What to do in Quarantine

Since both the U.K. and South Africa are in, essentially, full ‘lockdown’ now (movement restricted, shops and businesses closed), I’ve decided to dedicate a few posts as promised to what it is we, as a family, are doing to stay sane during this extended quarantine.

First things first, we have to acknowledge how incredibly lucky we are right now. As I said in my last post, my in-laws’s home is not a bad place to be quarantined – second only to being at home. I know most people probably won’t have easy access to the space that we have, and I can’t claim it as my own so this is in no way a smug post. What I can do is share ideas which have worked for us, and which can, hopefully, work in smaller spaces, too.

My mother-in-law, since she moved to this house 20 years ago, has become a keen gardener. She’s had the girls helping her with doing the borders – if you have a balcony, terrace, or even a big, sunny windowsill, this is definitely possible.

She’s given me a tutorial in the best things to plant for little kids – they can get their hands dirty AND make the place look lovely! Kids love knowing they’ve been involved with something they can see; they love feeling proud.

Firstly, please, don’t be put off if you only have a sunny window. Secondly, you may think that, in quarantine, you can’t find seeds etc, but most can be found either at your local supermarket or on Amazon. Finally, these are super purse friendly, even after all the corona virus nightmares. If you don’t have a plant pot, find a decent size, deep bowl – make sure to gently drain it the evening after you’ve watered, to make sure you don’t get stagnant water in the bottom.

The best flowers to start with for kids, and ones that yield pretty flowers, are probably sunflowers (seeds available at every supermarket with your fortnightly big shop, on Amazon for less than £3 or Takealot where you can get an entire 2kg for R149) or Nasturtiums (Amazon for £5 or Takealot – R99 for a bulk pack, also including sunflowers!).

Both can be planted in a small-ish pot, either on a windowsill, on a balcony/terrace or in your garden. Make sure to keep the seeds far enough apart, treat them lovingly, and watch them grow! If you have access to a bird table, or space for birds to land, then, once your sunflower has lived its beautiful life you can pop the spent head on the table and watch all the birds flock to nibble on the seeds in the middle. Nasturtiums are, as I’m sure you know, the edible flowers you see on cakes and cheese boards. Plant them now (before the end of April) and they’ll flower all through summer. They’re a no-brainer for kids – they look pretty and they can eat them afterwards!

Other easily bought options are herbs (you can buy them already planted in small pots at most supermarkets), which you can pop on a kitchen window and eat straight from the pot. Rocket seeds are easy to get hold of, and can be grown in 3 weeks (plus, it’s a year-round herb). It can be eaten straight from the pot, and occasional ‘thinning’ (i.e. eating and tasting, so nobody can see) only helps it grow better. French beans and carrots are also easy to grow, and start in small pots – and Sweet Peas are great fun if you want another cute little flower – plant them now, and they’ll flower from May until October.

I understand gardening might not be for everyone, but it’s a fun way to keep kids entertained and concentrating. Another, really easy way to amuse them, especially the younger kids, is to feed the birds. You might think that sounds overly simple, but why not mix it up a bit? Fat balls and suet-based feed (available at bigger supermarkets, on Amazon and Takealot) last for ages. You can make a bird-feeder out of old wire coat hangers, or buy from the same places. My girls love watching the birds (and squirrels, ahem) eating the food they’ve put out for them, but they also really like dividing the food out, too.

It can be difficult trying to keep children occupied when they’re not allowed out of your property (even in the U.K., we can only go out once a day for exercise purposes) – and trying to do things other than screen time can be trying. Much as we’re resigned, for now, to letting the girls watch more telly than usual, we’ve still started saving ideas to do over time. Tomorrow, we’ll be making banana bread. Watch this space!

The Ideal

I’m going to share my idea of paradise. Please share yours, too…

In paradise, we would live in a log-and-brick house out in the bush (its paradise, okay – the animals are all there but miraculously we only see them when it’s convenient, and there are no accidents… or maybe we’ve got a fence around paradise, for the realists in here) with a thatched roof that really keeps that thatch smell. It’s constantly Spring, and in front of the house are two constantly flowering jacarandas.

My children don’t go to school full days ever – the school comes to them for four hours, but mainly for social skills. The teacher is never angry (she disciplines, but never out of anger) – she is a modern day Mary Poppins, and children come with her to learn in our home. They never leave a mess behind, and I spend those four hours in the bath, and doing yoga, and playing with my dogs in the shade. We spend the rest of the day outside, making mud pies, running naked in the sun, paddling in creeks and dams, playing hopscotch or sorting flowers into water for perfume. It very rarely rains, but when it does it’s never cold, and we use the rarely-used television for movies only.

The children go to bed when they’re tired, after bathing outside in the fresh air, with stories galore. Then Mummy and Daddy sit and drink wine (Mummy) and smoke (Daddy) and even have sex whenever we want to (unscheduled – now there’s an idea!). The stars always shine and the cicadas and crickets always sing. As Mummy starts to drift off, the evening comes to a close and I go to bed in our giant, comfy wonder bed, to start all over again tomorrow. Maybe there will be fresh eggs for breakfast (this is paradise, there are always fresh eggs when we need them, our chickens are that good) to make egg and feta and spinach and tomato on the toast. And maybe we’ll see the animals, and follow a dung beetle rolling his poo happily. And maybe we won’t get sunburn, and maybe there’ll be no bickering or misbehaving…

And maybe, tonight, I’ll dream of this little paradise. But for now, this life will do just fine.