Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Been listening and reading poems on the Poetry Archive. What a ray of sunshine on this grey winter day.

Most particularly, I listened to the wonderful Australian poet, Les Murray, read his poems:

The Tin Wash Dish (here)

He talks about “lank poverty, dank poverty; what it is, where it comes from, and how, having left it behind, it still has the power to draw you back.

The Last Hellos (here)

This is farewell to his father who died three months before he wrote the poem. Not in the least sentimental. Beautifully touching.

Friday, January 26, 2007

If any of you are looking for information/inspiration about what sort of things should be happening in your schools (if you are an educator) or your children’s schools (if you are a parent) take a look at this. If you do not know what Jeff Utecht is talking about in this posting, then it is time you started informing yourself about how education could be.

What I particularly like about this posting is the following.. (more).

Thursday, January 25, 2007

tammy from Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

This year, my 12-year old daughter wrote our annual family Christmas letter. She made this comment: “My mom and dad learned this year that parenting only gets harder.” I’m not entirely sure what she based that observation on, but I think it is a fair statement. When our three children were much younger, it was physically hard to care for them – diapers, baths, feeding, etc. Now that they are old enough to feed, cloth and bathe themselves, there’s less physical involvement day-to-day. What I find more difficult than the physical labor is the emotional, spiritual, and intellectual labor. It is increasingly difficult to provide a balanced moral and philosophical framework from which they make their choices in life. I find myself worrying about their intellectual and physical explorations. Explorations can be a dangerous thing in the teen years – many current choices can limit or greatly redirect future choices, e.g., early pregnancy, substance addiction. I find myself constantly struggling to find the balance between curtailing exploration into potentially dangerous directions without preventing necessary experiences or curbing their independence and zest for life. I wonder if I have done enough in their early years to give them the best chance at being sensible in their explorations. Parenting is not an easy business at all.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

christine from lübeck, germany

Erich Kästner ist als Autor von Kinderromanen bekannt und beliebt, weniger bekannt sind schon seine Romane für Erwachsene und noch weniger bekannt sind seine Gedichte. Dabei waren es Gedichtbände wie zum Beispiel „Herz auf Taille“, die den jungen Autor in den zwanziger Jahren des letzten Jahrhunderts schlagartig ebenso berühmt wie umstritten machten... (mehr).

Saturday, January 20, 2007

After reading Charlotte’s article on handicrafts, I experienced a mental shift. She talks about how arts & crafts, homemaking, handicrafts, hobbies, are wonderfully creative art forms. They are expressions of “love, love of beauty, and love of family traditions”. Patchworking, baking homemade bread, creating scrapbooks, sewing your own wedding gowns are such divinely wonderful art forms, and yet, they are often viewed as insignificant. Could this be because the origins these art forms come from our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers?
Like Charlotte, both my grandmothers were highly creative. My maternal grandmother was the Baking Queen of our family, she knitted mittens for church bazaars and customers from neighbouring churches would come to buy them, she embroidered, crocheted quilts, and the precious objects she made for her dowry attest to other skills as well. My paternal grandmother painted in oil and watercolours. My mother sewed our clothes for us when we were young and living in countries where there were no department stores. Or who knows, perhaps there were department stores, but none we could afford.

It is so odd, but I was raised to believe that homemaking activities, all of my grandmothers’ creative endeavours were done out of a sense of economy, or a vain indulgence (in the case of my paternal grandmother, who didn’t like housework and tended to “go painting” as many retired men “went fishing”). How ridiculous this belief is. I wish right here and now to apologise to my grandmothers for this oversight. It might have taken me a long time to finally see the light, but I am convinced their forgiving heavenly spirits will feel the sincerity of my remorse.

How could I have been so blind? Of course baking, knitting, painting, embroidering were just some of many creative ways they used to express their love and beliefs. On some sub-conscious level, I must have known this because I write, cook, make collages, knit (on occasion), and quietly explore other artistic venues. I learnt from my grandmothers that it not as important to be recognised as an artist, as it is to feel creatively alive.

