Friday, March 27, 2015

The reality of the ex-pat life ....

I step out of the shower, trying to ignore the throbbing of my cheek. It's been almost six months now and it's not getting better ... it comes and goes and there have been root canals and extractions and somehow we're no closer to having this resolved. I make a mental note to call the dentist, maybe I'll have to go on a fourth course of antibiotics. I wonder if I'll have to delay my trip home - again. Three years has been a long time to wait, I can't imagine waiting any longer.
The house is quiet - one off to school, the other home sick but happily playing for a little while, enough for me to shower and get dressed. I saw a post on Facebook this morning ... a dog stretched out, exhausted, and the caption said 'I can't do adult today.' It's how I feel. Some days it's overwhelming, the being grown up stuff. I'd like to climb back into bed and lose myself in a book and pretend there's nothing else I need to be doing.

Speaking of beds, it's been a while since I changed our sheets. Maybe that's a good place to start. Find some order in the chaos that is life right now and change the sheets. Tidy the room. I strip the bed in a few seconds. This will help. At least one room in the house will feel peaceful and clean when I head to bed tonight. I stop at the linen cupboard. I forgot, we only have one sheet. The second one tore and I meant to replace it but I clearly never did. Add that to the list of weekend chores. And I can't wash the sheet today because we pulled out the washer and dryer last night in an effort to repaint the laundry cupboard and make the space more organized, and when we did, we saw the peeling paint on the wall and the calcified hose. Water has been leaking behind the washing machine, and now we have to fix it. Only we don't know any contractors or plumbers and I'm not exactly sure who to call. The plumber we called out this week for a broken toilet didn't end up fixing it properly. I have to call him back too, but when i do he's going to remind me that he saw that our water tank needs replacing and that's a few thousand, and today that's just one more thing I don't want to have to deal with.

If we were at home, my step-dad would just come round and he'd know exactly what to do. He'd fix it for me, all of it, or he'd know a guy who could, and it would all be done and I wouldn't have to worry. 
But he's an ocean away.
I could wash the sheet, the machine could still work as it is now, pulled away from the wall with it's leaky hose - just one more cycle wouldn't hurt. But then i wouldn't be able to dry it because spring has not arrived and there is snow on the ground and the dryer was working just fine but when we pulled it away from the wall last night I tore the delicate silver extractor pipe at the back. I have no idea how to fix that either. I could ask my neighbor but although we've lived here just short of two years now, and get on just fine, that seems too intimate a request. I'd be imposing.
If we were at home I'd just take the whole load of washing to my mom or to one of my sisters and that would be my clean bed done. But we're not. 

I head back into the bedroom to remake the bed with the same old sheets. They'll have to wait another day. Or two. My daughter calls from downstairs, her fever has risen. I call the doctor and make an appointment for later in the day. Which means I have to cancel the arborist who was due to inspect our trees. We accidentally bought a forest with this house and a dozen of the trees are apparently not stabile and need to come down. We have been wondering if we could just do it ourselves. My brother-in-law said we could fly his gardener over and that would be cheaper. We laughed and nodded at the time. Now it seems like a tempting option. I wonder if he'd also be able to patch my leaking water pipe and patch the wall. In South Africa he'd just do the whole job and paint the wall for me too.

In the county I'm from there is a lot of talk of staying and leaving. Each time I go home I notice how often it comes up, maybe because I left and so it's the natural way of talk to flow, to ask and wonder and compare. Do I have regrets ? Am I coming back ? Is my life perfect so far away ? The day to day FB posts talk about load shedding and eating by candlelight and I understand how we all sometimes have days when we want to run away.

The reality is that it's the same struggle no matter where we are, just in different ways. The grass is green here, yes, and very beautiful in the summer - but the winter is cold and white and goes on way too long. The reality of the ex-pat life is that the homesickness often lurks around the corners. It hides in the cupboards and under the bed and pounces out at the most unexpected time, making one lose concentration for the better part of a day. Months. Years. There's no cure. One learns to carry on.

