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

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Growin’ in the Wind (Autumn 2017)

When I moved from subtropical Durban (where I lived for most of my adult life) to the temperate climes of Nottingham Road, I began to experience and appreciate, for the first time, the cyclical nature of seasons. Durban has 2 seasons – summer and winter and the changes from one to the other are not as palpable as they are here. I love the in-between seasons, especially now in mid-autumn as summer has her last hurrah while winter waits in the wings.

Typically autumn in the garden is a time for slowing up. Yes, there is a bit of a rush to get winter veggies in before it’s too late – end of April seems to be the cut-off point for planting the following; cabbage, cauli, broccoli, pak choi, mizuna, tatsoi, parsnips, turnips and onions. And the spring veggies like broad beans, peas and garlic also have to go in and get a head start before the first frost, which is usually at the beginning of May. But other than that it’s a case of getting beds ready for spring by composting and mulching and generally tidying up.

This autumn however, I have the added pressure of a visit to my garden organised by a group called the Midlands Barter Markets. The visit, on the 29th April, has been advertised as a Food Garden visit but I’m guessing that the rest of the garden will be included. So, as you can imagine I’ve been quite a busy little bee trying to get it all presentable. If you are in the area, do come and visit, it’s not exclusively for members of this group and I could do with some moral support!

John, a friend who delivers our firewood, helped Peter collect offcuts from the local timber yard which Kho then made into these wonderful, rather wonky new strawberry beds in the orchard.

Buddy investigates

Our 2 raised beds in the allotment have produced an abundance of mixed lettuce and salad greens, as well as chillies, spinach and basil. This year, our basil, grown from heirloom seeds, has been fantastic. We have a plentiful supply of homemade basil pesto, basil infused olive oil (with added homegrown chilli and garlic) as well as frozen cubes of basil. And it is still going strong. The chillies, which Peter propagated from seed, have also done exceptionally well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

this giant kale just keeps on going

purple sprouting broccoli is delicious raw in salads

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the granadilla vine is dripping with fruit

 

 

 

 

 

 

the leonotis leonurus is starting to flower, a sure sign of autumn

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

If I Ruled the World

There are certain times in our lives when we reach a crossroads, more often than not precipitated by having to deal with hard reality. And there’s nothing quite like the hard reality of death to cause the ground beneath our feet to tilt and for us stumble head first into the BIG issues. 15 years ago I faced my own mortality when I developed peritonitis after an operation. That same year I had a front row seat at my father’s death and the 20 year old son of a close family friend died. I wrote about this in Windmills of your Mind  so suffice to say that it was a life-changing experience. Facing death tends to focus one’s attention on issues like the meaning of life and one’s purpose in the grand scheme of thing. I had, over the years, developed an ability to block out the negative – a keep calm and carry on sort of approach. But the deaths of loved ones and becoming aware of my own mortality made me realise that I wanted to live a more meaningful life, to be more engaged and not simply go through the motions.

Not long after our family’s annus horribilis, I attended a course based on the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. This book opened my eyes to the possibility of living a more creative life. Prior to this I often felt that I was doing and being what I thought I should because I didn’t have the confidence to express what I wanted. There have been other books and authors who have helped along the way but Julia Cameron got the ball rolling and helped me to start putting into motion a plan that would eventually lead me here, doing what I love and feeling fairly fulfilled (not fully fulfilled because I still procrastinate terribly, drink too much and blob out in front of the telly!).

The course was run by a lovely woman, Iona, who also did readings based on the idea of colour mirrors – The system of “Colour Mirrors uses potent and powerful coloured oils and essences to help you understand your life, your patterns of behaviour and your relationships. Colour can bring clarity into every aspect of your life: relationships, jobs, careers, healing, health issues, energy blocks, gifts and potential, spiritual connection and personal growth”. I went for a session with her (because I thought I should!) but I was sceptical about the process and dismissed it as all too new agey for me. Recently however, when I was moving personal stuff into my sanctuary, I came across a copy of Iona’s notes (and yes, I’m aware of the irony that I’ve hung onto it, despite my cynicism). Among other observations, she writes that I have a strong feeling for the community and that this is my life purpose. She also comments that I had to learn to trust myself which I now, with hindsight, see as quite pertinent.

Let me take a step back here – I got married when I was 20 years old to Peter, who was 10 years my senior. He had the most intriguing way of seeing the world and introduced me to wonderful, exciting and tough life experiences. I had always known that I wanted to live a different life, I just wasn’t able to articulate what that meant other than in terms of what I didn’t want, which a life of domesticity and convention. Peter offered a different life but it was his life that I stepped into and I’ve always believed that, because I was so young, I never quite developed fully as an individual with my own ideas. I’m just grateful that Peter was such a generous and enlightened mentor.

When I moved to the farm 7 years ago I was ready to start living on my terms, I just had to find them. I stepped out of my comfort zone and basically started to trust myself. I admit it all became a little “me, me, me” but that was what I needed to become my own person. It was a few years before I got involved with the Curry’s Post Educational Trust and, at first, I again questioned whether this was something that I wanted to do or something that I thought I ought to do. Was it white guilt; did I feel an obligation to give back because of my privilege? I was reluctant to commit to something unless it was what I really wanted to do. As callous as it may sound, I don’t want to do good just because I think I should.

What I’ve come to realise though is that I get a similar sort of satisfaction from being involved in community work as I did from being a mother. As the media master of self help, Dr Phil, once said, “No one does anything unless they get something out of it” or words to that effect. Although I don’t enjoy the fundraising side of my work for the Trust (meeting deadlines, writing proposals and reports and keeping records – ugh, I hate admin), it is hugely satisfying when a budget is approved. But what I find most fulfilling is helping others grow and writing this post has been an eye-opener for me because it’s dawned on me that I’ve come full circle. Instead of heading off in other directions in my quest to be my own person, I’ve come back to my roots as it were and I realise that I’ve always followed my interests, I just wasn’t paying attention.

I started my working life as a pre-primary school teacher, became a volunteer teacher at a rural primary school in Zululand, worked for a non-profit educational organisation as a resource centre co-ordinator, was principal of an educare centre, and developed training outreach programmes for teachers and community-based organisations. I wrote about this in  Gimme Hope Joanna. Education and community outreach have always been important to me.

With all that said, I’ve finally come to the point of this post! I’m going to create a regular post called If I Ruled The World for stories about the Trust, the school, the outreach programme and anything else related to education and community development. Sometimes you just have to put stuff out there in the hope that it does actually make a difference. Thanks for reading.

If I ruled the world
Every day would be the first day of spring
Every heart would have a new song to sing
And we’d sing of the joy every morning would bring

If I ruled the world
Every man would be as free as a bird
Every voice would be a voice to be heard
Take my word we would treasure each day that occurred

My world would be a beautiful place
Where we would weave such wonderful dreams
My world would wear a smile on its face
Like the man in the moon has when the moon beams

If I ruled the world
Every man would say the world was his friend
There’d be happiness that no man could end
No my friend, not if I ruled the world
Every head would be held up high
There’d be sunshine in everyone’s sky
If the day ever dawned when I ruled the world

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment