Tuesday, August 25, 2015

25 things about right now.

1. I went to see West Side Story a couple of weeks back. An all-local production, 2 years in the making, performed at our big City theatre - it was astounding.

Pic stolen from the internet - see more here.
I'm not a big fan of musicals, but this was magic - thank you to the friends who persuaded me to go. I'd loved the 1961 movie as a child, the soundtrack was one of 3 or 4 cassette tapes on repeat on our family holidays and most of the lyrics have stayed with me.
The morning after the performance I gave the girls the plot rundown as we dashed through the hardware store and we left with them singing 'When you're a Jet you're a Jet all the way from your first cigarette to your last dying daaaaaaaay'!
I borrowed the soundtrack from the library a few days later and much to Husband's consternation it's been an all out WSS FEST to and from school recently.
Some stories are just timeless (big up to Shakespeare!).

2. The other soundtracks which contributed to the theme songs of my childhood were The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Joseph and his Technicolour Dream Coat, Hair and Grease. (My parents were hippies.)

3. In addition to West Side Story we're all about Inside Out (the movie) and talking about our emotions. Also - STILL - How to Train Your Dragon. Us big kids just finished Game of Thrones S5 and I for one am DEVASTATED by the final scene - what?? I'm rapidly catching up with Downton Abbey too, and we finally gave House a bash and are enjoying it. Can you tell it's winter?

4. We also went to the Zip Zap Circus. If you think it's nerve-wracking watching adult trapeze artists, watching kids do it is terrifying. And exhilarating!

5. My new sister-in-law and her siblings were in the Zip Zap Circus for years - also trapeze! - and my girls loved imagining that was her up there. I don't know how her parents could bear it!

6. Everybody seems to be traveling at the moment - friends to UK, friends to Reunion Island, my brother and SIL off on their delayed honeymoon trip to Bali. Brother plans to visit Chile later in the year. I'm seriously envious.

7. But did go for a long overdue motorbike ride with my Husband.

8. And his brothers and one of our sisters-in-law. Sweet story: I'm sure I've mentioned before that my husband is much younger than his brothers (17 and 15 years between them respectively). They were both in boarding school when he was born, then the army and life - and he pretty much grew up an only child. But now, as adults they've developed a real connection over shared hobbies. Currently: motorbikes. Their mum is so pleased. Well, maybe not so much about the motorbikes ...

9. It was gorgeous to be on the bike again and to do a nice wintery landscape ride on an overcast Sunday afternoon. The orchards were all still stark and sculptural, with occasional mad outbursts of blossoms, the verges were green and lush, ditches filled with arum lilies and wood smoke drifting from farm cottages. I'm glad we got out there.

10. Signs of Spring abound though, and suddenly our morning commute to school looks like this ...

... sun! Glorious golden dawn on those mountains so ravaged by fire 6 months ago. The winter rains have brought the first flush of green to those slopes too and we've been enjoying watching that change as the months pass.

11. On the subject of rain though, we've not had nearly enough this winter. On our ride we drove past some of Cape Town's major dams - soberingly empty. I fear for tight water restrictions and price hikes this summer.

12. Strange to think of water restrictions when one lives surrounded by the wet stuff (albeit undrinkable and too brack for the garden even). We've had amazing water wildlife experiences lately. Flamingos have been resident for the last couple of months, African Spoonbills have been around, two different types of kingfishers, pelicans, our first sighting of coot chicks and ... a seal!

This is s/he - top of the food chain, catching massive lake fish and tossing them around with happy abandon. S/he's been around for weeks now - too fat to get over the weir and back to the ocean probably!

13. Then on Sunday evening, just before dark, Stella met her first otter. A curious be-whiskered cheeky young 'un, practically touching noses with the dogs on the front lawn.

14. We've been here for 3 years next month and the wonder of this place still resonates with us every day.

15. NOT currently enthralling me is my work, or lack thereof. This has been a much slower year than last with lots of false starts and annoyances. I keep thinking 'oh it'll pick up' and then some small child asks me how long 'til Christmas and I realise the answer is FOUR MONTHS (today!!) and look at my credit card statement and feel slightly nauseous.

