Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Farm Skills - a post written last year and then never published

We never set out to live as we do. It just happened. Each day presents its own opportunities for discovery and experience, exploration and adventure. Some we grasp eagerly and others slip by unnoticed.

Today my family is immersed in the music and lyrics of Sweeney Todd, a musical we saw when on holiday in Cape Town. The songs are playing, full volume, while dinner preparation is underway.

Yesterday I hand spun dog hair on the spindle that Decadent Dad turned on the lathe a while back. I spun it on a whim, just to see if I could. The Siberian Husky hair makes a delightfully soft yarn.

Since living on this farm in the Free State I have learned to:

make yoghurt, butter, cheese, and to milk a cow

ride a horse

raise heirloom vegetables from seed

grow enough vegetables to feed my family for a year

crochet well enough to make blankets for my children

raise orphan lambs

spin my hand-raised sheep, Lucy's wool

spin alpaca fibre into luxurious yarn

quilt with the help of a delightful quilt group

raise chickens, calves, pigs and sheep

help a cow with a difficult calf delivery

administer injections to our animals

make apple cider and apple cider vinegar

render lard

make delicious guinea fowl pie

make do without clean water in our taps for extended periods

gather beeswax for soap making

preserve almost every kind of local fruit and vegetable

grow and grind our own maize for porridge, bread and tortillas

sing worship songs in seSotho

brew herbal teas

dry fruit from the summer harvest

Each new skill presented itself as a natural response to a need, opportunity or responsibility. My teachers have been books, wonderful people, my animals and the internet. Some lessons grew out of my dislike of waste and the satisfaction I feel from using my resources to their capacity. I am eager to learn so much more.

I would love to:

begin exploring the art of using natural dyes for fleece

 try a little more felting

learn to embroider beautifully

weave some of my handspan yarn

learn to weave the thatching grasses into broom, baskets and hats

learn to speak seSotho so that I can engage with the farm women and children

teach the little ones some arts and crafts

ride better than I do

grow disease-free tomatoes successfully

plant a prettier garden



make fruit wine

and so much more....

Soap Making

I made two batches of soap in the past two days. My motive: to use up the tallow in the fridge which is the last fat remaining from our own grass raised beef. I rendered the fat many months ago. It remains stable in the freezer drawer of the fridge, but I would like to make some space.

Both batches used said tallow which makes wonderfully smooth, hard soap along with coconut oil, sunflower oil and a little castor oil for the moisturising bubble factor. These were all ingredients that were already in the pantry. Once the tallow is all used up, I will continue with the jars of lard in the fridge. Lard makes a creamy soap that is excellent for problem skin.

Yesterday I scented the soap with mandarin essential oil. Then I stirred in grey shards of pettigrain and charcoal soap saved from a previous batch.

Today I scented the soap with honeysuckle essential oil, melted in the tip of a pink lipstick I don't wear and stirred in shards of jasmine scented soap. This batch was mixed at a slightly higher temperature and volcanoed a bit in the mould. I am sure it will still be great for home use.

I was approached to supply my soaps to a farm stall today. I will happily do so if they are willing to let me continue making varied soap according to what I have rather than according to a set requirement.

Besides the soap, other thrifty things I have been busy with this week so far...

...Making chutney using the last of the red and green tomato harvest and our abundant albeit small onions.

...Dinner last night was leftover cheese sauce served over spaghetti. It wasn't the healthiest choice but the sauce needed eating. I made sure that we had a huge salad a lunchtime to balance our diet for the day.

,,, Instead of driving all the way to town to prepare for a birthday tea I hosted for a friend, I picked carrots and then baked a carrot cake substituting sunflower seeds for walnuts and our own preserved apple for tinned pineapple. It was delicious.

... I also made her a gift Pamper Pack which was prettily presented and made from gift items I had in the home. She has step by step instructions and what she needs for a 1 hour mini spa treat at home.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Making Do in Abundance

WARNING... the longer I wait between posts, the longer my posts become. (This one was written 2 weeks ago, but I am only uploading pics and posting today.)

I have gone from someone who blogged about twice a week to someone who may blog every two months. I love writing and often find myself composing blog posts in my head, but seldom find the time to sit and type them up. My interests and crafting activities have developed and expanded so that could be a reason. I seem to live in seasons. I really really do want to continue blogging as my heart is to keep a literal web log of my life here on this farm and there is so much to record and share.
So thank you, Cindy, for the reminder to keep on writing. Ideally I would like to write frequent, short posts.

