Seeing things anew

Milk jugIt has almost been three months without an internet connection. That’s why you have not heard from me. Tons of frustration. Wow. But now I am back. With lots to say, but one thing at a time.

After 2 years in Europe I went from moody November darkness to … well, as we drove out of the airport parking all I could think of was how bright everything was. See I knew I’d miss the sun while in Europe – everyone warns you of that. But it’s not just those piercing hot rays – it’s the actual light.

It took time for my eyes to adjust and every morning I’d wake up and to my surprise the brightness was still there. Outside Table Mountain would loom over me, seeming so much nearer than it actually was. An artist friend had mentioned this when I moved to Germany, but I had not fully understood. See in Northern Europe the light is softer. The shadows have fuzzy edges that melt into the lighter areas. In South Africa the edge between light and dark shadow is so sharp and intensely contrasting that everything looks hyper-real. Like somebody has drawn crisp outlines. It’s like going from wishy washy watercolour to hard edged graphics, with an incredible 3-d effect. I felt like somebody had finally cleaned the hazy window I had been looking through all this time.


I realise now that I have experienced this before, but at the time I didn’t quite comprehend it. My husband and I had been travelling in Malaysia. Although it was hot and sunny, the humidity and haze must’ve softened the light. We climbed Mount Kinabalu and as we reached a certain height above the cloud cover, I felt as if the plants and shrubs were surreally 3-dimensional. I snapped away at the plant life around me, finding it all really beautiful. I was not hallucinating. What must’ve created this effect was the sudden clarity of light at the higher altitudes.

I recently came across an interview with a German photographer moving to South Africa in the 1950’s (my memory! I think it was Schadeberg). He explained that his biggest photographic challenge was coming to terms with the intense contrast¬† between bright light and dark shadows and instead of trying to “fix” this problem, he chose to embrace it and make use of it in his photographs.

We are often encouraged to take photos in flattering light of shady areas, early morning or late evening, when there is less contrast and the colour isn’t bleached out by the harsh sunlight. But maybe now & then we should remember to break those rules and just embrace the brightness. Now there’s a challenge.

Butterfly bush


All wrapped up

… and ready to go!

I am busy getting ready to move. It’s very exciting! After almost 2 years of living in Germany, we’re packing up and returning home to South Africa. I’ve packed away my photography lights and am dealing with tons of admin, while trying to savour some final German flavours. This means I may be a little quiet over the next 2 months or so, while we’re floating between homes without my beloved Mac. But I do hope to squeeze in a post or two before the Mac is packed and I should be back on line by the end of January or sometime in February.
Some of you will recognise these pics from last year’s post, but for others it’s all new. I wrapped them for you! They’re my favourite German Christmas Treats, that only arrive on the shop shelves, round about the same time that tinsel appears on the South African shelves. I find it fascinating how these goodies only get baked around Christmas time, so that their flavour has become synonymous with Christmas.
“Stollen” is the big loaf. There are various types : Butter Stollen, Marzipan Stollen, all covered with icing powder and filled with raisins and citrus peel. Then there’s my current favourite – “Zimtsterne” or Cinnamon Stars. A very nutty cinnamon dough, which remains chewy, topped with crisp white icing. These do tend to evaporate no matter what jar or tin you store them in. Oh, I haven’t mentioned Lebkuchen, which is a little bit like a ginger bread dipped in dark chocolate or spekulatius… or…
You can see – I’m taking this last minute savouring quite seriously, as I wrap up our lives. ūüôā
I hope you indulge a bit too and enjoy this wonderful time of year.

vanilla milk

Vanilla milk - Photo by Karene'

It’s getting darker and the light is getting softer as the leaves start to turn. Autumn is beckoning. Gone are the fun temptations of ice-cream and milkshakes. My girls snuggle up on the couch with the yapper and ask for an old favourite that my mom used to make me. It probably started off as treat made up of whatever ingredients were readily available in our empty pantry. Now my big girl would choose it over hot chocolate any day.