16. The small job I'm currently on is in complete stasis as we wait to hear whether our Very Important Guest will get her SA visa in time to depart the States tomorrow morning. If she does the next 3 days will look like a shit storm, if she doesn't I'll send off a bunch of apologetic emails and meekly submit my invoice for a job half done ... chalk this one up to another false start. Blerk.

17. Can I just say it is annoying, when whiling away semi-productive time in front of the computer, that all one's favourite northern hemisphere bloggers are far more occupied with being summery then writing insightful and witty material on the internet for those of us with time to kill to read. Happens every year. Not appreciated at all.

18. Even actual books are not weaving their usual magic for me. I've updated by 2015 reading list by the way, and have this situation happening on my bedside ...

... which freaked me out so much that I inexplicably did this ...

... and I'm actually moving through them quite fast right now, but I'm restless. I can't settle, I can't get enthralled and more and more I suspect that it's not the books to blame - but me.

19. Should I blame Instagram?

20. Thank god for Instagram.

21. I have however been having good cooking mojo recently - a first for the year really. I've been cooking healthy varied meals, consciously using things we have lurking in the fridge and the pantry. Planning meals and cooking ahead and testing the girls tastes and textures. It's an immensely satisfying feeling. It's good to have one of those in these somewhat dissatisfying times ...

22. But damn, food is expensive y'all. And getting more so all the time. We have a monthly grocery budget which we pretty much total every month but I'm kind of tempted to keep an actual spreadsheet of what we spend on what for a month - how many eggs, how many litres of juice, loaves of bread, litres of milk - or is that a really bad idea?

23. Something else which is expensive: dogs. This boy is eating twice as much as he did a few months ago.

Worth every penny. Don't we love him more for sleeping like a cat?

24. My brother just phoned to remind me that I need to submit my provisional tax by the end of the month. Fuck.

25. And I got word that she got her visa! Tally-ho!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


A sparkling champagne winters day, a 40th birthday lunch, an exquisite location in the Winelands.

Babylonstoren is to be seen to be fully believed. I don't think anyone's photos or words could really do it justice.

Cape Dutch architecture, such as this iconic gable here, is a childhood trigger for anyone who's grown up in the Cape. Cool white dusty walls, oak trees - either in full green mantle or spindly winter limbs, red gravel and the smell of old wood - wine barrels, shutters, great gates and doors.

The main restaurant is achingly charming - so understated, so immaculate, so warm and comfy despite its pared-down look.
I really wanted to hate this place a bit, wanted to be able to roll my eyes and declare it all too bourgeois and curated.
It IS bourgeois (as is anywhere which takes its beauty a mite too seriously), is IS curated to the nth degree (even the bread table looked like a decor mag centre piece), but it is really undeniably beautiful and accessible and just so very pleasing to the eye and the soul - I had to immerse myself and drink it all in.

These gardens, can I tell you how they smelled?
Like flowers (obviously) and the freshest fruit and the crispest white wine. Like the pages of an old beloved fairy tale and the most nostalgic drawer of your granny's dressing table. They smelled like those far off mountains look.

We feasted, we drank a lot of wine, we celebrated the birthday girl and we inhaled the magic. 
A spectacular afternoon for the senses and the soul.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

bye bye fritta

Shortly after getting our first cat we decided she needed a friend. We went off to a local cat shelter, thinking we'd find a young neutered male, possibly black and white.

We came home with this tiny 2 or 3 yr old ginger female. We're still not entirely sure how that happened.

As we walked through the shelter (it was one big open space filled with cats) we'd stop to pet or chat to this one or that one, as a staff member pointed out the males. But always behind us there was a yowling, an occasional bump to the calf, a small ginger whinger who'd clearly decided we were to be hers.
In the end it was undeniable.

15 years have passed since then, 15 years of her yowling at us, her tiny frame delivering a hefty bump to the kidneys when she wanted to get in under the duvet on cold winter nights. Many years when she was younger, yowling at us from the kitchen sink when she wanted a drink, many months of late of her yowling at me from the laundry room floor when she needed lifting up to her food bowl.

She was a scratcher, ruining our leather sofa, a red velvet covered chair and even trying her luck on my magnificent sofa!! But lately she became unable to retract her claws and I kept finding her, yowling of course, stuck to furniture, blankets, herself.

