The Frim Fram Sauce

WordPress has changed its editing format and the new one has proved to be quite challenging. The result is a rather disjointed post and I apologise for that but it really is all I can manage! I haven’t worked out how to adjust the size of the photos so they are on a large setting. Perhaps in a few weeks I’ll have the time to work it all out.

With only 2 weeks left in America, I can’t believe my stay here is finally coming to an end. Although five months is a long time to be away, I have felt very much at home here and not at all out of place. My precious granddaughter brought so much happiness into my life at a time when I was feeling quite jaded. Isla has given me so many heart-warming memories to take back with me: her smile whenever she sees me, her head resting on my shoulder when we dance together, the twinkle in her eye when she’s learnt something new and getting praised for it, her state of reverie when I massage her before bath time, the way she sings when she wants to be heard and so much more. And it’s not only memories of my granddaughter that I will be taking away with me; I’ve watched my daughter become a mother and shared some of that journey with her, and that has been priceless.

Christmas in Rockville 2018
In January, after our wonderfully warm holiday in Florida we arrived back in DC to something they call a polar vortex which is basically extremely cold weather that originates at the North Pole. Alex, who was working in Fargo, North Dakota, at the time experienced some pretty brutal temperatures (around -40 F). But I didn’t seem to notice the weather here as we were all perfectly comfortable indoors getting on with our daily lives and not traipsing around the countryside looking at frozen waterfalls! (Okay, so James and I did venture outside to build Isla her first snowwoman.)
This was in Miami; Isla, the beach baby and the mangroves at Matheson Hammock Park.
Isla, from beach baby to bear baby!
At the beginning of February, Kiera went back to work and Isla started day-care which was less traumatic than I thought it would be. Day-care is run by a neighbour a few houses down the road from where Kiera and James live, so it’s less than a minute walk away. It’s like a home from home – 5 children with 2 carers. Isla settled in without much fuss and seems to be quite happy with the arrangement.
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Isn’t Life Strange

I treasure spending time with both Kiera and Alex in the same place. It doesn’t happen too often, with Alex in Miami, Fl and Kiera in Rockville, MD and, of course, me in South Africa. I love seeing them together and am so proud of the relationship they have as brother and sister. Despite a six-year age gap they really seem to understand and respect each other. It’s a regret of mine that I don’t share the same connection with my one and only sibling.

out for lunch in Coconut Grove, Miami

Recently Kiera organised a two-week holiday in Florida for us, a respite from the cold weather up north. We stayed with James’ parents, Jim and Jody, in Miami which has a tropical climate, very much like the east coast of South Africa and is a wonderful place to winter in. As I walked around the neighbourhood with Isla in her stroller, the humid sea air and familiar, lush vegetation triggered flashbacks of my life in Durban when I used to push my own babies in their prams around Glenwood and Morningside.

Kiera and I were eager to see Alex’s new, partially furnished Bayside studio apartment and he, in turn, was quite keen for us to help him decorate it. So one afternoon, after checking out his pozzie, we took a trip to Ikea where we had an exhausting but extremely fun time helping him choose furniture and trimmings. Ikea is huge and the ultimate in flatpack shopping. We were able to get everything on our list and more (a couch, cushions, pictures, picture frames, towels, a rug, bedside lamp, dining room chairs and other odds and ends) and managed to load it all into his car, a VW Golf (fortunately we were traveling in another vehicle).

view of Biscayne Bay from Alex’s apartment

another view from the balcony

a shot of Alex’s apartment block from the water, taken by James when he went fishing early one morning

Alex had just returned from a trip to South Africa where he spent Christmas with Peter at the farm and New Year in Cape Town with his mates. It was good to see him looking so relaxed and happy to be back in Miami.

Kiera also arranged a mid-week stay for us in Siesta Key, on the Gulf of Mexico. We stayed in a gorgeous holiday rental on the Plaza De Las Palmas, a short walk from the beach and the pretty little seaside village. This was my first trip to the west coast of Florida and I loved the laidback, beach holiday vibe of the place.

