BEING THIN, RITUAL SLAUGHTER, REJECTING SWAINS AND CONTINUED GRATITUDE

No roses to wish my readers a happy Valentine’s Day, but I’ll share a photo of a belated housewarming gift I received from one of my neighbours last week. Her name is Ethelynne, she’s 86, Jewish and is an incorrigible gambler. She tells me that not a week goes by that she doesn’t buy a lotto ticket and has done so since the advent of the lotto draw in this country.

lounge potplant for blog 14 fe

I’m settling into my apartment with increasing enjoyment and I continue to ‘play house’; having finally unpacked the last of my boxes, the place is beginning to look more like a home and less like a furniture warehouse.

entrance hall for blog 14 feb

lounge couch for blog 14 feb

lounge long view for blog 14 f

lounge wall for blog 14 feb

After the disastrous encounter with the amorous Italian Paratrooper, I am meeting more of my neighbors and have begun to acquaint myself with the diverse African cultures that make up the melting pot that constitute the tenants of this building.
Without being familiar with the South African accent, one may miss out on the humour in the exchange I had with an ancient lady from the third floor the other day: I’d arrived in the foyer to find her trying to wrestle her shopping bags into the equally ancient elevator, while struggling to keep the heavy door from squashing her tiny, crippled frame to a pulp. The sweet old dear must be over 90; I’d hazard a guess that she may well be over a hundred years old. The doors swished shut and I said “I’m Cindy.”
“Oh,” she said, “I’m thin too! Always have been, no matter what I eat.”
I managed to restrain my mirth while I carried her bags to her door, but I now smile every time I pass the third floor.
Less amusing, and very alarming, is the rumour – conveyed to me by our busybody caretaker-lady – that the Nigerians a few doors down from me are trainee witchdoctors and are slaughtering live chickens in their apartment in order to use the blood for rituals! I’ve taken to keeping a beady eye on Princess Ally’s demeanour, in the firm belief that cats have a superior sense of knowing about the nearby presence of evil of any sort and that – if the chicken-slaughter story holds any truth – Princess Ally would be going about hissing and spitting with her heckles up. On the contrary, she is the most relaxed cat I’ve ever known and her show of “How dare you have left me alone for so long?” indignation when I walk in the door at the end of the day is an act worthy of an Oscar. It’s quite apparent that she’s been happily sleeping since my morning departure.
I fact, I have – on occasion – had to pat her gently to wake her!

ally on windowsill

In other news, I’m loving my job; I must have the nicest boss on the planet and I steadfastly believe that an act of God lead me to be employed by her. I’m very grateful for the amount of free time my job gives me, which enables me to fetch my daughter from school most days. Watching this child of mine undergo the transition from girl to woman; to change daily before my very eyes, never ceases to take my breath away.


The most surprising news I have to tell is that I’ve had tentative overtures from a few potential swains. I am, however, only just beginning to enjoy my single status too much to reciprocate in kind and my inner-grammar-Nazi makes their (there!!!) amorously texted declarations of honourable intent cause me to break out in hives – as opposed to eliciting a demurely flattered blush to the cheeks.
Still, the fact that I am engaging in even vaguely romantic dialogue is a sign of my miraculous growth over the past two years. I often catch myself, these days, marveling at how far my spiritual journey has brought me to be in the world which I inhabit today.
I’m living life on life’s terms; one day at a time. And I’m finding it more joyous than anything I could have imagined…

HAPPILY AND GRATEFULLY IN THE 2014 SADDLE

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within.

– Albert Schweitzer

2014 has started with sparks of blessings from many quarters. First off, on the 8th, I celebrated my birthday with an outpouring of love from so many quarters that I was left breathless. I was spoiled at a lovely brunch by my dear friend of 44 years, and she surprised me by having two old schoolfriends join us.

My birthday celebrations continued throughout the week, with many plates of delicious food being consumed in superb company.

I’ve been further blessed to find the perfect job, in the most beautiful environment. I am personal assistant to a psychologist who works from her beautiful home. I work four days a week, two of which are half-day, so I am lucky to be able to spend time with my daughter, who has started at a new school this year and has a busy extra-mural calendar – how nice for both of us that I am able to step in and do much of the ferrying to and fro.

My work colleagues are two cats and a sausage dog, all of them will – no doubt – provide me with lots of blog fodder. The cats consented to having their photos taken, but Maddie is a discerning hound and will – hopefully – allow her picture to grace this blog in her own sweet time.

 

I continue to be grateful to God for my rekindled relationship with my daughter. I am loving getting to know her boyfriend too, he is a wonderful young man and it melts my heart to see how gently he treats my child. They celebrated their first anniversary together on the 12th and I pray that they see many more happy years together.

My best wishes go out to all my blog friends for a blessed 2014. Thank you all for your love and support.

Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.
- Henry Van Dyke

WRESTLING, ABUNDANCE AND A FAREWELL TO 2013

I’ve been the target of an unwelcome suitor. A knock came at my door some weeks ago and I, thinking he was here to discuss some water problems we’ve been having in the building, allowed a very drunk Italian man who lives on the first floor into my flat. The caretaker of our building has since told me that he’s a general nuisance and a hopeless alcoholic. Anyway, once inside, the man lurched at me and told me that he’d known at first sight that we were meant for one another and that he was going to make me very happy. Grappling at my left breast and slathering my neck with smelly wet kisses, he proclaimed himself to be so generous that he’d just last week given his ex-fiance R10 000. To get new teeth. I was too busy fighting his hands away from my chest area to ask about the fate of the ex-fiance’s old teeth. I darted behind my dining room table and eyed my sabrage sword hanging from the wall. Before I could get to it, your man – very unsteady on his feet – charged at me and got me in a bear hug, clutching each of my buttocks firmly in his hands and proceeded to tell me that he’d been a parabat during his military service and that he’d make sure nobody would ever harm me: his ‘queen’.
By this time I’d managed to dance him back toward the door and – before he knew it – I had him out onto the landing and shut the security door between us. In a wheedling tone he begged to be let in again and then took to bellowing that I was a ‘stuck up cow’ and did I realize that he was not only rich, he had friends in rough places I’d never even heard of. One door down, the door opened and my neighbour, Brice, from Nigeria, an ebony mountain of a man, came out onto the landing and stood, arms folded, an implacable expression on his face and steadily gazed at the Italian who, by now, was spouting and spitting vile gibberish.
Finally registering Brice’s presence, the inebriated wretched slunk away down the stairs. He’s been back a few times, but I simply don’t answer the door. And I now have Brice’s cell phone number saved on quick-dial on my own cell phone.
I’ve had happier attentions from my close friends and family over the last hard times, like my darling sister jumping in to replenish my internet airtime when I ran out.. While I’ve been job hunting a friend has taken over Our Alice’s char wages and my best friend through high school – whom I’ve known for going on 44 years – surprised me with a delivery of a truck full of luxury groceries. From fancy cheeses, pates, chocolates … toilet paper, shampoo and soap … fruit, bread, cat food and cat litter … I don’t need to cross the doorstep of a supermarket for at least two months. I was speechless and at a total loss for words at her generosity.

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Seemingly as a sign of a new chapter opening, one of my miniature rose bushes – which I’d all but given up hope of ever flowering – has just produced a bud …

mystery rose_edited

And to end the year, one of those quizzy-things that’s doing the rounds today:

  1. What did you do in 2013 that you’ve never done before? I bought my own washing machine. And I learned to accept help from people who care about me.
  2. Did anyone close to you give birth? Yes, a dear friend gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.
  3. Did you attend any funerals? No.
  4. What date/s in 2013 will you remember and why?  14 July – my daughter said she loves me and we began our reconciliation after a long period of not speaking to me.
  5. Were there any illnesses or injuries in your family? Not in my immediate family, no.
  6. What was the best thing you bought? My apartment.
  7. Where did most of your money go? On buying and renovating my apartment.
  8. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year: “I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed…”
  9. This question is missing.
  10. What was your favourite TV programme? I don’t have a TV.
  11. What was the best book you read this year? White Truffles In Winter by N.M. Kelby.
  12. What was your favourite movie this year? The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
  13. What did you do on your birthday? I moped. I’ll celebrate my 50th birthday next Wednesday, hopefully in a better mindspace.
  14. Did you travel anywhere this year? No.
  15. What did you do for Christmas? I had a sumptuous lunch with a friend and her extended family at the Johannesburg Country Club.