Afraid of nothing in the world but a rattling plastic bag (she could stare down a salivating bull terrier for a piece of roast chicken but shake a bag in the same room as her and she'd fly), recently she'd started having sudden frights - jumping up, trying to run away, her legs flailing around uncontrollably, for no apparent reason.

She became high maintenance. Two winters ago I swore I couldn't do it anymore - the litter tray on the upstairs balcony which had to come in every time the north wind blew, the loss of bowel control (inexplicably always at dinner time), the furballs ... but yet she clung on, eating and chatting (ie yowling) and sleeping and purring. Still she was our pumpkin Fritta.

But the end came, not too unpleasantly but the signs were clear, and last Friday I took her to the vet and came home without her.

Khoki was waiting in the front courtyard, immediately inquiring about her friend and sniffing the empty box suspiciously. I still hear her now and then, calling upstairs, it still upsets me.
I still think I see, from the corner of my eye, a ginger shadow slip into the room.
I still roll over carefully in the night, so as not to crush the little thing.

I still get tearful when I look at this picture.

Goodnight Fritz.

Monday, July 27, 2015

winter weekend at summerhill

This gang. We went away with them for a long weekend to a beach house in a reserve overlooking a wild and desolate piece of coast.

Yes. It was as idyllic as it sounds.

Some of us got lost on the way there (and by some I mean them) and arrived just as darkness fell and the rain began, but that didn't put us off lighting a braai fire in a wheelbarrow and pushing it around the outside of the house as the winds changed direction and the storm grew.
Ribs, roast veg, immaculate wine, lots of laughter to kick off the weekend and drown out the rain, and the next day dawned sunny and chill.

This time we lit a fire in the designated pit outside, moved some comfy seating out and settled in for the day.


Surrounded by beauty we talked a lot of shit, drank a lot of wine, ate some spectacular meals (how's this for a hangover-busting breakfast?!), had some epic croquet battles and just ... relaxed.

There was nobody there but us, and nowhere to be but there.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

the very best of friends (vol.5)

I have a friend who turns 40 today. She's a keeper.

We met when we were much younger, much thinner, getting up at dawn to shoot local movies and getting up to no good when we weren't doing that.

Now we're married matrons, mothers, upstanding members of society - but just as mischievous.

This girl can make you a gin cocktail which'll ignite pure happiness in your soul. She can call you out on your prejudice and give you the path to redemption in one sentence. She has practised infinite forgiveness within her own family and will not tolerate cruelty in any form - man or beast.
This girl can make you laugh til you fear for your knickers, spin a tune to a packed dance floor that makes you want to never sit still.
She can flip your perspective and double your happiness.

And the cherry on top? Her daughter is besties with my daughter, they have a friendship which is tolerant and kind and supportive and fun. They laugh 'til I fear for their knickers and they take flights of fancy which foretell of adventures and travels and growings together for many years.

My hope for my daughters is always that they'll have true girl friends. My hope for myself is that their friends will come from families who have taught them their worth, and their responsibilities living in this world.
In this case we've certainly found both.

AND, she bakes!

A few years back we made a most magnificent birthday cake for this lovely lady ...

... for my 40th she made a mountain of these - for all the lunching ladies and more to take home to my brood (the recipe is here and just reading through it is fun, but my baker gal had some tweaks which just next-leveled the hell out of these things:
'I doubled the recipe and used 2 tubs of marscapone and one of creme fraiche instead of cream cheese. I stuck bits of Lindt 85% into the cupcakes just before baking.  I also made a ganache with a tub of double thick cream and 65 percent Lindt chocolate which I did as a first layer of icing, then layered the marscapone on top. ')
Magnificent boobie cakes!

So yesterday afternoon, whilst our girls played happily together and she put in extra hours saving the world so she could take her birthday off today, I thought I should ensure the old gal had some breakfast cake on her birthday morning.
And there was really only one choice of flavour ....

Not the best pic, and it was all rather rushed towards the end as I raced the clock, and my convection fan stopped working so the outside got a little dark as I readjusted the cooking time but ... just like our friendship this cake is sticky and boozy and honest and fun.

Happy birthday darlene!

