Monday, January 27, 2020

this time of year

Ironic to follow up the last post with this one, but they don't contradict each other - it's all just life.

It took me by surprise last year, although I should really have been more attune to it then, and this year again it took me a while to work it out. What is it about this time of year that niggles me, brings feelings of helplessness, of quiet sadness even in happy times?
There's something in the air, in the heat, in the bright light, something dark and heavy.

It was this time of year I was walking the last stretch of the road with Zahida. Those last few weeks of desperation, crippling exhaustion and sorrow. The sunny days seemed a mockery, the new year optimism like a kick in the balls. Starting the new year, new projects, felt disloyal and cruel. She would always ask, always ask about me, right up to the end, and genuinely seemed to want to know what was going on, despite how incredibly painful it must've been to hear.

The last time I saw her at home it was a really warm day. She was so lively, almost unable to sit still despite the air tube linked over her ears and in to her nose, she couldn't go longer than a few minutes without it. Her eyes, large in her thin face, were bright as sparks. She was full of plans, getting me to help her work out the hanging arrangement for a bunch of her children's art she wanted to get framed, hoping to get to the beach that afternoon.
I knew from the reading that I'd done that this was known end of life behaviour, despite seeming so full of life it was in fact leaving her fast.

Later that morning she tired, but insisted that I stay and sit with her as she lay down in her bedroom - air con unit and feather duvet on, she was no longer able to regulate her body temperature. We cried and chatted and sat in silence as she seemed to drift in and out of sleep. She had one last wish she quietly whispered, she wanted to die at home, she wanted to die in her room. 
For a long time she had despaired that her children would remember her as weak and sick, she hadn't wanted that, but now resigned that that was to be the case she really hoped to die not as a patient in a hospital, hooked up to machines, but in their home, as if to cement herself to the end in their family.

10 days later she was gone. In hospital, after a traumatic few days of goodbyes, and then more goodbyes and false lasts and and utter exhaustion and just a handful of distressing visits with her kids. Part of my initial grief was knowing how badly she'd wanted that to be different.

*********************************************************************************

Zahida and I were members of the same book club. She introduced me to it, I was the 9th member, and for over a decade we met once a month at each others houses for dinner and books and so many laughs.
FOUR members of that group were diagnosed with cancer over the years. Stats which left us reeling.
Zahida's was the quickest, the most brutal, and last week I got the sad news that after years of fighting Lee-Ann had succumbed too.

Lee-Ann's was quick. She was seemingly doing okay, recently away on holiday with her teenage daughter. Hospitalised last week with a stomach infection, she deteriorated in a matter of days and on Thursday was sent home, nothing more to be done. She passed away in the night, in her bed, her mother, sister and daughter by her side.

I'd not seen Lee-Ann for a while (I gave up book club after Zahida died, it was the one thing too painful to keep on doing without her), and we were never particularly close, but naturally it came as a huge shock.
And through my sadness for her, and for her poor girl, I felt so sad again for my dearest friend -  and angered anew at all she'd suffered and how to the last that bastard disease wouldn't even grant her such a simple, so heartfelt request, to have her children remember her as vital and functional, to die in peace at home.
Fuck cancer.

This time of year it all comes back, the last few days it came back hard.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

rolling into it

I really like the sound of 2020.

The beautiful symmetry of the number, the sound of it off the tongue - gives me a jolt of optimism every time I think of it. I think it's going to be a good one, a redemptive and light one.
Rolling into it with hope.

There's a liberty in having no plans. Obviously there are plans, but I have as yet no hard dates this year, no deadlines.

There are currently only two goals.

Embark on the massive renovation we've been planning for years and fine-tuning for the last couple of months... and ... consciously relish this year with our girls.

I realised over the holidays that the girls will be 13 and 10 over the next few months.
It's Frieda's last year before she moves to high school, Stella's last year on the junior campus of their school after which she moves up to the senior campus (new teachers, new rules, new routines) in 2021. For these reasons and more this year feels like a pause in the known, a moment to breathe a bit deeper and move a bit slower together.
Rolling into it with enthusiasm.

Live. Love. Laugh.
Saccharine cliche on a kitchen wall, real 2020 goals in my heart.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

update on the 'sabbatical'

What have I been up to?

