Monthly Archives: September 2013

Acrylic painting: leaf with pebbles


I’m not much of a painter; I mean, I’ve never been to formal lessons, I only began painting about a year ago, and I haven’t painted very many artworks in that time. So the post that follows may be totally off the mark when it comes to correct ‘technique’. But the proof is in the pudding, and I liked the final results :mrgreen:

My parents ‘commissioned’ a painting from me for their dining room, specifying only the canvas size, the Scripture verse they wanted on it and the general colour scheme they wanted it to match. The browns, greens and oranges in their dining room curtains and other decor immediately made me think of autumn (fall), so that’s where I drew my inspiration.

I knew I wanted to paint a bright autumn leaf with water and pebbles to pick up all the earthy colours in my folks’ room, though I wasn’t sure at first of what perspective would work best. After some time searching the web I found two pics of pebbles and a leaf that I composited together so that they could guide my artwork.

The two pics I smushed together to work from

Then I sketched what I saw onto the blank canvas. I’m sure that’s such an amateurish way to start – I imagine that professional painters would never stoop to marring their canvas with a pencil? – but it’s the only way I know how to get realistic results…

Anyway, here are the steps I took in pictures (which aren’t always so clear; I apologise):

Rough layout of the design sketched in pencil

Rough layout of the design sketched in pencil

Blocking in main areas of colour

Blocking in main areas of colour

Pebbles and leaf on the left, space for water and text on the right

Pebbles and leaf on the left, space for water and text on the right

An opaque blue-grey-white wash of ‘water’ on the right

Adding black shadow lines

Adding black shadow lines

Layering stronger colours in each section

Detail: White lines imply movement and sunlight on water

Detail: White lines imply movement and sunlight on water

Detail: Adding texture to the leaf and pebbles

Detail: Adding texture to the leaf and pebbles

Testing text position with printed template text

Testing text position with printed template text

The completed project

Detail: I finished the water and pebbles with a gloss varnish, but used a matt varnish on the leaf

Detail: I finished the water and pebbles with a gloss varnish, but used a matt varnish on the leaf

If you compare the final artwork to the template photos I started with, you can see a few key differences. I needed the water and pebbles on the right of my canvas to be paler and more washed out so that the text would stand out clearly against the background. I also didn’t replicate the original pebble colours or shapes exactly, though I did dab tiny white spots onto my pebbles to make them look as wet as the originals were.

I’m pretty pleased with the results, and so were my parents 🙂

What do you think?

Goal #12


As you know, I’m not one for posting pics of myself on this blog, but today it’s worth making an exception. I finally achieved Goal #12 on my list of 101 things to do in 1001 days: dye my hair black 😀 I’d been planning to do it as a surprise for Ninja – call it a belated anniversary gift.

Here are two self-portraits I tried to take…

Before: light brown-blonde with a middle parting

Don’t you find it’s tough to get the right expression when taking pics with the camera’s self-timer? You have to set up the shot and then dash to get into position before the 10 seconds are up 😛

After: Blue-black with a fringe

After: Blue-black with a fringe

I was very excited to finally go for this goal. I’m not the type of woman who dyes her hair often. I don’t want to mess up my hair completely, and coloured hair requires a lot of upkeep. The salon introduced me to what they call a ‘soft’ hair colour treatment; it’s basically a semi-permanent hair colour and does less damage to the hair than a permanent hair dye would. We shall see how long it lasts…

I went for a blue-black colour (more clearly visible in direct light) and a short fringe to freshen up my look. I didn’t want to lose too much of the length of my hair, since I’m still working on Goal #11: Grow my hair to my waist. But at the same time I grew tired of waiting for ‘the right time’ to give myself a mini-makeover.

I find that’s a persistent problem in many areas of my life: I’m always waiting for ‘the perfect time’ to do something. I’m always saving my ‘best’ things for use on ‘special’ occasions – instead of enjoying to the full what I have right now, or making an ordinary day special, or achieving the goals that lie within my reach. Gotta work on that 😉

So, was Ninja surprised?

As he came up the stairs he looked up and saw me on the landing.

He stopped short, took two steps backwards, and held his hand to his heart.

