Sunday, December 22, 2013

Today ...

Today was a gift ... after days of below-freezing it was in the 60's and so mild. Cloudy but no rain. The snow had all but melted, only a shrunken ball of body remained of Lexi's snowman, a white blob on the soggy lawn. But in spite of the amazingly mild weather it was one of those days. Sunday. Wanting to make the most of the last weekend before Christmas, wanting to do something festive to get into the holiday spirit. I wanted us to go into the City to see the windows and the tree at Rockefeller. The kids wanted to stay home after a busy day yesterday. Clint is in the city every day and just wanted us to do something together. We could not agree. We argued and changed our minds and just when the day threatened to go completely off the rails with tears (grown up ones this time) we ate an early lunch, left our coats and hats and gloves behind, and piled ourselves into the car. We headed for the beach. Sometimes tears and a blow-up have an unexpectedly good outcome.

The light was beautiful and the air was still. The day was soft greys and reflections in the water. The sand was strewn with shells. We built a sandcastle and threw a football and practiced skimming stones and walked along the water's edge. Some of us took photos and some of us got our boots and socks and pants wet. But it was worth it and dry clothes waited in the car. Some of us know how it's impossible to be by the water and not get wet. I used to be the same once upon a time.

Maybe tomorrow we'll head into the City and feel the Christmas spirit by walking the streets, but today, this was the perfect place for us to be.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Seasons Greetings ....

The snow lies on the ground, a white lacy tablecloth ... icicles hang from the eaves. We find deer prints in the mornings, they trail through the garden in a wandering path in search of food. Schools break up today and we are counting the sleeps till Christmas with great excitement in our house.

This weekend I'm hoping for a quiet one in which to finish wrapping presents and finally getting started on some holiday baking. Along with my mom's traditional German recipes, which I haven't attempted in a while but really want to make this year, I also found this recipe online last night for Peppermint white chocolate chip cookies - definitely a must try. Anything with candy canes and i'm there, especially in this weather. When I asked Lexi this morning what her favorite cookies are she thought for a moment and then said 'All of them. I like all cookies. I don't know one i don't like.' Atta girl. The apple definitely did not fall far from the tree there. 

While the snow is still on the ground there will be sledding and maybe a snowman and hot chocolate and an afternoon of popcorn and movies (and did i mention cookies?). Saving Mr Banks is out and I can't wait to go and see it - I love Mary Poppins and Disney, so it's on my holiday must see list for sure.

Earlier this week Lexi had her class holiday party at preschool and when I arrived her teacher was finishing reading a story. It's a beautiful book called The Night Tree by Eve Bunting, and it tells the story of a family who decorated a tree outside for all the animals for Christmas Eve. We've been talking about doing the same thing here ... our new house has a beautiful evergreen right at the top of our driveway. The previous owners told us that it was the first tree the original owners of the house had bought for their first Christmas here. They planted it and it's grown into a beautiful huge tree. Instead of lighting it (somehow) I think a tree with bird seed decorations and garlands of popcorn and cranberries will be so much more magical for all of us (and our feathered friends). And something for the deer too of course. In looking for some ideas online for easy suggestions to make with the kids, i found this lovely website which reviews children's books and also has some great creative ideas to go along with themes as you read, but she posted about the same book (see link above) and has some great suggestions on home made bird feeders and edible garlands. I love this recipe for toilet paper bird feeders as well, it's perfect for a 4 year old to make with me.

Image and recipe from The Moffat Girls Blog via Pinterest.

There are some beautiful craft and holiday decoration ideas on Pinterest, did i mention (only 100 times) how much i love this site ? I use it for window display ideas as well and just sometimes at the end of the day, for a bit of visual inspiration to wind down before sleep. It's a beautiful space for daydreaming and recharging. 

So that's what we'll be up to this weekend and over the next few days. We're going to bundle up and stay in and just enjoy some family time together. I'm sure there will be plenty of tantrums and early wine glasses (it's 5 in the world somewhere) but I'm appreciating the good moments when they come, and trying to let the rest of it go without stressing so much. We may not be the perfect family but we can have fun trying !

However you celebrate at this time of year, and where - here's wishing you and yours a festive, beautiful, light-filled and sparkly holiday season.


Monday, December 16, 2013

On being away from home ... and on letting go.

I got it all wrong. For someone who gives this a lot of thought, who feels constantly the push and pull of being away from home and family ... it's taken me a remarkably long time for the penny to drop. 

But it did. Today. I have been planning our next trip home - meant for July next year ... we've been talking about game reserves and maybe flying via the UK and all the people we want to see and the things we want to do ... and for some reason in all the planning, when i should be feeling excited, i've been feeling a growing anxiety inside. Not able to put my finger on it exactly, but something's not felt right. Maybe it's the money i thought - the expense of this trip - it means other things still being on hold, the long list on the blackboard staying right there with nothing crossed off ... it means other trips not being taken. But it's to go home ! And that's always been a priority for us.

And then tonight it hit me. I don't want to go back. I know i just wrote about all of this a little while ago - being proud to be South African ... how I still hold on to my identity as coming from there, how that still defines me, how it's still home after almost two decades away. I have met South Africans who have lived overseas their whole adult lives without trips home and i have always pitied them, wondered why they hardly go back, how they're able to get out of bed in the mornings - how the longing does not floor them.

And then it hit me. They've let go. They have moved on.

It's like a relationship which ended badly. First there are the nights spent listening to the same heartbreaking song, over and over. There are the days spent with the duvet pulled over the head, refusing to open the curtains or wash the dishes or accept that life goes on. There might even be some watching the ex's window at night from the street and it not feeling like stalking, just a desperate longing to be back in that circle of two people at one with each other and the world.