Well, not blogging clearly. Dammit.

But lots of actual things in the world with real people, which is good right?

I've spent some time with my little nephews. At nearly 1 and nearly 3 they are both just delicious, the older one chatty and funny and busy - the baby still baby enough to have a good cuddle. These are probably 'my' last babies until grandchildren and it's been wonderful to have this time with them.



I've been working out - 4 times a week at least, sometimes even getting up before 7 on a Saturday for an extra class (this is totally unheard of for me). 

I've made some progress on clutter and sorting out my home office and bagging stuff up for donation etc, but not as much as I thought I would.
Ditto personal admin. I've not been great on that. Turns out it's still as utterly boring as ever, I just don't have the same excuses about not getting round to it. I've done some good work on generating more though - namely reversing into my friend's car outside our own house a few weeks back! Ack.
Ditto website updates, inbox clearing and filing - I've spent very little time on all that rubbish.
Because really, do I want to spend any time on my laptop when I don't have to? Fek no.
(See also, reasons I've not been blogging.)

I've done some quality appreciation of this beautiful place I live though.



A cycle tour through the City on a magnificent blue and gold day. From the touristy bustle of the waterfront, up Adderley street in the heart of the city, along pee- and dagga- smelling pavements outside the Station, past City Hall (where 1 year ago I was in the THICK of a massive project), through the serene Company Gardens, up cobble-stoned streets into the Bo Kaap and then down through Green Point and back to the sea.
This city will never, ever lose its allure.







Then the first leg of a summer project to swim in all (25?) tidal pools the Cape Peninsula has to offer. We managed 4 on a very blustery and overcast day, with plans to conquer the rest before the summer is out.

St James tidal pool, pictured on a very different day!


I've been a really great friend.
I've lifted kids and baked birthday cakes and helped arrange parties and run errands and delivered wine and covered bills and been (very freely) available for drinks and hang outs.
This all sounds fairly smug, but I don't believe in altruism and will happily admit I've gained so much from all this. Not self-satisfaction, but genuine happiness in being of service to those I love.

My people have been so solidly there for me the last few tumultuous years, all while going through some pretty horrible stuff themselves. We're all juggling so many balls, all feeling like we're dropping most. It has been such a gift to have the time and resources to help catch some, to do small things to help, to do big things to share.
How lucky to have beloved people in your life to do things for?



I've fostered an appreciation for the small things. How a weekend can be a weekend when you're not spending it catching up on everything you've not been able to do during the week. How dinner prep can be so much more satisfying when you're not slamming it together too late and too distracted to do it properly. How chats on the couch with my girls can wander on uninterrupted into all kinds of topics when nothing else is calling me away.

It's been so lovely to be here for them, my sweet girls. It's been so lovely to be able to give them the best of myself. Well, most of the time.

And finally, excitingly, some real progress on our planned home renovation! We have an architect. We have plans. We have moments of utter weakness at the challenges of packing this place up and subjecting ourselves to dust and builders and massive logistical challenges. But we have progress, and 2020 is set to be the year of the house.

Exciting times.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

hallow queen

For someone who has often claimed not to be a big fan of Halloween ... we've had some good ones!


I've been pretty grinchy about it tbh ....


... and then I've taken it all back.


I've hosted, and learned to love it.


And even when I've not managed to blog about it, it's still happened.


I might even be able to call myself a bit of a Hallow Queen by now...?

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

first rule of CrossFit*

 

I thought this was funny before I started CrossFit. Now it's hilarious.

I have two friends who've been at it for about a year. About the same amount of time my ankle was either incapacitating me in pain, or recovering from the surgery intended to heal it.

When I was laid up in my recovery room (or 'on my nice holiday' as the same two friends like to call it), they would come and hang out and 'entertain me' by flexing their muscles and talking about the WOD and so-and-so at the gym and how much they could snatch and a bunch of other incomprehensible things. 

I was so not interested.

Part of it was my disbelief at how useless I was, had been for a long time, when it came to exercise and getting in shape.
My ankle had been a factor, a large one, but to be honest I stopped exercising a long time before that. I was just really not into breaking a sweat, or feeling uncomfortable.
Part of my boredom was envy - they were looking great and their passion for it was palatable.
Shame and envy, not a good combo for the existential dread.

