Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What happened to the Plan ?

She sat down and asked me when I was born. The day, the hour, the place. She took away those bare details and came back with my chart all set out - labels and notes and diagrams which I didn't understand. She took me through them all - the notes on my family and my life path, the things I struggled with and the things which made me strong. Things she could not possiibly have known, but she did. And then she said one thing which has always stayed with me since ... 'Follow the flow - always follow the flow - if you fight it and lose your way you will spend your whole life searching for the way back.'

Heavy words to a 23 year old searching for direction and meaning in her life. Working at her first real job while waitressing at night. Trying to figure out who she was and what she was all about. 

Those words have haunted me my whole life long since that day. So many years. So many choices made. When things did not go smoothly did that mean I had lost my way, gone off the path, gotten myself lost in a mountain ravine instead of sitting on a tropical blue-sea shoreline ? Sometimes the flow did not feel very flowy. Sometimes in fact it felt like the river had all dried up and i was walking along the dry river bed asking where the flow had gone. Sometimes instead of flow it felt like huge waves dashing me into the sand. Not very float-along-on-your-back-under-a-blue-sky kind of flow.

But here's the thing I am learning. Life doesn't always (mostly) work out how we plan it. If there's any truth I can see from the path behind me, this is one of them. When I left high school some close friends and I spent a week at the beach, dreaming of our lives ahead and having the best time in the sun, our whole futures spread out ahead of us. One of the rainy afternoons we took turns predicting where we would be in ten years time. Mine was a small house in Knysna, on the Eastern coast of South Africa ... living in a small wooden cottage with a man who made sculptures and had long knotted blonde curls, who was passionate and quiet and who rowed boats out to sea. A bouncy baby in the middle of a play-pillow-fight, giggling. An old car and torn denim shorts. 
Other friends in college said they saw me trekking through South America and falling in love with a blanket-maker who lived high in the mountains and who spoke not one word of English.

The truth is that neither of those really surprised me. Although I had no plans of marriage (ever) and the bouncy baby - well I loved the idea in theory but had decided none of those for me. I planned on backpacking around Europe and learning Spanish in South America before ending up in the Cape somewhere close to the sea where I would paint beautiful paintings and walk around barefoot and ... well, the plan shifted and changed depending on my mood.

But definitely not where I am today. Not married and a stay-at-home mom living in the suburbs outside New York city. Definitely not that.

I signed up for Flora's first Bloom True e-course in the spring and then with all the unexpected chaos of Houston and all the ups and downs and then nothing at all, I never had the time to paint. Maybe and hour or two but not much more. But a few nights ago when the house was quiet i sat down to read through some of the lessons as her pages are still active for a few days longer, and one of the things she wrote really jumped out at me as being so relevant in life, not just in art. She was talking about painting and how when we study art or have lessons anywhere, we are always told about the things which are not working ... we are taught to focus on the messy areas, the bits which are wrong and then on how to improve them. And actually there's another way to do it. We can focus on what IS working and make sure to keep that in our paintings as we add layers and rework areas. Focus on what is good, not on what is wrong.

I thought how relevant this is to me right now ... with my plans which never seem to work out and life which sometimes does not feel like it's flowing. How I cannot always see the pattern being woven and it's too easy to complain about what goes wrong, what is hard, what does not come easily. What I did not plan on. 

When actually the secret is to look at what is working. What is beautiful. What is good and nourishing and helping us grow. What makes us smile and light up inside. What makes us want to get out of bed in the mornings.

As I look at my unpacked house I breathe a sigh of gratitude for the calm which somehow came in the door while I was clearing and throwing out in readiness for the move. The space for light and quiet instead of clutter. The time I suddenly have to sit and do puzzles and play, instead of frantically packing and sitting online for hours planning our new lives. I somehow managed to find a bit more order. I was thoughtful as I unpacked and re-arranged and welcomed treasures back out of their boxes.

