Nature’s knots!

While gazing upward at the most incredible mountains I have ever seen, I nearly missed something else, which was just as amazing.

The mountains were the mighty Drakensberge in South Africa. The walk I was on will appear in a later post, as it really needs a story on its own.

imageAs if teasing the walker to tear their attention from the towering crags, these beautiful knotty tree trunks almost trip you up, as you go by. Demanding their share of attention… and why not?

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They are so lovely. Have you ever seen trunks wound around each other like this? Maybe vines in a rainforest?

Posted in Africa, Favourite things, Have you ever..., South Africa, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Helen’s garden at the Owl House

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on a lady called Helen Martins. Those who read the story will remember that she was an interesting person who decorated her house with crushed glass in many different colours. It is very unusual: The Owl House.

I promised at the time, that I would post some photos of her startling and amazing garden.

Helen created concrete statues – hundreds of them and used them to decorate her garden. Whilst there were some dominant themes, there was also a seemingly random mix of unusual ideas in every section of the garden. Below is the most dominant theme – a religious one, where many people were paying homage in one direction (perhaps heavenwards?).

Lots and lots of statues. Many kneeling in adoration.

Lots and lots of statues. Many kneeling in adoration.

The only attempt at planting a few flowers was against this wall

The only attempt at planting a few flowers was against this wall

A lady with a bottle skirt. There were quite a few of these!

A lady with a bottle skirt. There were quite a few of these!

Camels, pyramids and mermaids were scattered between bottle skirted ladies and peacocks with large tails.

Not many of the statues were coloured, but those that were, had been decorated with pieces of glass.

The garden could best be described as ‘extremely busy’. It was difficult to get photos as the statues were close together and quite mixed up.

In the far background of the scene through the kitchen window (below) a large arch with an owl on the top, had been constructed as a welcoming entrance to the garden. But Helen had major issues with people, particularly as she got older, and a big fence across the arch kept visitors at bay.

View of the garden from the kitchen window of the house.

View of the garden from the kitchen window of the house.

'Twas her.... no, 'twas her! Mermaids blame each other.

‘Twas her…. no, ’twas her! Mermaids blame each other.

Eve is tempted with an apple.

Eve is tempted with an apple.

Helen must have been a very interesting person, although I do also think she was very eccentric or a little disturbed.

For those who know little about her, I refer you to one of many great websites which tells more about her life. She eventually, and sadly, took her own life, but not before she bequested her home and garden to the people of her village as a museum. The house is known as the Owl House, as she has many statues of owls, both inside and outside. I have some photos of the owls on my previous post on Helen.

She has a nativity scene in the garden too – but I have kept that for a Christmas post, so keep a lookout for those images around the end of the month!

Today, many thousands of people visit the Owl House, and if you are near Nieu-Bethesda (near Cradock, South Africa), I suggest you take the time to go and see what this remarkable lady has made for us to enjoy.

The artist herself. She had help to make many of the statues.

The artist herself. She had help to make many of the statues.

If you are interested in reading more about this intriguing house and garden and Helen’s story, (and this is highly recommended!) here is some more information.

Posted in Favourite things, Image Gallery, Travel | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

Ruby

IMG_0888Every year, around mid December, Ruby becomes an important part of our family life. I have never met her, in fact, I have no idea who she was.

Two things I do know though. The first is that she was a good friend of my grandmother’s. The second thing is that she was an excellent cook.

My grandmother too, was a good cook and had one of those delightful recipe books – you know the kind…. hand written pages, spattered with cryptic stains made by ingredients long used and gone.  Notes to remember someone’s birthday, and a random shopping list that never made it to the store, tucked in between the Rice Pudding and the Baked Custard. I don’t know what happened to that book, but I did get some recipes out of it many years ago.

Robertson's fruit mince makes wonderful pies

Robertson’s fruit mince makes wonderful pies

One was a favourite, and has been used every Christmas in our family since I can remember – Ruby’s mince pie pastry. It is a sweet pastry and is used with fruit mince. My gran was the first to set the seasonal tradition of having mince pies, then my mother took over and my children have known no Christmas without them!