Since we became parents it's definitely been harder. In our twenties we were glad for our freedom and the chance to live our lives far away, in a new place. It was a huge adventure and we went home to recount our tales and we were happy. If we missed home too much we went back for a visit and when we returned it was to a community of South African friends and our British colleagues and it was easier. But the children, they changed everything. There are no family dinners or weekly coffees. There are no grandparents at our birthday table, no popping by to quickly drop off the kids for an hour. There is no one to babysit or take the kids when they are sick, no weekend sleepovers, no one teaching my son how to catch fish. There is no maid for the priviledged, no one to keep the house clean and watch the kids for a quick half an hour, or help me with dinner or sweep up the sudden mess on the floor that I swear was gleaming clean just half an hour ago.

It's the small day-to-day intimacies of having family close by that I miss. The last minute phone calls to come round for a meal, join us for a braai (bbq), come shopping for a new outfit. Come round to help with a project, can you sew these curtains for me. Have I chosen the right paint color ? It's the having to start over, trying to fit in and find a way to belong. Accept being the odd one out, the one who doesn't always know how things are done, the one who's accent gives her away. Get comfortable admitting not knowing and ask a lot of questions. Get lost a lot. Flounder, cry and pull oneself back up and do it all again. It gets easier. Mostly.

I don't regret where life has taken me. I am aware of all the choices that led me to this place, and why I made (and am still making) the ones I did. But to those of you dreaming of the faraway places and starting life anew ... it's an incredible experience to be away and start a new life somewhere else. I love that I've lived on more than one continent, that so many of my friends have travelled the world and had incredible adventures, and know what it is to move continents away and start life again. Sometimes more than once. But we all know the price we pay for our freedom, and some days it would just be nice to be able to call up my parents and say please come and fix my broken wall and can you play with the kids while I just nip out for an hour or just come and have coffee, i could do with some company. I'll even throw in a cake.

So instead i write a blog post in between a hundred interruptions to spell out words for an Easter card. Fever does not stop 5 year olds being creative. Then I'll walk away from the computer and deal with the day and think how really none of this is important and we all have those days sometimes. 

Just another day in paradise, right ?

x

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The best laid plans and all that ....

I was meant to be packing a suitcase, piles of clothes and gifts laid out on the bed. Carefully deliberating how many snacks to take in my hand luggage for that meal they always skip out when they suddenly switch to African time just as we're gearing up for dinner and not quite ready to sleep (or missing a meal) ... which books, which magazines. Folding gifts up in t-shirts and wondering how it was all going to fit. 

I haven't been back to South Africa in three years and the timing seemed so perfect ... after all, grandmothers don't turn 95 every day. It's been too long and I've been homesick and it was time to be on African soil again. And a trip on my own ... what a luxury.

But sometimes life doesn't go according to plan, no matter how well made. It serves me right for booking a flight to land on Friday 13th. What was I thinking, tempting the Fates. 

Just a tooth or two and now I need to stay and have a bit more time to let things work out.

And so today I'm trying to find silver linings and go with the flow and not stamp my feet too much. I am all grown up (mostly) after all. 

So I did what grown-up girls do and bought myself flowers, and then I am going to sit down and read all the lovely magazines I had ordered as presents for everyone else, back home. And bake milk tart. What else is a girl to do.



Happy almost-Spring everyone.

Here's to adventures that really do happen ... even if they don't happen quite when we wanted them to.

x

Friday, February 20, 2015

On the power of great writers and saying farewell ...

Earlier this month, South Africa lost one of her greatest writers. I remember reading 'A Dry White Season' at age 13 and how it changed everything for me. Growing up in Apartheid South Africa, Andre Brink's books were a voice from the other side - he shone a light for white South Africans onto the reality of what was happening politically. Although his writing was often brutal and shocking, a simmering undercurrent of violence in his stories, I have read most of the books he wrote, even though some of them still haunt me. That is the point I believe. He tackled the issues in our country head on, and for a young impressionable white girl growing up fairly protected, he exposed the underbelly of human hatred and intolerance in a way no one else has, for me, in quite the same way. 

I will always be grateful for that first book, and to my Mother for handing it to me. For the Afrikaans teacher who came afterwards, reading banned poetry and books that were not on our conservative syllabus. For the Drama teacher who took us to protest theater and read us Athol Fugarde and made sure we questioned. Everything.

