Happy 1st birthday my boys!

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On Friday our beautiful boys turned one year old. Hard to believe they’ve gone from tiny, hairless bubs to fat, fluffy adult rats so quickly. To celebrate I decided to act like the crazy rat lady I am and throw them a little party!

Their presents were simple: an empty cardboard box and loads of paper to shred:

Rat party 1

Of course there were also plenty of edible treats (some for the humans and some for the rats):

Party biscuits

Party biscuits

Crumpets, veg platters and yoghurt

Crumpets, veg platters and yoghurt

The ratties even had a special guest – a friend who would actually call herself more of a crazy cat lady, but who (a) loves all animals and (b) didn’t bring her kitties along ;) She did bring lots of delicious treats for the boys though: yoghurt, seed mix, giant raisins and banana chips. Fine dining for days to come!

We set up all sorts of hidey-holes and items of interest on the floor and let the boys loose to explore. The party was off to a slow start for my munchkin Mishka, who hid in this basket to nibble on a crumpet…

In case you’d ever wondered what a heart rat looks like…

Some of the birthday boys were ever so polite as they begged for various treats…

Ninja's heart rat, Knight

Ninja’s heart rat, Knight

… while others were, um, noticeably less well-mannered!

Voddy staking his claim

Voddy staking his claim

After lots of happy waddling around the floor, Teddy Bear decided to watch the proceedings from another safe spot:

Silly Teddy

Silly Teddy

And our Moony Moonbeam busied himself with dragging away several biscuits, stashing crumpets out of human reach and chowing down on all the sunflower seeds.

Rat party 8

Rather sweetly, our tame wild mouse (no, that’s not a contradiction) also wanted his share of the party food. Here he is snacking happily on a crumpet (he wasn’t too keen on the banana chippie):

Rat party 9

I really love all my beautiful furbabies :)

Knowing that pet rats live such short lives, I think it’s worth making a fuss for their birthdays. So far we’ve only ever had one rat make it to 2 years old, but here’s hoping these boys will all stay healthy and live to celebrate another birthday next year…

Goal #49: Our housewarming party

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Ah, now I know we are well and truly HOME! :)

Ninja and I finally managed to arrange our housewarming party, two months after we’d moved into our new place. It took the format of a tea party in the garden, because there was no way to squeeze 20-odd visitors inside our little cottage! In answer to prayer it was a gorgeous day out – clear blue Joburg winter skies; windstill and sunny – and so wonderful to have our dear friends gathering at our new address.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to go all out like I did with Ninja’s ninja party, but between my mom and I we baked up a delight of treats for the guests. A friend of mine also helped cater, providing some amazing savoury snacks to balance all our sweeties ;)

Decor-wise I didn’t do too much other than focus on the main colours: red, white and mint/sea green. I also printed out some home-related scripture verses to stick up around the cottage (Psalm 127:1, Heb 3:4, Josh 24:15 and Prov 24:3–4). Other than that we just made sure the cottage was clean and the ratties were safely out of the way, and then we held an open house from morning tea time (11 a.m.) to afternoon tea time (4 p.m.)!

It was a lovely way to accomplish Goal #49 on my 101 things in 1001 days list.

Here are a few pics from the day, starting with our soldier

Housewarming 1

Of course our soldier was involved in the celebrations

Housewarming 2

I found the perfect housewarming napkins

Housewarming 3

A tea party in the sunshine

Housewarming 4

Mini biscuits, sweets and dried sausage sticks

Housewarming 5

Shortbread

Housewarming 6

Vanilla biscuits, ginger biscuits, cheese biscuits and coffee biscotti

Housewarming 7

Crispy oat biscuits

Housewarming 8

Old-style soetkoekies – a South African classic

Housewarming 9

Butterscotch biscuits with various flavours

Housewarming 10

Plain and wholewheat rusks

Throwing this party just reminded me how much I love spoiling the people I love :) I definitely need to find more excuses to play hostess, even if it’s to fewer folks at a time!

Faith like… tomatoes?

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Look at this bowl of perfect, ripe cherry tomatoes. There’s a story behind these tomatoes – a story that’s symbolic of my journey of faith.

