Sharing is Caring

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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.2015-07-24_0009

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Tick, tock, tick, tock!

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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!

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Fossil hunt!

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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!

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Aga Goodies

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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. 2015-07-03_0001 2015-07-03_00022015-07-03_00032015-07-03_0005

Best Friends

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We are constantly amused and amazed by Livia’s interaction with our pack of dogs. She just can’t get enough of them. Whether it’s sitting on them, hugging them, kissing them, stealing their food or just chilling in their beds. It really is cute how much she loves them. I don’t blame them for finding all the attention a bit much sometimes, especially when she sits down on them like a WWW wrestler! Our boerboel puppy, Duma is 5 months old now. He is huge already, but such a sweetie and very gentle with Livia when he’s not bounding round the house in an excited state. She loves to visit him while he is relaxed and lying on his bed. I just love these photos of their gentle interaction. There was more than enough love going round for Coco to also get a big hug! 

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Winter is Here!

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Winter has finally arrived at Vastrap. We’ve been bracing ourselves for the cold for a while now, but May was unusually sunny and warm. We spent some of the time on holiday down in the Transkei and Kwazulu Natal where it really felt like summer so that also saved us a bit. Last night the first big cold front of winter hit us and we were treated to some early morning rain and much colder temperatures. The forecast for the next while looks bitterly cold, as it should be for this time of year. This is the perfect start to the winter crop season so my farmer love is in a happy mood today!

At times like these, I’m always so grateful to have a warm and cosy home. It definitely wasn’t like this when I first arrived on the farm 5 years ago. My first experience of winter in the house was almost unbearable. There was no insulation in the ceiling, huge glass windows everywhere and only one or two heaters in the main living areas. We were always dressed in our warmest winter jackets and watched TV wrapped in blankets sitting on top of the heater. My hands even froze just sitting in bed drinking coffee or typing at my computer. Needless to say, it was absolute hell during a power outage. Not my idea of fun!

When we renovated the house about 3 years ago I insisted on installing double glazing and insulating the ceilings. We also made sure that there were multiple sources of heating – a Morsø fireplace and an Aga stove – and gas for cooking. With all these options we can cope well without power on a cold day.  We also put some underfloor heating in the main bathroom and kitchen just to take the chill off the tiles.

The Aga stove really is at the heart of our home and it’s an annual ritual getting it clean and lighting it for winter (see Lighting the Aga). This year Quentin had a brainwave to use the vacuum cleaner to suck out all the old grit and residue left inside the chimney from last winter. In two minutes everything looked spick and span and good as new so the fire should draw nicely.

Having the Aga lit changes the whole dynamic of the house. I use it a lot for cooking and everyone automatically gravitates towards the heat. New visitors to the house can’t help but admire it and share memories of old Aga’s from their childhoods. I was a bit worried how Livia would cope with such a big exposed heater, but so far she’s steered clear of it and she seems to understand that it’s hot. We’ve had to do a lot of childproofing in the house with a toddler cruising around. I’ve installed a safety guard around our fireplace and I found a lovely old oregon pine kitchen cupboard at one of the antique shops in town to store breakable things that were lying around. Now I just need some locks for our toilets to stop her throwing things into them, my car keys and remotes being the most recent victims!

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Feeling Hopeless

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It’s been two weeks. Two weeks since our little beagle Hope went missing on the farm. She hasn’t been found. Since the second day she was gone I knew that something terrible had happened to her, I just didn’t know what. People said we should keep on searching and we did. But there has been nothing.

We’ve had to deal with a lot of loss at Vastrap over the past two years. First, Tumi who had an inoperable tumour in her uterus and then her daughter Paris, who died from a snake bite. Felix and Poepsie cat have also both passed. As much as I loved those animals, they were not mine from the start so I was able to manage the grief. But Hope was different. She was one of Coco’s puppies and I helped raise her from the first moments she was born. She was the smallest of the litter and always looked different to the others, with a very dark black coat and a small white triangle on her neck. She had the biggest, softest ears. She was fiercely independent and from the start ran wild on the farm, jumping off the bakkie at will to chase after things. We should have done more to train her or contain her, but she was so happy being free. I don’t know if it helps to have regrets. The reality is that farm life poses all sorts of dangers for dogs that one can’t completely sanitise. Still, the other dogs had relatively full and long lives, but Hopey was not even two yet.

I don’t have adequate words to describe how sad, empty and heartbroken I am feeling. I will miss her very much and so will Coco, her mother and partner in crime. She was so kind to Livia and never minded being sat on or smothered with love. She would often sneak off to curl up on my pillow and always came to me for special cuddles and hugs. Goodbye little one. Vastrap will never forget you. Rest in peace.

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