There are many articles in tribute online, here is just one of them.

After the past week with the chaotic State of the Nation address in South African parliament, there is still a very long way to go and the battle is far from won. 

An interesting blog post on the Disco Pants today.

And this speech, which has done the rounds on email and the internet. Wonderful.

A friend sent me a link to this festival coming up in May. I think I need to go.

And i am flying home for the first time in three years ... just a very short trip, on my own, which feels huge ... 

So much on my mind.

x




Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Tips for the Winter Blues ... with things that are good for your soul.

During the summertime when everything is green and hanging in the heat, afternoons are lazy-naptimes on the grass and I dream of air conditioned spaces, it is hard to remember just how cold winter can be. And now the ground is covered in snow with more on the way in a few days time and the skies are grey quite often and the temperatures are COLD.



But there is a lot to celebrate about winter too, and it can be a really precious time of year. It's a quiet season, a good time for introspection and a bit of hibernating (in a good way) ... not to say I don't like socializing and seeing friends, but actually I like the solitude of long quiet days as well. Somehow it's good for me and especially now, as I try to figure out the next chapter for me and how that will look, I welcome the peace of quiet snowy days.




Today I wanted to share some simple thoughts on getting through the long cold winter here in the Northern Hemisphere, especially now, in January and February when the festivity of the holiday season has gone and the weeks of cold are still stretching ahead.

* Winter is a wonderful time to think about the space you are living in ... as I mentioned in my last post, this is a good time of year to declutter and really think about the way you live in your home ... are the spaces working how you want them to, could you do with a little less 'stuff' and a little more space ? With no big rush to be outdoors or heading to the beach, winter is a good time to get on with projects indoors and making home feel beautiful is top of my list for sure. As I wrote about in my last post, I've been working on this for the past month - definitely a long term project, it's taking time ... but little by little I'm starting to feel happier with the spaces around me.

Get inspired by sites like:

San Francisco Girl Bay

Apartment Therapy

The Design Files (my current favourite place to go for beautiful home inspiration)

French by Design






* Make time to curl up with a good book or a magazine, a big cup of tea or hot chocolate and a soft throw ... even if your days are full of the demands of family life, it's important to make time for yourself ... even if it's just for an hour now and then.




* Have family movie nights with a movie everyone can enjoy ... snuggle up in PJ's with pizza and blankets. Make hot chocolate and bring out the board games. (Yes. Pizza and hot chocolate feature quite a lot in my winter itiniary).Board cames can be for just the grown ups too !

* If your kids are still little enough (and even if they're not), throw on a cd after dinner and have an impromptu dance party. Make everyone have a turn to dance on the coffee table.

* Eat by candlelight and use the best dishes. Or let the kids bath by candlelight. Just because. (Obviously this is only a novel activity if you are not living somewhere with enforced load shedding or a lack of power on a normal day).

* It's the perfect weather for making crafts



Take some books out of the library for ideas ... or .... 

* Set up some boards on Pinterest to get inspired about Spring, new places to travel to, art and DIY projects, plan a party, redecorate a room, or just get inspired about life with whatever makes your heart sing. It's my happy place. Always. Create your own boards, find people who's pins you love and feel inspired by and follow their boards. Search for ideas ... the possibilities are endless.

I found her today. Love. I am a little obsessed with succulents and deserts right now. It must be the weather.

* On the subject of being online, this is a great time to catch up on blogs you love, and to find new websites to be inspired by. (Or start your own!) I found these two photographers recently and think their work is just beautiful.

Paul Massey - Interiors, Portraits, Travel. A visual feast.
Kara Rosenland - Australian photographer, stylist and traveller

* Nurture yourself with good food. Freshly baked bread, soups, stews simmering for hours. Muffins. Plates of finger food. Bake a cake.

The Pioneer Woman.

Who doesn't love Jamie Oliver.

Bird and Cleaver is just one of the beautiful blogs for food inspiration.