Maybe leaving a country is almost the same, in a much bigger and very different way. But it is an ending. It's a walking away. It's saying there is something better out there, there is the moving towards something new. It might be a job, a lover, the urge to travel ... but it's still a leaving. A getting onto a plane and going away. It's leaving loved ones behind to carry on with their lives having to get used to the empty space where that person once was. Like death but not so final. A choice. They left. They did not want to be here anymore. There is grief and then acceptance and then life carries on. 

And for the one leaving ... it could be a sigh of relief, a weight lifting ... or it could be how it is after the ending of a marriage or a long term love affair, the heart breaking in a million places but then it heals, slowly. It goes out for a coffee and then a drink and then a dinner and maybe even stays the night. With someone new. It moves on. It might occasionally pull out the box of photos or the love letters cried over, play the song that used to be just theirs ... once upon a time. But then the box is put away and the day ends and a new one begins and slowly those feelings recede. They become softer and less urgent and then suddenly one day there is no longer the urge to go stalking or to see if there's a chance of bumping into someone accidentally. To see their face. Their face becomes just outlines and when the box of photos is pulled out from under the bed it's to remember what the face looked like, not to remember the feelings once felt. And so time makes the pain recede into the distance and the memory becomes just a faint and fond one. Oh yes, i used to love him. But it's over now, I have moved on.

I left. I didn't mean to. I meant to come back. I said - can we take a break, just for a little while. I just need to do some things for myself and then i'll be back, I promise. I'll settle down and find a career and maybe even fall in love and get married and buy a car and a flat by the beach and dream about France but go on holiday in Cape Town. But then i ended up staying. Except that instead of cutting my ties, and moving on, i didn't. My heart kept running back like the night time stalker, watching from the shadows, trying to catch a glimpse through the windows. I kept reading magazines and letters and going back for holidays and trying to pretend that nothing had changed. Like a long distance relationship, but with no long term commitment either way. Still wanting to come back, but not. In denial that it was over and that i was not coming back. Always in denial of that, because it hurt more than i could have imagined. I wasn't over my country. I wasn't ready to say goodbye, to turn my back and not to come home.

But here's the thing. In the years since i left, one by one my friends and family (not all, but some) have slowly turned away. Their lives are busy and i'm no longer part of it. It's no good having a friend who isn't able to come round for tea and bring a cake when it's a bad day ... who can't call and say 'i am picking you up in 5 minutes, you sound like you need a drink.' Who has to be caught up via email but isn't there for the day to day, the little things. The little things which are actually so important. New friends come along and things change. Slowly but surely. Details are left out, stories are made shorter. Phone calls become less frequent and then stop all together. In the end there is no point in even responding, they think, and the silence settles in. The door has closed and i have no right to keep knocking.

All my life i have felt like an outsider. In my own family especially. At school, at university. At work - a little there too. Never quite fitting in with how i think i'm supposed to be, how others expect me to act and think and look and feel. I still carry that around with me, it hasn't really gone away. But i think because of that, i've felt more desperate than maybe someone else would, to hold on. Not able to let go. To fit in and to belong. Not able to acknowledge that our brief trips home are really just a tiny interruption in the lives of everyone back there. We're not there for the birthday dinners and the shopping trips. We can't take someone flowers after a chemo treatment, or hold the hand of someone who's feeling sad. We can't hang out on the deck drinking wine and making plans for the weekend. We breeze in for just a few moments every one or two or even three years, and we're not a part of their lives anymore. We're not there.

I watched a show the other night, just a silly comedy - but there's a scene where one of the characters has been in town (a new one) for almost two years before she is ready to go and meet her extended family (that she never knew she had before she moved to the new town). She's finally ready and excited and a little nervous. And then she meets them and they're lovely and she imagines family dinners and picnics and doing things together and how wonderful that would be because she never had all of that, it was just her and her mom. But then the new family aren't so welcoming - they're angry that it's taken her two years and in all that time she wasn't there with any of them. They tell her - it's not about being related by blood, it's about putting in the time.

It's so true, isn't it. Yes, we can fit back in like we were never gone and for a moment, that brief shiny sparkly moment it feels like we were never gone. Like we're back where we're supposed to be. For one brief shiny moment it's like we're home again and we imagine living just down the road and how nights like these would be so wonderful to have all of the time. But the moment passes and the sparkles vanish and we're there for a moment and then we're boarding a plane again. And the ones we leave behind can't be blamed for guarding their hearts. Their children don't know ours, we're not going to be invited for dinner or to go fishing on a Sunday morning or just to hang out by the pool. They'll never know the music we listen to when we're on our own, or the books we read or where the wine glasses are. 

I've been holding on so tightly for 17 years. So tight i could not let go. With my eyes on the horizon and pretending to be living but one hand was still on the rope connecting me to home. Always. Always planning the next trip. Always missing someone to the point of sometimes not being able to breathe. Always wondering how it would have been ... could have been. Playing those breakup songs over and over. Not willing to let it go. That post break-up, i can't get over my love, i can't stop thinking about him or her ... for 17 years. That's how it feels. All my energy and time going into missing something which is no longer there. Missing my old life. How it once was. Everyone moved on and me still running crying and shouting for the world to stop, i'll be back, save me a seat - don't go on without me. I wish i was there.

But there's no holding back time and the choices we make, well they shape us and our lives swell and fade to a different tune now and part of growing up and moving is the letting go.

Something I have battled with my whole life.

My children are never going to know what it's like to grow up close close in the bosom of a large extended family. They will always be guests at the table, never at home even if their grandmothers are able to come and visit sometimes, wonderful as that is. It breaks my heart but it's time to face the music and to stop holding onto a place and a life that no longer belong to me.

Do i belong to Africa ? Not anymore. I still love it. But i can't really claim any rights over here, not anymore. I can't claim to know her like i used to. I can't get angry and walk out after a fight and come back apologetic. It's done. We are here and she is there and so is most of our family and my friends that have known me since i was 13, some of them. 