How grateful I am that Clint kept his job, that we have a home to live in even as we search for a new one of our own. For the legos I find in all nooks and crannies, for the bunch of brushes left lying by the sink at bedtime tonight. A colorful surprise waiting for me. 

I don't know what's ahead and right now there doesn't seem to be much order or flow going on at all. So I am letting it go. I am kicking back my planning head and thinking of long sunny afternoons in the garden and walking on the beach with sand between my toes. I am going to take some time to paint a little something in the next few days while camp is still on, and make pizza with Lexi when she asks me to. I am going to make time to read more stories and to sit and watch my kids jump on the trampoline instead of rushing off to the next 'to do' on my list. I am going to feel deep gratitude every time I get to hold a soft baby-girl cheek against mine, or tidy the PS2 remotes away after yet another baseball session Hayden had. I am going to stop worrying about the PLAN and where I should be by now, and how well everyone else is doing and what a success they are and ... breathe .... in and out. Sit down for a bit. Try to stop worrying. And see how that goes for me for a little bit and where the flow takes me.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

On clean and beautiful spaces

Today we went to visit some friends of ours - the kids and myself on a little playdate in the afternoon. Nothing unusual about that. And we have been there before, to their beautiful house. But today it all struck me. How calm it was when we walked through the door. Lots of cream and white and earthy tones but with shots of color in between ... the row of blue glass tiles in the kitchen. The splash of color from a vase of flowers in the living room. And the light. Huge fabric blinds behind the sofa softening and muting the afternoon sun so there was no harsh, just soft and glowing. The kind of place where you want to kick off your shoes, sit down with tea in a beautiful mug and browse through a magazine or finish a novel.

This is not a professionally decorated home. It's a family home and there are children's drawings and toys and it's a lived-in-space but it's so clean and beautiful and tidy ... downstairs there is a lovely area for playing and the toys look brand new and so thoughtfully chosen. No masses of cheap plastic toys at all - a wooden train table, a castle, a gorgeous pink kitchen with stainless steel pots. I wonder if it's the Japanese influence in the family, my friend's husband is from Japan. Maybe the good quality of all the pieces, the thoughtfulness of the items bought, the feeling of calm and serenity. I could have moved right in.  Not like my house at all where all my containers and furniture are cheap (tho that in itself is not an issue, it's just that the cheapness is starting to show!) My house feels so mis-matched and things feel very chaotic as I unpack boxes and boxes from the not-moving. 

But the thing is that even when my house is all tidied up (which right now it is hard to imagine it ever will be) ... i don't ever get to that stage of living which i saw today. The feeling that everything has it's place and the places are thoughtful. The house feels so calm because there is control and the absence of chaos. That's what i felt most keenly. The absence of chaos. Because my house seems filled with it and I feel it spilling out into every moment of family life. The days we go to the beach and leave the house frantically looking for flip-flops and clean swimsuits and where is that striped cooler bag. Usually ending up with someone shouting and tempers frayed. The mornings before school and camp. The last minute playdates. The nights of total mess and things lying around everywhere. I feel like I am always tidying and sorting but never arriving at my destination of house = sorted = ordered = in place = no clutter = peaceful = safe. Instead we teeter on the brink of chaos most days and if I manage to empty and re-stack the dishwasher and throw on a load of clothes I am doing well.

This is not good, for someone who does not work.

So today I am feeling really inspired by clean light organized spaces and I want that for my family too. I always have places for everything but this time I want everyone else to know where they are, and to make sure the kids learn to put things away and to be proud of clean ordered spaces too. I want our home to feel lovely and warm and to not be running around searching for things at the last minute. A little more peace. A little less chaos.

