Monday, December 31, 2012

New Years Eve

It is New Years Eve and I am thinking of the year gone by, of the new year ahead. 

In spite of some wonderful highlights this year - our trip home in March for my brother's wedding, special time spent with family and friends who came to visit, I personally am ever so glad to say goodbye to this year and turn a new page.
We had a lovely lovely Christmas with family and new friends in Virginia, and now I am ready for this chapter to close and for a new one to begin.



It's been a year of trying to leave, trying to start fresh, and having to stay where I am, physically and emotionally ... feeling a little stuck and unsure of where to go next. It's been swimming upstream and not making any progress at all. So it is with gladness that I say goodbye and look to a new chapter beginning. 

In a few blogs I read like the one by Ali there is talk about a word for a year. It's a prompt, a way of focusing and staying gathered. There are some beautiful words out there being used ... Ali chose 'open' for her word this year. I have never had one, never thought much of the whole process but this time round a word has been appearing and it won't go away, and so i am paying attention. Which is quite apt because the word is 'mindful ' ... to be conscious or aware of something.

For me, it's about being present and aware in the day to day ... mindful of the decisions I make .. how I take care of myself and those around me. How my friendships are tended and reciprocated. How I choose to fill my time - the obligations I choose to take on, the charities I choose to support, the books I choose to read. Being aware. Focused. Not just going along without questioning. Aware of the pressure to live a certain way, think a certain way, hold values I do not. It feels quiet and relevant to me at this time in my life where I am waiting for direction, looking for the next path to appear ahead of me. To be engaged and mindful. To deliberate, to pause, to allow myself time to choose and consider.

As I move into the New Year with a day spent seeing good friends, sipping tea and reading a beach-and-cottage magazine, watching a princess and a Giant's fan trying to waltz to an at-home-dance-party, I am preparing for a quiet family evening at home - dinner in the oven, table set and decorated. I am mindful of my need for time alone at the moment, time to rest and consider ... not in the mood for parties or crowds or social chit chat tonight. I am hopeful for the New Year and wish you and yours a year of good health, laughter and wonderful new memories waiting to be made. To new adventures, to inner peace, to swimming with the current and going with the flow ... to wonderful new views from the river as you swim along.

Good night 2012 and Happy New Year.

x

Thursday, December 20, 2012

This Christmas ...




Christmas is just around the corner. This has always been my favorite time of year - a time of so many special family traditions growing up. I think it has a lot to do with the richness of old German traditions ... my family on both sides coming from Germany or Switzerland in the time of my great grandparents, but still holding on to the traditions and passing them down. I always felt that connection - when the candles on the advent calendar were lit, when we sang the old hymns in Church. When we celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve with the magic of darkness outside and candles flickering on the tree while everyone around me woke up to stockings and crackers at Christmas lunch.



When we were little we each had a fabric advent calendar and on the first day of December we woke up to find them heavily laden with tiny parcels, carefully wrapped so that none of us could take a peak inside. We weren't supposed to touch or feel any of the presents (we ignored that rule when no one was watching) and each day held a new surprise. Tiny outfits for our Barbie or Sindy dolls, carefully sewn by my mom ... a toy car, a chocolate ... five children and 24 gifts for each calendar, each one wrapped and tied on with string ... I often wonder at her love and patience. 

 Sometimes on a night in early December, the night of Saint Niklaus, we would leave our shoes lined up in the passage and the next morning they would be brimming with a gift, nuts, oranges, chocolate. Just like the beautiful illustrations in my tiny German children's books, pages dog eared and well worn. I still have those books and I love them even more today. They take me back to that time, crouched in bed, too excited to sleep. Waiting to dream of Santa and presents ... my world felt full of wonder and magic.