Some months after I was walking again, the end of July to be exact, I felt a shift. I was feeling so out of shape and suddenly filled with the need to MOVE, to flex and stretch and test my new foot and DO SOMETHING already. 
But I was still in a lot of pain, and really apprehensive about what I could do and how radically unfit I felt.

One afternoon on the side of the hockey field I spoke to a school mum friend, we were talking about swimming, yoga - low impact ways I could get back into exercise. Then I came home to cook supper for one of my now lean and ripped friends ... two bottles of wine later and I'd committed to going to a CrossFit class with her the next morning.

The existentials were nothing on the dread I felt waking up that morning, hungover and scared.

I dressed with major anxiety and drove myself there deciding to just not think about it, and ready to HATE everybody and everything.

I did hate everybody, and I really nearly cried, but it turns out I wasn't as unfit as I thought I was, and my ankle handled fine.

I woke that night, and tried to get up for some reason. I couldn't move.
I carefully lowered myself back into bed, flinching in pain, and then I smiled. This felt good.

Boy, I drank the Kool Aid fast after that.

Obvs I had to start with new sneakers ... and then I was away.


It's been 3 months. My ankle pain has reduced by about 85%. I feel great. I need to workout. I'm firming, I'm losing some weight. I like to sweat. I'm getting fit.

So yeah, now I am a CrossFitter. Good lord this is a weird old life.

*always talk about CrossFit

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

sabbatical?

You think I'm referring to my long absence here hey?
Let's just not mention that and move on...

It seems I am finished work for the year.
I know right?
But it seems that I am.

This week I'm wrapping up my last contract for the year, with nary a sign in sight of more work and not one project lapping at my heels. This is a first in nearly 8 years and amazingly, I'm so okay with it.
I feel like I've reached the end of a piece of string, only to find it led to quite a nice place.

The last two years have been particularly full on work-wise. Everything-wise actually.
Months and weeks have run into each other in a blur of clients and events and kids and school and house and friends and pets and horrible tragedy and travel and family and wild fun and late nights and achingly boring adulting and mind-numbing stress and worry and tears and hysterical laughter and boundless joy and ... jeez, I'm tired.

But a moment has appeared, a break in the clouds - maybe the eye of the storm - in which this one enormous aspect of my life has stilled, and I feel a pause. It's deeply energising.

Can I call it a sabbatical? I asked a friend-colleague.
Sure, she said, but the thing with a sabbatical is you need to do something special with it - study, write, travel - set yourself a big goal you'd never have time or resources to achieve when you're working.

Hmmm...

How bout a sabbatical in which the goal is to be a more present parent. To support my big girl through end of year exams, my little through her current existential crises about getting older. How bout I be a more patient partner, a more engaged home-maker, a less haphazard Christmas gift-shopper, a more attentive daughter/aunt/friend.
How bout a sabbatical where I have more time to do the things which spark joy - work out more, organise my home office/studio, clear out the trenches of a big house and family, beautify my space, write my blog and frankly all of the things in the paragraph above.
How bout I find the time and head-space to create again - to make things with my hands which still and lighten my heart.
I feel like these are big goals of mine, special things to be able to do, things I don't have the time and resources to achieve when I'm working.
I feel like these are enough.

And as if the universe heard me, this week has been an onslaught of school plays and associated lifting and snack-bearing, of bake sale and school oral prep and personal admin and an afternoon lost to chasing a snake around our garden and trying to arrange its capture (and it's only Wednesday!).

But because this is all I've been doing, all I've been having to do - because there's been no additional email tyranny and meeting plans and calls with clients and deadlines and necessity to focus elsewhere - I've been flowing with it.
It feels like this is more than enough.

I know Murphy is probably listening and some huge and un-refusable job could be lurking around the corner, that would be okay too, but I'm hoping that the wolves remain at bay for a little longer. I'm hoping to have more time to just do this.
I love my work-work, but I love my life-work more, and I'd really like to spend a sabbatical building on that.

Friday, May 31, 2019

fortyfuckin'four

This whole week I've been nagging myself - you can't let May go by without a post!
May is your month, May is important.
Once a month is bad enough for the ol' blog - don't skip one!


