Simple Life 5

Picking up where I left off in December, I have recently discovered the simple pleasure of having a me space.

Since Kiera and Alex had already left home when we moved to the farm, their bedrooms here never really had the chance to fully become theirs. Unlike their bedrooms in our Durban family home which were very much geared to their individual tastes. Because they only visit here, there is no longer a need for them to have a bedroom of their own. Kiera’s beautiful cobalt blue bedroom under the thatch roof upstairs was the first to undergo a name change when it became the guest room. Alex’s room, downstairs, took longer to transform as he would visit us more frequently but since he left for America, I decided the time had come to make better use of his room.

I have spent the past couple of weeks reorganising it and turning it into a sanctuary for me; a place where I can retreat, close the door and be undisturbed. It’s a small room but I’ve managed to squeeze in a rather large bookcase and all my paraphernalia, gathered from the four corners of the house. It has taken on a sort of nest or pod–like feel as I’m literally surrounded by all my favourite things. This is where I go to write, read, edit photos, listen to music, daydream, plan (on my trusty flip chart) and meditate – cocooned in books and pictures. And for some reason, just having this space has inspired me to declutter, be better organised and more focussed on things that I enjoy doing – wish I had done this sooner.

I haven’t posted pictures of my garden for a while, so here goes.


We’ve had masses of rain recently and the garden is so lush and green and mossy.


afternoon light in our sitting room

afternoon light in our sitting room




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In December last year I wrote a post (Happy Together) about the online permaculture course that I had just completed. At the end of the course we were challenged to take what we had learned, do something with it and post it on the course’s Facebook page. I decided to focus on the permaculture principle “Integrate rather than Segregate” and I shared my response to the challenge (which was about volunteering at a local farm school) on my blog. What I didn’t mention in my post was that the challenge was called the 10/10/100 Challenge; the reason being that  “Participants [were] challenged to bring their course experience into the world with something of value within 10 days of the course, 10 hours of work and no more than $100 of the participants currency (or relative value)”.

After reading my blog a very generous person, who wishes to remain anonymous, contacted me out of the blue to say that he wished to donate R10,000 to the Educational Trust that I sit on to “bring some happiness” to the children of the Curry’s Post Primary School.  I was quite overwhelmed by this act of kindness and it took several days for it to sink in – that someone would respond in such a positive way to my blog was mind-blowing and hugely gratifying.

It took a while for the dust to settle before I saw the “meaningful coincidence” between the amount donated and the title of the challenge, namely that 10 x 10 x 100 = 10,000. Now, how’s that for synchronicity? Carl Jung first explained synchronicity as events that are “meaningful coincidences” if they occur with no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related. Jung related these meaningful coincidences to the “collective unconscious”.  I’ve always liked the idea that we’re more connected to each other than we think.

At a Trust meeting earlier this week, I was given full discretion in deciding how to spend the money and after much consideration I’ve decided to use it to help start a school marimba band! I reckon that should bring a lot of happiness, not only to the children of Curry’s Post but also the community and I hope our anonymous benefactor (who I know has a love of music) will approve. Siyabonga kakhulu.

P.S. I know nothing about marimba bands and any advice on the matter would be gratefully received.

let's get this party started - impromptu performance at end of year school party

let’s get this party started – impromptu performance at the end-of-year school party


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I prefer to steer clear of confrontation. When Peter and I were younger, our social circle included academics, activists, unionists and ngo workers and there were many times when heated political debates raged around our dining room table. I used to find it quite disconcerting how intense people could become defending one position or another and since I seldom got a word in edgeways in those days (I am an introvert after all!), more often than not I would retreat into the kitchen to feed the firebrands so that, for a short time while mouths were full of food, peace could be be restored.

And now we have Trump. His regime has certainly brought out some very strong opinions and insults are flying left, right and centre (so to speak). I find it quite disturbing that someone in a democratic leadership position in this day and age should be so antagonistic and divisive. It seems to bring us all into such a negative, hateful space. My last post, Imagine, was written from a place of extreme grumpiness in reaction to stuff I was reading about Trump on Facebook. After I wrote it, I thought of when I was a child and my mother would tell me to ignore my brother when he was teasing me. “Don’t give him the satisfaction of knowing that he’s getting to you,” she would advise. Perhaps this is a better way to deal with armchair, social media pontificators.

Since moving to the country I’ve also learned that:

It’s possible to entertain contradictory ideas – to see what it feels like to inhabit them. When different ideas seem incompatible, don’t rush to reconcile them or choose between them if the choice isn’t obvious. Be hospitable to them as you would to different guests at a party.