‘I’m sorry ma’am,’ he said, ‘I think I’ve come home to the wrong house!’

lol :mrgreen:

Five years of marriage


Hello all, sorry I’ve been so quiet lately… there’s been a stack of stuff going on, much of which I’ve been longing to blog about, but there just never seems to be enough time. ANYway, I’m sure life’s exactly the same for you too 🙂

Anni 1

The other day Ninja and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. As clichéd as it may seem, I can hardly believe how quickly the time has passed since my wedding day 😯

We celebrated the occasion with a fancy romantic dinner at an Italian restaurant recommended to us by a friend. (Another goal worked on: Goal #70, visit 5 new restaurants. This was the third so far.) What a gorgeous dining experience! The restaurant is Café del Sol in Olivedale, Johannesburg, and here’s what we enjoyed for our three courses of the meal…

Anni 2

My starter

To start the evening I ordered the Italian Primavera Rolls – rice pastry rolls filled with real imported Parma Ham, rocket and smoked mozzarella, then deep fried & served with a creamy white wine sauce. They were oh! just incredible! :mrgreen:

Ninja's starter

Ninja’s starter

Ninja chose the tasty Avocado al-Ritz, which involved pan-fried queen prawns dressed in homemade basil pesto mayonnaise, served with avocado, rosa tomatoes and a zesty Parmesan and rocket salad. (I must apologise that some of the pics aren’t that clear; it’s a bit tight trying to focus with a 50mm prime lens on a crop-sensor camera when I’m stuck at the table and can’t ‘zoom with my feet’! And I didn’t spend too much time taking pics because we were so eager to start eating.)

My main dish

My main dish

I was tempted by just about everything on the menu, but since our friend had specifically suggested we try the risottos, I obeyed. I ordered the Porcini Mushroom Risotto, which is a warm creamy mix of earthy Porcini mushrooms, green peas and a drizzle of truffle oil. I was not disappointed at all, but I’d forgotten how filling a risotto can be! Next time I would definitely ask for a half portion.

My man's main meal

My man’s main meal

Now, I ain’t no steak-chompin’ cowgirl, but whoah! Ninja’s main course was fantastic! He didn’t take long to choose the Lamb Rack (which Café del Sol rightfully claims is one of their bestsellers) – 400g of French trimmed lamb rack served on Porcini mushroom and pea risotto with a deep & delicious red wine jus. That meat just melted in our mouths (Ninja was benevolent enough to let me taste a bite).

And then came the best part…

My dreamy dessert

My dreamy dessert

…the sweet treats! To round off the delicious evening, I picked the Amaretto Semi Freddo: creamy and cool, this homemade delight is drowned in the Italian liqueur Amaretto & garnished with crunchy Amaretti Biscotti. Say it with me: ‘Ahhhhh…!’ It was so good that when I took my first bite I had to hold up a hand to stop Ninja in the middle of his sentence, just so I could close my eyes and enjoy the exotic flavours. Yeah, I literally did that. Poor man 😉

Ninja's 'dessert'

Ninja’s ‘dessert’

You’d be right if you thought that looked like a starter. It’s the Haloumi Stack that my funny hubby ordered for ‘dessert’. (You see? I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that Ninja doesn’t do dessert. He wouldn’t know a sweet tooth if it bit him in broad daylight!) Still, what mattered was that he was just as happy with his meal’s ending as I was with mine…

Ninja & Zest ~ 5 years

Ninja + Zest ~ married 5 years!

…and that we’re both even happier together now than we were when we started this journey five years ago 🙂

Look what I got!


Yesterday I was given a truly thoughtful gift. If you want to know anything about me, know that I love gifts. Big or small, free or fancy, I love them all 😀 I love giving them and I love getting them, and nothing beats a gift that’s both personalised and handmade!

A very thoughtful gift

A very thoughtful gift

A colleague of mine, Elise, does pottery and has recently discovered the cuteness of ratties (through wild rats invading her kitchen and all my blog posts of pet rats). Look at this beautiful ratty teapot she made for me!

'Robert the Rat' teapot

‘Robert the Rat’ teapot

It’s named ‘Robert the Rat’ after her nickname for one of the cheeky wild rats that moved into her kitchen. Elise has a real heart for animals and it took weeks before Robert and his family were kindly and humanely removed to their rightful place outside the house. During that time Elise came to appreciate the lively little vermin for their better side 😉

Rat detail on the teapot

Rat detail on the teapot

This has to be one of the coolest gifts ever. Not only is it a cheerful sunshine yellow; it’s also only the second time a friend has acknowledged my love for these critters with a gift (the other was a pink mouse-and-bunny-themed receiver blanket given to me by my best friend when we got our girl rats; she searched everywhere to find a baby blanket that didn’t have predators on it!)

