Sunday, 30 June 2013

The Country Air Makes Us Industrious !

Newly discovered arts & crafts.

A few years ago, when someone mentioned people who were self-sufficient, we did not really grasp the concept. How could we, living on the eighth floor !

At the moment, we are learning to make our own jams etc. We are still a long way from being self-sufficient, but I can see the possibilities of it. A small vegetable patch and a wealth of fruit trees. And those are the ones spurning us on to be industrious.

Nature only gives you a certain amount of time to get going. If you miss the window of opportunity, the fruit can get spoiled. Procrastination is a foreign word in the world of nature. In a way it is rather refreshing to have to hop to it. Yesterday, Bob and I made more cherry jam.

Bob picked a bucket full of cherries, and together we started the laborious task of de-pitting each and every one. We do it by hand, because we want to inspect each cherry for any inhabitants...worms. It takes about an hour to pit a bucket full, but it is well worth it.

We also have a few walnut trees and Bob is trying to make his own Walnut liqueur. ( Of course this is no hardship for him and in fact he is excited like a little boy ! ) All he does is cut up green walnuts, puts Vodka over them and puts them out on the window sill. Lets see how it works out. Anyone visiting us in the next few months should be in for a treat ?

Making homemade foods is akin to arts & crafts. Let's face it, who still knows that you can even make your own jam so easily ? We have grown so used to buying everything at the supermarkets, that the skills of making it ourself have almost been lost and forgotten. Let us try and revive them and pass them on. After all, they are incredibly grounding, satisfying and not to mention...delicious.


View from the top, of Bob's Walnut liqueur creation...

Bob is cutting the walnuts with almost surgical precision !

Now it has to rest for a few months in order to absorb the aroma & flavour ! Complete Book of Home Preserving Jar Kit

Saturday, 29 June 2013

The Bitter-Sweet Of Family Visits.

Annual holidays spent together.

You do get more and more families who are rather fragmented all over the world. They call it progress and expanding your horizon, but when you get down to it, it means you live separate lives.

Gone are the days were you marry into another family in your village / town. A simple visit to your family would then only require you to swing onto your bicycle and pedal for a few minutes. Nirvana for those who live on different continents to their family...Even though I suspect that those who have married near by, sometimes wish they could live a bit further away. Oh you know, the grass being greener and so forth...

But anyway, I fall into the " fragmented family location " category. By now my horizon is expanded, yet spending time with some of my family involves a plane trip.

We have just had one of those magical family visits. A month of fun, exploration ( geographical & biographical ), eating out and catching up on lost family time. We tend to squeeze so much into those few weeks. A condensed trip !

The bitter part of it, is of course when you have to say ' goodbye '. That is when you get reminded of the long distance between you. You can't just drive over to tell them about the " this & that " of your daily life. You need to save that up for the annual condensed time or nowadays you can tell it via Skype.

Those of you who live a long way from your family, will know how " bitter " the end of a holiday is. Doesn't it take a few days to re-adjust ? Suddenly the house is quiet and strangely empty. Even when you make a pot of coffee you wonder for a second, if they are awake yet and if you have made it strong enough...

But with time seemingly riding on the wings of birds, it won't be long before we start the countdown towards their next visit. Yippee.


Friday, 28 June 2013

Buying 2nd Hand Clothing: Good On So Many Levels.

Changing your mindset.

Here are some benefits of buying and wearing 2nd hand clothes:

  • The quality of fabric is good. Remember it has been washed numerous times by the previous owner. If the quality was inferior, it would have been thrown away. None of those flimsy fabrics, that wear out so quickly.
  • What do they put into fabrics so that they are softer / prettier / brighter ? Wearing new clothes or shoes makes you wonder sometimes.... 2nd hand clothes of course have been washed so often, that it seems a better choice.
  • It is a way to donate to charities.
  • It also helps save our environment. Any piece of clothing produced, uses a lot of resources in the process.
  • You hardly ever walk down the street and come across someone wearing the same. Let's be honest if you buy new clothes at the chain stores, you often end up at parties and see a copy of it on someone else !!!
  • Finally and most importantly, they cost so little.

P/S: I would love to know how you feel about 2nd hand clothes...


Thursday, 27 June 2013

Designated Driver: My Top 10 Tips & Observations !

Designated drivers : What would you do without us ?

