The Circle Game

I’ve been so tired ever since we returned home from our holiday in America. While we were away, anticipation and adrenaline kept my batteries fully charged but once I got home, the wheels simply fell off. It’s the kind of tiredness that makes my joints ache and I feel like I’m wading through mud; even thinking is an effort. I thoroughly enjoyed a visit by my friend Judy last week and a fun day spent with our mutual friend Chris, whom we haven’t seen for many, many years. But other than that, I have pretty much kept to myself since I’ve been back, doing very little other than sleep.

It’s a combination of things. 6 weeks away from home and living out of a suitcase eventually takes its toll. Not that we were uncomfortable, far from it, and our hosts were more than generous but it just wasn’t our home. Long-distance travel is also quite draining; the time differences (jet lag is generally worse when you lose time traveling west to east), interrupted sleep and bad airline food all conspire to de-energise one. Then there’s the anticlimax of returning to the mundane after the excitement of a truly wonderful holiday, which I think is the most debilitating of all.

4½ years ago, which is not a long time in the grand scheme of things, I travelled around China and Thailand with the kids (Kiera, James and Alex, none of whom are kids anymore I know but that’s how I think of them). It was a fast-paced trip and, at times, physically uncomfortable and challenging. I managed, most of the time, to keep up with the kids and I felt adventurous; totally out of my comfort zone and exhilarated by it.

This trip could not have been more different. We stayed in absolute luxury in both DC and Miami and took things at our own pace. We were more active than at home but not really challenged. In fact, we were spoilt rotten by Kiera and James and our entire American family. And yet, I’m exhausted after this trip. It makes me wonder whether I would be capable of repeating the China / Thailand holiday, I’m not sure I would cope. When I look at the pictures taken on that trip I look SO much younger than I do now – how is that possible? And if I’ve aged so much, how did it happen so bloody quickly? It’s as if everything starts to speed up as we age, even time itself.

Don’t you get a sense that time seems to go faster as one gets older? I’ve been wondering about this because I’ve always believed that time flies when you are having fun. But as we age, time seems to fly whether we are having fun or not! I like this explanation:

The amount of time passed relative to one’s age varies. 
For a 5-year-old, one year is 20% of their entire life. For a 50-year-old, however, one year is only 2% of their life. This “ratio theory,” proposed by Janet in 1877, suggests that we are constantly comparing time intervals with the total amount of time we’ve already lived.

scientific american.com

(Click on this this very cool interactive graphic which illustrates this argument.)

I remember the disturbing realisation some time ago that I had already lived for more than half of my life. I sometimes calculate how long I think I’ve got left (not that any of us really know) and, I kid you not, it’s fucking scary! That’s when you know that there really is no going back. Not that we should want to go back but it’s a shock all the same. Then I ask myself what I want to do with the rest of my life and it drives me crazy that I just don’t know.

As time speeds up, perhaps I’ve been asking the wrong question. Instead of trying to fathom out what to do with the time I’ve got left (despite not ever being able to know how much of it I actually have) perhaps I should simply be asking what I want to do today.

The patterns of our lives reveal us. Our habits measure us. Our battles with our habits speak of dreams yet to become real.

Mary Oliver Long Life: Essays and Other Writings

As clichéd as it is, we have to try and live in the moment as much as possible, pay attention and take pleasure in simple things. And keep on pushing ourselves. As my dad always used to say “What’s the worst that can happen?” If we get tired, we can always sleep.

A most enjoyable day spent with old friends, Chris and Judy. Chris is a great storyteller and kept us thoroughly entertained.

A most enjoyable day spent with old friends, Chris and Judy. Chris is a great raconteur and kept us thoroughly entertained with his anecdotes.

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Memory

We spent the last weekend of our holiday cosily ensconced in Mike and Susannah’s beautiful old farmhouse in the Allegheny Valley in Virginia, where I spent the weekend of my 57th birthday two years ago. As I had hoped, it snowed, transforming the countryside into a picturesque winter scene. I tried to get some early morning shots but it was so cold (-15°C) that I only took a few pictures before heading pretty smartly back indoors, totally frozen.

This was a lovely, relaxing end to our holiday. Susannah is a wonderful cook and we ate and drank well, and had good quality time with our daughter and her husband. We only have two more sleeps before the long trip home and already I can’t bear the thought of saying goodbye.

Fortunately I have so many special memories to cherish and keep me buoyant when we do finally take our leave.

As Iman (David Bowie’s wife) pointed out:

Sometimes you will never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory

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En route home we stopped to get some groceries. It was bitterly cold and I had borrowed a jacket that was too big for me and was wearing my LL Bean slippers. When I got out of the car Kiera couldn’t stop laughing – I must confess I did look a sight!

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Same Love

 

When we first visited America 3 years ago, we were horrified that the South African rand was trading at just under R9 to the US dollar. At the time we had no idea what the holiday was going to cost so, in addition to the dollars we bought, we sent over money just in case we needed extra. As it happens we didn’t use it and decided to leave it behind for contingencies. As a result we already had some cash here to help pay for this holiday, which was bloody lucky for us because right now $1 is worth nearly R17.

I try not to convert because it’s so damn scary, but I did some conversions when we visited the farm stall, Robert is Here, in Miami. The tomatoes cost R63 for 450g and the grapefruit – R95 per bag. And a bottle of Kanonkop Cab Sav at a supermarket in DC cost R670. Yikes.

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Clothes shopping, on the other hand, can be quite reasonable especially since Kiera and James know how to shop on the cheap. All the clothes we have bought have cost less than if we had bought them in SA, even with the deplorable exchange rate. Macy’s in Miami had an amazing Christmas Eve sale (some items were marked down by as much as 70%) and the shop was not busy. In DC, we visited the Leesburg Outlets (or factory shops as we know them but much more upmarket) where Alex managed to refresh his wardrobe quite substantially. Other than that, shopping has not really been high on the agenda, as you can imagine.

New Years Eve was a quiet affair – we prepared a Durban curry for our American family, complete with sambals and naan bread. And they, in turn, provided the most spectacular, decadent dessert to top it all off. Alex would have preferred a night on the town but he had no takers. Besides, hitting the Miami nightlife scene would definitely have broken the bank. Fortunately he did get to go with Kiera to a free Macklemore and Imagine Dragons concert at Miami’s South Beach the night before New Years Eve. Apparently they put on a really good show with a strong humanitarian message and fantastic fireworks display.

the dessert

the dessert

photo by Cousin Bill

photo by Cousin Bill

 

 

 

 

 

 

playing catchphrase - photo by Cousin Bill

playing catchphrase – photo by Cousin Bill

We returned to DC without Alex who left earlier than us as he had to be back at work on the 4th January. We have since spent quite a bit of time at Kiera and James’ flat, cooking dinner, watching some brilliant series on telly (River – a BBC One show, Top of the Lake – a Jane Campion show set in New Zealand and Mozart in the Jungle – with the gorgeous Gael García Bernal) as well as teaching Kiera and James to play bridge.

sightseeing in Frederick, Maryland

sightseeing in Frederick, Maryland

more sightseeing and a lovely meze brunch in Frederick

more sightseeing and a lovely meze brunch in Frederick

a visit to the national botanic garden in DC

a visit to the national botanic garden in DC

As our holiday draws to an end I find myself apprehensive about returning to South Africa. Since the beginning of 2016 social media has been abuzz with the most appalling racist rants. Macklemore’s song is about tolerance –

It’s the same hate that’s caused wars from religion
Gender to skin color, the complexion of your pigment
The same fight that led people to walk outs and sit ins
It’s human rights for everybody, there is no difference!
Live on and be yourself
When I was at church they taught me something else
If you preach hate at the service those words aren’t anointed
That holy water that you soak in has been poisoned
When everyone else is more comfortable remaining voiceless
Rather than fighting for humans that have had their rights stolen
I might not be the same, but that’s not important
No freedom ’til we’re equal, damn right I support it

Here’s hoping that more people start promoting love and tolerance rather than hate and prejudice.

I forgot to include these pictures in my last post of a beautiful Roseate Spoonbill  in the Everglades National Park.

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Everglades National Park

Shortly after Christmas, Jim very kindly arranged a flatboat guide to take Peter and me bird watching in the Everglades National Park while he, Maggie, James and Kiera went fishing, also in flatboats. We launched at sunrise from the beautiful Plantation Yacht Harbor (see here for a picture of the harbour) in Islamorada, after spending the night in nearby Key Largo. Before we set off across  Florida Bay, we cruised past some of the luxury waterfront homes, one of which is on the market for $15m – quite a place. We spent the rest of the day pottering around mangrove islands and sandbanks where waterbirds congregate. Florida Bay is the largest body of water within the Everglades Park; it extends from the mangrove swamps of the mainland’s southern tip to the Florida Keys and covers over 2,100 km²of marine ecosystem. It was an incredible experience to boat around this area of the National Park and to have a guide, who knows it like the back of his hand, interpreting it for us; what a privilege. Drew, our guide, is also a fisherman and he couldn’t resist casting in before we returned home. He gave me the rod and I had fun (despite my aversion to seeing hooks in fish’s mouths) catching a few mangrove snappers and a yellowtail.

early morning start

early morning start at Plantation Yacht Harbor

Pelicans on the move:

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bald eagle

bald eagle

flock of about 1000 cormorants

flock of about 1000 cormorants

clockwise, from top left: osprey protecting nest, kingfisher, snowy egret, manatee drinking fresh water from a hose

clockwise, from top left: osprey protecting nest, kingfisher, snowy egret, manatee drinking fresh water from a hose

birds on sandbank

birds on sandbank

ready, steady, go: cooling off in a canal at the back of the house in Key Largo

ready, steady, go: cooling off in a canal at the house in Key Largo

guide Drew with my yellowtail

guide Drew with my yellowtail

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Christmas in Miami

Well, that’s another Christmas done and dusted. This is our second Christmas in Miami and it’s definitely growing on me. First and foremost it is wonderful to be together with family and friends. And secondly the food is really good! We kicked off the celebrations with a Christmas Eve dinner of splendid Louisiana-style shrimp and stone crab, a Miami delicacy. This was topped off with Key Lime pie, to which I am particularly partial. For our Christmas dinner, a more British menu was favoured – roast beef, roasties and Yorkshire puddings; followed by summer pudding. Both evenings we ate outdoors under the beautiful full moon.

I missed my mum and Judy (and Layla and Buddy) but being able to spend Christmas with both my children, our American family and Louise and Cameron helped to compensate for that.

this is the gang: (from left to right) Maggie, Alex, Louise, James, Jim (and Winston, the pug), Kiera, Cameron, Mike, Jody, Susannah and Peter. In the bottom picture, substitute me for Louise.

The gang: (from left to right) Maggie (James’ sister), Alex, Louise, James, Jim (James’ father) (and Winston, the pug), Kiera, Cameron, Mike (James’ uncle), Jody (James’ mother), Susannah (James’ aunt) and Peter. In the bottom picture, substitute me for Louise.

Christmas Eve dinner

Christmas Eve dinner

this is the response I got when I asked everyone to show me their claws!

this is the response I got when I asked everyone to show me their claws!

Did I mention we also had Christmas brunch? James and Jim are wearing their traditional Zulu headbands (umuqele).

Did I mention we also had Christmas brunch? James and Jim are wearing their traditional Zulu headbands (umuqele).

 

 

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USA Holiday December 2015

So far, winter in the northern hemisphere has been a doddle. We spent the first week of our holiday in Washington DC, which was having the warmest winter in years and now we are in Miami, which is hot and humid. Time is positively flying by; we’ve been in America for just over a week and already it’s starting to become a blur. So before it disappears completely, here are some snapshots of our trip so far.

You can’t visit DC without going to at least one museum. We went to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (my second visit there) as well as the National Museum of the American Indian. My advice to anyone visiting the Natural History Museum is to take a guided tour. I learnt so much during my first visit but this time we were with Alex who likes to whizz through museums at an alarming rate. I found the American Indian Museum quite disappointing.

A highlight of the week in DC was a night at the theatre. Kiera and James took us to see Matilda the Musical at the Kennedy Centre. It was very entertaining – I especially liked the set design; it felt like one was stepping straight into a Quentin Blake illustration and Roald Dahl’s somewhat eccentric imagination.

Alex and I at Washington Harbour, with the Kennedy Centre in the background.

Alex and I at Washington Harbour, with the Kennedy Centre in the background.

After a week in Washington, we flew down to Miami. We are staying in a beautiful house belonging to friends of James’ parents, together with Kiera and James and Kiera’s school friend, Louise and her husband, Cameron, who earlier this year left SA for Canada.

Louise and Cameron braaing in Miami

Louise and Cameron braaing in Miami

As I’ve mentioned before, our American family are the most generous and hospitable people you could ever wish to know. They arranged a wonderful paella party for Kiera’s 30th birthday and we certainly banqueted in style.

paella party

paella party

We also visited Miami’s South Beach and I even had a dip in the ocean.

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Little Havana, Miami

Little Havana, Miami

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

brunch in Coconut Grove

brunch in Coconut Grove

 

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Food Glorious Food (and other stuff)

Our spring weather has been veering all over the place with some pretty hair-raising thunderstorms thrown in for good measure; but unfortunately most of them have been full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. So the drought continues. Despite that, the garden has perked up, especially my new “meadow” garden which is full of indigenous grasses, self-sown wild flowers and weeds. I started the meadow by transplanting some grasses and plants from the veld. Of course the weeds moved in and where I’ve left them, the grasses have taken quite well and other wild flowers have sprung up. It looked a bit of a mess to start with but the section of the garden that I weeded has not done so well. It just goes to show that it’s better to work with nature, she knows best!

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I have a little booklet called The Wonders of Weeds by Diane Aldworth (a local expert on herbs) and when I return from my travels I’m going to start learning more about these plants. Needless to say, the birds love this patch of the garden and can be seen at all times of the day feasting on the seed heads and flowers. We should perhaps be doing the same, as Tama Matsuoka Wong (a professional forager) advises in her Ted Talk (here).

