Saturday, December 26, 2015

No place like home ... South Africa in May

At the end of each year I spend a few days going through all the photos from the past year. I create Memory books for the kids online ... and then I put together an album for myself ... family memories, photos I want to keep, memories of places we visited or just every day moments that stand out ... it's a good way for me to remember the year, and to reflect on the highlights ... think about what I want to do differently in the year to come. Sifting through the months today, I realized that I never got to share photos from my trip back to South Africa in May. I've felt really homesick this Christmas ... it's how it is at this time of year, and I know that ... sometimes it's just a case of keeping head down and getting through ... but these photos brought home back to me today and I thought it was as good a time as any to share them. It is the country I love best in the world. Hands down. No competition. No matter how hard I try, my heart is still there - fluttering between the light and shadows, refusing to leave, and I always feel a little empty, living so far away from the heat and chaos and beauty that is South Africa.

In May I flew back there on my own for a week. I needed time with my family and friends, especially my grandmother, and time to myself, away from the day to day. It was a very special trip for me ... I got to reconnect with  the people I love and miss, to remember my history, to explore new places and to revisit old ones that are part of my story. What struck me the most on this trip was the creativity and originality all around me ... the coffee shops in Cape Town with their beautiful menus and funky decor ... the little stores we wondered in and out of ... the way creativity and inspiration are all around. And of course, the landscape, which never fails to take my breath away when I am back.

So without further ado, this ... is my South Africa. 

Beautiful craft store in Kloof, KZN

Below: Sculpture in the Gardens at Makaranga Lodge, Kloof

A night in Ballito

On to Cape Town: Blouberg Beach below, with a view of Table Mountain

Below : At the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

Below : Farm School

Below: Driving to Greyton, we stopped in at my favorite farm stall


Farewell breakfast, Cape Town 


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas ....

Wishing you and yours a truly beautiful Christmas. We are staying home this year and Christmas will be a quiet one for us but there will be cookies and big mugs of tea, the anticipation of preparing for Santa, presents under the tree and wearing of silly red hats for sure. 

As our thoughts wing their way across the seas to our family and friends far away, and to those who are lonely and scared and uncertain of their future, to those crossing countries to bring their families to safety, to those who are battling illness ... we will hold our children tight and send up our prayers as we sing Christmas carols and we shall be grateful for what we do have, much as we are missing the ones we don't.

Merry Merriest.

Love and Light.

Monday, December 7, 2015


It's the holiday season. A time of baking cookies and hanging wreaths and decorating the tree. It's one of my favorite times of the year. And yet this year, I can barely breathe with the weight of the sadness hanging over us all.

I try not to spend hours obsessing over the news. I catch up on Facebook, quickly, scanning. But I also don't want to hide out and stick my head under the covers. That has never been my way.

I read articles from Greenpeace. The Climate talks in Paris. Secret transports of nuclear waste. Slavery on fishing boats. Forests burning. Smog at an all time high. People told to stay inside. I read updates from the camp in Calais. I see photos posted of a teeny tiny girl who was killed during air strikes in Syria, her father's body around hers, trying in vain to protect her. I read about families displaced, stories of refugees. The woman who spent her whole life growing her family in one place, only to have them spread across the world. Scattered. And she having to leave home at the age of 72 to keep her sons safe. There are thousands of stories just like hers.

I cry for days and days and days. At odd moments, all alone. With people around me, the tears threaten. During a kid's movie. Writing emails. Making tea. Running errands. Trying to fall asleep. I feel the violence and the terror and the anguish and I have no answers. We're making such a royal mess of it all. Over and over.

I tell my children to look for the positive. I tell them to remember that no matter what, there are beautiful people out there doing brave things to save the planet and save other people. People are building up while others are tearing down. I tell them to stay brave and to remember that light is stronger than darkness.

Sometimes it's hard to listen to one's own advice.

