{ Under The Bluegums }

A personal blog with craft tutorials, reviews of books, films, and music, parenting advice, and opinions on society and politics.

December 13, 2017

I Lay Awake Last Night: Should My Four-Year-Old Be Reading Already?

I lay awake in bed last night, thrown into an anxious panic by this story about a four-year-old boy reading 100 books in a day. I'm lucky if my daughter wants to do the alphabet with me. As we parents are wont to do, I compared myself, and blamed it on myself. I haven't been pushing myself, or her, to focus very much on schooling. I felt like a terrible parent because I haven't made proper use of her young years and our time. I know a two-year-old who can apparently count to 14, and now there is this boy reading 100 books by himself, of his own volition!

All night my dreams were filled with crawling things on my pillow and all over the blankets, things keeping me back, things keeping my daughter back. When I woke this morning, I felt useless and pointless and simply a poor mother as I looked at my daughter's honey-coloured hair on the pillow beside me. I was not doing her intelligence justice, I thought. I was ruining her chances at success later in life, I cried. She's going to drop out of school because she can't read, I panicked.

I've been feeling under a lot of pressure lately, simply because of being a stay-at-home mom and all the responsibility that goes with it. I belong to several homeschooling groups and I feel quite left behind by it all. And even though my daughter and I are together all day, I feel like I don't spend enough time with her. Then you read about children the same age as your daughter doing something they're not doing, or hearing of children seemingly more advanced than your own, or hearing that early readers are more likely to enter a university and you're plunged into anxiety. It's ridiculous that in times like these we reach for Google to solve our anxiety problems. But that is exactly what I did. And it helped.

It turns out doing things that promote early literacy are more important than pushing your child to read. According to University of Michigan Professor of Education Dr Susan Neuman, there is no research that proves teaching your child to read early is either a good thing or a bad thing. She adds that the early push to get children to read, even from infancy, might be geared to the parents' needs more than anything else. And learning through play and conversations with parents is more effective at building the foundations of reading than showing flash cards to babies or wasting valuable play time at expensive early-age preparatory schools.

Most children only learn to read at age five or six.  In South Africa, children aren't even expected to be able to read in Grade R (age 6) yet; that's when they're only learning prewriting skills, routine, and social skills. I also have a gut-reaction when I hear about children doing things way before average - is it really the child, or were there Tiger Mother (or Father) involved, pushing them and hurrying them along for the prestige? Making notes of simple progress to compare to other children in the future? Why compare your child at all? (Says she, who just spent a sleepless night worrying)

But the most important things you as a parent can do before then is have conversations with your children using elaborative language, read to them as much as possible, and allow them to see how reading and writing are a part of daily life. I'm on par with these three things: my daughter is the only person I speak with all day long and I've been reading to her since she was a baby (sure, I read my horror novel out loud, but the point was that she heard language in action). She knows 12 sight words and can learn a new one in a week, recognises numbers and letters, speaks really well, reasons well (and is cheeky about it, too!) and even understands the basics of addition and subtraction - and right now I feel like I'm worrying about nothing. As usual. Especially since I know my child better than anyone else.

Further Reading:

Should My Young Child Already Be Reading?
What Your Child Should Know Age 4
How To Determine When Kids Should Start School

November 22, 2017

Can Animals Cry With Emotion?

{Credit: By Mr. T. W. Wood [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons}
As children, we are raised on films and books starring anthropomorphised animals who are endowed with emotions and feelings that we can relate to as young developing people. But why is that when we enter the school system - learn about biology and science and psychology - we come to strip animals of this ability to feel and suffer from basic pain and emotion?

Even that statement is not particularly true, especially if we become pet lovers, because we adamantly believe our cats and dogs, rats and parrots - our pets - love us, miss us, and can feel when we hurt them and yet strip this ability for emotion and feeling from animals who are not pets, such as apes, elephants, lions and tigers, and animals that form part of our food system.

We are told by the scientific world that when we believe our cats are 'happy' when they purr, it is a projection of our emotions onto the animal and there is no scientific way to determine such happiness. Indeed, scientists even warn of anthropomophising animals too much by assigning human motivations to their actions - such as when a rhesus monkey in a zoo appeared to commit suicide by tying a rope into a noose and hanging himself in 1936 or when Peter the dolphin deliberately suffocated himself after being moved from a NASA-funded animal-human language project in the Virgin Islands and the human he fell in love with.

But the personal experiences of many people who work with animals cannot help but disagree. Veterinarian Jonathan Cracknell, who has travelled the world to treat animals traumatised by captive conditions, says one cannot help but get a 'gut feeling' about why animals behave in particular ways. He points to such examples as crows deliberately sliding down a snowy slope over and over again or monkeys taking a dip in water when it is hot outside as evidence that not all animal behaviour is geared towards some animalistic, instinctual motivation. There are dozens of examples online: this veal calf enjoying falling snowflakes, a baby elephant appearing to sob uncontrollably after being rejected by its mother, or a dog so sad at being returned to a shelter that it refused to leave its cell. Or what about the bellowing of mommy cows whose calves are taken away from them so we can drink their milk instead or a dolphin fighting to save her baby captured by catchers in Taiji?

Scientists love to point to the activation of reward centres in dogs' brains as the real reason they choose to spend time with their owners, but surely these pleasurable motivations can also be assigned to humans - why else would we choose to spend our time with a particular person or become addicted to alcohol? What is it that makes humans believe we are any more complex than the animals with whom we share this world?