I did this thing back in Feb. On the anniversary of Zahida's death. My favourite punctuation tattooed on my forearm ...
... for endings and beginnings, and the never-ending cycle of both, for things left unsaid ... for room to imagine ... to trail off and pick up another thread ... to pause and think ... to leave a space for someone else to occupy, or leave ... to assert yourself subtly ... or show doubt, vulnerability ... for life and whatever comes after ...

My 101 year old Granny slipped off in March.

In April we said goodbye to our beloved Khoki cat - our first baby, our friend for 19 years.


But still the sun rose every morning, some times more magnificently than others, and the world turned around the sun and, despite everything, it was my birthday.


And I decided that of all the lessons I'd like to impart on my daughters - this said in the knowledge that one never knows what will stick and what will not - I'd like one of them to be that you make your own fun, you have agency in your own happiness, and that birthdays deserve a party, no matter your age.


I spent my birthday surrounded by my bests. We hosted a lunch and that weekend, for the first time since mid March, I could walk. I could faff around the house making nice for my friends, I could prep a meal and lay a table, I could do a 'food board' ala Instagram, I could host and fetch another bottle of wine and more ice and a sharp knife and juice for a child ... I could WALK.

Even at the ripe old age of 4fuckin'4 my body can still heal. In the midst of my 40's I can do a highly responsible job for an international client and still know the value in taking a day off for illicit mid-week treats - this time an indulgent meal and a massage at the wondrous Babylonstoren ...

  

 

I am of that age where you realise it doesn't last forever. And as cliched as that sounds it's a real thing, and a natural thing. It's great that we live our 20's thinking it'll last forever, it's natural that we spend our 30's too busy to think of anything else much, and then the 40's come and with it comes loss, if you've been lucky enough to avoid it until then, and the reality of aging and the inkling that it will all end, it really will, and in that, the freedom to think 'fuck it, let's do it'.

I loved being young and feckless and living in the moment without even realising it. I love living in the moment and realising it, even more.
Best life, it's the only one worth living.



Wednesday, April 24, 2019

easter in elands

You'd have thought with 3 weeks flat on my back I would have blogged more. I certainly thought I was going to.
Turns out even with all the time in the world there are only so many hours in a day.
Also, Netflix.

I had ankle surgery on 27 March. There's a highfalutin medical term for the procedure but basically I had an impressively large bone spur removed to release a trapped nerve which had me gradually losing sensation in my left foot.
Two weeks in a large and uncomfortable cast, knocked up on pain killers and codeine, now just a  dressing over The Wound (it is large and intimidating enough to warrant capital letters), physiotherapy, crutches and still a lot of time flat on my back. Very boring.

But this past Easter weekend I got a chance to get out of town with my (long suffering and wonderfully supportive little family) and a big gang of friends and it was blissful.


A strange drive managing two giant cakes and a foot which need elevating a lot of the time. Grateful for the enormous dashboard of our Jeep.



Our destination - a traditional langhuis (long house) up the West Coast from Cape Town. No lights, solar/gas cooking and water heating, beautifully high-rafted ceilings, thick walls, wonky doors. That distinctive thatch smell which is so comforting - I'm pretty sure there's something in thatch which eases the mind - and restful.


I was pretty useless all weekend, only really able to breeze around in a miu-miu and make conversation. 
I still over-estimate what I can actually do while on two crutches (answer: nothing), and with uneven ground outside and slippery polished concrete floors inside the less moving about I did the better risk-wise.
So I sat in a chair outside and let children decorate my hair with wild garlic, I played many games of Monopoly Deal, I 'watched' kids while their parents went for a swim or a run, I chopped some veggies...
And as I listened to my lovely bunch of girlfriends feed a massive congo-line of children, including mine, wrangle them all into hats and cars for a trip to the beach, produce delicious meals and wash endless dishes I felt all the feels of deep fondness and gratitude for their loving care of us all.


I did manage to fulfill my birthday cake duties. Not baking this time, for obvious reasons, but arranging, procuring, transporting and be-dazzling an enormous rainbow cake to be served and eaten at sunset in tribute to the birthday girl among us and the wonderful reason we were all gathered together.


It was really one of those weekends. The ones which rest your bones and feed your soul, remind you of how lucky you are and how much we seriously, all the time, have to be thankful for.