In the quiet of early morning I look to the woods and see the way the light falls. The quiet beauty, the perfect balance. I wonder if God watches the light rising on another day in each part of the world and wonders why He bothered. I wonder, as I sometimes do on the very bad days when the bickering never ends and we talk in circles and I have to raise my voice and still it does not help ... if He too despairs of his creations. If He had stopped with the deer and the rabbits and the elephants. Just left this beautiful planet to go on peacefully. The fish to swim, the turtles to drift. The lion to roam. Balance. Peace. Instead here we are - greedy and hungry and demolishing the very earth we need for our survival. He must want to wipe the slate clean. Most days.

Instead He sends us sunsets, bursting with color and light. He lets the woods grow wild and the light that falls, softly, takes my breath away. He knows the power of a soft hand holding mine at the end of a long day, the gentle quiet of a child's breathing in sleep. The way the early morning quiet holds the promise of a new day.

I walk in the woods. I look for poetry. I search for beautiful images to remind me why we are here. I play my favorite music and remember to paint. Times like these we have no choice but to go on. To pick up our pencils, our cameras, our paintbrushes. Take to our keyboards, continue the work. Light the candles no matter how stifling the darkness. No matter how many times they are blown out.




Saturday, November 28, 2015

Creative Kids _ Advent Calendars

Growing up, one of my favorite parts of Christmas was the Advent Calendar that hung above my bed. Mine was made of dark blue felt with 4 Santa's down the middle - each day of December had a brass ring allocated to it, the numbers and rings were sewn onto the felt fabric, and it was the most exciting feeling in the world to wake up on December 1st to see the calendar bulging and sagging with the weight of tiny presents, each one tied to one brass hoop. I still have it, although the Santas have been retired for quite some time now !

I want Christmas to be just as magical for my own children as it was for me, and so I find myself following the same traditions that my mother and grandmother laid out for me all those years ago. When our oldest was little the calendar just held chocolate coins wrapped in gold paper, one for each day of December. As he got older I added a gift just on the 4 days of Advent ... a little car, a plastic animal. One year I took a tube of plastic knights and dragons and wrapped one for each day of the month. Some years it's chocolates, some years a combination of a treat and a small gift. There are families who write out 24 lists of things to do as a family to enjoy the season - things like watching a movie together in their pj's, having a snowball fight, singing carols by candlelight ... there are some who wrap up holiday themed books for the family to read together, one for each day of the month. That's the beauty of it, whatever you choose to do is just perfect. (Although to be fair, how does anything compete with chocolate !)

Here are a few beautiful and easy to make calendars I found online via Pinterest ... usually I try to use my own images only on this blog, but hopefully the owners will be happy to share ... all photos are linked to their original websites.

Image 4: Frydogdesign via Pinterest

For us, Advent means a family breakfast with the table set. A fresh wreath, four candles. The little touches that make for a special morning. The children are already counting sleeps until their calendars go up.

Happy Advent !


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Creative Kids _ Happy Thanksgiving

I love Pinterest. More than love, i probably have a mild form of addiction to the site. Maybe more than mild. From ideas for party decor to an inspiring studio space to the best of fabric designs, it's an amazing place to go for inspiration. 

But sometimes it's the real-every-day and maybe not-so-perfect that makes the best memories. When we're decorating for the holidays it's easy to get caught up in the spreads of the magazines, to yearn for the beautiful new & shiny on every store shelf ... there are always gorgeous new things ... new dishes, new decorations, new ideas. But at the end of the day, for me, decorating for the holidays when there are little people in the house is all about them lending a hand. Rather than worrying about perfect mantelpieces and beautiful table top centerpieces that take hours to set up, I use preschool clay turkeys and ask the little ones to gather pine cones to help decorate. Get them to write letters on pieces of cardboard spelling out 'Give Thanks' and pin them onto a piece of string to form a banner ... it's these simple little touches that also teach them that their creativity and contributions are valuable, and make them feel so proud when they see their artwork hanging on the walls.

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These clay turkeys are the best for an easy Thanksgiving craft project. One of them came home from pre-school 8 years ago, the others were made at home after ... the kids love seeing their creations being brought out year after year and until they're old enough to be embarrassed by their pre-school creations, these are my favorite Thanksgiving decorations.

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Wishing you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Some days ...

