A Late Review of 2019

So much has happened since I last wrote to this blog. The year that passed came heavy with difficulties and heartache, and although I felt the urgent need to unburden, I was frequently torn between the need for brutal honesty, with myself and this writing space, on the one hand, and the desire to make things look pretty, palatable or worthy of publishing on the other. And since I value honesty more than visibility, I kept quiet. During the last quarter of 2019, I found myself in the midst of so many events, that I had first to absorb and internalize. I needed to make sense of what was happening around me and inside my mind before I shared it with the world.

This time last year I felt like the weight of the world has landed on my shoulder. I had my personal grief to deal with in addition to a challenging situation at work, where I was saddled with a supervisory role I was not fully ready for. The team I led, on a temporary basis until the vacant position of chief was filled, consisted of chronic under-performers with huge egos and unpleasant attitudes. I surmounted the difficulties as they arose, but eight months into the task, I found that I was thoroughly tired of being the hardworking odd-ball in a team of slackers.

It stung me initially, that I did not make the cut for assuming the Chief’s role permanently, but later I understood that perhaps I did not have the time and energy to constantly crack the whip behind this team, and I resigned myself to the time-tested method of wait-and-see. I kept things running as best as I could and waited for the next Chief to assume the position and take ownership of this problematic situation. I practiced patience and tolerance to the limit, putting my foot down only when it was absolutely necessary, and thus achieved the maximum cooperation possible from my troublesome and trouble-making colleagues.

I also practiced running, mediation and kept on with my therapy sessions. These simple actions, were my lifeline, and now I think that they rescued me from a total breakdown. The running, for one, was crucial. I was selected in the draw to enter the Berlin Marathon and worked since late 2018 to gradually increase my mileage. I thought that completing the marathon would be a worthy goal that I have full control over, something that I can achieve in the year I was faced with antagonism, failure, rejection, heartbreak and grief. I envisioned this achievement as an antidote to pain, and a remedy for restoring my faith in myself.

I fought hard to make it happen, from carving out training time in a busy schedule, to planning a short turnaround trip and absence from work. And of course, I also had to arrange care for my son in my absence. But as I crossed that finish line, the rapture on my face told it all. I went the distance, and the euphoria carried me on its wings even when my legs could barely function. The very next morning I was on the way back home already, and even as I dragged my aching legs to the office a few hours after my arrival, I felt triumphant and invincible, there was nothing I could not do. I made it to the finish line, and for a short while, I felt certain that I could surmount even the tenacity of my heartache.

The next obstacle was my long overdue visit home. This was brought about by my sister’s illness. My parents made the journey in September and I thought that I could coincide with them there for one week during a school holiday. The logistics of planning this journey were a nightmare, and the whole plan would have come to nothing if it weren’t for the assistance of family in Dubai. This time I dragged my son along, and left him behind with a cousin in Dubai while I took a flight to Damascus.

When I left Syria to the Gulf in the late nineties, I had no idea that my departure would be permanent. I first became a Gulf expat, and visited home a few times. Then I met my ex-husband and moved far to South Africa. The last visit I made to Syria was with my ex husband in 2002. In those 17 years, my sister got married, and became a mother to two boys, now almost young men. During the same period my parents and brother left Syria in their turn to settle in Germany.

Even before Syria’s rapid deterioration from civil protest to unrest to all out civil war, the prospect of a trip from South Africa was daunting, and given the fact that I had the competing priority of visiting my parents and brother, I somehow never got around to making that visit to my home country. And in all honesty I did not miss it that much.

My emotional detachment from my native country is an uncomfortable subject that I would rather tackle elsewhere. Because although there is a universal theme of expatriates frequently feeling like foreigners in their native countries. The Syrian experience, especially after the war, adds another layer of complexity. I had trouble with the Syria of the 1990s, but last year I stepped into a place I did not recognize at all.

The road from Damascus to Aleppo seemed endless as it made a very long loop around the rebel-held areas in Idlib province. Whenever I nodded off to sleep I was woken again by the car stopping for one of the scores of control points. They were mostly amicable and waved us through but their presence was a clear indication that this was still a country at war with itself. My native city of Aleppo was even more scarred, whole buildings gutted and showing their broken insides, with remnants of a living room or part of a kitchen counter overlooking the void where the other half of the building collapsed to rubble and dust. The city itself ends abruptly with concrete barriers cutting off a main street that was once a busy bypass to the north, connecting it to the Turkish border.

