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I must stay conscious
Through the madness and chaos…….

 

“You do know that the rain never stops in Vancouver!”

It was move- in day and true to form, it bucketed down. Soggy people and boxes filled the front doorway. The movers lurched down our four flights of stairs and the piles of boxes steadily climbed towards the skylights.

“Where would you like this?”

I looked up from my pile of paper in the kitchen.

“I really don’t know! Find a space……anywhere.” I wanted to weep.

Boxes,boxes everywhere and no inch to spare....

Boxes,boxes everywhere and no inch to spare….

So I call on my angels….

I lay and listened to the loud squawk of the Steller’s jay and the deep blast of the cruise ship’s horn that resonated from the harbour. My brain was still trying to process ‘all that is new’ from my unfamiliar environment. These sounds sooth the jaded unpacker’s weary muscles. I decide to lie just another 10 minutes. I can see down to the river from my uncurtained bedroom window. I jump up and open the door onto the balcony…..just a fraction. Enough to keep the cool morning air out and to let in the sounds of the bubbling stream. It is still too early for our grey heron who has regular fishing trips along our banks. He must be having a lie in too! I have begun to recognise the clicking hoop of his call and the enthusiasm of his flapping wings through the giant cedar trees.

Our resident Stella's jay...the national bird of BC.

Our resident Stella’s jay…the national bird of BC.

The ceremonial placing of my African pot that has traveled the high seas....

The ceremonial placing of my African pot that has traveled the high seas….

I won’t just conform
No matter how you shake my core
……
My days disappear as I fill them with trying to create some order out of this chaos. I am making headway with the unpacking of boxes and am slowly becoming an expert at discarding unwanted clutter. Yes, I am still at it! My heart has hardened and am able to toss that favourite scarf or special ornament. This is round two of my clear out session! Hopefully the thrift shop will find a home for all these once ‘special things’ that have no place in our downsized abode. Fortunately we still have a Black Hole which runs under the house. It is slowly filling up with the camping gear, Christmas decorations and seasonal items like the skis. I hesitate to place anything there. It is dark and awful and I hate going down there! It feels like any piece of furniture or box that gets put down in the hole, is being committed to a stint in solitary confinement.

Josh on his morning fishing expedition....

Josh on his morning fishing expedition at our river.

Victory is in my veins…..

Nature reminds me of the rhythms that surrounds me. I feed off the familiarity in the sounds of the birds and the consistency of the flow of the river. Some things don’t change.

The view across the bay from the north shore quay...with some tech assistance.

The view across the bay from the north shore quay…with some tech assistance!

 

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“Take it away!” The paddles splashed into the glassy water. They broke the sheen of the reflection of the clear sky. It was a perfect day with just enough breeze to cool the brow and just enough sunshine to warm our sun-deprived Canadian backs. The mighty Niagara Falls lay on the horizon. On certain days, when the conditions are just right, you can make out the mist from the crashing waters.  But today we are heading towards the city of Toronto.
The stroke sets the pace and I watch her carefully and keep her rhythm. We surge forward with each paddle change and as I slice the water I feel the resistance. The silhouette of the Toronto skyline beckons and my concentration wanes. I feel myself drifting off into ‘ the zone.’ The rhythm of the paddles and lapping of the water soothes even the most restless soul. My automated body pulls at the water and twists and releases. All too soon I am broken from my temporary retreat.
“Pull the paddle into your hip and keep your arm straight….. your back towards the water.”

The commodore brings me back to reality.
“Easy all!”
Down go our paddles and the effort of the last few strokes sustains the canoe while we catch our breath. The water laps up at the side of our outrigger and I enjoy the sound and its vastness that stretches across into the distance. It is one huge lake! There are days that I imagine I am floating out at sea and the familiar salty aroma convinces me that it is nearby.

Out paddling on Lake Ontario.

Out paddling on Lake Ontario.