Barbara Ann Kipfer

However, I do find it difficult not to bridle at the extreme conservatism of Trump and his supporters. I also believe that:

To sin by silence, when we should protest,
Makes cowards out of men. The human race
Has climbed on protest. Had no voice been raised
Against injustice, ignorance, and lust,
The inquisition yet would serve the law,
And guillotines decide our least disputes.
The few who dare, must speak and speak again
To right the wrongs of many. Speech, thank God,
No vested power in this great day and land
Can gag or throttle. Press and voice may cry
Loud disapproval of existing ills;
May criticise oppression and condemn
The lawlessness of wealth-protecting laws
That let the children and childbearers toil
To purchase ease for idle millionaires.

Protest by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (November 5, 1850–October 30, 1919), from her 1914 book Poems of Problems written at the peak of the Women’s Suffrage movement and just as WWI was about to erupt. Hear Amanda Palmer read the poem here

I am so proud, and envious, of my daughter and her husband for joining in the Women’s March in Washington, DC. I would love to have been there, to experience the coming together of so many people, united despite their diversity. I think it exceeded even their wildest dreams – more than 500,000 people in DC, more than 3 million people worldwide.

This, to me, is what democracy is all about – the right to protest, to make one’s voice heard. It is such a fundamental right that I can’t understand why some of us who have it, disparage it.

I remember protesting against the apartheid regime when I was a student at the University of Natal, lead by Fr Michael Lapsley (the university chaplain) before he was expelled from the country. He later became a member of the ANC and a chaplain to the organisation in exile. In 1990, three months after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, he was sent a letter bomb by the Civil Cooperation Bureau (CCB), a covert death squad of the apartheid security forces. He lost both hands and the sight in one eye in the blast, and was seriously burnt. (The CCB was also responsible for the assassination in 1989 of David Webster, a colleague of Peter’s and a friend.) While protesters remained on the campus we were safe but anyone who marched beyond the gates was arrested and held in detention without trial.

That was the late 70’s. In 1985 the first State of Emergency was imposed in South Africa, the year that Kiera was born. By then Peter had left academia to establish a rural development non government organisation (ngo) based on the University of Natal campus and I was working for the Career Information Centre, an ngo based in the Ecumenical Centre alongside anti-apartheid organisations such as Diakonia, Black Sash, Legal Resource Centre and End Conscription Campaign. The day that the State of Emergency was declared casspirs actually rolled down St Andrews Street, parked in front of the Ecumenical Centre and the army took over the building. It was quite scary at the time – a lot of activists were rounded up and taken away. Eventually we were allowed back in and work resumed.

When Kiera was 3 years old, I left CIC to run the Educare and Training Centre at Natal University. By then things were really hotting up politically, with KwaZulu-Natal being a particularly violent province as ANC and Inkhatha Freedom Party supporters frequently clashed with each other. I remember one incident when I really feared for my life. The second State of Emergency had been imposed and I had been asked to take a foreign TV news crew to visit Groutville, a township just north of Durban and the home of Albert Luthuli. We got there fairly late in the afternoon and already I was twitchy because apart from there being a State of Emergency curfew, it really was not safe to be out after dark as Groutville had been the scene of some very bloody clashes. At the time we were working with the Groutville Development Committee to establish and support educare centre / crèches in the area and I had been asked to introduce the news team to community leaders so that they could be interviewed. It took ages for the interviews to take place, the cameras were rolling as the sun was setting and all I could see in the distance, through the haze of smoke as evening fires were being lit, were the casspirs moving in. It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. Finally I managed to persuade the news crew that it really was not safe for us to be there and we got out in, what I felt, was the nick of time. That evening, after a few drinks around our dining room table with the crew and adrenalin pumping, I decided that the life of a foreign correspondent in conflict areas was for me. I never did, of course, follow that path but The Year of Living Dangerously became my favourite movie for a long time after.

By the late 80’s and early 90’s the country had reached boiling point.

One afternoon, the police gave chase to a group of UN students who had gone on a march in protest against the State of Emergency. Despite being on university property, the police open fire with teargas. In panic the students scattered in all directions, some of them in the direction of the Educare Centre. No problem to the police, they simply fired teargas into the playground. Fortunately, we had been warned that the police were chasing the students towards us and we were busy shepherding all the children indoors when this happened. It was pandemonium and very frightening for all concerned.

But one didn’t give up; no matter how bad things were, the activists kept going, civil society kept mobilising and, in the end, the apartheid regime was brought down. Protest is not an end in itself, it is the catalyst for change – I’m keeping fingers crossed.

