Tag Archives: mother-in-law

Party like a rockstar, Mister

My Mister’s 40th birthday is on Saturday. We’ve racked our brains over how to celebrate it. We’ve debated whether it’ll be destination party, if we’ll go out for lunch or have it catered. I’m all for all of those options because it means I don’t have to clean up and can spend my time concentrating on paying close attention to my crispy cold Sauvignon Blanc.

Hogsback Inn. Photo: heritageportal.co.za

Hogsback Inn. Photo: heritageportal.co.za

Mister always said he’d like to have his 40th birthday party in Hogsback, a quaint bohemian village in the mountains of the Eastern Cape. And, while we would have loved to have gone back (we spent a few nights of our honeymoon there and it was beautiful and strange), it was just too difficult to organise family and friends to all meet up in such a remote location for a night (it’s like herding cats just trying to get the friends into one car). Hogsback has a labyrinth and many quirky little cafes. It’s high up in the mountains and very misty and pretty. I believe it to be South Africa’s very own Hobitan.

Photo: telegraph.co.uk

Photo: telegraph.co.uk

Little furry footed creatures aside, we decided to have family and friends over to our house to celebrate there. So, come Saturday afternoon, my beautiful new house will see an influx of excitable children ranging from 15 months to 16 years, a host of happy grannies who’ll be spoiling their grandchildren with sneaky bites of Eton Mess, a bevy of boisterous boys telling their big loud man-jokes in deep voices, and a clutch of pretty, patient wives gulping their wine.

Photo: thereaux.net

Photo: thereaux.net

I want to make the day really special so I’ll be doing the food myself (*lowers eyes and shakes head at self*). And I’ve bought a lovely gift. Mister asked for a skateboard (I’m serious – you can’t make that up) but, since our medical aid savings is depleted (their word not mine), that can wait until January 1. He also asked for a fancy watch but, according to my last payslip, my salary is not the equivalent of South Africa’s ministerial vehicle allowance. So, in the end, I decided to compromise (read: buy something I could also enjoy) and bought him a Nespresso machine.

So on Saturday I’ll be alternating between my wine and cups of coffee while I slave away in the kitchen doing everything I can to make sure my Mister has a wonderful birthday. Because he is amazing and I love him a ridiculous amount. And, if you’ll be slaving away too (for whatever entertaining-reason), and need some fab foodie inspiration, grab a copy of the October Essentials and follow our recipes for:

  • a sizzling seafood platter (with J.C Le Roux La Vallée MCC)
  • hazelnut tarts with strawberries
  • asparagus and prosciutto lilies
  • classic Cobb salad

Or visit Essentials.co.za and click on the Food tab for some delectable recipes.




Sisters are doing it for themselves

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.’ Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre.

Holly1With August being Women’s Month I’ve decided to dedicate this post to some of the amazing women I’m fortunate enough to know. All the women in my life have stories and qualities that make each of them worthy of their own full-length feature film (played by a movie star of their choice). So I’ve decided to focus on those who have the qualities I hope my baby will one day have herself.

I have to start with my mother because, well, she’s my mother. My mom is tolerant. She is one of the most placid and laid back people I’ve ever met. There is very little you can do to irritate her and it takes a lot for her to lose it. I can count on my one hand the number of times I have seen her throw her toys during my life and those times were when someone had really provoked her. Next is my mom-in-law. She’s patient. But like biblical-Job patient, not nursery school teacher patient. I’ve never seen her lose her temper and she has six granddaughters under the age of 13! She once went on holiday with five of these shouty, energetic (sometimes whiny, always demanding) little girls and they all came out alive on the other side.

My sister in law, Charmaine is kind. She is one of the nicest, most giving women I know. I once asked her to babysit Holly for a month when we were stuck without a nanny and, without thinking twice about it, she agreed. At short notice (like two-days-before short notice). My other sister in law, Bianca is nurturing and maternal; she’s a wonderful mom to her two beautiful, clever and funny little girls and somehow she always knows what the right thing is to do for them.


