Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Something I've Never Understood

With Swee'pea doing half-days at daycare while I continue my work frantic work in Operation Organize the Whole House by Wednesday (Today!), I've been revisiting some of my old cds. I used to be/still am quite the disco freak, which I think I've mentioned here today. Listening to the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever, I am reminded of something I have never understood.

Why did they choose such a cheesy slow song for their competition number? How could they ever expect to win when you can't really bust a move to it? They should totally have used Disco Inferno...

And... the other day, through a supremely talented South African flickrite who I really really admire, I discovered this guy. And I can't help but feel jealous/disheartened that he's only 17!!! Check out his portfolio of homeless people and the photojournalism stuff, which he just shot in India (with the flickrite). I'm really curious to know how they hooked up... he lives in Lindsay, Ontario.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Mostly Happy

Things that make me happy:

  1. Swee'pea had his first half-day at daycare today while I went to the dentist. He didn't cry, ate a good lunch, and is now sleeping after his fun-filled morning. (I didn't cry either.) Back in December, I had thought he would ok with daycare, but I started to worry last month because he was so clingy and made strange so much while we were in South Africa. (Well except with a few strangers...) So this morning makes me really really happy. Yippee!
  2. This morning, we got up before 7 and managed to get all three of us fed, dressed and out the door by just after 8. Maybe I will be able to make it into work before noon!
  3. This weekend, Sugar Daddy hung FOUR pictures (pregnancy photos that we had framed that have sitting for like 8 or 9 months), AND a key ring holder with two adorable photos of Swee'pea, AND the baby gate at the bottom of the stairs (well almost, he needs to improvise a way to fasten the bottom because of the 100-year-old moulding that I refuse to allow him to cut off). The photos look awesome -- and double bonus: they're not on the floor anymore. Yippee!
  4. On Saturday, we purged three garbage bags full of clothes and stuff, and two small boxes of lamps, plates, bowls and books. Also returned empty beer bottles. I even threw out the funky little suitcase I ran away with when I seven (it was filled with my mom's old prom dresses - because that's what you need out there in the big wide world), and which I used in my adult life for overnighters until the zipper broke and the cat puked on it a few years ago. I was too attached to it before now. But I took a picture of it and let it go.

    in memorium

  5. For five nights in a row since my Great Big Whine About Sleep last Tuesday, Swee'pea has been going to bed around 8 pm (well except for last night, which would have been the sixth... last night was a lesson in how important it is to be hardcore about his nap, and not letting him nap after 3 pm). He has needed some attention at least once before I go to bed, but this has still afforded some lovely time for SD and I: on Saturday night we watched the first five episodes of The Office. In the words of Sugar Daddy, "I'm starting to feel like life is good again."
  6. Putting away my old breast pads (Bravado are by far the best!) made me grateful that I have gotten a full year of maternity leave, and don't have to return to work in the days of spraying breasts, wet t-shirts and smelling like cheese. I can't imagine how many shirts I would have had to bring to the office with me if I did.
  7. Getting dressed yesterday morning for a communal birthday party for my mums' group's babies in the afternoon, I was also grateful that I am returning to work after Swee'pea has gotten past his propensity for puking after every single meal. I'm sure it will happen, but I don't need to expect that I will be puked on in the time between getting dressed and walking out the door. Yay, Canadian mat leave! (Our daycare situation may be dire, but we have great leave...)

Things that don't make me so happy:

  1. I got the same dental hygienist as last time. Luckily the only thing she said that bothered me today was that I should be taking extra vitamins since I'm STILL breastfeeding. I'm pretty sure that information falls outside the scope of her job.
  2. Drilling holes for the pictures involved sparks and a charred drill bit. The stud finder slash live wire finder did not make it through the exchange. Not from the electricity, but from Sugar Daddy's frustration with it (he didn't do anything violent with it, but suspects that perhaps consumers are not meant to change the batteries because little bits flew off of it when he tried). At least the photo has a wood frame, so unlikely to conduct electricity, right?
  3. While we had a busy Saturday, we didn't get to any organizing yesterday, so Operation Organize the Whole House by Wednesday is not going so well. Maybe tomorrow...
All in all, I'm mostly happy.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Letter to Me

Ok... I had to join in the fun!

From Cinnamon Gurl (February 2007)

Dear Katie (January 1992):

Thank you for your two recent (well, ok not so recent) letters (well, ok they weren't addressed to me specifically, but they weren't addressed to anyone else either so I think they were really for me). Sorry it's taken me 15 years to get back to you... I guess they got lost in the mail (or mom's attic)?

I was proud to open the shoe box of papers and discover among them, some copies of Al Purdy's poems, especially Arctic Rhododendrons (we still love that poem) and a quote from Taming of the Shrew:
"That being mad herself, she's madly mated
I warrant him, Petruchio is Kated." III, ii

I wasn't so proud that pretty much all the letters that you never sent our sister only reported boy crazy news. Although maybe that's why you didn't send them, which would be ok. The letters you wrote but didn't send to our brother are slightly more interesting and less embarrassing. Years ago, he told us how much he admires us, and we were floored. As adults, we get along a lot better with our siblings than you do now/then.

The first time I came across the two letters with no particular addressee, I felt a physical ache in my chest. I remember how unhappy you were, and now that I am able to finish reading the letters two months later, it's all right there on the paper: how you hate yourself, how you feel like everyone is judging you by your weight gain, how you don't feel like you can talk to anyone about it but how desperate you are to share some of your burden.

I want you to know you aren't pathetic. You're a teenager, and despite what mom says, being a teenager sucks. It's the worst part of life. She's some kind of alien creature, the only person we have come across that enjoyed high school. Everyone else just survives. You aren't boring. Once you gain some confidence, people find us quite intriguing I think. You won't be shy forever... in fact we asked out our first boyfriend, which I think is pretty cool.

If I could, I would reach across these fifteen years and give you a hug. Hang in there. You won't be miserable for much longer.

And you know all the answers, they're all right there in your letters. You've already given up weighing yourself, which is a good step (although be warned that during pregnancy, they weigh you a lot). You know that just losing weight won't make you happy, that 'fixing' your body won't really fix your feelings.

That said, you will lose weight and soon. Then you'll gain some and years later lose it and find it again. But more importantly, you will learn to like yourself, to reject our culture's unrealistic ideals of beauty, and to accept your physical 'flaws,' even to like them, I think. It takes considerable effort, but it's one of the things I am most proud of, and makes life so much more pleasant. Eventually, you will take pride in what your body can do (belly dancing! horseback rding! er, um, sex and the Big O! growing and expelling a baby! breastfeeding!) above what it looks like.

Soon you'll start asking people to start calling you Kate instead of Katie, and you'll grow into your more mature name.

You may be a later bloomer than your friends, but our first boyfriend isn't that far off (I won't tell you exactly how long), and university is a blast! (Well mostly... there are a few painful life lessons in there, but we survive.) A word of advice: don't bother signing up for classes before 10 in the morning in the first couple years or before noon in the last couple. Waste of money.

So I know you want to know what our life is like 15 years later, even though I know your mind doesn't actually compute anything beyond the year 2000. Nothing much happened then, by the way, and the world now usdoesn't really resemble a sci fi novel... well not really. Maybe it's just that the changes have been gradual enough for us to get used to them instead of freaking out. I'm torn, because I kind of want to leave the details as a surprise, but I also want to share them.

We have a wonderful husband, who really loves us for for ourselves, and enjoys our changing shapes. We enjoy being annoyed by his quirks and idiosyncracies, as he does by ours (well, mostly). He has a sexy South African accent (just like that lady you work with at Burger King but sexier), and a beautiful warm smile that crinkles his eyes up. We have a son, who has the same smile and the same eyes, and is seriously the most adorable baby ever. Seriously. And life with a baby is way more enjoyable and rewarding, and way harder and more intense, than we ever imagined. We have a job we enjoy, writing and editing, but haven't done anything so exciting as write a book (we did have a poem published and an interview with Al Purdy back around 96-ish. Oh yeah -- that's something that comes with age: referring to objective years instead of using relative terms like three years ago... the numbers eventually get too big to calculate easily). Don't worry, we don't have a mini van OR a picket fence, but we do own a house with a crumbling patchwork fence and a new car. Oh -- and we just got a cleaning lady. Sorry. I know it's totally Mom but our pack rat tendencies haven't really abated. (I mean, we still have the purple docs you're wearing as you read this!) We don't really write poem anymore, though we did write one this past summer. But we've been making photos... check it out!

Boys with Broken Glass

front porch

kids at community arts centre

(Yeah, we got to go to South Africa -- twice! Although we're not the world traveller we fancy ourselves some time between you and me... but that's ok. We've accepted our mostly home body status.)

Oh, and I know this will make you sad, because it's such a huge part of your life, but we haven't ridden a horse in several years. I know you adore Bailey devotedly -- don't worry, that part doesn't change -- but we sold him when we went to university. It wasn't fair to leave him in the field in the prime of his life. We haven't been able to bring ourselves to visit him because he holds such a special place in our heart. If he were thriving, we would be upset, and if he weren't, we would be upset. So we don't go. But we enjoy the occasional dreams we have about riding him still.

Soon you will get your driver's license and gain some beautiful freedom out there in the boonies. You will enjoy the wind in your hair and a car full of friends and good tunes on summer days. Those will be good days. Why don't you take some pictures? Soon you will really discover booze and cigarettes, and mom will bust you on the butts. Several times. Soon you will discover she has a nose like a bloodhound. You may as well enjoy it while you can. Eventually you stop the self-destructive behaviour, and it's all part of an important learning process. The boy craziness won't really subside until shortly before you meet our husband -- but I'm not gonna tell you exactly when that is.

Oh -- maybe stop writing letters to celebrities and leaving them for me to find. The one to Todd Stottlemeyer wasn't bad (actually it was kind of cute with the marriage proposal and subsequent retraction since you didn't even know him), but the one to Kish was horribly embarrassing: I couldn't get past "I think you're an amazing rapper and amazingly sexy." Especially knowing that the guy wasn't even a one-hit wonder. Oh crap. I've just caught sight of the "Peace Bro" at the end of the letter... I'm cringing hard at that.

So... hang in there. You are a wonderful person, and it won't be long until you can see that yourself. I love you!

Cinnamon Gurl

PS Thank you for writing those letters. If our son, or any future children, have miserable adolescences like we did, I will have proof that I have some knowledge of what they are going through. So I will put your shoe box of letters and poems in the closet with our other mementos, until we meet again.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Flashback Friday: A Decent Proposal

Gah! It's been SO LONG since I've written a Flashback Friday post. In case you've forgotten, the Flashback Friday: Feminist Edition will feature a story that has something to do with being or becoming a woman or feminist. This series will continue until I run out of stories. Thanks to Sunshine Scribe for the Flashback Friday idea.

Pretty much as soon as we met, Sugar Daddy and I embarked on a heady spend-every-minute-together relationship. Marriage, in a way, came up fairly early, but not for the reasons you might think. My sister got married when we'd only been dating for about three weeks (if you can call spending every minute together dating). Sugar Daddy gamely let me cart him off to my parents' place for the weekend, and I totally left him to fend for himself among my family while I acted as Maid of Honour.

(Knowing him now, I can't believe I put him through this. But at the time I still thought he was a happy go lucky surfer type dude who just chose not to talk to other people very much. Now I know he's actually quite shy, and it must have really been a big deal for him. Regardless he made it through no problem. My aunt got drunk and started going on about how Stella got her groove back and that she'd like to get her groove back -- winking at SD all the while -- and my brother approved of my choice in date, citing three reasons: Sugar Daddy went back for seconds at the buffet, he looked uncomfortable in a room full of people he didn't know, and he smiled easily.)

So it was a beautiful wedding, and while people in most early relationships try to avoid the m-word, it was pretty unavoidable in our case. I remember Sugar Daddy said that he thought dating for about a year was a good timeframe to starting thinking about getting engaged. I thought this was a little soon, but didn't say it. (A few years later he had absolutely no recollection of ever voicing such a thought.) On our first anniversary, we went out for dinner at a fancy restaurant downtown, and I wondered if he would pop the question. I didn't feel ready, and ended up spending the meal going back and forth to the toilet. In retrospect, I think it was my first panic attack (the first of many to come). I think Sugar Daddy enjoyed the wine and both our meals without me.

A year later I was feeling ready to move forward in our relationship. We'd been living together for over a year, and we seemed to be going along tickety-boo. Our second anniversary came and went, and I can't actually remember what we did to mark the occasion. I think he gave me the silver bracelet with the Greek key pattern that still adorns my wrist today.

Patience has never been a virtue of mine, and I was starting to get impatient. Before I met Sugar Daddy, I never understood those relationships where one partner wants to get married or have some other form of commitment and the other one totally balks. Well, I can understand that part, but I never understood how uptight the commitment-philic one can get, and how it often eventually deteriorates to an ultimatum. I mean, if you love living with someone enough to commit for life, why is that not enough? Why would you want to consider starting over with someone else?

But all of a sudden I found myself in that very situation, in that very frame of mind. I had never really been keen on marriage itself before, never really had the dreams of the big white dress and the fancy cake when I was growing up. Actually, my teenage fantasies always involved reclusive behavior with either a bottle (or several) and a typewriter, or various large animals, for companions. I had decided that I wanted some kind of life partner eventually, but I never felt that marriage was a necessary part of that.

But once Sugar Daddy started putting the brakes on the commitment train, I started really reving the engines. I got really focused on marriage. By our fourth anniversary, we were living in our house, and having frequent heated discussions. Besides the marriage thing, there was the kids thing. I knew I wanted kids, he didn't know what he wanted. I don't know how to explain it. I really wanted to share my life permanently with Sugar Daddy (as permanently as anything can be), and I wanted him to be the father of my children, but if that wasn't going to make him happy, then I'd better hurry up and start looking for someone else. I worried that he could spend his whole life trying to figure out what he wanted and not figure it out until it was too late.

By Christmas, I was getting pretty heated up about all this. I sort of figured that if he didn't propose on Christmas or my birthday, that that would be it. I really wanted to be with him, but I'd already invested 4 1/2 years of my life with him, and felt that eventually one of us had to shit or get off the pot. We went for the usual Christmas at my parents' place, and we opened our gifts Christmas morning. No ring. No down on one knee thing.

I caught sight of tomorrow's birthday present for me under the tree early in the day, and it was obviously not a ring, since it was a shoe-box sized gift. This really upset me. I spent the whole day alternately ranting and weeping to my family about how we were going to have to break up, and why didn't Sugar Daddy want to marry me? I mean, I was smart, I was kind (mostly), I had red hair, AND I belly danced... what kind of man wouldn't want to marry me?!?

That night we sat around playing cards and laughing, and drinking, and I got quite drunk. By the time Sugar Daddy and I went to bed, I finally started ranting at Sugar Daddy instead of my family. He said, "Look. I'm tired. Can we talk about this tomorrow?" I think I tried to keep going, but he just turned his back and went to sleep. I don't think it took me long to pass out, after such an emotional and alcoholic day.

The next morning, I was not particularly enthusiastic about opening my birthday gifts but I went through the motions. I left Sugar Daddy's for last, I think, and eventually got around to that damn shoe box. It really was a shoe box under the wrapping paper, just as I suspected. In the shoe box were some random items: a wooden elephant sculpture, that I felt touched that he would give me because he'd had it a long time, an old glass bottle, and something else I think. Then I found an amber ring with a piece of paper rolled up in it. I put the ring on my left ring finger, and it fit, and my brother said sarcastically, "Yeah right. Wishful thinking."

I unrolled the paper, with its handwritten question written simply, "Will you marry me?"

My heart seriously pounded and I looked at Sugar Daddy disbelievingly, a little out of breath. He sort of nodded, and his eyes looked wet, and I hugged him. I remember my brother saying, "Holy shit!" at some point. My parents laughed ecstatically, and hugs went around like glasses clinking, and finally in a quiet moment, Sugar Daddy looked at me and said, "Well?" I guess I hadn't actually answered him yet (as if he didn't know).

Even though I'd been totally pushing for it, I never questioned the sincerity of Sugar Daddy's proposal. He came to it in his own time, despite my pushing (certainly not because of it -- he's stubborn like a bull), and his wet eyes and tentative, "Well?" gave away how important this was to him.

Getting engaged really changed the tone of our relationship. We became more of a partnership, and really shared in the decision-making, knowing that we were in it for the long haul. After the proposal, when we fought, instead of constantly wondering if it was time to leave, if maybe this was it, we wondered how to get through this, how to resolve it so we could both be happy. Planning the wedding was our first real joint project, and I'd say we did a pretty great job.

I'm awfully glad he proposed. I can't imagine undertaking the crazy job of parenting a new life with anyone else. And he is a truly wonderful person. Sometimes I think he is all the things that I can never be no matter how hard I try: kind and gentle and tolerant. He articulates the things that I can't, and elevates my pragmatism with his dreams and idealism. He is a better father than I could ever have dreamed of, and I think that is what I most enjoy sharing with him: the amazement and wonder at the small life that embodies and expands our love for one another.

Oh crap, now I've got tears pricking at my eyes again.

The Thinkers

Two Thinkers

Wow. Mad just listed me for a Thinking Blogger Award. Which is pretty cool considering that when I first saw the words Thinking Blogger Award at Bubandpie's, my first thought was of the Mad Hatter, and I was pleased to see her on Bubandpie's list.

I must say, I'm pretty stoked that Mad thought of me, now that I've gotten over my initial reaction that she can't REALLY find me thought-provoking, she's just being nice because I'm so sleep-deprived and have been whining about it. I think that response is natural, when you're nominated by someone whose every single post is not only packed with thought-provoking substance and librarian humour, but topped with a clever, witty title. EVERY SINGLE POST, folks. If I can get a little bit of thought into my posts, there's none left over for a clever title.