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I don’t “do” politics – generally speaking I’m inclined to think that most politicians are morally corrupt and self-serving. However I’m not sure that anarchy (as in the absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual) would be a desirable substitute. So we’re stuck with them and the best I can do is apply my ostrich approach to them as much as possible. Unfortunately Peter likes to keep abreast of local and global politics; actually he’s an avid political commentator which makes it difficult for me to completely ignore what is happening at a political level.

Of course I care about the future of the world, I care about the oppressed and disadvantaged; and I care about the environment. Unfortunately, all too often, it is left in the hands of politicians to make decisions concerning these issues and they haven’t really done a good job up to now, in my opinion anyway. Of course there are good people in politics – those that serve their constituents and have ideals of a better world. They just don’t seem to make it to the top. Except for Mandela, I can’t think of any leader of a country that I admire.

Normally I wouldn’t pay too much attention to the issue of Brexit or the election of Trump, preferring to think that this too shall pass or, at the very least, looking for some positives in the situation. However there have been so many posts on social media that, to be perfectly honest, have really got up my nose. The one that keeps coming up in response to both Brexit and Trump (from politically incorrect right wingers I presume) is that, and I quote, the politically correct left had it coming. Really!?

The general consensus among political scientists is that “left wing” includes liberals, progressives, socialists and communists, and the “right wing” includes conservatives, traditionalists, reactionaries and fascists.

If I had to place myself on a political spectrum I would definitely be on the left. I’m appalled by racism, sexism, discrimation, exclusivity, narrow mindedness, conservatism, exploitation and monopoly capital. The right wing just doesn’t do it for me.

As far as political correctness goes, I would think that it is a matter of common human decency to avoid “forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.” Yes, there will always be idiots who take things to the extreme, but they are in the minority and generally those of us who are politically correct are simply trying not to cause harm to others.

I therefore have to nail my colours to the mast and proclaim loud and clear that I am a politically correct leftie and proud of it. And Trump gives me the creeps – just saying!

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Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes

Is it just me or are you also surprised to find that we’re more than half way through January already? 2017 shot across the starting line like Lance Armstrong on EPO (I’ve just watched The Program so that’s the image that springs to mind)!

Alex arrived home on the 4th of January and left for Miami on the 10th. It was a blur of admin – his car was sold, flight booked, forex bought, bank account cancelled and laundry done (lots and lots of laundry). We barely had time to relax and enjoy his company before he was off. However we did find time to have a birthday tea with my mum who turned 93. It was bittersweet though because both of them confided in me that they had doubts of ever seeing each other again and that’s tough.


Alex really is a very lucky young man. Kiera’s in-laws, Jim and Jody, live in Miami and very kindly met him at the airport and put him up for his first night. The next day Jody sorted a phone out for him and took him to the apartment that his company has provided for the first month. That evening Kiera flew down to spend a few days with him before he started work on the 16th. She helped him get a social security number and open a bank account. Before Kiera arrived, Alex went to buy some groceries at a nearby supermarket. He managed to get a few odds and ends but gave up when he reached the salt and pepper – the choice was just too overwhelming. If he was bewildered by the array of condiments, I dread to think how he’s going cope when he gets to choosing actual food.

I didn’t really have much time to mope after Alex left as thankfully my social diary was, for once, quite full and visits from friends kept me from brooding. Kiera’s friend, Louise, her mum, Jane, and baby Emily came for lunch and later in the day, Louise phoned Kiera (using whatsapp). It was quite a surreal experience – Louise (who lives in Toronto but was visiting her parents in Durban) at the farm with us talking to Kiera and Alex, who were together in Miami. As you said Louise “The world is small but still too big.”

I want one!

I want one!










The next day my friend Ashley, a keen photographer, came for tea with her daughter who enjoys swimming in our little pool, despite the rather chilly water. Layla, our labbie, gets highly excited when anyone gets in the pool – she jumps in and tries to rescue them. However Samantha was unfazed and Layla had the time of her life playing in the water with her. Ashley took this magical photo of the two of them.


15 years ago I bought a book called Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. As she writes in the Foreword, “This book is organised as a walk through the year, beginning on New Years Day.” Recently I’ve started rereading it, one day at a time, for inspiration. This morning, January 20th, she quotes Russell H Conwell:

Your diamonds are not in far distant mountains or in yonder seas; they are in your own backyard, if you but dig for them.

When I read that I thought of Ashley’s picture, and it struck me that I really do have diamonds in my backyard.

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Welcome to My Yammy

You’re a good mother – you give up your job to be a stay-at-home mum; you devote yourself to family life; you nurture them and help them grow; they give you sleepless nights and grey hair; and what’s the thanks you get? At the first chance, they bugger off! First your only daughter takes off for China and then, to add insult to injury, she marries an American and immigrates to the States. Then your only son, your baby, goes to the Cape to study. What does he do when he qualifies? He gets a job in Miami, that’s what. Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted for both of them. I suppose it’s what we always wanted for them, to spread their wings and experience the world. But I’m just not sure that it’s what I wanted for me!