It is a sultry Friday afternoon. My son has just dragged himself back to his desk to study. He wrote a 3 hour Maths paper this morning. I am sitting at my desk with the curtains drawn in an attempt to keep cool. It's too hot to wear shoes, so I have kicked them off. I am rolling my feet over wooden beads as I type.

I had planned to wash some fleece this afternoon, but we have no clean water in our tank again. We are piping river water into the house so that we can still shower and flush, but Caledon River water is silty so it won't help to clean fleeces.

Next on the To-Do list was to make a batch of soap. Washing soapy pots and utensils uses a fair bit of water and when we are heating pots of clean water on the stove for each load of dishes...

It's too hot to spin, weave, cook or garden.

So I have no excuse not to write.

October has been a financially challenging month. We were recovering from September: We celebrated my husband's 50th and our daughter's 21st birthdays which also required a road trip to Cape Town. We discovered that a lot of my husband's tools that he uses for work have been 'taken'. Our vehicle needed major repairs and we had to pay a lump sum for education fees. In order to ease things I have shopped as little as possible. In fact I spent less on groceries for the month than someone I know spent on one meal for a braai (barbecue).

How did I do it?

Firstly, we use what there is in the house instead of rushing off to the shops. The best way of saving money is not to spend it. Usually my two guys have no idea that I am hustling to stretch our resources as they are always well fed and they don't feel deprived. That's the key to being Elastic Mom.

And October is strawberry month.

When we ran out of dishwasher blocks, we only washed the dishes by hand for the rest of the month. (Although in desperation Decadent Dad did try to run the dishwasher using dish liquid.) I haven't felt the need to buy more dishwasher blocks yet. I quite enjoy the contemplation of washing dishes and looking at the view.

I drink decaf coffee, so when that ran out I drank more tea and switched to the occasional cup of cocoa topped with leftover party marshmallows. It's all about using what there is, rather than what we might want, but making it good and tasty.

When the milk ran out, we drank interesting black, herbal tea or iced tea. I made rooibos and lemon verbena tea, mint and sage exam time tea, mint and fennel digestive tea.

When the teabags ran out we drank iced water, herbal teas and strawberry smoothies, and by then we had bought some lovely Jersey milk from my friend so Decadent Dad could make himself some coffee again. We did also buy some milk. We haven't replaced the decaf, but I don't miss it yet.

We are blessed with a freezer full of our own pasture raised beef and pork. So that is what we ate. I didn't buy any fish, lamb or chicken. I would ring the changes with vegetarian meals too. We have some of our own cheese,  and always one or two eggs in daily supply. Some days we get up to seven eggs. We also grow our own veg and eat what is in season. In October we had asparagus, carrots, beets, peas, mange touts, cabbage, spinach and salad greens.

Usually we eat two oat breakfasts a week and two mieliemeel breakfasts. When the oats and bread ran out I tried a bit of banting... fresh eggs and our own bacon baked in muffin trays followed with a handful of strawberries from the garden. It was delicious.

When the butter and oil ran out I cooked with our own lovely rendered lard and drippings from roasts which give the best flavour or coconut oil that has been in the pantry, just asking to be used.

When the pasta ran out Decadent Dad made some tagliatelle using flour and eggs. Who can complain about handmade pasta.

When the flour started running low (we bake our own bread) I used a mixture of flour, mieliemeel and pea flour (which needed using) to make two nutritious loaves of bread. When those were finished, we just ate other things like frittatta and salad for lunch, and meat and veggies for supper. We did buy more flour later in the month.

Here are a few of the delicious meals we ate in October:


strawberry and rhubarb muffins
homemade strawberry ice cream that was turning into butter baked into muffins

oats topped with fresh strawberries and cream (off the top of the milk)
mieliemeel porridge with honey and some of our own ground heirloom Transkei maize.
strawberry, honey, vanilla and homemade yoghurt smoothies (using Jersey milk)
strawberry, rhubarb, walnut and oat bake (walnuts picked last summer)
eggs and bacon


Egg and bacon spinach salad with curried dressing
leek and cheese pie with coleslaw from the garden
pea and bacon salad
hearty beef and vegetable soup and home baked bread
spinach, asparagus and spring onion frittata with just picked lettuce salad
red wine cured bresaola and salad sandwiches
beetroot hummus with potato salad
beetroot, walnut and cumin salad
toasted cheese and peach chutney
curried carrot soup served with pea flour and maize bread


spinach lasagne where I layered spinach leaves between the mince instead of pasta
grilled spicy homemade sausage with spinach, peas and carrots
slow cooked beef and paprika on mash
braaied pork ribs with BBQ sauce
spinach and bacon pasta
chorizo and pork sausage stew with mung beans, garden veggies and fennel on rice
homemade pizza with bacon and mushrooms (Decadent Dad bought the mushrooms as a Special Night treat)
Spinach pie with wasabi and mustard seed pastry
Roast brisket with gravy, potatoes and veg
Strawberry ice cream for dessert

As you can see we ate really well in October. If you had come for a meal and not known things were tough, you wouldn't have guessed. I am thankful for God's abundant provision for our family in so many ways.

