Monday, December 26, 2016

christmas happened

It did! And looking back through the hasty snaps taken here and there I realise there were moments of real peace and calm, and beauty, despite the days feeling very full and rushed - the irony of these longest days of the year flying by so fast.

Stella has been taking holiday art classes with her Waldorfy pre-school teacher from 2014 and it's wonderful to have lovely Xmas crafts in the house again. The reindeer above is one of my favourite things ever.

I've never had a nativity scene up for Christmas before, and wouldn't have were it not for this remarkable fold-out cardboard one I picked up secondhand for R20. It's from the 1950's with intricate fold-outs for the kings and the shepherds, hosts of angels overhead.
But it was the family scene which really sold me. Set up on the bureau in the dining room it is just at eye-level for a little girl we have, currently deeply enamored with her family, with concepts of nurturing and loyalty and love. I knew she would love it.
I'm not a believer, and the Christmas story doesn't have the significance for me that it must do for practising Christians. But it represents two things which I do hold dear: the power of stories to teach us lessons and give us a sense of belonging through magic and mythology, and the strength of the family bond. These are the things I celebrate at Christmas, and this little scene captures both of those for me.

We did our annual Christmas book advent too. Each year I think the girls may have outgrown it, but each year they start anticipating them in November and I find myself trawling the secondhand book stores for a few new titles to throw in the mix, and looking for bulk deals on wrapping paper. They love them and the reappearance of our family favourites - Father Christmas and The Jolly Christmas Postman, plus other vintage and more modern titles - gets us all in the Christmas spirit.

There was some Christmas baking too ...

... in this case the freshly spray-painted fuel tank from Husband's project bike, curing quietly in the oven one warm night.

But there was some of the more traditional kind too - annual Christmas cupcakes for the security guards who work our neighbourhood.

We visited FC, and handmade a few gifts (much anticipated little boy cousin due in March!), I watched - and cried through - Love Actually, Husband and the girls attended the traditional Christmas Carols on the water one evening, while I stayed at home with a tummy bug, but I managed recover in time to outdo myself with a Christmas pinata!

It was a good Christmas.

But it was a hard year, and 2016 still had a couple of gut punches it was saving until the very end. Fucking hell.
I'm always partly sad and partly relieved to see the back of Christmas. It was lovely but it was busy and now that it's done, now we can relax for a couple of weeks before bracing ourselves for the next year.

We're clearing the debris today, and packing for the beach. Tomorrow we leave on holiday, and that's a different kind of magic - one which we are all very much looking forward to.

Bye bye x

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

thursday everyday

The eve of November seems a good time to say it sucks.

In November sometimes ...

November is like ...

In November it's easier to speak in meme's.

Because frankly we're too tired to string sentences. We're too busy to be coherent. We're running too low to be original.

It's been a long year. I hate Thursdays.

BUT. Tomorrow it is December.

And just today I tasted it in the air. Holidays.
Christmas and family time and lazing.
Swimming and small domestic jobs and food and lightness.
Beaches and friends and beer and seafood.

It's coming. But it's not here yet.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

won't ever happen

We found a video clip on an old phone of Frieda, soft-faced and blonde curls, age 6, her voice so different, thicker - pre-tonsillectomy -  'I pinkie swear I'll never twerk.'

Stella, regularly, 'I'll never leave home, I'll live with you until I die Mummy. Or until you die, whichever happens first.' Her eyes become solemn.
She thinks a lot about death this one.

Overheard today: 'I will never, ever drink coffee.'

We've thought for months: 'Trump will never become president.'

Monday, October 31, 2016

paying tribute to my namesake with gin and facepaint

On Friday my late Granny Molly would've been 97 years old.

I've written about the legendary lady she was before here and really, for someone who left just over half my lifetime ago, she still lives so large in my consciousness and in family lore.

On Friday we had a little Halloween gathering here at our place. 'Halloween at the Lake' I messaged our local gang - come over from 4, bring stuff, bring kids, dress-up optional...
I may have nicked some pics from the interwebs.