image taken from Apfel, Nuss und Mandelkern - ein pixi Weihnachtsbuch

And then came Christmas Eve ... baths and an early evening Church service. The tree lit and holding white candles as we sang. Home to my grandparent's house where the doors to the living room had all been sealed and closed and there was no way to see in at all. While the adults arrived from Church and fussed over plates of food and set the table, we children waited in a room at the end of a long passage where we could not see or hear what was happening and our excitement made us feel like bursting. Then we would be called to line up outside the big wooden doors leading into the lounge. Youngest to oldest, each holding a small candle as we walked into the room. I will always remember the beauty of the huge tree - sparkling and beautiful - the piles of presents underneath and the room bathed in soft light ... music playing ... doors open to the dark African night and inside the warmth of a house on a summer evening filled with candles. The opening of presents. The plates of baked biscuits and chocolates set out. The crystal bowl of my grandfather's punch. Plates of small meatballs and freshly baked rolls ... dinner was simple but delicious - finger foods perfect for eating in stages over chatting and glasses of punch and sitting talking while the candles slowly burnt. Cigars were smoked by the men in the family. Laughing over glasses of punch filled with fruit. The ritual of guessing which of the last three candles would burn the longest. Midnight arriving and the glow of food and presents and such wonderful memories.

They have stayed with me always. Even today, now that my grandfather has gone and that house is no longer a place where our family can gather. Even now where things feel a little different because I am all grown up. But I remember that magic and how special they made it - my grandparents, my parents, my aunt and uncle. And i try to bring some of that to my Christmas with Hayden and Lexi too. In our own way. Because we are far from Africa and the heat of summer nights. Because the German has become shadowed by the being South African, as it must when living in a new country where our common heritage, both Clint's and mine, is something we hold on to so tightly. 



We make our Advent wreath for the table and we hang a wreath on the door. We hang calendars although there are presents only on the days of Advent, and in between there are chocolates to open each morning. We make our own traditions and hopefully somewhere in there, there will be lovely memories for our children too. Hopefully they are feeling the same giddy excitement and anticipation we felt when we were small. Hopefully it will be OK that every year has been different and I sometimes wonder what traditions they will remember and pass on.


This year there has been such a vast shadow hanging over us. It feels a lifetime ago instead of under a week. Last Friday. Just six days today. Those of us here are still reeling, still in shock and finding ourselves dazed and not always sure where we were walking to, what we were going to say. We find ourselves in the middle of sentences, falling silent. Not able to carry on. Remembering. Trying to understand. We know that atrocities happen everywhere, every day there is death and sadness and suffering - somewhere ... But this was not a war zone. And they were innocent. It is so completely meaningless, senseless, so devastating. And that is what we cannot move past. We grieve as we turn on the news and it's right here in our backyard. Just a few towns across. And all across the country we are battling and some are saying prayers and some are having silent moments. Walking into Starbucks to buy a morning coffee and the staff are wearing white ribbons in memory and the grief is fresh. Seeing a video of everyone from The Voice singing Alleluia and holding up children's names as they sing. 

And so we hug our children extra extra tight. We breathe in their smell and we feel their little hands in ours and we know what that means. We feel the depth and the heaviness of it as well as the feather-lightness. We tuck them in and check on them more often that we need to while they sleep. We get emails from the school about extra police patrols and increased security measures and we are tempted to sit outside the school all morning long to keep watch. We look at them smiling and laughing and hold them when they cry and all the time we are thinking of the other mothers and fathers and grandparents. We feel guilt and sorrow and joy and wonder simultaneously and it's an awfully difficult place to navigate through. But we do. We have to.

We bake cookies and try tomato soup with goldfish (crackers) and cheese just like the advert on TV and we put extra marshmallows in their hot chocolate. 



We prepare for the holidays, however we celebrate, and we wrap gifts and decorate our trees or maybe we light Menorahs. 



We allow ourselves the laughter and the small pleasures and the extra hugs and we light candles and we imagine a better brighter world for our little ones. And that is after all what the spirit of Christmas is all about. Light in the Darkness. Hope. The candle wavering but not burning out.




