Loadshedding

In South Africa we've moved on from talking about the weather, to talking about loadshedding...  If there's nothing else to complain about, this will quickly become the go-to topic across social media!

But this is Africa.  We're adaptable, and we've been working around self-centered inept governance for generations.

So don't panic!  It's only electricity!

What we're getting very good at as a nation:

Treating traffic lights as 4-way stops.  We're getting a whole lot of practice and people are becoming considerably better at it.
Braai-ing.  If you couldn't before, you can now.  Provided you can grab a bag of wood before they all sell out, then get your fire going and the food cooking before the power comes back on.
Thumb-twiddling.  Especially if your employer doesn't have backup power.  There was a complaint recently that "now my employees have to sit and look at each other" - horrors!
Alternative entertainment.  Some have reported the kids have started playing outdoors...

And for those of you with absolutely no imagination, who are tied into the grid for entertainment and edification, here are some ideas of what to do when the power's off:

Go surfing / boating / swimming / flying
Go strolling on the beach, walk the dog, run, cycle, climb a mountain.  You have (on average) 2 and a half hours to slot in a bit of exercise. 
Sex.  One Facebook user queried though whether Eskom will be paying child support for those conceived during loadshedding...
Candlelight dinners.  Plan ahead and you'll have hot food ready just as the power dies.
If it's dark out when your turn comes, star-trail photography is a great option - no disturbing streetlights around.  If you're not into photography, go lie on the lawn and just look at the stars.
Talk to your significant other / family / kids / neighbours.  No electronic distractions.
Potter around the garden.  Two and a half hours can get you pretty far in the planting, weeding or bush-clearing department.
If you're at work there's always filing!  Or clearing out your deks drawers / re-arranging the furniture / giving your keyboard & mouse a deep-clean.
Meditate / do yoga / sleep / sit quietly and watch the birds - get in some silent r&r while the noise of the surrounding world is dead.

I'm amazed how many people panic when the power dies.  In our little town, a good portion of them get into their cars and drive around aimlessly.  Or go looking for someone who can make them take-away food.  Or crowd the only shop that might have a generator going in their area. 

But there really is no need to do so!  Instead, we're getting a fantastic opportunity to get out of our electronic worlds and rediscover the real one around us.


Time

The trouble with having a minute or two of peace in which to actually form thoughts, is that you actually form thoughts....

Even worse, in my case, you not only form thoughts, but you start solving the world's problems - and then move on to all sorts of interesting, creative, awesome and fun things to do, try, make - and then move on to places to go, things to see,...

It all just kinda snowballs quite frankly.

Take this whole loadshedding thing.  You start with "damn, Eskom are idiots" and end up with elaborate plans to power your home off-grid - a home you might not even own in a place you haven't visited.

Which then leads to "places I'd like to go explore next" - and then you wonder when to go, if you would be able to live wherever you're visiting next, what you'd do once there.

After which the realization kicks in that you had better spend your allocated cash paying the mundane bills instead, so everything above is really a moot point. 

Like I said, having time to think is actually quite problematic!

Back to work then.

On not giving a flying...

For the past few months I have had a "lump in the throat" feeling.  Antibiotics have been applied by a pharmacist for assumative-diagnosis "severe sinusitis", with no result.  Some days it's bad enough that I can barely swallow and have trouble breathing, accompanied by soreness and all sorts of other kak.  It comes and goes though, and I've reached the conclusion it's stress induced. 

Perhaps, instead of finding a medical solution, I simply need to refocus.  To decide what to let myself get stressed about, and what not to. 

This explains it all (language warning, lots of language, you have been thoroughly warned).

This Old House

And thus it was we moved.  Rather suddenly, before our lease was officially up at the old place, but in time - as the new owner was getting itchy feet to start his renovations.  It was time to go.

I found our new place quite by accident.  I had my tablet with me one Saturday night in front of the telly, happened to open Gumtree, happened to check what was available, and found something nearby on offer - the only picture being of the fireplace in the lounge...  Not particularly inviting!  Just a column of red bricks, an old carpet, and slate surrounds.  But hey, why not.  Investigate all options and all that.

