Tuesday, April 10, 2018

betty's bay

Back when Day Zero looked like it was going to be a real thing my parents took a rental on a house near the sea for the month of April, thinking they could work remotely and still have regular showers. That we could come out to do our laundry and wash our hair on the weekends.

We've staved off Day Zero for this year at least, but they kept the rental, and the girls and I joined them out there for a few days last week during school holidays.

How to set a Frieda trap: leave a Gary Larsen omnibus on a window seat scattered with comfy cushions.

In Betty's Bay the sea is crisp and clean, the smell of it fresh in your nostrils, the sound soothing to your ears. Kelp undulates gently on the swell. White beach pebbles canoodle with crisp seaside plants and shards of mother-of-pearl, yellow-orange lichen and dark green milkwood trees.
The clouds come easily over the mountain, casting a gloom which enhances all those colours, all those smells, making the world feel more subtle, more cosy, less exposed.
It's a good place to recoup, to hide out for a bit.

We were joined there by my 'god-sister'. Daughter of my god-mother. For an irreligious family we take this bond seriously and Caitlin has been family for as long as I can remember - literally. She was 8 when I was born and tells how she was SO EXCITED until she realised that I didn't really do anything much. She remembers asking her mum if I was ever going to be fun?
She was a big sister figure for most of my childhood and when I was 18 or 19 I would stay with her in her digs in the big city - a huge adventure for me - while attending Winter School at the University and flexing my baby wings.
Caitlin lives in NZ now, I last saw her at my wedding 14 years ago, but she's been home to celebrate her 50th birthday and it was wonderful to spend time with her, and share her with my daughters.
She's still a big girl, with long dark brown tresses and an easy giggle.
The best people are the ones with whom time has no dominion.
The best places too.

camera roll: March

March just blew by in a bit of a blur to be honest. Most of the month was spent feeling very much out of things, not myself at all, just trying to keep head above water really.

I read a lot of books and watched a lot of mediocre TV. I cried by myself, with others and while reading books and watching mediocre TV. I kept to myself a bit. One doesn't like to burden others with ones gloominess, there's a feeling of needing to maintain a stiff upper lip, but there's also the inability to to do so, or even really care ... sometimes it seems easier to just keep to oneself.

Awetumn arrived in all it's annual loveliness. And dogs (even naughty ones) proved to be a very comforting balm to the soul. I spent a lot of time admiring both.

There was of course, a birthday, and then another one a week later for my dearest friend's daughter. Both were hard, but there's nothing somber about gaggles of 8 yr olds, regardless of the circumstance. Both were healing also.

Late in the month we had a magnificent thunderstorm. It started with the above sunset which had all the neighbours outside. Gasps, exclamations of delight and shutter clicks echoed up and down the lake. Minutes later the first rumble rolled in and for the next few hours we were treated to an exceptional light show, followed by heavy rain - hallelujah!

The next day I heard from a friend whose car had been struck by lightning, with her in it, while driving down a narrow urban street! In the grasp of an ear-splitting, retina-scorching Faraday Cage all she could think was that an airplane had landed on her car. She came out unscathed - the car's electrics fried, tyres smoking, later a numbing migraine but best of all - a great story to tell!

The month ended with the beginning of the school holidays, a road trip to our friends up the coast. A few days of lazing, catching-up and the best the local sea and vineyards have to offer.

That's our lopsided tent in the background, pitched on our friends lawn. That's the long table at which we spent an afternoon eating delicious food, harvested from the sea down the road and prepared outdoors in the garden by these sweet menfolk of ours. That's the wine we washed it down with, pressed from grapes grown withing a few hundred kilometers from where we sat, made by the hands of the friend sitting with us.
These are the magnificent things of life, the bountiful things, the precious things - it was good to end March being reminded of all this. Life is bitter, but also very very sweet.

Monday, March 26, 2018

owl dreaming

Recently, in the haze of sinusitis and grief, I had two dreams about owls.

In the first I was in my childhood kitchen, from which one could see a lot of big trees, with some very cool people - I don't know who they were, but they were intimidatingly cool.
I could hear an owl, that distinctive two tone intonation, and kept trying to find it in the trees.
'Look, there's an owl.' I'd say.
'Nope,' one of the cool people would say laconically, 'that's an ibis.'
'No, there - look, an owl!'
'Nope, that's a hadeda.'
I'd hear it again.
'Look there, carefully, there's an owl!'
'Nope, that's a bunch of pigeons.'