The Ontario Lake might not be the vast ocean but it shares so many of the same qualities. It is just as unpredictable and on many occasions we have had to turn tail and head for the safety of the Sixteen Mile Creek.
The river is forgiving even in full flood. The high water gives us a different vantage point and we enjoy the added visibility of the local flora and fauna. In a previously unexplored waterway, we spot a pair of nesting swans. They flap their wings and swim towards their unwelcome guests. Unfortunately we appeared to have interrupted their afternoon nap. This pair have a notorious reputation and we decide not to test their agility skills.
I had to smile when I heard about this encounter. I was in South Africa on a short holiday at the time. As I drove the unfamiliar streets of Johannesburg, I was aware of my safety too but rather different  hazards faced me. My fellow outriggers were dodging dive-bombing swans!
We respectfully scoot around them and head back into the main stream. There we have had fortunate encounters with grey heron, red- tailed hawk, a variety of ducks, beaver and turtles…to name but a few. They appear to be unphased by the size and shape of our craft and go about their foraging with hardly a glance in our direction. While we float along we notice the evidence of the previous rains. Careful manoeuvres dodge the flotsam of tree stumps.

“Draw right.”

A perfect day.....

A perfect day…..

At a recent canoe outrigger competition I came across this Hawaiian blessing. Here is a part that spoke to me….

Our canoes are vehicles to teach us how to grow, remain strong, enjoy the blessings of land, sky and water and to rely on each other. 

“There’s nothing––absolutely nothing––half so much worth doing as messing about in boats.”

“There’s nothing––absolutely nothing––half so much worth doing as messing about in boats.” Kenneth Grahame

 

 

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I can see the stars from America….

The elusive winter sun streams through my window. Its deceptive beams promise of warmer days but in the meantime it is time to keep snug and to dream……
I make no apologies for being sentimental and for enjoying time spent in the past. It is where I dream and visit my happy place. We are continually bombarded at the start of the New Year with all the tips for achieving this elusive state of ‘happiness.’ Everything from striving to be present to achieving glowing health! Each to his own and there is no harm in finding out what works for you. But one can’t help but ponder this insatiable quest for utopia.

Jack

Jack

 

My little dose of happiness came in the form of a visit from Seattle of our young twin grandchildren, Jack and Kate. They intrigued us with their sense of wonder and kept us on the hop as we strived to attend to their needs which included entertainment. I must add that they are only 6 months old…..so heaven help us! Being twins the parents needed some much needed sleep, so we stepped in and played the surrogate role. This involved the feed times as well. Jack was just too happy to oblige and took to the bottle like a real pro. But Kate was not having any of it. She arched her little back and a bit her lip. No bottle was going to pass her lips! I think if she could have stood up, she might have stamped her feet. I could almost hear the little voice giving her nan stick! (I must add that I won’t take any blame for these genes, although my family think differently!) However, instead she let out a loud wail and nothing I did would console her. While I admired her persistence and the strength of her  little backbone, it was not doing much to add to the sleep session of her weary parents. This ‘old mom’ also noticed that there were no real tears but merely dry crocodile ones. Me thinks you protest too much, Kate!

Kate

Kate

I sang a lullaby…….

I then decided that another tactic was needed to convince this little madam that the bottle was certainly an excellent second option. The reasoning began……. “You see Kate, it is like this. I do not have the right equipment anymore.” I pointed to the relevant parts….. Her big eyes stared at me in disbelief. I am not sure who was more surprised. Was it me talking to myself or Kate?  But this desperate grandmother ran through the advantages of quenching the thirst and satisfying the hunger pains. All this time Kate was riveted as she digested the contents of my soliloquy. The added bonus would be if sleep ensued after the tasty meal. It was in short supply with teething little ones. I nervously lifted up the bottle. Miraculously no loud bellow erupted forth. Instead Kate gave a long sigh, relented and latched on like a dab hand. She drained the contents in a flash while she quizzically studied this new face. I would have given anything to have known the thoughts that ran through that little head. But sleep came to both of them and so to the rest of the house.

All of these stars will guide us…….

Too soon the visit was over and these two little mites made their way back to the US. Thankfully with modern technology our happiness continues as we rejoice in all their milestones.

You don’t have to see the whole staircase just the first step.

 

 

Snow rides in the back garden.

Snow rides in the back garden.

 

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Time stood still this week…..

 

I walked down lanes and peeked over walls...

I walked down lanes and peeked over walls…

I awoke out of my deep sleep and could not work out where I was. It was hardly surprising as I had clocked up four different beds on two continents over the past week! I was definitely home and all the familiar sounds filled my ears as I surfaced from my foggy oblivion. I felt like I had been away for ages, yet it had only been seven days. It must be ‘an age thing’ where time just slows down. My emails and an update on the local news beckoned and I stretched across and grabbed my phone.  

