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Miami Highlights

So, the final destination of our road trip was a week’s holiday in Miami and although this was our third visit to the city, it was our first summer there and boy, was it hot, hot, hot. However, this did not deter us from having a wonderful time. Kiera’s in-laws, Jim and Jody, very kindly arranged for us to stay in the same house that we’ve stayed in before (a gorgeous place belonging to friends of theirs which now feels like a home from home) and Alex moved in with us so that we could spend more time together. Since I haven’t had anything remotely resembling a summer holiday in years, I tried to join in as many activities as possible – swimming at the beach and in the pool and even snorkeling off the coast. But what gave me the greatest pleasure of all was simply seeing how happy my children are and just how competently both of them are making their way in the world.

One afternoon I tagged along when Kiera went to the bank with Alex to help him apply for a credit card. I waited in the foyer while they sorted out his application and I felt quite emotional when I looked over and saw them chatting and laughing together while they interacted with the bank consultant. I couldn’t understand why this particular moment affected me so much but on reflection I realise that it was because it felt so normal and yet it wasn’t, it was an anomaly. It’s been a long time since I’ve been around to observe Alex going about his daily business, let alone see Kiera and Alex together, relating just as they always have, with Kiera as big sister. On the one hand, I missed with an aching heart our former unfragmented lives and on the other hand, I felt enormous pride at how far my children have come.

Our holiday in Miami included some memorable highlights:

  • Being on holiday with both our kids was amazing, as well as seeing all of our American family again. We really appreciated everyone making the effort to join us in Miami and Jim and Jody for being such gracious and generous hosts.

Jody & James (photo: Bill Leazer)

Jim & birthday boy Winston

  • The food. OMG I was indulged – all my favourites (dates stuffed with manchego cheese and wrapped in bacon, buffalo wings, fried green tomatoes, guacamole freshly made at our table and key lime pie). Jim, who hails from New Orleans, made the most delicious Louisiana Boiled Shrimp and Alex and James barbecued the best burgers ever on the 4th July. Oh, and did the champagne flow.

  • Snorkeling over a reef way out at sea. James’ friend, Jeremy, took us out in his boat and we spent a glorious, laid back day snorkeling and swimming in crystal clear, flat water. It was such fun to be out on the water again, I’ve missed it.

view of South Beach from the water

  • Getting the guided tour of Alex’s apartment and having him drive us around Miami was quite awesome.

view of downtown Miami from Alex’s apartment

  • Celebrating my birthday a second time and being thoroughly spoilt, as well as made to look somewhat ridiculous!

Mexican birthday (photo: Bill Leazer)

  • Spending the morning of the 4th July swimming at Miami’s South Beach. After lolling about in lukewarm water for about an hour, I headed for Nikki’s Beach Bar and Mimosas with delightful “cousin” Bill.

I wish it didn’t have to end but of course all good things do. We make the long trip home later today, which I dread, but it’s got to be done. Thank you Kiera and James for putting up with me for 6 weeks, I’ve had an absolute ball.

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Road Trip USA

Once again, I must give all credit to Kiera for planning our road trip with such wonderful attention to detail. We always rely on her to organise our trips and I feel guilty about that but what can one do, SHE DOES IT SO WELL!

Our first night was spent in the beautiful riverside town of Wilmington, North Carolina. It was a long drive (8 hours) because of snarl-ups on the I (interstate) 95 which, by the way, runs all the way from the Canadian border down to Miami, Florida. Once we got past Richmond, VA, the traffic thinned out and we were on our way. Because we didn’t have time to stop properly for lunch we pulled into a drive-through burger joint, a first for Pete and me, and I have to say for one who doesn’t eat burgers as a rule, it was not half bad.

We stayed in a converted schoolhouse in Wilmington within easy walking of the river and the town centre. We enjoyed the river walk as well as strolling around the historic district looking at lovely old houses.

the river walk

Wilmington’s historic district

loved the purple house

After Wilmington we made our way to Charleston, South Carolina. En route we took a detour to the beach on Pawleys Island, which was quite spectacular.

storm brewing

tidal creek at Pawleys Island

In Charleston we stayed in the most gorgeous Air B&B in central Queens Street and visited a couple of plantation gardens along the banks of the Ashley River.

our Air B&B in Charleston

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the swamp garden at Magnolia Plantation

From there we went to Savannah, Georgia and spent many hours wondering around this lovely southern town. I turned 60 in Savannah. I like spending my birthday in foreign places, it helps me remember them. And although it unsettles me a bit to think that I’m that much closer to decrepitude, I enjoyed celebrating it with Peter, Kiera and James.