Goodbye 2013, thanks to all my blog friends for your unstinting love and support. May 2014 bring you all rich blessings. xxx

“I believe in justice. And in love. And in NOT getting over it, because that’s too much to ask of a human being. Getting over it is the wrong thing to want, anyway. You should never expect to get over it, the best you can hope is to live past it. And you go on. Your past becomes a part of you, you just fold it into the gnocchi dough and keep rolling.” Lisa Scottoline

BREAKING THE BLOCKAGE AND GETTING BACK IN THE SADDLE

cricket on saturday afternoon_edited

View from my balcony: Saturday afternoon cricket match – King Edward School.

“Mr Edgerton was suffering from writer’s block. It was, he quickly grew to realise, a most distressing complaint. A touch of influenza might lay up a man for a day or two, yet still his mind could continue its ruminations. Gout may leave him racked with suffering, yet still his fingers could grasp a pen a turn pain to pennies. But this blockage, this barrier to all progress, had left Mr Edgerton a virtual cripple.” The Inkpot Monkey – John Connolly.

IMG_6534

View from my balcony towards the East / Linksfield Ridge with Jacaranda Trees.

I can extend my deepest sympathy to poor Mr Edgerton; I too have been beset with writer’s block for the longest time. My torpor extends even to reading my friends’ blogs. So too my kitchen passion has waned and it is all I can do to force myself to eat a slice of toast and a glass of milk. I’ve been mired in self-pity and fear as I get to grips with the reality of my new life and wrestle with the task of finding gainful employment at a very bad time of the year. As Johannesburg begins to ready itself to empty as its residents flock to the coast for two months, I begin to dread spending the festive season on my own.

noise no rain_edited

View from my balcony of a storm brewing over King Edward School.

I sooth my dread with the thought that the lovely views from my balcony will be mine alone for a time and that I will be able to enjoy the afternoon summer storms without the customary noise of excessive traffic. I make sure that I make a daily gratitude list, and on that list the first five items are always the same:

My relationship with my daughter continues to prosper and we talk daily

I own my apartment outright and don’t have to worry about paying a mortgage

My divorce will soon be final and it has been amicable

Despite my currently poor diet, my health is very good

I have an extremely loyal and supportive group of friends

I constantly remind myself that the acronym for FEAR is FALSE EVIDENCE APPEARING REAL.

kes chimney

View from my balcony over King Edward School.

A wise friend suggested that I make a list of 10 random things that make me smile – not obvious things close to my heart, like my daughter or my cat; just arbitrary things that never fail to lift my spirits. I will admit that making the list did render a smile:

Jacaranda trees

Vanilla milkshakes

Ducklings

Harley Davidsons

Santana’s “Oye como va”

Braai (barbeque) fires

Watermelon

Toddlers

Roses

Fountain pens

survived the hailstorm_edited

Roses blooming in my little potted balcony garden.

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Princess Ally; my ever-loyal companion.

