it’s not difficult to turn leftovers around so that they become more than second rate, uninspiring make-do’s. And it’s not an unfashionable or outdated thing. Huffpost ran an article a few years back titled “Repurposing Food, Otherwise Known as Leftovers” and then there is this 2016 article from National Geographic titled “5 Cool Ways Food is getting Upcycled“. I currently do most of the cooking at home for myself and my husband, and truly, very little food goes to waste in our house, especially if you consider that we keep a compost heap in our garden which happily takes care of anything too yucky to eat.
In fact I realise I must have a bit of a Thing for leftovers because scrolling through my previous posts, I find that I have included the term in 7, yes seven of my previous posts. You can link to all of them Here. And see below for some suggestions for leftover Chili con Carne (well… Chili non Carne in our home; as I don’t eat meat so I replace the minced meat with lentils or soy mince). Here are 3 of my favourites:
Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Bring a large pot of water to boil, and throw some ice cubes into a bowl of cold water.
Prepare your peppers (green, red or yellow): slice the top off each pepper and remove any seeds or ribs left inside. Make sure that the peppers can stand up straight.
Cook the peppers in the boiling water for 3 minutes, then remove and transfer them to the ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Arrange the peppers cut side up in a baking dish, and set aside.
Next, add the filling. Take spoonfuls of your leftover Chili (I use about two-thirds cooked chili-non-carne to one-third cooked rice) and scoop into the peppers, making sure not to pack too tightly.
Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or until peppers are tender. Sprinkle the tops with cheese and/or breadcrumbs and continue baking for 5 minutes longer, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve right away
‘Mexican Style’ Cottage Pie:
Boil, steam or bake some potatoes for mash. I like to mix it up here: I often include sweet potatoes and butternut with the potatoes, depending on what I happen to have at home.
Heat the oven to 180C/350F.
Mash your potatoes as you normally would, including milk and butter if desired, till light and fluffy.
Place your leftover Chili into an ovenproof dish, cover with a thick layer of mash, and bake for 25-30 minutes till done.
If desired, sprinkle to the top with a mixture of grated cheese and bread crumbs, and return to oven for another 5 minutes or so.
Make a ‘Meal Jar’:
Fill a glass honey jar about two-thirds with leftover Chili. Top up till almost full (always leave a slight gap) with any cooked grain, such as rice or couscous. This is sufficient for one light meal portion. You can even leave the grains out before freezing, and add that later when you are ready to eat.
Place in the freezer till ready to use. You can either take it out the night before, or else pop it into your lunch box from the freezer, ready to take to work, and heat up later. Note: place contents in a microwaveable or ovenproof dish before heating.
This is a great way to eat healthy and affordable while at work (have you seen the price of takeaways these days??… convenient yes, but often way more than I am willing to pay, and definitely not always quality food)
As far back as the 1990’s I used to admire those goblet style wine glasses when they first became popular, made as they were from empty beer and wine bottles, often with the original branding kept in place, a definitive nod to the move towards recycling and re-purposing. I always wondered how they cut the bottles whilst keeping them in tact and then turning them into desirable and useful items. Re-purposing, or upcycling, may require a bit of creativity and technical skill and sometimes it’s just more convenient to leave such adventures to the experts, as per my previous post Here. If like me, you have a bit of ‘crafty inclination’ (I was a fine arts student and I also taught nursery school for many years, making fascinating things out of egg boxes and toilet roll inners), you might be tempted to try some of these things yourself.
Fast forward to more recent years and I started noticing a lot of information online about ‘quick, easy and foolproof’ ways to cut bottles at home with no special equipment. May I say at this point that trying to cut a glass bottle in half with twine, acetone and a box of matches is not advisable. Unless you have very good health and household insurance perhaps. I followed up my failed attempts with a bit of online research and I discoveredthis product and I haven’t looked back. It allows me to cut glass bottles with relative ease, (ok, you will need some patience and perseverance before you really get the hang of it) and also to glue sections together depending on what I am making. I haven’t gotten to the gluing stage yet: I am keeping it simple 😉
Here are the contents of the basic kit (2 pics):
What I love about Bottlecraft SA is that they are a truly South African business with a big heart. They operate from Grabouw near Cape Town within the Overberg Region in the Western Cape, South Africa. They have worked on projects in Rawsonville, Khayalitsha, Gugulethu, Port Elizabeth, Durban , Botswana, QwaQwa (Drakensburg), Namibia and Grabouw, where they focus on poverty alleviation, job creation and community upliftment. I ordered their Basic Kit online; it arrived in the post, and I was able to get going in no time. Read more on their About page.
If the thought of bottlecrafting doesn’t turn you on, (I was telling a friend about it on the phone, and she sighed and said that it sounds like a lot of work) here are a few links that might lead you to find your Thing:
“We made it. We depend on it. We’re drowning in it”. This is the opening statement of an article on plastic in the June 2018 edition of National Geographic. The statistics, facts and figures come hard and fast, the kind of worrying information that we’ve become accustomed regarding the impact of plastic waste on our environment. “How did we get here? When did the dark side of the miracle of plastic first show itself?” is one of the questions raised. And it is significant that something once regarded as a ‘miracle”, a solution to many of our problems, is now demonized to the point that in 2013, scientists writing for Nature magazine declared that disposable plastic should be classified as a hazardous material.
The history of plastic matters because it reminds us of how our individual and global needs are often met by technology, and how plastic did and still does offer many vital and positive uses.
Laura Parker, who wrote the article, presents some interesting facts and background information. As far back as the 19th Century, we see the noble beginnings of plastic in its very early use in the form of a celluloid (derived from plant cellulose) billiard ball, designed as an alternative to the original billiard ball which at that stage was made of a scarce natural material: elephant ivory. Many years later there are untold numbers of ways in which plastic has featured in ours lives and influenced world events. World War 2 in the 20th Century was war on a whole new level, with the aid of nylon parachutes and lightweight airplane parts. Since then plastic has helped us to make great strides in areas as diverse as medicine and medical apparatus, travel by road, air and into outer space, and even the now-hated plastic water bottle, used to deliver clean drinking water to people in poor rural areas.
The Darker side of plastic crept in perhaps as more and more uses were discovered, and cheaper manufacturing processes were realised. In the early 20th Century the ”plastic revolution” took hold, as chemists discovered that they could create plastics even more cheaply and abundantly by using the waste gases emitted by petroleum oil refineries. It seemed that anything and everything could be made from plastic, with the added benefit that it was cheap to do so. A whole new world of possibilities had opened up and in 1955 a photograph in Life magazine appeared, titled ‘Throwaway Living’ featuring an American family celebrating the convenience of plastic cutlery, plates and cups. Single use plastics were already becoming a thing.
Quoting directly from the article: ” Six decades later, roughly 40 percent of the now more than 448 million tons of plastic produced every year is disposable, much of it used as packaging intended to be discarded within minutes after purchase. Production has grown at such a breakneck pace that virtually half the plastic ever manufactured has been made in the past 15 years……The growth of plastic production has far outstripped the ability of waste management to keep up: that’s why the oceans are under assault. ”
It is important to note is that all plastics cannot be arbitrarily labelled as ‘bad”. In many of it’s forms it fills essential functions and continues to save lives daily. On a positive note it is worth remembering that the plastic waste issue is gaining attention and that genuine efforts are being made to address the problem by individuals, corporations and whole countries. May this move continue from strength to strength.