Merry Christmas!

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This is my third Christmas at Vastrap. It’s going to be a quiet one with only Quentin’s parents and his sister Kathryn for lunch tomorrow. Most of my family members are enjoying holidays down at the coast and Ashley is with her mum. Hopefully we will be able to have some fun at the sea in the new year, but that all depends on the wheat harvest being finished on time. Sporadic rain showers make things very unpredictable as the wheat cannot be cut when it’s wet. Quentin is trying his best to get it done as quickly as possible and spent the whole of Sunday combining!

As Christmas is upon us, we are grateful for all our many blessings in the past year. We have been fortunate to spend quality time with family and friends who have visited us often. It’s always such a joy to share our farm experiences with others, especially children who lap up the open space, animals and farm machines! We’ve also met many new friends through our involvement with Boran cattle breeding and I’m so grateful to everyone in Ladybrand who have made me feel so welcome in the community. I started this blog six months ago and really appreciate all of your encouragement and feedback. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. We wish you all a very happy and safe festive season and many blessings for 2013!

The veld has made a quick recovery after all the rain.

The veld has made a quick recovery after all the rain.

Let the wheat harvest begin!

Let the wheat harvest begin!

Combining like mad on a Sunday afternoon.

Combining like mad on a Sunday afternoon.

Offloading wheat into trailers.

Offloading wheat into trailers.

Jars full of biscuits from our cooking exchange.

Jars full of biscuits from our cookie exchange.

Festive fun at the cookie exchange in Maseru.

Festive fun at the cookie exchange in Maseru.

Sundowners with my love.

Sundowners with my love.

Presents under our African inspired sisal Christmas tree.

Presents under our African inspired sisal Christmas tree.

Tree detail.

Tree detail.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Let’s make jam!

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December is apricot time on the farm. When I first moved to Vastrap after our wedding the apricots were in full swing and I instantly conformed to one of the most commonly held stereotypes about farm wives – making jam. Quentin absolutely loves apricot jam and his mother’s jam is the best so I had a lot to live up to. She gave me a few pointers over the two-way radio one morning and after that I was on my own.

Karine’s tips for the perfect apricot jam:

1. If the apricots are sweet and ripe use 750g of sugar to 1kg of apricots.

2. Soak the apricots in the sugar for a few hours or overnight.

3. Do not add any water.

4. Sterlise the bottles in the oven at 100 degrees Celsius and boil the lids in water.

5. Scoop off the foam that develops and stir occasionally as the jam thickens.

6. DO NOT ADD HOT JAM TO COLD BOTTLES!

7. Add a few apricot kernels to each bottle.

I added a bit of lemon juice to that first batch of jam and it turned out really well, but unfortunately I didn’t make nearly enough. I thought I would be able to give it away as gifts to my city friends, but Quentin guarded it jealously and we finished the last bottle in November. The next year I made a LOT more, 15 kilograms worth, so there was plenty to go around. I wouldn’t recommend making such a large batch in one go as it is impossible to divide the sugar evenly between the fruit. It also made a huge mess as my kitchen was in the process of being renovated and I didn’t have any counter tops or lights. Stirring and scooping from from three large overflowing pots was quite an initiation for my new stove!

Appelkoos boom land.

Harvesting from the apricot tree in the middle of the wheat fields.

For the past two years our favourite tree has been completely denuded by baboons so we’ve picked our crop from a very old tree which stands in the middle of one of our crop lands, this year planted to wheat. Our friends Debbie and David Amm were visiting us for the weekend and they helped us with the harvest. Their kids Jordan and Dylan had such fun and all Dylan wanted to do was to find a worm! It’s impossible not to eat plenty of fruit as you pick – 100% organic and so sweet, juicy and delicious!

The master picker.

The master picker on his perch.

A nest among the apricots.

A weaver’s nest among the apricots.

The happy picking team.

The happy picking team.

Perfectly ripe and sweet.

Perfectly ripe and sweet.

Soaked overnight in sugar.

Soaked overnight in sugar.

Scoop off the foam.

Scoop off the foam.

Starting to look like jam.

Starting to look like jam.

The finished product!

The finished product!

Lovely new labels from Macaroon.

Colourful new labels from Macaroon.