I'm generally ambivalent about Halloween, even grinchy, but I've been slowly coming round ...

This year was windy again though, and it not actually being Halloween yet the chances of any decent trick or treating were slim. Besides, who really wants to clang around in the howling wind hanging on to your wig when we could be drinking gin and ignoring our children right?

Gin. I got Granny Molly's genes to thank for that.

Costumes. I got Granny Molly's genes to thank for that too.

Hosting. Yup, big up to Granny for that one.

And I need to give her a nod for the Halloween Treasure Hunt too - late on Friday afternoon, after racking my brains as to how to give it a special Halloween twist for the kids, I realised that actually we have the best house for a treasure hunt. So late, after a few gins, I snuck away, threw together some rhyming clues and installed a friend's husband in the attic with goodie bags, a scary wig and a torch. We set the kids loose and sat back on the stoep to wait for the screams!

The kids loved it, the 'early evening' gathering turned into a bit of a gin fest and the next day, with a fuzzy head and a sticky house, I thought about my Granny Molly and felt she would've approved.
Thanks Grankie, we miss you.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

the ups and downs of October

This post is to filed under 'diary'. I need to record this last crazy month for myself, for the record.

I've come here so often with an opening line, a thought or an observation, but the back story has always been so enormous - October's stories have been enormous - that I've either shied away or the next thing has happened before I could finish writing/processing about the last.

Emotional ro-la-co-stah. I'm tired just thinking about writing about it.

October is a beautiful month (which month isn't really right?), but this one has brought some pain.

On the 1st of the month one of my very best friends was admitted to hospital after weeks of what we all then thought was 'flu.

That weekend, beloved English cousins currently living in the States woke to the news that their 23 year old son had died in his sleep.
Shock rippled around the world as we gathered in small digital huddles - on FB messenger, Whatsapp and eventually a Tribute Page - trying to cradle a family in unimaginable pain with words and images shared on these platforms, knowing that none of it worked as well as a hug, but that all the hugs in the world wouldn't heal their hearts.
When a healthy 23 year old guy dies in his sleep on a Saturday night there is one conclusion that everyone jumps to, and from the talk it does seem he lived a colourful life - partying and living it up in the film industry in which he worked.
But louder then that were the reams of words testifying to his gentle care of those he loved, his sense of humour, his intelligence, his diligence to his work, his magic touch with animals - all these words proven by the multitude of photos of him shared on the page, in each one of them he has his arms around someone.

I recalled so vividly the boys like him I knew at that age. Young, gorgeous, healthy young men who worked, had plans, took their jobs and their lives seriously, earned well, and partied hard. Those boys were the best friends a girl could have, watchful and caring, they were the most fun to have at a party, loud and gregarious and hilarious, they were generous with their love, their time and their drugs - and after a heavy night out they would go home to Sunday lunch and be the most attentive, genuinely devoted sons and brothers. They thought they were invincible.

So many are lost in grief at his passing.

On the 4th we celebrated our 13 year wedding anniversary.

It was a magic evening, warm and golden and still. We'd made no plans, but that afternoon I remembered two bags of prawns in the freezer, a bottle of very fine wine we'd been saving, a box of creme brulee magnum ice-creams I'd seen at our local store ... I lit the fire and watched the girls play wildly on the lawn as we waited for the sound of his motorbike arriving home.
We ate grilled prawns 'til the butter ran down our arms, washed down with sublime wine, and grinned stupidly at each other over our daughter's heads. 13 years.

A couple of nights later we ditched the girls and went out for a proper grown-up dinner in our beautiful 'hood.

But still my friend was in hospital, and the news was not good. An inflammation of the spinal cord, a rare auto-immune condition, crippling pain and uncertainty about the path ahead.
Sobering updates as we rallied around her family, setting up an online meal roster to cook for them, a Whatsapp group to keep all those concerned in the loop.

I traveled to Pretoria for work. Twice.
Pretoria was hot, and dry, but magnificently purple.