What about an emotional response such as crying, largely regarded as something only humans can do? Can animals also cry with emotion? Many biologists say the tears we sometimes see in the eyes of distressed animals are nothing more than a biological reaction to stimuli and does not mean the animal is feeling unhappy. While some concede that we may never know whether the animal is indeed feeling sad, they warn that we should guard against believing animals experience emotion as we do. This is a paradoxical point of view because it allows for the existence of animals' emotions and yet denies that they have them at all. It still places humans at the top of the emotional pyramid, so to speak, because we are simply 'better than', 'more evolved than', 'more intelligent than' the animal other.

But should there be any prerequisites to having emotion? Do we have to have a big brain? Dolphins have a big brain, indeed bigger than ours.

Brain size comparisons {Credit: By CNX OpenStax [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons}

Do we have to have control over our instincts? Even carnivores do not kill whenever they want, and sometimes kill because they can (just like us).

Do we have to walk upright and speak a translatable language? Gorillas and chimpanzees can walk upright and can be taught sign language.

To me, it all seems that our anthropocentric belief systems are what is holding us back from believing we share a world with animals who feel and experience as richly as we do. We need to strip notions of superiority if we ever hope to become true stewards of this world and the creatures we share it with.

Further Reading:

The Dolphin Who Killed Himself Over a Broken Heart
Are Humans the Only Primates That Cry?
Do Animals Cry?
Why Are Humans the Only Animals That Cry?

November 3, 2017

Book Review || The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green happened to be sitting on the recent returns shelf at the library and I thought, 'Why not?' The novel is highly acclaimed and a New York Times Bestseller, and a film was made from it, so it must be good.

And that it certainly is, to a point. I laughed (well, sort of inwardly giggled with a smirk on my face), I cried. The characters have been given such tough luck in life that it is difficult not to like their immense optimism, especially Augustus Waters', and the strength it must take for them to make it through every day of pain. I liked that Hazel Grace tried so hard to be a silent sufferer. I liked that Isaac was more heartbroken at losing who he thought was the love of his life than his eyesight. I always enjoy the depth of character that comes from reading a novel instead of watching the film, so in this case I enjoyed the book much more than I did the film. In fact, I did more crying reading Hazel's innermost, private thoughts than I did watching an erstwhile depressed and downbeaten teen fall in love and suddenly have only happy feelings for her future.

That being said, something feels off to me in the way these teens speak to each other. Perhaps it is their nearness to Death that brings out their poetic genius and their witticisms, for I honestly don't remember being so pretentious as a teenager. Then again, as a teenager I never did do a lot of socialising or talking. I will have to ask my remaining friends if they ever felt this way about me, before someone calls me a liar. :) On the other hand, there is something endearingly childish about these teenagers - perhaps they are simply living their lives and having their say because they of all people know how short life is.

The Fault in Our Stars is actually a mirror of Peter van Houten's An Imperial Affliction (a made-up author and a made-up book). While Van Houten's novel literally ends in the middle of a sentence, these teens' lives could similarly end as quickly. Augustus' diagnosis shows that and the depth of Hazel and Augustus' sudden and deep love for each other may not be a fault in anyone's stars but just two people reaching out for true recognition in a world where everyone feels sorry for you on Facebook but don't really know who you are.

The message I took from the novel was that, obviously, life is short - whether or not you have cancer - and living what you have is infinitely better than living hoping for more all the time. Of course, one should also value your family and show them - something I'll have to work on this year.

Have you read the book or seen the film? Let me know what you think in the comments section!

October 26, 2017

My #MeToo Moment: Don't Let Your Daughters Say It

I have been loathe to make any contribution to the #MeToo movement that has currently taken the world by storm. It's not that I have never experienced harassment but what I have experienced is nothing compared to what some women have faced throughout their lives. Because of this, I don't feel I deserve to or have a place in involving myself in something I have very little direct experience of.

But is my reluctance the same that has kept so many women quiet about their experiences for their entire lives? Celebrities left, right, and centre are coming forward alleging that 'Miramaximus' (Harvey Weinstein) harassed, assaulted, or raped them, some incidents going to the very beginning of their careers as actors. This avalanche of pain and trauma, which resulted in Weinstein being fired from his own company, is sparking other organisations into action, such as those who have controversial fashion photographer Terry Richardson on the books, and inspiring other accusations about long-term abuse, such as allegations against director James Toback.

What I cannot scratch out from under my skin is the idea that Weinstein's behaviour, Bill O'Reilly's behaviour, Terry Richardson's behaviour, Woody Allen's behaviour, Roman Polanski's behaviour, hell, even former presidents' behaviour and current presidents' behaviour, and that of so many men in power has been an open secret and everyone just let it go. Men in power let it go. Women in power let it go. Companies in power let it go. What is the power that these men hold over legions of people who knew (or at the very least suspected) the horror that women in the business had to undergo? What is behind the reluctance to do something to change it? Is it simply the Hollywood culture, borne from decades of sleazy, slimy, powerful men taking advantage of young girls with a dream?

I have been whistled at when walking on the streets. I have been told to smile. I've had my butt grabbed by a man in a superior position. A man offered to rub me down with lotion I had just purchased at the till. I have been asked for nude photos online. I have been told that a tattooed ring is not a real wedding ring. I have been accused of lying about having a boyfriend (before I was married) and a husband. I've had to laugh off jokes about women's bodies at an all-male workplace. And while I want to say I'm lucky, it feels a bit disingenuous, because my experiences may be small but they affected me and have shaped the way I react in current day situations. Like most women, I do smile when someone on the street asks me to. I laughed off butt grabs and rubdown offers, and smirked along with the guys about women's bodies. I smiled when my loyalty was called into question and ignored so many nudges. Why? Because I had to be nice and that is what I feel, and likely what I was told as a child, I should do to protect myself.