"Use it up,
Wear it out,
Make do,
Or do without"

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Beginning of Spring

I wrote this on Friday evening:

Today we harvested nettles. We wore gloves. My wool dying experiment with nettles in July was a dismal failure. The nettle bread, however, was brilliantly green. The nettles have been safely subdued with a steaming and now they are in the fridge. There is also a large bunch drying on the verandah. Even weeds can be wonderful. Now I am dreaming of nettles served simply with butter, salt, and pepper; nettle soup; nettle soap; and maybe even nettle pancakes. Oh, and how could I forget nettle tea?

The trick of being Elastic Mom is to stay on top of whatever is flourishing right now. Well, to try.

Someone else is flourishing since she has discovered the art of knitting. This afternoon I taught Mammei, one of the Hope Knitters, how to purl and make stocking stitch and rib. She wants to knit a hat. Her Cutie Pie has stolen my heart. I have known her since she was a premie in hospital being nurtured by kangaroo care. Her mother called me because they don't feed their patients properly in the government hospitals here and she was hungry. Cutie Pie grins every time she looks at me and waves goodbye whenever we part ways.

The pigs have run away again. Tomorrow morning I will find them snoring in their beds. We knew they had finished plowing up the chicken run when they made an exit hole under the fence. My son and the dogs went looking for them. All they found were jackals aggressively guarding a den, containing pups no doubt.

Our water was black today. We first noticed it when washing the white linen from my bed. I sent my black sheets up the hill to show the two men who were working on the pipes and neglected to warn us first. I wonder if it will make a difference next time they need to fix the pipes.

We have stopped lighting fires in the evenings. Spring has arrived, clothing the peach trees in pink, the apricot orchard in white and also our almond saplings in delicate touches of white. We made it the]rough winter without needing to light Esse the Faithful. My fingers are still recovering but the saving of R1000 a month for anthracite was worth it.

This morning I blew off the dust bunnies and unpacked the suitcase under my bed. It felt light and lovely to hang my summer dresses in the cupboard and toss my warm scarves into the suitcase instead. The rest of my winter clothes are staying put in case we have another cold snap. It seems unlikely in these dry, warm days. Once the excitement of the spring blossoms and daffodils wanes I realise that it really isn't my favourite season. Free State spring is a time of waiting for summer rain, a time of dusty winds and often a time of firefighting for my men. The vase of peach blossoms on the mantle is pretty though.

September also heralds the beginning of the busy birthday season. My philosophy is that gifts either cost money or time. I don't really have either in abundance at the moment, though I do try to enjoy some creative time in the evenings. Yesterday's birthday girl received a knitted hat, a beanie in the Elle Toledo Smarties colourway from my stash, with a big yellow pompom. I wrapped it in drawing paper, tied some yellow tulle (fairy wings from  when my daughter was small enough to wear such things) around it and made a card from a bird cut out of a box of tea. It looked just right for a 7-year old. The other half of the ball of yarn had been used for my  Miss Marple tea cosy. I am happy that I managed to use it up and all the gift cost me was my time.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Blessed Abundance

I am sitting on an old stone bench, facing the chicken run. It was built as a step for mounting horses. The warm air has a sweet spring fragrance. The chickens are industriously inspecting the upturned earth in their run after Winifred and the young pigs finished their day’s work of plowing it up for me. It is the golden hour, just before sunset, where everything is still except for the cheeping chicks, clucking hens and twitters of the white-browed sparrow weavers in the honey locust trees. Zizou, our Jack Russell Terrier, has just jumped up to join me. She is leaning against my back and staring across towards Lesotho over in the distance behind me. Next to me is a bucket filled with a lanky cauliflower and a generous picking of broad beans. The cauliflower is for tonight’s chicken soup, Jewish Penicillin, a Jamie favourite. I will substitute it for the broccoli in the recipe because that is what we have in the garden. The broad beans will be in tomorrow’s salad for the Quilt Club’s lunch I am hosting. 

