The drab, dry winter landscape has been transformed by splashes of pink peach blossoms all along our farm roads, a sure sign that spring is here. These are some snaps I took driving into town on spring day. After a very mild August, there has been a little nip in the air for the past few days and some threat of rain, but nothing has actually materialised. September is usually very windy and hopelessly dry on the farm with high risk of fire, but at least we can see an end in sight. In three week’s time we meet our little spring baby and then it’s downhill to summer! By February these trees will be laden with deliciously sweet wild cling peaches.
After all the activity around our auction, we took a few days off to recover and celebrate Quentin’s birthday. The timing was perfect as it was also the start of Ashley’s school holidays so we could really spend some quality time together as a family before the new baby arrives. We love road trips and driving through remote areas of the country. Our trip took us through the heart of the Karoo to Graaff Reinet and then on to a beautiful game farm run by friends of ours near the citrus valley of Kirkwood in the Eastern Cape.
On the way home we stayed at another beautiful game farm just outside Graaff Reinet called Mount Camdeboo, which was a real treat. Our wonderful guide, Les, took us on lovely kid-friendly game drives and we even managed to track one of their resident cheetah on foot. Livia absolutely loved being outdoors and seeing lots of different animals for the first time. On our first evening a big family of giraffe provided lots of entertainment as we sipped our sundowners and the mountains faded into pink silhouette. We were also lucky to see a pair of young rhino brothers who have become inseparable since their mother was poached last year. Ashley was fascinated by their remarkable story of courage and survival. Sadly, they have been de-horned for their own protection.
Our trip home took us through some amazing scenery on a long stretch of dirt road between Patterson and Craddock. We didn’t encounter anybody else on the road for over 100km! It was a bit bumpier than I would have liked, but so worth seeing the spectacular mountain landscape dotted with livestock and game. After a long day on the road we arrived home happy and relaxed and excited to tackle the next challenge of getting the house ready for the arrival of our baby boy at the end of September!
It’s been an extremely busy and exciting month on the farm. We hosted the 3rd annual Vastrap Auction on 14 August, which is always one of the highlights of our year. It is a huge amount of work, but so rewarding when everything comes together on the day. Our auction preparations start early in the year, but really step up a gear about two months before the time. Quentin takes care of all the logistics to do with the animals and I coordinate the marketing and catering side of things. We work really well as a team because our completely different strengths and interests create a natural division of labour. Apart from endless shopping and to-do lists, I spend a lot of time updating our website (www.vastrapboran.com) and Facebook page and compiling the marketing information for each animal.
In the week leading up to the auction there is a huge amount of shopping and cooking to do. We host an informal dinner at our house the night before, and on auction day we provide snacks and refreshments in the morning and a lunch for 80-100 people. This year I needed a lot of help with the catering because I was already 33 weeks pregnant and wary of being on my feet too much. Thankfully I had an amazing team of helpers who embraced the challenge with gusto! Since our very first auction my half-sister, Beatrice has come to the farm from Stellenbosch to help with the catering and this year she was joined by my dad, John. My niece, Sibella, was also on holiday and stayed with us for the week. It was such fun having them all here and Livia just loved all the action and attention. I really couldn’t have done it without them.
Our partners in the auction are also a great help and Debbie Johnson from Frontier Boran in Fort Beaufort always does an amazing job with the flowers and table decor. This year she brought a whole lot of baby pineapples and echeveria which were artfully teamed up with barbed wire and hessian on the tables. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful blue-sky day and there was a great turn-out with quite a few new faces. We are incredibly grateful for everyone who travelled from far to be with us. What a pleasure when work is so much fun!
This week has been all about finishing our Mandela Day project to donate toys collected from friends in Johannesburg to the primary school at Assisi Mission station a few kilometres from Vastrap. A lot of our farm kids go to the school and we wanted to do something special for them this year. Once again, we were completely bowled over by the generosity of our friends and their kids. We collected a huge box full of books and lots of puzzles and other educational toys that the school desperately needs for its Grade R classroom. Things that were more suited to toddlers we have kept for the farm playroom, where Livia Lerato loves to play once a week with her friend Matseliso, our gardener’s daughter.
We filled the bakkie with stuff when we were up in Joburg last weekend for the Boran National Auction and added this to things we collected a while ago from friends who visited the farm. Some of the mothers of children at the school helped to sort through everything and joined me this morning at the school with Livia Lerato and Matseliso in tow. The little girls absolutely loved seeing all the kids at “big school” and Lerato was dancing and clapping when the kids burst into song! We gave each of the 127 learners a small bag of treats, which they gratefully received on a cold and wet winter morning. The teachers were absolutely thrilled with the boxes of books, puzzles, toys and blankets. I just love the concept of Madiba Day, which really helps to focus the mind on community engagement. It is so easy to just let things slide in our busy lives where time seems to gallop away from us. Even just once a year, it is good to be reminded that a little bit of effort can make a huge difference in the lives of others.