Jacaranda trees were introduced a hundred years ago, blatant invaders from South America, for their beauty and their shade. They kind of hung around and once a year transform Pretoria from a fairly drab and run-down city to a psychedelic wonderland. Well played invaders.

The work was good, the people I met inspirational and fun.

Our country has had a hard month too. Our Minister of Finance is facing trumped-up charges of misconduct, leveled at him by a President fueled only by his greed. Our students are rising up to demand the education promised to them 20 years ago, and getting beaten in the streets by our dysfunctional police force. Our academics and universities are reeling from the damage - to their campuses and their careers. Our general public are split down the middle on a topic so complex that you can only see it in black and white if you're at the heart of a the struggle or being a total asshole. Their are a select few who are both.
It's a fucking mess.

The activists I was in Pretoria with were for the most part much younger than me, black and very active in education. We spoke at length about the current situation and it was so reassuring to me, a white, middle-class, (cough) middle-aged lady, to check in with them and find that we shared many opinions on these issues. It's easy when you live among your peers to believe that you're right. It's a gift to step out of that circle and find others, very different to you, who feel the same. I love my work for the worlds it opens up for me.

Back home and straight into a very special celebration. My Dad turned 70.

Which necessitated a party, with some of our dearest family friends, and a rainbow cake for the birthday boy, with ants on it - because he's all about the ants, about the ants, no spiders - according to one of his silly granddaughters.

And then another anniversary - a really BIG one.

On the 24th my man and I marked 25 years together - a silver anniversary - from bumbling high school sweethearts to married-up parents.
We celebrated with an enormous bunch of chinkerinchees, a bottle of bubbly and the gift of a vintage silver dollar from my parents. How exactly did I get this lucky?

And still ... my friend is in hospital. Still battling pain and an uncertain future, but still smiling when she can, still strong, still her.

This growing up thing is not for sissies, the realities of life and aging are hard and painful. But the love, the love just gets stronger and sweeter - and the knowledge that that is all that is important gets clearer every day.

This year has worn us out already - is it holidays yet?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

the very best of friends (vol.6)

If you've been here for even 5 minutes you'll know how much I love to camp.

I have the best camping buddy.

This chick is camper-convivial, camper-confident and camper-kitted-out-for-any-occasion.

She is the one who always has a tin opener, space in her fridge, a spare tarp or the perfect sized water tub to wash your baby.
She's the one with the thing best paired with the other thing, as in:
Us (and by us I mean husband) 'I'm going to bake bread on the coals'
Her, twinkling: 'I've got nastergal jam.'
All of us: Swoon.

She's the one who'll stay up all night giggling hysterically 'round the fire, or ignore you for hours because she can't unstick herself from a book she's devouring. She's the one who'll bring a (fucking heavy, fucking cumbersome) canoe on the trip and then take you on a magical adventure up the river.
She's the one with the torch which always works and the balls to investigate any noise, no matter the hour or the darkness of the night.

She can light a fire in any weather, braai a steak, wrangle a misbehaving gas bottle and tie down a tent in a hurricane.

She's the one who is up for any adventure, has more energy than a pack of puppies, will always take the scenic route, and is dead happy to leave the dishes 'til morning.

We've been friends since high school and I could honestly write a book on the adventures we've had. But camping has always been one of our love languages.

I started this collage for her after our last trip, much earlier this year.

I wanted to convey that perfect moment, which makes every camp worthwhile, and is even better shared with those you adore - the one when you're sitting at the fire, its light glowing on your camp homestead, and all is still. Beyond is dark - many layers of dark on dark. Some of it glowing, some gently reflecting, some harbouring rustles and sounds of life, some holding a silence so complete it roars in your ears. It envelopes you, and settles over your shoulders like an embrace.
The fire crackles, something swoops overhead, a cold breeze niggles the back of your neck, and your buddy says: 'Last cup of tea?'

With you, any time.

Friday, September 02, 2016

a cat in the dark

Back in the 80's, our family leased a bit of land from a local farmer to use for camping and holidays.