It's hard to go back and meet a good friend for one night of dinner where we try and condense a whole two years of living and feeling and thinking and then it's time to go home because the kids still need putting to bed, even on holiday ... and no one knows their routines because we don't live down the road. It's hard to meet for breakfast and to pretend that it's normal and we could do this every day because the whole way through we are watching the clock and know that time is running out and we're trying to make the most of it but it can't last forever and soon we'll have to say goodbye again and who knows when the next time will be.
It's hard to drive through the sugar cane fields and feel the wind on your face and it brings back memories of when you were 20 and life felt so different then and you knew where you belonged and what happened to that girl anyway ? It's hard to walk the beach and feel so at home and know that this is just an interlude, you have no claim on this place or this day or this sunlight. It's not yours for the having, no matter how much you love it, not matter how much your body remembers and recognises every last inch. You're just borrowing the smells and the way the light falls and the humid coastal air, for a small time.

Maybe that's why they don't go back to visit, those ex-South Africans who have lived overseas all their lives. Maybe that's how they make peace with their past and move into their future and really start living. Because you have to learn to let go, or you have to go back, but living straddling both worlds will surely kill you. You can't be in two places at the same time, not even if it's your head or your heart. Because then you're not really present in either one and something is always missing and it tears you apart, from the inside.

It's hard. The letting go. It's taken me 17 years and i'm only just starting to understand. And i still don't know how to do it but i'm starting to see why maybe i'm scared to go home again next time. Why maybe it would be easier not to. When i go back it reminds me how much has changed, how little a part of lives there we are nowadays. How it's not our life anymore, not our world. 

And it hurts so much. Each time. It rips that scab right off and i have to start all over again when i get back to this life, this home. The one right here.


Friday, December 13, 2013

South African gifts for Christmas ...

With just over a week to go till Christmas, I wanted to share some South African inspired gift ideas with you ...  these are all available in the States. 

1. Ghana Bolga Basket from Baskets of Africa $36.50. I love these baskets and have a few of them at home. They make a great gift on their own but would also be fun to give filled with South African goodies like biltong, Romany Creams, chocolate and chutney. You can order South African and British goodies online in the States from African Hut.

2. Clinton Friedman Wall Art, from West Elm $149.00 each. See more of his work on his website. I love these photos - they are definitely on my wishlist for one day.

3. Rustic South African Heart ornament from Zazzle (price ranges depending on sales, but around $ 20.00). They have a wide variety of shapes and designs to choose from and sell mugs and T-shirts on a South African theme too, it's a great website to browse in.

4. Tin Can Angel ornaments $ 6.95 from Come Together Trading Company

5. For me Christmas is not complete without the classic South African drink - the Dom Pedro. There are different ways to make it but here is a step-by-step recipe from the blog of Lotta Madness (i stole the photo from her blog post too). It's usually made with either Kahlua or Whiskey, ice-cream and cream but can be made using Amarula or Baileys too and can be kept very simple with just the liqueur of choice and half melted vanilla ice cream. Serve in a frosted glass with grated chocolate sprinkled over the top. Throw in some festive red and white straws from Oriental Trading ($4.00 for 24) and you're all set for the festivities to begin.

6. For lovers of South Africa and interior design (like Moi), give a gift subscription to House & Leisure magazine - now available to read online via Zinio. I've been subscribing for years now and it's a lovely way to keep up to date with some of the happenings at home - new restaurants, trends in design, people to watch. And most of all, beautiful homes showing South African living at its best.

(All images used are not my own - they are taken via Pinterest or from the direct websites).

Happy Shopping !


Saturday, December 7, 2013


Since Mandela's death just a few days ago there have been so many beautiful quotes and images shared online - an outpouring of love and sadness and celebration of an incredible man, an incredible life lived. The Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building were lit in the colors of the South African flag, the news has been full of documentaries about his life and achievements, about the man he was.

I remember when that flag was first hoisted. When the new anthem was sung for the first time. When the man so many thought of all those years ago as a terrorist in prison, finally walked free and with him the tide turned and our country could complete the journey to freedom - true democracy. He stood for so much. Forgiveness. A complete and utter lack of bitterness or desire for revenge. A  vision for a rainbow nation in which each person was seen and valued and none more, and none less. He led our country into a brand new chapter of it's history. And he did it in peace and with the utmost dignity and integrity. He inspired us to work together for the greater good, to treat each other with compassion, to honour our differences and not to be torn apart by them. He truly was a Father to our new nation, and although we knew the end was coming for him, it was still a very sad day when it came. He will truly be missed.

Last year I was at home for my brother's wedding in the Cape and I took this photo of a painting at the wedding venue ... I happened upon it today and thought it was fitting to share with you here.

Madiba, you live in our hearts forever.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Winter and Happy Holidays

Hello ... you'll see it was time for a bit of an update to the way things look here in this space ... a new blog header, some changes here and there. Usually spring is the time for changes but i like to mix it up now and then.

It's almost winter here. We wake up to crunchy frost outside, the world laced with crystals of white. The night draws in earlier - when i stand at the bus stop in the late afternoon the sun is slowly vanishing between the trees, starkly beautiful in blacks and greys against the glowing sky. My breath comes out misty and i huddle into my new winter coat, counting the minutes until I can be back inside. The old one from years ago in England just wasn't cutting it anymore, i think the padding all got flattened from so many washes ! The real cold isn't here yet, this is just the slow transition from fall to winter. The heating is on, we light the fire most nights and the smell outside reminds me of all things wonderful. Camping and beach fires ... being warm inside as the temperatures fall. It's the perfect time for the holiday season - one thing I do love about living here is that it's cold over Christmas ... we grew up eating salads and cold meats for the holidays in between diving into the pool when we could, but all the cards and images we associated with this time of year showed red robins and snow and Santa in the North Pole. Somehow this weather feels just right for this time of year - fairy lights and candles ... I love the thought of gl├╝hwein and candy canes, stockings hanging over the fireplace. Wreaths and Christmas trees and hot chocolate while the snow is falling. I know, I know ... I should be working for Hallmark. Still ... this time of year has something special to it despite the cold. Maybe it's the quietness of the season for me - we're huddled inside, not wanting to go out as much. We play more board games and read more books. We order pizza and watch Christmas movies on Sunday nights - a new family tradition I am loving. But it's also a time of introspection for me ... the natural inclination to withdraw as we turn inside and focus on the long winter ahead. And right now, I'm good with that. A little quiet time to figure out what to do next ... that's probably exactly what i need. And in between if i get tired of the quiet there are wreaths to make and cookies to bake, gifts to choose and reindeer to watch for, tramping quietly through the trees. 