The warmth of soapy water, hands dipping in and out, suds clinging to skin.
The reassuring quiet of washing dishes, the dripping wet as they are placed to dry.
The everyday routines that weave through my days. They anchor me.
The smell of quiche fills the house. It is not home made and that is ok.
Children's voices, book pages turning. Two chickens home sick from school.
Outside the air is crisp, crumpled decay - leaves hang lifeless from the last vines.
The smell of wet earth, plants half dead, the end of a season.
I turn to go inside and stop, the leaves alight with fire.
Such beauty. The sun is warm on my face.
The woods stand quiet, squirrels scuttle feverishly, gathering nuts.
I think of all the weight the world is holding.
Of all the grief and anger I've been reading the past few days.
How that's not the way to feed a soul and sometimes, no matter 
how big the issues, it's time to turn aside and let it be enough that
the sun still holds warmth and that the food is nearly ready.
That there is food and warmth and the voices of children around me.
I think of my family, safe near Paris.
I think of all the other families, that are not.
Not just in Paris.
I think of all the losses and the mourning and the refugees, desperate.
Of how there don't seem to be answers, some days. 
The questions are too big.
I think of all the articles and the news and the stories flying on social media,
and I close the door and catch the warmth inside.
I put lunch on the table and make a cup of tea.
Slow sips, sitting in the sunshine.

Three Facebook pages I do love reading, at any time:  the Worldwide Tribe (Focused on the refugees in the Calais camp, France), Humans of New York (For stories. Beautiful heart wrenching life affirming stories). And then Elizabeth Gilbert, who always seems to find the most beautiful words to share on her Facebook feed. Today she wrote about facing life with dignity in hard times. Just beautiful. Read it. You'll see.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

On looking for work but drinking tea instead ....

This is what my pile of reading looks like at the moment. Can you see the theme ... this is what happens when it's been 9 years since the last professional employment and one doesn't have a label. People ask me what I am. Or was. Or did. As if my life ended 9 years ago when in so many ways it was a new beginning. 

I knew it wouldn't be easy to go back after taking so much time off. I knew moving countries might shake me up a little. I knew it would be easier to stay working in the same place and to have a career that grew in a straight line and by now I would be so much closer to the top. But then I never was much good at straight lines or climbing ladders. There are other ways to make a life.

Still. Here it is. The new threshold and I am really really lost. A few window displays now and then, some painting commissions ... sadly they don't seem to count for much. I scan the job ads and want to cry in frustration. Not knowing which way. Or what. Full-time or part, here or there. 

Yesterday my oldest was sick. Not very sick, just enough to need a day at home. We hung out in our comfy clothes, he on the computer, me with my DVD player on my lap. We ate chocolate eclairs for lunch and drank a lot of tea. The house was peaceful and the light was streaming in. I decided to take a whole day off and hang around doing not much of anything and it felt so wonderful.

So that's my new agenda. The job searching can wait. I am going to eat soup and drink in the beauty of fall all around me, go for walks in the crunching leaves and catch a few as they drift down in the breeze. I am going to drink tea and lose myself in Downton Abbey, get lost in a different world for a while. I'm a little late in discovering this beautiful series but now that I have, I am absolutely hooked.


Friday, July 10, 2015

Around here lately ...

There have been playroom walls painted and time spent chilling at home. It's been a little cold and rainy and not quite summer most days. Not as much time at the pool as we had hoped. But there were playdates and a sleepover and a short football camp. We are taking things slow, day by day. This summer. No big plans, no rushing around. Nice and easy.

He made us all breakfast. On his own.

The first blueberries are ripe. I found a recipe for lemon and blueberry bread and pretty much ate the whole loaf myself. It tasted of summer. Delicious.

A lovely gift from our neighbors for letting us look after their dog. We should be thanking them. The perfect summer thank you.

A Sunday morning on the beach. Just the littlest and I. Much needed.

A local outing for the 4th July.

This girl.

She loves animals. More specifically - rabbits, dogs, turkeys and horses. She has been begging for riding lessons for a long time. Waiting and waiting.

This past week we signed her up for her first lesson. She had to have boots. Cowgirl boots. No sneakers. I wasn't sure we'd find any instore, in the middle of summer, but there they were, just waiting for her. One pair, in her size.
She has only taken them off to sleep.

My beautiful American girl.