  1. Once the word gets out that you don't drink, the bookings pour in.
  2. When you arrive, it makes sense to park the car in a favourable position for the drive home. It needs to be in a spot, one that eases the laborious process of getting your charges in without any mishap. You know, you need to prevent a stumble here or trip there...
  3. When you have a lot of experience in being a designated driver you can gauge what type of party / supper it will be and more or less the length of it.
  4. Mentally you are the one who needs to keep track of all items consumed. Someone needs to have a clear head to supervise the bill.
  5. Every designated driver needs to wear a ' Tungsten ' coated shirt. At some point in the evening, the comments start heading your way.." Why don't you have a drink " or " people who don't drink are so boring " or " No, its too early to leave and why are you spoiling our fun ? "...
  6. Always agree, because arguing a point is not a good idea....
  7. You need to be firm and when you think it's time to call it a night and hope to get all your charges out.
  8. The ' herding ' of your charges has some dangers: you can easily lose a charge to another occupied table along the way out.
  9. Always drive home with at least two windows open...the air can be intoxicating !
  10. But best of all, being a designated driver is great, because you keep your loved ones safe and sound.

As an added bonus, when everyone else is heading for the medicine cabinet the next morning, you are as fresh as a daisy....


Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The #1 Social Skill To Have.

Listening tops the scale.

Last night, we were sitting around the kitchen table and having a short conversation that seemed to last three hours. You know, anyone who hasn't got a big table in there, get one. Kitchens with big tables lead to a treasure trove of conversation and family time.

In fact, we sat for hours around the table, even though the lounge with its more leisurely seating arrangements was only a few meters away. Ah, if our table could talk...!

At one stage it was Polly, her friend Lesley, Bob and I. The topics were chasing each other and sometimes circling back. Now Polly was a Social Worker and Lesley was a Psychologist. Oh yes, they listened for a living.

When either Bob or I talked, they both listened. Not the normal sort of listening. You know, that listening when someone just waits for you to pause / swallow / take a breath, in order to add their five cents worth.( Guilty of that more often than I'd like to admit ). They both listened with avid and rapt attention to our stories until the very last word.

It was classic the way they both sat next to each other, heads inclined at the same angle and listening with rapt and avid attention to our stories. Even the often mundane ones. A picture I will never forget.

With everyone's hectic modern lifestyle, the art of listening seems to have been banished from conversations. The rarity of just being listened to was a breath of fresh air and I hope to cultivate this art of listening.

Listening is hard to do but has such a great impact...on the eh, listener.


Our kitchen table resting, waiting for more conversations etc... Lost Art of Listening, Second Edition: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Summer Holidays, Road Trips & " Are We There Yet " !

Making use of the school summer holidays.

It's almost as if the birds are tweeting it from the rooftops and tree branches. Oh yes, the children can forget about school for a while. The happiness factor in the air seems to have moved up a notch.

Who remembers :

  • That last week in school. Nothing gets done, the teachers are tired and secretly counting down the hours.
  • You asked all your friends where they are off to for their holiday, of course bragging all the while about where your family were going...
  • Homework those last few days was almost non-existent, or you categorically refused to do any !
  • That last day at school ( and luckily it was a half day as well ) went by in a blur and before you knew it, you were skipping home with not a care in the world. Except that pesky little report card that needed to often be smuggled in.
  • Driving somewhere on holiday. Wasn't it the best when your parents decided to set off in the middle of the night. An adventure in itself. That sleep was often interrupted with bouts of waking and checking the time. In case they left without you ?
  • Once you were on the highway to Italy / Spain / Cape Town it became obvious that all the Dads had the same idea. The roads were packed. Leaving in the morning would have meant a clear road.
  • What was a long car trip without having a tiff or twenty with your siblings in the backseat ? Some were fortunate that their parents drove a big car, because when Dad would fling an arm towards the back to make you stop, it couldn't reach you. Of course others were reached and ears were pulled ( or so I've heard )...
  • Bob and his brother were the stars of that show, and he told me that once his Dad actually pulled over and stopped the car in order to sort them out ! Two angels in the backseat.
  • Tell me, how often did you ask... " Are we there yet ? ".

By the way, do siblings still fight, now that most cars have turned into movie-house central ? Well, those backseat fights are the stuff of legend and ask any siblings if they remember. Oh yes, they do. Those fights are the glue of sibling-ship....!


Monday, 24 June 2013

It's The Simple Stuff That Makes My Day.

What makes your day ?

Here are some images that brighten up my day. I hope you'll enjoy them...

I heard the buzzing first and then tried to capture the bee in this photo. The minute she landed on the lavender, the buzzing changed to a happy one. If you look closely you can see the wings moving in almost an angelic fashion...

All of a sudden the little zucchini seed we planted has grown up ! A great moment for any gardener...

This combination of colour needs no further description...

Vibrant and strong red roses...

How on earth does nature produce such beautiful flowers ?

Isn't the humble daisy enchanting in its simplicity ? Nature cleverly puts a lush green backdrop to showcase the simple beauty of the daisy...


Sunday, 23 June 2013

Insurance Company & Its Ingenious Use Of Texting.

A group outing into stormy weather.

We were invited along to the choirs " Thank you " excursion ( eh, volunteering pays off ! ). Quite exciting as it was a walk through the forest to a neighbouring Kellerstoeckl village for a meal and drinks.

We set off late in the afternoon and it was still blazing hot. This whole week has seen temperatures soaring into the mid-thirties. About twenty of us meandered through the forest and as will happen with a few chiefs, we split up.

One group was determined that their path would be shorter. Naturally Bob and I took the long road and walked an extra 20 can imagine the ribbing our chief got when we arrived. Good lord, they were already quaffing their second rounds of drinks !

Look, it was nice, but what was extraordinary for me was the following: We could see the clouds moving in and a storm building. But at about half past five, three of the women at our table simultaneously received a text message. The same message !

It was from their insurance company and they read it to us. They had been texted that
at 18.39 pm there would be a very bad hail storm above us. Cynics that Bob and I are, we thought " yeah, the minute ? "

Well, all of a sudden, looking up and about, we realized that the storm was here and we dashed inside. When the hail started to fall, we all looked at our watch and it was ....18.32 pm. But as we were about 5 km from our village, the timing was eerily right. My jaw dropped. Their text had been spot on.

The insurance guys are clever because as soon as the texts came through, there was a round of furious phoning to family. Those who had forgotten to close windows, switch off stuff etc, rallied the troops to do it for them.

The choir had arranged for a bus to pick everyone up at 10 pm. Bob and I certainly don't have the stamina that the older crowd have and we decided to walk home leaving just before 8 pm. Walking through a forest at dusk does take a bit of courage. It didn't help that Bob kept reminding me of the TV program " Grimm " and the possible monsters lurking in the forest !

Storm clouds, even though they bring destruction, are beautiful and fascinating.

Setting off to walk home. This is about where we entered the forest.

Coming out on the other side of the forest after walking about 3 km in it. I was just glad we didn't get lost. Forest lanes all look somewhat similar at dusk...

About 100 meters from our house. Isn't that just a beautiful natural scene ?

Unfortunately our vegetable garden got hit rather hard by the hail storm. But what is awful, is that a lot of the vineyards and crops got blasted as well.


Saturday, 22 June 2013

Picking Cherries, Pitting Cherries & Making Cherry Jam.

Making your own jam is actually not that difficult.

Even I was surprised at how much jam we got out of about a kilo of cherries. When you see a full cherry tree you tend to wonder how many it would take to make a jar of jam. This big tree should more than likely produce a thousand jars of jam ! Of course if we could only get to the top more easily...

So, the amount you see in the bucket, was what we used. It was a sort of trial run. If we had made a mistake, at least we would have learned from it ! We started to pit them. Imagining it is harder than actually doing it. Bob and I just used an ordinary knife and before we knew it, they were done.

The fun part was mixing the cherries with the sugar and getting that mass to boil. You can buy a ready made mixture of sugar for making jams. We used the 3 to 1 mixture. At first it looks like a glump of something but in time it does melt into this syrupy mixture. Because I don't like to many fruit pieces in my jam, I thought I would liquidize it a bit. As usual, I overdid it and it turned into a smooth ( no cherry shape in sight ) mixture.

While I was stirring the pot ( he he ) Bob had to sterilize the jam jars in boiling water. Teamwork !

The next bit was quick and easy. We scooped the hot liquid into the jars, put the lid on and placed them upside down. Just following instructions on that one, as I don't know why they need to be upside down. A few yelps of pain were emitted by both of us, because hot jam mixture on your fingers is not nice !

As we were filling and jamming, we had such fun. Who would have thought that we would get so domesticated ? We have many more cherries, peaches and plums to pick and hopefully will create a mountain of homemade jams...We are rather proud of our first batch of homemade cherry jam.

Biggi Jelly and Jam Recipes - 35 Recipes To Make Delicious Jams and Jellies from Scratch (Hillbilly Housewife Cookbooks) 37200 Kirschentkerner Cherrymat

Friday, 21 June 2013

Beat The Summer Heat With Homemade Ice Lollies !

Simple, easy and very delicious.

The other day we were out shopping when Bob called me over to have a look at something. He was standing in front of the kitchen utensils and was grinning like a young buck. " Look, we had those all the time when we were young."...