Wishing you and yours all the merriest of Christmas's and may the New Year be wonderful and bright.

x


Friday, December 14, 2012

No words.


Sometimes there are no words. 
In the darkness we search for Light.
We light candles in remembrance and sorrow.
Our hearts go out to the families and victims in Newtown, CT tonight.

x

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

The light has been really beautiful lately ... blue skies and golden light. In spite of hurricane and snowstorm, there are still leaves clinging to the trees (a lovely example of resilience) and some of them are glowing gold and red in the late fall sunshine.


Today is the day to be Thankful, and as we made our plans to gather with friends and planned the food to be prepared, I thought about what it means to be thankful. Grateful. For me it means taking stock of what I have, right now, instead of always looking to the past or future - both of which I find myself falling into now and then. Instead of only thinking about where I want to be, what I want to have achieved, what I want to be doing in the future, the kind of person I want to be, what I don't have right now, where things fall short. It means being thankful for what is there today, right now. For the little things. For the big hugs. For the journeys taken and the life lived. For the friends and family, even if they are far away. Just deep breath in and being Thankful.


Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving today. And to those of you not celebrating, wishing you much to be Thankful for today.

   (Turkey by Lexi)
x

Friday, November 16, 2012

Today ...

Today ...

I am missing my broken-lens-by-accident-sorry-Mommy camera and waiting anxiously for a replacement to come in the mail. I am using my old camera which just is not the same. But then it has made me appreciate my broken one even more and i will be ever so happy to have it all nice-and-shiny-as-new again when the new lens arrives. I hope i ordered the right one.

Lexi had no school today and so we baked blueberry muffins and played with paper. We made paper crowns when her friend came to play and I made a tree which has grown into a forest. Inspired by these paper trees (and what a gorgeous magazine too) I am making them for the ABC Cakes winter window which is all pink, green and white this year. I have had more fun than i expected i would, and they are surprisingly easy to make. Scrapbook paper is still one of my favorite toys.




The same magazine had an advert for Jolie Marche's Etsy shop and I am totally in love with these cushions. I want to order almost all of them. I think I do not have that much space. But how I love them. Maybe I have space for one. Or two. For one day when i have a guest room ... 

I hung this painting up while I decide if I like it or not. And if it's finished. Not such a good photo - that camera thing. Just playing with paint after Flora's course. Light hearted. Nothing too serious or labored. 



I phoned my Mom who is back in South Africa - and how I miss having her here. It's hard. This living across the ocean so far away. I know some of you reading this will understand exactly what i mean. It takes time, the tearing away of the closeness and settling back into the norm again, and special as the time together is, it's so fleeting and always the lingering sadness of knowing it's ending soon and that one of us is climbing onto a plane to fly away. Back home. Although for me my heart is still there. So it's very very complicated. We have been talking about whether or not we should be going back. To be THERE for our family. When they need us we are far away. We cannot shoulder the day to day burdens and lend a hand where it's needed. All we can be is a voice over a long distance phone line and it's just not the same thing as saying 
'Hey, come over for coffee. I'll take care of that for you. Don't worry about it, we'll be there tomorrow to sort that out for you. I'll come with you. I can do it. I can be there. What time.' 
But we are here and it's home too and we have so many things which influence our decisions. Always all of that.

These are some photos of the last day we had together here before she left ... walking at Muscoot Farm in the sunshine before her very long flight home.









I read these lovely words (A blessing) and wanted to share them too.

And that is my 'today'. Hope yours is holding light and love.

x


Monday, November 12, 2012

A little inspiration ...

Some of the things which have inspired me these past few weeks ...

                                     ********************* 

i cannot stop listening to this song by Mindy Gledhill. I always seem to have one album i play over and over for a series of paintings or just for playing in my studio over a few weeks, and right now it's Anchor, the album this song comes from. i love this video too.


                                   ********************* 

I found Canadian artist Dominique Fortin via Pinterest and her work is just beautiful ... her use of mixed media, the paint and photography ... and also the fairy tale - magical quality of her pieces .. haunting and beautiful all at once. Have a look at her portfolio.

                                   ********************* 

A few weeks ago, I took Lexi and my mom to the NY Botannical Gardens and we were so excited to see these stunning sculptures by Manolo Valdes. A complete surprise, we just happened to be there ... and we were so glad we got to see these. 'Butterflies' (below) was the first one we saw, and definitely my favorite. They were positioned all around the gardens - incredibly beautiful.








Here's wishing you a little inspiration today. 

x




Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thoughts while baking ...

I've been feeling a little rattled of late. OK, a lot. Part of writing here, for me, is making sure that i stay honest and don't write happy flowery when actually there is more going on. Not trying to make it all look perfect or like my life is running exactly as it should. Because we all have ups and downs and it's part of the journey to figure our way through all of that and to let it shape our choices and the way we go.

One of the reasons we wanted to move to Texas earlier in the year was partly because we needed a new adventure, a change of scene. But for me it was also to leave New York. There's something about being here that makes me feel like there's an invisible weight on my shoulders. I might feel it somewhere else too, but for me, here, it's at its heaviest ever. I have been trying to figure out what it's all about for me and i am realizing that it's because this place is so driven and huge - it's New York for goodness sake. It's not a small beach town or a place not on the map. It's New York. And it's reputation is there for a reason. It is the place of ambition and drive and being your best. Always pushing for more, wanting more. It's not just about the size of your house or the kind of job you do, which is pressure enough and most of us come across that sometimes. Here it's also about being your best all the time. Which in itself is not a bad thing - striving to better ourselves, wanting more for ourselves in the sense of more experience, more living fully, more of the good stuff. More balance. A way to contribute and also grow ourselves. 

But i am feeling like here, it's all about competition and the focus can so easily go wrong. Parents wanting to out do each other. In the birthday parties they throw, in showing how well they parent. It's silently running in the background the whole time. If you are working and a parent, you should also be able to fit in some charity work or be sitting on a board, and juggling school commitments and helping here and there with a million other causes. You should be busy all the time, never stopping to rest. If you're a stay-at-home mom you should also be proving what a good citizen you are. You should have a full resume of activities and causes and things to make you look successful and important. It's all about being busy, being recognized, fighting your cause of choice and being visible for the work you are doing. I feel like it's one gigantic competition to succeed and achieve and to be able to list those achievements for everyone to see. I have finally figured out that this stuff is sitting on me like a ton of lead. Because i can never be enough here, do enough here. No matter what i am doing, it's never enough - this competitive drive runs through so many social interactions and friendships here, it's part of life. The always having to prove one's worth. Having to list a successful career (not), a good college attended, a business one started (not), a beautiful house (not), good connections (not), people one knows (not) ... the list is endless. And then on top of that we should put in the time and effort to look beautiful and groomed and smiley and friendly and the kind of person everyone gravitates toward (not). I was a fool to think it would be any different - a place attracts a certain kind of person and this place stands for success and ambition so of course, even in the suburbs, I am going to encounter the same things. But i don't fit in and i haven't so far. And i have finally realized that i probably never will, no matter how long i live here for. 

There's a beautiful book called Hope for the Flowers which i read years and years ago and just remembered recently because it's simple and very relevant for me. At some point it should be enough - all that we have. It should be enough to pursue our own happiness and what that means for each of us, and that it means different things to each of us should be ok too. It should be ok to make different choices. To not live in a mansion or have a swanky career. To not be going to gala events or sit on a board. To not be constantly having to prove how successful, competent, grown up, responsible, multi tasking, thoughtful, caring and socially aware we are. To just be ourselves. For me right now it's being able to be at home with my kids, doing a few little things on the side. Not yet a home owner. Not yet sorted and rooted and all grown up. Not possessing a suit or liking high heels. I gave up work and a career i was growing, to be at home with my kids. It was one of the hardest choices i ever made but since I did, and since we moved countries in order for me to be able to be at home, can that not be enough sometimes ? Maybe for a little bit ? Do i also have to be studying and furthering myself and feeling guilty for not giving back and contributing to a million causes ? For not being famous or well recognized or for having a huge following on my blog or publishing a book, having work good enough to sell. Whatever it is, I am always falling short. Sometimes we are doing quiet inside stuff that no one else can see, sometimes we have our own little battles we are fighting. Sometimes raising a family is enough work for me and I am all tired out by the end of the day. I am so exhausted inside right now, always feeling inadequate like this. Quietly in the corner. There is something wrong with this picture.