Anyways, it's really lovely to have been listed among some of my favourite bloggers. Thanks, Mad.

Now I have to share five more thinking bloggers.

The Mouse's Nest
: Mouse has a Global Warming Wednesday series, which has been getting me thinking, but what has really stayed with me is this post about marriage. I've always been sold on the idea of same sex marriage, but have never really thought about exactly why it's important until I read this post.

World of One Thousand Things: The name says it all really. Aliki2006 writes about all kinds of things with stunning prose: overheard conversations, her students, her children, her memories, travelling... today, her post about her children's sleep literally brought a tear to my eye.

Jen, of One Plus Two, often makes me think, especially about social justice. I especially love her stories about the people she meets in her job. I think it's important that the homeless don't become faceless. And the Just Posts that she and Mad have started provide excellent food for thought, and Jen's recent Just Post about AIDS in South Africa shared numbers I didn't know, despite the fact that I was just there. The reduced life expectancy is especially horrifying.

Lately I've also been getting into Written Inc. Each post (except for today, which has only words about a loved one who has recently passed) showcases one of the blogger's photos and his thoughts about the subject, or the circumstances, or his motivations for shooting. Each post ends with a thought-provoking question to the reader.

I've also really been enjoying Mimi on the Breach's writing on life her with Miss Baby, Pynchon, and a busy career, I think because her life seems quite different from mine (#1 because her baby sleeps), despite the over arching similarities.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

musing on photography

boys informal settlement

Since we've been back, I haven't picked up my camera. Well, except for documenting the useless mini duvet mountain and Swee'pea's attempt to climb the half door to the kitchen. I mean, I haven't take it for walks with me. Partly, it's because I'm busy trying to sort through something like 1500 photos; partly because it's been really f-in cold; partly because I've been busy trying to organize our house and selves for my return to work; partly from sleep deprivation I'm sure. But mostly I think it's because everything is so familiar around here.


In South Africa, I found myself once again questioning my motives for releasing the shutter. Why did I make a photo of one thing, and not another. What was it that sparked me 1500 times? (Actually, I SAW a lot more photos than I took. If the camera was packed away in its bag, many times there was no point in even trying to unpack it, the moment was passed as soon as I recognized it.) A few times, well-meaning family members tried to point out and take me to things that they thought were photogenic. In these instances, I wasn't very interested, photographically, but would half-heartedly push the shutter release out of some strange courtesy. The best reason I could come up with for pressing the shutter was difference, sometimes the touristy-everyone-who-visits-here-takes-a-snap-of-this and sometimes the grittier less pretty places. I suppose it was a sort of colonial impulse to photograph The Other, which I find shameful. Except that it didn't feel shameful. It felt like I was finding beauty everywhere.

pass the smoke

For whatever reason, this wasn't a question that troubled me when I was making photos in Guelph. I just shot things that interested me, things that I thought might look beautiful in the frames of a photo, things that made me laugh, whatever. Sometimes it's pure curiosity: what will that look like in a photo? Other times it was an attempt to make an image that expresses something about the subject, or to capture a "decisive moment" as Henri Cartier-Bresson called it. Looking at my photos of South Africa now, I see that in fact all these impulses are evident, and I probably don't need to worry about my motivations. I suppose really, although I find it kind of embarrassing and scary to admit it, I've been aspiring to make art with these images.

gladstone waiting

This is one of my most favourite images from the whole trip. Gladstone, our township tour guide, let us explore the rooms of the hostel and meet the inhabitants while he waited.

My friend sometimes asks me if I had a million (or millions of) dollars, would I be doing the same thing in the same place? I like my job, but I do it because it provides a pay cheque. If I didn't need the cheque, I wouldn't do it. It struck me while we were in SA, that if I could see new things and places and people, make photos and write about them for a living, that would be the kind of job that wouldn't feel like a job to me. I'm not sure that travelling far and wide would be necessary, or that I would want to with children, but the photography and blogging life would be totally sweet. Since that realization, I've been finding myself wondering if maybe I want to work towards that dream, and what steps would I take? I'd have tons and tons still to learn (things like making sure not to leave my ISO setting at 800 when I'm shooting in the bright and sunny Bo Kaap so that I can blow my images up without getting all kinds of grain, and remembering to clean my lens from time to time so that I don't get a bunch of -- like 300 -- beautiful beach shots with an ugly black hair in the sky, for starters), but maybe...

wall detail

I've never had any interest in being the kind of professional photographer who does family portraits, weddings and commercial work. But doing my own thing first, then putting it in books and exhibits, THAT would be exciting. Maybe it's just because we spent time with Grandpa Cape Town, who I wouldn't call one of the BIG South African writers, but he's published several books, and he's certainly friends with the BIG South African writers. Apparently, Nadine Gordimer was like totally in love with Sugar Daddy when he was a wee baby. I've seen pictures of him then, and I have to say, the boy was CUTE, perhaps even CUTER than his progeny (I think it was the dimples). AND Grandpa Cape Town's friends with David Goldblatt, South African Photographer Extraordinaire, and another British photographer who's been exhibited a few times. So maybe staying with him makes books and exhibits somehow within the realm of possibility, without even stopping to consider whether I'm even the remotest bit of good..

langa scene

It's been a long time since I had a sort of professional dream or ambition. In late 1998 I decided I wanted to put my writing skills to use as a job, and by late 2001, I was doing it, and have done since then. So for more than five years I've been on a bit of plateau, enjoying what I'm doing, and unsure what to think about or work towards next.

at the bar II

Anyways, this was supposed to be about photography not life choices. Today, walking downtown in the mild, early springlike sunshine, I remembered one of the things I wanted to do before we left. I wanted to make photos of some of the kids that go to the youth drop in centre. At first I thought I'd just go and try to catch some smoking outside and maybe try to strike up a conversation with them. What I'd really like to do is make portraits of them, and try to talk to them and get their stories so I can also write a bit about them to go along with the portraits. Maybe, if any of the photos are any good, putting it together as a sort of project or exhibit. I've been thinking a lot about the street kids who stayed with us way back in 1998. About how much it sucks that some kids just don't seem to have any options or decent role models or opportunities, except the criminal kind. So now maybe I'm thinking I could try and volunteer there, maybe get to know the kids first, and learning more about photography, before embarking on this kind of project.

langa stairs

And then I get a bit negative and think what's the point? I'm no artist. This kind of project, these dreams are way beyond me. But I don't have to make these kinds of decisions now. Now, I just have to live and love and hopefully keep picking up my camera.

contrast alley

ps Thanks for your kind comments yesterday!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Prescribing Motherhood

women in chains

Moyo's door handle to the men's loo

The door handle to the men's room at an "African" restaurant in Johannesburg. From that, I guess this must be a stylized breast:

Moyo's door handle to the women's loo

Lately, I've been feeling like a Bad Mother. And not in a bad is the new good kind of way. I'm sure there are a few reasons for this, but top of it is the whole sleep thing. Between teething, jetlag, travel, new places and people, and now illness, Swee'pea's sleep has been as bad as it was when he was six weeks old. Maybe even worse, because back then he went for two hours between feeds. Now, he may have ONE stretch of two hours in the night, but for the most part he's waking like every hour or so. And he's not just rooting around and grunting for The Boob, he's crying, a lot. And sometimes The Boob doesn't even soothe him. Most of the time he cries louder if I even attempt the soother before The Boob, like he's insulted.

I know he's sick, but at 1 in the morning, then 2, then 3, then 4:30, then 5:30 my sympathy flies away with my dreams and sleep. I should feel badly for the little guy that he's feeling so rotten and can't sleep, but instead I say things like, "Ezra [in the confused exasperated voice that is becoming more and more common here], settle down... I can't do anything for you... shhhhhhh." I get grumpy with him in my head. And I'm getting tired of all the extra boob action. Back when he was about six months old, he was down to about two wakings a night after we went to bed. This I can handle. I cannot handle six, and that's not even including the wakings before we go to bed, if we should be so lucky as to get him to go to sleep before us.

Friday night was awful, and funnily enough both Sugar Daddy and I had dreams that I had a second child (a girl, incidentally). Not because we want one (at least not until Swee'pea is Sleeping Through The Night or somewhat close to it), but because it felt like we were living with a tiny little voracious newborn again. Heck, Swee'pea didn't even cry this much as a newborn.

Mimi's post the other day about her daily routine gave me a serious case of baby envy. Well, not baby envy, because I adore my own little Swee'pea, but the routine. She puts her little one to bed around 7:30ish, and doesn't hear from her again for about 12 whole hours. That sounds like some serious heaven to me! And not so much the twelve hours without hearing from the baby, but the early bedtime and stretch of a few hours to hang out together or separately with your life partner. We haven't had time like that since before our trip! I bet we'd fight a lot less for one thing!

