Thursday, December 29, 2011

Holiday photos

Three Sisters (Northern Cape) and Paarl (Western Cape)

Swellendam and surrounds... (Western Cape)

Nature's Valley

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

God’s glory in a December holiday

This blog post is far too long. Sorry. (Photos to come!)

In no particular order, here are some of the prezzies I received this Christmas…:

#1 Family

Our trusty Volkswagen first took us to Paarl, where we celebrated Tom and Debbie’s wedding. Every cousin, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew and grandparent was there, save three. On the rare, precious occasions when I find myself amongst the wider, greater, abundant Grobler clan, I always feel dwarfed by – in awe of – this amazing family, and I so wish we could all be in geographical proximity far more often, and I know that I am immensely rich.

We met Paul and Sue in Swellendam for a night, then stayed on, just the four of us and Lola, to pick berries, picnic, splash in rivers and generally explore the splendid towns and countryside of the Western Cape. The definition of nuclear family is father plus mother plus kids. Which is terribly mediocre. I would say the nuclear family is a solid, unseen place that is always home. I would say it’s the place where I am happiest and most myself, that it’s the crux of life, and that I store most of my love in its walls. 

Then it was on to Nature’s Valley and adoring cousins who dragged Scott everywhere and elicited his continuous laughter and my sisters who babysat while we walked on the beach at sunset and my mom whose bedtime reading stamina is matched only by Cam’s insatiable hunger for stories.

#2 Cam and Scott

We couldn’t keep the boys out of the water and we happily resigned ourselves to a very soggy, salty, sandy, SPF 30 holiday! Typical holiday activities like sleeping late, reading on the beach, or going for long mountain walks, didn’t even feature on this holiday’s horizon. But we are just so enjoying our two little boys who are, as Murray puts it, ‘small and snuggly’, and such striking symbols of vitality.

Scott walks everywhere, all the time. Quietly. With great stealth, clear intent and moderately calculated risk. He is clever, dangerous, and world-record-breakingly gorgeous. (Last night while I lay voluntarily incapacitated in the bath with conditioner on my hair, he opened the kitchen cupboards and delivered to me, one by one, six mugs. He carefully placed each one on the edge of the bath, said ‘Ta!’ most politely, then turned around and padded back down the passage to fetch the next one.)

It's still a gift every time I notice Scott following a distant seagull's flight. And every time he catches my eye across the room to give me a crafty raised eyebrow and a devastating smile. He has already caught up and overtaken Cam in certain hand-eye coordination activities, and we’re often quite aghast to realise just how different Cam’s journey is and has been. Cam has started compensating for his vision by telling us what he thinks we want to hear. Like when I ask him what he can see, he might say, ‘A blue river and beautiful flowers!’ when the right answer would have been, ‘A road and some grass.’ Still, he is unbelievably brave and resilient, dusting himself off as if it’s the most normal thing in the world when he misjudges a depth or trips over something, and his tears over a graze or a bumped forehead are standard three-year old lamentations and scarcely tinged with self-pity.

We had some fascinating conversations with Cam. Because of Tom and Deb’s wedding, he asked me a lot about marriage. Once I had explained that in fact he couldn’t marry me, I told him that when he is all grown up Jesus will bring a beautiful girl into his life for him to love forever, but that he needn’t worry about it just yet. He was quiet for a while then asked, ‘When do I need to worry about it?’ Throughout the holiday he often made mention of his ‘special little girl’ (= future wife) even saying that he would like to share his special little girl with Scott. A hasty explanation of what one should and shouldn’t share with one’s brother ensued.

Cam also asked us (again), ‘But how do we get to heaven when we die?’ Murray produced a superb toddlerised metaphysical explanation of how Jesus will come and fetch us, leaving our old/sick bodies behind and giving us new ones in heaven and that no one in heaven ever gets tonsillitis or ear infections. A thoughtful pause. ‘Will there be a toilet there in case we need to wee?’