Self-protection is at the basis of everything we do. Sure, we have to make compromises and sometimes protect others more than ourselves, but self-preservation is part of our survival makeup. In the modern day, this has extended to retaining our jobs.

As Ruth Reader from FastCompany says,
In any outcome, there’s always the fear that the person you report will retaliate in some way. Your harasser has already proven themselves the kind of person who crosses personal boundaries. Will they spread rumors about you? Will they try and get you fired? Will they threaten you? If other coworkers find out, will they rush to your support or shun you? 
Then factor in the nagging part of your psyche that says, I can handle this situation without outside help. This self-preservation mechanism forces you to second guess whether you’re even being harassed in the first place under the assumption that if you can handle it, it must not be that bad. There is actually very little incentive to report, unless the harassment is so bad you’re unable to do your job, at which point you are more likely to look for another job rather than try to fix your current one. This self-interrogation is part of what prevents women from ever saying anything about their harassment.
In addition to all this, we have dozens of media horror stories about women trying to get their experiences out there about sexual harassment and the company they work for, and even their fellow employees, make an effort to either ignore the situation or make it as uncomfortable as possible. Add to this the fact that, as women, we are likely to be blamed, to be called hysterical, to be told maybe we believed we were raped (like Lindiwe Sisulu says), or told we can't take a joke or are simply too sensitive.
This self-preservation instinct is also possibly why no one says anything when they're witnessing harassment. An article in The Guardian says it so much more succinctly than I could:
There’s a relatively simple two-grid matrix we could use when it comes to ascertaining the ethics of all this: how much power do you have yourself, and how easily can you be discredited by exactly the same cultural contempt for women that spurred the harassment in the first place? As the writer, feminist and human rights activist Joan Smith reminds us: “The men who do this, do it because they have the power and wealth to get away with it. They deliberately pick on women who are less powerful than themselves.” If you had a lot of professional or cultural capital yourself, it is less likely that you would be sexually harassed...
... and ...
Male complicity has different sources, as [Prof Liz Kelly, director of the Child and Women Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University] describes: “It may come from a position of envy, wanting to be that powerful person and get away with it; it may be not wanting the focus to be turned on them – what’s wrong with them that they would object, are they gay? It becomes a masculinity challenge to say anything. And I think there are some men who have a vulnerability themselves, they may be from a minority and they feel like their hold on their position is quite tenuous. There are different ways in which men can become complicit, and not all of it is about thinking the behaviour is OK.”
What makes the situation worse is, of course, the complicity of other women: "One woman described this situation: she was in a circle of colleagues at a work Christmas party, and her boss reached across the circle and grabbed her breast. The thing that she focused on the most was not that, but the fact that everyone in the circle laughed. And the impact that had on her, of realising: ‘These are my colleagues, that was their response, how could I possibly report it?’ was greater than [that of] the act itself" (From the same Guardian piece). Or even female colleagues rooting for #TeamHarasser instead of believing the harassed.

I am not including these quotes to excuse or accuse but as part of my own thought processes behind my reluctance to comment and say #MeToo, which was cracked like a snow globe this morning. As we passed a security guard, I greeted him, but my daughter didn't. He said, 'Hey!' And before I thought about what I was doing, I told my daughter to greet him. I immediately regretted it, because I realised, how was that not a form of harassment? If my daughter does not want to greet a stranger or even a family member she is uncomfortable with, she should darn well not have to. Thus I am also complicit in condoning harassment, albeit a small instance, and even in defining her basic idea of consent. She will look at what I say and do and soon believe, as I do, that she has to greet strangers, be nice to strangers, giggle when they grab her butt, laugh when they make lewd comments about her body, stay silent when they climb on top of her.

If anything, my #MeToo moment is realising just how much I've been trained to be nice - you know, nice but not too nice - and just how much I'm training my daughter to do the same. I am failing in empowering her to fight against harassment, just as my parents did, and just as many parents are doing today out of habit. And damn me to hell if I allow that to happen.

October 13, 2017

Movies || Friday the 13th: My 13 Favourite Horror Films from the '90s

Since it's Friday the 13th in Halloween month, I thought I'd share my 13 favourite horror films of the 1990s. Why the '90s you ask? Well, those were my formative years - prepubescent and teen - and these films were among those that established some of my favourite things, horror films being one of them, along with vampires, aliens, werewolves, and science-fiction.

Horror films from the nineties get a lot of criticism, with many saying it was the worst decade for horror, especially coming off of the work that 1980s horror films did that really broke some boundaries for what horror movies could do, what subjects they could handle, and how far they could push the proverbial envelope. On the back of films the likes of A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Thing, The Evil Dead, Poltergeist, Hellraiser, Childs Play, and Friday the 13th - all classics of the genre - the nineties films had the opportunity to delve into practically every fear and temptation imaginable, but very rarely broke the boundaries set by their predecessors, often sticking to tired formulas, jumping into legions of sequels, and losing focus. It is possible some of them tried too hard: just think of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which is unashamedly on my list, by the way), which had an excellent idea but attempted to fit a lot of background and lore into a poorly-paced film, or the poor executions of what should have been memorable send-offs for Freddy Krueger, Pinhead and Jason Voorhees after years of scaring and entertaining but ended up nothing more than damp squibs.