Like the city, my sister was also battle-scarred. But unlike the city, which to me changed beyond recognition on many levels, my sister still retained her fighting spirit. She changed too, but I could still recognize her feisty nature, and her ability to laugh at herself, and make fun of a terrible situation. Perhaps I recognized my sister because I still have much love left in my heart for her, whereas my love for my native city has run dry.

I went the distance, here too, to visit my sister. And despite the difficult circumstances we managed to reconnect and make some memories. There were also the awkward moments where I felt like a stranger in what used to be my father’s house, but the love and support that my sister deserved had to come first. Still, I could not help but see that whole city, the whole country, lived under a cloak of misery. Some of this misery was visible in plain sight, but most suffering lay under the surface, and manifested itself perhaps in my sister’s illness, my nephew’s rebellion, my brother-in-law’s dependence on tranquilizers and cigarettes, and my cousin’s obesity.

I choked on my tears as the ancient Airbus 320 lifted off from sad Damascus airport, and climbed to cruising altitude. I prayed for my sister’s full recovery, and I prayed for everyone who was left behind in my broken native country. In my heart I knew that I will never return.

The year was tough, like running a marathon, but I managed to end it too on a high. The last two months were more pleasant. News from my sister was encouraging, and my new chief arrived and quickly assumed his new position. I was pleasantly surprised by his forthright character and his willingness to work hard and confront problems. I gladly took a back seat and allowed him to establish his leadership and authority. I have learned from this experience that I function better as a supportive and diligent first officer, and that I have no interest in command.

I concluded the year with a long and well-deserved proper holiday. My son and I visited the family in Berlin. My parents had safely returned from Syria too. Their return trip was perhaps more eventful than mine. First they missed their original return flight because of the unrest in Beirut and had to reschedule a different departure a week later. Then they spent almost half a day in Beirut airport as the local low-cost flight from Beirut delayed its departure because of the ongoing protests.

My son and I made a city stop in Vienna before we headed to our final destination in Berlin. And it was a long and lazy holiday to finish off a really difficult year. I had time to knit, read, ruminate, and simply enjoyed being with family, without worries about the office. We shared our stories from 2019 and reflected on our hopes for the year to come.

Throughout this last part of the year, I felt I was experiencing a rare period of downtime. In my last visit to the therapist in 2019, she told me that she would not book another appointment for me in 2020, and advised me to call her, if I needed, next year. My biggest fear for the new year was to find myself adrift without a new goal or a challenge. I entered and was selected for the Berlin Marathon this year too, but I knew that running a second marathon is not as motivating as running a first. The stakes for the first one were not that high. It would have been no big failure to try and fail, and the success, when it came, was my big underdog moment under the sun. For this second marathon, however, winning would not be as sweet and losing may be doubly bitter.

I have thus concluded my summary of 2019, with the problems I anticipated for 2020. In trying to solve them, I started a daily gratitude journal and set myself on a course to surprise and challenge myself. A book I am currently reading suggests that life should be approached in a gameful spirit. And to keep my interest and skill in the game I need to devise and accept new challenges. I need to embrace new changes and challenges and believe that 2020 will be my best year yet.

Going Potty..

Yesterday was officially the first day of Easter Holiday for Robert. The creche has holiday care for about one week of the school holiday and remains closed for a week after Easter, but this time I opted for him to stay home with me because I wanted to finish his potty training.

I think I underestimated the task, and my confidence was boosted by minor successes at introducing the potty and keeping Robert’s underpants dry of pee. It is, however the big stuff that I am battling with. Robert insists on making a poo in his nappy/pants. There was even the memorable episode on Sunday when he stubbornly sat in the buggy, soiled pants and all for over half an hour.

This setback demotivated me and made me question my method. I am ashamed to admit that I even started to taste some resentment against my son.  Somehow his aloofness and refusal to communicate on the matter of using the toilet brought back memories of his father, and the way he used to behave.  I had nightmare scenarios in my mind of the son I love beyond reason turning into a carbon copy of his father. The prospect made me want to scream, run away, hide and even give Robert up to his father – Thankfully these black thoughts did not persist.

