Edible Books

January 22, 2015

Have you ever heard of Maurice Sendak? No? Me neither. Apparently he was a renowned illustrator of children’s books. Some time ago I came across his response when he was asked to share some of his favourite comments from his readers. He said:

Oh there’s so many. Can I give you just one that I really like? It was from a little boy. He sent me a charming card with a little drawing. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters – sometimes very hastily – but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, ‘Dear Jim, I loved your card.’ Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, ‘Jim loved your card so much he ate it.’ That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.

I love reading. I read, therefore I am. I can relate to that cute little boy who literally ate the drawing.  Some books are so good that I could eat them too.  When I read quality writing, I feel I’m being nourished. Some writing is so beautiful, so moving, so vivid, so delicious that it makes my mouth water and I want to lick my lips. I gobble it up.

eat booksWhen I was little, I always wanted to be a librarian.  Before the days of internet and electronic books, I would go to the library every opportunity I got. Vast, quiet, dusty libraries are my favourite places.

I love the hope and anticipation of starting a new book and it is difficult to describe the joy I feel when I am completely absorbed in a good one. I generally don’t read fancy, high falutin stuff. I don’t like fantasy though – my brain doesn’t bend that way.

I am a fussy reader and I have little patience for bad writing. I loved the book called The Rosie Project but then I watched an interview with the author who said, ‘The book has been so successful. Who would have thunk it!’

Thunk? WTF. Now I can’t read the sequel because I keep thinking of thunking and I’ve lost respect for the author. I’m very judgemental, as you can tell. Maggie O’Farrell’s books are particularly edible. David Nicholls is tasty. Anything by Liane Moriarty is yummy. Bill Bryson’s work is easy to digest and Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing is endlessly satisfying.

I’ve developed this rating system in my head. When I am browsing on Amazon, I read the synopsis and reader reviews and then I ask myself, ‘Will this book be edible?’ If it doesn’t grab me within the first ten pages, I move on to the next one. That is why I love the new sample feature on Amazon because I can download the first few pages and assess whether it is good enough to eat before I buy it.

With two children, I have less opportunity to read so I snatch whatever time I can – usually before bed and when I am on the loo. Megan is potty-trained and she now associates the toilet with books. When she sits down for a big one, she brings a pile of books and when she’s finished flicking through those, she shouts, ‘More books!’

The other day we were outside with no access to a toilet. I led Megan to a secluded spot under a tree. She pulled down her pants, hovered over the icy scrub and said, ‘Mommy book please.’

I recently met a girl who said she hasn’t read a book in over three years. I was so disappointed because, as you know, I am on a quest to find a Switzerland-based BFF and there’s no way I can take our friendship to the next level if she doesn’t read. It’s a deal-breaker.

imagesOne of the few things I loved about living in London was the accessibility of cheap literature. I loved that I could buy a book for the same price as a sandwich. In South Africa, new books were so much more expensive. One book equated to at least six sandwiches. Lunch or a book? Something good to read is much more valuable and useful than an egg mayo sandwich.

Another thing that was fabulous about London was that I could buy second hands books for one penny.  I ordered books without restraint. I loved being home when the postman came because he would pop my packages through the front door and they would land with a big BOOF on the wooden floor and I would skip into the entrance hall like it was Christmas. Every day, there was BOOF, BOOF, BOOF. It was such fun. But then I got too many books and I didn’t know what to do with them. I started building towers in the lounge, in the bedroom, in the kitchen. That’s why I am so grateful for the Kindle. It is much neater. It also means I can carry hundreds of books around with me in my handbag.

Reading and writing are my thing. They’re me. I love words. I can’t draw, I can’t sing, I have no appreciation for science – words are the way I see beauty. Nothing moves me like language. Reading helps me to learn and understand, without having experienced. It takes me into other people’s spaces and I can travel to different times and places all while lying on the couch.

images0S0KNF2FWriting orders my thoughts and helps me make sense of the world. I don’t write this blog for anyone but me. I started it when I was in a dead-end accountancy job and I felt like a dried up old husk. Writing breathes life into me. I don’t find it easy but that is part of what makes it so fun. When I don’t write, it makes me grumpy, like I’m a bear with a sore head. I sit down at my keyboard, set the egg timer (because I have no self-discipline) and then, after 5 minutes, my head is down and I tap away and off I go. After I’ve got some momentum, I lose track of time and it feels fabulous.

There is no point to this blog. It is not functional and is possibly even a waste of time, especially when I let emails, housework and general admin lag. Writing this blog has taught me that, for our own wellbeing, we must still make space in our lives for things that are fun and pointless.

Anyway, I digress.  The reason I wrote this post is because I recently read an absolutely delicious book, written by a girl who also loves words. I can’t stop thinking about it. You must read it too. It is written by Tony Blair’s ex-private secretary Kate Gross and is called Late Fragments: Everything I want to tell you about this magnificent life.

I won’t tell you anymore but I suspect that when you read the synopsis, you won’t want to try it. You’ll worry it will be sad and depressing. It is, but not nearly as much as you would imagine. I love books where I hold a pencil as I am reading because there are so many brilliant points I need to underline and remember. I write ‘Yes!’ and ‘Here! Here!’ in the margins and I did that a lot in this book. Please read it. The world would be a calmer, kinder, happier place if everyone did. It will remind you that LIFE IS MAGNIFICENT.