A batch of hurriedly made pies (I am not a patient cook!0

A batch of hurriedly made pies (Christmas always seems to be a time of rushing from one thing to another!)

Originally intended to have a generous shortbread crust, I have changed the way I make them to make the pastry go further (out of necessity!), and ours now have thinner crust and more fruit mince (both very delicious!).

For anyone who has tried the bought fruit mince pies and did not like them, perhaps you should try some of these. The recipe is easy:

  • 125g butter
  • 60g sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 250g flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • milk
  1. Cream butter, sugar and egg.
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder
  3. Combine in a mixer. If too stiff, add a little milk. 
  4. Make individual pies using fruit mince. Attach the lids with a little milk.
  5. When pies are made, brush the tops with some extra beaten egg, and bake for 12 mins of 190°C.
  6. Once cool, dust with a sprinkling of icing sugar or castor sugar if you prefer.

The pastry can be kept for a day or two in the fridge, unless milk is used, then it must be used once it is made.

Now you too, can have Ruby as part of your Christmas tradition too! Enjoy :-)

By the way, I have been asked for a ‘recipe’ for making gluten free flour and baking powder. Does anyone have such a thing that works really well? Thanks in advance!

Posted in Favourite things, Odds & ends | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Have you ever…. waited forever for a letter?

This fellow has been leaning on the mailbox – it seems forever….

I thought he would make a nice addition to our amazing mailbox collection.

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Waiting patiently  for the mailman!

Do you know of any unusual mailboxes in your neck of the woods? How about adding them to our collection? Check out the way to do this on the Amazing Mailbox Quest from the menu at the top of this page (sorry, the hyperlink function is misbehaving :-( ).

Posted in Amazing Mailbox Quest | Tagged , , | 17 Comments

Finding family, 90 years on

Have you ever wondered about your ancestry or in pondering the meaning of life, wondered where your family originated? Perhaps you are a family research expert and can recite your ancestry back 13 generations, and have traced everyone as far as you can get! Or perhaps you are… um….. well… not really all that intrigued?

Old family photos are now being shared for everyone to enjoy

Old family photos are now being shared for everyone to enjoy

I got interested in my family ancestry about a decade ago, but was frustrated by the lack of available information. Being located in Australia made it more difficult, as I have no history here, so I was obliged to rely on the internet or spend many thousands travelling to remote lands in the hope of finding something useful.

I did have help though – my father was also interested and he invested a large amount of time finding photos and links on his side of the family. He wrote his memoirs at the same time, so we have a wonderful supply of information to enjoy. But when it came to the maternal side of the family, it seemed we had practically nothing.

My mother’s grandparents had all passed away before she was born, except for a grandfather who departed the earth while she was very young. It seemed that from then on, no one spoke about her grandparent’s generation, and when my mother’s parents left us, they took this information to the grave with them. It seemed that it was all gone… forever.

Well, not quite.

Armed with one or two key names (including that of my great grandmother, who luckily had an unusual name) and a few dubious stories which had survived though the generations, I searched the internet in vain for many years to find clues about the family. There was a link with France, but we did not know any more that, a story about owning an hotel and a glass factory and two mysterious family fortunes.

The lady on the far left is the great grandmother whose unusual name reunited her family 90 years later

The lady on the far left is the great grandmother whose unusual name reunited her family 90 years later. The couple next to her are my grandparents – it was their wedding day.

Then, after many fruitless decades, I found what I had been searching for. Someone had posted a family tree with my great grandmother’s name on it. I could not believe my luck! Looking a bit closer, I realised that while the owner of this family had focussed on one of my grandfather’s siblings, and they had very little information about us.

This wonderful find led to a year of exciting information exchanges, more research, discoveries of newspaper articles and lots of fun, as our family became reunited with our second cousins. And by pooling what stories and clues we had, we have since linked up almost all my grandfather’s family’s descendants. Only one brother who went to England in the early 1920s remains a mystery.

Family graves in France! This photo taken by one of my 'new' cousins!

Some of our family graves in France! This photo taken by one of my ‘new’ cousins!

We have found the link to France – the great grandfather who passed away when my mother was young, was born in France! His mother was a French national and his father was from the UK. So the whole French connection is now opening up too, which I am very excited about.