And so I remain steadfast in my quest to keep the faith and to believe that – soon – all will be well again …

DECLINING AN AWARD ON HERITAGE DAY

I have been awarded the ‘One Lovely Blog’ award by Mal. I’ve been blogging on various platforms for almost ten years now and I think that it is time for me to begin declining these awards, although I am very grateful to Mal for the nomination. The rules of this particular one are as follows:
• Thank the one that nominated you. My sincere thanks to you, Mal:
http://maloquacious.wordpress.com/2013/09/22/one-lovely-blog-award-2/

Put up the picture for the One Lovely Blog Award.

one_lovely_blog_award

Tell everyone seven things about yourself. I think I’ve done this so often that all my blog friends know everything there is to know about me. Nonetheless, below are a few random facts about today:

I love soap. I’ve heard many people say they’d be insulted if given soap as a birthday or Christmas gift; I wouldn’t. Not at all, I have bars of soap stashed all over the place: in the pockets of my winter coats to ward off fishmoths, in my linen closet to scent my sheets, in jars on the edge of my bathtub … I love soap! (Spot the bar of bergamot soap poking out of the pocket.)

coat with soap_edited

Although much time has passed, and – to all outward appearances – I have settled nicely in my apartment and have “gotten over it”, I still occasionally reel in shock at the change in my circumstances. I will wake up in the morning and, just for a moment, I will forget that I am not a wife anymore; that there is not some shared activity in which to be engaged for the day. This – feeling like an amputee - I am told, is a natural part of the process of grieving:
“I had known a man, a butcher, who had accidently hacked off most of his left hand while cutting up a side of beef. All that was left was the thumb and index finger, but he claimed to be able to feel his other, absent fingers, so much so that he often went to twist the ring that had once rested on one of them. In a way I could still feel my other life, or the lack of it. Sometimes I would be walking down a Roman street and be overcome by the sensation that I was in the Via della Condotta or Volta dei Tintori, or some other Florentine place. But I was never able to grab hold of these things – of course not, because they existed only in my mind. I wanted to, though. I craved some sort of contact, to see or touch the ghosts of home.” – Appetite, Philip Kazan.

appetite philip kazan
Read this book if you love history, art and food!
Without the company of my cat, I expect I would go slightly insane on lonely days. Our relationship took a while to get off the ground, but she has proved to be excellent company and an ever-ready ear when self-pity threatens to overwhelm me. As a keeper of secrets she cannot be faulted.

ally on heritage day_edited

Today is our National Heritage Day and it has become customary for the entire nation to cook meat on fires. I’m not sure that barbecues are allowed on the balconies in my building, but I lit one in my miniature Weber regardless of what rules may exist.

first weber braai_edited

My feast today was a solitary one; my daughter is away at the coast for the school holidays, or I would have invited her and her swain to join me. I cooked chicken marinated in Portuguese spices and ginger beer. One leg for my lunch, with potato salad and sliced beetroot. The other will be used for chicken mayonnaise sandwiches for tomorrow’s lunch.

marinating chicken_edited

braaid chicken_edited

And so ends a relatively good day. I have been productive and have enjoyed sunshine, some good music and have attained a sense of relative serenity. All is good and I will sleep well. Tomorrow my job hunting continues and I will tackle it with the faith that I continue to operate beneath the benign hand of God. I will forge ahead and see what my new life becomes…

dilla lolly

In the meantime, I think an ice lolly will finish off the day nicely.

ON KILLING ORCHIDS AND REKINDLING RELATIONSHIPS

orchid_edited

Lounge circa 2009
They say that it’s not a good thing to look back with regret, but I can’t help thinking back to the orchids I made flourish profusely in my marital home. I had them showing off shamelessly all over the place, seemingly thriving on my neglect. Yesterday – as I discarded yet another sad, brown victim of my newfound ineptitude with these exotic blooms – I was forced to wonder where I am going wrong. Perhaps I am guilty of extreme cosseting, but I vowed to give up. I have, after all, killed a sum total of eleven plants in seventeen months. Yes, I would give it up … after just one more try … if this one dies, I will throw in the towel and stick to the thriving pots of succulents on my balcony.