Barbara Kingsolver, in her wonderful book Animal Vegetable Miracle, calls this time of year The Hungry Season. It is the time when winter is over along with the last of the stored autumn harvest, but the new spring crops haven’t grown enough to be harvested either. It has been a tough year where our summer harvest was not as good as usual and we also lost all our carefully frozen vegetables, yet we are doing pretty well for the hungry season. I always shop in the garden, pantry and freezer before making the trip to town to buy food.

Last night I picked a bucket of rainbow chard and some young Egyptian walking onions. I cooked them up with 2 slices of chopped leftover gammon and served them in toasted sandwiches with a little grated cheese. The Swiss chard is such a faithful friend. It has carried us through the winter frosts and drought. Once the weather warms up it will probably go to seed, but not before new seeds have grown up in another part of the veggie tunnel to replace the existing bed.

The broad beans are taller than ever and starting to produce what looks like a promising spring harvest. Along with some mange tout peas, we have plenty of greens for the table in the form of self seeded butter lettuce, nettles, rocket, oak leaf lettuce, cabbages, kale and then some young Chinese cabbage and mizuna. The Chinese cabbages have started going to seed in the warmer spring weather, so I will use them whole in stir-fries, flowers and all. As always, I will try to use all my harvest, even if it is not perfect. In the hope that our few cauliflowers would grow bigger, I left them too long so now they are past their best but still perfectly edible. I plan to use them to make Indian pakora with the chickpea flour that needs using in my pantry (It is best served with Chai tea on a rainy day.)

The spring sowing has begun. We have rows of tiny carrots and beetroot, and lots of  hopefulseeds trays for the tomatoes, peppers and brinjals. Last years garlic’s and leeks are looking great and the new onion seedlings are doing well. It’s a good start.

We have plenty of our own pasture-raised beef in the freezer now, which will hopefully last us for a long time. In the not too distant future, some organic free-range pork will join it. The pork is rather too free ranging at the moment: the naughty rascals keep disappearing leaving us searching all over, hence their being put to work in the chicken run this week.

Marigold and Matilda are leading their chicks to bed as the sun dips behind the hill. I will shut them all in securely, feed the dogs, close the curtains inside and then finish making dinner while I watch the last episode of Miss Marple. Decadent Dad is busy in his leather workshop. Our son is at his drawing board. They are each playing their own music selection while they work, so I will wear headphones to hear Miss Marple while I cook.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Still Stretching

It's been six months since I last posted here. I miss this space.

Random songs are warming the mood as the fire crackles in the hearth and Decadent Dad is whistling, just like his Pops, and enthusiastically chopping and grilling our Friday Night Special Night dinner. This institution started in 2000. Tonight we are looking forward to hot baked rolls filled with our own Chinese spiced beef sausage and a cabbage pickle à la Jamie, followed by chocolate Tumble cake, as in chocolate coated raisin and shortcake balls baked into a cake. We will watch a movie and I will knit. Of course there will also be coffee.

I am making a tea cosy for my art deco Susie Cooper teapot that I inherited from my grandmother. I am using a squishy cream-coloured yarn with streaks of yellow, red, green and blue, a mohair/wool/acrylic blend: Toledo by Elle in the Smarties colourway. It will be topped with cream coloured roses and green leaves. I am making it on a whim after joining the Miss Marple Knit-along that A Knitter's Life is hosting. I am binge watching the Joan Hickson series of Miss Marple, Agatha Christie murders while I work on the tea cosy.

Since learning to spin, my taste in yarn has become a bit more discerning but, being Elastic Mom, I can't bear waste and will  try to make the most of my pretty acrylic yarns. Earlier in the month I went stash-diving and put together a Leftovers Diagonal Scarf using a collection of scraps of purple wool that my sister gave me a few years ago. It feels good to turn these bitty pretties into something that is fun to wear. I really like how it turned out. I am sure that some of the wool was hand dyed mohair blend from Nurturing Fibres, there was also eyelash yarn, some recycled sari silk yarn, and the leftovers from the Granny Stripe Blanket that I made for my daughter when we first moved up to the farm. Now she lives faraway and it is her-Hug-From Mum blanket. It is so bright that my son told me it hurt his eyes. My goal is too try to use up my yarn stash before I buy more yarn.