Turns out it was a pretty good option.  It's an old house, likely built in the 60s or so, with a very large yard.  It hasn't seen much ongoing maintenance, but is solid and honest.  The yard.. well that's going to keep me out of mischief for a very very long time.  It has been badly neglected for probably 10 years or more.  There are morning glory and Mexican trumpet vines covering just about everything, to the point where you don't know what tree or bush is lurking underneath.  The top corner of the yard has been overtaken by rampant vine-type spreading hedge - a double-garage worth of space.  The bottom corner I can't even get to, through what used to be a vine-covered arbour but is now simply a mass of undergrowth and overgrowth and 20 foot trees!

But there's something about this place...

I don't know how to explain it, but I was glad to close the door on the previous house.  Perhaps it was the resident ghost, or the leaking roof / walls / windows, or the badly-built on additions, or ... well, I don't know what.  I'm just happy to be out of there for some odd reason, as much as I loved the place when we first moved in.

Here, on the other hand, things feel completely different.  The atmosphere is lighter, calmer, less troubled - although we have issues with pollen and dust that have us sneezing and wheezing (to be sorted bit by bit).  I'm more content here, happier.  Maybe it has to do with the amount of greenery around me, or that we're closer to the mountain, higher up the hill.  Perhaps it's that I like being on a mission - and here I clearly have a mission ahead of me to transform our space.  Or maybe it's just the room to breathe.

But I simply can't wait to get home each day, to go water the newly planted herb garden, the variety of plants in pots from my previous homes, the newly-freed-from-the-hedge lemon tree, the still-to-be-pruned almond tree.  I love checking up on what birds, lizards and butterflies are hanging around the plum and prune trees, seeing which of the hibuscus bushes are blooming today, watching the unafraid guinea-fowl peck and scratch their way up to the top of the yard and roost for the night without worrying about me nearby.  I have a birdbath outside my dining room, and the bird feeder that has seen two previous residences.  Not only have the white-eyes and doves discovered the water and food, but the two kinds of robins love the bonemeal that ends up on the feeder, as do the pair of squirrels and family of quiet rats that tiptoe along the hedge from the neighbour's each night to sample the bird's buffet. We have a gigantic gymnogene that occasionally drops out the sky to bend the treetops.  There's a rash of gekos everywhere.  There are sunbirds and sugarbirds sap-sucking the fallen plums, with a white-barred emperor butterfly hitting the ground-level stuff.  There's an irrigation system lurking on the entire property - if we can just find where it starts/ends...  The agapanthus are blooming in the shadows, and yesterday I found out I have an Australian Tea Tree out front, with a few hundred bulbs of some unknown plant hiding in the lawn nearby (growing one out to see what it is).  Last week I discovered we had an additional pedestrian gate.  The week before I found out there may be a yellow-wood in the top hedge that wants uncovering.  This place is a constant surprise and delight.

Then there's the room available to plot and scheme.  Once the clearing-up has happened, there is more than enough space for a good veggie garden to add to the fruit trees and keep us eating free, good food.  There's room to park the Landy duo as well as our work vehicles.  There's space to go watch the stars from a remarkably dark corner at night.  And so very much more.

This is a challenging place to live.  We have an interior that has not changed since the house was built - but it's solid and works (except for the oven, which blows the mains).  We have an exterior that has been left to its own devices - but provides endless entertainment / hard flippin slog / fun.  We have nice neighbours (one of whom seems to enjoy the odd Saturday afternoon live music with friends).  We have a non-leaking roof over our head and solid walls that are not crumbling with mould.  We have him space and her space, and us space.

This Old House, I think, is going to be a good place to live.

(the Top Gate before)

Habitual gardener

You can't supress a gardener forever..