The story does not end there though. I recently returned to South Africa recently to ‘meet’ many of my newly found (second) cousins. It was an emotional and amazing experience. None of us can understand why the family drifted apart, except that families did spread far and wide across the country to find work and communications were not as easy as they are today. We do live in lucky times, when communication is so easy, and the internet is helping to reunite families!

The ultimate irony though, is that I attended the same school as my second cousins for a number of years. As we passed each other in the corridors each day, we had no idea that we were so closely related! How bizarre is that?

Posted in Family tree, Favourite things | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

What on earth…..??

Recently, I came across this item in a display yard in a museum. I was intrigued and amused to find out what it was. It is missing some wheels, but is otherwise intact.
Here is the challenge…
Do you know what this is?

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A mysterious item… do you know, or would you like to guess what it is?

And secondly, do you know where precisely it was used?
Here is a clue.

IMG_5696.JPG

The “Big Hole” at Kimberley, South Africa

For those who do not know about famous South African places, this is the ‘Big Hole’ at Kimberley. This hole was dug by hand by prospectors looking for diamonds!

Posted in South Africa, Travel | Tagged , | 20 Comments

The Owl House

SignThere is a tiny village near Cradock, South Africa which goes by the delightful name of Nieu-Bethesda. Looking on the map, it looks no different to many other sleepy villages that one may come across and which are rarely enticing to passing travellers.

But a family member told me of Nieu-Bethesda and suggested that I go and visit the location. You see, it has a special house which is unlike any other, maybe even right across the world. The owner of the house is no longer there – but her legacy is certainly alive and fascinates many visitors every day – me now being counted as one of these!

The Owl House

The Owl House

From the road, the house looks no different to any other. But once in the yard and then in the house itself, two things stand out about this place: the use of glass inside of the house and the concrete statues outside in the yard – the latter will be the topic of a later post.

So what is so different inside? Simply that almost every surface of the home is brilliantly painted in bright colours, and has then been painstakingly covered in glass!

Glass fragments evenly applied to the doorframe

Glass fragments evenly applied to the door, doorframe and wall

Tiny fragments, patiently ground to just a few millimetres in diameter have been used to colour walls, doors, door frames, windows and most remarkably, the ceilings.

A framed Mona Lisa print - note the glass on the wall behind the image

A framed Mona Lisa print – note the glass on the wall behind the image

Suns on a window. Each sun is made from glass fragments in different shades of green and brown.

Suns on a window. Each sun is made from glass fragments in different shades of green and brown.

The kitchen ceiling is decorated with a large image of the sun

The kitchen ceiling is decorated with a large image of the sun

Her pantry was not filled with jars of preserves, but rows of bottled glass fragments, sorted into colours and fragment sizes.

A pantry full of glass fragments.

A pantry full of glass fragments.

Helen Martins

Helen Martins

The artist – a lady who lived alone in the house from 1952 until her death in 1976 seemed to me to be very eccentric and also a remarkably troubled person. Reading about her, I felt that she had been a very lonely and sad person.

Judging from the artifacts in the house, she liked the Mona Lisa, and had about 4 copies of this painting in the house. She also found inspiration from sea shells, although I am not sure where she got these from. Other interesting things in the house included a collection of lanterns and many prints and photos of a variety of people. Some of her sculptures (in the garden) were visibly inspired by these images.

So where do the owls come in? Well, she loved owls and made many, many sculptures of them – most of which are in the garden. But here are two that were left in the house. The row of owls at the top of this post were arranged on a window sill in the kitchen. The window was deep red in colour – a very dramatic contrast.

Owls in one of the bedrooms. These feature a lot in the garden too.

Owls in one of the bedrooms. These feature a lot in the garden too.

The top of the owl statures in the bedroom. Outside, some of these had water in the top.

The top of the owl statures in the bedroom. Outside, some of these had water in the top.

If you are interested in reading more about this intriguing house and Helen’s story, (and this is highly recommended!) here is some more information. I will post images of her fascinating sculptures in an upcoming post.

Posted in Odds & ends, South Africa, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 18 Comments