Tomatoes 1

I think I’ve mentioned before that there was a time, two-and-a-bit years ago, when I felt I’d reached the end of my last shred of hope. I was depressed, overworked, faithless and exhausted. Though the seed of my belief in Christ had been planted many years before that, and had bloomed for a season, it had been choked and strangled by the cares of the world and the busyness of my life.

Around that time, I wrote down the following on an autumn day…

Tomatoes 5

Autumn 2012

The days are shorter, suddenly; the nights colder. The top branches of various trees are holding bright orange and rusty red leaves aloft; but the grass isn’t quite brown yet, and it’s still sunny and warm during the day.

My spirit is struggling within the routines of my city-bound body. I dream of russet meadows and foreign autumns, and I long for freedom. My life is lost like so much smoke in the dirt and noise of the city. I yearn for places I have never visited; heart-homes I only think I’ve seen.

I catch my expression in the morning mirror – sour at the instant knowledge that it will likely never be my lot to live other than I do now. I can’t see why or how I got here; I don’t feel I chose this path.

As I drive down the road in the morning, gusts of wind create swirling eddies of leaves, gathering briefly in the gutter before being blown away again. I feel as though I was made for a life that is lived in harmony with the seasons, but I can’t say why I feel that, since I’ve never lived that way before.

This all began when I went out into the sunshine, to pick warm, sweet, home-grown cherry tomatoes….

The tomatoes I was talking about there were from my parents’ garden. I’d been visiting my folks and was tasked with picking cherry tomatoes for our lunch that day. I remember standing in the sunshine and living fully in the moment as I closed my eyes and popped one warm tomato berry after the other into my mouth. (Don’t worry, I did save a few for our lunch!)

It was a moment so diametrically opposed to the rest of my life at the time – stuck in a stuffy office, working late and on weekends, dead tired from the endless banal cycle of my days – that it burned into my brain. From that one moment I began to dream differently, realising that there was a better life to be had than the one I was stuck in. After that autumn day Ninja and I began to research how we could move into a home with a garden and closer to our friends and family. We also began looking for a way out of my unfair work situation.

Yup. A good cherry tomato can have that effect! LOL

I believe the Lord began a work in my heart that day, restoring my faith and renewing my hope in His plan for my life. Fast forward two years later, and I can see the fruit of what He began that day.

Not only did God grant me a way out of my situation, giving me a season at home as a housewife and preparing a new home for me; He even went as far as growing a tomato plant for me!

Tomatoes 2

That little green tuft in the dry soil is the cherry tomato plant that ‘randomly’ sprang up while we were building our home. No one planted it – even though it landed up exactly where I’d planned to start my own veggie patch. We never watered it, either, or cared for it in any way… but it took root, and grew into this:

Tomatoes 3

So now, every few days, another bowlful of tomato berries ripens and waits to be picked. Which means that every few days I have the opportunity to relive that pivotal moment I had two autumns ago, and savour the sweet provision of the One who had a plan all along. It’s a reminder of where I was before; a reminder that strengthens my faith for the new worries and troubles I’m facing now.

Tomatoes 4

‘Taste and see that the Lord is good!’ ~ Psalm 34:8

I know that wasn’t quite what the psalmist was referring to in Psalm 34:8, but for me the flavour of the Lord’s goodness tastes remarkably similar to a handful of cherry tomatoes…!

Distractions

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Tulip

Yikes! It sure has been ages since I last posted! As always, I’ve missed my sunny scrapbook. Here’s why I’ve been quiet:

Firstly, I’ve been dealing with the sudden news that my best friend will soon be moving halfway across the country. It was a surprise to all of us, and I’ve been through the full range of emotions since the announcement. I started off being really sad and – quite frankly – self-focused about the whole thing. Friends like this special lady don’t come along very often in a lifetime, and I felt bereft at the thought that we wouldn’t just be able to pop in to see each other at any time. But once I got over myself, I could see what a brilliant answer to prayer this move would be for El.