I say it so often, and it's true: friends, food, gin. These are the things worth living for.


And when I look at pics like this, I also think children. They drive us mental, they work us to the bone, but when you look at this bunch of shining happy faces it all really does seem to be pretty magical, this season of our lives.

Monday, March 25, 2019

9

After last year's somewhat more subdued celebrations, Stella was really keen on a 'traditional' party this time (i.e. a bazillion children, 'running around in the dark' and general total OTT party bedlam).

We did it.


Her chosen theme (apparently we're still doing themes): rain forest.


The night before the party, as darkness fell and most dog walkers had retreated indoors, she (dressed appropriately) and I drove around the neighbourhood 'borrowing' some big leaves for party decor. We kept the engine running, jumping out to saw off the leaves and dashing back to the car.
She was the perfect accomplice - opening doors for me and holding the knife when I wrestled with some stubborn fronds - and on the way home after it was all done she turned to me and said, eyes gleaming, 'Now honestly Mum, if we got caught would we have been arrested?'


It was a lovely party, much less stressful than I've found some of them to be in the past - I'm not sure why?
The surprise cake - decaying log on the forest floor, complete with birds nest, ladybirds, fungi and tropical flowers. Great big decadent chocolate logs, rolled with sweetened cream and covered in chocolate - it was delicious and fun to make.

Every year, twice a year, Husband and I do these cakes late at night before the party, and every year we're reminded of how much we enjoy it. I think we might just keep on making them surprise themed birthday cakes for the rest of their lives.



There was trampolining and dancing and some 'running around in the dark'. There was grown ups with wine on the stoep and a pecan pie which couldn't be beat and all these children that we've known since babies bashing around.

And a few days later there was the excitement of a 'new room' (ie newly decorated) and presents and another birthday cake with the Grandparents.

I think it was a sublime 9, I know that she is and as I was writing this I reflected on words I wrote at both the last birthdays 'I know from her older sister that this year, 7 to 8, is really the last of the little girl years.' - 2017 and 'Stella is 8 and from here on out it feels like we're officially in the Next Stage. No more smalls in this family' - 2018 and I thought rubbish - she's still our baby and will be for a long time yet.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

international social justice day

Apparently sometime last week was International Social Justice Day (who decides these I do not know), but reading that made me so grateful, again, for the work I've been able to do (for an astounding 17 years now!) assisting and supporting some of the most dedicated and hardworking social justice activists in our country.

I'm still not really sure how I managed to fall into this.

As a pre-teen the running joke in our family was my allergy to the word 'responsibility'. Being the oldest of 3 I guess it was a natural backlash against having to be older and wiser, more responsible than my seemingly carefree younger brothers.

But responsible I have become - for giant budgets, complicated international travel arrangements, hordes of delegates, deadlines and deliverables - I am often the hinge upon which it all swings, the stick upon which the plates are spinning, handling the immense stress of logistical success so that my clients don't have to, so that the participants - the social justice activists - can concentrate on the WORK.
The work of listening, of speaking for the voiceless, of finding the platform for their voices, and making them heard.




Recently I got in touch with an old lefty friend of my parents, and chatting to him brought back memories of sleepily listening in on their rigorous debate, around dinner tables and braai fires, often wine-fueled, always fascinating.
I learned so much from those evenings - not just great swear words - but how to agree to disagree, what injustice looked like, how to fight it, intersectionality (before that was even a concept probably), how to protest without getting arrested, what to do if you were arrested, how many people it took to build a movement (not just the big names), how to put your ego aside and do work for a greater good.

It was when bringing up these memories that I realised this was the foundation of the work I do now. A logistical mind is one thing - that's some weird shit I got born with (from my Granny Molly I think) and eventually made peace with, but the ability to use that in a social justice space (see, I can even speak the lingo) with empathy and an innate understanding of those specific challenges is a learned skill, learned in part by the example of my parents - social activists themselves in many ways - and in part from those long weekend evenings of being exposed to highly inappropriate discussions and arguments. 

Many of the activists I work with say that the key to social justice is for everyone at the table (more lingo see, I'm fluent) to work to their strengths. To find their skills, be acknowledged for them and be given the chance to use them for the greater good.

I think I might have found mine, and I'm so grateful to have found the perfect niche in which to flex them.