Rat-themed teapot

Rat-themed teapot

I think this counts towards Goal #53 on my new list, don’t you? :mrgreen:

Thank you Elise!

Rats at play


A few pics from our rats’ first week with us…

Moon: 'Argh, my brothers are so noisy!'

Moon: ‘Argh, my brothers are so noisy!’

Moon is still the little loner we first thought him to be. He has a very sweet personality but he’s always doing the opposite of what the other three are getting up to. He likes this corner of the cage where he can groom in relative peace.

Garden games

Garden games

While cleaning the cage (again!) this week, I decided to entertain the rats with their Ratty Eden. They had a blast tasting the soil and munching the pet grass. Here you can see Moon, Vodka and Knight. The perspective of this pic doesn’t show it, but Knight is still the smallest guy. What a sweetie though 🙂

Mishka: 'MY glass pebble!'

Mishka: ‘MY glass pebble!’

Mishka was fascinated by the blue glass pebbles I’d dotted around the garden. As you can see, this rat tests everything with his teeth. He’s the first chewing rat we’ve had – in one short week he’s chewed bits of metal, perspex and wood from the cage fittings, as well as several rawhide treats, cardboard boxes, his water bowl and anything else he can find 🙄

Moon nomming soil with one hand

Moon nomming soil with one hand

Ninja’s boys are very cute with their hands, often drinking and eating with only one hand. It’s adorable to watch them scoop water from their water bowl and lick it off their fingers or wash their faces with it!

Vodka: 'Ahh, rawhide FTW!'

Vodka: ‘Ahh, rawhide FTW!’

If you ever doubted that pet rats are like small pet dogs, just throw a couple of rawhide chew toys into the cage and sit back to watch. The rats leap on these tough treats and each drag theirs off a safe distance away, angling their bodies away from potential thieves.

Vodka, Knight and Mishka

Then they settle down with determination to gnaw those treats to shreds. They make short work of the hard rawhide and the first to finish will usually venture around to those who are still busy, looking for leftovers and trouble 😛

Moon with his munchies

Moon with his munchies

Little Knight is quite a vocal ratty, at first seeming like the victim most picked on. We thought it might be because he’s so small… but after a few days of observation we realised that he’s often the one to start the scuffles, sidling up to one of his bigger brothers and snatching away the food they’re eating! All of which prompted us to sing him this rhyme:

Tiny tot, tiny tot

Looks so innocent

But he’s not!

Mishka and Moon: ‘This gap ain’t big enough for the both of us!’

For me, the cutest moments with the rats are not just when they seem almost human in their antics, but also when they’re being so very thoroughly ratty. Take the pic above: give them one night with a cardboard box and they’ll chew a stereotypical round hole in the side… and then all try to squeeze through the gap at the same time! :mrgreen:

Rest in peace faithful Flea


Yesterday we had our old Flea put to sleep 😦 Ninja and I couldn’t bear it anymore to see her struggling so much; the smallest movement became a flailing effort to our arthritic old ratty. We felt we’d done everything we could, and there comes a point where treatment becomes more stressful for a pet than a peaceful passing would be.

Baby Flea in Ninja's pocket

Baby Flea in Ninja’s pocket

Afterwards we took her to my parents’ garden, to bury her near the spots where Muesli, Scribble and Coffee were laid to rest. Of all the options available to pet owners for saying goodbye to their furry friends – be it cremation, burial or leaving the body with the vet – I’ve always felt that burial provides the most honour and closure.

Young Flea in a basket

Young Flea in a basket

Looking back on her 60-odd rat years, I can see how this fancy rat lived up to her proper name, Faith. First, when she was tiny, Ninja named her because she seemed to need a good dose of faith to venture out into the world. Later when she became comfortable roaming around our home we called her Leap of Faith, because she was never afraid to cover great distances in one bound… just like a small black flea, of course 🙂

Old Flea in the same basket

Old Flea in the same basket

Much later, after her tumour removal and the loss of her sister, she continued to live up to her real name, fighting bravely to heal after such an invasive op. And finally, just before her second birthday as she began ageing rapidly, her faithful little personality still led her to wake us up every morning for breakfast, even if she could only just drag her tired legs around.