couch potatoes

I’ve been lazy (and practical I guess) and have been making our vanilla milk in the microwave. But this time I decided to warm the milk on the stove and what a difference! I never realised it! The microwave might create heat, but it doesn’t turn the milk into that luxurious, creamy and slightly frothy consistancy. I had forgotten. The smell of warm milk heating in a pot, steam rising, the gentle rhythm of the wooden spoon hitting the side of the pot, slowly stirring back and forth, so that it doesn’t burn – the patient action as soothing as the milk itself.

warm milk|photo by Karene' |

We’ve always used vanilla essence for our vanilla milk, with a spoonful of sugar for each cup. I guess the right way of making it would be to soak real vanilla pods in the milk? Here in Germany you get sachets of vanilla sugar (essence and pods are less common) and they work perfectly for vanilla milk – one sachet per cup.

cinnamon&vanilla milk|photo by Karene'|

I sprinkled a little cinnamon on top this time and every warm sip brought back mixtures of memories. Memories of my mom stirring melkkos in the kitchen – a special milky cinnamon treat. Of being woken on icy winter mornings with a warm drink to entice us to crawl out of bed. And that wonderful feeling of luxury – weekends in bed with a good book and warm cup of vanilla milk.

are you a list-maker?

blue whisk - photography by Karene,

Are you a list-maker? So am I! Wonderful things! I have lots of pretty little notebooks filled with lists. They keep my day ticking over in the right direction and then the best part? Oh, yes!¬† – when you get to cross everything off the list, in the end and you can be proud of everything you’ve achieved. But do you also allow yourself to let go of your list? Do you sometimes draw off the page? What happens then?

Ok, I’ll admit it: I can be a total control freak. So when I plan a shoot it often involves brainstorming sessions, sketches of possible subjects, sketches of lighting options, composition, some finger-drawings on the shower door – until I have a clear understanding of what I’d like to achieve. Then I find the right props, do some tests and eventually I set up and start working. I have limited time. I aim, I shoot, but then once I have the controlled shots of my ideas under way – I like to just let go.

I run into overtime. Happy accidents send me off on new paths. Instinct, that is connected to years of mistakes and AHA-moments, directs me. I allow myself to get totally side-tracked and it’s amazing where one ends up.

The other night I had been working until late, on a long distance commission of a series of images which I wanted to be just perfect. Because it was a series, and I had very specific ideas, I had to consciously keep bringing myself back to focus, under control, to ensure that the images would connect with each other and end up how I had planned. Some things worked, some things wouldn’t – readjust. Try again. It was quite intense work and I did not have a chance to let go. I went to bed exhausted, but happy with my work.

The next morning, when I saw a little whisk, still lying on the table. I pushed aside my daily list and picked up my camera. I noticed the cool morning light getting caught on the criss-cross metallic lines. I sat on down on the couch and played. Totally relaxed. Dark lines against light (flutter flutter) Light against dark (flutter flutter) A little later, I had these photos. Just for me. Happy.

whisk - Photography by Karene -

whisk - Photography by Karene -

whisk - photography by Karene -

I think you know where I’m going with this. With lots of turmoil where I am, right now, I sometimes have to remind myself that you can only have so much control. It’s an art to learn how to trust and let go.

The mind likes to hold on, but the soul needs us to let go.

How about you? Where do you sit on that scale of clinging and letting go? Are you JUST a list-maker?

The Fig

Fig 1

I have a confession to make – I have never eaten a fresh fig. Well, not consciously anyway. I have never gone out, bought a fig and eaten it. Fig Jam? Yes. Fresh fig? No. The other day I was sitting in a restaurant and saw the woman opposite me take her sliver of fig and scoop out the insides and I thought. You’ve never done that.

I am generally not the type of person to shy away from trying new things. In fact I tend to eat everything. (I’ve even had frogs’ legs before – yuck!) But I do tend to have a problem with admitting when I don’t know or understand something that everyone assumes I do know or understand. If a topic came up in the conversation that I am unfamiliar with, but everyone around me gets it, I wouldn’t stick my neck out and say: “I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about!” I tend to quietly wait for it all to pass by. I have a friend who is brilliant at asking relevant, specific questions until she gets the full picture. She’s brave. And she’s never afraid to ask. And she never sounds stupid. In fact she makes other people feel clever. I admire her for that.