Calm down Piglet. Calm down.

January 6, 2015

As you know from my last blog, we’ve started the 2015 Surycz Happiness Jar in which we will place a record of a happy moment from every day. I am a little disturbed that the happy moment that stands out is generally the delicious down time I have when I synchronize naps or when the girls are asleep in the evening and I can potter around and chill. Megan and Jessica are my joy and my wonder so how can I have 365 pieces of paper in my jar that say ‘when the kids slept’?

Maybe that’s the happy moment because productive down time is rare or short so I notice and appreciate it. Maybe the down time feels good because I have poured out myself and given my all to my children during the day. Maybe it’s the sweet satisfaction after a job well done. I still feel guilty that most of my life revolves around sleep – theirs and mine.

Being a stay-at-home mom involves a lot of wiping, washing, clearing, cooking, bathing, dressing, feeding, entertaining, disciplining and general project managing. On their own, none of these tasks appear majestic or significant. Nevertheless they are the tiny rituals that hold together the seams of motherhood. Children come to us wild and untamed and oblivious to danger and risk. I am overwhelmed when I think of all the fear and awareness I must instil in them and all the important life skills, lessons, manners and habits they must learn.

untitledThat’s when I realized that you can get so absorbed in all the chores, responsibilities and busyness that you miss out on moments of joy in the average day. These are the golden threads hidden among the rituals, the seams of motherhood. Do you know that Megan is only two but she has already taught me some major life lessons? There is so much we need to teach our children but we forget to tune into what they can teach us. These things are perfect for the Happiness Jar.

Choose joy

I read somewhere on the internet that every day children laugh about 150 times whereas adults only laugh 6 times. Both those numbers seem too high in my opinion. I wasn’t convinced of the accuracy of these figures because, you know, about 99.123% of statistics are just thumb sucks.

One day I decided to count our laughs. It got to 10am and Megan had already laughed about 38 times and I couldn’t keep track anymore. I wasn’t sure whether sustained 30 second laugh counts as one laugh or two. Put it this way, Megan laughs a lot each day and I wouldn’t say I even do it 6 times as the stat says. I am not miserable or a grump and things often amuse me but I don’t regularly laugh out loud, like in a BWHAHAHAHA belly-laugh way.

Megan laughs so easily. She throws her head back, opens her mouth and laughs from deep inside her gut. It’s always a real dinkum guffaw. It looks like she uses every muscle in her body as she does it. She finds everything funny. If I splash her in the bath, she laughs. If I blow bubbles, she laughs. Today I heard her giggling in the lounge. When I went in to see what was so funny, I saw her tickling herself (under her armpits).

Joy comes so naturally and easily to kids. Why doesn’t it for adults? What happens to us along the way? I hate the way I am so jaded.

When we walk on the farms around our village, Megan shouts, ‘Hello cows! Hello chickens! Hello sheep!’ She’s so chipper, it blows me away every time.  Children have a rare capacity for joy that I think adults are supposed to have too. We start life with it but often the magic of simply being alive disappears along the way. I think joy and some belly laughs are more accessible than we realize. Megan’s shown me that it’s found in the small, simple things.

Appreciate the small things

Every day is filled with golden threads of innocence and wonder … if I pay attention. A golden thread isn’t anything earth-shattering. It is a little moment that makes you smile. Like when Megan calls Alastair and me ‘guys’. Where are you guys? Guys, let’s go!

A golden thread is when Megan lifts up her shirt and breastfeeds her dolls. It’s when I show her something and she exclaims ‘ooh la la’. It’s when she arranges her dolls in a line and then stands up, claps and says with a flourish ‘Walla!’ (Voila)

A golden thread was when I handed Megan a dry rectangular cracker to snack on. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched as she walked away and then held the biscuit to her ear. She said, ‘Hello? Hello? You there? Hello Daddy! How you, Daddy?’

Another golden thread was when Megan rocked her stuffed Piglet and instructed, ‘Calm down Piglet.  Just calm down.’

A golden thread was when I was baking and I asked Megan to help me by placing the paper cups in the muffin tin. She carried the tray into the lounge and when I came in to retrieve it, this is what I saw:

Megan Games

A golden thread was when I couldn’t find my spare house keys or the ones for our post box. I looked high and low. Eventually I came across them on miniature plastic plates together with matching spoons and cups. Keys for dinner!


A golden thread was when I bought Megan sparkly ‘Frozen’ pumps. She refused to part with them. She took them with her wherever she went. Not on her feet though – gripped in her hands. She carried them in the car:


And even in bed:


A golden thread was when Megan asked for some milk. I assumed it was for her to drink but then I came across this:

Milk for dolly 3 Aug 2014

When friends laugh and tell me cute things their kids have done, I tend to mentally disconnect and my thoughts float off into the sky like a helium balloon. It’s the same when people go into detail describing a crazy, off-the-wall dream. Sometimes a friend’s golden thread is not mine too. They’re often situation you-had-to-be-there incidents and that is part of what makes them so precious.

So, I’ve realised that the Surycz Happiness Jar is basically just looking out for these golden threads every day. And life is full of them. For once I have set a New Year’s resolution I think I can actually keep.