Of course, I know the choices we've made are responsible for where we are, and I'm comfortable with many of those choices. But I didn't really choose to have a baby who at one year old has only slept a five-hour stretch a handful of times in his life. We've just made choices about how best to manage that.

Before Swee'pea was born, a friend of mine gave me some books and Mothering magazines at my request. I still have them, and as I was attempting some kind of organization, I saw one of the books. It's called The Complete Guide to Natural Health Care for Children: How to Raise Happy, Healthy Children from Birth to 15 by Karen Sullivan. I've mostly sworn off baby books and stuff, ever since Swee'pea was about six months old and I started enjoying sharing the bed with him and we decided not to sleep train him.

Just after Christmas I stumbled upon the Babycenter website and decided to sign up for their weekly updates about Your Baby. I thought, sure I'll sign up. It will be interesting to find out what milestones are coming up next. But the very first email made me realize what a mistake it was. It said something about how your baby likely has some lovey he or she's attached to. And I realized that the babycentre website is pretty biased about what it expects of parents. Swee'pea's only real lovey is me and Sugar Daddy. Getting that email made me wonder at first if perhaps we were depriving him of something important, but then I came to my senses.

So back to the "natural health" book I picked up this past weekend. I thought, hey, I'm into natural health, let's see what it has to say... I flipped through some pages and the first ones I saw were about electromagnetic waves and how you should make sure your child is never exposed to them. We have our computer on all the time, in the common area, and I often use it while Swee'pea is sleeping on me. Also, we do watch tv around him. Often it's the only thing approaching Me Time that either of us adults get. And it's really not enough. I mostly passed by those pages without reading too much, but it pissed me off. As if I don't have enough to worry about trying to feed him wholesome foods (I've given up on trying to keep him on only organic foods for two reasons: pragmatism, and because it's absurd when I'm breastfeeding and not eating organics myself), keep him safe from injuries while letting him explore his world, etc., etc., etc. Now I have to also worry about the radiation coming off all our electrical appliances. I just don't need that kinda shit.

I saw a chapter on sleep, and decided to take a look, to see if it had anything helpful to say. It wasn't helpful. With a very prescriptive tone, the book told me that we need a routine, that a bedtime routine is essential for children and you have to start from day one. This may be true, but here we are beyond the first birthday and we still have not successfully implemented a bedtime routine of any kind. We have tried, but somehow we just can't make it work. And the book has no concrete suggestions for exactly how to implement a bedtime routine. Part of the problem is likely that Sugar Daddy does at least 50 percent of the cooking, often more, but doesn't usually get home until 6 or nearly 6. So by the time he's had a cuppa, it's like 6:30 before he starts cooking. Even if I'm cooking, I can't usually get it together to start before he gets home. Some meals take longer than others to prepare... Oh heck. Does it really matter?

The other thing is that Swee'pea's bedtime is unpredictable... we'll try the bedtime routine of bath, pajamas, story, then spend the next three hours fruitlessly trying to get him to sleep. And we have discovered that that makes for a shitty evening. Much nicer for one of us to read, do stuff on the computer, maybe watch some tv, play with Swee'pea, then go to bed when we're all tired. This book does use this kind of scenario and the implication is that parents are selfish for not enforcing a bedtime.

I just hate these prescriptive attitudes. They make me feel bad, like I'm not a good enough mother, like I'm doing it all wrong. This on top of the guilty feelings generated by my woken in the middle of the night for the fourth time emotional responses. (And now suddenly I think of the word itself: prescribe, and have to get all Sage-y. To write before -- before seeing, before acting? Interesting...)

Where are the books that recognize that there isn't just ONE RIGHT way to parent? Where are the books that recognize the value of a parent's instinct and intuition in figuring out the best course of action? Where are the books that recognize that children are individuals, and respond differently? That maybe your child won't respond in the expected way? That your exhaustion makes decision making so much more difficult? Where are the books that recognize that following steps 1, 2, 3 and 4, may not be as easy as it sounds, and may not produce the intended effects?

So far, I haven't found any such books, and I'm not very interested in searching far and wide. I think maybe the answer is in the (more descriptive) blogosphere: here, I can find other mothers questioning these books too, sharing their own ambivalent and sometimes unpleasant emotions of mothering, challenging our culture's expectations of a mother's role.

Through these endless nights of watching the clock, I have been having serious thoughts of nightweaning. But then I worry that with me going back to work in less than two weeks and Swee'pea starting daycare, maybe it's just too much adjustment to pile on him. I don't want to completely wean him, but I've heard it can help encourage longer stretches of sleep.

One mother I spoke to in real life told me about her own three and a half year breastfeeding relationship with her daughter. At one point, she lowered her voice and said, "Well I guess I can say this to you, because you're a breastfeeding mother, but I find mothers who don't breastfeed get embarrassed by this: sometimes, even at four and a half, my daughter still likes to just hold my breast."

I was struck again by what an intimate relationship breastfeeding is. It's not the first story like this I've heard. Our culture way over-sexualizes breasts, and some people find these stories disturbing. (I think it's no accident that that restaurant decided the female equivalent of the penis is the breast. Or was it just because they couldn't use a vulva as a door handle -- logistically and/or with concerns over their patrons sensibilities? Either way... it's interesting.) In fact, before I had Swee'pea I also thought these stories were strange and the relationships weird. But now I think our western culture just doesn't know how to make sense of longer breastfeeding relationships, since at least one generation was mostly formula fed, and the next breastfed generation was weaned quite early for the most part. As I walked home from this encounter, I found myself wondering what the effect will be of having children who can remember breastfeeding, remember the comfort and intimacy of such a close relationship. I think it can only be good.
I saw this on Blog Guelph and had to share it here. I just love it! And the music's great too!

And, if you don't know already, The Mouse's Nest has a Global Warming Wednesday series.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Warning: VERY BORING POST AHEAD... sorry!

Well, we accomplished quite a bit this weekend, given that Sugar Daddy and I are coming down with Swee'pea's illness, and Swee'pea is still pretty miserable.

Things we accomplished:
  1. threw out tupperware lids that didn't have containers and containers that didn't have lids.
  2. threw out old ripped Celtic bedspread that we haven't used in four or five years, but which was the very first joint purchase Sugar Daddy and I ever made. We even discussed what would happen to it in the event of a breakup before we bought it...
  3. organized spare room closet, which allowed me to put spare sheets in the closet instead of the dresser whose drawers fall out, which will eventually be put on the curb for a university student.
  4. took box spring out of spare room and put it back under our mattress... happily Swee'pea demonstrated immediately that he knows exactly how to get off a higher bed safely (feet first).
  5. sorted through some of the junk/jewellry in the spare room, putting keepers into pretty boxes on the new shelves in the newly organized closet
  6. threw out like two dozen old Alive magazines, as I haven't referenced them in more than a year; am contemplating tossing the year's subscription my sister gave me of House and Home but think I'll keep them for whenever we get our bathroom gutted.
  7. packed up Swee'pea's baby clothes and receiving blankets that we don't use anymore
  8. re-arranged his furniture, which isn't finished yet (the desk in his room needs to go where the dresser whose drawers fall out is in the spare room so his dresser can go where the desk is)
  9. watched season premier of Amazing Race - All Stars, and was sorry to see Jill and John Vito (who I call Jill Vito and John in my head)... would much rather have seen Charla and Mirna go.
  10. moved clean spare duvets and covers, which our cat had previously been shedding on, from the jolly jumper to the "Space Bag," which was supposed to make them into a compact rectangle, but in fact just made a strange, hard, plastic mini-mountain that I don't know where to put. I think I may try again when I summon the energy.
unsuccessful "Space Bag" attempt

(yes I know that's an ugly duvet cover... I went to university in the nineties! But it still works...

Things we didn't accomplish:
  1. didn't buy a new stove
  2. didn't put up baby gates on the stairs, despite the fact that yesterday Swee'pea climbed all the way to the top -- three times! -- in something like 30 seconds flat. The only way the gate can be attached leaves a 5-inch gap at the bottom, and the instructions say not to leave more than a 3-inch gap. It does look like an ambitious baby could crawl underneath a 5-inch gap... thoughts?
  3. didn't put away clean folded clothes
  4. didn't put a lock on the spare room door so that the cat will stop puking and shedding in there
I have just over a week to finish the two rooms I started, and tackle the dining room, kitchen and computer tables, front hall shelf, and the laundry room...

* * *

In other news, I took Swee'pea to his daycare this morning, hung out with him for an hour or so, then left him for ten minutes. He was fine. Not sure if I mentioned this already last week but I LOVE my daycare provider. I love the way she interacts with the kids (with kindness, patience and respect, but still firm -- it will be a good counterpoint to my less patient ways), and I love what she feeds them. I love that she makes sure they get outside every day. And Swee'pea likes it there too.

PS What can we do with our four jars of change, mostly pennies? And what do you do with your bank statements and pay stubs? Keep them? Toss them, ripped? Shred them?