Wishing you all the magic and beauty of the holiday season this year - whatever it is that you celebrate, and where.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

When we first arrived in the States i felt a bit uncomfortable about this holiday - I thought it celebrated European arrival in the States and coming from a country ripe with colonialism in its own history I had very mixed feelings about that - after all it didn't work out that well for all parties concerned. But then i learnt that it's really a celebration of the first harvest  shared between the pilgrims and the Native American Indians, who had helped them survive their first year by showing them how to plant corn, hunt and avoid poisonous plants.

Here's a bit of history if you're wanting to read up more detail, it's a great story ... 

We celebrated at Lexi's school with a feast last week and my favorite poem of the morning had to be:

'I'm a big fat turkey
You may not have my head.
I'll sit with you at dinner
And we'll eat a duck instead.'

Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving today if you're celebrating ... and even if you're not, it's a lovely reminder to be mindful about what we are Thankful for. And to eat a bit of cornbread and pumpkin pie while we're at it.


Monday, November 18, 2013

South Africa ... the leaving and the staying.

Bear with me ... this is a long one today. But i've been sitting with these words for too long and they're needing to be put down. So here i go ...

I was standing in the checkout line at the grocery store on Saturday morning. The mood was busy. People rushing around and almost colliding with their carts. Better things to be doing, better places to be, everyone in a hurry. The woman in the line behind me looked stressed, balancing two large Christmas wreaths on one arm while she checked her watch on the other. She sighed and paced a little. The checkout lady was grumpy, and slow. I offered her my place, she with her two wreaths and in a hurry - i had a full basket and plenty of time. She smiled her gratitude and told me that she was taking the wreaths to the cemetery. They had a bit of time that morning and wanted to do it ahead of the busyness of this festive time of year.

And it hit me a little. How simple an act of love and remembrance that was. Placing a wreath on a gravestone in this time of year when we show love and we celebrate with our families and friends. Such a simple thoughtful act but one i cannot perform. The cemeteries where my loved ones lie buried are thousands of miles away from where i stood that Saturday morning in a grocery store line. A simple act of love I would not be able to carry out. 

The little things we miss when we leave home to live away. Abroad. Overseas. The big things we know about. We plan for those. The weddings. Christmas. Birthdays. We take deep breaths and steel ourselves for those. But the little ones ... they are the ones that steal out of nowhere and take our breaths away. A knife in the gut. The flash of homesickness that stops us in our tracks.

Lately it's been on my mind almost all of the time. Maybe having my mom here and for the first time since we came to the States, she came to visit us in our own home. The finality of that was hard for me, thinking of us in all the years ahead - being here and not there. Saying goodbye for almost a year again at the airport and the heaviness of hearts on both sides as she turned to walk towards the security gates. 
I read a play by Athol Fugard - it's been sitting beside my bed for a long time and then i was ready to read it ... just a short simple play about a man returning home to South Africa from England to die, a glimpse into his life before he left, and how it was to be gone for all that time. 
And then I read the Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffmann. I had avoided it for so long, terrified of the depths it would go to, dealing as it does with Masada. I wasn't sure i was brave enough to read it but when i finally did, i could not put it down. And there's the theme of exile running through it too - being displaced, not at home, being forced to leave and how one lives with that longing for a place one cannot return to. (If you haven't read it, it's a beautiful book. Hard to read at times, but beautiful.)
We tried out a new church in Katonah one Sunday a little while ago. Who would have thought the sermon would begin with a story about visiting a church in Kenya. I don't often meet people here who have actually been to Africa and I definitely wasn't expecting one of them to be the pastor. And then her sermon was about the old Testament and the Jewish people in exile - forced away from home, having to trust in a plan for their future but being afraid and full of anger and grief. She spoke about being a stranger in a strange land, and how it can apply to so many situations, the sense of being in exile, not just the obvious one of being away from one's homeland - a family who's home has burnt down and who are displaced for many months, people moving across the country for work ... but of course for me it hit home so strongly about South Africa and although i'm not exiled - I can go home at any time - it's not as simple as that and the grief had been building up more than i realized. It was just a few days after my mom had left to fly back and i couldn't hold back the tears. I had to run out of the Church before i started sobbing out loud.

And then i read this blog post after seeing a link to it in Facebook (and I'm glad i did, i have been looking for South African blogs to read)  ... and then as things often go in the online world, one article led to another and there were so many differing comments to read, other articles, so many people weighing in on the subject. Another Facebook conversation recently about the idea of leaving or staying, how one decides. It's all been echoing for me - over and over.

It's a hot topic for any South African. Those living happily in South Africa and those there but wishing they were not. The ones who left and don't look back and the ones who left and wish they were still there. The ones who left but think they might go back. Or wish they could, but can't. The list is endless. As is the list of variables. But one thing we have in common. We know this story. We have sat at braais and barbeques. Dinner parties. Watching our kids at soccer and football games. Soccer in the US and at home, which would make it football in the UK. Or football in the US but that would not be soccer. But the conversations are the same. We have read articles and taken part in online forums. We have emailed and talked into the small hours. Wondering. We have watched friends saying they have had enough and it's time to go. We have watched them packing their bags and waved them goodbye as they flew off into the blue yonder. We have pined and missed and wondered what we are missing. We have been the ones to leave. We have been the ones to come home.

