Sunday, July 15, 2018

cake and life

For his first birthday without her, I made him a cake like his mama would've made it.

Sjokolade-oilie-koek. In Afrikaans it rolls off the tongue, in any language it slips happily into your belly.
The recipe is written in pencil, on an old discoloured page, in her distinctive hand.
The sugar came from a massive vat of it we discovered in her cupboard when we were packing up her flat. 'How long do you think this has been here?' I asked him, and when we got home we found slip of paper buried in the white crystals 04.01.2018. Why would she have dated it we wondered?
The vanilla also from her tiny pantry, a mere fraction of the kind of supply cupboard she would've kept for most of her life.
The cake tins, well-scrubbed, a bit battered, tins which must've baked 1000 cakes. No, really.

I messaged him while baking it.
Cherries? Caramel filling? Instant coffee in the icing?
I wanted to make it just right. After all these years there are still things I don't know about him.

His response: No chuckles, no sprinkles, no dips, no cherries, no candles. No coffee, no caramel. Just icing. Maybe the thinnest smear of apricot jam. Maybe some choc shavings.

I hope when he bit into it he thought of her. I hope I made it right but not so right that he wouldn't feel nostalgic for hers. I hope that I did it justice, but I'm sure he felt that missing ingredient.

Life isn't great right now. We are feeling our losses and struggling along with our burdens of stress and general boring adulthood.
But we are struggling along together, which is the important thing, we are being gentle and kind and helping each other out where we can.

And today we ate cake, and climbed a mountain, and celebrated life. Because we have it, and it's beautiful, even when it's hard.
And there's also gin!

Monday, July 02, 2018

camera roll: June

June. Top and tailed by the sea.

June started with a job I was doing - hosting a group of Czech Roma activists in Cape Town, visiting with local civil society organisations to swap notes and strategies, exchange stories on how they fight for the rights of marginalised communities. Jeez, the Roma have it bad in the Czech Republic. Quite terrifying.

It was such an interesting gig for me. I work with the local organisations often, but almost always with them coming to events I'm organising - seldom have I visited them, and the sites of their work. It was educational, and stimulating to be reminded of all the amazing work happening here.

There was time on the schedule for a bit of social justice tourism and we took the group out to Robben Island. A beautifully warm (and thank god, still, day) for the 45min ferry ride out and tour of the island. I'd never done the official tour before and it was part-educational (we had an amazing guide for the bus part) and part ... I don't know, American? Too touristy, packaged, clinical.
Still astounding to be there though, and even in the bright winter sun the dread of those cold walls could be felt. 
History is important.

Another inspiring site of social activism we visited that week was this old provincial hospital - long abandoned - now occupied by lower-income families protesting the gentrification and urbanisation of inner city suburbs. Pushed out of their homes by rising rates and slumlords selling off to urban developers, this group have started their own community here - with strict house rules and infrastructure. Families living in old operating theatres ... very surreal and yet their everyday reality.
A story of hope in many ways, but as I type this with icy toes in the comfort of my home I wonder about them today, as the weather has turned seriously chilly.

My parents took me out for our now traditional but until-now postponed due to death and diversion birthday lunch - to Jonkershuis.
Bastion of white monopoly capital but shew, what lovely buildings and grounds. And what a delicious lunch. And what wonderful parents I have.

It was weird to experience so many of Cape Town's different faces and histories within a week of each other.

Proper winter now, and the aloes are blooming beautiful.
Rain, rain, rain - it's been bucketing down. Today it was announced that we've already surpassed 2015's entire winter rainfall reading (from April to September), and it's only just July!
Very good news for our drought-stricken part of the world.

On the subject of good news ... this lady is still doing really well. Fat and sleek on her new prescription diet (and no, I don't resent the extra cost for a second - I'll pay dearly to keep her here for as long as possible). 
Traditionally crotchety AF and only tolerant of a select handful of people in the world, there was a funny moment during Frieda's party when one of her friends brought Khoki downstairs in her arms.
'I found your kitty,' she said, 'she wants to join the party.'
Oh no she bloody did not! The look of outrage and disbelief on Khoki's face was a scream :-)

And then a little dash out of town this past, last, weekend of June.
A grayer sea (actually, truthfully, big lagoon), than the beginning of the month, squalls of rain and a very fresh, chilly breeze, but a beautiful retreat none-the-less.
Flamingos, family, steaks on the braai, a snuggly night sharing a big bed with my big girl, a rainy drive and the refreshment - body and spirit - of a little change of scenery.