In many ways, this is exactly what we’d been praying for together for her situation… though of course we hadn’t imagined such a drastic change of scenery! But I can see how the Lord is leading my sweet sister, and now I’m genuinely happy and excited for her. On a practical level, I’ve been busy helping her clean and pack and take trash to the dump whenever I get the chance. It’s been a wonderful time for us to realise (a) how much we’re going to miss each other and (b) how little actually has to change in our friendship. I’m already saving for my first trip to visit her in her new home, and she hasn’t even left yet!

The second thing that’s come up to test my faith (what a year!!) is that my Ninja may be out of a job again at the end of this month :( For reasons completely out of his control, he now has to begin the jobhunting process all over again. It’s pretty tough to stay chipper when faced with this twice in half a year, but we are convinced that the Lord is working in our lives with a purpose. Even if the only good that comes out of all these trials is stronger faith, it’s worth it. So on that front we continue to pray, hope and trust – and apply for work when reasonable opportunities arise.

Then, the third distraction that’s been keeping me away from my PC is, thankfully, a good one. I’ve been reading been absolutely enthralled by Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. Have you read it? I saw the movie first, but the book is something else altogether. If everyone wrote like this author does, I’d never want to close my eyes for the wonder and pathos and pleasure and poignancy of the world around me. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long while; just such a fresh take on narration and description, instead of tired old recycled sentences.

And I haven’t finished it yet. So with that, I think I’ll grab my book and head for bed now on this freezing cold night in Johannesburg :) Hope it’s warmer where you are!

Zest

Goal #28: A-maize-ing!

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Some weekends ago Ninja and I enjoyed a day at Honeydew Mazes with my best friend and her family. This was to celebrate El’s husband’s birthday, to treat their kiddies to an outdoor adventure and to check off another goal on my list :)

Goal #28: Navigate a maze

Goal #28: Navigate a maze

The Honeydew A-maize-ing Mazes is a fantastic concept: make a huge maze out of maize plants, set up quizzes for teams to solve along the way, and change the design each year so it never gets old. The 2014 maze is in the shape of a dinosaur, and there’s a huge inflatable dino at the entrance to welcome visitors too.

Honeydew A-maize-ing Mazes 2014

Honeydew A-maize-ing Mazes 2014

In addition to the main maize maze, there was a very clever smaller maze made of trimmed bushes, as well as several entertaining puzzles and games to trick our minds in the communal picnicking area.

I was most impressed by the cheerful, friendly staff and the way the site caters for all ages. Apparently the Honeydew Mazes is one of Joburg’s best places to take kids – second only to the Gold Reef City theme park. I can see why parents would enjoy bringing their children to the mazes… the place makes everyone feel like a kid again in a way. But even if you’re in Jozi and don’t have kids, the mazes are just as much fun for adults too.

At the end of the long sunny day, we all said we’d definitely like to go back again sometime :)

Happy World Baking Day!

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Yay! Today was World Baking Day. It’s a fairly popular day, but I hope it’s also obscure enough to count towards Goal #36 on my list!

Biscotti 1

The premise behind World Baking Day is that those who love baking will pledge to bake something for someone in their lives, and give a reason. I would’ve liked to have baked for Ninja, as a token of my appreciation for how hard he’s been working as my provider, but… well… to bake something he’d truly enjoy, I’d have to bake little more than a plain vanilla cake! And of course I wanted to be a bit more adventurous than that ;)

So I’ve decided to bake for my parents and my colleagues: my parents coz they’ve helped us have a new home, and my work team just coz they’re such a great bunch of people :)

To celebrate this occasion I chose to try out a new recipe from a trusted source: Sharon Glass’s delicious book Sweet Endings. I picked her White Chocolate Coffee Biscotti, and for a good (though strange) reason. During my battle with eczema over the last few months, I’ve begun discovering a few dietary triggers that seem to cause my skin to flare up noticeably.

One of the biggest triggers seems to be caffeine. I’d suspected a negative reaction to it a while ago, but only now that I have actual eczema have I been able to see direct results of consuming caffeine. Anyway, not to blether on about that… The reason I’m mentioning all this is that the biscotti I baked today were a deliberate farewell-to-caffeine treat for me. If I’m going to get rid of this eczema I’ll have to remove all such stimulants from my diet, so I decided to quit chocolate and coffee… after this one last treat.