The whole situation may seem comical now, but I was definitely on the verge of depression, and I always teeter on the brink of it with the onset of PMS.  So for all of yesterday I was battling these emotions of resentment, depression and anxiety. I think my son reacted to my unbalanced state and added his own mix of naughtiness and mischief. Yesterday marked several disasters on the home front: One liter of yogurt spilled all over the table and floor; One of my two Yucca plants completely denuded of leaves and the other missing half of them; and floor tiles lifted in one section of the lounge. That, in addition to the normal set light to medium misbehavior, such as throwing toys and screeching tantrums, all of which did not contribute to enhancing my mothering instinct but made me rather more inclined to fight and/or flee this little terror.

Today things look much better. The battle for the potty has been removed to a lower priority and with the pressure off I think I will have better success. Robert is sleeping peacefully like an angel, and my feelings for him are back to normal. It is all a matter of attitude.

Apart from taking a step back and de-emphasizing the problem issue, here are some of the things that made the difference for me today: Venting off to my parents on Skype, fixing the chairs that Robert broke ages ago, and good old comfort food of Macaroni and cheese for lunch, finishing off with a cup of chococcino in the evening.

A friend of mine told me today that the difference between a good day and a bad day are only a bunch of chemicals in the brain, and I bet these small doses of comfort fixed the imbalance in my brain – You are absolutely right G !

Almost Home

Yesterday Mr. Handyman came to install my washing machine,  my stove and a security door. This last one is kind of mandatory in South Africa, although the house break-ins in our area are neither more nor less than the average place in the world, or so we like to think. I ended up paying the handyman too much, and I was the one who solved the problem of connecting the washing machine to my hand basin, by suggesting the correct fitting : a simple T junction. They wanted to sell me a new tap, that would have cost a fortune and would have probably ruined the handbasin, and I do not want to talk about the mishap with installing the security door either, which the apprentice screwed in the wrong way while the master handyman was busy making small talk.. Ah well, all in a day’s work in South Africa.

Since I ended up paying a fortune yesterday for the privilege of owning and using my appliances, I wanted to make use of them as soon as possible,  hence we made pan cakes for breakfast and for lunch we fried fish cakes and fish fingers, but the highlight of the day was inaugurating the washing machine; I think it is truly a mother’s best friend. The handyman thought the dishwasher was too, but I beg to differ, because there are disposable substitutes for dishes should one want, but they haven’t invented a socially acceptable form of disposable clothes. In theory you can eat take out, from the pot, or from the container to minimize on dishes, nobody would notice unless you invite them to your home to watch this anti-social behavior, but everyone would surely notice if one chooses to minimize on clothing or go completely without… Therefore the washing machine is definitely non-negotiable.

Today it is two weeks since we moved here, and I am definitely not in a frenzy of ordering. Things are getting to their places in their own good time (or in mine). I  have been busy with a number of small jobs and I was keeping strange hours, such as sleeping at seven with my boy and then waking up after midnight to translate, review or proofread as the case may be.  Now I have a bigger job that will demand my attention for the next four week.. I am a very busy woman.. touch wood.

That said, things on the day-job front do not look that great. The atmosphere is getting increasingly stifling there are more rule-writers and micro-managers than I can tolerate, and I keep wondering how long before I just throw in the towel and concentrate on spending my time in more rewarding activities, like making my flat feel like a home for example..

Now it is almost home with a few touches missing here and there. There are many positives to the new place : It is closer to Robert’s play school, so I normally walk with Robert there and back,  this dramatically reduces my travel time and transport expenses.  The down-side is that it is far away from my favourite food stores; I definitely need transport to do the shopping or I need a high degree of enthusiasm to walk back five kilometres or so with a heavy backpack. This is the only way to go though if I was going with Robert since it is too difficult to get him, his stroller and my shopping bag(s) onto a minibus, or even a bus – our city buses are horribly inaccessible with a half a dozen steep steps to the passenger deck and very narrow seats and aisles.  Still, I can do this. Shopping is not an everyday affair, unlike taking Robert to the day-care.

Robert himself seems to be heading towards a difficult time for me. He has developed an interest in the Micky (Music in our language) and asks for the radio the moment we step into the flat. One would like to think that he wants to listen to the songs, but no, not Robert. He wants to move the CD player about, plug it in, then out, then carry it to the floor, or put it on the table. Later he starts pushing buttons indiscriminately, and opening and closing the tape deck, taking out the CD and then putting it in again… drives me absolutely insane.