* Online / e-courses are huge in the States and are a wonderful way to broaden your horizons without leaving home they work so well because they can be fitted in around work and family commitments and can usually be done at your own pace over the course of a few weeks. This is a good time of year to test the waters. Take a course about something you've always wanted to try but maybe haven't felt brave enough to do in the company of others. Many of the courses have a great online community through Facebook groups so there's a lot of room for discussion and encouragement. There are courses in photography, blogging, scrapbooking, painting, writing ... after a long wait, I am finally taking Do What You Love's e-course and it's already made me see things a little differently. Some hard questions being asked, but then that is the whole point.


* You can never have too many lights. This year I decided to leave our Christmas lights up till winter ends and they make me smile every single night when I turn them on. Hang strings of lights up in the house too to brighten up the long cold nights.




* Bring in fresh flowers - bright spring colours to chase away the winter blues.


 * Get out of the house. If a day trip or a new road is not possible, take your camera for a walk and find something beautiful in the cold. 



As i was writing this blog, look who made an appearance at the window. I didn't even need to leave the house to go for a walk for this winter photo.



Love. Living. Near. Deer.

x

Friday, January 16, 2015

New Year's Resolution ... A Tidier house (and life!)

I hope you had a lovely festive season and are feeling positive and ready to embrace the New Year, whatever that means for you.

My sister and her family visited the States in December and for a few days before they left they stayed in an apartment in Manhattan, kindly lent to them by neighbors of friends in the same building. We headed into the city on their last day here, to spend the day together, and got to have tea and some hanging out time in that beautiful apartment.

It's hard to explain exactly what it was that made it such a beautiful and peaceful place. From the minute I walked in the door i wanted to curl up in their red armchair beneath the window and drink long cups of tea. I think what really struck me was that every object seemed to have been chosen with care, they had chosen the most beautiful of everything to fit their space perfectly. From the deep red armchair below the window to the wall of bookshelves, there was no clutter, only a few select pieces. Three small pieces of art on the wall. One lovely rug. In the kitchen a rack hung with mugs and each one was hand painted or brought from travels far away ... each would make drinking out of it a special experience. Their son's bedroom had simple wooden furniture and the toys were tidily packed away in baskets - the whole room felt nurturing and well put together, simple and effortless. 

Long after we left and said goodbye to my sister and her family, my thoughts returned to that apartment, wondering why it had appealed to me so much. And then I realized that my own home contains so many things that are not my favourite, or even the best I could find ... they are items bought impulsively on sale, or to tide us over until we find the right thing to fit a space. Time and again I read articles about homes which have been lovingly put together over time, and the owners always talk about being patient - not rushing to buy something for the sake of buying, but to wait until the right item presents itself. If you're shopping for a rug, wait until you find one that makes your heart sing. And really, shouldn't we have the same standard for the mugs we drink tea out of, the clothes we wear each day, the towels we dry off on.


Yes there are practical limits ... of course most of us cannot afford to splurge on the most expensive luxury items we see. But even at a low budget we still have choices - to buy what really appeals to us and to leave the rest behind. To fill our home only with the things which really make us happy.

A week or two later I came across this book online ... 'The Life Changing magic of tidying-up' by Marie Kondo.


                                                 (Image via Pinterest)

I'm not sure how to be honest, I don't think I did a google search for tidying ... but I was reading on clear simple spaces and it came across my path. I was a bit sceptical at first, there are so many books and magazines and websites devoted to clearing clutter and living a simpler life but that's not really what I was after. I ordered her book (kindle edition) and read it in just over an hour. The principle is very simple and yet so different from other articles on similiar subjects that I have read before ... she tells her clients to only keep those items in their homes which 'spark joy.' To let go of anything that is being kept because it was given as a gift, inherited (unless there is emotional attachment), kept to be used at some point in the future, a reminder of past achievements (like books from courses taken long ago). Unlike other authors and 'de-cluttering' experts, she doesn't care how long last an items was used or worn, it's about the emotional connection we have with our belongings. She claims that if we use this criteria to de-clutter our homes, we really will only need to tidy up like this once. It's called 'getting your house in order' and it make sense that once we let go of things which do not make us happy, we're not likely to fill our spaces up again with things that don't. We'll be more aware as we go shopping and travelling in the future, mindful only to purchse the things that we love and really want in our spaces. Whether that's a piece of jewellery or something practical like a dishcloth, shouldn't we place the same amount of importance on that choice and allow our homes to have space and light in which to appreciate the things we truly love ?