It is beautiful here.

Thursday, June 28, 2018


I am enraptured by this kid.

This is not news. I've been enraptured by her since the day she arrived and made me a mama.

But she really just keeps on astounding me, as she grows and develops and changes and yet stays so very grounded and herself.
Frieda just turned 11, but in other ways she's still 8, but also 15, but also 22.

She wanted a phone for her birthday, but also a flower crown with skeleton hands for her self-conceptualised Day of the Dead party. She got both (all hail the glue gun!).

She wanted to serve tacos to her friends and have a dance party and have a bunch of girls sleep over.
We made it happen.

She wanted the cake to still be a surprise, as it always has been since the very first birthday.

And the next day - our house in tatters, every surface sticky and every eyeball grainy - I looked at this photo and felt so grateful for this shiny, radiant being. 
I have moments of sheer terror at this next phase of parenting, but then I remember that I'll be doing it with her - all my parenting firsts have been with her, and I think we got this. I think we'll be okay.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

camera roll: May

Lol, these camera rolls get later and later each month ...

I started May with a day trip to Joburg. My first for the year - quite something after my bazillion trips up there last year.

It was nice to be back in the Big Smoke. A quick productive day of business and straight back home.
I was on a recce trip for a job which was due to happen there this week - but a few days after the trip it was postponed to August! Already my notes from this trip seem as hazy as this skyline ... eek.

It was my birthday - did I mention that? And what with going away and then losing my MIL and generally blah-ness it all become very disjointed and bitty - which was kinda crap but kinda great in that I kept being surprised by it - like this unexpected beauty gifted to me from the boot of a car at a kiddies party one week day afternoon ...

... I have always wanted this (can you tell by my face?) - telephone wire coat rack by Heath Nash. I have literally lusted after it for years. And dear friends remembered and said to each other 'Zahida was always really good at presents, we need to hit this one out the park' and bandied together, and DID.
The ribbon on a gift like this, is the knowledge that you are known, that your people get you.
And that was what I really needed this birthday.
That, and a telephone wire coat rack by Heath Nash!
That, and the reminder that regardless of everything - it is beautiful here.

But the hero story for May - the most wonderful (and oh thank god happy ending one) was this:

In the same week that my MIL died, this little old lady pulled a number on us too. Stopped eating, drinking - didn't leave my bed for 2 days. We were ... distracted, I'm ashamed to admit, so much else going on, and by the time we got her to the vet I was lambasting myself for being a bad mummy but when he got her out the carrier he was genuinely surprised that she looked so 'fantastic' for a kitty her age, and I felt hopeful. Khoki is 19 this year, but still soft as a kitten, strong and feisty.
She over-nighted at the vet, on a drip, the same night my MIL passed and I lay awake fretting - for Husband to lose his mum and his beloved cat in the same week seemed too cruel for words.
But she made it!
It's first stage kidney disease, it will take her eventually, but for now she's back - demanding and cranky as ever - and every night when she snuggles down between us (having yowled at us since dusk to come to bed) , I offer up the closest thing I have to a prayer - a message of gratitude to the universe - to her - thank you for staying with us a little longer. For all my concern for Husband, I don't think I could bear this loss too right now.

And then autumn, waning in all its beauty ... my mum bought this little broom and wheelbarrow for my little nephew to sweep the vine leaves on her stoep - but Stella clearly decided she's by no means too big for that herself yet ... segued into winter ...

... and the cubble got real :-)

Friday, June 15, 2018


That birthday post was very delayed.

We came home that Sunday evening in a (very clean) glow of love and family to the news that my dear mother-in-law had gone into hospital.
Four evenings later on the 24th of May she quietly slipped away.

It's the way we'd all like to go I think - fit as a fiddle until 85, then a quick decline and a relatively comfortable passing - it was the right way, although there is never a right time, especially not for those left behind.

The numb feeling of loss is horribly familiar.

For my dear Charl especially - losing his mum so soon after his brother last year. Becoming an orphan. Feeling the family become smaller, more disjointed. His closest brother, and now his mum.