So what does this have to do with a fig? Ummm… well… I have no idea! It has something to do with the fact that I should not skim over the things that I don’t know. So I stood in the supermarket, with these pretty curvy purply figs in front of me. How do I know whether it’s ripe or not? I picked one up. eeww…I really didn’t expect them to be soft.¬† Is soft good or not?¬† I was one of those awful shoppers that prodded, poked and touched a whole lot of them and took home the most averagely soft fig in the tray.

Fig 2

I cut it open. Figs are really beautiful inside. Filled with tiny seeds. The seeds are the actual fruit – a bit like a granadilla or a guava – but very fine and soft.¬† I scooped out a mouthful and – it has a very delicate taste doesn’t it? I had some with white yoghurt and honey and I found the honey overpowering. It’s amazing that such a soft flavour, could have received such gourmet status, over the centuries. Don’t you think? I can’t really describe it. Do you like figs? Did I eat it right? Any tips for me?

Fig 3



Fig 4 Fig 3 Fig 2 Fig 1

simple pleasures


Bread & Jam 5

(Into temptation knowing full well, your body will rebel… )

Living in a country where supper is called Abendbrot (directly translated as Evening Bread) means that avoiding bread is simply not possible. There’s a bakery around every corner, with hundreds of different types of fresh bread rolls and loaves of bread. A good German weekend breakfast, does not include fried eggs and bacon. One takes a walk to the nearest bakery, to fetch a variety of fresh rolls, and then one adds various different hams, pates, cheeses and cheese spreads to add to the temptation of what the English call a Continental Breakfast.

I must say, although all the rolls, (crispy or soft, brown or white, poppy seeds or sunflower seeds, square or round…) with all their confusing names, are indeed a temptation for me, the loaves are not really. But the other day as I was waiting to pay for my rolls, listening to a customer asking about the percentage of rye in the various breads, I noticed amongst the many heavy round dark rye breads, a small rectangular white loaf. It was labled as a Dutch Milk bread. I thought back to the comment that had been left on my Bread-Free Burger post and with mouth watering, I pointed it out to the lady behind the counter.

Bread & Jam 3

At home, I introduced my girls to the simple pleasure of manually cutting a slice of fresh white bread, and spreading it with real butter and chunky apricot jam. Have you noticed how, in the world of convenience that we live in, we all tend to buy tasteless, pre-sliced preservative filled bread? When did convenience become so much more important than flavour? My children were surprised when I told them that this was how the bread that I’d grown up with, looked and tasted – and so did the bread of my parents and my grandparents. That we had to learn how to cut it thin and straight, ourselves. Do you remember those arguments about who was the last, to cut the bread so skew? … It’s all a little sad, hey? Especially, coming from a family that has always tried very hard to prove the theory that man CAN live on bread alone.¬†

So purely to keep up tradition, blowfish effect on my body or not, simple pleasures like fresh white bread, will just have to be an occasional indulgence in our home – with fresh butter and apricot jam or bovril or…

What’s your bread indulgence?

Bread & Jam


Bread & Jam 2

Bread & Jam 4


simply flowers

simply flowers

Creativity flourishes when you take time out to play. No specific goal, just grab what you have at hand and let things develop instinctively. See where you end up. I needed a break from food and I have some very vague ideas in my head, which refuse to be pinned down. So this morning I saw my hydrangea outside and decided, it would do. I grabbed my camera and some wax paper and disappeared into my head. Fiddling with my camera settings and different set-ups. I went into exploration mode and played. When I “woke up”, this was what I had.






cut flowers


dark hydrangea

I’ve decided to make these freebees. If you’d like to download the printable versions (A6 300dpi) for personal greeting cards or designs, you can find them at this link:¬†simplypause hydrangea cards

Simply download them directly onto your desktop and then press print, whenever you need a quick card!

(If you would like to use them for business purposes, I’d appreciate being asked beforehand, and some aknowledgement of simply pause as the source. Send me a quick message¬†to clarify things here ūüėČ )