 

An article bounced out at me. It was written by Professor Richard Friedman from Weill Cornell Medical College. It explained my warped time perception in a nutshell.

‘Studies have shown that the greater the cognitive demands of a task, the longer its duration is perceived to be.’ So I was not going crazy, the intellectuals also ponder such mundane perceptions. In my case a great deal of brain power was needed to find my way backwards and forwards to Heathrow Airport, to make sure I was on the correct underground train and not to lose my passport!

 ‘They also found that repeated stimuli appear briefer in duration than novel stimuli of equal duration.’ This also reinforces my perception of why I appear to do the repetitive task of my weekly ironing in a flash. But gloriously, time stands still when I savour the magnificence of an old cathedral. The brain is a wonderful!

 

Chichester had much to delight!

Chichester had much to delight!

So with all that explained so eloquently by the good professor, I could safely relive and savour some of the memories that I had added to my store this week. I took a train trip down to Chichester to catch up with some dear friends. The English countryside did not disappoint and the Sussex surrounds were as picturesque as I had imagined them. I peeked over walls into cottage gardens, read gravestones in forgotten graveyards and downed a local beer in a friendly tavern. The highlight had to be my visit to the Chichester Cathedral. It had been functioning as a cathedral for over 900 years. The difference was that this grand dame had moved with the times. There was a fusion of modern tapestries with old 12th century artworks. A modern copper and stone font stood below an exquisive stained glass window. It was an eclectic mix and a work in progress.

The cathedral was alive with people, a real mix of all ages. The reverence that one felt did not disallow the discussions that ensued between the enthusiastic participants. Groups of students debated the different eras of architectures, whilst younger members stared up at the roof and the coloured light that filtered through the stained glass windows. As we wondered round the choir burst into song. I thought I had died and gone to heaven!

 

Chichester Cathedral is adorned with magnificent  windows.

Chichester Cathedral is adorned with magnificent windows.

The professor concluded…….

‘It is simple: If you want time to slow down, become a student again. Learn something that requires some sustained effort. Do something novel. Take a new route to work, vacation in an unknown spot.’

 

Here’s to slowing time down a bit!

Cheers!

Cheers!

 

 The music is also a new choice inspired by my sons. Goldfish is a band from Cape Town, South Africa, and I am told their music type is a mixture of electronic African jazz. 

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My eyes open and I am conscious of the early morning light. It appears stronger than the last few days which can only mean one thing……the sun is shining!  The spring rains have endured this year and our gardens look like a tropical paradise.  Variegated weigelia, peonies, roses and hydrangeas all display their finery in soft hues of pink. The rain has fed its thirsty subjects and in return the muted mauves and greens soothe and delight.  I peer out the window and check on the swelling river at the bottom of the garden. I notice that my umbrella on the deck is still up and that it has dried out over night.

 

We make our way onto the ‘airport road.’ This road conjures up so many mixed feelings as it is always about ‘someone leaving’ or ‘someone arriving.’ Fortunately today it is all about …….. ARRIVING. I do so enjoy watching people at airports. Particularly the looks on peoples’ faces as they embrace loved ones in the arrivals hall. I settle back against the pillar and begin to survey the waiting crowd……. grandmothers, wives, parents and business colleagues all stand and wait. I scan the faces as they appear through the sliding doors………no, not this time. The door glides closed again. Again and again it opens and shuts and more happy faces beam across the room at their expectant relatives. There are many happy reunions with peels of laughter. It seems like ages…..surely they should be through by now. The glass door edges open and the familiar pair are silhouetted against the backdrop of the long passage.  The tall one and the short one walk hand in hand. I squint to make sure……yes, it is them! I whoop with joy!  As I run towards them I manage to do a few steps of my ‘happy dance.’ Reservations fly out the window and I just allow myself the few happy tears.

My children are all home.  

 

So for the next week I am going to wallow in the fact that I have my whole brood under the same roof. Things will revert back to normal! ‘The brothers’ will tease and pick on each other. We will most probably disagree on where to go and what to eat. The loud music will reverberate through our wooden house and television sounds will compete from opposite ends. It will just be wonderful ……

I am definitely feeling good!