My generation of white South Africans (because that is what i am, there is no escaping the fact) is one who grew up feeling the threat of change in the air as we grew up in the 80's. And it was a threat to so many around me, not always feeling like a promise. There was fear and uncertainty. What would happen. How would life go on 'after.' After the whites lost control. Because we knew it would happen. How could it not. And while some of us were rooting for a vision of a new world it was still uncertain and frightening because we couldn't fully imagine how this world would look, or if we would ever get there. It was a landscape hard to imagine for most. We feared the violence and uprisings, the anger so visible around us. We questioned everything we had taken for granted about our world. Nothing was what it seemed anymore. I am grateful for writers like Andre Brink - my mother quietly handed me the first of his novels i was ever to read when i was fourteen. It opened my eyes and they could never close again. I am grateful for open minded teachers - my English teacher for allowing me to read only books written by black South African writers for the whole of my matric year. For the plays we read and went to in drama, for my Afrikaans teacher who used her classroom as a political platform for her liberal views, reading us banned poetry and encouraging us to think and to ask the difficult questions. 

We grew up in the midst of a country shedding it's history and fighting for a new future but that fight - it took years and years and so many lives. Fighting and tribal warfare and not knowing the truth, and terrorist attacks and the media hyping the fear. Secret police and hidden agendas and most of us carrying on oblivious to the torture and hidden world behind closed doors. Just before Mandela was released I was told at university to become a card carrying member of the ANC as that would be the best chance of survival when the revolution started and they came to search our houses in the night. The whites. Who would die and who would live. The rumours. The fears. Change was coming and not everyone welcomed it. The referendum and finally feeling that the tide had changed. A new wind blowing and the feeling of hope for the first time in years. 

And then the first democratic election and the rainbow nation euphoria which followed. It was heady beyond belief, that time. It was the first election i voted in, and I was so proud. So so proud of the country i belonged to. Days before the election, months even, friends around me were frantically booking tickets to destinations overseas, updating their foreign passports and making alternate plans. 'In case it all goes pear shaped.' 'In case things go wrong.' 'In case things don't work out.' Stores sold out of candles and batteries as people - some, a small few, but enough - stockpiled in preparation for the chaos that the election would bring. For it could not go peacefully, that just wasn't possible. How could it. There was too much that was unstable, unpredictable. The history of our country was short but brutal, and there was just no indication that this could be peaceful. There was so much at stake. We held our collective breaths. In my house no candles were bought and there were no tickets in the safe. We were South Africans and there was no other option but to go ahead with hopefulness. No foreign passport, nowere to run. We were in it for the long haul, this was our home and we were holding our breaths along with everyone else.

I will never forget being part of that time - that first democratic election day, standing in line to cast my vote. The sheer joy around me. You could taste it in the air. It was as if a thousand multi coloured balloons had been set free into the skies above us. We were all stunned that it had finally come to this - this wonderful day of a new chapter dawning. And peacefully. I felt the collective relief (and disbelief) for months after as we celebrated and worked on building our new national pride. We worshipped at the altar of Mandela (and still do) and everything was new and wonderful.

I didn't leave before the elections. I came of age at the turning point in our history and I'm so grateful for that. But i was restless, and i wanted to go. There was a whole world to explore and for the first time South Africans were granted the right to 2 year visas in England ... we were allowed to apply for the right to nanny and do pub work in exchange for the chance to backpack and experience a new country. The days of illegal squatting were over now that we had an offical democracy at the helm, and we embraced the chance. A whole lot of us went. It became the thing to do. Finish university and go overseas for a year or two. Find yourself and get some experience of the world outside of our borders. Go to London and Paris and take a train to Edinburgh. And for me, scared of settling down too soon, not ready for a career or a car or a lifelong commitment to anything, it was something i had dreamt of for years. It took a few years of hard work and saving, working two jobs (neither of which payed well) but then my chance came, I had finally saved enough for my ticket and enough to last a few weeks if I was careful. I was told not to go. Over and over. Waitresses at the restaurant where i worked said i would back. (As if returning meant failing and not 'making it' overseas). They said it was tough over there and everyone wanted to go but not everyone could, and even less lasted. They issued me a personal challenge, and i've never been good at saying no to a dare. There was a job offer to lecture locally with the promise of a few weeks off a year to travel, but i turned it down and booked my flight before I lost my nerve. I hugged all the nay-sayers at the restaurant goodbye, hoping I would prove them wrong and not sad at the idea of not seeing any of them again. I hoped i would not be back to beg for a job waitressing again in a few months time. I had been dreaming of America but England was easier to go to in terms of visas and having two friends there, and so i went. Scared. Yes. Lonely and wondering if i was doing the right thing ? Definitely.

London was overwhelming. Huge. Beautiful. Old. There were so many South Africans trying to find their feet in the same way i was. My first home was a double futon shared with a good friend from varsity, on the kitchen floor of a one bedroom flat. Everyone was doing the same - sharing beds, floor space, ten people in a one bedroom flat was not uncommon. We worked in pubs and bars and did temping work to get by. We lived on the tiniest budgets and earned a pittance but we were LIVING OVERSEAS and experiencing life in a completely new way. I was finally going to the places I had only read about in books, and because of being in London my mom was finally able to take her first trip overseas to come and visit. It was a huge celebratory trip for both of us. 