It's a painful realization for me, that this has been going on the whole time we have lived here, for me, and that for others it might feel totally different but for me, this is not good. But it is good to recognize it for what it is, and to be able to write it out. I'm not sure what to do about it just yet, but one step at a time.

Last night i was thinking about all of this. I was baking cookies for a tag sale tomorrow and I was thinking about the beautiful home of a friend i fetched Lexi from, after a playdate, and about everyone else's successful careers and how much they are doing. I was tearing myself to pieces in my head as i was rolling out the dough and lifting out the shapes. Thinking about all of this and how i constantly fall into this trap of comparing myself (i know, insert the broken record sound here!) ... but that's what we do when we are grappling with something, we wrestle it to the ground and we try to get on top of it all. At least i do.




As i rolled and cut shapes in the dining room my son rushed past me playing football down the passage beside me. I could hear my mother's voice reading to Lexi on the couch. Outside it was dark and the lamps cast warm circles in the room where they snuggled on the couch together. Dido was playing and reminded me of England. Pizza had been ordered and i did not need to be cooking. And i realized that this is all i need, right here around me. And tomorrow my mom has to fly back to South Africa and I will be grieving all over again at the hole she will leave when she goes, but for now, for today, everything I need is right here.

x

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Sandy


I was going to post about Fall. How beautiful the leaves are when they turn golden red. How Lexi's school went to make apple cider and there were scarecrows standing on the lawn. How I love this time of year with all the festivities of pumpkin picking and apples and the air turning cold. How lovely it is to have my mom with us.

And then along came Sandy and nothing I wanted to write seemed at all relevant - only frivolous in the wake of the devastation and disruption here. Families all around us with no power and no heating, still, days after the storm, and it's getting colder here now. There is more rain on the way they say, and I think of everyone already under sand and without electricity. Trees are still down, power lines dangling across the road. Schools have been closed all week and gas lines stretch further than the eye can see. I drove past one yesterday that had at least 300 cars in it. We were so lucky in the storm and I really am grateful, if not a little guilty too. Those of us who kept power feel like we aren't really on the ground and suffering along with everyone else, grateful as we are, it's a strange place to be. We have been hunkering down and staying in a lot over the past week, and the news has been on almost all the time. War vets and mothers choked up or in tears - people have lost everything. Roads covered in sand so deep they are using snow ploughs to dig out a path to drive along. Houses gone or completely shifted off their foundations. The devastation is unbelievable.

And yet through it all I am amazed by the sense of community, the infrastructure running in the background doing its best to get people back on power and back up and running. Shelters, emergency services, news reporters, neighbors. People standing on a street corner in Staten island handing out warm food they prepared themselves. I am upset beyond words at how a time like this can be used for scaremongering and a complete lack of sensitivity by some, it beggars belief. But I turn to all the strength and optimism around me as I watch power being restored (albeit slowly) to parts of lower Manhattan and New Jersey, to friends close by. Schools go back on Monday and all any of us want is for things to go back to a semblance of normal.


Here's to being hopeful and appreciating the strength we have within our communities, here and everywhere else.