Friday, February 16, 2007


Before Swee'pea was born, I started my mat leave early. I was getting really annoyed with various comments from people at work about my body, and I thought for sure the baby was coming early. I wanted to make sure I had a bit of me time before I never had me time again. The last few weeks of my pregnancy, I got weekly full body massages - on my belly even because the massage therapist had one of those special pillows for pregnant women, a pedicure, my hair cut and highlighted, I baked cookies with lots of healthy ingredients like oatmeal, nuts, nut butters, and of course chocolate chips, and I tried to sort the house out a bit. I sorted several foot-high stacks of papers, which are now in the file folders that I can't fit any more in now. I washed the baby clothes and blankets and stuff that were handed down to us and the few pieces we bought. I folded them and categorized them into different drawers in the then- empty dresser in the baby's room. I remember when I folded the first load, I smelled the Ivory soap in them. And it hit me. We were going to have a baby. Somehow that smell made it all seem real. Soon a real live baby would fill these clothes.

I remembered that moment today for some reason. I think it was partly because I was thinking about my strategy to put clothes away as soon as they're folded, and how the basket of clothes I folded on Sunday are still un-put away today (Friday). (I have now put them away.) But it also had something to do with the fact that I just bought Swee'pea a proper snow suit for the last few weeks of winter. We were able to get away with the Halloween fuzzy suit before we left, but he needs something wind-proof now that there's actually winter weather. And finally, I think these last few weeks of my mat leave share something with those last few weeks before the baby chaos arrived.

I have that same sense of wanting to enjoy these days before they're gone, that same desire to finally get organized before the shit hits the fan. I have been enjoying the days with Swee'pea since we got back. Even though he's miserably sick, with puffy bruised-looking circles under his eyes, a nose that streams almost continuously except when he blows snot bubbles, a deep, wet barking cough, and occasionally, a sad little hoarse laugh. This morning his breathing has become like Darth Vader except with more rattle and phlegm. While the nights have been quite unpleasant, with lots of crying that we can't seem to comfort, the days have been ok, and he's awfully cute. He sleeps more frequently but more fitfully during the day, so he takes a bunch of catnaps. Mostly, he falls asleep really quickly during the day, sometimes I just cuddle him while I read blogs and he just falls asleep almost immediately. He needs lots of cuddles and hugs when he's awake, and many times he just seems to want me to hold him for a while. He's also been nursing a lot more than usual.

Then he'll get down and play by himself for a while, and cruise around the couch and chairs and walls. He's been spending more and more time on his feet, and the other day I noticed with sadness that his feet are getting calloused. Whenever I open the kitchen door, he speed-crawls over with a huge gleeful grin on his face, and I swear he has a bit of a swagger to his crawl, like I know you don't really like me coming in here but I'm GOIN' IN because I CAN and I WILL; I like it in here, and I am too fast for you.

Periodically he comes over to me for a hug, on foot if there's enough stuff for him to balance on, or crawling if there isn't, and stands between my legs and I hug him. Yesterday he very carefully and very deliberately folded back the two sides of my cardigan. It didn't take me long to figure out that he wanted to nurse, so I did. He's done that several times now, and I totally think it's adorable and irresistible.

His love affair with the tv remote has intensified. Since he's been sick, and I've been feeling slightly under the weather, I've found myself watching tv a bit when he's around. I have to hide the remote behind my back, because once he finds it he either mutes it or changes the channel. I have discovered that he seems to be aware that he can make the picture change by pushing the buttons, because I've caught him pushing a button, then looking at the tv. I had intended not to watch tv around him, but since he's such a high-maintenance sleeper, I would have to give up my shows. I've reduced my watching by a significant margin, but I do still want to watch a few shows (especially Amazing Race - All Stars, which starts this Sunday).

It seems like he's understanding more and more of what we say every day. The other morning as Sugar Daddy was getting ready to leave for work, Swee'pea was sitting in the front hall and I told him, "Daddy's going to work." He looked up at Sugar Daddy and waved his hand! I can say things like, "Come over here and I'll give you [something - I can't think what]" and he'll come over with a smile. Things like that.

My brother has noticed with his kids that after they get sick they usually have some kind of developmental spurt. They suddenly understand a concept they hadn't previously, or master a new skill. I wonder if this will be the case for Swee'pea? This is his first real illness, or the worst anyways. He had hand, foot and mouth disease, but it was really mild, and he had a cold just after Christmas, but it was also mild compared to this. And this, of course, is still fairly mild, I think, in the realm of childhood illness. But I find myself wondering, how bad do I let his cough get before I take him to the doctor? I took him when he first had a fever, because they say to after you've been travelling, but she was unconcerned. The cough sounds bad though. I guess I'll wait and see, and if it's at a point when I would go to the doctor myself, then I'll take him. A few days of a nasty cough doesn't sound THAT major.

All this illness means that I have done nothing on the organization front. I have scheduled the cleaning woman to do a huge spring clean of the ENTIRE house, so I have to have things in better shape, otherwise she won't be able to. But I've done nothing. Between me not feeling so hot, and Swee'pea not really sleeping for longer than half a hour (which is really only enough time to check out a blog or two and certainly not enough for organizing things), I haven't moved forward at all.

Maybe this weekend?

Thursday, February 15, 2007



Sage's comment on my last post reminded me of something that I've been wanting to write about for a while. She said:

I was so uncomfortable with the whole maid system when I was in South Africa. We'd never had hired help in any way while I was growing up, so I didn't know how to respond or treat people. But I will say that I'd never had my whites bleached whiter; it converted me to clotheslines.

I felt the same way exactly, the first time we went to South Africa in 2005. I was really nervous and shy, and felt that it was somehow wrong to have domestic staff, somehow exploitative. I suppose in some ways it is a bit of a legacy of apartheid. Certainly, I never saw a white person cleaning houses.

company gardens

Pretty much all manual labour in South Africa is performed by black people: construction, landscaping, roadworks, garbage collection, pumping petrol. On this visit, I did see a white man helping to maintain some park or something I think. And I saw (and photographed) a white man in a blue uniform sitting with a bunch of other (black) men in blue uniforms, which are commonly seen on "the workers."


That's the white worker, next to Sugar Daddy's elbow.

But that was it, in a land where I saw probably hundreds of construction workers and landscapers. Most servers are still black or coloured, although we did come across some white servers, who were generally very snooty. (Do I need to clarify that in South Africa it's perfectly acceptable and not racist to discuss and acknowledge race? I get hugely uncomfortable talking about race in Canada, where we try to ignore it. But I think these observations are impossible not to make in South Africa.)

I found myself taking a lot of pictures of these men in blue uniforms. I think partly because in Canada, most people building houses and doing landscaping are white.

I felt hugely embarrassed and uncomfortable when the maid cleaned our bedroom, which I doubt I need to say was a total and utter mess. I would have at least made the bed and put things into piles or something if I knew someone was going to (come into let alone) clean our room.

For me, that is one of the great contradictions of apartheid: that black people couldn't move freely, or live outside designated areas, but they could enter the most intimate areas of white people's lives: they could raise their children, clean their messes, and wash their dirty laundry.

watering II

Anyways, back to our visit in 2005. Probably the best thing for me to get comfortable with the whole maid thing, was to stay with Sugar Daddy's Auntie J in Joburg. They had a young woman working as their maid, who stayed in the quarters in the garden. We spent quite a bit of time with her during the day, because the family was out working or at school. Her name was Happy, which sounded like "Hepi" to my Canadian ears. Anyways, she was from Zimbabwe, but spoke English very well. She said the situation in Zimbabwe was awful, with absolutely no opportunities. For her, South Africa was the golden land of opportunity. She was very clear that she didn't want to clean houses forever, and she was trying to get a visa so she could study and become a bookkeeper or something like that.

She was a very sweet young woman, and I enjoyed her softspoken company. She also ironed like no tomorrow. Though I can't say I've been converted to ironing (we still don't own one) but I am converted to the idea of nicely pressed clothes. She even ironed our underwear!

One day she was eating lunch and reading the paper in the original looking 1920's art deco kitchen. The light was soft and I wanted to take her picture. I asked, and she said not in her cleaning clothes and kerchief. She wanted me to wait until she had her nice clothes on after her eight hours were up. So I did, but the picture was disappointing.

All in all, she was treated very well, her hours were the same as mine, and like me when I worked shit jobs in high school and uni, she had ambitions for better work. So the whole maid thing no longer seemed like such a bad thing.

I did get to see Happy again at this visit. She only works a couple of afternoons a week at Auntie J's because she's gotten a job in a doctor's office, and she's studying by correspondence to be a bookkeeper. Her hair hung in long beautiful braids, and (I hope this isn't rude but) she was much more gorgeous than the last time we saw her (and she was pretty the last time we saw her). It was really good to see her. When she got ready to leave shortly after we arrived, she got changed into her street clothes, which were totally high fashion, complete with broad diagonal stripes, big earrings and dainty little high heels. She dresses better than I ever have in my life.

Anyways, it was good to see her looking so well and successful, and I'm so happy that she's able to study.

