Thursday, 19 December 2013

South Coast impressions

A creaky, old cottage overlooking the ocean... time with dear friends... the temperaments of a moody sky mirrored in the sea's vast surface... dense green everywhere in the chaotic manner that coastal bush has; every now and then a banana tree reaching above the mass like a waving hand... pops of bright hibiscus blossoms and frangiapani... the rumble of a train rushing along tracks sewn like trimming along the coast... the sticky feeling of salty air and not wearing shoes for days on end... gathering sea shell-treasures with the kid during walks on the beach and putting her to sleep to the roar of the ocean after being up far too late with the grown-ups...

yes, it's definitely time to unplug... time for holidays... so until next year then and thank you to everyone for your support of this little creative space.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

In memory

It's been a while since I've read this book. I thought it time to take it down from its place on my shelf and page through it again. I found such beautiful words and took these from the final chapter:
"I never lost hope that this great transformation would occur. Not only because of the great heroes I have already cited, but because of the courage of the ordinary men and women of my country. I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there was mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. Even in the grimmest times in prison, when my comrades and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man's goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished." 
 "I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended."  

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Words to think about

Words are powerful. Strong, carefully-arranged words can do a lot; they leave an imprint on the things they touch. I'm thinking about that at the moment. So, between catching up on emails, preparing dinner and responding to recurrent calls of "come and see, Mama" I just wanted to pop in and leave you with these words. Some of my favourites.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Little girls: sugar and spice

Illustration by Paul Windle. From here.

Girls are made of sugar and spice and all things nice.Right?

From so young, the worlds of boys and girls begin to become very different places and around Christmas time, it becomes especially noticeable. I find myself cringing as I walk along a supermarket toy aisle where the division between girl and boy toys is so stark that it feels like you're crossing a border from the one world into the other: from the action-packed landscapes of boys to the fluffy pink fantasies of girls. I find myself staring hopelessly at the overwhelming pinkness of girl-things, wondering of all the colours available, do girls really only like pink? Where does that even come from?

However, more worrying than the limitations of the colour palette offered to girls, is the type of toys on display. There are dolls and babies to be looked after, tea sets and kitchen sets and sets of pretend make-up, pink cell phones, pink fairy outfits and of course plenty of Barbies (you can read about my issues with her here). When examined in summary, the girl world is very pink, very glittery, centred largely around dress-up and make-believe play and takes place mostly indoors. There's a lot missing from that world: physical toys for gross motor skills and building toys that develop spacial skills.

What is of further concern is that this border between the two worlds is closely policed; what boy dares transgress into the pink zone? My 3 year-old is already quite aware of "what's for boys" and "what's for girls" despite all the discussions we've had about anyone being able to like whatever colour they want or that boys can also do dancing if they want to. I find it scary that these rules are already being observed and monitored at such a young age. This means that marketing toys at any particular gender isn't as innocent as it seems and makes it difficult for toys to just be toys. This is recognised by the British Let Toys Be Toys campaign. The campaign website states that it is, "asking retailers to stop limiting children's interests by promoting some toys as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys. Toys are for fun, for learning, for stoking imagination and encouraging creativity. Children should feel free to play with the toys that most interest them."

Whether or not toys will ever be completely free of a gender label, I don't know, but I guess there are many steps in between and what becomes very apparent from the toy aisles is that not many have been taken. In the rush to buy presents to place under the Christmas tree, why stop and worry about the "pink and pretty" world of the girl aisle? I know that little girls do want to be princesses, but I also know they are so much more whether they realise it or not. Social psychologist and academic, Sarah Murnen puts the dangers of not engaging with the underlying messages of that pink world best,"girls are taught to view their bodies as 'projects' that need work before they can attract others, whereas boys are likely to learn to view their bodies as tools to use to master the environment." 

Recently I came across the GoldieBlox ad on YouTube and was quite taken with it. It's just so fun and refreshing.

It's for a construction toy range for girls with the aim to "disrupt the pink aisle" with a product that will develop spacial skills and, hopefully, an interest in invention and engineering. I like that it looks at girls as more than just princesses and was interested to find out that the company was a Kickstarter funded project. You can view more about the project here.