Ice lolly makers. Oh yes, we bought a pack of them. They are so cheap after all. The current heat wave ( every day the temperatures hover around 34 degrees celcius ) made the decision even easier. We were like little children with our purchase and couldn't wait to get home.

Along the way we stopped to get some filling for the lollies. The choices are endless of course. Somehow I seem to remember having cola lollies, but no, not this time. We agreed to do the healthy option. Pure fruit juices.

It was such fun, filling these lollies. Bob and I each filled a couple. As I put the first lot into the freezer compartment, I espied a lonely flavoured yoghurt languishing in the back of the fridge. Leftovers from my parents. It was peach flavour and fat free. Better than nothing, yet double cream yoghurt would have been a killer choice !

When you know you have to wait for it to set and freeze, it takes forever. But eventually we each had our first lolly. Oh my goodness it was just as we both remembered it, and of course delicious. Why had we never thought of this before ? Cheap and easy to make. Let me tell you, that we gorged ourselves on these lollies.

However, there are a couple of drawbacks: Waiting to have the next lot frozen, and sometimes your gums and teeth get extremely cold and the dreaded ' brain freeze ' if you eat them to quickly....


Thursday, 20 June 2013

Harsh Lights In Changing Rooms...Enough Already !

Changing rooms might be less upsetting if we wore dark sunglasses !

After years, no actually decades of experience, I should have know better. Unless you are one of those elusive 1 % of gals ( the size zero lot ), it is never a good idea to try on a bathing costume in a stores changing room !

We were in the shopping mall yesterday and I stumbled upon a bathing costume dangling invitingly in its box from a hook. The photo on it showed a more fleshy, buxom lass and with enthusiasm, I picked up the box and headed for the changing room cubicle.

As I said, I should have known that no good would come from this venture. The suit seemed to fit, but what that glaringly awful mirror reflected, put me into the doldrums.

I know one can get " kinder " mirrors, that makes one look a bit better. The lighting also helps, but for reasons that are only known to stores, they put the brightest and most revealing lighting in there. It almost makes it a spotlight that seems to point at our less attractive parts.

You know, I was so shocked at my reflection ( those Lycra bathing costumes do tend to make us look a bit like stuffed sausages ) that I wondered for a brief moment whether it was one of those ' hidden camera ' gags. Yes, I looked up and all around to see a possible hidden camera. Even I have to admit that it would be a good skit to pull on someone.

Look, yes, our outer looks are not what is important and we are all beautiful in our own way. But even the most ' happy with herself ' person would be upset at the indignity of catching a glimpse in those awful changing room mirrors.

Shops, please do something. There is no need at all to put such bright lighting in there. In fact, put candle light or its equivalent. We would then love what we see and I can assure you, buy much much more of your wares. Which is what you want, isn't it ? Happy customers spend more...

If you think that shops should change their " changing room " set up, please either Like / Email / Google+ / Share or Tweet this. For all I know, it is just me who gets upset by those mirrors !


Wednesday, 19 June 2013

A Fishing Competition In Our Village.

The Pond Is Transformed Into A Happening Place !

Most of you may imagine that our life here in such a small village is dull and boring. Well no, in fact it is just the opposite. Most weekends there are two or three events on at the same time...

That is a fabulous way to get to know people. As most events are put on by clubs to collect dosh for their kitty, it is especially nice that they see you support them.

There is a little pond just below our house and the local fishing club has a little clubhouse there. They know how to party because most weekends we can hear the laughter and voices late into the night. Last Saturday they had a fishing competition and we went en mass ( two sets of parents and us ) to show our support and imbibe in the local fare.

I had no idea how serious the fishing crowd takes their sport. My gosh, some of them had so much equipment that it required a little cart to lug it all around. There were so many of them as well. With the pond being so small, I wondered how they didn't impale themselves with the generous flicks of the fishing rod. I must have ducked about three times, thinking that that nasty little hook would catch me...

Our table had a great view of it all, and I was happy to see that after catching and weighing the fish, it was put back into the waters. Surely the fish should know by now and hide at the bottom until it is over ?

Sitting among a group of people somehow makes us talk louder. It doesn't make any sense, yet we all do it. Who hasn't heard a guffaw from another table and suddenly realized that they might hear yours. When you watch fishing competitions on T.V ( only have done that once ! ) they whisper and hardly make any noise. But our fishermen didn't seem to care or mind. They were in the zone !


The pond.

Waiting for the pull of the line.

I cant remember whether Bob was showing us his Disco moves or how he would throw his fishing line ?

Off to be weighed. to Fish Soft Sided Tackle Bag Schlauchboot X-TREM II (360x168cm)

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Road Trip To Hungary ( Part 2 ).