I tried to ask him to promise me to leave it alone, not play with it or move it. But his only concession to my demands was learning a new phrase :”promise mommy”. It is actually so cute when he stands in the lounge and asks me for the radio, then says to me “promise mommy, promise me” while slowly nodding his head in affirmation – makes me want to give in.. I am thinking of buying him a cheap tape recorder to break, and I will make tapes of his favorite songs so that he will stop scratching the CDs. Oh, the things that this boy is making me do, but I love him so much.

My Home My Castle.. where are you now?

Another erratic week has passed, with rain and floods in the Cape. My life is no less flooded with news, worries and small irritations.

It started last week Monday when Robert had a fever again while at school. He was sleepy and lethargic, and appeared to have problems swallowing. The fever did not break on the next day and I was forced to phone work and simply tell the truth : My child is sick and I cannot take him to day care and therefore cannot come to work.  Before resorting to this I tried Robert’s father but obviously his work is much more important and critical than mine,  so I just have to take whatever management deals me for this since I have no sick days or family days left – or so I believed at the time.

Robert improved ever so slightly on the next day, mercifully an off day from work for me,  and I decided that we tough it out this time and do not run to the doctor, which proved to be the correct decision in this case since he was well enough for school on Thursday, although I took precaution and gave him a dose of fever medicine before school on the day.

My troubles for the week though were not over because last week I also received notice to vacate my flat, by latest August 31st. This came as unwelcome shock for me, even though I hate many things about my current place, mainly its dilapidated general state, filthy carpet, pealing paint and leaking plumbing, but I am the kind of person who puts up with a lot of inconvenience and I do not particularly care for major changes and upheavals in my life. No, I am not a mover and a shaker and I HATE moving with a passion. This will be the fifth time I move since I came to Cape Town in 2005, and that is too much for anyone.  It is even too much for me because I only moved a dozen times in my adult life.

Small consolation for me is that the whole block has been served notice, on the pretext of major renovation to the building. The place does look shabby even on the outside and there is no denying the need for a major facelift, and some serious maintenance, but the timing is very unfortunate, for me that is. For the landlord it is probably just right to get the whole place done up and ready to be rented out during the World Cup.

I am starting to think that this whole World Cup thing is a curse for us bottom feeders, and regular citizens.  Everyone with a little stake in this city thinks that the World Cup will be their chance to make a fortune.  Not only landlords are licking their lips, taxi drivers are also starting to flex their muscles, unhappy about the public transport system which will start running in 2010, since they expect that it will take a chunk out of their profits. Workers Unions are exploiting the opportunity as well, and pressurizing construction workers into a strike that has hampered the construction work at the Green Point Stadium. Of course the workers are normally unwilling participants in such actions, but do not dare to go against the unions and the threats from more belligerent members.

I was euphoric many years ago when South Africa won the bid for hosting this World Cup, but now I am beginning to think that the best thing that can happen to me personally is for this spectacle to move elsewhere.  The properties will be selling like crazy, rents will be cheap, transport will not increase in price and my city will be my own again. Now I feel like I am being squeezed out for some wealthy foreigner who will take my apartment, and maybe even sleep in my bed when I am on the streets. Yes, this is over-dramatizing the situation, but I am a wee bit paranoid about being homeless.

Ah well, tomorrow I am going on my first -probably of many- flat-viewing errands, I hope that this time Robert and I will get to stay in the same place for two years at least. I want to move as soon as possible and will not wait until the end of next month if I can help it, because I do not want Robert to spend another birthday in the chaos of moving.

On a happier note, today is Bastille Day, my father’s birthday : Happy Birthday Dad, and thank you for being a great father and role model. I am trying to emulate you as best as I can.

A Rough Patch

I ran into a friend yesterday as I was going back from a walk along a very cold beachfront.  She said she found this blog by chance and she liked it. This is the first time I get independent feedback on my writing in this corner, and I am really pleased.  She wondered -among other things- what happened after the cream cupcakes and why I have been away from this blog for so long.

The short answer is that I have been overwhelmed with so many things.  I figured out this month that while I juggle so many committements and responsibilities it is impossible not to drop one ball or the other at any given time.  It is challenging enough when things are running their normal course, but when things start to go wrong it is plain awful.

It all started in the middle of last month when I was called at work to get my son from school because he had pink eye. I haven’t blogged about it at the time, but this turned out to be the first of a chain of ailments. He later had diarrhea which lasted almost a week. The week after that he developed a cough, which turned out to be a pneumonia, we spent two days in the hospital for that.. soon after that he had another ailment a combination of stomach bug and sore throat with temperature.