My Mister’s two sisters, have so much they could teach Holly. Vanessa is a published author, a mother of three stunning, smart little girls, and lives in America. Vanessa could teach her niece courage. It takes an astonishing amount of bravery to leave the country you know and love, and your family to pursue wonderful opportunities in another country. Lesley is my Mister’s other sister. She could teach Holly how to balance her home life and her work life. Lesley has a very highly respected position at a bank and does quite a bit of travelling for her work. And she has two tween daughters. Somehow, and seemingly without effort, Lesley manages to balance her work and home life like a particularly skilled tightrope walker in a Russian circus. And… and she still manages to bake the most delicious cakes and treats!

From these six amazing women, I want Holly to learn: tolerance, patience, kindness, how to be nurturing, courage and balance.


From the women I work with, who all have their own stories of strength and who’ve all travelled incredible journeys, I’d like Holly to learn the qualities that will make her the kind of woman people don’t easily forget. I want her to learn resourcefulness from Kirsty, who’s also one of the strongest women I know. Kirsty is so incredibly resourceful, not only can she make anything out of nothing, but she also always knows what to do and say in every situation.

Tahra can teach my daughter charity. She’s always looking for new ways to help people in need and will regularly take on fund-raising initiatives to help others without a thought about how it’ll affect her.

Working girl

I want Holly to learn independence from Grace who wouldn’t have been out of place in a movie like Working Girl and could easily have been a pin-up for the 80’s, power-suit wearing, ball-busting corporate high flyer.

From Taryn I’d like my baby girl to learn generosity. Whenever Taryn goes to a launch, or ‘town’, she comes back with a little something for us. Whether it’s a book she thinks we might enjoy or a coffee we desperately need, Taryn is always sharing.

Stephanie could teach Holly curiosity: she’s not scared to ask questions when she doesn’t know something, a quality that’s so admirable and so rare.

And from Caryn I’d like her to learn humility – a more humble, almost to a fault, person you’ll never find. Caryn is so good at what she does, but she’ll be the last person to blow her own horn (or wear her own designs?).

These incredible women I work with could teach Holly resourcefulness, charity, independence, generosity, curiosity and humility.

If my daughter grows up to have all of these qualities, she will certainly be a woman to be reckoned with; an empowered woman of strength, courage, patience and kindness – the kind of woman we all aspire to be. I am so lucky to have such amazing women in life and, this month, I will honour them in as many ways as I can, starting with this story about their strengths.


Grab a copy of the August issue of Essentials magazine to read about more inspiring, real women like you.

It’s my party and I’ll try if I want to

How to host a one-year-old’s birthday party successfully

Holly's party 1

Last Friday was my gorgeous baby girl’s first birthday *sob* – she’s growing up so fast! Just before she was born, I had this quaint picture in my head of what her first few birthdays should look like: mommy would be at home unwrapping presents with her baby, baking goodies in the kitchen, assembling party packs and generally being Nigella and Martha-esque. I wanted to be able to give my baby the kind of birthday and party I always had when I was little. And, on the whole, things pretty much went the way they were meant to go, so I thought I’d share my tips and plans with you.

Owl1I decided on an owl theme for her party because she (read: I) loves owls. I found that having a theme helped guide me in terms of cake, decorations, party packs and gifts (she’s going to have an owl-themed bedroom in our new house). Fortunately, the whole woodland creatures theme is on trend at the moment and everything is easily available. Tip: Pick a theme with easily available goodies. I recommend steering clear of characters that have gone out of fashion years ago like Popeye or Betty Boop. You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to find decorations and things.

Paper lantern owl

Paper lantern owl

Because I work full time, I started making decorations and party packs in the evenings a couple of weeks before the party. I’m not terribly good at crafts and my Mister often had to rescue me from the dark recesses of glue-and-glitter hell and finish off my crafts (that picture certainly didn’t match up to what was in my head!). Tip: Don’t make decorations if you’re not very ‘crafty’. I was a little more successful with my party packs: I bought little party boxes from a toy shop that was having a sale and put stickers, a little chocolate, a soft sweet and a toy inside. I decorated the outside with a little picture of an owl so I didn’t have to pay a fortune for themed party packs but the boxes were too small for a packet of chips (party-pack fail). Tip: make sure your party packs are big enough to contain what you want to pack into them!