'The Vlei' was in fact a good few acres of wild waterside property - a long debris-strewn beach, various shady camping spots up under the invasive Port Jackson trees, a clay quarry, and a sandy track up on the hill linking them all and bordering shabby fields filled with shabby sheep.
The vlei itself was a tidal lagoon miles from the ocean - brack, murky, full of weed and half submerged trees waiting to ambush watercraft and unsuspecting shins.

All sounds a bit rough doesn't it? It was. And it was heaven.

Every summer, straight after Christmas, we'd pack up and head down there for 2 or 3 weeks - until school started again really. Only 15 minute drive from our house (yup, best holiday destination ever), my Dad would pop back into town almost daily for the newspaper, fresh milk and to pick up 'a couple more things' from home.
The rest of us wouldn't leave once, getting dirtier and wilder and more feral by the day, as the amount of 'gear' we had down there accumulated and the desire to ever leave dwindled at an equal rate.

Over the years we put in more infrastructure. My Dad built open wooden platforms for kitchen areas, with rough worktops and sheet roofs, wooden benches for around the fire, a few windbreaks in strategic places. A water tank to collect rain - we had to schlep all our fresh water down there in barrels - boardwalks down to the water and every year, a fresh new long-drop loo!

There were flamingos - one evening a visitor 'spoke' to them with her flute, the flamingos falling uncharacteristically silent as she played, only to burble up again with their clucking when she paused - wild horses (can there be anything more mystical to a child than wild horses?), fish eagles, millions of mice - all our books came home with nibbled corners - and one night, there was a big cat.

Family friends were camped a little way down the beach from us, my younger brother and I had been playing in the clay quarry with their kids until after sundown, when their Mum came to find us all and pack us off to our respective home fires.
Our camp was along the beach, but to walk there down the road would be quicker. And, it turns out, darker.

I was a terrible scaredy-cat as a child but, as I've now discovered as a parent too, there's nothing more emboldening than being with someone more scared than you. My brother was scared.
We marched along, fast, keeping our eyes glued to the white sandy tracks leading us homeward, trying not to look at, or think about, the high dark bush on either side.
But it was around a corner when out of that bush, a caracal stepped.

Not my pic. Obvs.
It stood in the road in front of us and stared.

My memory tells me we reached for each other, my brother and I. But it would right, nurtured as it has been by fairy stories of babes in the woods and lost siblings. But more visceral than that is a recollection of his hand - cold, grimy, sweaty - in mine, our fingers so tightly entwined they could have fused.

The cat slipped silently into the bush on the other side of the road, and in one fluid movement, we ran.
I think we were yelling for my parents as we came to the camp, because I remember them meeting us on the road. Maybe, concerned that we were out so late they'd come walking along to find us, but I recall falling into their arms, finally releasing my little brother's hand.

And I'll remember always the first thing my Mum said to us as we garbled out the story, she said: 'Oh you lucky, lucky children, hardly anyone gets to see a caracal in the wild like that.'

Just like that she changed our terror to pride - we felt not threatened and afraid, but special and favoured - and in the same instant taught us fundamental life lessons to carry along always: seek the positive, be empowered by your experiences, relish every single contact you are granted with the natural world and turn every incident into a hell of a good story.

We were lucky, lucky children.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

one more for august

August is such a loooong month right?
I think it's for the benefit of those northern hemisphere dwellers, reveling in their last proper summer month, bracing themselves for September and autumn and back-to-school and all that.

Hardly seems fair that our equivalent, February, is the shortest month of the year. But I guess we have that sun all year round thing going for us right?

I used to dislike August intensely, many years ago back when winters in Cape Town meant weeks and weeks of incessant, drippy rain and grey skies and cold, cold toes.
Winters aren't like that anymore though, and now the all too rare winter storm is a magnificent, exciting event which gets everyone a-talking and posting photos of the damage on Facebook.

Now August has sunny days - beautiful still sunny days - and Spring starts to feel like a reality long before it should.