The idea behind the ad has been met with some criticism, for example Glosswitch on The Newstatesman points out, "Goldie Blox aren’t even trying to hide the fact that their toys are strictly girls-only. In this sense they’re not so much disrupting the pink aisle as coughing politely and asking Barbie if she wouldn’t mind budging up a little. Real disruption would mean mixing the whole thing up. We wouldn’t be able to tell where pink ended and blue started. We would let our children find their own way." 

I can't dispute the fact that what GoldieBlox is doing is still gendering toys, but I definitely think that at least it's offering a realistic alternative to what is usually found in the fluffy pink world of girl toys and, for that reason alone, is a step in the right direction.

Saturday, 23 November 2013


As much as I like words and playing around with them, this weekend is for different things... for being fully in the present moment and spending time with friends and family, for making bead necklaces and playing dress-up, for baking a cake and eating it, for all those things that make days both ordinary and special. 

But... seeing as I've been appreciating poetry at the moment, I'm going to leave you with The Word Party by Richard Edwards taken from 100 Best Poems for Children.

The Word Party
Loving words clutch crimson roses,
Rude words sniff and pick their noses,
Sly words come dressed up as foxes,
Short words stand on cardboard boxes,
Common words tell jokes and gabble,
Complicated words play Scrabble,
Swear words stamp around and shout,
Hard words stare each other out,
Foreign words trip on the rug,
Long words slouch with stooping shoulders,
Code words carry secret folders,
Silly words flick rubber bands,
Hyphenated words hold hands,
Strong words show off, bending metal, 
Sweet words call each other 'petal',
Small words yawn and suck their thumbs,
Till at last the morning comes,
Kind words give out farewell posies...
Snap! The dictionary closes.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Poetry and breathing

I feel like I'm just quickly coming up for air before I sink back down into the madness. Why does the end of the year seem to speed up suddenly? It always takes me by surprise. Every time.

At least there are moments of calm and in one of them, the kid discovered poetry; happy, funny little poems that we giggled about together. She listened enchanted while I read from a children's poetry book we took out the library. It was such fun to read the poems aloud and it reminded me how children's poetry lets you really play with language: trip over tongue twisters, rattle off rhythms and giggle at rhymes. It's somehow so tactile and offers both profound insight and a whole lot of nonsense. Poetry offers those moments where you go 'I know that!' and you hear a resounding human echo that restores you again.

Why then does it become so despised at high school level and beyond? Why does a barrier come down and cut the air off, when poems are actually needed to breathe?

Poems don't have to be serious or solemn and (to me anyway) they even lend themselves to children's parties. I love Edward Lear's The Owl and the Pussy Cat so this became the theme for the kid's second birthday (she was obsessed with owls at the time. Cats too actually, now that I think of it, so it was perfect). Her third birthday was built around Jessica Nelson North's The Tea Party and we had a tea party in the garden. I printed the poems on the back of the invitations and had them laminated so that parents could share the poems with their children even once the party was over.

Monday, 4 November 2013

{habits & happenings}

At this time of year there are not many moments to call your own {I know that feeling well}. So here is my secret of stolen morning moments given to tea and a book at the kitchen table; sun seeping in with promise and new energy. Sipping tea, turning pages, enjoying a quiet home until the rush begins, the kid awakes hungry and curious and tasks come tumbling at me. Time never waits. That truism is a reminder that we have to "make" time in our lives: we construct it, carve it out, give it, steal it. Always take it by force. And in the same way, reading is a habit, a daily ritual; one I want to teach my daughter to steal away from everyday life too.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The wisdom in children's books

It's been a busy, rushing-about, not-particularly-healthy eating, late night working, lots of coffee-drinking kind of week and I'm off to the Reading Association of South Africa conference in Jo'burg this weekend. Anyway, so this is a good time to think about reading and what I have been marveling at recently is the wisdom you find in children's books! There are those sentences in children's books that seem to sparkle and grab you, so that you're compelled to read them again and again until you fully realise what a gem you've just found. Here are some of them (via buzzfeeds). Enjoy!