Well, the countdown has begun – only 2 more sleeps and the great trek north begins. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, we woke up this morning to the disturbing news that the South African rand had plummeted against major international currencies after President Jacob Zuma removed Nhlanhla Nene as the Finance Minister. The rand is now at its worst ever levels against the dollar – 1 US Dollar equals 15.00 South African Rand. It’s bloody annoying since we are going to be spending 6 weeks in America but there you are, we have a government that is financially irresponsible, unaccountable and determined to take the country into junk investment status. We just have to remain calm and carry on!

We have been in a flurry of activity; mostly shopping – stocking up my mum’s groceries, and dog and chicken and bird food. We had our last game of bridge earlier this week, followed by a splendid bridge club Christmas lunch. When country folk cater for a function, you can rest assured that you are going to get a mouth-watering array of treats (we take our home economics very seriously here). I must admit I did enjoy the Scotch eggs and mini Christmas puddings.

I came across this recipe for caramelised pineapple in a Woolworths advert and it went down a treat as part of the cheeseboard I prepared for the Christmas lunch last year (fig preserve is so passé!). I was asked to prepare it again this year and thought I should share it.

Honey-and-Brandy Caramelised Pineapple

Ingredients

  • 2 small pineapples, quartered with stems and skin intact
  • 100g butter
  • 200ml honey
  • 30ml brandy

In a large wok, heat the butter and honey. Add the pineapple quarters and caramelise on both cut sides. Drizzle with brandy and carefully light to flambé. Remove from the heat, allow to cool, cut into wedges and serve on the pineapple skin shell.

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Oh, and I won a prize!! – for the most improved bridge player (pat on the back for me).

I enjoy experimenting with alcoholic concoctions during the festive season. This is a local take on the traditional American eggnog, a delicious bourbon and milk cocktail which I first tasted when we spent Christmas in Miami three years ago. Since we shall be back in Miami this Christmas perhaps I can tempt the “in-laws” with this recipe.

Eggless Nog

Serves 2 – 4 depending on size of the glasses

Ingredients

  • 375ml (1½ cups) milk
  • ½ x 385g can condensed milk
  • 5ml (½ tsp) nutmeg
  • 5ml (½ tsp) ground cinnamon
  • 125ml (½ cup) Amarula liqueur

Bring the milk, condensed milk and spices to a gentle boil in a pan on the stove. Remove from the heat, add the liqueur and stir well. Serve warm with an extra sprinkling of spices; or cool completely and serve in tall glasses with lots of ice.

I’ve just finished reading Oliver Sacks’ memoir On the Move. I thoroughly enjoyed it; I love the way it is written and found his story interesting and uplifting. It also made me wish I had paid more attention when I was a psychology student at Natal University all those years ago. All the talk in the book about the brain (Sack’s was a neurologist) got me thinking about how much subliminal stimuli actually affect our decisions and how we should harness this.

On a trivial note, I recently came across a box full of old negatives (film) and, as I had nothing better to do, decided to scan them, save what I wanted and throw out the rest. As I was going through them, I found one of my brother’s girlfriend (now his wife) holding an enamel pot when we went on a camping trip in the Cape over 40 years ago. As I peered at the negative it dawned on me that I had bought an identical pot a few years ago for actually no rhyme or reason. At the time I didn’t need a pot, just something about it appealed to me, and eventually I found a use for it as a container for plants. Had images of that trip, which I had completely forgotten about, been stored away in my brain all these years and did they influence my decision to buy the pot?

Quite a few years ago, before I moved to the farm, I attended a dream mapping workshop run by the Fairy Godmother (yes, seriously). It involved rummaging through old magazines to find images that one was attracted to. After making a selection of images that appealed the most, each participant created a dream board. I stuck mine on my wardrobe door and forgot about it. At the time I had no idea that I would leave Durban to settle in the country after Alex left home, and certainly had no idea of how drastically my life would be changed by that move. But when I found a photo of my dream board recently, I was surprised to discover how many of the things I identified as dreams have been actualised.

dream board

As we get older one of our major concerns is to keep our brains active (we all live in dread of dementia, especially those of us whose parents have suffered from it) but we seldom deliberately expose our brains to beauty and positive stimulation. Travel is, for me, one of the best means of doing this – new sights, sounds, smells, tastes. And when you return home, all is fresh and new again, and stored away in the brain are millions of moments that will affect your future decisions without you even knowing it.

In the words of Yoko Ono:

You may think I’m small, but I have a universe inside my mind.

things that lift my spirits

(top) Blueberry Hill; (bottom left) arum lilies; (bottom right) grade r’s dancing at the school Christmas party

I’ve made friends with my neighbour’s two donkeys – they are easily won over with carrots.

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(bottom left) our resident baby bushbuck; (bottom right) baby jackal spotted near our entrance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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