As I write this, I’m looking out my bedroom window overlooking the pool (heated) lined with palm trees and thinking about walking to the village to have brunch, with mimosas of course, and it feels vaguely familiar but also rather surreal. Beach holidays have always been my best kind of holiday; I think of Bonza Bay as a child, Dwesa in the Eastern Cape (Transkei, as it was then) with Peter in our younger days, the KZN South Coast where many a holiday was spent with friends and my parents, especially Leisure Bay (not to mention Botha House at Pennington), and last but not least Umngazi River Bungalows near Port St Johns, where we took our annual summer holiday for nearly ten years, until Kiera started work.

A few days ago, Peter and I celebrated our 41st wedding anniversary on different continents. As Kiera, James and I raised our glasses in a toast to perseverance, I marvelled at the turns my life has taken. When I got married at the ripe old age of 20 in the lounge of my parents’ house in Durban in 1978, I could never have imagined that 41 years later I would be sipping champagne in Siesta Key with my granddaughter on my knee. Isn’t life strange?

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Your Song

Recently my friend Ashley queried the lack of news on my blog and I have to agree that I’ve been a bit sparse with details about my life here in Rockville, MD. Truth is, it has taken me the two months that I’ve been here to settle into a routine which gives me the time and inclination to start writing again. At first, I was rather concerned that the writing well had run dry but soon realised that the telly was pretty much taking up all of my spare time. I mean, who wants to write when there are so many shows just waiting to be watched? But, after several Netflix marathons, the novelty is beginning to wear off and I’m not quite so glued to the tv anymore.

When it was decided that I should spend five months here helping out, I was naturally anxious about how that was going to work. After all, I hadn’t so much as held a baby in some 26 years and even when I had babies, I certainly didn’t know what I was doing. I relied on my mother who, with hindsight, was probably winging it just like me. These days the information available to parents is mind-blowing so at least I’m not expected to supply any answers to questions relating to the baby’s health, development or care, the app takes care of that! Where I do come in handy (I hope) is looking after Isla when both parents are busy or exhausted and also lending a hand with cooking and cleaning.

One aspect of life here that takes some getting used to, other than having a 2-month old baby in the house, is just how short the days are, with sunrise at 7:20 and sunset at 16:45. Usually I wake up just before sunrise, fetch a tray of tea and some bikkies, and go back to bed to write for a while. If I have the time and inclination, I may do some chi kung, yoga and meditation before emerging to face the outside world. From mid-morning onwards I’m ready to report for duty. It seems that in no time at all it’s evening and time for supper. After eating, we’ve got into the habit of watching a couple of episodes of a tv series together before heading off to bed. One of life’s greatest enjoyments for me is being able to lie in bed reading until midnight. At home I tend to fall asleep as soon as I pick up a book but here, I have to force myself to turn the light out in order to get the requisite 7 hours sleep.

Kiera and James have created a really lovely, secluded guest suite in the basement which I’ve settled into without any problems. What has surprised me is that although I’m a creature of habit, I don’t really miss any of my stuff and I’m rather pleased that I’ve been able to adapt to this temporary new way of life so easily.  Mind you, Kiera and James have made sure that I’ve wanted for nothing. Whenever I travel, I don’t think too much about home, preferring to focus on the here and now. So I don’t get homesick and I’m not very good about maintaining contact, working on the basis that “no news is good news”.

Before I left SA another friend of mine cautioned me about how physically tiring it is  looking after a baby. It’s a lot of time spent lifting and carrying and she advised me to do some preparatory arm exercises. Good heavens, she was not wrong – I’m using muscles I never knew I had! However, every minute spent with Isla is an absolute joy and each morning I look forward with eager anticipation to seeing her and feeling her little body snuggled up in my arms. My time spent with her is precious and I don’t take any of it for granted (I’m all too aware that in 3 months’ time, I shall have to say goodbye and return home).

When Alex came to the end of his “little boy” years and stopped holding my hand when we crossed the road, I remember thinking that this is what I would miss most -the feel of those pudgy little hands in mine and the faith that he had in me to protect him. With Isla, I’m going to miss her warm breath on my cheek when she’s fast asleep in my arms and the sense that nothing else in the world matters at that moment.

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Autumn / Fall

I’ve always assumed that autumn was the correct English word for the season and that fall was an annoying Americanism. However, I have since discovered, thanks to Google, that both words originated in Britain. Fall is an old term for the season, originating in the 16th century or earlier. It was originally ‘fall of the year’ or ‘fall of the leaf’, but it commonly took the one-word form by the 17th century, long before the development of American English. So, while the term is now widely used in the U.S., it is not exclusively American, nor is it American in origin.