Because our time in this house is limited, I have strongly resisted doing the many things I wanted to do in our garden.  So much so that lawn mowing has not been high on the agenda... but we're getting there.  (Amazing how many little creatures live among grass, wild flowers and the occasional weed if you leave them in peace)

Today was the first truly hot day of Spring though.  Not a day to stay indoors.

I had a bit of work to do first, but spent the latter part of the day sorting out the neglected pool, then throwing water at my heat-drooping plants.  Before I learnt we'd be moving, I invested in a couple of punnets of assorted yellow, purple and white violas, with a few lavendar dianthus on the side.  They joined some of my irises in the "yellow, purple, white" section of the yard.  They've gone nuts next to the bed of naturally-occurring nasturtiums, which also houses a scarce Erepsia lacera rescued from a high site, the root base of a shop-bought celery that has regrown, and a few snippings of assorted grape vine root from three different abandoned fields.  However, the violas were wilting and in desperate need of liquid nourishment!  Off I went with the hosepipe to liven them up.

From there I moved on to my "veggie garden".  When we arrived here, I threw around R300 worth of carefully-selected veggie seeds into a newly-cleared bed, companion-planted to ensure maximum yield.  And then we got busy with work.. and winter arrived... and the snails found a Yippee-Buffet... and the tree roots sprouted under my garden... and I discovered that the guys I had hired to clear the bed had only chopped out the visible bits of ivy that had covered everything - leaving the roots in the ground to pop up and overwhelm what they could.  Disaster, hey.  But you can't keep nature down.  I have a row of spinach.  I have a row of parsley.  I have 8 carrots that struggled bravely on and may make it to eating size.  I have a single marigold left.  I have one more root of shop-bought celery coming up in a bush of new growth.  And two of the bean plants came up - one has only 2 leaves, but one fully-formed bean pod!  All of which also needed watering.

Once I'd done my duty with the hosepipe, I did a bit more investigating and random weed-pulling, as it was just too nice a day to go back indoors.

Under the nasturtiums I discovered that the grape vine sticks I thought long dead, had not only started to grow leaves, but also something that may become grapes!


That got me looking further.  I had dumped another bit of grapevine root under the banana palms where the big spiders live until I decided where to put it - it too had sprouted against all odds!  I quickly cleared out a patch of nasturtiums and replanted it with its mates.  Added in another two bits of grapevine that were lurking in my "rooting pot" (20 litre paint container with water, rooting mix and an assortment of flora I have yet to plant out, repurposed from various gardens and roadsides), gave everything another good sprinkle.

Then I discovered the white mulberry cuttings in the rooting pot were also going nuts with berry production in spite of a lack of leaves and roots - so planted one out near the grapvines to take root.  If it doesn't there are more waiting in the wings.



With this whole moving thing hanging over my head, I have been trying not to garden - I really have.  But getting my hands into soil is not only habitual, it's one of my "happy places".  I love to grow things - especially useful, foody things that I can pluck and serve within minutes.  I love watching them bloom and produce and thrive.  And in spite of seeing my previous garden simply ripped out by the next occupants and paved over, there's still a part of me that insists on putting things in soil.  It's in my DNA.

I don't know what the next occupant here will do.  I don't know if he will fell the trees that feed at least 10 varieties of bird year round in rotation and provide housing for geckos, spiders, and chameleons.  I don't know if he will tear up the garden and pave it over.  I do know I will try to take as many of my plants with me as I can - wherever that may be (and it HAS to have a yard with real ground to put things in.  I will not survive without it).  I know that I'm trying to keep my garden portable for that very reason.  But I also know that plants do much better in soil than in pots.

Yup, I don't know what the future holds.  In the meantime there really is a great joy in these little discoveries, the smell of water on hot ground, and that feeling of earth between your hands.  Better than a therapist's couch and vial of drugs to cure what ails you anyday.

Easy Wholewheat Bread


After repeated cries for the recipe for this via Facebook, here goes!  This is no-knead, one-rise stuff, perfect to get on the go after work and bake before bedtime.