Between the middle of May and today I visited the GP at least five times for Robert and once for myself, it has been rough. In the middle of all that I had two demanding freelance projects to work on and on some days I had to go to my day job… It was just too much.

At times like these, and I am merely human, things start to drop or come close to unraveling.  I needed leave from my daytime job to attend to my son in hospital, and I had to extend both my translation and proofreading assignments. The level of care I took at the household level went to near zero. The chores that did not relate directly or indirectly to the well-being of my son were postponed indefinitely. My clothes lay in a pile,  I wore the same thing two days in a row, and I ate whatever was left on Robert’s plate.  I know it sounds desperate but sometimes you do what you have to do. The worst though was the lack of sleep. I survived on four to five hours of sleep a day and worked every free minute that I had..

Even within my own set of priorities things started to suffer. My son had to put up with a preoccupied mother,  I arrived frequently late at my day job,  I had to phone sick once, and had to leave early at least twice because of my son falling ill at school. It is small wonder under the circumstances, that I neglected this blog.

During this difficult time I also came to realize that the way I am doing things is not working. Sooner or later something is going to give, and I do not want to breakdown or loose my health. I need to be here for Robert.  Some of my responsibilities and commitments need to be rethought, delegated or let go off completely. Maybe then I will have more time to devote to things that give me pleasure like blogging, knitting and reading. Amen.

Sad

I went today to a sheriff’s auction. The house was on a street I passed often with Robert on our way to the park, so I thought I might as well go and see how these things are done,  because auctions are usually where you pick up bargains. I was going for an educational excursion, I did not want to buy the house which was clearly beyond my means. I was not prepared however for the emotional aspect of watching this happen.

First I was surprised to recognize the place, because I often looked at it with envy I am ashamed to say. The outside renovation preserved so much of the character of this old building, then I went inside and I was struck by how much of a building site the place was. There was a living room at the front of the house which looked disorganized then a hall with nothing but cans of paint. The kitchen was a dark place with merely a fridge, bare counters and boarded up windows. There were exposed pipes and wiring, floors that still required tiling and naked roof rafters. The upstairs is where those people probably spent most of their time, and here you stumble on their personal lives. There were three bedrooms with books, computers, and study desks. I saw posters, and personal items. One of the beds had a small aquarium with tiny goldfish right next to the bed. It felt so wrong to be tramping around people’s belongings, as they were about to lose the roof over their heads.

I spoke to the owner briefly. He was taking it very graciously but his pain and regret was palpable. He is an architect, who overextended himself loving and preserving what he thought would be his permanent home. He said that the hardest part was telling his children that the bank has foreclosed on their home, because they lived with them in this mess for two year, I could relate to his pain. I briefly experienced living in a renovation site while I lived with my ex husband in Gonubie, and the situation was a threat to sanity.

The owner said that he spent so much time an effort recycling the old brick and trying to preserve whatever he could of the character of the old home, he was not doing it for comercial purposes he was doing it in pride of ownership, and Ironically this was what brought on his downfall.  On one kitchen wall he taped the architectural drawings and concept of the house, which he could not finish. Now all his and his wife’s efforts are going to become some investor’s gain. I never saw the wife, but I could imagine her, as her husband told me, scraping away 12 coats of paints from the wooden steps.

There were more than twenty people like me tramping around the old house, but when the auction started only four or five where active bidder in addition to the bank.  In the end the bank representative ( a woman and apparently they are always women) told the last remaining bidder that the bank would buy unless they got a certain price, and the bidder met the required price. There was handclapping and the auction was over, a family lost their home, just like that.  Everyone went on to congratulate the new owner. There were insensitive comments like : Ah, you can knock the whole place down and sell the empty lot, and you can get your money back. I thought of how the owner may feel hearing these jibes. I left with a heavy heart, wondering whether I really had the stomach for auctions, perhaps they are the domain of hardcore investors only. All the way home I kept thinking of the man and his two teenage boys who still do not know where they are going next, I was grateful to have my own roof, even a rented one.

The gray cloud of sadness did not lift when I came back home to examine again a package I received from my mother. I collected it earlier today at the post office and discarded its empty box, noting with disinterest the post office tape which said it was found open and secured by postal workers. The package contained the items I expected and some additional ones, so I was happy. Only much later I discovered my mother’s little note where she said that she had included a packet of wine gums (gummy Bären) which was not in the box. The realization left me bitterly disappointed. The sweets are perhaps the least valuable item in the package but they were still sent with love from my mom to her grandson and the fact that some crook in the post office had actually taken them out makes me feel betrayed.  It is such an effort to send things halfway across the world like this. The postage is frequently more expensive than the item itself, and I am definitely going to complain at the post office. Mostly I will be wary, and I will ask whoever sends me stuff to give me a listing of the items sent, so that I can at least confront the post office right away. Now I will have to complain without valuable pieces of evidence, like the box I threw carelessly away.