I gave away quite a bit of my stash yarn when I started the Hope Knitters group with the three ladies who live in the staff village up the road. I wanted to give them a way of earning some money to supplement their husbands' meagre incomes. The ladies live in rudimentary houses with outside pit toilets and no running water in their homes, just cold water taps outside. Their lives are hard. They collect wood to warm their homes. They do have electricity, but their diet mostly consists of mieliemeel (maize porridge). Even though we are a little group and the knitting project is a simple concept, I believe that it will bring them hope.

The idea is to start with an incentive pack of yarn, knit or crochet an item, sell it and use the proceeds to buy another skein of yarn. Once they have done all that then they receive another donated incentive pack from me. Then they are free to spend the profits or save them and use any leftovers for personal projects. We have received some generous yarn donations from kind people from Cape Town to America. We happily take leftover yarn and scraps and I put them into 100g packs. Blantina, who works for me has enthusiastically joined the group, and we have occasional visits from a middle aged Basotho man, Ntate Tshupa, who used to crochet using a match as his crochet hook.

Mentoring these beautiful ladies has been exciting and heartbreaking. It is wonderful to see their progress and their delight in selling the items they make. Choosing their well earned packs of donated yarn brings them such joy as they anticipate their new projects. They are quick and keen to learn new stitches and patterns. We try to meet weekly. One lady brings along her two little girls who play with educational toys while their mama knits. When I first started I didn't realise how much my life would change. These ladies have captured a piece of my heart. It has been heartbreaking to see the effects of poverty on their homes along with enduring the brunt of alcoholism and domestic abuse. One of the ladies has left the group because she can't see beyond her personal pain. Then came tragedy of a car accident that killed the young husband of one of our ladies. We have taken a knock. 

Yesterday three of us sat under some gum trees with a view towards the mountains of Lesotho. We stitched and chatted. It was one of those infinite moments where nothing else mattered except that moment.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Elementary, My Dear Watson

Meet Dr Watson, the cutest alpaca cria (baby) in Cape Town. His affectionate nature has won many hearts of friends and family of my dad and Merle. Their indigenous garden on the mountainside is home to a few alpacas. They are not all as sweet and tame as Dr Watson. 

This is some of Dr Watson's third grade fibre from his first shearing. His blanket is a rose-grey colour, varying from pale grey to deep chocolate brown. 

I love my dad's studio. A few months ago I set out to spin some of Dr Watson's fibre on their lovely Ashford Traditional spinning wheel which is different to my wheel at home.

While I spun, my dad painted in oils that day and we listened to classical music. 

 Pickle, the parrot joined us and watched over the first oil painting ever painted by my son that day in the studio. Arran spent two inspiring days learning the skill of oil painting from his grandpa.

I sat in the corner spinning while my father and my son painted with classical music in the background, accompanied by a silent parrot. 

This is the wobbly beginning of learning to spin Dr Watson's fibre which is very different to Lucy's merino fibre. It is also the beginning of learning to use a different wheel. 

After a little practice it became easier to spin a more even single of Dr Watson's fibre. This darker portion of Dr Watson yarn is spun back on the farm on my own wheel. 

Dr Watson's singles were fairly thick, so I plied them into a two-strand yarn. The natural variation in his blanket gave a barber-pole effect to some of the yarn. 

This is the bouncy-soft double-plied skein of Dr Watson's yarn. 

I washed the skein to set the twist and hung it in the bathroom to dry. 

The skein is 82m long and 118g of luxurious bulky squishy soft alpaca yarn. 

The skein rolled into a beautiful big ball for knitting. I used a circular needle and knitted over a few evenings sitting in the lounge with my farm men. 

I found just the right pattern to knit up a beanie to make the most of the plushy warmth of the yarn. The pattern is the Gridiron Hat by Argyle Sheep on the knitting and crochet website, Ravelry. Thankfully the yarn was enough. All I have left is 12g. 

The beanie is warm and super soft and snug. I love the way the lighter fibre ended up on the brim. It is a satisfying thing to journey with fibre all the way from a snuggly greeting from Dr Watson to wearing a Dr Watson Beanie on my head. So my first journey from fibre to finished product was, surprisingly, not with Lucy Lamb's first fleece. I still have a long way to go preparing all of Lucy's fleece for spinning. It has been great fun to dabble in a bit of alpaca spinning in the meantime. 

Its much as I love it, it is not for me to keep. I wrapped it up and sent it to my dad to keep warm in the Cape winter; to remember me; to enjoy precious Dr Watson's fibre as a hat; to remember that day in his studio where three generations created art alongside a parrot; when Beethoven was playing; and we were happy.