Flea enjoying sweet papaya

Flea enjoying sweet papaya

Another thing that I loved about Flea was that she always seemed – if one can say this of a rat – grateful for the smallest thing. Towards the end when I had to pre-chew all her meals and wipe her face with a cloth because she could no longer groom herself, she would always brux and boggle happily in thanks afterwards. Ninja and I got to have many very sweet moments with the old lady as she cuddled with and slept by us for long periods.

Faith ~ 25 Aug 2011 to 11 Sept 2013

Faith ~ 25 Aug 2011 to 11 Sept 2013

Rest in peace our sweet old Flea. You were the softest ratty I’ve ever kissed and I loved your beautiful fluffy and colourful coat. You showed us the very best side of girl ratties and left us with so many funny and heartwarming memories.

I’d like to share with you a poem that was given to us by the vet yesterday (it’s marked as anonymous so I don’t know who to attribute it to). It was a blessing to me and I hope it’ll bring comfort to you if you’ve also had to make that tough decision to say goodbye to a furbaby. (But I warn you, keep the tissues handy!)

If it should be…

If it should be that I grow frail and weak

And pain should keep me from my sleep

Then you must do what must be done

For me, the last battle can’t be won

You will be sad – I understand

Don’t let your grief then stay

For this day, more than all the rest

Your love and friendship stands the test

We’ve had so many happy years

What is to come can hold no fears

You’d not want me to suffer, so

When the time comes, please let me go

We’ve been so close, we two

Through these years

Don’t let your heart

Hold any tears

Take me where my needs they’ll tend

Only stay with me until the end

Hold me firm and speak to me

Until my eyes no longer see

I know in time you too will see

It is a kindness you do to me

Although my tail its last has waved

From pain and suffering I’ve been saved

Don’t grieve that it should be you

Who has to decide this thing to do

Vinyl car window decals


Has the ‘My Family’ car-window-sticker craze hit your country too? In South Africa it’s become very popular to represent your family members on the back of your car with vinyl decals. The cute little line drawings can show off your human and animal family members, and it’s always fun to see what other drivers have when you’re stuck behind them in traffic!

Anyway, so here are ours:

"My Family" window stickers

“My Family” window stickers

There’s Ninja with his biking helmet, me with my books, and four ratties to represent all our rats, past, present and future.

I think this is just such a fun trend 🙂

Welcome home party


Our new ratties are settling in very well so far. Yesterday I threw them a welcome home party with delicious treats… here are a few pics 🙂

Rats and snacks everywhere!

Because they’re still new and very fast and skittish when they’re out their cage, we can’t let them roam freely yet. So their party was confined to the couch. They’re on the go constantly, which means group shots are virtually impossible. Instead, I aimed for individual pics (with their body weights included, for interest’s sake).

Knight – 190g

Moon – 200g

Moon – 200g

Vodka – 220g

And the massive munchkin…

Mishka – 250g

Mishka – 250g

Someone from our rat club actually asked if they were adults or babies, because they’re so big for only 8 weeks of age! An average rat (especially adult females) only weighs between 200 and 300 grams. So I’m sure these are going to grow into huge squishies 😀

I mustn’t have a favourite, and I don’t, because they each have something unique and lovable about them. But I can’t deny that I’m smitten with Mishka as my first dumbo. Those huge ears are ridiculously cute!

Sometimes they make him look all sweet and innocent…

Party 7

Mishka’s “I can do no wrong” look

… and other times they make him look like an evil mastermind!

Mishka's "scheming goblin" look

Mishka’s “scheming goblin” look


New pets: first impressions


We’ve had our new pet rats for less than a day, and they’ve spent more time in the cage than with us (so we can give them a chance to settle in), but we’ve already formed a few first impressions of their distinct personalities 🙂 No doubt these will change and change again as they outgrow their insanely fast young energy, but for now you can meet them as they seemed to us on day one:


Cute, small and as lightning-fast as his lightning blaze would suggest, Moon immediately struck us as the most playful of the bunch. We gently poke his side with one finger and he blitzes around the cage, only to return in seconds for more fun. I’ll have to work hard to get some in-focus shots of this little blur! His body clock also seems out of synch with his brothers’, as when they’re asleep, he’s bouncing off the walls…

Newbies 13

Newbies 14


The slightly leaner and smaller of my boys, Vodka has the ‘rattiest’ face of them all. His long nose and beady eyes just spell ‘vermin’ to us (in the cutest sense, of course!), and we love it. So far he’s seemed to be a smart little guy – the first to discover the treats stashed in the cardboard egg carton, for example. And last night he nestled in my layers of clothes and sat quietly looking out at the world. Ahhh 🙂

Newbies 16

Newbies 15


The teeniest of them all, Moon’s adorable brother Knight was quickly redubbed Saint Knight. He really seems like a sweetie! He may still be little for now (since he and his brother came from a larger litter, whereas my boys were from a very small litter so there was less competition for their mommy’s milk), but I can already see him growing into a handsome prince like his dad, Salix. He even has the same white chin-spot, which melts my heart 🙂 Knight seems gentle and quietly confident, and seems to love people!

