Monday, 12 December 2011

One Month of Gratitude

So, at the beginning of November, Melanie Minnaar - an in- and out-of-computer friend and fellow St David's mom, suggested that November be a month of gratitude, and that people should post up something on Facebook for which they are grateful each day of the month. 

Sounds easy, right - particularly when you are so blessed and so lucky in so many ways? So I decided to take it on, hoping for more success than my attempt at 29 Gifts a year or two back. 

I made it through the month, and posted something up every day. There were a couple of weekend days that I didn't post, but then I double posted in the days after to make up for it, so during November, I listed 30 things for which I am grateful. I really wanted to stay away from twee things like being grateful for chocolate (although, eventually I did concede that that is truly something to be grateful for!). 

I learned a lot from this whole exercise, over and above the fact that I have so much to be so very grateful for. Quite a lot happened in the background during this month, and I'll admit that one or two posts had subtexts (I'm not going to say which ones though!) 

It was a big month in news and politics - there was the drama about the Protection of Information Bill, and there was much ado about Julius Malema... and a few other bits and pieces including a horrific animal abuse case - some of which really taxed my glass-half-full view on life. It's still intact though. I think... :-) 

But the overall result was that I emerged from November with none of the burden of anger that I'd had on entering the month. I emerged calm, peaceful and positive. I emerged from November proud of who I am and what I have achieved. I emerged from November with a new realisation about how extremely blessed I am, and with a renewed determination to protect and nurture my blessings. 

There were a few people who supported me the whole month, 'liking' my posts each day or commenting on them - thanks so much Shelli, Sandi, my mom, Dori, Tanya and Cath (who is an in-computer friend I've yet to meet...) - some of them even started posting daily too. Cath sits down every night and writes down three things for which she was grateful each day - a commitment I truly admire. 

Here's the list, if you missed it... 

1 I am grateful for my parents and the solid foundations they gave me

2 I am grateful for my wonderful husband Brett Haggard who loves me so very much, in so many ways.

3 I am grateful for my two amazing, astounding boys, who teach me new things every day.

4 I am grateful to have the freedom to speak my mind.

 5 I am grateful for our warm home and our beautiful and bountiful garden

6 I am grateful for the diverse friends I have now and have had in the past, and for the lessons I have learned from them and with them.

7 I am grateful that I have skills that I can use to earn a living.

 8 I am grateful for the support structures I have - it does indeed take a village to raise your children, and I am blessed to have my own village of support.

9  I am grateful for free and easy access to information and knowledge.

10 I am grateful for music, and how it can lift my mood in a bad moment, bring me joy, or make me remember a time or place or person with such clarity

11 I am grateful for the mentors I have had in my working life - I use the lessons I learned from them every day. I even use the lessons I learned from the Anti-Mentor I worked for way back when... everything and everyone for a reason, see?

12  I am grateful for my health, and the health of my family. With a grandmother of 95, longevity is in the family - let's hope that good health lasts!

13 I am grateful for the connectedness that social media enables. I am also grateful that I can switch it off from time to time (which is why I didn't post yesterday... :-)

14 I am grateful for peaceful, solitary moments, in which I can appreciate the joy of the loud, busy chaotic ones...

15 I am grateful for peaceful, solitary moments, in which I can appreciate the joy of the loud, busy chaotic ones...

16 I am grateful for South Africa. Even though it's a mighty complicated place to be, it's still home. And there simply is no place like home...

17 I am grateful for the people in my life who encourage and inspire me to be a better person.

18 I am grateful for all the literature I've read: the good, the bad and the ugly! I've read books that have made me laugh, that have made me cry, and that have provoked thought.

19 I'm grateful for my hounds who shadow me wherever I go. When I'm not home, they shadow my boys to make sure they're safe.

20 I am grateful for friends who still so close, even though they live so very far away.

21 I am grateful for my sense of humour. Even if it is sometimes a bit offsides...

22 I am grateful for free access to information, and I hope to be able to be grateful for that after today. #BlackTuesday

23 I'm grateful for life's little pleasures, including (and most certainly not limited to) chocolate, coffee, nougat, macarons, chocolate brownies, florentines, tender roast lamb, parma ham and mangoes.

24 I am grateful for the disciplines that this year has taught me.

25 I'm grateful that I'm past all the complicated social stuff that makes high school such a challenging time for everyone who's not a 'cool kid'.

26 I am grateful that my boys have the opportunity to try different sports and activities, to give them the chance to grow in different ways.

27 I am grateful for the honesty that there is between me and Brett Haggard, on every level.

28 I am grateful that I am in a position to provide employment to my housekeeper and gardener, and for how they make my lifestyle possible too.