I worked hard and over time i found my feet. I had good friends along on the adventure - friends from school and university so i wasn't lonely and although my family were at home, my sister came over for a while and life was busy and full and there was always someone to go drinking with, or head out of town on a long weekend with. Sometimes i felt like i was living my own version of 'Friends' and i loved all of it. It was never a decision made to stay away. Not to be at home. I had gone in search of adventure, not left for political reasons. Along the way i met many who had left years before, scared of where the country was headed. They were the South Africans i avoided. I had no time for their fearful predictions and constant negative tirades. That was not me. I had my concerns about the future as did all of us. It was hard finding work in post apartheid South Africa if you were white and young, with no work experience under your belt. After two years of battling at home, London offered plenty of work and enough to live off when i got there. I didn't need a car there, i could pay my own rent (a tiny room in a digs but i loved them, all the places i lived in, in those first years) .... i had a bit of money to spend on beers and museums and sitting in the park at sunset, pinching myself. There were so many South Africans arriving - whole houses of us living together as friends arrived and paved the way for the next group and soon whole communities sprang up. Houses and flats of South Africans ... South African shops selling biscuits and apricot jam and Nik Naks and peppermint crisp, the flag flying outside, a welcome sign to those of us missing home. It was hard at times but it also felt like a personal challenge. To try and make it here, in this place I was told i wouldn't last in, couldn't last in. It felt good to manage on my own, to work and to survive and start building a career.

The conversations began back then and never really stopped. How long to stay for. When to go back. When visas were due to expire. Goodbyes were said to those loving the freedom of London life but having to go home - two years were up and there was no way to stay. Those on foreign passports had the luxury of taking their time, really weighing their options. Knowing they had a choice. I was on a two year visa so i knew i was going home eventually. And it's what i wanted. To go home. I have always loved South Africa. It was always meant to be home. I was the girl who walked barefoot and threw herself into the sea on a whim, still in her clothes. Who grew up in the berg and in the humidity of Natal, who loved the cultural mix of the world around her. Who dreamt of moving to the Cape one day and starting her own business and wondered if maybe one day she would find herself living on a farm, the childhood never had.

But then life happened differently and i got married. He is South African. We went to the same primary / elementary school. He had an Irish passport and we could stay. And so we did. I wasn't ready to go home. I was loving life overseas, the freedom, even being married young. We didn't have a lot of money, we couldn't travel as much as i wanted to, but i was happy. Building a new life but not realizing that that's what i was doing ... it's small tiny steps and then suddenly you look back and realize that the landscape shifted behind  you as you walked and now you're not sure how to return.

It's been 17 years since i left. I cannot believe it when i count the time. It feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago all at once. The country has changed in my absence but i still feel as if i belong. I don't ever want that door to close on me.  When i step off the aeroplane in Joburg i am home. Just like that. Every cell in my body knows the fact. No matter how long it's been since i was there, and I have never tried to fight it. It's who i am. South African. I hope I never lose my accent. I carry a bag my mom gave me for my birthday the last time i was at home - it has a map of Africa with a heart stitched on the side. It's brought on some lovely conversations and a chance to share the country of my birth with strangers along the way. And what do i tell them when they ask me about it ... where do i begin ? I just smile hugely and tell them it's the most beautiful country in the world, and yes, they really must visit if they get the chance one day. Most of them sigh enviously and say they've wanted to, for a long time. And then I'm so glad and so proud of where i come from. I've never forgotten my roots. Although life did not work out the way i planned, i still hope to go back. One day. Until then we travel home as often as we can, because it means so much to us to have our children feel at home there too. To know a tiny bit of what it means to be South African. To know their family and to know where we come from. Who we are is defined so much by where. We want them to know the way a summer storm feels when the sky grows green and heavy with rain, the taste of a koeksuster dripping with syrup. The sound a hadeda makes and how it is to hear frogs croaking on a hot summer night. We'll never be able to share all of it with them - for the most part it will die out with us and that breaks my heart - my experiences and everything I have seen and done are part of my story, not theirs. But there's African blood running through them and maybe one day She will call them home. Or at least call to them. Already both my children think South Africa is the best place in the world to live. That makes my heart sing. Not that they're not happy here, this is home for them, it's what they know. But i want them to have that other love. It makes them richer people, and i'm all for that.

But here's the rub for me. As if it's not enough to be living overseas and to deal with the bouts of homesickness when they come (and they do), there's the constant feeling of guilt. The guilt of having left. Every time we came home to visit, whenever we we met new South Africans overseas and the discussion goes that way it's there, nipping at our heels. We left. And with that, if you're South African, there's this assumption that we jumped ship. We abandoned the Motherland. The National Anthem we grew up singing said we would live or die but always for South Africa. It never said we could leave. And here's the thing. Leaving South Africa isn't always about someone having had enough and being fed up and thinking the grass is greener. It's not always about thinking the worst and not having faith in a bright future there. It's not always about not loving a country or not believing enough. Sometimes there are just other factors involved and people leave or live away because that's how life works out for them. Our country has been shaped by immigrants from Europe. Settlers from Holland and England, missionaries, opportunists. People wanting to start a new life for a myriad of reasons. Not all of them hated the countries they left behind when they went, some of them did, but for many of them there was a promise of a better life, a different life. History is full of people leaving and arriving, building new worlds, in search of something new. I come from a line of missionaries and moving was part of their calling. My great grandfather left Labrador where his parents were missionaries, to go to South Africa to become a missionary there. There was no emailing, no flights back and forth, no photos and phone calls. I often think of how much easier we have it. His sons, my grandfather being one of them, were sent away to Germany at a young young age to attend school for many years and didn't get to see their parents in all that time. I cannot even imagine.

In my travels and time living away from home, I have met people from all over the world. In the UK i had a lot of wonderful English friends and colleagues but there were also friends from other places - people travelling from Australia and New Zealand and none of them carried guilt at having left to see the world. Maybe because their countries were less complicated, they could return more easily when the time was right - there were less issues to worry about back home. Maybe that's true. But still ... there was a freedom to their travelling which i found to be different to those of us South African. As if we had to justify things somehow. Offer an explanation. Why were were there, and if we planned to go back. That would show loyalty or the absence thereof. If you were going back it all made sense - some time overseas to make money and experience life is absolutely fine. But say you might not go back and the eyebrows would be raised and they would think you were racist, too scared to go back and live under black rule. Or scared of other factors South Africans deal with .. and there are many of them. Too selfish to go home and 'make a difference'. Do something positive, contribute to the building up of a new country. It's a guilt I still carry around today and I know i'm not alone because of all the hundreds of comments and stories online when you start reading. Start on this subject with South Africans abroad and it's like opening a can of worms. Pandora's box.