Hoping you and your families are warm and safe as you read this today.

x

Saturday, October 27, 2012

NY High Line

I have lived here for almost 6 years now but I still haven't fallen in love with Manhattan. Maybe it's because I never got to live in the City and lived in the suburbs from when we arrived - there are things I appreciate about it and it's been a real experience living close by, but I haven't connected with the city on any kind of emotional level like I hoped I would. Not like London, which never stopped surprising me, where there was always something new to discover, and which I unexpectedly fell for. Head over heels. Maybe because it was my first home overseas. Because I lived and worked there for 2 years. Because I pounded the pavements and knew parts of it in and out. Because it was my whole world for all that time - I felt so much more a part of it. Maybe because i was in my 20's and everything was new and exciting. In New York I feel exposed after being there for too long - for me it's a hard city with too much concrete and noise, the energy is too high, there are too many skyscrapers and not enough green or softness. I think i am the only person on the planet to feel this way, and the irony is that I live here. Funny how life works.

Sometimes it's important to see a different side of the city in order to appreciate it more fully, and today that's what happened. Today I walked the High Line for the first time, it's been on my wish list for a while now, and i saw the city in a whole new light. 




 The view from higher up is completely different - the beauty of the buildings and the streets is more visible from up there. Framed by grasses and trees along the way. 




There were surprises along the way ...



and gorgeous fall colors ...


The walkway was busy busy - everyone out to enjoy the fall air, a stroll in the green in a big city, a change in view. Children in Halloween costumes jumped and danced along.



 It was a lovely day out. We walked from Grand Central to 30th and 10th where the High line starts, and all the way down to 14th. A couple of rests were needed along the way but it felt good to be out and walking.



Coffee and a taxi back to the station ...

On the way we saw that the holiday market at Bryant Park had already opened so of course we had to stop to walk around and shop.

It was a lovely day. Sometimes that's all it takes - seeing something new, from a different perspective.

x

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Thankful

Today I am Thankful. 

Over-the-moon thankful for Mothers that fly across seas to come a-visiting. Mine arrived yesterday and it's wonderful to have her sitting right across the table from me drinking coffee like she's here every day. Along with magazines and chocolates (South Africa does make the best, sorry Switzerland) she came with some special family treasures for me in her suitcase too - pieces which used to belong to my grandparents - they hold memories of growing up with them, their home my second one. It's lovely to have those reminders with me now, a bit of my childhood here in my home.

Thankful for the beautiful painting she was carrying when she arrived. A painting by South African artist Melanie du Toit, a surprise gift from my brother and sister-in-law (thank you thank you thank you). It was made for the wall it is hanging on in the living room and i love it. Really really love it. Teacup on a chair, a bicycle, hearts, stripey tights and gold undies hanging from the line. Shoes. A church. A bit of home. It's beautiful.





And Thankful for friends who send surprise parcels our of the blue when i most needed it. ee cummings from my bucket list. Thank you D.

x

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the blue leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings; and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any - lifted from the no
of all nothing - human merely being
doubt unimaginable You ?

(now the ears of my ears awake and 
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)








Wednesday, October 10, 2012

This is what Fall looks like ...

Living where we do, we have the city and the countryside at our fingertips altho sometimes it seems like such an effort to go out and find a new place to explore and it's easier just to stay close to home. This past weekend was rainy and we sent one grandmother home across the seas to South Africa, so we were happy just to be at home, just us, regrouping for a day ... but Monday was a public holiday and Clint took the day off too, so we set out to Croton Dam Gorge just half an hour upstate from us, to get the kids (and ourselves) out into some fresh air. I just wanted to share some photos with you ... Fall is in full swing.














We drove over new bridges ...


and stopped at new places ...

we saw a sign along the road for a farm selling Maple Syrup and we HAD to stop ... it's Hayden's staple food after all. 


And there among the wooden cabins was one stacked with pumpkins and the other held the maple syrup equipment with bottles for sale. I loved the glimpse of the the kayaks behind the flowers.

Then on to Muscoot Farm where the kids could say hello to the animals (again. we are regulars here after all!) ...


and grab a bit to eat ...


A really lovely family day out and much needed by all of us ... 

That's what Fall looks like around here.

x