Saturday, 19 October 2013

{habits & happenings}

For the last few days the city has been engulfed in rain; its surfaces glistening and splashing with rain drops; everything dripping; pouring; leaking. And before that, came hot, windy days of air congested with dust, smudging up everything. So when you wake at 6am on a Saturday, and you hear in the early-morning silence the conspicuous absence of rain on the other side of the bedroom window, you feel the urge to walk, to be outside and that's when you end up at the beach.

There's just something about Durban's beaches early on an overcast morning. Clouds amass low and thick over the ocean, as if gathering breath for more rain. All around, colours pop like things that are fresh and new and everything is crisp and washed clean by the preceding days of rain. You walk, you breathe the calm, clean air and you are tickled by the diversity of this beautiful city: Shembe followers gathered for a baptism, surfers, anglers on the pier, joggers and rollerbladers, early-morning coffee seekers and dog-walkers. The light just perfect for photos and so you can't help but try and capture some of it.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Once upon a time books were entertaining

When I think of the role books played in my childhood, I remember the tactile pleasure of turning pages, hungrily discovering new details in illustrations and tracing out favourite characters with my pointed finger, hearing words read in funny put-on voices and anticipating well-worn story lines that could be enjoyed again and again without ever becoming boring. It was a world that was colourfully rich, inspiring and above all fun. That’s why I feel so privileged (and excited) to be able to re-live it with my 3-year old daughter. 

There’s a book for everything in our house: bedtime, waking-up time, don’t-know-what-to-do time, meal time, sad-after-tantrum time, being-silly time. And so we begin weaving these narratives into the very fabric of her life: taking the recycling to the dump becomes a rescue adventure (The Patchwork Cat has to escape after accidentally being taken to the dump by the rubbish truck), her room is tidy, unlike Angelina’s (Angelina Ballerina doesn’t clean up her room because she spends all her time dancing) and so on.

A little while ago I popped into Toys R Us to purchase a present for the annual birthday celebration at the kid's crèche, and because books are such a big part of our lives, I thought I’d add one into the basket. I've already had a little rant about this experience here, but didn't go into all my reasons, so I thought I'd write a separate post about it now.

So there I was, standing in front of the “book section”, very disappointed with what I found myself staring at: the conventional range of Disney princesses in their uniformly bright colours and plastic smiles, the book spin-offs from various animation successes (Cars, Finding Nemo) and colouring-in books. That appeared to be it. With an admittedly unreasonable rising panic, I found some bewildered looking shop assistant and asked them if they were sure these were all the books they had.

Then I asked to speak to the store manager, who, kind yet unable to help, gave me the head office phone number. Once I got home I still couldn't drop it so I phoned the buyer for children’s books and was told that they only really stocked what had a high turnover. Dr Seuss, What-a-Mess and The Gruffalo clearly didn’t cut it. The buyer suggested I try Exclusive Books.

I know that I’m picking on Toys R Us when actually the situation is repeated in other big toy stores. The buyer’s helpful suggestion was also somewhat misdirected: I do know where one can buy books. The question is, seeing that we are not a nation of readers, do parents looking for birthday presents and items on Christmas wish lists know this? Will they make the effort to track books down in some other shop? What do children think when they enter the fantasy world of a toy store and don’t find books a part of it? What does this say about how books are perceived in our society?

I am also aware that "Toys R Us" isn’t called "Books R Us", but it only takes one glance at the impressive DVD and gaming section they have, for me to respond that they’re not called "DVDs R Us" either.  The bottom line is that clearly children’s books aren’t considered fun enough or entertaining enough to warrant much shelf space in a toy store.

And that makes me really sad.

We’ve heard it all before: Reading is important. Children should be encouraged to read books. Literacy skills and developing full reading fluency are at a crisis point in our education system and therefore should be prioritised. It’s hard to argue with these statements. Collectively, and in principle, we agree, but how much are we really willing to change to fulfil them? I can’t help thinking, that a well-curated, appealing and interesting book display in a toy shop could perhaps make a difference and entice both children and parents into the wonderful world of reading.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

{habits & happenings}

It's a busy time of year for me, so I'm afraid things may become a bit quiet around here. That's life, no point complaining about it. But this probably means not much time for writing, so I will let these pictures of recent {habits & happenings} tell their own story...

...of ruined and broken-down houses discovered and explored at Giba Gorge.


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