So... this time around I felt reasonably comfortable with most of the maids we encountered. Bridget, the one whose photograph I posted yesterday, seemed really sweet. After I'd cut up Swee'pea's birthday cake and distributed it to the family, I went back for a second piece for myself. She was sitting in the kitchen, hidden from the family by a partial wall, just sitting. I offered her a piece of cake, and she gestured that she'd like some. I felt good sharing the cake with her, because even though she was new, it seems to me that a closeness develops with people who spend so much time in the same space.

bicycles at cat and moose

* * *

On Monday I bought some bananas that were ripe, and I knew we couldn't eat them all on time. That's ok I figured; I'll make banana bread. And I may as well get the ingredients for the macaroni and cheese with leeks while I'm at it. Ooh and I can make my yummy lasagna too.

Yesterday morning I remembered that our oven is broken.

We need to buy a new one AND have it installed before I can use an oven again. Wah!

* * *

To the person who came here wanting to learn "how to write Runny Poo in graffiti." I'm sorry. I don't know how. (But I am pleased that I am Number Two in the search results, even above a popular blogger like Dad Gone Mad.)

To the person in Australia who first came here searching for "getting caught without South African passport" and then a few minutes later came searching for "chances of getting caught without South African passport?" try calling the Ottawa Embassy. Who knows, maybe you're not actually a South African citizen.

* * *

Poor Swee'pea sounds worse than a two-pack-a-day-for-eighty-years smoker. He's miserable. So are we.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

more random pics and bits

elephant at waal street

Oh dear. I'm not doing so well on the organizing front.I put some clean towels into a new basket-like thing, instead of the bare pine shelf so now you see canvas basket-like things instead of a mass of towels. In doing so, I discovered some kind of air pump thing for an aquarium. We have never ever had an aquarium, not even before we met each other. So it's something of a mystery how it came to be in our house, and how it made it through several "editing" purges. It remains on top of the towel shelf, because I don't know what to do with it. I need to start a donation box.

I also transferred some mementos from dusty old shoeboxes to pretty striped boxes. But that was about it, apart from bringing things out from not very hiding places and putting them on the living room floor in anticipation of more organization, which never happened. I couldn't even make it through House.

Today is the day our cleaning woman comes for two hours and cleans our kitchen, bathroom, living room and hallway. So I took the stuff I need to organize and dumped it in the laundry or on top of the growing pile on the dining room table. I am totally not exaggerating. The clean laundry remains hanging on the jolly jumper, which is still in one piece in the dining room. Of course, I use the term dining room loosely because the table is pushed up against the window and holds our broken cd player which can still play music when it's hooked up to the computer, which is next to the window.

In South Africa, I think maids get paid for a day about what we pay for an hour. Also not an exaggeration. Of course, I realize this is not a good thing for the maids in South Africa, but boy, we stayed in some clean houses with well-ironed clothes.


This is Bridget, Stepsister's new maid, who I couldn't take my eyes off, she was so stunning. She doesn't speak English very well yet, but she enjoyed my cake. What does it say about me that I won't share photos of family members online but I will share photos of their staff?

Also, little Swee'pea is sick... he had a fever yesterday and last night, a nasty barking cough, and a pathetically hoarse and screechy voice every time he woke up crying last night -- about every hour. Also not an exaggeration, because I looked at the clock in frustration EVERY time.

hug near bookstore

Belated New Year's Resolution

Keep house cleaner.

New Strategies for the Ancient War on my Pack Rat Tendencies:

1) Take the extra 10 minutes once clean clothes are folded to actually put them away, like in drawers and stuff.
2) Open mail once a week instead of once a month, even the bank statements. Throw out envelopes, etc. Put up sign refusing flyers.
3) Get closet organizers, and, you know, organize them.
4) Disassemble Jolly Jumper and put in the basement. Find alternative laundry storage that the cat won't sleep/shed/puke on.
5) Do something with the foot-high pile of "to be filed" papers on top of the overfilled files that can't fit anymore in. Maybe buy some new file folders and start a 2007 set?
6) Stop using the kitchen table as a dumping ground.
7) Stop using the dining room table as a dumping ground.
8) Stop using the front hall shelf as a dumping ground. Maybe buy a new piece that fits more shoes and stuff in it.
9) Stop using every single surface out of Swee'pea's reach as a dumping ground. Find permanent homes for stuff or throw them out right away.
10) Stop using the laundry room as a dumping ground; stick to the basement.
11) Donate Donate Donate: clothes that I only wear for Halloween; clothes that I haven't worn in two years (except that in those two years I've been pregnant and postpartum, so maybe that's not fair?); serving dishes that I don't like as much as the new ones we got in South Africa.
12) Put away maternity clothes and baby stuff in a semi-permanent way.
13) TBD


Thanks to the generosity of Sugar Daddy's family, we have a much smaller debt from our trip than we expected. So this morning I went out and dropped a bunch of money buying various items to organize our house and closets: boxes, baskets, drawer units, etc. Plus a coupla gates for the top and bottom of the stairs. Hopefully tonight I will not drop suddenly after dinner from jetlag and will be able to organize some stuff somewhere between dinner and House.

baskets on tiles

sitting with graffiti

Just a coupla random shots... Posting and organizing photos is proving a long and arduous process... check out my flickr page periodically if you want sneak peeks in the meantime... I'm uploading every day.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Swee'pea's South African Adventure

I think it was the Oh The Joys who suggested we try some magical thing called Chockits while in South Africa, and boy did I. We brought back three boxes (and I felt scared handing our form declaring absolutely nothing to the customs officer wearing blue rubber gloves -- why?!? -- but it wasn't like it was meat or produce or something like that), but even though the box proclaims, "18% Free," it's not nearly enough. We are nearing the bottom of the second box and we've only been home just over 48 hours. This is a bit disturbing, but they are REALLY good! Why oh why don't they sell them in Canada???

Anyhow, I've started sorting through the 1350 photos I was able to recover from various cds and memory cards, and I'm a bit unsure how to proceed. Do I make new posts for some of my favourites or do I republish old posts and add in relevant photos? Or do I just tell you to go to my flickr page? Suggestions? Anyone?

In the meantime, I think I will dip my toe into the ocean with photos of Swee'pea: his birthday and various encounters with sun, sand, air and water.

fun in the sun

In the pool at Grandpa Cape Town's

Swee'pea at Kirstenbosch I

Checking out the flowers at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Swee'pea at Kirstenbosch II

After getting grumpy in the stroller, we put him in the sling. I was totally terrified that the sunscreen wouldn't actually work, but it did. I am proud to say that he may have been eaten alive by mosquitoes but he didn't get burnt at all.

district six museum

Checking out the mural at the District Six Museum. Sadly, I can't remember what it was about, but it was really nice.

Mum and Sleeping Babe

Aha! A picture of myself that I actually like. You can see some of the mozzie bites on his arms and face.

rainbow bouldersbeach 100

After the swim at Boulders Beach (pictures below), it started to rain and we saw the most perfect rainbow I think I've ever seen.

gladstone ezra Township 089

With Gladstone, the guide who took us on the township tour, in the common area of the hostel with six bedrooms housing 54 (!) people. One family per single bed.

first birthday cake

His birthday cake, complete with single candle and thai carrot garnishes.

birthday with great dane

After the cake explosion around Swee'pea's head, Stepsister's dog moved in for the cleanup.

hola fishies!

Hola Fishies! (At the Cape Town Aquarium) Right after a woman came up and put some ointment on his mozzie bites.

feeling the seaweed

Feeling the seaweed at the touch exhibition

noticing the ocean

After he studied the sand with his back to the ocean, he turned and discovered the ocean. He started crawling towards it, a gleeful grin on his face...


Until a wave surprised him and he started to cry.

swimming bouldersbeach 056

He got over the surprise and enjoyed a swim around the sheltered bay. He discovered that he loves the taste of salt water and kept trying to drink it.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Home Sweet Home

Coming home was surprisingly surreal and slightly disorienting. I think it was mostly the result of essentially going backwards in time, crossing several time zones in a relatively short time, and experiencing an unnaturally long day of sunlight in the plane.

The flights were not as bad as I expected, and the overnight leg up the length of Africa was actually fine. Swee'pea slept for the first seven hours or so, and with my best, most focussed efforts to sleep, I only slept for about three or four of those. Interestingly, we got seated next to a couple from Manchester with a boy exactly the same age as Swee'pea; they even had the same birthday. Also, the boy's mother grew up in SA, and stayed in Granny's neighbourhood. From Amsterdam, we sat next to a man who had been in east Africa: Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar. He had even hiked up Kilimanjaro, although the last day of hiking he was too sick (suffering severe vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration) from the altitude to keep up with his group. He kept going though, and eventually reached the top. He doesn't really remember how he got there. I asked him if it was worth it, and he said definitely. He'd seen ultra fit people unable to make it to the top, so I guess it gave him a real sense of accomplishment. It certainly doesn't sound like it was an enjoyable activity just in itself. On this flight, Swee'pea slept for the first two or three hours and I even got to watch Step Up, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I have quite a taste for bad dance movies.