I am inspired to go shopping / dreaming at this (i have not been there since my days in London) and at this store. I am going to patch my walls with paint (we are just renting) and take my time before re-hanging pictures all over the place to make sure they create the right energy in a room. I am going to be thoughtful and try to keep the clutter at bay as i unpack and resort and put things back after a few weeks of being packed up. A few less things out. A few more in the basement in boxes. We have a dumpster outside and some charity donations piling up in the garage and that's a good feeling, to be clearing and making some space. Space to be organized, for everything to have a home, and to only keep out what we need and have space for.

It's good to have something to strive for, right ? I'll be reporting back on this soon with some photos of my new light organized home. Live in hope. That's what I say.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Goodbye Texas ...

I recently finished reading The Happiness Project - I picked it up at the airport on the way to Houston, last minute to find a house last month. Not something i would normally have read but I did, and although i found it difficult to read (her approach is very logical and rational, it was an intellectual approach to being happier which didn't sit that well with me) some of the ideas she wrote about really resonated. One of the things she mentioned is 'being Gretchen' ... the idea that we are all so different in terms of what we love doing and what matters to us. I know this sounds so simple but actually she's right - it's hard to separate our own values and pleasures from what we think we should be doing, what other people expect of us. She mentions thinking that she should appreciate classical music because it's mature and grown-up ... it was a big step for her to let that go and realize that she loves contemporary pop. It's about being true to the things which really move us, which we love, not the things other people necessarily appreciate or feel strongly about.

For me, one of the things I have always been passionate about is Travel and cultures different to my own. I left the province I was born in for the first time when I left for college and I remember how huge that was for me, I felt like I was in a different world when I arrived in the Eastern Cape. All through college I dreamed of living on a Kibbutz in Israel, backpacking through Europe, studying painting in Paris. That love of travel has never left me. I haven't been to half the places I want to go to and some of my trips have been way too short - I haven't yet travelled an entire continent or taken a year long road trip but I've seen a few countries and I have lived in the UK and now in the States and so in some ways I have felt like I am travelling all the time. Experiencing a new culture, different ways of thinking and doing and being. 

Whenever I have a life changing choice in front of me - like should we move to Texas or stay in New York - I imagine myself on my death bed (at a ripe old age of course) thinking back over my life. And i tell myself that all I will have left are the memories, the things I DID not just thought about - the chances I took, the cliffs I jumped off into the water, the fires I built on the beach. The people I met, the new foods I tried, the people I have loved along the way. I want to live my life fully and richly - I want it to be a tapestry of new experiences woven in. I may not be brave enough to bungee jump and I won't count eating worms or frogs in my life experiences, so there are many things I would say no to, but I try to live openly, embracing what comes my way. This is not always easy and sometimes I feel way too safe and in my bubble, not fully immersed - missing out on so much adventure. 

Lately it has felt that way a lot. We have been happy in New York - mostly. I love so many things about it. There is loads to do, we are busy, we have friends and are pretty settled. The one thing we haven't managed to do is to buy a house. Not for lack of trying. In fact it's been a huge focus of our time and energy over the past few years. We didn't have our Greencards and so it made sense to wait - we found that out the hard way. So the drive to settle down and find roots has been a big one, but at the same time I have been restless and feeling unsettled too. Not sure where to go next. Is this it ? Are we staying for good ? How do I feel about that ? I love my friends here and I love the seasons but there are things I miss and some things I am not happy about. Like anywhere I suppose, it's the good with the bad. I miss Africa and the heat beating down on a dusty floor. I miss the sense of the unknown. I miss life feeling bigger than the school run and going shopping. New adventures are calling and they have been far between of late.

And then along came Texas with the promise of a slower pace and at last a house of our own. A pool to survive the heat and thoughts of the kids coming home from school and jumping into blue water - chilling out in the backyard year round. I love the heat more than the snow and I was excited to grow cacti in my garden at last. A whole new state to explore. Closer to Mexico. A whole new part of the States. And i was desperately sad to be leaving and worried about how the kids would adapt, but I got my head around that and started to look forward to a new adventure. New experiences to blog about. New places to explore. I wanted to drive to San Antonio and take a road trip to Florida, try new foods, find new styles of furniture - explore a new city. That sense of adventure is strong and I felt so invigorated over the past weeks, once the decision had been made. I flew down to Houston alone to house hunt and find preschools, I drove around and got my bearings. I got a little bit excited at a new life waiting for us, a little daunted too but excited all the same. We started working our way through a list of places to say goodbye to in New York ... things we wanted to do before we left.