I woke from the dream feeling irritable and embarrassed, feeling distinctly not cool. And then I realised I could hear an owl, loudly.
An owl must have been on our roof, just above our open bedroom window.
It called over and over again, that beautiful melodic sound which is not very 'wooo whooo' but so indescribable with our available bunch of phonetics that I can understand why we call it that.
I listened to it until I fell asleep again.

Surprise surprise my next dream was about owls too. But this time I could see them. I was in a field, at night, with trees dotted around, and just full of owls.
Owls were swooping between trees, dozing on branches, looking at me with yellow eyes. Curved beaks, variegated feathers, talons, fluffy down and severe 'ears'. Owls eviscerated mice, swooped and caught small bunnies carrying them up into the darkness and certain death.
Owls owls everywhere and always the distinctive call in the darkness.

I woke from this dream feeling peaceful and happy.
It was light outside and the owl on our roof had gone to bed.

I have no idea what any of this means, but I love that intersection between awake and asleep, and I love hearing an owl in the night - it always feels like a gift.

Sunday, March 25, 2018


In the midst of all of that, my baby turned 8!

Stella is an oddball, we know this, so I wasn't so surprised when this was her requested birthday theme ... [insert hysterical laughing emoji]

She built the character from various Lego minifigs and we added the blood and bats etc in Pic Monkey - all under her strict direction.
She handed the invites out at school one morning, a few to kids whose parents I've not met before, and I waited to see how they'd be received. Happily well, by most, with just one little friend being 'unfortunately unable to attend' according to her mother and 'I can't come because I'm not allowed to go to parties were there is evil' according to the little friend herself [insert eye rolling emoji]. Cackle.

It was a much smaller affair than usual. Last year's Pandamonium almost killed us, and in the present circumstances I just couldn't muster the requisite energy for a repeat performance, or even anything close.
With our youngest's just 2 days apart Zahida and I would always plan their parties in consultation - firstly on the date so as not to clash, and then always on ideas and details. We did them very differently, but we both enjoyed party-planning and flexing our creative muscles together, I missed her so much while planning this one.

We did a couple of themed foods ...

Vampire bunny cupcakes - you decide whether those are bloody fang bites or bleeding eyeballs.

And vampire bunny jam sandwiches ... 

And then the cake, which in our history of birthday cakes pulled the biggest stunt on us - the idea was half cutesy bunny / half vampire terror but the intricate fondant face we'd tirelessly built the night before melted off overnight, necessitating husband perform emergency facial reconstruction surgery with the last bit of icing and whatever tools he had to hand just minutes before singing Happy Birthday. I think he did a pretty good job considering.

The beautiful birthday girl plus clean-up crew in the aftermath. She did feel the loss of the huge fiesta we usually pull off, 'I missed that there was no running around in the dark Mum', but had a good time regardless and I hope one day will look back and realise what a tough time it was for us.

Stella is 8 and from here on out it feels like we're officially in the Next Stage. No more smalls in this family. It really, really does happen so fast.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

kick-starting grief

My dearest friend Zahida passed away just over 3 weeks ago. Super aggressive metastatic breast cancer, 14 months from diagnosis.
I'd written that last post some time before I published it. She read this blog and I was torn between not wanting to make the pain any more nuanced for her but needing to write this shit out. I had that in drafts and the Friday I published it she was in hospital, not answering any messages, my only updates were via her sister and part of me genuinely thought I'd not ever see her again.

I did. Twice over that weekend I was lucky enough to see her in hospital. Both times I was summonsed by that dear girl, just me and her family and her husband. We said our goodbyes, we said everything we wanted to say, we laughed together, we cried so many tears, we held hands and said thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

She passed away on the following Wednesday, first thing in the morning, and after the Janazah and the endless messages and calls, after we buoyed her family through the first 48 hours, even after her younger sister and I cleared out her closets and arranged a birthday party for her daughter - can you even conceive of turning 8 just a week after losing your mum? Even after all of that I couldn't really comprehend it.
I still couldn't have the ugly cry.

My body did all the things it likes to do in times of stress. A UTI, eczema and eventually sinusitis. I wasn't sleeping, I wasn't feeling and I wasn't grieving - not properly. I knew it was there, just out of sight, lurking, and I wanted to feel it. I felt so detached from her for not being able to weep.

