Category Archives: Family

A Time and Place

From left my sister with Uncle Les, Granny Sybil and me with Dad… somewhere in Natal, South Africa…

Today we lost my Uncle Leslie to cancer. Thankfully he passed peacefully in his sleep with his loving, steadfast wife by his side.

He’s my dad’s younger brother, only 62 when he passed.

Mom, Dad, my sister and I have had the rare opportunity to pause from life’s business and spend the day together. A few tears, a few laughs and lots of remembering. Remembering a time when we got to be together as extended family, living close by to each other and sharing the every day stuff. We all took that for granted. But how could we know that life’s journey would separate our family, putting oceans and thousands of miles between us.

This is not the first time we have had to grieve from afar. Feeling so helpless. Not able to be practical support and physical comfort for loved ones “on the ground” dealing with all the logistics that go with a fellow human passing on.

So today I am reminded again of just how blessed I am to have such an incredible family made up of strong, loyal, resilient and wonderfully loving individuals. Even though the miles have separated us for 20 years or so now, I have a wealth of rich, warm memories to draw on. Time spent in magical places with these humans I get to call family…. so utterly grateful.

Leslie was not a father and he was sometimes an awkward uncle – not sure what to make of his older brother’s crazy daughters! But he was always kind. I saw him as a good husband to his wife and a doting son to my grandmother. He had that Gill generosity, grit and determination – always willing to help, lending practical support in any way he could. A little rough around the edges maybe but pretty marshmallow on the inside.

Rest in peace, Uncle Les… you are missed.

The world is on its head…. and I made apple pie

The last 10 days – what is happening?! As a lovely new friend said to me ” the world is on its head”…. I couldn’t agree more and I am not sure my heart can take much more. And I am not even directly affected by what’s been going on! Well, I suppose calling off the May adventure to radio collar elephants in Mozambique based on the catastrophic event that was Cyclone Idai would be a direct effect… more like an inconvenience compared to the level of trauma for those affected by the flooding. But I have been absolutely consumed by what this level of natural disaster has meant for the people in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. The helplessness has set in…

(For those of you following my preparations for May’s Journey with Purpose, I will have more specific detail soon of whether we will postpone our journey till later in the year?)

While people were dying in southern Africa from the worst tropical cyclone on record, people were dying in mosques in Christchurch at the hands of a mad man… and I am sure that other people have died in other places around the world in the last 10 days…. I recently read murder statistics out of South Africa – about 65 people a day? I am not sure where I am going with this as it all seems so overwhelming and hopeless.

But maybe that is what I am trying say here…. there is hope. There is always hope even in the seemingly small actions of individuals…. a wise, old friend just posted something along those lines on Facebook. And I thinks its true…. don’t give in to the despair from the pain you see around you. Just love. Love is an action and we can show it in many, many seemingly insignificant ways. I think even sending love out into the universe will help. Perhaps if you can’t donate money to a relief effort or the stuff of every day means you aren’t able to physically make it a scheduled vigil just send out those loving vibes. Right?! I hope it is so.

One thing I have been hit round the heart with over the last week is the place of gratitude. While I am not able to be a direct help to those in desperate need… waiting in the tops of trees for days to be rescued…. I am able to be very mindful of all that I have been given. I am able to be thankful for waking up in a warm bed in a dry home. To shower with hot water, use a flush toilet in my bathroom before a healthy breakfast, a decent cup of coffee then into the car that takes me to a good job. This job makes me able to pay for the upkeep on the car and that decent cup of coffee. And so on and so on…. I have the luxury of time to read, write and plan my next travel adventure. Yes, some of this came from hard work but really mostly just grace from being born into the place, time and family I was. Maybe if I am grateful, so grateful and know in my heart that the privilege I experience is not my entitlement… maybe that can make a little difference in the world?

And so I made apple pie… to share with my incredible Mom and Dad… another privilege I have is a loving, close family. Dad prepped the apples and whipped the cream. Mom looked over my shoulder while I had a go at Granny Barbara’s pastry recipe (haven’t had enough practice with this one yet). I tried to be in each moment of this process so utterly thankful for each part of this particular Sunday morning in Auckland. Not to make light or gloss over what has happened in the last 10 days but choosing to appreciate each moment of my NOW.

A little reflection on the season just been

The baubles and tinsel have been carefully packed away for another year.  The pantry is clear of all those little indulgences.  Boxing Day sales have been and gone.  Even the fireworks and the countdowns and the resolutions have been ticked off.