Sunday’s Fun and Follies

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We treated ourselves to a predominantly lazy day today.  Mom, baby and cat played at home for the whole morning.

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I consciously try teaching Robert the ability to laugh at his own mishaps. Here he is  acting out a funny incident that happened a few weeks ago, while we were playing with soap bubbles (the non toxic, kid friendly variety; I always make sure to buy those).  Normally I do not let Robert take the bottle of soap from me, but I relented on that day because there was very little soap left. It was a mistake of course, as toddlers are very apt at doing exactly what they shouldn’t and within a split second. I think Robert was looking inside the bottle when he tipped it bottoms up right onto his face and mouth. I just heard a loud gulp, and then he started crying and denouncing it as : ka-ka. Initially it was funny but then I remembered the horrible pain that one gets at the back of the throat when salt water goes up the nose. Robert must have felt the same. The liquid, which I tried when the crying did not want to stop, tasted so bitter that it numbed my tongue. This explained why Robert refused to drink or eat anything right after he gulped it. Thirty minutes later he settled to sleep exhausted and I thought this was the best thing for him to forget that awful bitter taste.

A day later I started acting out the incident, with sound effects and exaggerated facial expressions. Robert picked the whole act, and now does it by himself.

I thought today would be free of such misadventures, because we kept it such low key. In the afternoon we headed to the park and enjoyed the peace until a family arrived with their picnic supper. Robert of course went right in there trying to look inside cooler bags and generally being the inquisitive little toddler he is. Mom kept close trying to prevent him from making a nuisance of himself, but at the same time not wanting to curb his natural curiosity, especially that the family seemed friendly enough.  Soon he started to become part of the picnic and took a fancy to the juice they offered him in tall plastic cup. He kept coming back to the dad and asking for “mo” (more). When I tried fooling him and pouring his own juice into the tumbler he promptly dumped the contents on the grass. Everyone thought this was wildly funny (including myself) but then he repeated the trick with the juice offered by our hosts, so I thought that was enough and we excused ourselves and headed home.

On our way back I stopped at a shop offering soft serve ice cream. Robert had eyed some kids on the road having it and I thought it would be a nice treat for him. We never got to taste the ice cream because when I offered the tall soft server to Robert for a first sampling the whole soft serve column tumbled onto his shirt and lap. He looked on unimpressed and confused as I mopped it up using the all purpose cloth/wipe which I always keep in the backpack. The poor shop keeper was also hovering around offering tissues and waste basket. As we were leaving he gave us another ice cream, a chocolate coated Popsicle, which we were still able to enjoy.

How Much is Garlic Crushing Worth?

I am not a kitchen guru, and precisely for this reason I need the correct kitchen gadgets to help my mediocre skills in the kitchen.  Finding the right implement, however, is a challenge by itself, because my inadequate skills and my left-handedness conspire against me.

It is difficult to explain the dilemma to the 90% of the population who were lucky enough to become right-handed. We left-handers cannot buy mass market utensil and products : Pictures on mugs end out looking away from us, knives cut funny because the cutting edge and the force applied are on opposing sides, and can openers have to be operated backwards.  It takes major effort and expense to find a tool that works correctly for us left-handers, and therefore I mostly settle for the clumsy right-hand tools.

Since the gadgets used for crushing garlic do not fall under the category of hand-specific tools, I thought that finding one would be a piece of cake. I was so wrong. I have been on the lookout for the correct one for over three months now. During this time I minced my garlic with my non-hand-specific knife, but before that I tried crushing it with my hand-neutral mortar and pestle.

The mortar and pestle were a little too heavy and clumsy for regular and repeated use (I had a stone one), and the cleanup was also problematic. Mincing with the knife on the other hand is much more straight forward, and there is very little cleanup. Disadvantages were the time needed and the risk of ending up with garlic smelling fingers for the rest of the day. The chopping board of course is a lost cause, and it has to be dedicated to chopping only the vegetables who are good companions to garlic.