We are busy with a building project at the house to add an extra bedroom for our baby boy who is due at the end of September. As with all building, it was meant to be a quick little project, but largely thanks to my fuzzy pregnancy brain it now feels huge! There just seem to be too many things to think about and organise and the clock is ticking away very loudly in my head. The existing structure – previously used as a kids playroom and general storage space for sports equipment and outdoor stuff – has been broken down and it seems to be taking ages to build it up again into a wider more functional space.
Part of the reason why it’s taking so long is because we are building with 13 x 13 inch sandstone blocks to match the rest of the house. Decades ago my father-in-law had a full-time stonemason working on the mountain to cut blocks for his various building projects. We used most of the left over blocks for our last renovation, which left us in a bit of a predicament because the new sandstone blocks one can buy are much smaller and look a lot more like bricks. Fortunately, Quentin was able to track down a team of craftsmen trained in the old techniques to cut new blocks for us. They have been busy for a few months already and it is painstaking work. Everything is done by hand with special tools. It’s incredible how they cut such straight and perfect blocks out of huge chunks of sandstone that have rolled down from the top of the mountain without shattering. The cutting site is carefully selected to make sure they use only the hardest and best quality sandstone. We hiked to the cutting site a few weeks ago to check on their progress. So far so good, but now we need to get those heavy blocks back to the house to get on with the building… otherwise this preggie lady’s nerves will shatter!
We had a lovely family day on the farm this weekend searching for fossils. It was the last day of Ashley’s half term so we wanted to do something special. She went back to her mum today so the house seems very quiet again. Livia just loved having her big sister around and they got on so well. It’s another month before we see her again for the holidays.
The fossils are concentrated in an areas on the mountain in the valley opposite our house. Palaeontologists from Wits University used to come here regularly to collect fossils and parts of a large dinosaur skeleton were discovered in the 1980s, later identified as a sauropod. One has to look quite hard to find good fossils these days, but Quentin has a fantastic collection that he has gathered over the years. Ashley was very keen to find some herself to show her friends at school. Fortunately it didn’t take long for us to find a few large ones that are recognisable as bones and she was absolutely delighted with her haul!
The winter days have been so lovely and mild lately. It is rare that one can go out in a t-shirt mid-winter in the Eastern Free State and be comfortable, but we seem to be doing it quite a lot at the moment. We’ll have to enjoy it while it lasts!
It feels like this year is just galloping away from us! With my preggie brain, I am struggling to keep up with things and feel torn in a hundred different directions. In the next three months we have to host our 3rd annual Vastrap Boran auction (14 August), finish the building work that we are doing on the new baby room, attend various other auctions around the country, whilst at the same time trying to make sure that I don’t have any final stage complications in my pregnancy like we did last time. The only sure way of achieving this is to put my feet up, but there’s not much chance of that happening with an 18 month old toddler making mischief around the house and demanding her mommy’s attention!
It doesn’t help that we’ve been away from home a lot this year and every time we get back there’s an adjustment phase to get back into routine. I really can’t complain though. We had a lovely trip to the UK recently. Livia and I tagged along for the ride, while Quentin joined some friends on a week long golf tour. We had a fantastic time in London and visited a friend and my God-daughter Daisy, near the sea in West Sussex. It was a real treat to relax and enjoy some warmer weather whilst doing fun things with Livia.
I bought some fabulous accessories for the Aga in London. An old Aga like ours doesn’t have all the cooking attachments that the new ones have. I didn’t even realise this until I saw them at another friend’s house. The most useful thing I got was a cooking grid that slides into the Aga runners so that you don’t have to cook straight on the solid bottom plate of the oven. There is also a shelf that slides in to make the oven a bit cooler and more suitable for cooking when the fire is burning really hot. I also love the oven gloves and chef’s pad that protects the chrome top of the Aga stove. It is so useful and totally solves the problem of where to put hot things when moving them from the stove to the oven or from the hot plate to the cool plate. I wanted to get the baking trays that slide into the oven runners, but there wasn’t enough space in my luggage!
I made some enquiries when I got home to see if these things are available from the Aga agent locally. The full catalogue is here –> AGA Cookshop Spring Summer 2015 or click on the link for the local Aga Living website. They don’t stock the full range, but if you’re willing to wait for the next container load you can do a special order. I really would highly recommend the textiles and simple accessories for those wanting to make their old anthracite Aga’s more user friendly.