A Gift of Rain

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I feel like I’m falling way behind on my blogging. I’ve wanted to post an update of the veggie garden progress for weeks, but other things always seem to get in the way. Like now, I can’t possibly focus on anything else but this weekend’s rain! I was away the whole of last week working in Joburg and Quentin joined me for a weekend visit to a friend’s farm near Klerksdorp. When we got home on Sunday night there was about 60mm (just over 2 inches) in the rain gauge. It was desperately needed as we were starting to run short of food and water for the cattle and the newly planted maize was wilting in the heat. It’s too late for the wheat crop, which is almost ready to be reaped, but hopefully it will be a better season for our summer crops (maize and sunflower).

After a good drenching everything looks brighter and more sparkly and the dusty air has been washed clean. Needless to say, my beloved farmer is in a very good mood! One can get pretty fixated on the weather when one’s livelihood depends on it.

On Monday morning I took the dogs for a long muddy walk. The sky was electric blue and there were puddles all over the place. Coco stayed at home because she was recovering from her third bout of biliary this summer. We were lucky to get home when we did on Sunday because she was looking very poorly and needed medication urgently. She is on the mend, but the poor little thing certainly knows how to look sorry for herself!

Convalescing Coco baby.

Convalescing Coco baby.

A glorious morning at Vastrap!

A glorious Monday morning at Vastrap!

The rocky drive leading to the house.

The rocky drive leading to the house.

Puddles for the first time this summer!

Puddles for the first time this summer!

Tumi, Paris and Patch having a swim.

Tumi, Paris and Patch having a swim.

Passing a lone bull.

Passing a lone bull.

Newly planted maize refreshed after the rain.

Newly planted maize refreshed after the rain.

Replenished dam.

Replenished dam.

Happy bulls chewing the cud.

Happy Boran bulls chewing the cud.

Gumboots!

My gumboots!

Muddy dog prints.

Muddy dog and cattle prints.

Vista.

Farm vista.

The rain came too late for the wheat almost ready to be reaped.

The rain came too late for the wheat almost ready to be reaped.

Water supplies still low.

Water supplies still low.

Christmas Countdown

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It’s that time of year when things have to get more hectic before the slow wind down to Christmas can begin. I’ve been back and forth to Joburg twice in the past week and in between there has been much socializing, cooking, baking, gardening, etcetera! When I drove home on Thursday my mother came back to the farm with me for a few days of well-deserved relaxation. She had not been to Vastrap since February and hadn’t seen the end result of our renovation. Happily she brought some rain with her! Not enough to break the drought, but at this stage we are grateful for every drop.

With my mom at cooking club.

My mom came along to our cooking club meeting on Saturday. For our year-end meeting we decided to bake biscuits and package them in boxes as gifts for the Ladybrand old-age home. I am not a big baker, but I tried really hard to get it right this time. With a little more practice hopefully there will be full cookie tins around the house for Christmas!

We had a great assortment of biscuits, unfortunately not all of them home made because time is in such short supply at this time of year. I made scrumptious Lemon Ginger cookies from the Hot Polka Dot blog. There are some really delicious cookie recipes on that site and she makes it seem so simple. I also made Marachino Cherry Chocolate biscuits using the Marachino cherries I bought at the cherry festival. They were real death by chocolate! We packaged 50 boxes of biscuits, which were happily received at the home this morning.

An assortment of biscuits.

Hard at work boxing biscuits.

Heidi and Adri.

Ready to go.

Heidi’s meringue roulade – our reward for hard work!

While we were busy over-indulging in lunch, Heidi’s husband Charles stopped by on his long Saturday ride around the district. This didn’t make us feel guilty about our lunch at all. Neither did the fact that we could not walk it off later because of the rain!

Charles and Heidi.

Too soon it was time to pack up and drive my mom back to Joburg. After the rain on Saturday I woke up early on Sunday for a thorough garden inspection. Getting into the Christmas spirit I could not resist picking some flowers and gathering some herbs, lemons and zucchini to bring back as gifts to the city. The hydrangeas are in full bloom now, a sure sign that December is near. In Afrikaans they are known as “Krismisrose” or “Christmas Roses” and they always make me think of summer holidays at the coast in Natures’ Valley. I also picked my very first Dahlia flowers. I can’t wait to see how they turn out this year, because I planted another whole patch of Dahlia’s in different colours, which are starting to come up. There should be no shortage of flowers for the house by Christmas. A very happy thought indeed!

Krismisrose.

The first Dahlia bush to flower.

Dahlia’s for my sister – the more you pick them the more they flower!

Gifts from the Vastrap garden.

Cherries and The Roof signal summer!