Somewhere down the line, we seem to have misplaced this modest goal in life: to live creatively. Guess it got squished out, or swept away in our rushed lifestyles: struggling to keep deadlines, got-to-go-got-to-go telephone conversations, and we-really-should-get-together-soon wistful promises. Which is odd, for I know deep down that all of my insignificant artistic endeavours keep me (mostly) sane; they give me a sense of purpose when all else appears confused; and, in the last years, allow me to pass on traditions to my own children from family relatives they didn’t have the privilege to meet.

charlotte of charlotte’s web blog

Charlotte of Charlotte’s Web blog very kindly allowed us to reprint this entry of hers in the Redt Tent blog.

Back in the days when I wore suits, was known to give a presentation or write a report, and even enjoyed some business class travel, I was deeply, thoroughly, scathingly mocking of women who stayed at home and made stuff. To me, crafting and baking and - God forbid - knitting were tragic signs of averageness, for why make something when you can buy something shinier and prettier, why bake something when you can buy something tastier and why knit, period. To me, hand and homemade objects were sad and tatty versions of the lovely objects found in the temples of joy known as The Shops, and spending time making them was wasting hours that could be spent in restaurants, watching films or reading books.

Perhaps it was a partial rejection of where I was from, for most of the women of my family were practioners of genteel arts. My British grandmother was a milliner in Thirties London until she met her dashing young South African lawyer and, on the eve of the war, left her flourishing business to raise children and dogs in humid Pietermaritzburg. While she made herself the odd hat, for the races or for a wedding, she channelled her creativity into sewing, embroidery and cooking. She made entire wardrobes of dolls’ clothes for me and my cousins. My maternal grandmother was a talented seamstress, but a truly wonderful watercolourist. My mother’s home is filled with her beautiful paintings. As children, we would arrive in her home and the painting things would all be set up on the floor ready for us to splatter our artistic energy everywhere. All the women of my family were painters, embroiderers, bakers.

Somehow, though, when I was in my twenties, that was something to mock. I was too busy fighting racism, sexism and the over-arching patriarchy to waste my time with twee handicrafts that were too redolent of the Women’s Institute and getting third prize for the marmelade. There were bigger things to grapple with. Once I started working, I was too busy dealing with temperamental bosses and sleeping off the stress at weekends to do anything creative. When we moved to Germany to work, I made one friend who, puzzlingly, quilted and another who sewed herself clothes. While shopping with the latter (who went on to sew her own beautiful wedding-dress) in London one weekend, we ended up on the fourth floor of Liberty’s and, without knowing how or why, I found myself buying an embroidery kit. Perhaps Liberty’s reminded me of my English granny, who always kept her latest creative project in one of their lovely dark blue shopping bags, or maybe I was connecting to the young, glamorous milliner who had once had London at her feet, but there I was, fighter of the patriarchy, buying some violets to embroider.

Clumsily, lovingly, over many months, I turned those violets into a cushion and, when I next visited South Africa, presented it to my mother, who has a room decorated with pictures of violets and violet-decorated porcelain. She was so stunned she had to sit down, and I think I cried. There was something in that gift that said not only I love you, but I love your love of beauty, and I love the traditions of our family. I think it said fighting the patriarchy and having a great career on another continent is all very well, but my family and where I come from is also important to me.

And now that I am a mother, and have a family of my own, I’m starting to look at handicrafts and the skills that women pass to each other through the generations with new eyes. For me, there’s something about connecting with the women of my family who cooked, baked and sewed for me. There’s something about love, about beauty, about thriftiness and about the pure joy of making something good, whether it’s a pretty muffin or a scarf. I’m finding new levels of friendship with friends who’ve crafted and made things far longer - and far better - than me. While staying at home with my children is my choice, making something for them is my outlet for that energy that I used to give to my career or fighting the patriarchy.

