Tuesday, January 16, 2007


The older I get, the more I find I value my solitude. Not as a retreat from a stressful world or for any grand purpose, but for its inherent restorative value.

I love my husband. He’s a great guy and ordinarily easy to live with. I enjoy his company, even when it consists of the two of us doing separate activities while sharing proximal space. But even this companionable pairing needs the occasional break…sometimes I just want to be alone.

It isn’t that I want the alone time for any particular purpose…I’m not planning to go on a shopping spree or a binge of one kind or another. In fact, that’s the whole of it…I’m not planning anything. I don’t need to consider cleaning the house, cooking a meal, making sure there is enough of this, that or the other…none of the ordinary considerations of my ordinary life need be considered. I have a pass to be mentally and physically lazy, to let go the reins of the household and my responsibilities for a day or so. Rather like being on holiday without any of the hassle of planning, packing, and making sure I get my money’s worth of sights, sounds, and tastes. Just permission from myself to veg.

Sometimes I crave the restorative virtues of solitude. Sometimes it’s good to be alone.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Sweet (African) Violet

My mother wasn’t particularly domestically-inclined so I learned many of the womanly arts from my grandmothers. As a result of their patient instruction, I can cook, bake, clean, launder, mend, and can do a credible job of most common forms of needlework. I can even keep a vegetable garden (and preserve its produce), and do a fair-to-middling job of keeping some nice houseplants. But, despite my moniker, I’ve never been able to grow African Violets.

Now this is kind of an embarrassing admission, considering that one of my grandmothers was actually named Violet and the other one collected Occupied Japan porcelain in the “Sweet Violets” motif…and grew African Violets by the hundred. It’s not that I don’t understand their basic needs…filtered light, “wet feet,” and no water on the leaves…it’s just that once their original hothouse blooms have faded, I am left with a shelf full of identical pots full of identical flat hairy leaves. They never, ever bloom again.

Oh, I’ve probably tried all of the tricks and remedies you can think of…changing the watering schedule…“African violet food” in liquid, sticks, and tablets…soil specifically formulated for African violets…changing the light exposure…nothing helped. Eventually, getting no reward (blooms) from the plants for all my ministrations, I would begin to neglect them and one day sadly find their dried and shrivelled corpses where once fat hairy green leaves had flourished.

After several fruitless forays into African violet cultivation, I pretty much gave up and bought fake ones for the pretty pots, but still, they beckoned me. In the supermarket thick emerald leaves crowned with a topknot of beautiful blooms called to me. A beautiful white…a frilled white with lavender edges…a robust traditional violet…”Buy me!” they called out “Only R14! ($2)” “Take me home!”

Seductive little buggers that they are, I am soon hopelessly plunking three new African Violet plants in the bathroom…actually, our toilet is in a separate room of its own, with a tall opaque window, and I put them in there. The shelf over the commode is just the right width for three of them, but within a few days some of the larger leaf stems are becoming soggy. Alarmed that they might actually die before even the hothouse blooms have finished, I move them to the window sill, careful to open it no more than an inch, lest the blazing Cape Town summer sun burn them to a cinder. Within days they have recovered (although I did lose those leaves) and their pretty little blooms liven up the tiny loo.

But all good things must come to an end, and eventually I found myself picking the shrivelled brown petals out of the leaves and resigning myself to three pretty plants on the window. They seemed to like the window, after all, with new leaves bursting out and the old ones growing thick and sturdy and crisp. When I would wash my hands I would check their saucers and refill them as necessary, taking comfort in the knowledge that even if they never blossom again, at least I am cultivating the healthiest crop of African violet leaves I’ve ever seen!

And then one morning, it happened. Looking up from the local gossip rag (we keep a rack of them in the loo), I thought I saw something suspiciously round nestled in the middle of one of the violets…not a new leaf, but something I hadn’t seen before. When I washed my hands I took a close look and, to my great amazement, saw buds! Buds! The plant was planning to bloom for me! But which one was it? After months of watering and moving them on the shelf according to who needed more light (based on leaf sturdiness and size), I had no idea which violet was about to burst forth into bloom!

Within a few days it became apparent that it was the white one and about the time it began blooming, the purple one started showing buds. And after a lag of a couple of weeks, the ruffled one began setting buds, ready to flower. I was amazed! Delighted! Enthralled! For the very first time in my life, my African violets were blooming for me!

Seems all I needed to do to grow African violets was to move to Africa…

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

Hubby's mum, brother and nephew are here for a week so we had to plan our New Year around the presence of a precocious 12-year-old. No wild partying, no clubbing, no celebrating with reckless abandon...as if we might do that anyway...just something appropriate to share with a 12 year old.

At first we thought we'd go down to the V&A Waterfront where they set off fireworks at midnight and all the ships in port blow their horns, creating a cacophony that startles the snoozing seagulls into swooping excitedly over the celebrating crowd, occasionally dropping little wet seagull bombs on the unsuspecting below. But a couple of days ago a local nutcase and member of a local nutcase terrorist group was arrested with three pipe bombs on his person. During a vigorous interrogation it was discovered that there was a total of 11 pipe bombs, but Mr. Nutcase was not forthcoming with their location, only the information that they were intended to be planted in and around the Waterfront. This news, of course, put the kibosh on our plans to take the kid over to watch fireworks and terrified seagulls and we had to come up with something else.

It's been cold in Cape Town the last few days, with intermittent rain and cool breezes. After dark, the breezes become brisk and the air distinctly chilled. So, deprived of our Waterfront venue for celebrating the New Year, we decided to go down to the beachfront here in Table View and watch the Waterfront fireworks from across Table Bay. It was a brilliant plan, spoiled only by the fact that enough other people had the same idea that we couldn't get parking in the parking lots right on the beach, so we had to park a block away and walk in the wind-whipped cold. Bundled in winter coats and fluffy shawls, we trudged to the beachfront and took seats in the little brick amphitheatre and huddled together for warmth. Five minutes before the critical moment, Hubby cracked open the bottle of chilled champagne we had brought with us and, as the ships across the Bay began their basso profundo warblings punctuated by the sharp reports of exploding fireworks, we raised our glasses and ushered the old year out while welcoming the new year in.

And now we've returned to the warmth and comfort of home, heads a little fuzzy with fizzy , and ready to turn in.

Happy New Year to you all, may it be your best year yet!