By the time we landed in starkly sunny and cold Toronto, our minds were hazy with fatigue and it took a long time to get through various customs and passport checks, and find our enormous amount of checked luggage: three bags stuffed to bursting, Swee'pea's carseat, and a box full of bubble-wrapped pottery, which I am pleased made it through the trip in all its appropriate pieces. Uncle J is such a good wrapper, we should call him MC J. A car service drove us home through slow rush hour traffic and all three of us fell asleep to the rhythm of the stop and go. We woke up in near darkness, pretty much outside our house.

Some things have been really disorienting. I felt really weird getting into the passenger seat on the other side of the car, and I couldn't remember the state we'd left the house in. I find when I make a cup of tea for myself, I can't figure out how much 2 per cent milk to put in after the full cream milk we used in SA. 2 per cent makes it look distinctly grey in comparison, no matter how strong the tea is. I've driven for a couple of errands, and as long as I don't think about it, I drive on the right side of the street no problem. But every once in a while I have a momentary panic behind the wheel, and can't figure out which side I should be on. Once I stop worrying, it's fine again.

Despite those odd moments, it feels SO good to be home. I can't even describe the heaven of collapsing into our very own, very familiar and just right bed at 8:30 last night. Although it was a great trip, great to introduce Ezra and enjoy the ease of summer days, I'm glad it's over. Already my memory is undergoing some kind of distillation process, evaporating the worries and challenges and discomforts of the trip, and condensing the warm happy good bits into a clear elixir. Certainly, travelling with Swee'pea was mostly easier than I expected. The flight was for sure; it didn't seem like he even noticed the ascents and descents at all, despite my white knuckles and accelerated heartbeat. That said, I think Em was right when she said that between 10 months and 2 years is the hardest time to travel with a child (or something like that; I can't be arsed to actually look up the advice she wrote at my request way back when we first booked our flights)... he's totally mobile but doesn't really understand or obey verbal directions. Also, the time change really seems to bother him, probably because he has no understanding of why, but he just feels wrong internally. I really look forward to travelling with him when he's of an age to retain his own memories, and talk about the places and we're seeing and experiencing.

Since we've been home it hasn't been all sweetness and light. We came home to several messages about some family drama, and even worse, the cds I burnt in SA have been corrupted somehow. I've been able to recover most, but not all, my photos, except for two cds, which seem to be unreadable. I've dropped them off at a computer shop to try to recover the images, which I think are of Kirstenbosch and the art gallery. Random photos have just disappeared on the cds we've been able to recover, and a couple of them were really great shots from the Bo Kaap. This bit makes me really sad. Luckily, however, I still have a few good ones left from the Bo Kaap, and my favourites from the township tour made it through unscathed.

Mostly, it's amazing how quickly we can just slip into our usual Canadian winter lives, walking to the market this morning to buy produce, eggs, cheese and bread, and not bothering to lock the front door because the key was upstairs, washing laundry, grumbling about the chaotic and overflowing clutter and vowing to do something about it, then settling down to a cup of tea and the computer, the tide of clutter still rising unchecked. When we first walked in, I turned up the heat right away, and Swee'pea just looked around with VERY wide eyes for about twenty minutes. Then he got down and crawled around in circles, as if unbelieving that we were home. Apart from the challenges of the time change (we all woke up at like 4 in the morning), he seems happy to be home.

I've been lurking around some of my old blogger haunts, a bit too overwhelmed and late to bother commenting, but enjoying your posts immensely. This travel writing has been so monologuish I think it will take a day or two for me to get back into the blogging swing of things.

Last time we got back from South Africa, Amazing Race (7 I think -- the one with Rob and Amber) was on episode three a few days after our return. That episode was the one when they went to Joburg, and it was so amazing watching them go to places that were so recently familiar to me. It was actually kind of funny, because I totally felt like we were on Amazing Race when we were travelling this time. This time, I most definitely did not feel like I was on the show since no one's ever played with a baby in arms. But I am returning to very happy news that an All Stars season will be starting very soon. Apart from Ian and Terri, and Uchenna and Joyce, I highly approve of the maker's decisions. Oh -- and I wish Colin and Christie were back but what can you do? Also, apparently they go to Mozambique, which I've been reading about and am interested in exploring one day, along with Zanzibar, Namibia, Ethiopia and the rest of South Africa, etc. etc. etc.

Anyhow, you can expect

Thursday, February 08, 2007

yzerfontein and cake

If you are planning to bake your first cake for your first child’s first birthday, I would not recommend doing it in someone else’s (especially your in-laws’) kitchen in a foreign country. It’s quite a bit more stressful than it probably needs to be, and trying to figure out the different names of different flours and doing conversions – well, it’s just not that much fun. That said, the cake is baked, iced and decorated with the carrot flower garnishes we got from the thai restaurant we ate at last night. Except for the icing, it was easier than I expected. Next year we’ll try actually decorating the cake.

Sunday afternoon, Grandpa Cape Town drove us up to the beach house at Yzerfontein while Stepmom stayed home with all the dogs. There’s some really great graffiti in this country, and Cousin R said it’s even encouraged in some places. I certainly think that colourful, well done graffiti is much preferable to blank gray walls. Some savvy companies have even started employing graffiti artists to paint graffiti advertisements, which seems a really great way to reach the young hip crowd.

After the graffiti, a dry landscape of fynbos, grass and sand whizzed by the car window. It’s mostly flat with small koppies, with patches of very small trees and shrubs. Mostly there aren’t any trees though. It actually seems a lot like a sand dune ecosystem, and we drove past some large dunes at a place called Atlantis that looked like a field of snow in the distance. I didn’t get to see these large dunes, because you need a permit that we didn’t have, but apparently people sandboard down them. Next time, I guess.

The area is prone to fires, which the fynbos are adapted to. Some fynbos even spread their seed by fire. The mostly green stretches of low fynbos with tiny patches of sand were broken by recently burnt out areas of pale sand punctuated by the black skeletons of shrunken gnarled burnt trees. This land is flatter, less dramatic than the land around Pilanesberg way up north of here, and I didn’t see any nasty looking thorns. I think maybe it’s the high winds that make the difference. We did pass a sign with bullet holes in it though.

It’s also emptier of people than up by Pilanesberg, and we didn’t pass a single person walking, or settlement, once we were out of the city. It was so hot that the air above the road shimmered, and a row of cars in the distance looked like drops of mercury rolling down the hill. Grandpa Cape Town is working on an article about Afrikaans music, so that’s what we listened to on the way up. It’s kind of like new country, but in Afrikaans, which to my ears is not a particularly musical language – too much spit gargling.

The beach house is fairly big and modern, bright white, both inside and out, with a small koppie rising up behind it. As soon as I opened the car door, the sound of the sea rushed in. Outside the little village, the beach house is among enormous new holiday homes, mostly empty, and spread out on large plots of land. Real estate signs abound, inviting more development. Some of these houses are worth upwards of R5 million ($1 million CAD), and Grandpa Cape Town’s is modest by comparison. At least 80 per cent of the houses are all white, and they literally glow against the impossibly blue sky. It’s uncompromisingly bright here, with absolutely no trees to shade out the bright sun, and the great reflecting umbrella of the ocean. The first afternoon we were there, we even put sunscreen on Swee’pea indoors, because the walls of the living room are mostly floor to ceiling windows with no coverings of any kind. By the next day, our eyes had adjusted to this new brightness, and we were less concerned for Swee’pea’s fresh fair skin.

On the main floor is an open concept kitchen, dining area and large living room, with two guest bedrooms and a guest bath separated from the common space by a door. Upstairs are three bedrooms, one for Sugar Daddy’s stepsister and husband, one for their two kids, and one for Grandpa Cape Town and Stepmom. Each bedroom upstairs has its own bathroom, and Grandpa Cape Town’s room has two!! The bathrooms have been thoughtfully outfitted with little hotel soaps, gels and lotions. I giggled when I imagined Stepmom surreptiously gathering them from various hotel rooms, but then I saw a box in the pantry, and realized they must have ordered them from somewhere.

In the south Table Mountain was barely visible 100 kilometers away through the haze. In fact, it was more the clouds that always seem to collect around its top like flies around a honey pot.

The fynbos, and the insects, rodents and reptiles they shelter and feed, support a lot of birds, and we saw many different kinds of birds of prey. There were small falcons that had so tamed the air currents and high wind here, that they hovered completely motionless above the koppie, then would dip a wing like a saluting plane, and swoop gracefully on the attack. If unsuccessful, they would rise effortlessly up again, and hover completely still until it saw something else to go after. We spent quite a while watching the birds out the back door.

It was very peaceful, yet surprisingly loud for such a peaceful place. We went to bed with the windows closed, but even so, all night during Swee’pea’s frequent wakings, I could hear the thunder of waves crashing against huge rocks below the roar of the strong wind.