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November is a very busy time in the Eastern Free State with two signature events heralding the start of summer and the countdown to the festive season – the Fickburg Cherry Festival and the Roof of Africa off-road motor cycle event in Lesotho. When you live in a small town it is always exciting to have something different going on that brings people to the area. It often rains heavily over the Cherry Festival weekend creating lots of challenges for the organisers, but this year it was very hot and humid. There were big thunderstorms swirling around on Friday afternoon, but it was clear for the weekend’s various sporting events (running, cycling, golf, horse riding, bowls) and live entertainment at the Ficksburg Showgrounds.

I went out on Saturday morning to see what was happening and ended up scrumming with other shoppers to buy cherries at the Constantia farm stall and The Cabin near Clocolan. There was also a little market and I bought some gorgeous ceramics from Mud Studio, one of our local success stories, and some dried oyster mushrooms and oyster mushroom pate from the Umpukani stall. All very delicious!

The Mud Studio stall at The Cabin market.

I came home wanting to bake a hazelnut cherry tart using a recipe that I have been saving for the occasion. To my disappointment, one of the phases on our electricity line was knocked out by lightning on Friday afternoon so our oven didn’t work until late on Sunday. The tart idea was abandoned and the cherries were enjoyed as is, which was definitely much healthier! It is a pity that the cherry season is so short, but it is great to live in an area where one can get them fresh off the farm.

The Roof of Africa has been held in Lesotho for the past 45 years. It is one of the most gruelling races of its kind in Southern Africa as riders are challenged by high altitude (up to 3000 meters above sea level) and technical riding on rocky terrain. It requires a feat of physical effort and skill to complete the three day ride and many do not finish, hence the tag line “I survived the Roof of Africa”. This year had the youngest winner ever, 16 year old Wade Young.

Roof of Africa – I survived 2012

We were invited by our friends Andre and Ziona to see the start of the race in Maseru. The first stage is called “Round the Houses” because the race starts in the middle of town and the route winds through the suburbs mainly to encourage some local spirit and to get the guys going on easy terrain. There were almost 500 riders in this year’s field in three different categories: professional, expert and intermediate. Ashley’s step-dad, Alex, was doing the race for the 20th consecutive time and we met up with them briefly at the start. It was a great morning of socialising in another country watching a sport that I had never seen before. The bikes are very loud and the guys look very hot in all their gear, but it is always nice to see people getting excited about their sport. Next year we will have to go and watch the real action up in the mountains to appreciate the physical effort required to finish The Roof.

Shiny clean bikes at the start.

Ashley posing with her mom, Andrea and her step-dad, Alex.

Quentin with Ashley and his (temporary) designer moustache!

Waiting for the start.

The Lesotho flag.

Alex (#40) at the start – must be boiling in all that gear!

Away they go!

Wheelies by the brilliant crowd entertainer.

Maseru locals lining the streets in support.

Before and after: The courtyard transformation

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It has been almost two years since I moved from the city to Vastrap. Looking at photos of the house and garden back then I am amazed at the transformation that has taken place. When I first arrived I was frequently overwhelmed by the task of making Vastrap a home that both Quentin and I would feel comfortable in. This was the home he grew up in. Who was I to come in and demand changes? What did I know about farm life?

On good advice, we took our time and considered all the possible options, frequently changing our minds about what needed to be done. I’m glad we didn’t rush. It gave me time to understand what is important for a farm house as opposed to a slick city pad, especially through the changing seasons. In the end we opted for a pretty radical change, but it was the right decision. What we have now completely suits our lifestyle and will be adaptable to changing circumstances in years to come. There is still much work to be done and a lot of learning for this city girl, but happily I have come to a point where I can truly call Vastrap home. 

There are many places I could start in the Vastrap retrospective, but one of my favourite changes has been the outside courtyard which runs between the main house and the outside guests bedrooms. A previously dull and dead area has been transformed into a tranquil and useful space, which creates a link between the main house and the outside guest rooms. I had a clear idea of what I wanted, but I called in our local landscape designer and horticulturalist, Jill Stephens, to help with the design and execution. She interpreted the brief perfectly: I wanted low maintenance paving instead of grass; I wanted raised beds with herbs and ornamental fruit and vegetables; all my old pots needed to be reused; there had to be a fountain and a pergola for outside entertaining; and it had to look pretty from all the rooms inside!

Below is a photo essay of how the process unfolded. An improvement, don’t you think?

View of unexciting grass passage between the main house and outbuildings.

Ugly view of the back of the house from the guests rooms.

Half way through the building project with new sliding door from the main house onto the courtyard.

Construction of the beds and planting in late summer.

Jill discussing the paving with her team.

Covered in snow in August!

Stunning wisteria blossoms in Spring.