29 I'm grateful for the people who put things in perspective for me, when I get worked up about something

30 I am grateful to Melanie Minnaar for suggesting the #OneMonthOfGratitude, and to everyone who 'liked' what I did, along the way, especially Tamarai Shantala Lekha Olckers, Dori van Loggerenbergand Catherine Jenkin. It's been an interesting exercise - apart from making me realise just how blessed I am, it's also changed my approach to a few things.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Photo fabulousness

I was lucky enough to attend a workshop hosted by Epson and Nikon last Friday. Called "Develop Yourself", it aimed to teach journos how to take awesome photos with compact digital cameras, and then how to print them out for maximum effect.

I leaped at the chance to go, because my photography efforts have been pretty limited to taking shots of the two most beautiful boys that ever there were in the last six years, and I was keen to haul out the creative side of me that took some pretty fantastic shots in the Middle East when I toured there (in another life, a long long time ago...)

The event was hosted at the Bioscope near the Arts on Main complex, and we wandered around the streets and interesting little nooks and crannies in the area to find interesting shots.

The three top tips I picked up on the day were:

Setting the white balance to manual, to give you control
The little bits of Nikon awesomeness that we were given to shoot on had a variable setting to contend with different lighting conditions - daylight, shadow, flourescent light etc - something that I wasn't aware could be adjusted in these small devices. The bonus part of this? Without spending a fortune on a a DSLR, you can adjust your camera to compensate for different lighting conditions, which means that your images will always be sharp and punchy.
The "but wait there's more..." part is that you can play with these settings to create arty images - something that used to be the preserve of graphic designers who paid fortunes for PhotoShop...
These photos aren't great - but they're of similar composition shot with different light settings - they give you an idea of what you can do just by changing a setting on your camera

Composition is what it's ALL about
I've always known about the rule of thirds, but it was good to have this reinforced. It was also interesting to find out that the top right intersection point is the most important one - although I guess I should have figured that from my years in magazines.

Make art from your photos
It's amazing how powerful an image can be when it's blown up to A3 and framed. This is the shot I chose to be blown up and framed on the day.

While I was happy with the composition of the shot when it came up on the camera's three-inch screen, and it looks pretty ordinary posted here, it looks way more impressive when given a little bit of beautiful printing and framing love. The art is not just in taking the photo, it's in printing it out and framing it...

So after a day of inspiration, I'm going to carry on taking photos of the two most beautiful boys that ever there were... but I shall be breaking that up with some arty shots too - I love taking interesting architecture shots, and now that I'm carrying around a little compact digital camera wherever I go, I'm going to make more of an effort to capture the world around me. I hope you do too...

Disclaimer: Epson is a client of my employer, TribecaPR. While I was their 'guest' for the day, the thoughts and opinions above are my own, and have not been suggested or approved by anyone else. 

Sunday, 11 September 2011

My delicious garden

My garden has all of a sudden started looking like a garden, and not a rough collection of bits and pieces. Well, it is a rough collection of bits and pieces, but they're recovering from the winter now (with the help of a lot of water...).

I have grand goals of having a lush, fabulous garden that blooms with colour through every season, with expanses of lawn framed by banks of flowers of different shapes and sizes, all perfectly colour coded, but not too perfectly trimmed - I'm not a fan of topiaries. At all. I also dream of an abundant vegetable garden that will keep us feed without supplementing from the shops - all organically grown and flavoursome, of course.

Reality check: the soil on our property is not that fertile, and the garden is very shady - there are only a few spots that get full sun. But I've spent a lot of time and effort late last summer, and in the last few weeks, watering, composting, putting down manure etc, and I think things are starting to pay off.

And in the vein of gratitude that I started in my last post (and didn't continue very well with), I'd like to post that I'm grateful for my garden, for the sanctuary that it gives, the beauty that it promises, and the nutrition that it has the potential to offer us. I had the most fantastic crop of tomatoes the whole summer about four years ago, and I hope to beat that this year. To show you why I'm grateful, I thought I'd list some of the things I have in my vegetable garden...

Spinach ( lots of, and I have so many seedlings I don't where I'm going to put them all...)
Butter lettuce
Red lettuce
Iceberg lettuce
Parsely, sage, rosemary and thyme (really!)
Mint and spearmint
Echinacea (pretty flowers, have no idea what to do with them.)
Elderflower tree (that I thought was going to be a bush. It's the fastest-growing thing in my garden)
Lavendar (French and Margaret Roberts. I never thought I'd be the one to make lavendar cupcakes)
Basil Mint
Pineapple Sage
Artichoke plant
Asparagus plants
Lemon tree
Lime tree
Tomatoes - cherry and two kinds of normal
Texas sage
Carrots (tiny seedlings)
Fennel. (Beautiful plants, have no idea what to do with them)
Beetroom (tiny seedlings)
Baby marrows and custard squashes (seedlings to be planted out in the next week or two)
Shallots (only two - I bought them to see what would happen, will hopefully collect their seeds for more)
Spring onions
Broad/fava beans

See? I have so much to be grateful for. Now, much as I totally adore my new job at Tribeca PR, I would love more time to nurture them all, and to make fabulous food with them! ;-)

*No, no pic of my garden now - the images in this post are things I have grown in my garden in years gone by. I'm writing this in bed at 21h36 on a Sunday. Even though the moon is full, there aren't going to be any pictures... :-) 
** Did you know that strawberries only bear fruit for one or two years? That's why you've got to let the runners take, to make new plants to bear fruit... 

Monday, 27 June 2011


It does occur to me from time to time that I only seem to use this blog to rant. Today, however, I was inspired by Wenchy and her Gratitude Journal. I don't think I have the time, discipline or patience to do a daily entry, but I'm going to make an effort to write about things for which I am grateful for the next while. Wenchy also does a 'proper' Thanksgiving celebration every year, which I also think is a fine idea. I may even steal it and start the tradition among our friends this year. I think it's important for adults to be grateful for what we have, and for our children to learn to appreciate their good fortune too.

So... to start...

I am grateful for my parents. My mom turns 70 next week, my dad passed away seven years ago, at the age  of 77. There was a 15 year age gap between them, but their marriage was rock solid. They certainly had their differences, but I didn't hear them raise their voices to one another. Not once. There were a few times when the house was shrouded in silence over something or other, but they got over it after a while, and went back to being the rock-solid, caring, amazing parents that I grew up with.

My mom is uncomplicated and straightforward - qualities I value so much, and which I aspire to myself. My dad worked hard, had strong principles and a determination to do things properly and with meticulous attention to detail. The first two - I try really hard to follow, the third - well, I still need to practice that lots.

But this post of gratitude is because I am who I am because of the solid foundations that they gave me. I am grateful for that, and for the role they play in my life - both of them - every day.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Dischem: what was your pharmacist THINKING?

Daniel had an earache Monday night, so Brett took him to our regular GP yesterday afternoon - I don't mess around when it comes to ears. He was given a prescription for antibiotics, which is what I expected, which Brett took to Dischem in Norwood to be filled.

He called to tell me that now Daniel's such a big boy, he's got Augmentin tablets, and has to take two big tablets, twice a day. He said he asked the pharmacist if he was really sure that that was what Daniel should be taking - and the guy just referred to the prescription, and said 'yes'. Alarm bells started going off, but I left it until I got home. In the meantime, had a discussion with my (nearly 70 year old) mother - who happens to be on a course of Augmentin too  - two big tablets, twice a day. The alarm bells started ringing a little louder.

When I got home, I had a look at the pack of tablets - a pack that I recognise very well, as I have had those very meds before. Me, the adult. I BBM'd my doctor, who said that he may have made a mistake, but that I should definitely go back to Dischem. So I did.

When I got to the counter, I asked the pharmacist if it was correct that that medication had been prescribed for a five year old boy. She looked very alarmed, and then spent 10 very long minutes digging through a messy pile of the afternoon's paperwork to find the prescription.

Turns out that the doctor had indeed prescribed the wrong thing. I asked why the pharmacist hadn't questioned the doctor, as it was very clear to me - the person who is not a pharmacist - that the prescription was wrong. Oh, she says, my colleague checked with your husband. My husband? The writer and publisher? The one who's NOT a pharmacist? (When actually it was him who queried with the pharmacist, not the other way around). When I asked how they could possibly dispense such heavy antibiotics for a five year old boy, she snarkily pointed out that his age is not on the prescription. No, it's not. But it very definitely is on their system, and my child was standing there in front of them - clearly not an adult.

Am I wrong in believing that the pharmacists are the experts in medication here? They are the ones who are supposed to look at the prescription, look at the person for whom it is prescribed, and if there are GLARING errors (like a not-that-sick child standing there, about to be given a heavy adult dose of antibiotic), that they should maybe pick up the phone and question the doctor?

Our doctor did apologise, and when I asked, he explained that the adult dose is four times the paediatric dose. Daniel would have had severe diarrhea if we had given him what was dispensed. The pharmacist would surely know that too?

Our doctor was apologetic, admitted his error, and is a good guy who makes himself totally available to his patients. We will stick with him, but we will make him check any prescriptions twice before we leave his office.

Dischem - with whom we spend a fair amount of money each year - will not see us again.

Monday, 28 March 2011

We're kick(box)ing the Spur into touch

Yesterday we headed to Greenstone Mall to do our usual dose of weekend admin and shopping. On the way, the littlest Haggard fell asleep, so I took him and Daniel to the Spur, while Brett did his admin - the idea being that the boys would play, we'd have a decent-ish meal, and all live happily ever after...


The restaurant was completely packed, which is great for the Spur, but it meant that we couldn't sit anywhere near the kiddies' play area. All well and good - space is limited, and Daniel could find his way back to us when he wanted to. Matthew is too little to see over the tables and chairs etc, and is too little to be seen too, so when he came looking for us, crying, he got lost in the maze of tables. Just as well ExMi was there too with her family - she spotted him and kindly brought him back to us. That's not the Spur's fault though - it was our problem, I do understand.

Now I know weekends are meant for families to spend quality time together - and we do. But there's merit to restaurants with playgrounds - a whole mealtime is a long time for two active little boys to sit still, and there's no denying that it's a relief for Mom and Dad to have some time to eat a meal relatively undisturbed. The Spur playgrounds have climbing walls, trampolines, blackboards and climbing apparatus, which are all great.

However, what I fundamentally disagree with is the barrage of PlayStation consoles in the play area - most particularly the one with the kickboxing game, to which Daniel migrated like the proverbial moth to a flame. Scary thing is, even though he's never played anything like that before (we don't let our boys play violent games on our Wii), by the time I saw what he was playing, he was getting perfect scores. By that time, his brother was awake, so I asked Daniel to go away from the games, and to play with his brother.

Which was when it really struck home why I don't let them play games like that at home. Within two minutes of them playing one another, Daniel was kickboxing his brother, and wrestling him to the ground, far more forcefully than I've ever seen him do. Which was when they were brought out of the play area, to sit with us until we were finished.

Apart from the PlayStation issue, I left the restaurant with a raging headache - the noise of the crowds was clearly not sufficiently stressful - we had to have loud 80s music blasted at us as well, with the odd birthday singing and clapping as well, all spiced up with crying children, banging from the open kitchen, slow service because of the busy-ness (and the resulting grumpy husband)... and then there was the fun of trying to walk in the greasy floor. I might sound like a bit of a complaining Mother Grundy here, and I do understand that restaurants use different tools to create atmosphere, but the only word to describe my Sunday Spur experience was: mayhem.

So... we won't be going back. Definitely not soon. Maybe never. Even though my fillet was very tasty...

Friday, 25 March 2011

Kooking at Karma

My friend Charmain spotted a Wicount deal for a cooking class at Karma. Now, I've never eaten at Karma before, but I've heard that their food is legendary, so I paid over my R150 in the week of no credit cards (a whole other long story), and we went to the Fourways restaurant last Tuesday to learn how to cook Indian food.

Shyrose was our teacher - she's the owner, a lovely lady with an interesting accent and a very gentle way of teaching. Apparently there are some secrets to cooking good Indian food - although there are so many regional and cultural influences that it's ok to not be too much of a purist, apparently.

Secret no 1 is the spices. You add the whole spices (mustard seed, cumin etc) early on in the cooking process - and you don't cook them until they pop, as some recipes suggest. Rather just toast them a bit...

Secret no 2 - when you cook the onions, cook them until the flavour and colour you prefer. This will determine the colour and the flavour of the final product.

Secret no 3 - cook the onions first and then add the tomatoes... and then you cook them until they melt into one another. This is how you get a smooth gravy from a foundation of tomatoes and onions.

Charmain and I made a curried bean dish (way nicer than I thought it sounded) and onion bhajias. The surprise of the evening was the dip that was brought out for the bhajias and the potato kachoris - the recipe is below.

We rounded off the cooking lesson by learning how to make chocolate samoosas. Oh. My. Word. Easy really - melted chocolate, bit of cream, bit of butter, chilli flakes and almond slivers, all melted together and then refrigerated. Wrap up spoonfuls in samosa pastry (with cumin in it), and then freeze. Deep fry quickly in hot oil - the pastry goes all crispy, and the chocolate goes all gooey. Perfect way to round off a meal, even though it was a little (!) rich!

It was a good night out, and fun to do with a good friend. I'd recommend it as a different night out, for you and a friend, or for a group of friends. Eating the yummy food that you've cooked at the end of the evening rounds it all off very nicely! Just a note - don't get excited by the promised goody bag - it's a small bag of Spekko rice, a couple of recipe bookmarks and a travel brochure. But then you don't go to such a thing for the goody bag I guess :-)

Here's the recipe for the dip - be careful - it's addictive. It think it would go with just about anything on the planet. Anything at all.

Coriander and Mint Sauce

1 cup coconut powder
½ cup chopped mint
1 tspn salt
2 tbsp green chilies blended
1 cup chopped coriander
6 tblspn yoghurt
¼ cup water  (add as per your liking if you like it saucy add more water )

In a blender, blend the coconut powder and chopped mint, chopped coriander with a little water, yoghurt enough to purée Add the salt and blended green chilies. Blend until smooth.

I've just mentioned the two recipes to tease you into going, and to be fair to the restaurant. Shyrose emailed us about 12 recipes, for everything from the dreamaliciously delicious Butter Chicken to the startlingly divine Potato and Aubergine  dry curry.