The following weekend we had a farewell tea for her at the retirement village she's been living at for the last 18 years or so, for the family but also for her friends.
As a recently bereft friend my heart ached for this sweet group of little old ladies. Walking frames, sensible shoes, stout winter coats smelling faintly of mothballs - they embraced us all and told us what a wonderful woman she was, a 'proper lady', and how much they'd miss her.
We will too.

Cake, tea, all her family and a slideshow of photos spanning 80+ years - she would have enjoyed it all so much.

I love this picture of her and Charl's Dad, who I never met. The dress and the 5th Avenue Cold Dark imply it was Christmas, or a party of some sort. The dessert in his hand ubiquitous, the giggle and squeeze so very sweet. The safari suit!

She was always an older granny for our girls, but she loved them dearly and they were so fond of Ouma.
The last time we saw her, on Mother's Day a few weeks before she passed, we lined her and Frieda up back to back - and had a laugh that Frieda had overtaken her. We teased her as to how she'd created this family of giants. 
She was a little lady, but with a big heart, and she gave us our husband and dad - and for that we will always honour her.

Thursday, June 14, 2018


The week before my birthday someone said to me in the morning, 'Hey, it's your birthday soon - what you going to do?'
I spent the rest of the day in tears.

I couldn't conceive of a birthday celebrated without Zahida. She was good at birthdays that one - good at gifts and thoughtful gestures, always up for a party or some related fun - but mostly just genuinely, warmly, utterly happy. I don't feel like I've felt that for a while now.

The next day I spent a couple of hours hunting online, until I found an available, dog-friendly cottage to book for the weekend. My birthday would be spent away, with just the fam, and a glorious deep, hot outdoor bath!

It was the BEST.

Just that patch of super green lawn made our poor drought-stricken hearts sing.

Add to that majestic mountains, a superb steak fillet, one chilly day to stay indoors at the fire playing Settlers of Catan, one warmer day to explore the farm and collect wind-fallen pears and get lost on a hike, my 3 favourite people in all the world, my 2 favourite dogs and - the proverbial cherry - a magnificent birthday 'pulla' baked by my man in the teeny little cottage oven ... it was the very best way to spend this birthday.

And ...

... this bath. Filled with rainwater, heated with solar, set away from the house with a view of the mountain. Deep. Hot. Guilt-free. We all had a turn, wallowing in water therapy, high on hydration, muscles relaxing and softening as they remembered: a bath!

Good for the mind, body and soul.

It was only when we got home that I found this line on their website: The mountain cottages are tucked away at the foot of the mountain, far away from any rush or noise. The setting certainly helps most people to feel their sorrows dissolve…

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

late season camping

I'm not sure how it is that we often end up camping in April. It seems quite late in the season and the chances of being rained on (we were) or it getting really cold at night (it did) are fairly high.
Nevertheless, we often camp in April.

We are of the get dirty, don't brush hair, sleep in, play with bugs school of campers. It wasn't camping if we don't come home reeking of wood smoke, with mountains of laundry and a couple of scrapes and bruises.
However I've also always come home really, really tired. The one thing I don't do well camping is sleeping - this despite us having a super-comfy mattress in our trailer tent - far more comfortable than most people would be on hiking mattresses and the like - but I still struggle. I worry in the night if my babies are cold, if a dog's going to slip away and cause a nuisance in the campsite. I listen to the wind and wonder if we extinguished the fire well enough. I strain to remember if we put the milk away, or imagine I hear the rustle of a small creature in our bread rolls. I wonder if I need a wee and then balk at the thought of getting up and finding shoes ... I wonder if anyone else needs a wee...

But this time, in addition to tons of food and warm clothes and swimsuits and first aid and and and ... all the other camping clobber, I packed ...  sleeping pills.
And that my friends, made all the difference.

Fabulous long weekend camp with old friends, lots of sleep, great food, some sunshine, some rain (ha ha quite a lot of rain), one stinky sewer, a full moon, some cows and a chameleon named Steve.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018


Much has been written about how women of a certain age gain an indisputable confidence and general whatever-fuck-you attitude.
Much has been written about whiteness, and how one of the undeniable privileges about being white is gaining access to all kinds of places without anyone questioning your validity for being there.
There's also been a few things written about Dutch courage, and the kind of bravado which can only be found in the bottom of a wine bottle.

This is a tale in which all of these collide ...