Now the balmy days of summer stretch ahead.  This time of year toys with me.  Do I give into moments soaking up the sun, afternoon naps, sipping cool drinks while curled up with a good book and totally relish no responsibilities, deadlines, timetables, etc.?  Or do I allow the New Year’s rejuvenation to reinvigorate and work, plan, list, do for the coming months?  This year I opted for ticking off a to do list and relishing in a sense of productiveness.

But right this moment I pause to reflect on yet another festive season gone by.  What does is all mean really?  What is the point?

I pause in gratitude for the safe, beautiful place I live.  A place where a festive season held no loss, no tragedy, no hate, no violence.  For me it held family, belonging, blessings, love and the gift of hope for our futures.

I so appreciate being able to get wrapped up in the Christmas “hype” but still not allowing it to be in a superficial way.  But rather in a way that celebrates the blessings me and my family have been gracefully given.

Here are a couple of blessings – one for Christmas and one for the New Year – that speak to me about the truth of this season:

I thank my sister for sharing the Christmas blessing with me from Lion Book of 1000 Prayers for Children by Lois Rock (I could not find an author for the New Year blessing)
I thank my sister for sharing the Christmas blessing with me from Lion Book of 1000 Prayers for Children by Lois Rock (I could not find an author for the New Year blessing).  The photos in the background are mine – one sunset and one sunrise in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

Even though we are 16 days into 2015, I wish all humanity a blessed year ahead.

Menus and Playlists

Only a few more sleeps until the Big Day.  Time to set the mood. Truth be told I have been setting the mood with my Christmas playlist for the last month or so.

My playlist varies a little year to year but my absolute favourite that always takes centre stage is any Christmas song by Bing Crosby (he reminds me of my Grandad a lot).  Then there is Harry Connick Jr’s What a Night! A Christmas Album and, of course, Michael Bublé’s Christmas – you cannot go wrong!

HCJ

This year’s find is definitely Christmas at Downton Abbey – old school and fabulous!  A highlight being Carson reciting ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Christmas-at-Downton-Abbey

 

Now the music is sorted, you can’t go past a good advent calendar. Jacqui Lawson creates the most spectacular electronic advent calendar each year…. a must have for me.  I love how interactive it is – making snowflakes, decorating the tree, arranging flowers, wrapping gifts for under the tree – all to wonderful Christmas music.  A fabulous replacement gift instead of sending Christmas cards.

And then, of course, there is the menu.  Us girls tend to start talking menus around the time we decorate at the beginning of December. These days our plan is our side of the family at Mom and Dad’s on Christmas Eve and then my sister and her hubbie and the nephews join my brother in law’s family Christmas Day.  So we aim to keep things simple and only do one cook up so the leftovers take us through the next few days.

Kitchen day is therefore Christmas Eve.  Our menu is all about the meat, we are South African after all.  That definitely means one cut of meat needs to be barbecued – that will be the lamb this year.  Mom will have a secret recipe herb rub I could never divulge.  I will have a go at brining turkey breast before adding a herb butter wrapping it in bacon and maple syrup and cooking.  This is our take on a Donna Hay recipe.  And finally we will glaze a gammon with plum and chilli.  The accompaniments will be salads and baby potatoes using all the beautiful fresh produce we are so blessed to have access to here in NZ.  Dessert is my take on an I Quit Sugar For Life recipe – sugar free individual lemon meringue pies in jars.

The lemon meringue pie recipe is in this book
The lemon meringue pie recipe is in this book

We will try and fit in our homemade Christmas Pud and Vanilla Custard for a quiet Christmas Day dinner or perhaps wait till Boxing Day.

I haven’t covered the Christmas mince pies, gingerbread men or the summer fruits sangria we will also indulge in – three days of complete excess really.  Having experienced Christmas times the complete opposite of this – alone and with no means for a feast – I am so incredibly grateful for all we have been given to enjoy.

I wish you happy planning and anticipation – it is half the fun!

Holiday Rituals Part 2

Part 2 of my holiday rituals is all about decorating and surrounding us with all things Christmas.  This process for me starts in about September and settling on a theme for the year.  This could be based around a colour, a set of colours, a piece of art, or really anything that inspires me.

This year’s theme actually occurred to me last Christmas and the idea of using rustic elements – twigs, twine, wood, glass and metal.  It morphed over time into more of a birds/owls and woodland theme based on a pack of paper napkins I found.

My vision board for this year
My vision board for this year

So November is prep month – checking what I already have in the Christmas boxes, a list of what I might need to buy and, of course, how I can get my craft on.

I bought a number of birds of different kinds from all sorts of different stores.  Some to hang on the tree, some to place about the place with a bird house and a lovely candle holder to use as a centre piece.