Regardless of its failings, nineties horrors opened up a door for me, coming out of the world of animation and Saturday morning cartoons to appreciate the cinematography and writing of films that made a lasting impression on me, regardless of whether they've made it into the horror canon or not.

Here's my list:

13. Mimic

mimic-posterWhile Mimic is certainly not the best example of a science-fiction horror, considering the likes of Alien and The Fly, it was really the atmosphere and directing that I enjoyed. Guillermo del Toro's signature visual sense adds to the gravitas of the creature that has been created. Mira Sorvino was also for a time one of my favourite actresses and I enjoyed her in a role that didn't depend on her attractiveness. The film has an amazing atmosphere and the creature effects are also excellent. Besides, who wouldn't be freaked out by giant cockroaches that can mimic humans, their prey?
Image credit: Mimic: Wikimedia Commons, Fair Use

12. Ravenous

raveous-posterI was super disturbed after watching Ravenous for the first time. I remember I was watching it all alone as the rest of my family slept. It's really quite a chilling concept, considering how cannibalism is such a taboo subject. If you're looking for a bona fide cannibal movie that is thrilling and scary with a hint of supernatural, this one-of-a-kind film is it. I haven't watched it in years and I can still hear the bone-chilling repetitive soundtrack.
Image credit: Ravenous: Wikimedia Commons, Fair Use

11. Scream

Scream is a classic for me. I was in high school and I had gone with a group of friends, and we yelled at every jump-scare. This makes it a nostalgic film for me, because of the atmosphere in which I watched it: a dark cinema with the flock-mind of all of us together. I loved that it parodied the concept of a plotline for a horror movie, making us question what we were watching and relishing the twists and turns that come with guessing who the murderer is. For me, Scream was really a whodunnit along with a horror film - compare it to Halloween or Friday the 13th where we know who the killer is - we just don't know where he is until it's nearly too late.
Image credit: Scream: Wikimedia Commons, Fair Use

10. The Faculty

the-faculty-posterIn another merging of my favourite genres, The Faculty is science-fiction-cum-horror-cum-teen angst film. In a manner similar to that of Scream, it parodies the science-fiction monster film while being a pretty good thriller as well. If you haven't seen it before, I bet you can guess who the bad guy is pretty quickly. But that is part of the pleasure: "Ha! I was right!" you'll say. Possibly to yourself as you're watching it alone late at night. .
Image credit: The Faculty, Wikimedia Commons, Fair Use

9. Idle Hands

For me, Idle Hands was the first comedy-horror I really enjoyed. For me it was such a witty concept that someone's hand can literally become possessed as a result of sloth. Throw in freakin' Seth Green and Elden Henson as zombies and it was perfect. Not great, but lots of fun. At least back then. It's been panned as being universally unfunny but it has a cult status among us. By us I mean, nineties horror lovers. Some of them.
Image credit: Idle Hands, Wikimedia Commons, Fair Use

8. Deep Blue Sea

deep blue seaAs a creature feature, Deep Blue Sea, for me, hasn't been topped by many shark films (proof: Sharknado; counterproof: The Shallows). However, it was a completely believable concept and it was only inevitable that the shark experiments would bite back. Literally. Cue the rooms with plenty of dark, still water, human limbs making their way through said water, and scary-as-hell giant sharks with blood on the brain and you have a genuinely thrilling (and bloody) film to watch.
Image credit: Deep Blue Sea, Wikimedia Commons, Fair Use

7. Alien: Resurrection

alien-resurrection-posterSad to admit, but it's true: Alien: Resurrection was the first Alien film that I remember seeing, since I was technically not old enough to watch the originals. However, it did make me go back and watch the original trilogy, which is possibly my favourite ever. It was panned by critics though for not being visually stunning and for following the basic tenets of the first film, obviously with the hope of making it as much of a success. On the other hand, bringing Ripley back as a clone of both herself and the alien Queen made for an intriguing concept, reflected in the way in which the cast views Ripley throughout: is she friend or foe?
Alien: Resurrection, Wikimedia Commons, Fair Use

6. Seven

seven-posterI remember Seven being quite a gamechanger with regards to the melding of horror and crime suspense. Not only did it have a stellar cast, but its story was entirely unique and utterly brutal. The dark subject matter comes only second to the ending itself, which is gut-wrenching and makes you question your own dark side. John Doe is possibly one of the scariest villains ever.
Image credit: Seven, Wikimedia Commons, Fair Use

5. From Dusk Till Dawn

from-dusk-till-dawnIn a classy yet violent take on the vampire genre, Quentin Tarantino won my heart with his foray into the bloodsuckers with From Dusk Till Dawn. It's a film that I watched over and over through the years and it is still entertainingly clever. It's gritty heroes made way for the antihero in mainstream film, while its extended action scenes are an early, better, version of those we are bombarded with in modern action films such as the modern Transformers series. Hey, at least FDTD has a plot, y'all!
Image credit: From Dusk Till Dawn, Wikimedia Commons, Fair Use

4. Wolf

wolf-posterWerewolves are a surprisingly neglected concept in the world of horrors. But if I had to choose between An American Werewolf in Paris (which I enjoyed) and Jack Nicholson as a werewolf, it would definitely be the latter. Wolf is unique in that it does not indulge the horror lover's desire for gore and blood and ripped throats so much as it tempts them to look at what makes them return to animalistic mannerisms. Of course, as werewolves always are, it's about untapped sexual power and domination.
Image credit: Wolf, Wikimedia Commons, Fair Use