Looking back at some August posts I notice patterns: the return of the light (well yes because, seasons), and feeling restless (this current job is taking longer to get going than expected, and I am again a bit - I've been washing curtains!).
August was the month I announced that I was pregnant with Stella (7 yrs ago!), the month we were packing up to make the magnificent move to the lake (4 yrs ago!) a year since we said goodbye to our ginger kitty and, August was the month I started this blog - 8 yrs and very many very silly posts back.

Frieda in Augusts: 2008 - 2016
I don't dislike August anymore. I kind of miss it already. Bye bye 'til next year.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

and what I've been doing with it ...

All this free time that is.

Yes, there's been lots of productive practical stuff, but there's been lots of indulgent fun stuff too.

I joined a gym (which falls into a category somewhere in between the two above), and I've actually been going!

I finished an embroidery project to gift to my SIL for her birthday.

For which I also made Nutella Cheesecake, among other things.

I lost an hour or two to Seinfeld clips on You Tube.

I may have lost a couple more watching endless movie trailers on the same channel.

I might even have watched a couple of episodes of Ray Donovan one morning while everyone else was at school/work. Although I'll never admit it.

I started some washi doodles on the large expanse of living room wall which we're kind of flummoxed as to what to do with. We can't hang anything framed there (damn lake is so reflective) we'll probably (hopefully) bash a large section out of it in the near future, I had a lovely piece of fabric up there which it turns out husband hated - so it's become my sketchpad, on which I will doodle in totally non-permanent and forgiving washi tape, because blank wall is just .. blank, right?

We sneaked in another long weekend away, the Cederberg this time, with my parents and assorted extended family.

And just this last week, I've been nursing this poor Tiger. Chicken pox yo.

Then this afternoon, the call. Dates are set, things are back on, and as of tomorrow I need to start easing back into things. Work things.

It's been a magnificent hiatus. I think I'll open a bottle of wine this evening and eek out the last few hours.

Friday, August 12, 2016

the gift of time

We came back from Tankwa to a house of chaos and mountains of laundry. My office was a tip - my hasty departure for Durban evident - accumulated crap from a week away strewn about the place.
I spent the first day back trying to make sense of it all, trying to catch up to myself.

The next event, a 3 day conference in Pretoria, was looming large and I needed to pull myself together and get on it stat.

And then it got postponed.

Postponed as in, it has to contractually happen before the end of October but new dates have not been set and therefore I. am. free.
For a bit.

Free to stop for rainbows.
To hang with my girls.
To make decent suppers, and lemon curd.
To read.
To create.
To hang with my pets in the sun in the mornings when hours expand and move slow.
To sort out some cupboards and update some shit and get photo albums sorted and catch up on my blog.
To lift the girls to school and spend time with them afterwards.
To catch up with friends.
To breathe a bit.

This time is a gift. It's not scheduled free time - a statement in itself an oxymoron. It's not 'ermahgerd will I ever have work again time'. It's time which will end in a big job, time which could end in a phone call, an email, any day now.
Time which is precious until then, and there's virtually nothing I can do which isn't exactly the right thing to be doing at the time.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

a weekend in tankwa

The morning after the post before I started my day in Durban, hungover AF, 27 degrees C, trying to keep my business brain about myself .... and many, many hours later ... ended it in Tankwa, 6 degrees C, with a cold gin in my hand and the most incredible experience of watching an aardvark snuffle down the road ahead of us fresh in my mind.

Lux accommodation with assorted dead animals.
This one was the deadest.
Love me some shale.
Big skies with tiny daisies.
And other beautiful flowers.
Free kids.
 It was our now annual weekend with these friends. Different venue, same epic meals, litres of wine, kakpraat and ferocious card games.
I spent the weekend in a post-Durban fug - weary and disorientated and slightly drunk most of the time - but so happy to be back with my people and off on an adventure.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

a week in Durban

I've been in Durban this week - hosting a group of delegates to the Int AIDS Conference here. Running 5 events, managing their registration and hotels and arrangements, being their bitch really.
(I ran into an old client while here and said just that - her gratifying response: 'Well, you are the best bitch in the business' - ha ha.)