EASY WHOLEWHEAT BREAD

1kg wholewheat flour (eg NuttyWheat)
500ml (2 cups) digestive bran
15ml (3 tsp) yeast granules (1 to 1 1/2 sachet instant yeast)
1 litre (4 cups) warm water - 1 boiling to 3 cold
5ml (1 tsp) sugar
30-60ml (2-4 Tbs) sunflower oil
30ml (2Tbs) honey
10ml (2 tsp) salt
30ml (2Tbs) sesame & sunflower seeds - or to taste

Mix flour and bran in a large bowl.  Mix in salt.

Sprinkle the yeast over 250ml (1 cup) of the warm water, add sugar and leave until frothy (I do this even with the instant yeast sachets, as it blends better).

Add oil and honey to the flour mix, stir in yeast mix, then stir in the remaining warm water a little at a time, until the dough has a heavy dropping consistency (stop adding water when it reaches this).  For the loaves above, it took the entire 4 cups of water in total - and I mixed the final bit in with my hands to get all the flour worked through, which formed a sticky dough.

Divide the dough between 2 - 3 greased loaf pans (I used two pans, and turned each lump of dough over with wet hands a bit to smooth it).  Cover and leave to rise for about an hour until doubled in size (I stuck mine in a just-on oven, but in summer I pop them into the nearest car parked in the sun).

Preheat oven to 180C.  Sprinkle loaves with seeds (I did this before rising).  Bake for 35-45 minutes until loaves sound hollow when tapped.

Turn out onto a cooling rack and try not to scoff it all down hot.

NOTE:  this recipe calls for a lot less salt than your commercial loaves will use.  Don't be surprised at the difference in taste.  Also, don't leave out the honey - simply the smell while baking is worth it!!!  I'm sure you could throw in more seeds, a couple of raisins etc to this mix.  It's a simple recipe, open to experimentation.

After-effects

It may be age.  It may be exhaustion.  It may be the antibiotics talking.  Or...

For the past few years I've been working flat-out, every spare moment (nearly) going to two businesses both in the starting-up and getting-bigger phase, along with keeping a household ticking over.  You may think that once you go big, things calm down.  Nope.  Still at it day and night and weekends.  You just have to take a look at my lawn to tell I haven't really been "home" in a while.

And I think it's having an effect I hadn't even considered.

Lately it feels like I'm an idiot.  That my brain simply can't get itself around concepts and intelligent thoughts.  That all I am good for is hard physical manual "donkey-work" labour, that merely requires following instructions and plodding forward.  That I'm no longer capable of forming opinions, thinking out answers to complicated problems, learning new things, or doing any kind of creative forward-thinking. 

I think it's the work schedule, the way I have to keep pushing myself through day after day.  And here's why.

Many years ago I had time to sit and do nothing.  I had time not only to daydream, but to take a single thought and go with it from idea to completion, along with any side journeys that might come up.  I had time to imagine and create, time to indulge in flights of fancy and random acts of creativity.  I had a clear idea of who I was, what I thought, what my dreams and plans were.  I had reams of poetry and stories and sketches, and pages and pages of this blog to show for it. 

Although I've recently invested in a couple of paints and had Favourite Man come carrying canvasses in through the door for me, all but 2 are still blank.  I can't form anything in my head that will translate into art.  All my brain does, day after day, is mundane stuff that doesn't require much processing power.  It's gotten used to not being challenged.  It now no longer handles challenges.  Thoughts are scattered, incomplete, random.  And I feel like an idiot.  I simply can't think properly. 

In short, my brain is unfit.

And yes, age may be a factor.  I'm not remembering things as easily as I used to.  I'm not understanding things as easily as I used to.  I no longer consider myself on the upper side of reasonable intelligence, with a sharp mind.  Mostly it's just all a blur.  I've lost myself.

The scariest part?  I don't know if this is reversible....  This may just be the start of a long, downhill journey that leaves me a drooling vegetable at the end.  This, this feeling right now, while I can still come up with a few words to scribble here, may actually be the best I'll be from here on out.