Monday, July 13, 2015

the grit

A friend told me my blog has been looking a little squeaky-clean of late. Enviable family holidays away, gorgeous sunny birthday parties in the middle of winter, daughters who read all day and stay out of my hair, birthday lunches with lovely ladies ... yeah, it's been a wonderful few months ... but we all know life ain't like that all the time right?

I just don't really like to moan, don't like to come into this space with the blaah. Not that I haven't in the past, but the thing is, what do I want a record of?
The warm 'n fuzzy moments of my life - the big events, the everyday love, the heart-stopping moments of ordinary awe and immense gratitude?

Or, do I want to remember how in the last few weeks I've also ...
... had two jobs canceled (turns out they couldn't afford the full ass) and all the related financial stresses
.... been back and forth to the vet 5 times with my beloved Lego. She's had a big skin sarcoma biopsied, then removed, then re-stiched, then re-bandaged and re-medicated. Her little brother was responsible for the second round of stitches and bandages. Resulting eventually in this:

... managed The Cone: rearranged furniture, placated a seriously unhappy pup, had my shins smashed into over and over, kept the food bowl filled just so so he could use it and any number of times been called on to extricate him from some cone/bush/chair jam, once involving dog shit
... tackled our first case of head-lice in the family (not bad for 8 years of parenting huh?), which involved copious research, laundry, tumble-drying EVERYTHING, quarantining 2 black bags of soft toys, spray, comb, shampoo, check and repeat. Over and over and over and over and over.
... managed my annual seasonal asthma issues, lots of wheezing and discomfort and fretting at 1am about dying of emphysema until I get myself to the doc and hand over a lot of money in exchange for the welcome news that it's really not that bad, and the right (expensive) meds to manage it. Boring.

So ja, I could've blogged about all that for some perspective right? Life is not all hoorahs and polished apples.
But we know that, you know that, and I know that despite there being some challenges and tedious days of soul-destroying adulthood, my life is pretty damn fine.

It's more than fine, it's mine - and it's the best life I could be living right now.

Monday, July 06, 2015

polishing apples

A dear friend came for lunch yesterday.

We were chatting in the kitchen when she glanced over and asked, 'Did you polish your apples?'
We both burst into giggles.

Because yes, late the previous evening on my way to bed, after I'd let the dogs out and turned off lights and set the dishwasher running, I'd stood in my kitchen with cold toes and grainy eyeballs, and polished my apples.
Because that's the kind of housewife I am.

I polished my apples because having them shiny has made me happy every time I've looked at them since. I polished my apples to carve out a small corner of beauty and perfection in a kitchen which is totally not that in any other way.
I chose to spend 3 minutes polishing my apples because it was worth it. For me.

If time is a luxury, then spending my time in the manner in which I alone choose to is the greatest luxury I can have.
My friend totally got that, husband rolled his eyes at us from the sink, a child ran in and grabbed an apple. The fruit bowl twinkled.
For a moment all was right with the world.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Ever since we moved here I've wanted to have a scavenger hunt on the island just across the water from us.
A public space, but a very well kept secret - it's a little slice of 'private', safe, natural wilderness (is that an oxymoron?) right on our doorstep.

8 felt like the right age to do it. A scavenger hunt birthday party.

First, a map. Aren't we lucky to have an eminent mapmaker in the family?

And a system of teams and colours and flags and lists and challenges. I fucking love this stuff.

As if in homage to my bright and sunny girl, her birthday day, despite being mid winter, is always warm, calm, welcoming and bright.

The teams set off - a couple of parents along for the adventure - a couple of power-tussles and just a smattering of whining.

Tasks complete, teams proceeded to the Extraction Point where The Boatman checked their lists and granted them safe passage over the straits and on to our lawn.

When I'd asked Frieda what kind of cake one had for a Scavenger Hunt party she'd rolled her eyes (8 is definitely a bit tweeny) and declared 'A treasure chest cake of course!' (but still totally not tweeny), and I couldn't have been happier.
I've always wanted to make one of these.

I think it was a hit.

And that right there? That sweet girl in the middle? That's her next face y'all - the turning point of a new phase, the next stage, another year.
Jeez I'm excited!

Monday, June 29, 2015


Used to be you couldn't get anything past her. From before she could talk she would fix me with a knowing stare and my gossip with a girlfriend, serious talk with husband, foul language giggle with brother would dry on my lips ... she was listening.
Oh yes, listening and absorbing.