PS – Yes, I know most white choc has no cocoa and thus no caffeine in it, but I didn’t want to push my luck with my skin by choosing a recipe with proper chocolate in it :)

White Chocolate Coffee Biscotti

Recipe © Sharon Glass

Ingredients

1 3/4 C flour

1 C sugar

1 t baking powder

pinch of salt

2 t Nescafé (instant) coffee

2 t cocoa powder

60 g cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2 eggs

1 t vanilla essence

100 g toasted plain cashews

125 g white chocolate, chopped into chunks

1/2 C glacé cherries

Method

1. Preheat oven to 170 °C. Grease and line a baking tray.

2. Process the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, coffee and cocoa in a food processor.

3. Pulse in the butter and then the eggs.

4. Add the vanilla essence, then process until mixture makes a sticky soft dough.

5. Remove from the machine and mix in the white chocolate chunks, toasted cashews and whole cherries.

6. Divide into 3 and roll into logs, rubbing hands with some flour if dough is too sticky.

Biscotti 2

 

7. Place on lined baking tray and flatten logs (not too wide). Sprinkle with a little sugar.

8. Bake for approx. 25 minutes. Remove each log and cut into slices.

9. Place back onto baking tray, cut side up.

10. Lower heat to 140 °C and bake for another 10 minutes or until biscotti are slightly hardened.

11. Remove from oven and cool.

Biscotti 3

My notes

As usual, this Sharon Glass recipe does not disappoint!

  • The method is straightforward. At first I thought my dough was a bit dry and not sticky enough, but that may be because I was using large instead of jumbo eggs. In the end it was a tad crumbly but still worked.
  • The flavour is fantastic. The coffee taste is subtle, and the cherries and chocolate provide sudden bursts of sweetness that perfect these super biscuits.

There are two changes I would make, though, if I made this again.

  • Firstly, I’d chop the nuts, chocolate and cherries into smaller bits. It was difficult to slice the biscotti neatly with so many large chunks getting in the way.
  • Secondly, I’d bake the biscuits much longer. Leaving them to dry in a gentle warm oven (about 50 °C or so) and turning them every so often helps to make them hard like true biscotti should be.

Yum! I’d recommend these crunchy treats for teatime on any day, not just World Baking Day :)

Happy baking,

Zest

Mouse about the house

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Hello sun-seekers :)

You might recall me introducing you to a cute fieldmouse that shares our new garden with us. Yes?

Well that same little bundle is almost entirely tame now! He’s grown a bit bigger (but not much) and he sports a beautiful golden coat with smart stripes.

Handsome striped fieldmouse

Handsome striped fieldmouse

This ‘wild’ rodent silently and adorably demands food from my parents every day, especially at lunchtime. If my mom forgets and leaves the kitchen door open, Mousie runs inside to find the humans who, he knows, will be unable to do anything but give in and feed him what he wants!

My mom can now stroke him as he noms away

My mom can now stroke him as he noms away

And what does he want? Nothing but the best Woolworths’ seeded wholegrain loaf for him! He deftly picks out every linseed and piece of cracked wheat, leaving behind a pile of plain breadcrumbs. Watching him, it’s hard to believe how much he can eat in one sitting.

I did a bit of googling on the African striped fieldmouse (Rhabdomys), because I was curious as to why we were seeing so much of him during the day. It turns out that this rodent species is unusual because it’s diurnal, instead of nocturnal like most other mice and rats. It does make for great photo opportunities, I must say!

Almost-tame mouse and almost-tame robin

Almost-tame mouse and almost-tame robin

The first wild creature to begin to trust my parents was the sweet little Cape robin-chat pictured above. He sings for his breakfast, lunch and supper every day – a bit of raw bacon or a small ball of cheese :) Just like the mouse, Robin will take food from my parents’ hands and fly right onto the kitchen gate in order to get attention.