Newbies 12

Newbies 11

Cute Knight with his brothers scuffling in the background

Cute Knight with his brothers scuffling in the background


My first dumbo ratty is the biggest boy of all, with a huge head and ears that remind me of a hammerhead shark, lol! I think he thinks he’s the boss because of his size, but the smaller rats aren’t afraid to take him on in a playfight. Like Vodka, he might also have a naughty streak (my previous rats Muesli and Coffee were the same, so it wouldn’t surprise me – I seem to know how to pick the crazies!), but he clearly loves investigating people too 🙂 He was the first to find and start stashing food yesterday, but also the first to want to leave the cage to meet us.

Newbies 9

Newbies 8

Thanks for journeying with me through the process of getting these boys 🙂 It’s going to be great fun watching these guys grow up. Right now they move so fast they make my head spin (it seems like their enormous cage is only just big enough for all that energy), but as they get used to their new home and new family, I’m sure I’ll have many more pics and stories to share.

And as for Flea? Our poor oldie is not impressed by the sounds and smells of the new arrivals. We’ve let her sniff our hands after handling the boys, but she just stiffens up, backs away and crawls back into her bed 😐 Poor old girlie… her age and frailty form a stark contrast to the hyperactivity of the newbies. We’ll make sure to feed and cuddle her first and keep giving her the attention and care she needs, until the Lord takes her little spirit or Ninja decides it’s time to say goodbye.

But for now, we have five ratties – the most we’ve ever owned at once – and each one is a blessing in their own unique way 🙂

Goal #69: Get more pet rats – Done!


I can happily cross off the 69th goal on my 101 things in 1001 days list now, because yesterday our new ratties came home 😀

After last weekend’s delay and the long road we’ve travelled on this blog through each stage of their growth, it’s wonderful to welcome them home at last.

The airline that flies live animals has a special collection point called the Pet Lounge. It’s a simple building near the cargo bays, with a reception area and couches and a coffee table. Ninja and I got there an hour early so we could have a relaxed wait.

The collection point

The collection point

Soon one of South Africa’s other pedigree rat breeders (the lady who bred our sweet Coffee and Flea) joined us, as she also had bubs to collect from this Wheatfields bunch. We got chatting about all things ratty until a crate arrived bustling with boys!

A box of boys

A box of boys

There were about 8 or 9 boys that flew together in that crate, while a separate crate arrived holding 1 or 2 girls. I snapped a quick pic before we opened the box and began figuring out whose rat was whose. We didn’t have much trouble picking out our bubs – after months of staring longingly at their photos, their markings were pretty much emblazoned on our brains!

Our boys

Our boys

We quickly separated our four out into their travel cage. Doing so it just hit me once again how beautifully these babies have been raised. You might normally think twice about sticking your arm into a crate of wriggling rodents, but these animals already know and love people. No nipping at all – only the flashing of dozens of curious whiskers everywhere at once! There wasn’t a squeak or scuffle to be heard as we plucked them out one at a time to check their markings.

Finally, after chatting a bit more with the other people who’d arrived to fetch ratties, Ninja and I packed up our kittens and headed home. It’s a fair distance from the airport to our place, and it was a very hot day. So as Ninja drove I sprinkled the rats with drops of water as they flailed around in the cage at my feet, clearly tired out by their hectic day but still curious about everything happening around them.

We got them home as fast as we could and once inside their new mansion, they went straight for the water.

Cool relief at the water bowl

Cool relief at the water bowl

Knight and Moon scooped up water with their little hands, to drink and to wipe all over their heads as a cool face wash!

Knight and Moon

Knight and Moon

We’ve placed two water bottles and one water bowl in the corner of their cage, which they figured out instantly.



Once they were cooled down, the investigating began! Ninja’s nickname for them – scurries – couldn’t be more accurate 🙂