At the end of 2016 Alex qualified as a chartered accountant. Instead of staying on in SA, he decided to apply for jobs in America to get some international experience under his belt. He accepted a job in Miami and is due to start in mid-January. It’s been hard, I will not lie and even as I write this I’m tearing up – not because I don’t want him to go but because, although he left home 7 years ago (4 year degree at Stellies and 3 year articles in Cape Town), I know that this is his real turning point, and it’s mine too.

I had a taste of things to come this Christmas when Alex was unable to make it home because he had to go for his visa interview in Cape Town on the 3rd January. This was the first Christmas since we became parents that we spent it without either one of our children and it was difficult. When I invited Judy to spend Christmas with us I did warn her that I was going to be pretty miserable and pretty miserable I was too. It didn’t help that I had a tummy bug and was unable to consume as much prosecco as I would’ve liked. I think what distressed me the most was that Alex told me he would be spending Christmas on his own. Fortunately he heeded my pleas not to be alone and accepted an invitation to spend the day with a friend and his family.

Christmas morning - I changed for lunch and then got back into my jammies

Christmas morning – I changed for lunch and then got back into my jammies

Although I wouldn’t for second wish that my children (or I) had not gone in the directions that we have, I can’t help but be envious of those families that have remained in close proximity, at least on the same continent (for fuck’s sake).

Okay, if I have to be honest, my children’s adventures have provided me with wonderful opportunities to fulfil my own travel dreams. I always wanted to visit China – and I got the chance to do that when Kiera was working there. I’ve had amazing experiences and fabulous trips to Thailand, America, the Bahamas and the Cape, thanks to Kiera and Alex, so I really can’t complain.

But I really hate that I only get glimpses into their lives now, that I see everything from a distance. I wasn’t there when Kiera and James got married, I missed her graduation, I haven’t spent Alex’s birthday with him since he left home and now Kiera and James have moved into their first house and I’m not there to help. To top it all, this was the first Christmas without either of the children.

I’m envious of people whose lives seem to have run the course of a continuum. More often than not, they have a hometown, old school friends with whom they keep in regular contact and children and / or family who live nearby. They may not be entirely comfortable with who they are and what they do but they’ve got there step by step and the human condition plays out within this continuity. What I covet is the lack of bewilderment at finding themselves where they are at any given time – they are where they are meant to be.

My life, on the other hand, feels so disjointed, like I’ve lived in parcels of time, as one person morphing into another, time and again. I look back and I can’t see the connections. I’ve reached my late 50’s and I still have no clear idea who I am or how I got here. The problem is that I’m always aspiring to be somebody else instead of coming to terms with the reality of who I am and what I do.

I remember telling my daughter, when we still lived in Durban, that when I moved to the farm I was going to start a business  propagating and potting plants in “junk” containers. She asked if I had already started collecting suitable containers or propagating any plants. When I replied that I was waiting until I moved to the country, she expressed doubt about my commitment to the idea. “If that is what you really want to do, you would’ve started on it already” she said. And she was right; I didn’t make any effort to get my potted junk idea off the ground.

I think it has finally sunk in that instead of trying to find myself, I should be trying to accept myself. I’m not lost, I’ve been here all along, but I haven’t given myself enough credit. It was not very fashionable to describe myself as a fulltime mom; I never regarded being a mother as something one could put on one’s resume. However, I now realise that most of my decisions are based first and foremost on the fact that I am a mother and that I need to value that. Spending time with my children is the most important thing I do – my life therefore has to allow for that.

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Simple Life 4

(Couldn’t resist this video – lip syncing obviously not their forte!)

I thought posting one simple pleasure a week would be a doddle. After all, there is so much in life to enjoy – sunshine for a start, or rain or everything else in Cherry Blossom Lane. However, it’s not as easy as it may seem. The world is teeming with simple pleasures but pinpointing them is more complicated. Why? Because we take so many of them for granted and/or we just don’t identify them as simple pleasures.

Just squeaking into the 4th week is the simple pleasure of getting into bed and having sheets that make you want to sing “it’s good and clean and fresh, tra la la”. I find something very comforting about crisp, clean linen.

Since we started cutting back on our consumption of water earlier this year, our bedding doesn’t get changed as frequently as it did before. I used to be quite fastidious about changing the sheets every week but if needs must, standards must fall. Which makes the pleasure of climbing into a bed newly made with freshly laundered sheets all the more sweeter.

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