Mousie 4

What amazed me about Mousie is that he didn’t even flinch when I was taking these photos! As you may recall, I only have a 50mm prime lens on my camera (no zoom function), which means that I had to be really close to take a pic like the one above. There I was, crouching like a predator and snapping away in noisy burst mode only 30cm from this tiny wild mouse, yet he barely blinked.

What a blessing God’s beautiful creatures are! And I’m doubly blessed to finally live in a garden as rich as this one :)

The eczema exorcism

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I have to share with you an encouraging update on my recent battle with eczema

The Lord has been gracious to me, answering my prayers for healing and leading me to natural options to try. Topically I’ve been daily treating all the eczema patches on my face and body with the Bee Natural range of honey products. Fantastic balms and butters… even if I never have an eczema outbreak again, I’ll still use these products for my normal skin beauty routine. They’re amazing! :)

In addition, I’ve been taking natural supplements each day to help build good skin from the inside out. The meds include calendula tablets, kali sulph tissue salts and A. Vogel eczema drops. Best of all, I’ve had chances to rest and relax during the last few weeks – which I think has contributed hugely to the improvement I see in my skin. It was obviously related to all the stress I’ve been through this year so far. Plus, while I’ve been away from the office I’ve enjoyed more sunshine and fresh air, both of which are great for skin.

My legs and the other patches are healing slowly. Here’s a pic of the worst patch:Eczema left leg_cr

Now it’s a bit lighter and not nearly as dry, red or itchy, even though it’s still present. But the most marked improvement has been on my face. The red patches on my cheeks and brows have completely disappeared! My skin is only a tiny bit drier than before all this, but I haven’t had a crazy scratching fit in many days. Praise God!

So here’s a happier me ;)

May 2014

Complete with a fluffy ‘do as my weird hair grows out, as well as the new glasses I got in order to fulfil Goal #78 on my new 101 things in 1001 days list :)

I praise the Lord for answering my prayers, and I’ll continue to update you as I see more changes in my skin. It would be so nice to be normal again! I took my healthy skin for granted before this experience, but now I’m motivated to take better care of the fleshy shell I live in ;)

A Mother’s Day tribute with a difference

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On my bedside table sits a beautiful tealight candle holder, inscribed with the words ‘Some people live their whole life through and never find a friend like you’. It’s a gift given to me by my best friend, El, but the words are just as true from me to her.

El

El

This Mother’s Day, instead of a post about my mom (which I’ve done before), I want to write a tribute to El. As a young mother with a lot on her plate, she deserves a little time in the limelight ;)

Firstly, the best thing about my friend is that she’s also my sister in Christ. Despite some very difficult situations she’s had to deal with, she loves the Lord and is always willing to let Him lead her life. She’s been a good example to me in the persistence of her faith; often when I’m all worried or worked up about the way things seem to be playing out, El’s trusting attitude is a reminder that I’m not in control anyway: the Lord is.

Secondly, El is a gem of a friend. No matter what I’m going through, she’s always been interested and supportive and involved. When I got all excited about getting new pet ratties, she went hunting for the perfect rodent-themed receiver blanket. When the eczema started bothering me, she showered me with books, meds and ideas to try to help me heal. When we moved house, she jumped at the chance to help me clean our old flat before we left. Do you have any friends like that? They’re a rare find, aren’t they? :)

Another thing I love about El is how much fun we have together. Whether it’s sharing a family picnic, planning a Valentine’s dinner, colouring our hair, swapping books and movies, throwing a Minnie Mouse party, indulging in KFC Krushers, running a race together or having a sleepover party, you can bet we’ll always find a way to make each other laugh. It’s a blessing to be able to share both the good times and the bad with a true friend.

‘OK,’ I hear you say, ‘but what does this have to do with Mother’s Day?’

Well, as the mom of two beautiful girls, El is also the person who’s taught me more than anyone else about what it takes to be a mom. She and her hubby were the first of our friends to start having children, and I’ve learnt a lot just from watching her handle the challenges that parenting brings. The great thing about El is that even though Ninja and I have no kids (and no plans to change that anytime soon), she’s never let our friendship fade just because we don’t have motherhood in common.