Her clients typically throw out bags and bags of books and clothes and things they no longer love. They are told to say goodbye and to thank those items for their role, now that it's time for them to move on. It's a beautiful and very Eastern sentiment. She also does not recommend storage systems to help in the process - her belief is that once the tidying has been done according to her principles, the storage system in the home or room that is already there, will be just enough. 

I'm not one for New Year's resolutions - it feels like too much pressure to place onto a year that's brand new and just unfolding, but I think all of us have ideas of what we'd like to achieve, how we'd like to live, be, feel in the year ahead. For me, this year holds a lot of decisions around work or staying home, art and how to include that in my life again without a studio space in our new home ... writing and how that fits in, starting a business or not, studying ... so many decisions and choices and I have been craving the home around me to feel lighter, simpler and less cluttered. It's not as if I have heaps of things lying around on the floor or in my closets, but the weight of all our possessions has been heavy of late. So it seemed like the right time to try out Marie's method after reading her book at the beginning of a new year.

Honestly, it's a very liberating approach, to only keep the things you love. Gone are the heavy art history books - I finished studying and don't use that in my day to day life anymore. Gone are the piles of novels and books on parenting and self-help. They were reminders of where I came from, not of where i am today. The clothes I was keeping because I had them and need clothes, but when i held each one up I realized they really did not make me happy and I never felt good wearing them. The shoes I never wear and the ones I bought but that hurt my toes.

It's a slow process. In her book she talks about it taking half a year to do it thoroughly, and i can see why. She talks about taking it in stages also, dealing with clothes, books, papers and so on in increasingly difficult levels. It's often easier to get rid of clothes, but not as easy when it comes to photographs or decorative items gathered from travels. Papers are definitely my downfall and I haven't reached that stage yet but already I am feeling so much lighter, as if I can breathe in my space again. Furniture that was making me feel heavy is on it's way out, we are ripping up more carpets and I am arranging the things I have chosen to keep so that I can see them and enjoy having them in my space. And already I have found that the areas I have worked on are so much easier to maintain, the space and simplicity makes me happy so i want to tidy a few minutes each day to keep them like that.

At the end of this process I hope my  home will make others want to curl up in an armchair with a blanket and a cup of tea ... make our family feel rested after spending time in it ... recharge and rejuvenate us rather than leaving us feeling overwhelmed and tired. An emptier space is easier to keep clean, and hopefully the cleaning and tidying will become more of a daily practice rather than an overwhelming chore which never seems to end.

So that's my start to the New Year. In her book, Marie Kondo talks about how sometimes the clearing out and making choices around what to keep and what to let go of, signals deeper changes in her client's lives around work and passions and life direction. I am hoping for a little of that too. In the meantime I am boxing up books and drinking tea and preparing myself to tackle piles of old letters and photos, and the towering heaps of papers that really set this whole project off.

Here's to a light bright year, hopefully filled with clarity and fresh new beginnings.

x

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas ...

However you celebrate, wishing you a beautiful festive season. May there be light and a little love, a dusting of magic and a lot of laughter. 

It's a bitter-sweet time of year for me always ... being away from family and friends, and this year especially as a storm took out the phone lines so not even a phone call home. There are delayed flights today as we wait for family to arrive, and a few recent disappointments along the way ... but I'm thankful today for family visiting from far away, for friends to share the holidays with ... for cookies and a beautiful dog we are babysitting for a while. For the sillyness of kids and presents under the tree. For a little down time from the hectic pace of life.

Merry Christmas.

x


Friday, December 19, 2014

On paths less travelled and being a little lost ....

'I chose the Road less Travelled, and now I don't know where the hell i am.'


(Print of the quote available on Etsy here).

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook this morning and it's so exactly where I am right now. Where I've been for a while. So maybe putting words out into the universe will help me find the direction that's proving to be so elusive at the moment.