And then there we were, two weeks from closing on our beautiful house with a pool in the backyard and one down the road - literally seven houses away. Boxes half packed and charity donations almost done. The whole house stripped down and things piled up ready to pack. The call came out of the blue - the job we were moving for was just not viable anymore. Cash flow problems. Big ones. After all this. The ups and downs and heartache of making the decision. The pulling myself out of sadness at the idea of leaving and the building of excitement. The hopefulness and worry of a new home - finally after 6 years - putting down roots but somewhere new. Dashed.

Because here's the thing. I love change. It invigorates me. I love absorbing a new culture and Texas would have been that. Love the newness, love figuring it all out. Not too extreme - it's the same country and the same language. But for me right now that was as much change as I was going to get, and I was looking forward to it. To some fresh (not literally !) air. And now after all that soul-searching we are back where we were before. Possibly in the same house, Clint definitely in the same job (I am grateful, honest I am, but still - the same job still, again, after all this - really ?) I feel like a hamster going round and round in the wheel and right now my spirit feels tired and overwhelmed. How am I ever going to get out of this cycle of nothing changing and same same same ? Is this really it for me ? 

So New York ... we can stop half way down our list of places to say goodbye to. The Zoo, the Children's museums, the Aquarium, MOMA. You get to have us for a little while longer.


Sunday, July 8, 2012


One of the things I have loved most since moving to America are the holidays. They are celebrated in style here. People go to town with wreaths and flags and  decorations, and while some might think it twee and a little over the top, I happen to love how people approach the holidays with such enthusiasm and creativity here. The little traditions and rituals took us time to learn but now they're our own and our children are growing up with them.

The crisp Fall air always makes me think of apple picking in the upstate orchards ... fire-colors of the leaves as we drive ... jeans and boots but still warm and blue-skied ... gravel-crunching at the farm stalls with the smell of freshly baked doughnuts and hot coffee brewing. Hay-rides into the orchard and bags of picked apples. Bringing home pumpkins and decorating them for Halloween. 

The snow heralds the winter festivities - for us it's going out to choose our tree and the smell of pine filling the house. Warm wooden floors and curtains closed by 4.00 against the dark cold night. How delicious hot chocolate is after making snow angels. Christmas Eve candles and the excitement mounting. Wreaths and  lights everywhere.

Of all the holidays here I think I love the 4th July the most. The flag flying - red and white and blue are everywhere. The joy of summer really having arrived, the 4th is all about patriotism and beaches and picnics and being in the sun. Best of all are the night-time fireworks. We had them when we lived in England too, for Guy Fawkes, but that time of year is freezing cold and not that conducive to standing outside appreciating bursting stars late at night. Here it's warm and gorgeous and so totally fitting to be outside at night, after a long day in the sun, watching the sky light up.

This year we celebrated where we always have, with friends in Mamaroneck, watching the fireworks over the harbor ... but then a special treat of a weekend getaway to Virginia with family and the beautiful night sky fireworks at the Bryce Fest ... live music and a Pimms in hand, everyone camped out on the grass with kids running around playing soccer ... dark sky and a stunning view of the firework show.

These are the memories I am taking with me to build our new life in Texas.

What is your favorite holiday where you live, I wonder.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th July ...

Happy 4th July everyone ... 

Here's to sun and water and time with friends and family, and fireworks when it grows dark. We are off to celebrate with friends and take a bit of a break from packing.

   My July window for ABC Cakes in Mamaroneck