'Twas friend Y's birthday and three of us popped out to a nearby wine farm for a little fancy dinner of a rainy Wednesday evening.
En route we passed a mammoth big glass building - finally completed after months of building and traffic disruption - and noticed a little soiree happening inside.
'Is that my surprise birthday party?' quips friend Y.

We proceeded to dinner - a delightful selection of small dishes of fancy delicious things - and two very nice bottles of a wine which was not called 'Panties' despite my dinner mates continually referring to it as such. Lots of giggles, some silly selfies in the parking lot and we were on our way home thinking we'd had the most fun the evening had to offer ... until we passed back past the big glass building, and decided to just 'pop in'.

We swung in the gates and through the doors with all the self-assuredness of 40-something white ladies two bottles of wine down. And nobody stopped us.

Not one of the black-tie, ball-gowned, silver-heeled, well-oiled guests, nor any of the beefy, bull-necked, bruiser security-types even tried to stop us. Not even that slim black-clad blonde lady in the middle pic who turned out to be the gallery director and definitely gave us some quizzical glances dared actually approach us.
We were in sneakers for gods sake, but we were wearing them with a mighty confidence.
We were pigging out at the divinely decadent dessert table - the only people pigging out there I might add (I'm pretty sure the staff were on to us then) - and nobody even thought to engage us in conversation and find out who the heck we were.
We were taking photos and giggling at artworks and clearly misbehaving at the sponsors wall - but we got away with it.

Turns out it was the art event of the year. Turns out it was the patron's evening before the soft opening before the hard opening before the VIP opening of Cape Town's latest ra-ra gallery and art collection. Turns out it was quite a big deal.

Don't ever think old gals don't know how to have fun.

Monday, May 07, 2018

camera roll: April

April. I like April, always have.

At the beginning of the month I astounded myself - and a few others I think - by passing my motorbike drivers licence on the first attempt!
My learner's licence would expire in June and I was determined to get my drivers before then. Buying a gorgeous new bike was very motivating (more about that later) and while I was still not working to any extreme deadline and had the time I decided to get it done.
3 hours at the traffic department to book the appointment, a 3 hour training session with a highly-recommended local motorbike training school, another hour or so arsing about in the road outside our house practising emergency braking and stuff - and I got it. Yippee!

Awetumn continued in all its magnificence. I don't think I'll ever tire of taking photos of this view. I've been thinking I should be collating them somehow ...

My wee nephew turned one. Actually he turned 1 in March but everyone was away and his party delayed by a few weeks. My sister-in-law asked her mum to make a sugar-free cake - and this was the utterly amazing result!
All the elements came to his beach party in various tupperwares to be constructed on site - watermelon, sweet melon, pineapple, dragon fruit (totally tasteless, but very pretty), kiwi, grapes, gooseberries, naartjie, strawberry, pomegranate. It was so delicious and indulgent, and very, very impressive!

Frieda and I squeezed in another night away with my parents in Betty's Bay. We'd so enjoyed our stay there before that we had to get out there again while they were still in residence.
We left on a Saturday morning - the plan was for both girls to go with me -  but Stella was dragging her feet, still sloughing around in her pajamas when I was ready to leave. 'Actually I think I'll stay with Dad' she declared. And so she did. We split 50/50 and I had a great time with just my big girl, Stella and her Dad an equally good time without us. Funny that we hardly ever think to do that, but so good for us all. 

23 April - first fire of the season! It was lovely (especially for dogs) and got us all excited about cooler days and wintery delights.

Of course being Cape Town that didn't actually mean it was winter yet. We've still had glorious still sunshiney days.
A national bus strike left me without childcare for a week or so, necessitating doing the school lifts myself, and reminding me how fun it can be to kill time between pick-ups with just one daughter and a slushie at the harbour down the road from the school - spotting seals and boats and cheeky seagulls.
I'll never need to be reminded of how lucky we are to live here though, and be able to do these things on an arbitrary Tuesday afternoon.

And then some REAL rain, bringing joy to all our hearts. The 5000l rain water storage tank we installed in mid December is finally nearly full! It's only taken nearly 6 months ...
Apparently good rain in April sets the tone for the rest of winter, we're holding thumbs this is the case!

And then, just at the end of the month, this little girl turned 1. Nacho the Naughty she is - from a very mild-mannered puppy she's become quite headstrong and stubborn, chewing furniture and any unattended toys. We've had to be very vigilant of late, but we still love her to bits and she's a real member of the family.