I've run into so many old clients, connections, colleagues, friends. It's been like a live walk through of my CV - filmmakers, activists, artists, funders - I've run into people I've worked with at all the various stages of my career over the last 16 years, including the guy I did my very first large-scale event with, back in 1999! We met for dinner on my first night here - I hadn't seen him since 2001 - and had such a great catch-up.

It's been really good.

Our boutique hotel is totally fabulous - comfy, welcoming, homely, extraordinarily helpful - the group I'm with are fun and relaxed and appreciative. Durban is WARM. The food is delicious.

It's been really busy.

The events have been big. The days long and the conference really frenetic. The body is sore and the feet are tired.

It's been affirming.

A week away, working, adulting on my own not for kids or home, has been restful (in that weird way when after you become a parent any time you're not parenting is restful, despite how busy doing other things you might be) and empowering. To go to sleep and wake up alone allows for rare moments of quiet reflection.
Appreciative clients, epic problem solving, well laid plans - the week has been full of those, and I thrive on them.

It's been sad.

The content is sobering, the problems seemingly insurmountable sometimes. So many people working so hard and, relatively, so little change in the lives of the people most affected by this disease. See this summary of Charlize Theron's excellent address on Opening Night - she's so spot on.
(I realise more and more I'm too cynical and too emotional to get any closer to the work done by the activists I work with. This shit upsets me so much and I have zero faith in governments and policy makers to make a difference. This is the stuff of another post probably.)

But overall, it's been fantastic.

My last event just ended, I have a glass of wine - I'm catching up here, overhearing conversations about harm reduction in intravenous drug users, about multi-drug resistant TB, about the next conference in Paris, about the latest shooting in the States - and goddamn, I'm grateful to be me.

But wait, I have one more job: I'm throwing together a Conference Wrap Party for later tonight. Because these people work hard, because their work is hard, because my body needs to dance and because ...

Thursday, July 07, 2016

adrenalin junkies

Two blonde ladies in their 40's, sharing a pot of Earl Grey in a Durban beachfront hotel restaurant.

Adrenalin junkies.

It's not often that I meet other people in my profession. Why fraternise with the competition right? But as the woman opposite me talked about how stressed she was - scribbling furiously in her notebook - how difficult it was balancing all her clients, how when she finally closed her eyes at night she had lists swirling over the inside of her eyelids, I began to suspect I'd met a kindred spirit.

And when she looked up and I saw the sparkle in her eye, I knew it.

'But you love it right?' I said.
'Wouldn't do anything else in the world' she answered with a big grin.

Adrenalin junkies.

The common ground between us sprouted flowers as we spoke.
How many people tell us they'd never be able to do what we do. Clients who get concerned at how calm we are. How inside we're screaming. Wearing so many different hats you can put your neck out whipping them on and off. The terror of the error, the thrill of the win. Behind the scenes and in front of the client.

The inevitable crash. The juggle. The struggle. The love of the game.

We spent 20 minutes together and I felt more debriefed than I had in years. More energised too, inspired and affirmed.

Yesterday a friend reminded me how a few short years ago I was still angst'ing about what I was going to be when I grew up, and meanwhile I was there already. Life is what happens while you're making plans or something like that.


To be an adrenalin junkie I reckon you have to either be over-confident or totally reckless. Maybe the 40's are the perfect combination of both. It's certainly working for me.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

I like big birds (and I can not lie ...)

Jackal Buzzard at Eagle Encounters last week.
Jackal Buzzard in the tree in our garden this week.
Holding a 13kg Cape Vulture aloft.
Cleanest Vulture you're ever going to see - that neck hasn't buried inside a rotting carcass ever (at Eagle Encounters)
Hadeda's - most hilarious noisy birds - in our tree.
Sooty Gull (and friends) trying to pilfer off a seal currently enjoying a little break from dodging sharks in False Bay (by hanging out in our lake).
Magnificent graffiti by Sonny in Woodstock, Cape Town (not my pics). I drove past this recently and fell in love.
... I'm hooked and I can't stop staring.