3. Copycat

copycat-posterTrue, Copycat is not a horror in the true sense of the word, but the horror is more psychological than it is bloody. This is a film that I really enjoy watching, no matter how many times I do so. It is tightly woven, the pacing is excellent, the villain is creepy, and the concept is spine-tingling. After all, isn't it terrifying to know someone has been watching you and thinking of doing terrible things to you? Plus, it stars Sigourney Weaver and some really outdated tech. Bring it on!
Image credit: Copycat, Wikimedia Commons, Fair Use

2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

buff-the-vampire-slayer-posterI can hear you groaning and asking why Buffy the Vampire Slayer is number two on my list. Let me explain: it's sentimental. I watched it over and over again with my sister and then came a time in my life when I felt everything stopped being perfect: much like Buffy did herself. Head cheerleader, popular girl at school, great boyfriend, independence... and then along came her destiny. Though I cannot claim to ever have had a life similar to Buffy's, the film echoes on a deeper level as Buffy depends on her womanhood to survive - something every teen girl is yet to understand. It may be camp and the acting may be meh, but at its heart it wants every woman to be able to take her destiny in hand and fight off the challenges she may face.
Image credit: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Wikimedia Commons, Fair Use

1. Bram Stoker's Dracula

bram-stokers-dracula-posterProbably known for Keanu Reeves' worst acting stint ever, Bram Stoker's Dracula is at the top of my list because really I'm just a romantic at heart. Defying God and becoming immortal gives Dracula the chance to wait for his true love to return and he does anything for her. Throw in some sexy vampire scenes, blood, people eating cockroaches, and truly amazing production design, and you have the ideal basis for a film that will remove Dracula from a century of being nothing but a villain to becoming someone who has a heart and love deeper than anything many of us will ever know.
Image credit: Bram Stoker's Dracula, Wikimedia Commons, Fair Use

What do you think of my list? Are there any of my favourites you also enjoy? What are your favourites from the nineties?

October 2, 2017

Adventure || Maxima Tours' Namaqua West Coast Flower & Whale Spectacular

At the end of August, hubby and I decided to take some time out and visit a place we hadn't seen yet. And the flowers of the Cape Floral Kingdom and Namaqualand were it. Ideally we would have liked to go on our own, with daughter in tow, so we could see everything at leisure but that would surely have ended up being a much longer excursion than we had time for. Having seen Maxima Tours' offering for an eight day bus tour, which included a stopover in Hermanus for whale watching, we were sold. The tour included a flight down to Cape Town via Kulula and a bus tour up the West Coast.

Day 1: Hout Bay, Seals, and Cape Town

After arriving at Cape Town International Airport, we made our way to Hout Bay for lunch and a trip to Seal Island.  The boat made its way across the bay to see Chapman's Peak Drive and then around the head to the island. It was a lovely windy day and the best experience without my usual long hair!


Our hotel for the evening (and the following one) was the Fountains Hotel in the centre of Cape Town. Dinner and breakfast were buffets and although nothing special was prepared for us, the buffet was hearty and varied and there were more than enough dishes to keep us satisfied, including an excellent lentil salad. The hotel is very tall and has many rooms. When asked what the building was before its renovation, a porter said it was once a hospital. I can't find any details about which hospital. Can anyone tell me in the comments?


Day 2: Whales, Penguins

This is the day I was most excited and anxious about. What if there were no whales? What if the weather was terrible? Before my question could be answered, we were to visit Betty's Bay. However, our day was swapped around due to protests along the road to Betty's Bay so we went directly to Hermanus instead. A little early for our boat trip with Southern Right Charters, we visited a quaint little tourist centre in Hermanus which houses the largest wine shop in the southern hemisphere, The Wine Village. Rows and rows of fermented grapes and other fruits in bottles adorned the shelves. The company also delivers worldwide.


Southern Right Charters offers a very professional and comfortable whale watching experience. Its catamaran is purpose-built and has plenty of spots for viewing the whales. After an introduction to Southern Right whales by the Skipper, we launched from the New Harbour and headed to Walker Bay with our fingers crossed. No need for wishes of luck, however: a large female was seemingly just waiting in Walker Bay to show herself off.

This experience was one of the most amazing I have ever had. Though I was armed with two cameras, I was often too awestruck by her grace and friendliness - and kindness - to snap anything. She came so close to the boat, at one point sailing past it on her side so I could catch a glimpse of her curious eye and at another, swooping out from underneath the boat to show off her sheer size. The experience was also interesting, as two males came along too to attempt to mate with her, so we were lucky enough to see their courtship.

This massive animal was so utterly peaceful it gave me goosepimples to watch her. I marvel at her kindness despite her kind being hunted by generations and generations of greedy and heartless humans to the point that the species was driven to extinction.

When I go down to that area again, there is no way I will miss another opportunity to watch these amazing creatures.


Visiting Betty's Bay was a bit of a rush because it was already quite late in the day. Despite just a short time to take the walk through the penguin rookery at Stony Point, we still saw lots of penguins, including babies and a lonely nest with two eggs. The colony is one of only two land-based African Penguin colonies in the area. There are also three types of Cormorant, as well as gulls and dassies. When you arrive at Stony Point, you may wonder about the railway tracks leading out from the sea: the spot was the home of the Waaygat Whaling Station, which was still operational until 1922. The rails and a few signboards are all that remain to remind us of the cruelty that took place there.