So on Thursday I did what I'd been putting off, what I'd frankly wondered whether I would do at all.
I wrote the tear-jerker Facebook post, I put it out there. While I was writing it the tears came, and while I read all the subsequent messages and DM's and emails which it triggered I wept and wept.
I kick-started the grief and now it is here. And while it is awful, it also feels good to feel.

It's been just over 3 weeks and I'm still in shock.
We were supposed to be crones together, Zahida and I. Stylish crones of course.
She made me try harder. She opened my eyes and filled my heart. She had the most magnificent laugh. She had the most enormous brain. 
We bore babies together, we cooked and danced and laughed and cried together. 
She filled my home with beautiful things, my life with joy and my head with questions and thoughts I'd never have had without her.
And in the last year she gave me the greatest gift - the honour of walking with her to the edge of the light.
About 6 months ago she said 'Are you sure you don't want to get off here Mols, it's going to be a roller coaster of a ride'.
I didn't once consider it, and I'll eternally be grateful that she allowed me to stay.
I only wish I was as sure how to navigate the world without her.
Miss you friend, miss you forever.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

camera roll: February

February always starts with a bang for me - the last few years at least - I've worked this big conference in the first week of Feb and then only really caught up with myself, my family, and summer in general after it's over.

This February feels like it's been windier than most, apparently this is a real thing because climate change, but we've had a few magical still days - and evenings. Above pic was taken at nearly 8pm, a still warm evening at the lake.

We spent a gorgeous afternoon at Silvermine too - a mountain reservoir where you can just step off soft green lawn and into the cool water. You wouldn't think we were in a drought from either of these photos would you?

The drought churns on, but it seems less likely we'll hit Day Zero this year. That date has been pushed out to 15 July and we have to have some winter rain by then, surely?
How much rain we'll get over winter is unsure though, and we might be back in this same predicament next year. Water restrictions will remain in place.
As a family we've gotten down to 37 litres per person per day - no mean feat. We're quite proud of our stinky, sticky selves.

Apparently, for the first (and last) time in some hundreds of years, February is unique this year in that it had no full moon.
Twice in Jan and again in early March left Feb with just the rinds, not the full cheese. Ag shame.

Back to school is a real thing now, everyone in full swing. Frieda had her first away school camp and came home exhausted, and - pictured above - had a blast in red frock and gold nails at the Valentine Ball. Ooo la la.

This person missed her big sister terribly while she was away at camp and spent all her time pining and wobbling her snaggle tooth.
'I'd love to do something special with you today Mum, because I miss Frieda so much. Maybe something which includes food.'
If there was ever a moment for a fully-loaded waffle ...

Stella has also decided that she and I go running in the evenings. Just to the park and back - a short run/walk/run/walk circuit - but I'm very pleased to be bullied into it. As you can tell, we're not an innately active family ....
But really, what better way to spend a weekend afternoon? Trevor Noah, Philip Pullman, Hunger Games and two ridiculous dogs? Yes please.

And then, on the last day of February, the loss of my dear friend. I'm not ready to write about it here, I'm not even able to face it irl actually. It still feels so surreal.
As I said to someone this week, grief is a gaping chasm in the periphery of my vision, it's there but I'm not ready to look into it yet. I can't.
I can't believe she's gone.

Friday, February 23, 2018

saying goodbye

In 2017 my dog, my brother, and my dearest friend all had cancer.

It was too late for my beloved dog, we still miss her so much.

My brother had 6 grueling months of surgery and chemo, 6 months of physical and emotional distress, and is now in remission and feeling stronger every day. He had his port removed a few weeks back and is slowly becoming himself again.

No one was joking when we said 2017 was a bitch.

For my darling friend it has been a year of surgery and chemo and more. The cancer is relentless.
We have embarked on the long, painful, surreal, beautiful, terrible journey of saying goodbye.

How does one do this? Turns out, like everything else in life it happens despite you. Days follow days and each day the reality grows - simultaneously filling you up and hollowing you out with grief, anger, disbelief and immeasurable beauty.

There is utter screaming rage at this senseless thing - this cunt of a disease which takes so much, which marches on regardless, which is not satisfied to just break the body but must simultaneously break the heart of the person you love as well, inflicting so many different kinds of pain.