Check out essentials.co.za for more fab cake recipes.

Check out essentials.co.za for more fab cake recipes.

 I asked people I’d invited to the party to help me out with food and things. My mother and mom-in-law helped out with making sandwiches, quiches, sausage rolls, mini meatballs and the soup (it was freezing cold!). And I asked my sister-in-law, who is a magician with baking, to make Holly a cake. It was amazing AND delicious. I was really lucky because buying a birthday cake can really eat into your budget. Tip: Don’t make too much food (I had heaps left over) and rope in people you know to help with snacks.

I’m really fortunate to work with very talented people and I asked Tahra, our art director to be the photographer. She took the most amazing photos and I didn’t have to worry about missing out on the party while running trying to capture those special moments! Tip: Ask someone else to take photos so you can be entirely present at your child’s party.


Because we’re still waiting to move into our new house (read my blog post Early Retirement from February 2013 for context) and are currently staying in a retirement village with my mother-in-law, we had to look for a venue to hold the party. Ideally I would have liked to have had the party in my own house, in my new garden with our covered patio and my own kitchen but life throws these little challenges at us to make us stronger (serious first world problems, I know). So we decided on Delta Park. It’s really lovely there: there’s a children’s play area and swathes of rolling lawn for the kids to run around and exhaust themselves. Tip: We have some amazing free resources and venues in this country. Do a little research before you hire a kids’ party venue. It may take a little more preparation, but it can also save you a bundle.

And finally, try to enjoy yourself. A first birthday party is really for the parents and family – your baba is not going to remember it and is happy rolling around on the lawn, eating leaves and tearing up wrapping paper.

You are the dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen…


If you could go back eight, 10, 20 years, what message would you want to give to your 17-year-old self? And, I suppose more importantly, would your old (younger?) self listen to your new adult self? Do you think your life would have been better or different if you could have given yourself some important message or passed on some amazing advice?

When I think of myself, I think of myself as being 17. I still feel like I’m 17. It seems to me to have been a watershed year – a year when so many of my life’s most defining moments happened. I matriculated when I was 17 – the end to 12 seemingly endless years that I came to see as nothing less than torture. Where the teachers went out of their way (it seemed) to be annoying, uncool and mean. Weird then that I would, at age 26, decide to become a teacher myself, and start my own torture of school kids.


When I was 17 it was also the year I met the man who would become my Mister. I went with some friends to a music festival called The Concert on the Farm. I climbed out of the tent one morning and saw Mister-to-Be stretching in the early Morning sun and I said to my friends, ‘I’m going to marry that man’. And then I did (albeit years later, not right away). But that’s another story.

If I could go back to when I was 17, I would tell myself two things. They may not both have changed the course of history for the universe but they certainly would have changed my life. I would’ve told myself to be nicer to my mother, to stop fighting with her about absolutely everything, because she was doing the very best she could do. And, despite what I thought, she wasn’t in fact trying to ruin my life. I would also have said: ‘You’re not fat, you silly little girl! Enjoy the way you look because you’ll never ever be this thin again!’ That would definitely have changed my life. I would have been far more confident and spent much less time obsessing over my weight.

I asked the ladies in my office what they would have told themselves if, like the Ghost of Christmas Past, they could go back and have a word with themselves, what would they say. Everyone knew immediately what they’d say without even thinking about it.

fish on bicycle

Kirsten would tell teenage Kirsty that you don’t need a man to be happy. You’re perfectly capable of being on your own and being perfectly content on your own too! She would also tell herself, ‘Don’t listen to your friends – your mom will find out!’ I think that the last piece of advice is something we can all relate to and probably all should have known then. It’s probably also something our own children should know!