In “The King’s English” (1908), H.W. Fowler [the British lexicographer] wrote, “Fall is better on the merits than autumn, in every way: it is short, Saxon (like the other three season names), picturesque; it reveals its derivation to everyone who uses it, not to the scholar only, like autumn.”

Having just spent my first fall in America, I’m inclined to agree with Fowler; the season really is best described by the word ‘fall’. I have never seen so many fallen leaves carpeting the ground or mounded in heaps on pavements, waiting for the leaf-sucker to do its rounds and vacuum them all up. Such a pity that there is little sign of compost heaps or gardens littered with leaves lying where they fall, providing humus for the soil and over-winter protection for bugs and little critters. No sooner had the leaves fallen than hundreds of leaf blowers were fired up and the neighbourhood yards cleared; neat little patches of lawn and the odd shrub or garden ornament emerging from the chaos of leaves. I think I preferred the gardens covered.

autumn snow






Thanksgiving 2018

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What a Wonderful World

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world


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Try To Remember

I apologise for the recent brief hiatus in A Peek at Life. Usually, when faced with any kind of difficulty, I write – I’ve always needed to write in order to help make sense of what is going on. However, after my mother died and before I embarked on a 5-month trip to the United States, I was not at all motivated to write. Instead of needing to understand, I wanted rather to leave well alone; like a scab that shouldn’t be picked. So, I spent a lot of time staring out of my bedroom window or at the telly, not thinking about very much at all. And when I did have to focus on getting something done, I had the attention span of a gnat. As our departure for America loomed and nothing was getting sorted, all I felt was a strong urge to just lie down and wish it would all go away.

While gazing vacantly at the telly one afternoon, I happened upon the movie Last Orders, based on the novel of the same name by Graham Swift. Coincidentally I had just finished reading the book and had noted a scene in which the character Ray talks about his father dying while he (Ray) is fighting in North Africa during WWII:

And you wouldn’t think it would make any difference to your immediate safety, him not being there any more, when he wasn’t there anyway, as far away alive as dead. Except it takes away a sort of allowance, a sort of margin. It makes you feel you’ve moved to the front, you’re next.

Watching the movie and rereading the marked passage helped me to see that what I had been struggling with, apart from the achingly painful loss of my mother, was an acute sense of vulnerability. I had moved to the front and it was bloody disconcerting, to say the least!

Up until this realisation, I had been having rather unpleasant dreams, revisiting my mum’s death over and over again. And then I had a dream about her in which she looked and sounded so happy, just like her old self. It was such a vivid dream that when I woke up I found my neglected journal and, for the first time in ages, wrote my morning pages in which I described in detail how she looked, what she said and how happy it made me to see her like that. That day I decided to bury her ashes in the garden of her wee house. I dug the hole and then, for some inexplicable reason, I decided I needed a picture of her to bury with the ashes. I used the search function on my laptop and typed in “edna garden”. Nothing came up, so I searched my external hard drive for older pictures. The first picture that came up was a shot of my mum standing at the front door of her wee house with the garden in the foreground. Perfect. I printed it out and laid it in the hole that I had dug. As I was about to scatter her ashes on top, I realised, with quite a jolt, that the clothes she was wearing in the photo were identical to what she had been wearing in my dream. I buried her ashes and planted a spring-flowering Cestrum on top. And, from that day on, I stopped having the nightmares and started writing again.

A while ago a friend of mine confided how unsettled she had been when, at the first Christmas after her mother died, it had dawned on her that she was now the family elder. It’s a sobering thought. However, as daunting as it is to assume the mantle, it is also a privilege and I realised this when I became a grandmother earlier this month.

Three days before we were due to arrive in the United States for the birth of our first grandchild (and 2 weeks before her due date) little Isla decided to make her debut. Kiera and the baby were fine but it was very upsetting to be so far away for such a life-changing event – it was a nasty reminder that both my children are scattered to the four winds. Those three days were an eternity but when we finally set off on our trip, it went surprisingly quickly and painlessly.