Thriving as summer sets in with table set for Sunday lunch.

Pergola waiting for creepers to get growing.

View from new TV room to the outside guest room.

Star jasmine.

An old African stone pot and pedestal used as a fountain.

Kumquart tree with yellow pansies.

Red rose and violas highlighted against green virginia creeper.

Abundant parsley, sage and thyme.

Mint, pansies and scabiosa.

Tarragon, fennel and pansies.

Very old red geranium that survived quite neglected in the old courtyard.

A farmer’s work is never done

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I’ve been trying to write this post since early yesterday morning, but our internet connection was down and somehow I never finished it. I haven’t posted about the farm in ages because we’ve been away so much. It has been raining heavily in most parts of the country except here with us. Every time rain is forecast it is scaled right back down on the day and we end up with nothing. The veld is greener than it was, but there is still very little food for the cattle and the wheat crop has suffered a lot. We had a few light showers over the weekend and yesterday so fortunately Quentin has started planting maize, but it will need to rain again soon for the crops to germinate properly.

Not very lush veld and wheat fields.

Here is a story to show you that a farmer’s work is never done, even on a Sunday. Start out thinking it’s going to be a relaxing day and before you know it a whole lot of work is happening!

We set off on Sunday morning to forage for wild plants that I want to use in a neglected area of the garden. Every time I go for a walk I notice new wild flowers that I would like in the garden, but I never have a spade or a bag handy. My beloved agreed to come along to dig in the hard dry soil.

Dainty white vygie thriving in the hard clay soil.

Pink vygies.

Some type of aloe.

Tired dogs.

A cow skull for our collection.

Shortly after leaving home we noticed that the sheep were grazing in the wheat, which is not a good thing. It would be worse if it was cows, but sheep can do damage too and they were not supposed to be in that field! We raced around trying to herd them back to where they were supposed to be, knowing that there was a gate open somewhere that shouldn’t have been.

Naughty sheep grazing in the wheat.

My beloved chasing sheep on a Sunday.

Back where they should be.

Making sure the gate is firmly closed.

Whilst herding the sheep we drove past a herd of our Boran cattle and stopped to check if everything was okay. They looked happy and content except for this little baby who was obviously standing in the wrong place at the wrong time and got shat on by his mother!

Wrong place at the wrong time!

Phew! Something stinks around here!

Then we were starting to get tired and the dogs were hot, so they went for a swim in the not-so-deep dam.

Refreshed Coco.

Then we noticed that the sheep had escaped again and the bulls were in the wrong place too! So we drove all the way round the valley to find the open gate and chase the bulls back to where they were supposed to be, which is far away from the cows!

Act confident and pretend to know what you’re doing Marisa!

Chasing the bulls back through the open gate.

Then, just because we were already in work mode, we went to check on one of our heifer cows who was close to giving birth. When young cows calve for the first time they can experience problems so it is important to monitor them closely when the time is near. As it turned out she hadn’t calved yet, but there were a whole lot of other cute babies around. Visiting the Boran never feels like work and Quentin’s face lights up and relaxes the moment he sees his Boran beauties  – unlike when he sees sheep grazing in the wheat!

Rose (MHB-06-05) with her new calf sired by Griffen (MHB 06-27).

A winning team!

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I am not a golfer. Quentin would like me to be one, but so far I’ve had no interest and not enough time to try it as a sport or hobby. You can imagine my scepticism when we were recruited to play in a couples golf day for charity at the Ladybrand golf club. The day was specifically organised to accommodate non-golfers so after a bit of arm-twisting I decided to give it a try. How bad could it be? As long as Quentin played well we would be okay. As long as I could hit the ball my dignity would be in tact…. oops, that certainly wasn’t guaranteed!

As it turned out, we had a fantastic day and I might have to reconsider my previously held views on golf. Yes, it takes a lot of time, but it was a nice day out. Skilfully guided by my husband, I managed to swing the club and hit the ball (most times!). The American scramble format made it much more enjoyable for a non-golfer, because in a team of two you get to play from the best shot after each shot. Quentin played brilliantly on the day shooting an Eagle on the 3rd hole! It also helped that we purchased a few “Mulligan’s” for charity, which gave us opportunities to take some shots over to improve our score. I even made a few puts! In the end we were the best golfer/non-golfer team! I can’t say I am completely sold as   I would be hopeless without Quentin to guide me, but who knows, maybe one day I’ll make his day and go for a lesson or two. In the meantime, I look forward to next year’s event.

Retrieving Quentin’s ball from the rough on the 8th hole.

In a tricky spot aiming for the green.

What a shot!

Norman putting on the 8th hole.

Marina taking aim.

My turn!

Quentin’s practice drive off the 9th tee.

A passing thunderstorm interrupts play.

Love birds taking shelter.

Jacaranda rain

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It’s my birthday today. Yay! I spoilt myself by picking a huge bunch of roses from the garden. I haven’t baked a cake yet, but I’ve been craving the sponge cake with strawberries and cream that my grandmother always made at this time of year. Perhaps I will try it this weekend.

Martha Stewart would be proud.

I’m a Halloween baby, but Halloween wasn’t very big in South Africa when I was growing up. Far more important was whether we would be able to have a pool party for my birthday. Would it rain, wouldn’t it? Would it be warm enough so early in the summer? The other strong association I have with my birthday is Jacaranda blossoms, which usually turn Johannesburg into a sea of purple at this time of year. While we were in town this weekend I was determined to get some good photos of the Jacarandas. Alas, they were not at their peak or I fear a lot were damaged by hail storms in September. I took some photos anyway to share the moment. In a good year, when the Jacarandas are in full bloom, the streets in the suburbs I grew up get covered in a carpet of purple. Driving over the freshly fallen blossoms late at night or early in the morning with the windows down you can hear them popping. I just love that! The purple also becomes more intense when thunderstorms turn the sky dark and moody.

While I was in search of the perfect Jacaranda photo, I visited my cousin Julius van der Wat, who has recently become an artist. Julius is an exceptional person and his talent as an artist was recently revealed in an unexpected way. He has cerebral palsy, which means that he has never in his 34 years held a pen, drawn a line or written his name. Although he has used computers for many years, it was not until he bought an iPad that he discovered art. In only a few months, he has blossomed into a talented and dedicated craftsman with an eye for colour and a unique way of expressing his view of the world. It is a complete revelation, especially for Ouma Hannatjie who is also an abstract artist.

Julius at work on his iPad with his customised pointer designed by his brothers.

While we were visiting he started demonstrating how he works with his customised pointer. Completely coincidentally he was working on a piece called “Jacaranda rain”. In all honesty, they were the best Jacaranda’s I saw all weekend – vibrant, clear and beautiful!

Jacaranda rain by Julius van der Wat.

Ouma Hannatjie wanted me to chose a painting for my birthday present. After serious deliberation, I picked a piece called “Colourful Black”, which is now hanging in the passage outside our bedroom at Vastrap. I think it is beautiful. Thank you Julius!

Colourful Black by Julius van der Wat.

My extraordinary mother

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This is an unashamed brag post about my extraordinary mother, Marianne Fassler. She is an icon of South Africa’s fashion industry and has been working her magic ever since I can remember – and that’s quite a long time! I don’t normally brag about her or even tell people she’s my mother, probably because we’re so different and I definitely didn’t inherit her creative genes. After attending yet another one of her brilliant fashion shows last Thursday at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Africa, I just cannot help sharing some of the experience. I took some really bad photos on my phone camera, but I’ve added some links to stunning professional photos of the show and a video of the whole thing, which is worth watching for the frocks, the music and to see the gorgeous models in action.

My mother – an original, intelligent, creative genius.

With a very proud daughter.

Front row seats with Charles, Ouma Hannatjie and Oupa Koos.

My sister Hannia with her daughter Sophia.

Colourful Fassler fans.

The show was called Fassler the Remix, a reinterpretation of classic Fassler frocks from the past few years using fabric off-cuts and recycled material. You have to see the clothes up close and hear my mom describing them to appreciate how much thought has gone into each one to achieve something uniquely African and eminently wearable. For example, one of the stunning black evening dresses was made from woven black plastic bags, but it was extremely sophisticated so you would never realise this from a distance! Leopard print has become one of the Fassler trademarks over the years, but there is so much more to her clothes than this.

Video link – Fassler Dazzles all at Fashion Week.

Eunice Driver Photos and SDR Photos 

For more information and photos of previous collections go to Leopard Frock.

My mom’s shows are always a family affair with my stylish grandparents, Koos and Hannatjie immaculately turned out for their front-row appearance. And there are always one or two grandchildren sharing the limelight in their Fassler frocks. At moments like this it is impossible not to be incredibly proud and admiring of all that my mother has achieved and created over her lifetime and continues to do every day.

Gorgeous models.

Waiting to take a bow with Sophia and Emma.

Taking a bow.

A procession of models.

Kisses for the crowd and a standing ovation!