There is grief which stares at you blank-faced around corners.

There is fear for the future, for tomorrow and next year. There is horrified disbelief that we live in a world where so many thousands of women die from a disease which is not yet curable.

And there is so, so much love, so much gratitude. So much honesty and freedom in the cavern of pain which allows the space to say 'I love you. I'm so grateful for our friendship. I am not going to be the same person without you. I will miss you forever.'

These are not words I'd planned to say to her for another 40 years, in reality I'd never have needed to - we know this about each other - but I'm saying them now every day, in my heart and in my words. These are the words which we use to stave off the darkness, to keep the glow of love burning brighter, for now.

There is a different kind of pain in finding comfort, a sting of guilt, but I must find peace in the places that I can - and my over-whelming gratitude for her influence in my life is the calmest well in the midst of this sadness.
That I will never say goodbye to.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

the day it rained

Sad news made me very sad yesterday morning.
I was actually pleased that smaller daughter was off school with a cold so I couldn't really wallow -  it's hard to get properly emotional when someone keeps asking for toast with syrup and strawberries and your assistance getting to the next level of Angry Birds.
I imagine this is how mothers the world over keep on keeping on.

I got busy with tax submissions and other frightfully stimulating domestic tasks, popped out to buy some leeks and a bra ... you know, keeping on.

In the background the slow, agonising demise of Zuma churned away ... not for us the excitement of an overthrow, an assassination, a fit of conscience or a public resignation. No, just the living embodiment of the very South African phrase, now now. As in, Zuma is leaving now now. But when exactly remains unclear.
It's hard to drink celebratory champagne in slow disjointed sips. Not good for the bubbles really.
Can you believe it's been nearly a decade since this?

On the horizon thunderheads bubbled up, Google told me 'it's raining in Cape Town, stay dry' and the sun beat down unabated.

Later that evening my lovely parents came for supper.

We had a leek tart, mounds of roasted baby potatoes, beetroot, piles of fresh summery salady things, a fine wine, homemade panna cotta for dessert topped with juicy strawberries and figs, then more figs with blue cheese ... and more wine.
And while we were eating the storm outside got serious.

Thunder, lightning - after dinner we squeezed onto the stoep couch and ooh-ed and aah-ed at the light show playing out around us. At the rain pouring down.
The air got momentarily warmer, as the heat was released from the ground, and then deliciously cool.

My parents dashed out to their car, the girls off to bed, and I sat outside with the last of my wine and just one more fig, listening to the rain, watching the lightning and marveling at how one day can encompass so much.

Even in loss there is gratitude, even in drought there is rain.

UPDATE: He's gone! At 10:55pm on 'Zumatines' Day the old fuck finally resigned! Yippeeee.

Friday, February 02, 2018

camera roll: January

January really does feel like the longest month of the year. At 31 days it's not any longer than a bunch of other months but wow, it really encompasses a LOT.

31 days ago we were on holiday, nursing our hangovers with a long walk beside the ocean, a soft-serve, a swarm of bees and later, fortifying red wine as the first full moon of the year bathed our optimistic new year selves in warm golden light.

Then home, to the reality of the drought - hitting hard - and a dawn patrol of police helicopters, looking for an elderly man who went missing in his canoe. His body was found later that morning poor chap - a suspected seizure while out on the water. Not a bad way to go really. I got a text from my Mum saying 'Hang on to those unseaworthy craft of yours. Dad and I will take a spin in a few years time.'

The only part of our garden I care about keeping alive - my succulent babies doing well on rations of dishwater and leftover dribbles out of the family's water bottles ...

Good eating in January. The glut of fruit and fresh abundance, and the time to prepare and serve pretty, healthy things. All the indulgences of the holiday eating magically remedied (or so we tell ourselves!) in lots of fruit and salads.

Not such a great month for Nacho ... lil' pup finally got spayed after I won the furious puppies v no puppies debate. She was down and out for a couple of days but bounced back remarkably and was soon back to her mischievous self.

On the subject of babies, and mischef ... early beach mornings with my delicious nephew while my SIL and my eldest daughter played at surfing.

Even after Husband and I were back at work we successfully kept the holiday vibe alive (and cheered Nacho up no end) by procuring a second-hand sofa for the stoep. Perfect for lazing and dreaming and pretending we still have endless days for such ...