One of the aspects of the trip to the USA that I dread is the ± 2-hour drive from the farm to Durban airport on the N3 (as accidents occur with alarming regularity on this stretch of road, one usually has to leave earlier than necessary, just in case). Trucks hurtle along the N3, driven with such murderous intent that getting onto the same road as them is like entering a Mad Max movie. Arriving at Durban airport with shattered nerves definitely starts one off on the wrong foot for the rest of the trip (Durban to Jo’burg, Jo’burg to Washington DC with a fuel stop in Dakar). So, this time we decided to fly from Pietermaritzburg (Oribi) airport to Jo’burg and what a pleasure it was. It’s an easy 45-minute drive from the farm; we had time for a G&T in the small airport café before checking in, which was a doddle as the plane only seats about 70 people. Our flight to DC was uneventful and we arrived at Dulles airport quite unscathed by the long flight.

We arrived on the day that Kiera, James and Isla came home from the hospital and a week later, Alex flew up from Miami to visit his baby niece. It was lovely to be all together again as a family, with the tiny addition.

It’s been an absolute joy to be part of Isla’s life from the beginning and I can’t help but think of my own mother who was part of my children’s lives from their births until they left home. Sometimes I catch myself wondering if she felt what I feel when I’m holding Isla and how much I took her love for my children for granted.

In the final episode of Wallander (yes, I watch a lot of telly!), there’s a scene at the end where he is walking on the beach and talking to the ghost of his father. “It’s just moments now, Dad,” he says, “everything, just moments now. They don’t add up.” “What don’t?” asks his father. “My memories,” Wallander says, “my life doesn’t join up. I can’t remember.” His father replies, “Someone else will remember. Someone will remember for you.”

I will remember.

proud dad moments after birth

Alex and Isla

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The White Cliffs of Dover

The myriad ways we use story to cope with the world make it hard to imagine that narrative isn’t part of our fundamental nature…We dream in narrative, daydream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, construct, gossip, learn, hate, and love by narrative… We see our own lives as a kind of narrative, too.  (Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction by Jack R Hart)

In the narrative of our lives, we are the protagonists; heroes or victims depending on the circumstances. And how we remember events depends on the stories we tell ourselves about what happened. The story I’m going to tell you however is not about me, it’s about Edna, but it will be my story none-the-less.

10 months ago my mother took a decision that would put us all to the test. She decided that it was time to die and that she would do it on her terms – in her sleep, in her bed, in the wee house. What precipitated this decision, I’ll never know for sure; I can only speculate.

Prior to this, she had been struggling with mobility issues. Several years ago, Edna complained that she had lost the sense of where her feet were when she was walking. We took her to a neurologist who explained that it was as if the message from her feet was not getting to her brain. She was prescribed vit B-12 jabs and physio, which helped for a while but she started having panic attacks whenever she went out with us and eventually she no longer wanted to go shopping or out for a meal. She even stopped coming round to our house, which was next door.

Last year, despite our encouragement to keep exercising, she gave up her daily walks with Peter. The less she used them, the more her leg muscles wasted and as a result she became very unsteady on her feet. She developed a pathological fear of falling which, in turn, lead to a fear of going outside. It frustrated her terribly because it put a stop to her one passion, gardening. Wherever Edna lived, she singlehandedly created beautiful gardens. She once told me that as a child she longed to have a garden and would imagine it full of flowers. She couldn’t be bothered with colour schemes or massed plantings; the more plants and flowers, the merrier.

As well as being confined to indoors, Edna had also become hard of hearing and blind in one eye. It made following what was on telly more difficult. You could always count on Edna to know what was happening in the world, especially if it involved British and South African politics or any disasters worldwide. But gradually she lost interest in keeping up-to-date with current affairs as well as the goings-on in EastEnders and stopped watching telly altogether.

As arthritis in her fingers made knitting, sewing and crochet impossible some time ago, she took up sudoku instead. Before sudoku, she had been an avid crossword puzzler but she had grown tired of doing them. We also got her onto audio-books which, for a time, she thoroughly enjoyed. Then, it seemed as if it happened overnight, she gave up on the sudokus and audio-books as well. I think that she had just had enough, that the act of living had become too difficult and that she wanted out. My mother was like that, once she made up her mind about something there was no way to convince her otherwise.