After dinner we went up to Signal Hill in the ice-cold wind to see the lights of Cape Town.

Day 3: V&A Waterfront, Paternoster, Tietiesbaai, and Cape Columbine

On this day we were meant to visit the Postberg Flower and Nature Reserve, but the cloudy weather was not conducive to flowers seeking the sunlight. Instead, after a short stop at the V&A Waterfront, we made our way to Paternoster, Tietiesbaai Nature Reserve, and Cape Columbine to see the lighthouse, one of my favourite of all things along the coastlines of the country. The lighthouse was the last manned lighthoust built in the country, established as recently as 1936.


Our hotel was in Saldanha Bay's Hoedjiesbaai Hotel. This is such a beautiful spot. Despite the industrial view, the water was clear and we saw a sandshark making its leisurely way along the shore. At night, there were five within the light of our torch. Saldanha Bay is probably known best for its important connection to the Sishen iron ore railway line, which reaches all the way to the northern Cape. We were lucky enough to see the miles-long train travelling as we drove through the area, and then saw the same train at Sishen a couple of days later.


Dinner was a bit disappointing as there was a miscommunication about our requirements and nothing was prepared for us. They were accommodating, however, and the next morning we were presented with fresh fruits and nuts.

Day 4: Langebaan, Postberg Flower and Nature Reserve

Today we made our way back down the coast to Langebaan and Postberg Flower and Nature Reserve to see some of the Cape Floral Kingdom of flowers in the region. Carpets and carpets of flowers were located in this tiny little reserve, which is only open to visitors in August and September every year. There is also a limit to the number of visitors allowed per day. The reserve also had some eland and ostriches. We also spotted some Mountain Zebra, though, which is quite a lucky sighting. The lookout point was also stunning.


After the flowers, off to Lambert's Bay. A small fishing village, it is now a large manufacturer of potatoes, which are now processed in what was once a fish factory. After dropping our luggage at Lambert's Bay Hotel, we took a walk to Bird Island. There was once a penguin colony located on the island, but all that is left of the rookery are some empty nests and an interior aquarium area where some penguins were once kept. I think the problem is that the breakwater gave rats, cats and other predators unprecedented access to the colony, which doesn't seem like it was such a good idea. Access to the island is supposed to be controlled but we saw a couple of men poaching crayfish off the breakwater who obviously didn't pay any conservation fees.

There is a cordoned-off section of the island that was filled with rare blue-eyed Cape gannets and circling seagulls, along with a couple of Cape Cormorants. All in all, the island was quite disappointing. The interactive rock pool was nothing but water, the light in the guano collector's hut was not even working, and the penguin room was empty. There were some skeletons of sealife and a morbid whale puzzle from whale bones. We walked around the island and then along the dock. The boats seen in one of my photos below are actually searching for marine alluvial diamonds!


Lamberts Bay Hotel is my favourite of the accommodation we made use of during our trip. The building was built in 1888 and has thus been serving the town for over a century. It has plenty of character, with little shaded nooks, murals in the garden, a solid steel railing, and old-style decor. I felt a little like I was in The Shining. The hotel was also happy to cater for our diet and we were served a delicious bobotie and salad.


Day 5: Clanwilliam, Pakhuis Pass, Louis Leipoldt's Gravesite, and Ramskop Nature Reserve

If there was ever a small town I would choose to live in, Clanwilliam is it. Set in a picturesque valley amongst the Cederberg mountains, it is the home of Rooibos tea, which can only be grown in this area. We visited Rooibos Ltd, which is one of the biggest suppliers of dried Rooibos tea, teabags, and tea extract to suppliers such as African Secrets and Ten 'o Clock Rooibos Tea. We were hoping to have a tour of the tea plantation, but I suppose Rooibos tea manufacture is a closely-guarded secret. Instead, we watched a presentation about the discovery of Rooibos tea and had a chance to sample the latest products and purchase items made specifically for the company or by the company. The glass cabinets around the room were filled with examples of international packaging that Rooibos Ltd's tea leaves were used in. We also stopped at the Strassbergers factory shop - not particularly appealing for vegans - where I thought we would see some shoes being made. Obviously these secrets are also closely guarded. Handstitched leather Strassberger shoes have been made in the region since 1834.


We then made our way up Pakhuis Pass, with a beautiful view of the little town in the valley, to visit the grave of Dr CF Louis Leipoldt. I knew he was a famous South African Afrikaans poet and writer, but discovered on this trip that he was also a keen cook and botanist, and is remembered for his contribution to the knowledge of the Cape Floral Kingdom, as he wrote about and drew examples of flowers found in this region, the only place in the world where these flowers grow.


Ramskop Nature Garden was my favourite trip of the day. The community of Clanwilliam reserved a little spot near the Clanwilliam Dam to create a botanical garden of flowers found in the region. It was a treasure trove of flowers, odd plants, and insects and I was so bedazzled I would sit for minutes at a time watching the insects feed on flowers swaying in the breeze.


That evening, we had dinner at the prestigious Bosduifklip Restaurant. The property is absolutely stunning, with a house overlooking what was once a rocky outcrop but which has been turned into a unique venue, so much so it won the 2016 Wedding Awards prize for most unique venue. It was a bit chilly so we unfortunately did not sit outside, but there is a sort of enclosed lapa which we ate inside. The owner, Kobus, made very certain that we were aware of the fame of his restaurant and kept us entertained with jokes and speeches in his rolling Afrikaans. He and his wife, Aletta, do all the cooking in a traditional coal-fired kitchen. They were very kind and made a magnificent vegan meal for us - in fact, they overcatered and some from the rest of our party also enjoyed our meal options over and above their own.