For some reason I’ve always run contrary to my girl friends in that motherhood has never been a goal for me, and I’m thankful that El has accepted that fact instead of trying to change me. Yet I can see that the Lord has used El in my life to mature my feelings about kids. Where previously I was terrified of the responsibility that motherhood represents, now I know that by God’s grace I’d be able to survive it and even enjoy it, if it were ever my lot in life. And if I did fall pregnant my first call would be to my sister El, knowing she’d calm me down and walk that path with me with just the right mix of humour and empathy :P

From El’s experiences I’ve learnt that it’s normal for parents to be more strict with their firstborns and more relaxed with the kids that follow (phew! as the firstborn in my family, I’d always wondered if it was just me…!). I’ve finally understood why new mothers can often talk of little else when their days are consumed with meeting their children’s needs. I’ve seen that adding babies to a marriage has the equal potential to strengthen or weaken the couple, depending on how they handle the changes. And I’ve discovered that children are just as precious as they are expensive; they’re just as adorable as they are difficult.

Watching El, I’ve learnt that mothers are heroes, surviving months of sleepless nights with a smile and cleaning unmentionable things from unmentionable orifices without losing a shred of dignity. I’ve seen that young mothers need support: they need husbands who share the load and parents who take the kids for a while. They need churches who understand if they can’t make it to every service and counsellors who will prayerfully encourage them.

Young mothers sometimes just need snippets of Scripture to uplift them when they don’t have time for drawn-out Bible studies. They need relatives who can help raise their kids right and friends who can remind them that they’re not the sum of their mothering failures (or triumphs!). Above all, they need a God who gives abundant grace when they struggle and fail, especially with those wide eyes and impressionable little minds all around them.

This Mother’s Day, I celebrate my friend El and the lessons she’s unwittingly taught me as she’s learnt to parent her girls. She’d be the first to admit that it’s not an easy road, but it’s a worthwhile journey anyway. I’ve been blessed to be part of it from the sidelines, and whether or not I ever experience motherhood myself, I can definitely say I enjoy being an aunty ;)

And finally, to mothers everywhere: Your role is unique and your responsibility enormous. Thank you for what you do. I salute you!

Have a lovely Mother’s Day :)

Home at last

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Decor

Hello there friends!

I’m back at last, finding a new normal with my Ninja and the fuzzies in our brand new home. Thanks for your patience while I was away; I’ve missed reading your blogs and sending out some cyber scribbles of my own ;)

Wow, what an adventure the past few weeks have been! Moving house sure is messy, whether you do it all in one go or bit-by-bit over many weekends like we did. Towards the end we were sleeping on just a couch cushion on the floor, with no furniture or appliances left except a tiny bar fridge that held only a few meals’ worth of groceries, and clocking hundreds of kilometres driving back and forth between the two homes on weekends. Exhausting.

Our new cottage is also a tad smaller than the flat we left, so once we got here we had to perform a ruthless purge of many of our possessions in order to fit into the new space. Thankfully our move fell over a time of year when South Africans enjoyed four consecutive weeks with at least one public holiday each week. I also took some leave from work, which definitely helped keep me sane :)

Now that the chaos is over and there are only three or four boxes left to unpack, the cottage is finally beginning to feel like home to us. The Lord has been very gracious to us, protecting our homes and vehicles as we moved our possessions across the city from flat to cottage. The weather has also been ideal for getting things done, as it’s cooler but still sunny and pleasant. I also see much mercy in that my job became suddenly busy just before I went on leave, but I was able to take the leave anyway – I wouldn’t have coped very well if I’d been working that hard and moving house.

I’ve gradually begun decorating various rooms as I’ve settled in, and I hope to share some pics with you where I can. I’m still praying for an opportunity to get a wider-angle lens for my beast sometime soon, because my 50mm prime on my crop-sensor cam doesn’t make indoor photography very easy :P But that’s a topic for another day…

For now, it’s great to be back. I have a few updates and stories to share already, so keep an eye out for the sun in your inbox again! :)

Happy days,

Zest