Taking the road less traveled to Köszeg.

We are all in such a rush to get to wherever we think we should go. Highways and fast cars seem to do the trick. But when you go off the beaten track and take an old fashioned country road, treasures reveal themselves !

It's almost like a reward for taking this path. Even the drive is good for the soul. Curves and bends in the road, wonderful verges and often little villages that it takes you through. The cherry on the top is the fact that you drive at a more leisurely speed and thus you get to see the countryside in real time instead of at warp-speed !

On the way home from Sopron, we came through this great, interesting and extremely fetching town called Köszeg. Talk about a jewel. Character wherever you look. Remenants of an interesting past intermingled with the modern necessity of Ice-Cream shops.

Here are just a few impressions, but we will go back for sure:

One couldn't paint this any better...a little square in Köszeg.

The main square. We went on a Sunday and it was rather quiet.

There are so many ice cream after the other !

Churches are always in a great setting and are almost magnetic in their drawing power.

This picture is a bit skew, but I wanted you to see that on the outside most houses have these enormous doors, but when they are open, they reveal a lush garden area.

I love these courtyards.

This town is worth seeing. ( link to Part 1 )


Monday, 17 June 2013

Leisurely Sunday Drive To Hungary ( Part 1 )

Road trips are scenic, special and memorable.

Even I sometimes forget how close we live to Hungary. The border is about 2 km away from Eisenberg. Typical, that it takes a visit from family to make us explore our surroundings in more detail... Yesterday we decided to take a nice and leisurely drive to Sopron and have a spot of lunch there. Here is a collection of my impressions of the road trip:

Taken just outside of Sopron. This village is still in Austria, but how romantic and scenic...

Bob was the navigator and at one stage he lost his bearings. Not a problem, as my parents have embraced the world of technology and quickly whipped out an iPhone and used the compass app !

One of the enticing little side streets in Sopron. I love imagining the daily life with all its happenings that the people have experienced there through the ages.

Cobbled streets are so rare nowadays...

Bob stands in awe.

My Dad found a great place to have lunch again. A hotel with this magnificent atrium-dining room. While we were there an American, who was sitting at the next table, came over to talk to us. He told us that he had only wanted to stay a year but that had turned into 20...I don't blame him, it is nice in Sopron.

In the middle you can see the old city wall. Historical indeed.

Another beautiful square in Sopron. Bob took this one and you can see me leaning against the fence.

Tomorrow I will show you the other half of our road trip. We discovered a wonderful town in Hungary that is only about half an hour from Eisenberg...


Sunday, 16 June 2013

Sketching A Painting On The iPad.

Are we still as romantic as the generation before us ?

My Father is infamous for his insomnia but he doesn't let this interfere with life. Even on holiday he is equipped for those wakeful moments. He is a most avid reader of newspapers and devours at least two per day the old fashioned way ( paper ) and one online.

Oh yes, he has embraced technology to its fullest. Of course Polly ( my step-mum ) and he are avid ' Apple ' Fans. In fact it is rather funny at times to see all of us sitting in front of a computing device ! Thank goodness for wireless broadband...

Observing and noticing are hobbies of mine. These last two weeks, with my Father and Polly here for a visit, have been fabulous already even from that point of view.

When we are asleep, he sits and reads the newspapers. But lest I forget to mention it, he is also an amazing artist. Yes, the proper kind. ( Here is a link to a spread the New York Times did on him ) Just for fun and a bit of practice, he paints on his iPad most nights.

These paintings are amazing. Whereas I still am not so sure how to put an app icon on the screen, my father produces stunning pieces of art on it. Back in New York, he at times makes use of the
' Apple Geniuses ' to help him co-ordinate between the various devices. When he shows them the paintings, they too are in awe.

Most mornings he is awake before Polly and we usually sit around the kitchen table, drinking coffee and catching up. Big kitchen tables are the best for keeping family traditions and conversations alive.

When Polly comes through a bit later, she likes to check her email almost before sitting down like a giddy teenager ( and now I know why...). Well, often she has a little happy smile and looks at my Father to say " Thank you ". Thank you because he has sent her one of his paintings via email.
Isn't that just the most romantic gesture ?

Bob, don't fret, I will be happy if you make me a cup of coffee in the mornings.... iPad Mini MD528LL/A or MD528E/A (16GB, Wi-Fi, Black) MD528FD/A iPad mini 20,1 cm (7,9 Zoll) Tablet-PC (Apple A5, Touchscreen, 1GHz, 503MB RAM, 16GB Flash-Speicher, WiFi, Apple iOS) schwarz

Here is one of my Father's iPad sketches !