Something about being by the sea unleashed some inner wild man in Sugar Daddy. I felt like I was watching a bloodythirsty Hulk burst out of his clothes and step out from his formerly meek vegetarian exterior, leaving it discarded like an empty shell. He decided that he simply must have fresh fish cooked on the braai. First he went fishing, leaving me dumbfounded as he trotted resolutely off with the house rod. (Although I knew he used to fish as a kid, I have never known him to pick up a fishing rod, or have any interest in doing so before.) He came back empty-handed but invigorated, and even more intent on Finding Fresh Fish.

We went into the village and asked where we could buy fresh fish. Apparently an Afrikaaner woman named Sunette supplies the entire village out of her house and we got directions. I was a bit concerned about buying fish from a stranger’s house, but Sugar Daddy said we could just have a look and see what there was. The house smelled. I’ve been in fishmongers’ before so I know what fish smells like, but this smelled worse. It put me off. She opened a deep freeze full of intact fish, and Sugar Daddy asked if she had anything cleaned. I didn’t see the point of buying frozen fish when we can do that anywhere, but bloodthirsty Sugar Daddy didn’t ask me.

Sunette took us out the side of the house, where there was quite the little fishing enterprise, complete with walk-in freezer and a row of rubber pants and boots hanging on the wall. Still, a huge frozen headless fish (still with tail, fins and scales) pulled from someone’s driveway freezer didn’t really jibe with my vision of fresh filets from a shop. But Sugar Daddy didn’t consult with me and just paid the 60 rands. Somehow Sugar Daddy figured out the charcoal barbecue and made rather a success of the enormough beast of the sea, and we had a big feast. I only had a few bites of the fish though, the remembered smell of Sunette’s house still lingering in my nostrils.

On the way home, we stopped at a San cultural centre, the only centre of its kind in the Western Cape, which is focused on providing some kind of restitution for the nearly extinct San people. They offer training, and sell San arts and crafts in the gift shop, serve meals at a fairly nice restaurant and offer tours of the hills to a ‘cultural village.’ The site is beautiful, with beautiful white buildings, and I took quite a few photos of the area.

This afternoon, we are going to Sugar Daddy’s stepsister’s place in Noordhoek to celebrate Swee’pea’s first birthday. Now that the cake is baked, already my mind is turning to the return trip, which will begin tomorrow night, and the things we have to pack for it. I am looking forward to going home in many ways, but I am not looking forward to leaving summer.

This visit has left me longing for a visit with my own boisterous people, where our differences are out in the open and I don’t have to navigate the interpersonal undercurrents of strange water, trying to make sense of their origins and directions. Stepmom and Grandpa Cape Town are wonderful and gracious hosts, but it seems like Grandpa Cape Town is more comfortable playing the role of unobtrusive tour guide than grandfather. I feel like I’m having to be on best behaviour, but failing in some (most/all) of my more stressed out moments.

* * *

It’s the early morning on the day of our departure, but we have all day to pack and go to Boulders Beach, since our flight doesn’t leave until 11. The birthday party was nice yesterday and the cake was a hit. Swee’pea seemed to prefer the icing though, and emerged from the encounter covered in icing and cake crumbs. We had to drive over top of a mountain strewn with grey rocks like a giant’s midden, along a steep and windy road to get to Noordhoek. Sugar Daddy and I were in the back with Swee’pea in the middle and we couldn’t do up our seatbelts because of his carseat. I kept thinking about how if we got in a car accident, Swee’pea would probably become an orphan. I didn’t like that thought. Sugar Daddy saw a green VW beetle with the word Swee’pea on the side, some kind of marketing.

Once there, we drank some lovely sparkling wine, and ate some yummy nibbles, then lit the candle on the cake and sang Happy Birthday.

So that’s that. Must get started with packing now…

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Letter to Swee'eap: Your First (Well, Second?) Birthday

Dear Swee’pea,

Today you are one year old. As I type this, you are playing with empty plastic containers in the playpen at Grandpa Cape Town’s. You turn the container in your hand, inspecting it from all angles, then try to fit it into another larger container. Then you take it out and move on to another container. Since we arrived here on the other side of the earth from where you were born, we have discovered that the most absorbing toys for you are tupperware containers, measuring spoons and other kitchen utensils. Whisks are particularly fascinating, and you bend the wires as you try to chew them.

I am sad to say that you look like you’ve been through the wars, peppered with mozzie bites and self-inflicted scratches from trying to relieve the itching. That said, you look a lot better than you did a few days after we arrived in this country, before we started closing the windows at night and turning on a fan to keep us cool. You’ve also had a few knocks to your noggin as you gain confidence on your feet. You still pretty much always hold onto or lean against something for balance, but you’ve been moving faster and faster, leaving you more vulnerable to trips and falls.

The other day you experienced the cold Atlantic ocean washing over your feet, and felt the cold wet sand squeeze between your toes. This trip has shown us how much you enjoy water now, and you squeal and kick your feet in excitement whenever we take you near Grandpa Cape Town’s pool. Once in the pool, you splash your face full of water, but it never seems to bother you. You just blink the water from your eyes and splash again. Tomorrow, I’m hoping we can take you to Boulders Beach, where it’s warm enough to swim in the ocean and sheltered from the wind. It’s so nice that many penguins have made it their home, so maybe you’ll even get to swim with a penguin or two.

You continue to charm the pants off strangers. Just yesterday, when we stopped at the San cultural centre on the way back to Cape Town, we were sitting at a table on the wide covered porch, waiting for our orders to come and looking at the beautiful hilltop view of the ocean and the seaside village of Yzerfontein in the distance.

A group of people carrying small suitcases came onto the lawn and sat at several tables with umbrellas. I tried to work out what they were doing, if they were tourists, or somehow involved with the centre. They were all black, and many of them wore t-shirts with caring messages on them like “Do the Right Thing Pay Your Child Support” and “HIV POSITIVE” and “Stop Poverty.” Grandpa Cape Town thinks they were part of an NGO, touring the centre.

You raised your open hand to the ones who were in waving distance, and made your sort of grunting noises in welcome. You smiled and waved again when they reciprocated, and continued even after they looked away. After a while, a young woman came up and asked if she could take you. I tried to pretend that I was all cool and hip with this, just letting strangers take my baby away. Your daddy asked, “Where?” Anyways, you didn’t protest when she picked you up, and you mildly concerned when she took you away, but seemed more comfortable when you saw me hovering behind with my camera. They took some pictures of you and laughed at your noises and smiles, and then I took you back when your noises took on a note of protest. It seemed strange to me, but especially because you’ve made strange when just about any of your family tries to hold you.

At the beach house, Grandpa Cape Town worked on a campaign to woo you, and eventually was successful when he picked you up just after the gentle colours of the sunset had darkened to indigo, and he pointed out the stars to you that were coming out over the ocean.

Again last night, when we ate our deliciously spicy thai meals, strangers, mostly young women with their own babies at home, seemed to never tire of picking up the toys you dropped over and over in one of your favourite games. At one point, a group of four or five young woman, fairly well dressed up came in the door and immediately caught your eye. You started smiling and flirting with them before they’d even closed the door and turned around. Your smiles were successful, as the one in a striking black and white striped dress was dazzled and stopped to chat with you. I suspect this could be the beginning of a long future of flirtation.

Recently, I think you have discovered the hilarity of doing things that your daddy and I don’t want you to. At the beach house, your daddy fed you dinner and you discovered that if you timed the raspberry just right, you could send rice cereal and pureed butternut squash all over daddy, the table and your high chair. Daddy’s reaction was especially pleasing to you, I think, and your giggles got louder and more hearty with each (would-be) mouthful. He tried to discourage you, but we are slaves to your laughter, so it wasn’t long before we were laughing along with you, covered in rice cereal and butternut.

Staying with five dogs as we have been, you have enjoyed dropping food from your high chair and watching them quickly pounce on it. At the beach house without the dogs, you continued to drop morsels, although I think you knew there weren’t any dogs to eat them. It dawned on me that perhaps you are really learning about gravity. That if you drop things from your high chair, they fall to the ground, every single time.

Exactly a year ago from the moment I write this (even allowing for the time difference), I was in labour at the hospital, with the two monitors strapped around me. The contractions were still not too bad. It was about this time, I think, that the midwives transferred care, and the OB recommended that we proceed with labour instead of doing the c-section then. All kinds of emotions were riding through me then, but the biggest one was fear: fear that you wouldn’t survive and fear that you would. It was only at this time, when your birth was imminent, that I realized that I really had no idea how to care for a baby. This past year has been a revelation in so many ways, but mostly that we have been able to muddle through our uncertainty in a way that has allowed you to thrive.

It seems to me that your birth exploded my universe like the Big Bang. Since then, my love just keeps expanding outward as you get bigger and stronger and older. Every new milestone, every hug and kiss are the markers of the outer reaches of this ever-expanding love, and I never tire of exclaiming over the wondrousness that is you.

So I wish you Happy Birthday, and thank you for bringing such wonder and beauty and more love than I thought possible into our lives.

Love Mum