Our last stop before Miami was St Augustine, Florida.

a cafe in St Augustine

street behind our hotel

the view from our hotel

our hotel

After a week of travelling we arrived in Miami just in time for the 4th of July weekend and a chance to put our feet up and relax. More about Miami later though. Suffice to say that it has been an absolute dream spending time together as a family again, not just in the same city but all in the same house, made possible by our wonderful American family.

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Waitin’ on a Sunny Day

Thanks to my innate Protestant work ethic, I felt quite guilty about planning a six-week holiday in America and leaving Peter behind to hold the fort while I was away. I felt that I needed to justify not just being away from home but being on holiday for that length of time. The way I did this was to steadfastly maintain that for the first 4 weeks I would not really be a lady of leisure. It was my intention to make myself useful, slogging away in the garden and working my fingers to the bone in the kitchen. A bit like the granny in the Fattis and Monis advert. The real holiday would only start when Peter joins us for our road trip along the south-east coast of America down to Miami.

This is, of course, not quite how it has turned out. I happen to have had the most wonderful, relaxing time. Yes, I’ve gardened in the searing heat and cooked and cleaned while the kids have been out at work. But I’ve been able to do it in my own time and I’ve really enjoyed simply being a free agent. To be honest it has come as a bit of a surprise just how therapeutic this leave of absence has been. Before I left home I was getting increasingly concerned about my mother’s well-being as well as quite impatient with her defeatist attitude. She was refusing to make any effort to exercise and as a result her legs were becoming weaker and she was becoming more and more frail and dependent. It was becoming a matter of time before decisions about her care needed to be made. What I hadn’t realised was just how much the situation had begun to weigh me down. After a few days here I started to feel a lot lighter in spirit, like a dark cloud had lifted and I could breathe more easily again. It’s funny how, without knowing it, we allow situations to get the better of us just because we can’t see the wood for the trees. Sometimes it helps to step away from the problem to get a better perspective and to realise that you’ve let things get out of kilter.

Ironically, with me gone, my mother finally admitted to Peter that she wasn’t feeling well. He arranged for the doctor to pay her a visit. After a clean bill of health, a vitamin b jab and instructions (from someone other than me) to exercise she’s up and about again and concerns about her health have been allayed. So it seems that change has been as good as a holiday for her as well.

I find that gardening also helps to clear the mind and lift the spirits and it’s been such a pleasure working in Kiera and James’ delightful woodland garden, despite the heat and wretched mosquitoes. The garden was beautifully landscaped by the previous owners and the plants that have survived years of neglect just needed tidying up. However, there were lots of gaps in the beds and my job was to help choose suitable plants from the garden centre, decide how many were needed and then to plant them – my idea of heaven. So far about 50 new shrubs and flowers have gone in, as well as a new raised veggie bed established. Having a framework within which to work has been a great help. Aesthetically pleasing landscaped gardens are not a common sight in this neighbourhood because, I think, the main priority is easy maintenance. So what you see is mostly lawns, a few shrubs “under arrest” (as Nate Berkus described furniture that had been placed up against walls) and a whole lotta mulch. Colour and interest come in the form of garden ornaments, not plants. I’ve spotted some very weird garden decorations; the ones that freak me out the most are the animal statues dressed up in real clothes!

 

 

I would understand if this was near a pond but little boy blue is fishing in a driveway.

This one I rather like.

There is, however, no need for fake animals in Kiera and James’ garden, they have plenty of real ones; birds galore, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits and even a groundhog who goes by the name of Mabel. It’s a bit like being in a Beatrix Potter story. Mind you, these little critters do tend to lose their enchanting appeal when you’ve spent a fortune on plants and sweated buckets planting them only to find them half eaten or dug up the next day.

Mabel, the plant munching groundhog

squirrel nutkin

peter rabbit

new raised veg bed in front yard to catch maximum sun

seedlings from local farmers market waiting to go in

tranquility

lead me down the garden path

I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone. It’s not long now before Peter arrives and this part of my stay is over. Its been good for my soul and I’m feeling much revived, just in time to head south to see Alex and the rest of our fantastic American family. Look out Miami, here we come.

a little drink at Kiera and James’ local

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Blood’s Thicker Than Water

Some of life’s most special moments are those that are completely unexpected. As I pushed my trolley into the arrivals lounge at Washington’s Dulles airport I scanned the waiting faces for Kiera and James who were fetching me (at 6:30 am, bless their cotton socks). I had been on the move for the better part of 26 hours and was a bit knackered to say the least; so when I spotted them I was mightily relieved. As I peered into the crowd I noticed that Kiera was chatting to the handsome young man next to her and that he looked vaguely familiar. Travel fatigue must’ve dulled my temporal lobe because it took a few seconds before I realised that it was our Alex she was talking to. He had flown up from Miami to surprise me. What excitement – needless to say I was suitably surprised.