Goddamn that light is ugly...
There was even a teeny-weeny bit of rain!

And I discovered that the sound of water running into our storage tank actually brought a lump to my throat.
It doesn't take much to bring a lump to my throat lately.

My last pic of January 2018. Little old lady cat in the afternoon sun. Deaf as a doorpost, as cranky as always, only happy when she's lying tight up against me at night. Still my sweetest first baby.

31 days later the full moon rose again, but this time we weren't watching is ascend all chilled and wine'd up with buddies. This time we were chasing deadlines, and children to bed before school. A brief glance out the window, roused in the night by a glare to the eyeballs.
Same moon, same month, feels like a long, long few weeks in between.

And now, as experience shows, the year starts galloping along. Shew this crazy life.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

the great thirst

It sounds like a David Attenborough episode - The Great Thirst - maybe the one in which we watched in horror as a baby elephant slowly shriveled away and died because the rains didn't come in time?

Or maybe it sounds like a sci-fi movie - The Great Thirst - in which water is a dwindling resource and one of the most beautiful cities in the world is slowly crumbling apart as residents flee and businesses crash because the rains didn't come in time?

Or maybe it's a song - The Great Thirst - a melodic melancholic yearning for water, for lushness ... a cracked and rasping voice singing of dust, drought and despair, because the rains didn't come in time?

What it really is, is our coming reality.

The drought which has been growing in severity for the last 3 years is now well and truly upon us. We have been told to prepare for Day Zero.
(cue music: dunt duh daaaaaaa)
Day Zero sounds even more like a sci-fi movie doesn't it?

And it's hard to believe when you're sitting on the stoep with a block of ice melting in your glass of Chenin and the lake water lapping at your feet ... but as of Friday it is predicted that 21 April (UPDATE: apparently 12 April is the new date) will be the day that our dam capacity will be too low to support the city and the central water system for Cape Town will be turned off - and remain off until the winter rains (fingers crossed) bring substantial water back to our dams - some say this could take 6 months.
Day Zero. For 180 plus days, or thereabout.

How do you prepare for such an event? I mean, WTAF right?

As always, some are luckier than others. As always, people start showing great creativity and resourcefulness in times of trouble.
And, as always, one realises pretty quickly how much less one can use, how much more one can do without.

Laundry, while we still have water, gets done on shorter cycles, capturing the rinse water and using it for the first wash of the next cycle (thank goodness for top loaders).
Toilets, while we still have water, get left to only be flushed two or three times a day, and never with potable water, always with grey (thank goodness for our shower over bath and how easy this makes capturing all shower water).
Dishes can be wiped with paper towel, faces (and hands and feet and well, everything) can be wiped with face wipes, clothes and bedding can be hung out to air and reworn/reused, cars can stay dirty, windows smeared and opaque, houseplants can live on dribbles of leftover tea, hair can be sprayed with dry shampoo, corn and pasta and potatoes can be boiled in the same water, which once cooled can nurture a few more potted plants. Lawns can die. Swimming pools can sink and fester. Floors can survive with a good sweep and a spot clean.
Middle-class civilisation can do without all the perceived trappings of normality and convenience. We can survive more than we think.

But it's not easy. Lugging water is hard work, thinking about water use is time-consuming, continually reminding children to conserve water requires a delicate balance of making sure they're doing their bit but not freaking them out with too much doomsday hype.

And yet this drought is the greatest illustration of white privilege ever - just down the road from us live hundreds of people who have NEVER had a home with running water, a flush loo or a hot tap. Queuing for water, going without, going dirty, is a daily reality for millions of families around the world.

I get to sit on my stoep with a chilled glass of wine and puzzle this out. I have a rain tank (albeit empty) which (hopefully) will fill when the rains come (fingers crossed) and give us water before the taps come back on, I have family with a borehole, resources to buy and transport 25l water drums back and forth once a week to collect water from them for cleaning and flushing, I can buy bottled water, I can take my family out of the city to have a break from it all should it come to that.

As my girlfriends and I like to remind ourselves as we puzzle out the daily conundrums of living with minimal water, as we swap tips and advice and support each other - after this, for there will be an after this, we will be fucking hardcore. And our taps will come back on, and we will remain the lucky ones.

Husband went to Johannesburg on business for a day, brought back some water for our weekend whisky ice.
Good husband.