The family

The family

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Mom will always be young and strong in our eyes.

 

 

 

My mom has a special birthday today. She has seen 88 summers! Her voice came through clear and strong as we spoke. She was up on her bed having her ‘hour’s compulsory’ and we were just getting out of ours on the other side of the world. The calls need to be orchestrated when you live in another time zone, so that we don’t catch her napping. “I am 58, no 78….” Her mischievous voice joked with her grandsons.

‘They don’t make them like that anymore’  has been said of the caliber of people like my mom. Is it because they lived through a World War? They learnt to make do and to appreciate the small and important things in life. Whatever it is that has made her this way, she is a star!

She has so many talents …… She can cook a tasty feast to feed the extended family of mainly ravenous boys and men. These culinary skills  appear effortless apart from all the washing up that she generates for us ‘washer uppers!’ But we have to forgive her as the food is so delicious! Her paintings grace the walls in our home and her amazing handwork is known all over Stellenbosch. She puts her hand to everything from quilting to embroidery.

In her quiet moments I know she misses our Dad, her dashing pilot. Hopefully her memories and her children comfort her. I know that her 8 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren bring her much joy too.

Mom, you have been an example to us all on how to be tenacious, loving and loyal. I can fully understand why Dad chose you as his wife! You have not only been a devoted partner but you have loved all of us so unselfishly.

Happy birthday!

Your loving daughter

Anne

 

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQ8D5Ihe4hg

 

The warmth of summer……

This song had plagued me for days and seemed to turn up on the radio each time I switched it on. I sang out at the top of my voice as I made my way down to the shops. ‘Everything is going to be fine….fine…fine.’ What was the significance of these strange words where some of the opposites were totally unrelated? Is free the opposite of focused?

I have one hand in my pocket and the other one is giving a high five.

I sink my hand deeper into my pocket as I do my morning ritual of walking Josh. He jumps like an antelope through the piles of Fall leaves that have gathered on the sidewalks. I love watching his enthusiasm for his morning exercise. He is undeterred by the fact that it is the same route as yesterday and finds squirrels to chase and dark holes to investigate. The burnished maples are holding onto to their leaves as if to prolong their beauty. Maybe they are just not quite ready for their dormancy or the harshness of the cruel polar winds. I comfort myself that we have a way to go before I don my goose down coat each day.

I am sad but laughing……

How can I forget the pure exhilaration of chasing about on the snow on skiis? I fell and laughed and fell some more ……and screamed! I did more manipulation of my back then my chiropractor had done all year! Then we ventured out on huge tubes and reached hair raising speeds down the smooth slopes. We played like kids…. But when the ‘really bad weather’ sets in, you scurry indoors and lap up the warmth of a crackling fireplace.

The lack of sun in winter can play havoc with the demeanor. Preparation is made for all eventualities and the days that we are housebound. We are like the squirrels and eagerly prepare for our winter confinement. I peruse the book stores for exciting reads and have built up a pile on the coffee table. I have everything from romantic reads about the Russian nobility to a book that dares you to dream. Ha! Ha! There will be a long winter for that! Along with my basket of soft mohair wool that I hope to create into something devastatingly beautiful!

I have not got it all figured out just yet…….

There are days when I still get lost and resort to my GPS to get me home. There are no mountains or mine dumps to guide me! The Canadian monetary system is still a challenge and I have not got all the coinage waxed yet. Thank goodness the usage of a debit or credit card is universal! I still convert into South African rand when I am shopping and almost have a coronary every time! I use words that the locals do not understand and often I get a blank stare in return. But have not resorted to ‘voetsek’ or ‘donder’ as my permanent residence has not come through yet! I have not mastered the politics. I am trying to work from the known to the unknown. So I have got to enjoy the antics of our portly mayor of Toronto but am still vague about the central government. I know that Canada is ‘vrekgroot’ but I have yet to know where to place each town on the map.  And so the learning curve continues…. I drink my gingko biloba each day and hope that my menopausal brain will continue to keep absorbing all these new things……..

 

What it all comes down to my friends…

Is that everything is going to be quite alright…..

Braving the winter chill!

 

PS. Need I say that Alanis Morisette is Canadian. I found out that she has a show in Toronto next week. No wonder she was riding my head side sadle!

 

 

 

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