People who’ve known me for a long time are still stunned that I might bake a cake. My husband is terrified that I might start sewing for him, and rightly so, because I’ve knitted everyone in the family a scarf and he’s up next. I expect my produce to be eaten or worn, and he may have to complement his chic working gear with a ratty homemade scarf, but he can always take it off in the car. My mother-in-law almost fainted when I made her a birthday cake last year. My girlfriends in South Africa, who may or may not be reading this, will laugh hysterically at my paean to handicrafts. As I fire up the knitting needles, I do enjoy a postmodernist cackle on my own behalf, because a little bit of irony goes a long way during a not-so-desperate housewife’s day.

However, between finishing one scarf and starting the next, I had the pleasure of teaching Lily to knit. Despite being left-handed, she picked it up quickly and made a scarf for one of Daisy’s dolls. There it was: her satisfaction in learning well and fast, in making something lovely, in giving it away for someone else’s pleasure. And I had taught her a skill that my mother taught me, from the heart. It felt good.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

charlotte of charlotte’s web blog

Charlotte of Charlotte’s Web blog very kindly allowed us to reprint this entry of hers in the Redt Tent blog Book Corner.

I’ve recently read two very different books, one set in the nineteenth century and the other set now, with two apparently very different protagonists. The first is Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, which I found surprisingly accessible, and, despite the tragedy, often amusing. The other is Janet Evanovich’s Eleven On Top, which is the eleventh novel in her series about bounty hunter Stephanie Plum. It’s the only one of the series I’ve read, but a colleague recommended the Evanovich books to me many years ago as an example of witty crime writing. I remember thinking, “You’re German and you’re a man, what do you know?” which wasn’t entirely fair. If only I’d listened to him, I’d have had a decade of fun with Plum.

While the two are on opposite ends of a continuum of modern women, I found similarities between them... (more).

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A year or so ago, I decided to do a sound-seeing tour (a podcast of sorts) for my family and friends. It was called, The Diary Of A Notorious Café Goer*. The idea of the sound-seeing tour was to mix music, stories, poems, and background sounds and create an audio collage about my love of cafés.


(*I actually suspect that I didn’t move to Germany after finishing my university studies for professional reasons, but for the opportunity to spend an eternity sitting in wonderful cafés. The only downside to German cafés is that they are still smoked-filled. If ever, this country’s laws forbid smoking in restaurants and cafés, I will be living in paradise.)

While doing the podcast, I interviewed Dirk, one of my favourite cooks at a restaurant we love to go to. When I asked him what he loves to cook more than anything else he said “meat”, which for the vegetarian I am, was a bit of a let down. When I asked him what he thought of coriander as the queen of all spices, he poopooed this suggestion and said only wushes used coriander.

What I realised after interviewing him, is that he is a meat person. Thus he loves the meatiness, the muscle, the blood, the bones, the subtlety and substances that meat has to offer. For each season of the year, each mood of the moment, he thinks of meat and how to prepare it creatively. After reading Ms. Glaze (here) for the last year, it seems that meat is the nonplus-ultra of many chefs.

I, on the other hand, am an every-sort-of-lettuce, beet, pumpkin, couscous, spicy, hot, and yes, occasionally, coriander type of person. I’m what is growing locally at this time of year, what do I have in the refrigerator, and what-the-heck let me just throw it all together type of cook.

What I am not is the type of person who says “Let me look in a cookbook and see if I can find a recipe that uses the condiments presently available in my cupboard and my short supply of patience to produce a fantastically good meal”. No, what I need is a cookbook that allows me to choose what to cook according to my present mood. If my mood is light keep the food light, if heavy, than heavy.

I want a cookbook that tells various stories, suggests the appropriate background music or possible topics of conversation, pampers me when I am feeling vulnerable, or spurs me on to take risks when I am feeling bold and reckless. The chapters wouldn’t be divided up under meats, fish, soups, salads, but melancholy, joyful, flippant, or, jazz, candlelight, salsa. Just as I choose what book to read, music to listen to, what movie to watch, according to my present mood; I’d like to choose what to cook as well. Does that make any sense to you?

When you think of it, there are many fictional books written, whose narrative development are centred around or are accented by food: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg, Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler, Apricots on the Nile: A Memoir with Recipes by Colette Rossant, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, to name only a few that spontaneously come to mind. And movies, a whole slew of them: Mostly Martha (one of my all time favourite films), Strawberry & Chocolate, Babette's Feast, Bread and Tulips, Eat Drink Man Woman.