A month ago I forked out R45 to buy a stainless steel garlic crusher, but it turned out to be wrong. It looked fine when I bought it, made of stainless steel with the garlic crushed in a little compartment that is detachable for easier cleaning. On actual use, however it proved very impractical, perhaps for this very detachable element. Apart from its overall faulty “engineering” which made the garlic come out more squeezed than crushed. This led me back again to mincing and smelly fingertips.

Finally today I discovered and brought home my new love and the most useful kitchen utensil for lovers of garlicky pasta sauce. I bought this beauty, and thank god it was on sale. It is made of brushed stainless steel, cool and velvety to the touch. It also has a round grip that makes its weight fall comfortably on either left or right hands. It looks and feels heavy, durable and practical. With a deceptive simple design of real expensive kitchen tools. Believe me, I rarely wax lyrical about anything in the kitchen, but this is simply one of my most valuable kitchen utensils.

The First of 2009

It was a pleasant surprise when I awoke refreshed this morning. There were no little people hammering in my head, and I was only a little bit dehydrated. It turned out that I chose the correct sparkling wine for my solo drinking binge, with only 7% of alcohol; less than the regular wine I usually drink.  I was so pleased with my good form this morning that I took  a “morning after” picture to prove my (sober) habits to the world.

The morning after the night before
The morning after the night before

My first priority this morning was to get my online banking out of the way, and start on my New Year Resolution of better financial planning.   I paid the rent then made an estimate of my income and budget for the rest of the month.  The catalyst for these plans is a post I recently read on Dumb Little Man suggesting to keep a spending log to find out exactly where money goes. One of the best pieces of advice in the above blog post is taking out a certain amount of cash for the week and budgeting for purchases from it.  It is a good strategy to avoid the temptation of whipping out the plastic to make impulse buys, because the money booked out of the credit card does not seem real. I thought the ideas were very good and will provide me with a grip on my finances, because I am getting increasingly panicky at the rate our money is spent. Later this evening I started a spreadsheet with my expense categories, and my intention is to fill it out on a daily basis.

Financially I have nothing to worry about. I am firmly in the black. I always pay off my credit card in full, and so far my income covered all my purchases including furniture and laptop. I am debt-free. However,  I can still benefit from some careful spending, especially with the global economic downturn. South Africa runs a little behind global financial trends, so we haven’t seen the full impact of the crisis yet, but the inflation is rampant, we can truly feel it.

Our newspapers are full of optimism. The inflation has slowed down, they claim, and the petrol price is going down. Fine and good I say, but I haven’t seen the price of my bread loaf getting any cheaper, or my taxi fare to work getting reduced.   I do not have a car,  and I do not pay mortgage, so lower petrol prices and interest rates do not put more money in my pocket. Rather the contrary since I get some income from bank interest.  Of course I am not alone,  most ordinary people are feeling the pinch with higher prices of consumer goods, so the bottom line is that it is good to budget, and this is what I will try to do.

That said, I do still have one or two larger ticket items I want to buy so it will be a battle between my buying impulse and my common sense.

Quote of the day: “Common sense is a misnomer given how few people have any”  humorist Colin McEnroe.

It’s My Party

Robert went to bed early as rehearsed, and I had enough time to get this party on track.

First I had to get dressed for the guests, then I set the table. The guests arrived immediately.

Here is what we had :

The Table
The Table

The Guests
The Guests

It was all  very informal, obviously. I mean you can still spot the beach ball under the table and all that but I know my guests did not mind.  Before I popped the bottle of sparkling wine I phoned my next door neighbour. Her boyfriend was out working at the restaurant and I thought she would appreciate the company but she was not feeling well, so it was up to me and my guests to drink up that sparkling wine.

We had quite a ball, surfing the internet as we downed our drinks.  Sometime in the middle of the this festive mood, my mostly silent land-line phone rang, and a hesitant woman’s voice asked whether this was Sea Point Police Station. I hope her business with them was not too serious because she got a rather giggly response from me. Two glasses or so short of a bottle, and two hours or so short of a New Year. We all felt sleepy and thought we’d catch a quick nap before the fireworks start. I do not think any of my guests noticed the fireworks, but my cat must have because when I woke up twenty minutes past midnight he was snuggled up on the bed with us.  My guests and I finished the rest of the sparkling wine, and before we turned in for the night I spotted a text message from my ex sent just after midnight, it said : 2008 was not great but 2009 will be just fine. Happy New Year.