It was really quite surreal; an unexpected weekend with both my kids. I arrived on the Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend and it is all a bit of a blur. After the grand tour of Kiera and James’ beautiful new home in Rockville, Maryland we all went out for brunch. I had delicious shrimp and grits and we all had delicious bottomless Mimosas. Kiera commented that it felt like the Thailand “gang” was back together. That evening we went out for Chinese food (something I really miss since we left Durban) and a stroll around Rockville Centre, enjoying the Memorial Day festivities which included a free concert by a really good bluegrass band. There’s nothing quite like a fiddle to get one’s toes tapping. It felt good to be back in the USA. I love our simple life on the farm but I also enjoy these forays into the hustle and bustle of America; and what a pleasure to be able to walk safely about the city centre at night.

The next day we headed into DC to visit the Botanic Gardens and happened upon the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally. Every Memorial Day weekend more than 900,000 motorcycle riders from all over the U.S. take to the streets in Washington to honour POWs and MIAs who served their country during the Vietnam War. It was very impressive. After getting soaked in a rather torrential downpour we decided it was time to head home, settle down on the sofa to watch movies and eat rhubarb and strawberry pie – my idea of heaven.

Alex left on Monday but we shall be seeing him again in Miami in a month’s time. In the meantime I’m spending time in Kiera and James’ lovely backyard oasis playing with my new touch screen laptop with all its bells and whistles. And yes, I did reorganise their pantry cupboard, it just had to be done!

 

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If I Ruled The World

If I ruled the world:

Every child would share the joy that music can bring.

Music really is food for the soul. After receiving a donation of R10,000, the Curry’s Post Educational Trust (CPET) bought 10 djembe drums, 3 baby marimbas and some calabash shakers for the Curry’s Post Primary School. The guy who makes all these gorgeous instruments is Justice Hakata and he owns Afrocoustic Arts and Crafts in Pietermaritzburg. I am so delighted to have made his acquaintance and that of Katherine, the director of Music Voyage, a non-profit organisation which aims to develop positive values and invest in the self-worth of individuals through the provision of music education. I have to admit that without Katherine’s support I would have been a bit out of my depth with this project.

Recently Justice spent a morning at the school, not only teaching the children how to play the drums but playing games with the instruments and getting everyone involved. Even I got roped into playing the bass marimba and I have to admit I haven’t had so much fun in ages. It was amazing how the music experience just lifted the levels of joy in everyone. When we left the school, everyone was singing and laughing and I hope that they all felt as good about life as I did, in that moment.

I wonder if any of my PE friends who read this blog will remember an evening in my back room when we spontaneously created a rather derogatory song dedicated to the SAP of our country, using any implement that came to hand. Someone had a guitar (Darryl Evans perhaps) but the rest of us were improvising, tapping on cans and bottles. It created such elation and camaraderie and I think that was where my dream of being a rock chick began! Playing the marimba with 40 children all engaged in the process of making music brought back that memory and I thought “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our little Marimbees experience that same sense of fellowship as well as learn to make beautiful music?”

let’s dance

playing “pass the drum”

go Marimbees

 

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What a Wonderful World

Life in the garden is good.

“wildlife” in my autumn garden

from top left, clockwise: halleria lucida, gazania, leonotis leonurus and aloe aristata

herbs in the courtyard

autumn leaves

tecoma capensis

leonotis leonurus with african clouded butterfly

liquidambar

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Black Magic Woman

Writing helps me to make sense of life; for me it is the breathing space between question and answer. I know that there isn’t always meaning – some things just are, they don’t necessarily happen for a reason. But it seems a pity not to search for it. I read for the same reason, to understand through the words of someone else. I’ve just finished reading Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending and I made a note of one of the passages – nothing earth shattering just a reflection on how the main character spends his time.

The less time there remains in your life, the less you want to waste it. That’s logical, isn’t it? Though how you use the saved-up hours … well, that’s another thing you wouldn’t have predicted in youth. For instance, I spend a lot of time clearing things up – and I’m not even a messy person. But it’s one of the modest satisfactions of age. I aim for tidiness; I recycle; I clean and decorate my flat to keep up its value.