last chance orchid_edited

New orchid – the last chance.
Extreme cosseting is also something I must avoid as my rekindled relationship with my daughter grows tentatively close again. When we spend time together I have to curb my urge to smother her with physical contact. I want to touch her, to hold her hand and hug her all the time, but I know that I must restrain myself and be content with an embrace on meeting and parting.
My girl has a beau now and I was overjoyed (and more than a little nervous) to meet the lad this past weekend. They’re terribly sweet together; both earnest, smart youngsters who delighted me with their witty conversation. I took them to Thava, an authentic Indian restaurant near to my new home. The chap has an aversion to very hot curries and it was a testament to his devotion to my child that – when her Vindaloo dish proved too hot – he promptly swapped dishes and manfully made his way through the dish as best he could, although I could almost see the steam coming out of his ears.

curries at thava_edited
Chicken Tikka Masala / Chicken Vindaloo / Seafood Vindaloo with Basmati Rice.

seafood vindaloo at thava_edited
My own seafood curry was delicious.
Dessert proved less stressful for both of them and – again – the young man gladly agreed that they should exchange their portions halfway through.

vermicelli dessert at thava_edited
Payasam – Vermicelli cooked with cream, raisins and almonds.

fried ice cream at thava
Thava fried ice cream
It’s such a thrill for me to be sharing my daughter’s life again and I am so grateful to see her so happy. I’m looking forward to spending time with the two of them soon again, next time in an environment that is a little more relaxed for all three of us. I think I’ll give the curry a miss though, and cook for them in my new home … a wholesome, calming mutton doughboy at my own table, with – hopefully – a thriving orchid as a centerpiece.

doughboy_edited
Mutton Doughboy (Recipe on my previous post.)

BANISHING SUNDAY LONELINESS WITH CHOCOLATE ELEPHANTS AND SALT+PEPPER

Some luxuries just can’t be lived without. Perfume, flowers, a good book and chocolate elephants. – Adair Victoria Cross

stop and smell the roses_edited

I’d include the luxury of lazy Sundays in my friend Adair’s astute quote; I’ve come to love Sundays in my building. The residents are such a diverse mix of cultures and, as they all start their cooking for Sunday lunch, the smells that mingle in the stairwell are a delight to the senses. Today I can smell ras el hanout from the flat of the Ethiopian pastor on my left and thyme in the stuffing of a roasting chicken from the little Jewish lady across the way. My own kitchen is fuggy with the smell of tomatoes simmering with harissa; I’m making a huge pot of sauce to freeze in batches for the week ahead and have made a batch of sausage rolls for the next few days’ lunches.

pies and tomatoes
I’m also preparing to cook a mutton doughboy from a recipe from a book which has made my senses dance a merry jig from the first page, Niel Stemmet’s ‘Salt+Pepper heritage food journey’ (Lapa Uitgewers, R358.00 from Exclusive Books). Niel is a Facebook friend of mine, whom I first discovered via his blog.

salt+pepper cover

salt+pepper doughboy recipe

Niel’s one of those iconic figures who makes everything he touches turn to gold. The seventh-generation descendant of a Dutch glassblower, Niel is a writer, photographer, restaurateur and guest-house owner and décor guru par excellence.
The book was first published in Afrikaans and the translator has been gentle with the author, allowing the unique Afrikaner voice to remain. The recipes are testimony to the history of South African cooking – before the 1970s brought the advent of quick-fix additives. Interspersed with the recipes are delightful anecdotes and reminiscences of the women who formed Niel’s love of cooking, and thought-provoking quotes from South African writers, poets and musicians – even some from the bible.

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salt+pepper p127

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Niel did all his own photographs and they alone are a good reason for relishing the pages of this book, which celebrates a return to the honest-cuisine of old times, when the only pantry ingredients necessary were salt, pepper, sugar, vinegar, lemon juice, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, coriander, bay leaves – or rather, shared recipes “told in our vernacular and passed on by grandmother to mother, daughter and son”.
And so, with a squirt of bergamot on my wrists added to the fragrance of the flowers on my sideboard, I finish clearing up after my kitchen session and carry a cup of coffee and a slab of those chocolate elephants to my sofa. Perhaps I’ll nap or – perhaps – I’ll devour more of the book until it’s a respectable hour to get under the covers and have an early night.
Just for today I’ve banished loneliness; just for today I’ve created my own bliss …

chocolate elephants_edited