If food can be an integral part of a movie or book’s storyline, why can’t cooking be meshed in storyline, mood, atmosphere, and music? It’s just a thought.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Many years ago, nearly thirty years ago, I made a conscious decision to learn the art of cooking. I wanted cooking to be a part of in my day-to-day life: as a creative gesture, ritual, practice.

This decision initially stemmed from the sad experience of witnessing my grandmother try to starve herself, after she lost interest in life. She just did not see the sense in cooking a meal only for herself. She told me that she spent all of her adult life cooking for others. That was what cooking was for… for others. She stopped cooking then eventually she stopped eating. Nothing I said would convince her that she was worth cooking for. To this day, I do not know if her loss of interest in living caused her to stop cooking, or whether having stopped cooking she lost interest in living.

I was in my early twenties. Living alone some of the time. Sharing living quarters with other students the rest of the time. Cooking was just something we did to fill our stomaches. Eating did not hold any cultural, social, or artistic relevance. Drinking, smoking, dancing, studying, working, yes. Eating, no.

The experience of trying to understand my grandmother’s dilemma and then witnessing her detrition without the ability to help her alter her course, made me want to do differently in my life. I decided that no matter if I lived alone or with others, I’d always cook. And, I did the whole time I was single, which those of you who know me was a longlong time. No matter whether it was just for myself or for a group of people, I came home after work and made a nice meal.

When I was alone, I set the table, lit a candle, put on good music, and enjoyed my simple meal as best I could. Sometimes it was lovely, sometimes lonely. But, no matter what, it was my way of telling myself “you are worth it”.

Since having children, cooking has taken on a whole new meaning and importance.

When Nomad Son was a baby, I read an magazine article stating that babies didn’t have the necessary mechanisms to combat the adverse effects of environmental pollutants and chemicals in their foods. I will not go into details about the results of study cited in the article, but it very convincingly stated if you want to try and give your young baby a fighting chance to grow into a healthy and happy child, be conscientious about what your child eats.

So, for the first time in my life I started eating organic food, even though I was somewhat sceptical about integrity of the produce. Whatever it took to raise a healthy child, I was willing to give it a try.

Surprisingly, we found that, even though the organic food didn’t look so picture perfect, it tasted better than anything we ate from the mass grocery shops. So, we continue eating a lot of these produce even after our two babies grew into healthy and happy children.

In the last years, cooking our nightly meal has become one of my most creative contributions to my family’s wellbeing. We are all very much involved during the day in our individual pursuits; school, school, work and work. When I arrive home after work, Nomad Son and Nature Girl are often off to music lessons, gym classes, etc. Their extra curricular activities are varied, and sometimes I fear too many (this is some material for a later blog entry). When they and my dear Limpet finally arrive back into the secure nest of our home, a miasma of aimless disjointed unrest permeates our place.

The cure to this situation occurs the moment I start cutting up some fresh vegetables, putting on some Basmati rice to cook, or when I start sautéing some onions and garlic in a frying pan. I can literally feel how all the others breathe out the lingering trails of the day and settle into our comfy cosy family culture. Nearly every evening, one or the other of my family, comes in while I am cooking for a chat, or just briefly to touch base.

It is cutting food with sharp knives, mixing up different types of lettuce, hearing the sizzling sounds, setting the table, sharing a warm meal, looking at the mix of appealing wonderful colours, smelling and tasting many spices… it is all part of what makes cooking a creative art. Cooking, eating, sharing the daily going-ons over dinner, these more than anything else are what epitomises our family culture.

I am not a good cook, though I love to cook. I have never learnt to cook from cookbooks or recipes. Yet, I find blogs (here) or blog entries (here) concerning cooking fascinating. They do not necessarily motivate me to change my ways. But who knows, maybe one day I’ll take down and browse through any of the numerous cookbooks that sit tranquilly, completely unperturbed in the living room bookcase. What these passionate cooks do is make me think about the joys of cooking, and that is a lovely thing too.