Cam is not all theology and philosophy, though. At the Carols by Candlelight, he danced and clapped passionately, and when I sneaked in a bit of Boney-M iPod time on the way back from the beach he wouldn’t get out the car, staying to listen to Mary’s Boy Child and then asking me to play it again so that we could dance to it.

He’s also not all good. Yesterday he poured 2 litres of engine oil into the car and over the driveway. But as quick as he is to cause trouble or throw a tantrum, he is also quick to apologise and offer help (e.g. ‘Grandpa, if you get tired of driving I can just take over…’).

#3 Mary Poppins art

I’m useless when it comes to all things artistic. I barely know which end of the paintbrush to hold. I can’t tell the difference between what is officially good art and officially bad art. But to me, for as long as I can remember, a painting is good if it makes me want to dive inside it and be there – the way Mary Poppins and the chimney sweep guy and the two kids magic themselves into the chalked picture on the pavement in the movie. My (actual) Christmas present from Murray was a breath-taking oil painting of the mountains, beach and sea of Nature’s. Now, when we walk on the beach, I can say, ‘We’re inside my painting!’ And now, when I need to solve the world’s problems, I can magic myself into the realm behind the wall of our lounge and be there because it’s amazing how many solutions you can come up with if you walk the length of your favourite beach.

#4 Restless rest

We didn’t get to catch up on sleep. Apparently, Scott wakes up a lot on the plateau, and he also wakes up a lot at sea level. It wasn’t really a restful holiday in the traditional sense of the term. Yet somehow the distractions of fresh air and sunshine and raucous splashing and giggling and eight spirited cousins together in one house make for a system reboot of sorts. Restless thoughts of a year past and a year to come somehow find a place to land.

#5 Timeless things

Like reading The Enchanted Wood to the boys at bedtime.

It’s the same copy that my sisters and I would take to bed with us decades ago, breathlessly excited to discover – and then re-discover as we read it over and over – which land was at the top of the Faraway Tree. Cam is transfixed. Living himself into those gnarled magic branches. Just like I did. Still do. (Scott is less transfixed. Wide blue staring eyes. Rhythmic sucking as he consumes litres of soporific milk.)

And like Christmas at Nature’s.

Some windows are lit up as the sun goes quiet and pink behind Robberg and the sea turns silver. There are sunburnt kids on bicycles and golden retrievers and surfboards and barefoot smiling greeting people and soft-treading locals. You feel very here-and-now – present – but the past reminds you that it’s there too with memories on every breath of the sea and forest. This is where the ashes of my grandparents lie buried beneath a yellowwood. This is where my parents were teenagers in love. This is where I was a teenager in love. We take our picnic mats to Carols by Candlelight at the lagoon and it’s all at once lovely and overpoweringly beautiful and strangely sad for me and it’s one of the final road markers in my year. Then it’s Christmas morning and the chaos of wrapping paper and sheer delight and church and more family arriving and lunch. Then the aftermath and again strange sadness.

Here’s something I wrote earlier in the year.

Nature’s Valley

Season by season
We come
And have come –
Tide in, tide out
Of generations;
Lives linked by a timeless tranquillity
That binds and transcends
Age and infancy

Season by season
We come
Bringing our stuff of the year –
Our own fires, floods, droughts,
Splendid sunsets, tender rains –
To contemplate in the mirror of your own
To leave on your shores
To sigh into your forests

Season by season
We come
To cry and rest and laugh and let the
Salt splash waves crash
Drown the clamour of city thoughts

Season by season
We come
To marvel breathless at His fingerprints
On iridescent feathers flowers skies and stars
And on each other

Season by season
We come
To remember why we hope.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Two holiday haikus


‘How many more sleeps…?’
The beach beckons; we already
Smell salt and fynbos.


Whispering lights in
Windows remind us how He
Shattered our darkness.

 'Pre-Christmas' Christmas with the boys' GREAT-grandparents, and all the Reyburns