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.