Day 6: Succulent Nursery and Springbok

Today we left the coastline and headed into the interior, visiting Kokerboom Nursery, the largest succulent nursery in the world, located in Vanrhynsdorp. Who knew there were so many amazing succulents!


Thereafter we made our way through Garies and Kamieskroon to the Goegap Nature Reserve in Springbok in search of the famous Namaqualand daisies. We were to be disappointed, however, as the drought has struck the area hard and there were hardly any daisies to be seen - so much so that we didn't even bother to stop.

Kokerboom Motel is out in the middle of nowhere alongside a highway. It also offers camping facilities. We got a room with two single beds as there weren't enough double bed rooms on offer. It wasn't a problem, except moving the two beds together was an absolute nightmare: they were on loose wheels and when you moved the bed the wheels fell out. Eventually we put the mattresses on the floor. Dalene, the manager, bought Fry's meat replacements for us, so we had schnitzels, sausages, and nuggets. Hey, we appreciate the effort!


Day 7: Kakamas, Augrabies Falls, and Upington

Today was filled with short stops, as we had a long drive to Upington. We visited an original Persian (supposed-to-be-) working water wheel in an irrigation canal in Keimoes. This is actually a national monument. It's one of only a few left in South Africa and was designed by Piet Burger. It is a well-known landmark and stands in front of a vineyard. It's a pity it wasn't working, as one of its pipes was leaking. It is supposed to fill up a fountain to the left to show tourists how the wheel works.


I am glad Augrabies Falls was in this trip.  Its Khoi name is 'Aukoerebis', or 'place of great noise', and it flows through the Orange River Gorge, which is 18km long. Despite the drought, it was flowing full and steady into the Orange River. The falls are about 65m tall, and the water drops into a large pool thought to be around 130 metres deep. The walk is quite a construction and there are four different viewing points of the river and the falls. Rose Quartz is mined in the area, and there was a massive boulder at the entrance. Some friendly lizards also shared our crisps.


In Upington, we were supposed to visit the bank of the Orange River and the Donkey and Camel monuments, but the only one we made it to was the camel. The donkey monument is located at the Kalahari-Oranje Museum and is honour of the contribution of the donkeys who aided pioneers in developing the Lower Orange River Valley. The Desert Patrol Statue, also known as the South African Mounted Police Camel Memorial, honours the mounted police and their use of camels in the line of duty. Camels were a wiser choice in this arid region because they did not need to be fed and watered as often as horses. I mused about what had happened to the camels once they were no longer used and hubby suggested their descendants are probably in circuses now. Kind of a sad thought.


In the afternoon, we arrived at the Desert Palace Hotel and Casino Resort. It was one of the few afternoons we had to relax properly before dinner, which took place in the restaurant. Hubby even did some ill-advised gambling. The hotel reception and restaurant are filled with the most beautiful murals, while there is a casino and an arcade for the children. Dinner at Desert Palace was a full plate of noodles, salad, roast potatoes, and fried mushroom, with canned fruit for dessert. We actually became so tired of canned fruit that in the morning, we quickly had some toast and left before they could give us more! :'D. But the chef rushed out and gave us packages of fresh fruit, which was so useful for our very long journey. The restaurant was a little understaffed for such a large party at dinner.


Day 8: The Long Drive Home

We left Upington as early as possible in the morning, as we had a seven hour drive ahead of us. The most exciting part of our day was seeing a heritage steam train in Vryburg, another disappointing visit as it is in a neglected and sad condition. Otherwise it was just platteland. We took a few short stops here and there, but mostly at petrol stations. We finally arrived at our drop-off point and took an Uber home.

My thoughts about the tour and Maxima Tours:

Maxima Tours has been selling relaxing and unique tour opportunities for 23 years now, and you can really tell. The tour ran smoothly from start to finish, with the only hiccup being a spent tyre on the bus, which was fixed quickly. Our luggage was expertly handled by all the hotel porters thanks to Elaine and Frieda's organised lists. The tour itself felt, as can be expected when on a bus and aiming to see certain sights over long distances, a little full of stops but only because the distances between sights was usually quite far. It is very relaxing being driven around where you and your partner can take in the sights together. For the short amount of time that we travelled around the country, we saw and learned a lot, thanks to the tour company.

We felt a little left out of the general group, but that is probably because we were the only vegans on the tour, and also younger than the general group. I suppose being different will garner that result. Everyone was in general friendly and interested in our lifestyle otherwise.

While Maxima Tours assured us that the hotels in question were aware of our requirements, the first two (Fountains and Hoedjiesbaai) we stayed at denied any knowledge of our dietary requirements. We can only assume that it was a miscommunication between hotel managers and chefs because Maxima had communicated our requirements. At Bosduifklip, Aletta told us one of her daughters is a vegan, so that is why the meal was so good, and at Kokerboom, Dalene said they regularly catered for vegans.

Maxima Tours certainly does offer a very cost-effective and enjoyable tour, and we really had fun. I'd like to go back to some places, though, because I definitely didn't get enough photos (haha!) and I didn't actually see any Namaqualand daisies. Maybe when there isn't a drought.

Are there any places you've visited, too? I would love to hear about them!

September 21, 2017

DIY || Customise a Photo Album Set

Follow this tutorial on how to cover photo albums that don't suit your purposes.

I was at a shortage of creative ideas for Christmas gifts last year. It was a tough year for me creatively and I haven't felt really challenged by anything. It also didn't help that we decided not to celebrate Christmas last year, so I only had three gifts I needed to purchase.

After a visit to Typo, I found a set of three photo albums that would work perfectly for my mom. But when I opened them, I realised I didn't actually look at the cover properly and they were all travel-themed, something my mom will not be able to relate to since she hardly wants to leave the city we live in.

I decided to cover them with artwork by both her granddaughters and some handmade paper. My tutorial will show you how to cover your own photo albums, or indeed any book you'd like to customise.

What You'll Need:

A photo album (or a book)
Handcrafted paper
Sellotape and glue
Pencil and ruler



To start, gather the photos you're going to use and cut them to fit the album pages (if they don't fit already).


Choose the section of artwork you'd like to include as the cover.


Place your album on the paper and pencil the outline of it. Add 1.5 to 2cm around the basic outline.


Where the binding of the album is, draw two v-shaped lines at the folds.


Cut out your cover, cutting the v-shaped marks down to the basic outline. You can either cut straight across where the cover will go over the binding or include a flap that you can also fold over the album. Also cut diagonally across each of the four corners, as below.


Fold the edges over.


I used glue to secure the flaps but you can use sellotape if you're not confident the glue will stick.


And that's your cover done! I would love it if you shared your work!

September 13, 2017

9 Tips for Comic Convention Beginners

While many comic and pop culture lovers simply arrive on the day of a comic convention to peruse the stalls and maybe run into a celebrity, many enjoy a more in-depth experience, such as cosplaying, documenting for online journalism or blogs via interviews or video, attending the numerous sessions of movie trailer premieres, guest speakers, or actor lineups, or even taking part in competitions. If you've never attended a convention before, it may all seem overwhelming, but it doesn't need to be!

For me, attending a comic convention would definitely be more in-depth, as I would not only want to meet some of my favourite stars, find out the latest news about movies and comics I'm looking forward to, take photos and make notes, but also do some cosplay. So yeah, my convention experience is one of the more busy ones!

The most important advice I have for you is prepare, prepare, prepare!

Follow my tips below to enjoy your first comic con:

1. Look through the official schedule carefully to find sessions or events you wish to attend. Highlight these on your calendar and think about how you're going to co-ordinate your cosplaying and shopping (if you'll be doing any) with the sessions you want to attend. Maybe you'll be lucky and all the sessions you're interested in will be on one day: then you can spend the rest of the time having fun! A lot of conventions use this site to register on, making it a great resource to find the information you need about the event.

I would be planning my visit around the sessions I'd like to attend, taking photographs or documenting when there aren't any. I'm not a serious cosplayer, but just enjoy dressing up so wouldn't be taking part in any major events.

2. Plan your budget! This will help you avoid overspending. Your budget should include your tickets, costume and props, travel expenses, and spending money. Decide on a saving plan if you need to.

3. Try purchase your tickets early. Early bird tickets are a must as they represent quite a saving and often give you access to special areas, too. Purchase tickets as soon as you can!
Credit: By Matias Tukiainen from Espoo, Finland, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0
4. If you're cosplaying, decide on your costume as soon as possible, unless you already have one. You don't have to go crazy with the cosplay, and there will be many different types of cosplay at the convention. Don't be intimidated into making your costume an art piece: just have fun! If you do want to take it seriously, remember it takes a lot of time to properly emulate a character's costume, especially more complicated ones like Iron Man. Fans of the character will really appreciate your effort to be true. Book a makeup artist if you need to and if it's in your budget. If you're making your costume yourself, try to begin working on it as soon as possible. When I last cosplayed, it was a last-minute decision so I spent nearly three days straight finishing the costumes up. Find helpful links on cosplaying in the further reading section below.

5. If you're going to be documenting the event, do some research about the biggest sessions, who will be in attendance and so on. Prepare your questions for interviews and find a publication who is interested in your content.

6. During the months ahead of the event, practice your cosplay and characterisation if you're going to be a serious cosplayer. If you're doing your own makeup for this, practice as many times as you can to get it perfect (not everyone can afford a professional makeup artist!) Make a list of items you shouldn't forget, such as notepaper, cameras, recording devices, etc. Find out if there will be lockers available for hire to store your goodies.

7. In the week ahead of the event, charge all your batteries and devices, clear out your memory cards, and ensure you have all the accessories you need, such as tripods.

8. If you're planning on shopping, I always do so on the first and last day. On the first day you can scope out what's available and snap up what's likely to move quickly if you like, but on the last day, the stallholders usually mark down their prices to clear out some stock.

9. Bring a friend! There is safety in numbers, and it's always more fun to share the event with someone!
Credit: Facebook/Comic-Con International
If you're a real fan, comic conventions are always rewarding. You'll get to see some amazing cosplay, have instant access to your favourite geeky gadgets and collectibles, experience the latest in gaming, and possibly meet your favourite actor. Of course, sharing the event with likeminded people is an amazing experience, too.
Here's to your first comic convention!

Further Reading:

{Image credits: 
Lead, clockwise from left: Sakura from Naruto, By Michael CarianCC BY-SA 2.0, file;Game Demo, Facebook/ICON CGC; Paper Tyrannosaur, Facebook/ICON CGC; Comic mural, By Bosc d'Anjou from New York, NY, USA - Erró 02Uploaded by tm, CC BY 2.0, File}