For the crafty bits, I bought some unbleached calico and hessian as well as iron on sheets for fabric.  I made a couple of cushions, place mats and some wall art using these bits and pieces.

Decorating day is always the first weekend in December.  Although this year the 1st of December was a Monday so I went with Sunday, 30 November.  This seems a good time to start our Advent.

And this is a taste of what I came up with this year.

A little snapshot of Christmas 2014
A little snapshot of Christmas 2014

It’s all about trees, owls, other woodland creatures, reds, greens, gold, silver and white…. paying homage to European winters and woodlands, berries and snow.

Happy Holidays!

Holiday Rituals Part 1

Wow! A crazy three or so weeks has flown by wrapping up all things work related for 2014.  And now a lady of leisure, I can concentrate on why this is my favourite time of the year.  I do have some silly rituals, but they are dear to me.

The first is all about the wacky genius of Tim Burton.  This is the time of the year when I get out all my favourite Tim Burton classics and rewatch.  It all starts at Halloween with The Nightmare Before Christmas.  Jack Skellington’s need to infect Halloween Town with the Christmas spirit is just a wonderful tale.

The_nightmare_before_christmas_poster

Now I have to mention here that when it comes to trick or treating and kids wandering the neighbourhood door knocking and begging for candy, I morph into the Halloween Grinch.  So some parts of Halloween I can certainly do without.  But Tim Burton’s imagery captures my imagination at this mystical time of year.

So The Nightmare Before Christmas is quickly chased by Corpse Bride, Beetlejuice and Dark Shadows.  I also love Coraline which has a Tim Burtonish flavour but is actually a movie from the director of Nightmare.

CoralineDVDcorpse-bride-desktop-wallpaper

All this revisiting movies I love puts me in the mood for the holiday season to come.

At tree decorating time, I celebrate a day of hard out Christmas-ifying of the house by watching Holiday Inn.  You know, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and that famous little song White Christmas?

HolidayInn_GBmusicwhitechristmas

Then Christmas Eve means it must be time for White Christmas the movie – Bing Crosby and Rosemarie Clooney and a whole lot of Irving Berlin classics…. Magical!  And finally, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – the Disney version with Jim Carey.  Some say scary, I say classic Dickens (one of my most favourite authors).

christmas-carol-poszter

And that about rounds up Holiday Rituals Part 1 – watching old movies.  This about sums it up for me:

tim-burton-tim-burton-10332376-1280-800

Remembering Granny Sybil

It is my favourite time of year.  Spring time in the Southern Hemisphere.  It is the time when I miss Africa most.  For me nothing quite compares to the sights, smells and sounds of spring on the Highveld of South Africa or in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.  Beautiful lilac Jacaranda blossom, the call of the Woodland Kingfishers returning south for the season and the sweet, wobbly newborn antelope, zebra and wildebeest….. pure magic!

Still my favourite time of here too as we take time for preparations for the coming festivities.  It is a time of remembrance for me and keeping time honoured family traditions and rituals.

So Labour weekend this year once again saw the kitchen abuzz at Mom and Dad’s place.  Out come all Granny Sybil’s recipes and the mixing, mincing and endless stirring begins.  On the to do list the lemon curd, the Christmas fruit mince and, of course, the brandy laced Christmas pudding.  All exceptionally delicious!  And need I say that the no sugar way of life has no place at this time…. hmmm.

Granny Sybil was my paternal grandmother.  A single mother bringing up her two sons on the outskirts of central Johannesburg in the 50s, 60s and 70s.  My earliest memories of her all revolve around the kitchen – baking, preserving and the best Sunday roasts ever.  Christmas was always a veritable feast at Granny Sybil’s house.   But also the garage.  There always seemed to be some car or bike engine in various pieces strewn around the house and in the garage thanks to my dad and his brother.

She was a strong woman who had given up much of her life to earn a living and look after ailing parents.  She married late and finally found a few years wedded bliss before her husband became ill and passed away leaving her with her two boys to bring up.  I have always felt  a sense of awe about Granny Sybil – her sense of family, her duty and obligation to her husband’s family, her love for her boys and then us later on.  It was a practical love and always involved making or preparing something for us.  Her knitting was also legendary in our family.  I remember she also always took the time to wear a pretty house dress, apply her lippy and get her hair set in curls.

And so, Granny, it is that time of year again where we hope to honour your memory and all that you were and still are to us.

The fruits of our Labour weekend - Granny Sybil's Lemon Curd, Christmas Mince and Christmas Pudding
The fruits of our Labour weekend – Granny Sybil’s Lemon Curd, Christmas Mince and Christmas Pudding