I have friends born in Korea, Croatia, England, Finland, Turkey, Holland to name but a few.  And all of us have left the country of our birth to be living somewhere else and most of us get homesick and some of us sometimes wonder if we're in the right place. But everyone else seems to be comfortable dealing with their decision based on what feels right for themself and their families. If you're South African though, and you have left, it's a whole lot more complicated. Because then there's the assumption that  you gave up hope. Hope in the Rainbow Nation and the bright new future being shaped. Hope that the very complex issues facing the country would be solved, could be worked through. That things would not blow up as so many feared. That life could be good and stable and wonderful. As it had been for many of us growing up. (And i don't say that lightly, knowing how it was for the more than other half of us). Still. It remains my experience that if you're South African and you're living overseas (as we like to call it) then you're one of the ones who chickened out. Who gave up. Who ran out. Ran away. Were not brave enough. Did not believe. Gave up hope. 

And it cuts right to the core of me. It makes me want to jump up and down shouting and screaming, clutching signs telling the world that i love South Africa and miss her every day. But that i also love my life here in the States and these are things you cannot simply place on a scale to see which side goes up and which one down. That things are so very much more complicated and we all make decisions along the way and that the steps we thought would just be small and for a little bit of time, actually turned out to be giant leaps, and might just be forever. And forever is still a bit too long for me to deal with. So i keep it in bite sized pieces of a year or two, or maybe three. I am sad at the weddings we did not attend, and all the years i am missing of my brothers and sisters lives, the cups of coffee with my mom, the little moments of sharing our lives. The sounds of the hadedas at sunset. The koeksusters not eaten, the exhibitions not visited, the mountains not climbed. I feel all of them. I go through my ups and downs just like everyone else.

But one thing i am not is a bitter immigrant (also because i haven't emigrated, i see myself as living away - for now). I will not run down the country i am living in, and i felt the same way when i lived in the UK before. And i'll not run down the country of my birth either. Not ever. Talk about it, yes. Tell some stories which i think are important, yes. But i didn't run away. Life took me somewhere i wasn't expecting. And i didn't turn my back, even though it feels like it sometimes when i miss another birthday or cannot lay a wreath at the cemetery. When my grandmother grows old and i'm not there to hold her hand and reminisce about the days she taught me to play the piano and sat singing to me in German. When i'm not sitting laughing and chatting with my sisters in law on a hot summer night like i'd like to be. Sometimes. But i get to call three countries home, and that's something. Not what the fifteen year old girl dreamt of exactly, when she dreamt of sometimes escaping the worry of what the future would hold, and a desire to see the world. She always thought she would be back. She couldn't see her future stretched out before her.

And so i go on, and I'm happy some days here, and homesick some days too. What I have learnt along the way is that nowhere is perfect, and there is no one place that could suit all of us with our different needs. Some of us travel the world in search of home and maybe never find it. Some of us are lucky enough to know home from the minute we open our eyes and to never need to go in search of it. And that there's really no right or wrong and that all the leavings and the comings home are hard, all of them. They are decisions made which tear and tug at the heartstrings and even when decisions are made happily and with great resolve, there will still be days of doubt and wondering ... what if. What if i had left. Or stayed. Or gone back. Or not. What if.

I guess what i wanted to say, in my very long roundabout way, is that not everyone who is living overseas is bitter. And not everyone is happy and euphoric about their new life either. It's always a bit of both, for all of us. There is happiness and sadness, grief and joy. Just like it is for everyone at home. There are some who need to sever their ties in order to thrive and make a new life elsewhere. There are some who had experiences which made them exhausted and scared and tired and who had given up hope. But at the end of the day we're all just trying to find our own way, wherever that may be. And that's a hard enough journey as it is, without heaping on the guilt and the judgements and making any of us feel bad about our choices. To everyone who left and to everyone who's at home, there's no perfect answer and no perfect place. We're all connected, whether we treasure that connection or not. Our experiences are different and we need different things. To each their own. 

It's enough to be open to the fact that life is full and confusing and beautiful and definitely full of change. That chance happenings can change our course just as easily as decisions made in the broad light of day. And that none of us can ever really know what it's like to walk in someone else's skin. Their life. Their fears. What makes them cry. So maybe we can be a little less harsh in our judging and pointing at each other, us South Africans. The ones who left and the ones who stayed and the ones who left but didn't mean to, or maybe can't quite find their way home. Not yet.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dreams and under the table drawing ...

A few nights ago i was watching a travel show late at night ... some remote islands in the Pacific where few tourists go to visit. No big hotels or resorts there, just the sea and grassy island. It was beautiful and isolated and then all of a sudden as they were walking along towards a small village there was a family, sitting on a stone wall with their backpacks on, drinking water. Totally out of place, and noticeably tourists. They stopped to interview them - to see what they were doing so far off the beaten track, in this place.

There was a husband and wife and their daughter, who looked to be about 10. He looked up at the camera and said very simply that we all start out with a bunch of dreams of how we want our lives to look. And then real life takes over. There are jobs and houses and the dreams get put away. The one day one wakes up looking 40 in the face and one realizes that it's time to take those dreams out again and to try and make them happen.

That spoke to me so much. Those few minutes of film. Unrehearsed. Co-incidental. The family exploring islands he had waited his whole life to see. What a lovely lesson they were teaching their daughter too.

How easy it is. To put those dreams away. To think they're no longer relevant, that they're selfish, unrealistic, out of place. Dreams have a way of hanging on, somehow. They come back to remind us of who we wanted to be, how we wanted to be living. They show us what's important. It's not too late. They keep whispering to us until we listen. 

What did you dream of when you were 5 ? What did you secretly wish for when you left school and the world was wide open before you ?

What is your heart whispering to you even now, in the quiet moments (or shouting from the mountain tops) ?


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Happy Halloween

Halloween is just around the corner .... the last of the leaves are falling fast and the landscape is shifting from reds and golds to brown. The deer in the woods have changed their coats and blend in with the trees and leafy ground now. Even though they munched a bright yellow 'mum' i planted by our mailbox (yes, every last bloom much to Lexi's disgust) ... i still love having them around. The two teenage boys as i like to think of them, have been chasing each other around the woods - too much energy, clearly. I see the doe watching them quietly as she grazes and I imagine her rolling her eyes to herself at all the charging around.

Today it's just a few Fall thoughts to send your way ... even tho things have felt a bit heavy and overwhelming this past week for close family and friends, and we have our own ups and downs over here, there is nothing quite like coloring with a 4 year old for an hour, or getting out the paints to do some fun arts and crafts to get the spirit lifted. We even made some painted Fall leaf-bugs and tied them to a branch in our dining room for some extra Fall decorating. We have been to our first 'trunk-or-treat' (that's right - cars have their trunks / boots decorated and the kids go from car to car instead of door to door) and there have been school Halloween events just in case a storm wrecks trick-or-treating on the night, as has happened the past few years. We are keeping our fingers crossed over here that costumes can be worn and candy collected on the 31st for the first time in a few years ... Harry Potter and a certain pink fairy princess would be very very grateful.
Happy Halloweeeeeeeen to you all.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Still here ...

I'm still here. In the misty early morning silences where the trees stretch fingers to the sky to welcome the new day. Where the leaves have turned from green to glowing reds and oranges, and now they're slowly fading to browns and rust. Fall is beautiful with crisp mornings and sunny afternoons, but the light is shifting and winter is around the corner.

Summer went in a blur of green busy-ness. Painting walls and fretting over furniture placement. Tearing out carpets and varnishing floors. Finding our way around a new place. Swimming at the town pool. Wondering how long it will take to make friends. Hoping the children will settle in quickly. Seeing friends after a long time apart, and having family come to visit. Wonderful weeks with my mom, visiting from South Africa. Lots of coffee and catching up. The inevitable heartache when she had to go home. And me wishing i could go with her. Long cups of tea spent on the back deck, just listening to the silence and watching the trees. Standing. Acts of kindness which nearly undid me. Sometimes we can be so fragile that it doesn't take much. Time spent watching new bikes being ridden and football played on a freshly cut lawn. New schools and new routines. A few weeks in, we are starting to find our feet a little more each day. The roads are becoming familiar, i am driving without my GPS more and more often. Slowly slowly. Now it's Fall - the season of birthdays (in our house), pumpkins and apple picking. Scarecrows and Halloween just around the corner.

I needed the silence. A bit of space to collect myself. I missed being here. I was putting so much pressure onto all of it that i lost the simple joy in sending a few words out into the ether. Wondering where they would settle instead of just letting them go. It's good to be back. I was feeling a little overwhelmed by the beautiful online community. By how much amazing work is out there, by the creativity everywhere. I needed time to scale back a little, to delete the links which were just not making me feel good, to stop putting pressure on. It's good to be back to visiting just a few special places where i always leave feeling inspired, challenged in a good way, a little more thoughtful, a little softer round the edges. And lots of time spent playing on Pinterest. I never get tired of that!

I'm glad you're still here ... I hope the past few months have been kind to you too.


 Our woods. I am still a little overwhelmed by that fact !

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Around here lately ....

It has been raining. So much. All summer long. Green wet days like how when we were growing up and misty in the mornings sometimes ... it reminds us of Kloof (South Africa). 

I rediscovered her music from my pile of cd's not listened to in a while and she matches my mood at the moment. Especially on rainy nights with the world quiet and dripping around me.

It's been a busy two months of projects around the house ... unpacking and sorting and painting walls. But the other night i finally got to sit down and watch a movie. This movie was playing. I have wanted to see it for a long time, and i'm so glad i did. Loved it. Watch the trailer if you haven't seen it. It's beautiful.

We are still surprised and ever so happy to find deer grazing in our garden. They appear in the early morning silence. They chase each other across the lawn. We come home at night to find them staring at us from behind the trees. There are at least two fawns, white spotted and bushy tailed. They are so quiet.

The inside of the house is looking a lot like this ...

But it is slowly starting to feel like home.

We've had visits from friends all the way from London (lovely lovely) and cousins coming to stay ... we've had time for the beach, a local carnival and cotton candy .. trips to the pool ... just hanging out. 

The pace has been slow and quiet and i've been trying to take it day by day and not worry too much about what comes next. There has been a lot of tea drinking on the deck ...

and time to teach someone to ride a big-boy-bike ...

I'm trying to savour the moments and just to breathe in and out. The to-do list is long but i'm just not looking at it too much.
For now, that's enough.

Wishing you a wonderful last few weeks of summer.


Friday, August 2, 2013

On gray walls ...

I am a total IKEA girl ... have always loved their furniture. The past year or so i've felt a bit disappointed when i've been to their store. Nothing i really really liked, no real excitement about any of the products. I thought maybe i had just outgrown them. 

But then i got their online catalogue in my inbox last night and it's fresh and funky and updated. It kind of makes me want to go shopping there again. Loving the green velvet couch especially. And all the grays ... maybe that's what i should paint my kitchen.

Here's the link to the online catalogue ...

And with a similar feel, i love the house in this post of Decor8, the funky Netherlands home tour. The grays and dark colors are just beautiful with the pops of pink and aqua. I feel a little inspiration coming.

See what you think ....