Maybe it's the midlife thing. The questioning all life decisions made ... wondering about paths taken, and not. I know it's important to leave the past behind and to look forward. I read all the quotes on Facebook every day. About positive energy and accepting one's mistakes and choices and making peace with the past (And the funniest dog videos. Which I'm not sure why they are shared. I ignore those). There are beautiful mantras about living life to the full, being at peace, striving for ones' dreams. There are adverts for soulful retreats and rekindling your creative passion and finding your true calling and so the list goes. I'm tempted by some of them. If only it were that easy ... take a course and everything will fall into place. I've signed up for Beth's online 'Do What you Love' course in January, so i'm not a total cynic and I'm holding onto that spark of hope ! I met Beth 5 years ago just after Lexi had been born, when I was just emerging from months of bed rest and baby focus to remember the big wide world out there. We took an online creative business course together and she has just flown. I remember meeting her for lunch one sunny afternoon in Hoboken and being so amazed by her life story, her drive, her vision. Her business has grown from strength to strength. So maybe I'll find some answers ... maybe she'll help me ask the right questions. 

It's not the first time I've been in transition. That place in between what was, and what is yet to come. Only not always knowing what's around the corner, feeling worried and uncertain and wondering what's to come. If anything is waiting. Maybe that's the biggest fear - that the best is behind me and there's nothing more there. I remember struggling to choose where to study - tossing two completely different lives from hand to hand, wondering how on earth I was meant to pick one of them to follow. Choosing to leave to travel, and how difficult that was. London. New York. Marriage. Jobs. Studies. Children. 

The past 8 years have been about settling us in a new country which is no longer new and is now home. It's been about building family and putting down roots and making friends and losing some along the way. It's been about finding the place we think will be good for raising our munchkins, somewhere with space and room to run. It's also meant hard choices and sacrifices and lately, I've realized it's meant a lot more loneliness - out here in the country. Also feeling cut off from old friends and old lives, and from two other countries which also hold people that I love.

Now that Lexi is in school full time i'm in transition again. I know a shift is coming. I hope a shift is coming. At first i welcomed the free time and the hours of peace and quiet. But I find myself running errands and cleaning floors and day after day has begun to feel the same. I'm restless and a little sad and very lost about where to go next. 

Erika Jong said (and I'm quoting loosely here) that you cannot write a book and have a clean kitchen. You can't be a writer and bake home made pies. The idea that domestic bliss leaves little time for creative pursuits for a woman. I agree wholeheartedly and I know it comes down to carving out time for what's important. But here's the thing she didn't say ... that it's easier to clean a kitchen and bake home made pies than to write a book. And that's exactly where i'm at. Right now, I'm keeping busy with the floors and pretending that's enough. Even though I know it's not.

I lose the days and myself a little with them in the day to day of keeping home and taking care of a family. I'm aware of it. Completely. I watch my friends and ex-colleagues change jobs and move up the ladder that I used to climb with them. I celebrate as they open their own businesses and sell beautiful paintings, as they grow their galleries and teach and buy new houses. I wave them goodbye on their travels and congratulate them on their PHD's. I glow with pride at their interviews and published work. I watch them find their paths, their life's work, and I jump up and down with joy for them. I'm genuinely happy. For all of them. But I feel just as lost as I was at 18 and then again after university, and a few times along the way, and I wonder when my passion will find me. What my life work is. If I will ever find it. Or has it been there all along and me just not paying attention ?

I don't have a funny quote to end my self-focused post with today ... there's no quick comeback or easy solution. I guess the reason I wanted to share this today is that I know i'm not the only one ... sometimes it takes time to find our feet, to find new paths when the old ones come to an end. I've learnt the hard way that important decisions should not be rushed or made in a panic. That way only leads to chaos and heartache. It's important to take time, to listen to the voice inside, to give the heart time to speak. Because it sometimes only whispers and we have to silence the world in order to hear. To summon courage for a new start. 

So till then, i'll be here, sweeping my floors and baking my pies and waiting for the answers to come. And hoping that it's true that a little faith goes a long way.

x