She was a code-breaker, an ear-thrower (different to a voice-thrower in obvious ways), a listener through doorways and round corners.
We learnt to be selective with our words, careful with our tone and I've spent a lot of time stopping other people mid-sentence ... 'er, could we not talk about that now?'
She was listening.

But these days, not so much.

She's off. In that world, you know the one, all the friends and adventures and countries and experiences and feels folded between two pages, between your hands. 
The limitless span of eternity in the distance between your eyes and the page.

She'll read anywhere. She'll practically read anything. And when she's in that zone you can stand right next to her and sing out 'Chocolate ice-cream!' without even ruffling her brow.

When I turned 18 my parents gave me a birthday card which said Happy Birthday from them, and Laura and Jo and Anne and all the other friends who'd stood by me growing up. They got it so right.

I'm so, so excited for my girl embarking on that journey. 
Oh the places she'll go!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

tankwa karoo

Two weeks ago we headed out to the Tankwa Karoo National Park with my whole family - parents, brothers and sisters-in-law - for a long weekend.
It took us over 6 hours to get there.
Because? It's seriously very far from anywhere else.

That's our cottage in the background. 3 bedrooms, 1 kitchen/living space, 1 bathroom (for 10 people!), 1 small solar-powered fridge, 2 gas plates, a big indoor fireplace, 1 hot water 'donkey' (i.e. you have to light a fire and wait an hour for hot water) and one melodious 'wind pump' sighing and creaking outside.
The nearest neighbour 45+ km of bad road away.

Arriving in the dark on Friday night it seemed like we were surrounded by a whole lot of nothing. Waking up the next day didn't immediately lead us to believe otherwise - magnificent vistas and awe-inspiring skyscapes yes, but otherwise pretty barren.

Until you started to look more closely.

This vast land is filled with tiny little beautiful things. Random bits of magnificence dotted about the hugeness. Small things easily missed, but miraculous to discover.

And so started 3 days of hanging out together in the Tankwa. Having conversations in random places, stopping regularly to bend over and examine or exclaim.

Our vision, and photographs, continually jumping from LANDSCAPE ...

... to macro...

... and back to just, wow.

For the other thing this wild and lonely place is filled with is signs of human habitation. The most beautiful stone-packed walls, 'rubbish dumps' of ancient wind-tumbled glass bottles, broken bits of pottery and glass in blues and pinks and greens. Sheep dip stations, kraals and ruined houses.
It feels so desolate and yet so full of life - human, vegetable, animal.

It's all about water-retention is this near desert - lots and lots of curly little plants.

We saw gemsbok (or 'hemsbog' as my dear English-speaking 5 yr old calls them) with their eerie masks and flipping 'high-pony' tails.
Elusive ghostly eland - so huge yet so quiet. Apparently their hoofs make a tiny clicking sound when they walk and there's a story that this is the reason the original San language has so many clicks in it.
We saw jackel skulking and hartebees hopping, baboons up to no good (are they ever?) and zebra. A lone springbok frequented the water hole near our cottage and his many cousins took off in waves as we drove across the plains.

Late one afternoon we watched a family of bat-eared foxes for about half an hour, as they played and hunted and groomed in the scrub near our car.

We learnt anew that kids can have the 'best day ever' (Frieda said this at the end of every day) drawing vast pictures in the sand with a trailing stick and a canvas finally big enough to accommodate their limitless imaginations.

We made balancing stones ...

... and then walked away, leaving them to stand until wind or curious animal or time relieved their tension.

To celebrate two birthdays we had a tea party on the edge of a pan. Smoked salmon sandwiches, carrot cake, meringues, brownies, cheeses and salads.

And only afterwards realised we'd had another silent guest in the tree above us.

We took sundowners out to the rim of the world and watched night fall over the far off Cederberg mountains. It was cold cold cold in the evenings but that didn't deter the adventurous types (my youngest brother and eldest daughter) from hunting out deadly scorpions with a UV light in the dark.

But mainly, mostly and most marvelously, we just hung out. Caught up and 'leaned in'. Spent time with our most dearest, in a place so far removed from our everyday, that we were able to just be today.
That was the greatest gift the Tankwa gave us.