Taryn’s advice to herself is somewhat different. She would tell herself to stop taking life so seriously and to go out and have some fun! While this is the complete opposite of what I needed to hear as an almost-feral 17-year-old, it’s perhaps something many of us need to hear now.


Tahra would tell herself to be more adventurous and to listen to her to her mother, while Grace would say to her teenage self: ‘Mom knows best and you don’t know everything!’


I extended my investigation to my mom in law and, while there’s not many things she regrets having done or not having done, she’d tell herself to read more – books are your greatest education. Finally I asked my Mister what he would have said: ‘Put those cigarettes down and don’t listen to your friends – make up your own mind’.

And, while I know it’s completely futile trying to pass on any knowledge I have gained to anyone over the age of eight, I want my baby daughter to know these things when she’s 17:

  • Never cancel dinner plans by text message.
  • When entrusted with a secret, keep it.
  • Just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should.
  • Don’t dumb it down.
  • Don’t pose with booze.
  • You’re so very, very intelligent and you’re capable of doing absolutely anything you want to do.
  • You can be intelligent and beautiful at the same time – it’s never ever a choice you have to make.
  • You’re amazing and I will love you with my whole heart forever.
  • You’re so much stronger than you think you are so trust me when I tell you that.
  • But mostly, you’ll understand how much I love you when you have your own baby girl.


Early retirement


Soon the Mister and I will be moving into a retirement village. And by soon I don’t mean that time’s flying and it feels like any day now we’ll be retired and looking to spend our post-work years playing bowls and bingo. No, what I mean is, in the next few months we may actually be moving into a retirement village to live with my mother-in-law.

Let me take this opportunity to tell you a little about my mother-in-law (MIL). MIL has the Wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job and Job’s entire extended family. I’ve witnessed these qualities first-hand on a number of occasions, mostly involving a seven-and-a-half month-old grandchild who won’t sleep, but the very first time I was made aware of their depth was on my honeymoon.
Not many people have the opportunity to spend their honeymoon with their mother-in-law. In fact, most people in their right mind wouldn’t want to spend their first few days as a married couple with any of their family. However, having been initiated a long time ago into the strange rituals and customs of the Mister’s family, very little surprises me anymore. From stories of exciting and oddball ancestors, like Aunt Happy the entertainer, to the great grandfather of illegitimate children who owned a large portion of a prestigious and well-known Cape Town suburb. Eccentricity and outlandish behaviour has become the norm for me, so why would spending time with MIL on our honeymoon be strange?

It can’t have been easy sharing a holiday house with a very excitable toddler and an Italian extended family. Just getting up in the morning and trying to arrange an outing to suit the tastes of six outspoken and exceptionally volatile adults and a spirited and emotional little girl takes the acumen, endurance, serenity and diplomacy that even the most hardened hostage negotiator would envy. However, MIL ‘s fortitude prevailed and the improbable little group of tourists were given a tour of Cape Town and it’s surrounds most tour guides would find hard put to match.

Cape Town

So back to our moving in with MIL: our house is going on the market in a few days and may sell quite quickly. If that happens we’ll need somewhere to live. And that’s why we’ll be testing the retirement village waters 20 to 30 years before we’re actually eligible to be moving into one. And I’m not complaining, in fact I’m really excited by the prospect of living with a mom again. How lovely to come home from work, kick off my shoes and go lie in front of the telly for an hour or two before I’m called to dinner. It’ll be just like being back at school again with someone looking after me.

And this moving back in with mom, or in our case mom and MIL, seems to be a new trend. For various reasons lots of people seem to be doing it. Whether it’s because the economy has dictated it, people are looking for new work, or as it would be in our case, you’re between houses, the home of the parents seems to offer the sanctuary it always has. Take a read in the March issue of Essentials magazine about others who’ve had to move back in with their parents and then drop us a comment if you’ve had a similar experience. And have a look at the Essentials website for more interesting reads www.essentials.co.za.