I don’t know why this particular passage stood out, perhaps I identified – I too spend a lot of time tidying up.

Earlier this week, when I was RSVPing to a wedding invite, I was asked to include the name of my favourite song. I scratched my head for a while but I couldn’t for the life of me think of any one particular song that is my favourite. Then out of the blue it came to me, Black Magic Woman, a song from my childhood and with the song came memories of how sometimes the DJ, Ronny Walland, would let us youngsters (we called ourselves the “central dorks”) help carry his equipment into disco venues so that we could get in without paying the entrance fee. Ronny would always play Black Magic Woman and, somehow, it became my song. And it always reminds me of a time when being feisty, frivolous and fearless was perfectly acceptable. I hadn’t thought of the song for ages but there it was, in my mind and it continued to go round and round in there.  A few days later I woke up at 2 am, unable to get back to sleep. I got the fire going, made a pot of tea and settled down to listen to the Rock Professor (Chris Prior) Show and blow me down if he didn’t include Black Magic Woman on his playlist. That’s when I started to write this post.

I remember the Santana version but he played Fleetwood Mac’s earlier version, which was lovely. A little bit further into the podcast he played Santana’s Europa (earth’s cry heaven’s smile) and suddenly it dawned on me that all my music memories of childhood stop at the age of 15, which is when I left Port Elizabeth.

Of course, when you are sitting in front of a fire, drinking tea, listening to the Prof and musing about your childhood in the early hours of the morning, it’s the perfect time to do some online research (our wifi is free between 10pm and 5am). So, I came across an ideas.ted.com article: 4 lessons from the longest-running study on happiness written by researcher and psychiatrist Robert Waldinger. While I was quite pleased to see that middle age was defined as ages 50–65 in the study, the lessons were pretty predictable: a happy childhood has very, very long-lasting effects; learning how to cope well with stress has a lifelong payoff; and time with others protects us from the bruises of life’s ups and downs.

However, what did interest me, other than being able to still call myself middle-aged as opposed to old, was that people with difficult childhoods can make up for them in midlife. The way they do this is by engaging in what psychologists call “generativity” or an interest in establishing and guiding the next generation. And generativity is not dependent on being a parent; it can also be exhibited in situations where people mentor children / young adults.

I’m fortunate to have had a very happy childhood despite my parents being somewhat emotionally undemonstrative and rather remote. There was not a lot of physical affection or even praise but I was cared for, felt safe and was happy in my own little world. Until the age of 15 that is, when I was uprooted from my friends and my stomping ground of Port Elizabeth and moved to Durban. I can trace a lot of my foibles back to that event and now, even my memories associated with music.

This brings me to another study on the issue of happiness. Recently, I listened to a ted talk given by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel laureate, founder of behavioural economics and prominent psychologist. Basically he argues that there is confusion between experience and memory, which are fundamentally different – our “experiencing selves” and our “remembering selves” perceive happiness differently. It’s the difference between “being happy IN your life” (experience), and “being happy ABOUT or WITH your life” (memory). He demonstrates this difference with an anecdote of someone who listened to a symphony for 20 minutes, totally immersed in its beauty.  At the end, he heard an awful screech.  The listener angrily said the sound “ruined the whole experience.”  Kahneman points out that it hadn’t; it had only ruined the memory of the experience.  The listener had 20 minutes of beautiful music, but the memory was all he had kept and it was ruined.

This distinction is well worth bearing in mind when (a) making choices to be happier in the future and (b) creating the narrative of our lives. He made me think of all the times I’ve let one negative experience cloud the positive. And my mother who will now not go into her garden, despite all the years of pleasure it has given her, because her chair sank into a molehill and she slid off, unhurt, onto the lawn and couldn’t get up. Fortunately we were there to help her up almost immediately but she has allowed her memory to be dominated by the negative.

The psychologist, Paul Rozin, an expert on disgust, observed that a single cockroach will completely wreck the appeal of a bowl of cherries, but a cherry will do nothing at all for a bowl of cockroaches.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

However, according to Kahneman, we do control one variable that can make us happier and that is the allocation of our time. “One way to improve life is simply by tilting the balance toward more affectively good activities,” he said.

Virginia Woolf clearly knew this already; she writes:

Every day includes much more non-being than being. This is always so. One walks, eats, sees things, deals with what has to be done; the broken vacuum cleaner; ordering dinner; washing; cooking dinner. When it is a bad day the proportion of non-being is much larger.

I like that – less time tidying and more time doing pleasurable stuff. Why didn’t I think of that!

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