So in November last year she took to her bed, turned her face to the wall and willed herself to die. And every morning when she woke up to find herself still alive, she became more frustrated and more depressed. Once she put the process of dying in motion, the old Edna (the mother I knew) began to withdraw from us and life. She couldn’t rouse herself when Alex visited over Christmas nor when Mike came to see her in the New Year. She didn’t want to speak on the phone to her sister in England and often when I visited her, she would turn away from me. She just wanted to sleep and quietly slip away. This went on for 5 months until we realised that we were not coping. Edna refused to have a live-in carer, she was becoming confused and delusional, and behaving more and more like a petulant child. She had lost interest in everything that had once kept her busy and engaged. She no longer did anything for herself, she was lonely and she was bored. We knew that this situation could not go on, for her sake and for ours.

In April we moved Edna to the Amber Valley Care Centre and I can honestly say that it was the best thing to do in the circumstances. I had hoped that she would find more to occupy her time and even find some companionship and that the old Edna would reappear. And for brief moments she did but, you know what, she still wanted to die.

Unfortunately, the bad behaviour continued and got worse, we just didn’t see it on our visits. Not long after moving to the Care Centre she stopped using her walker and became totally dependent on the carers. She also became quite disruptive, so much so that after 2 months she was moved to the frail care section. I was horrified, as was she, to discover herself put amongst all the “loco’s” as she loudly referred to the other residents suffering from dementia. However, it was the right move; she got the care she needed and she did eventually settle down, although at the end she was still fighting with her carers, telling them to bugger off and leave her alone!

We were so happy to see that the agoraphobia had gone now that she was confined to a wheelchair. During our visits she thoroughly enjoyed being taken for walks in the garden. We would chat about the flowers and the animals and she would always ask after Kiera and the baby and Alex and the farm and the dogs. She always knew who I was and she was always pleased to see me. I am so grateful that for the last 5 months of her life I was able to enjoy time spent with my mum in such a caring and pleasant environment.

On the 9th August (Women’s Day here in SA), I visited and took her a posy of gerbera daisies, her favourite flowers. The residents were being entertained by someone playing a guitar and singing all the old songs. She seemed quite withdrawn and not even the songs or flowers cheered her up. I showed her some photos that her sister’s daughter-in-law had sent me but she seemed confused and unable to relate to them. The staff told me that she had stopped eating and was refusing to take her medication (for high blood pressure). I asked them to respect her wishes. A week later I showed her the photos again and tried to get her to dictate a letter to me so that I could email it to her sister care of her daughter-in-law. She was still very distracted and this was all we managed, with a lot of editing:

Dear Elsie

It was such a surprise for me to write you a letter like this. The photos that Heidi sent were very nice. Hope you are well health-wise.

I haven’t heard from Michael so I don’t know how he’s doing. I had a funny dream. I dreamt I was a prisoner of war, I was in a death camp and I went on a march. They were putting me to sleep and I was so thirsty and couldn’t get any water. Cutting down our rations. It was so strange to think they were killing me off.

I can’t read much anymore, it needs to be big print. Doesn’t time go by so quick.

At the moment I’m feeling in a mood of blue. You go through periods of colours – a blue one is rather serious, you want to die and kill yourself off.

I have flashes of memories – they’re out of your mind for years and suddenly they hit you.

It wasn’t long after this that Edna became too frail to get out of bed and quite delirious. However, she was still determined to die and spat out anything the carers tried to give her. The last time Peter and I saw her, I had prepared myself to say goodbye. She held my hands and drew them up to her mouth to kiss them. I was so relieved that she drank the water I offered her, mindful of her dream and hating that she might feel thirsty. I played some Strauss waltzes for her on my phone and talked to her about all the people I knew that she would’ve liked to have said her farewells to. I told her she could let go of this life, that we would all be fine, that she would be free of all the discomfort and pain that she was experiencing. When I said goodbye to her, she was calm and looking at me with her beautiful blue eyes. I like to think she knew who I was, even though she seemed to be back in her childhood. After our visit, we asked her doctor to give her some morphine, which he did and she slipped into a deep sleep from which she did not wake.

A few days ago, I was listening to a podcast in which Patti LaBelle talked about how, when her sister was ill with cancer, she asked for an egg sandwich. Patti was too tired at the time to make it straightaway but the next day she made it and phoned to say she was bringing it round, only to be told her sister had just died. Her lesson was to “make the sandwich, don’t wait”. I like to think that Peter and I made the sandwich.

Rest in peace Edna Mary Peek (born Lambert) – born 11th January 1924 and died 1st September 2018.

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