BOOK REVIEW: UMBILICUS: PAULA GRUBEN: A brave tale of discovery and identity


The term ‘umbilicus’, otherwise known as the belly button is the point of attachment for the umbilical cord to the embryo. Everyone has one. Everyone was once tied to a woman who gave them life- their birth mother. But not everyone has the privilege of knowing who that is. And that must be agonizing.

I always think of belly buttons like the tied bit at the end of a balloon. When my toddlers would ask , ‘wazzat Muuum’, I’d say,  ‘it was how you were attached to me in my tummy and if the doctor didn’t tie it properly when you were born, when he cut it you would go ‘bithhhhh’ and deflate like a balloon’.

Paula Gruben’s autobiographical novel, entitled Umbilicus is the true story of a brave young adopted teenage girl who suffers the so- called ‘primal wound’ of not knowing her true origins and her quest to find her birth mother.

The story opens with the fraught and somewhat hostile interaction between Charlotte (the author’s name for herself in this work of fiction based on true events) and her adoptive mother when she fears she may herself be pregnant at 16. Charlotte contemplates whether she is not merely history repeating itself and sets the scene perfectly for readers to understand the mindset of a young rebellious teen.

At the same time, I could already feel the fear and sadness of her adoptive mother who must have battled to deal with her own issues of desperately wanting a relationship with a daughter which she could not give birth to herself.

Writing from the unusual second person point of view of Charlotte made me more empathetic to the agony of her journey. Paula writes with ease and her descriptions and characterizations make her story so real. Her dialogue passages read easily too and I breezed through her story in a few short hours.

What’s so fulfilling about this story was how we, as readers, get to see all points of view in the complicated triad of adoption. First with Charlotte, whose teenage years were certainly so traumatized with the stigma of being adopted and her resultant determination to understand and find her roots, then her birth mother’s agonizing story of how and why she decided that adoption was best for Charlotte and finally, a perspective from her adoptive mother.

Throughout the book, I found myself questioning and challenging my own feelings in order to understand the mindset of each of this tragic triad in turn. While initially I felt anger towards a mother who could willingly give up her own flesh and blood, (understanding and acknowledging that no-one travels another’s journey) Paula’s telling of her story made me understand how absolutely agonizing it must have been for her birth mother to know that her daughter was out there somewhere. And for Charlotte, to have had to wait until 21 for her to be reunited with the mother who gave birth to her.

I do have to say though that I felt sad in many ways for the mother and father who were clearly so terrified of their efforts as loving, adoptive parents being undermined or disregarded by Charlotte when she found her birth mother and that it couldn’t happen that the process of being reunited with her birth mom was something they could have embarked on together.

Apart from readers who are one of the adoption triad, I believe Umbilicus is important and relevant for many other readers out there: for young adults who are too young to appreciate and understand the intricacies and long- term effects of unplanned pregnancies and the lives that follow; and for mothers of teenage children who have the ultimate privilege of motherhood to nurture and care and support their children who are going through trying and sometimes terrifying teenage years.

Finally I have to say that the book was more meaningful for me because I had travelled some of Paula’s writing journey with her and could relate to her undeterred determination to get her story out and into the world.

The South African world of indie- publishing is not easy and she has rocked it!

Those docs and frocks certainly paved the way for you Paula! Onwards and upwards! xx




What’s more important- savings or sanity?

I read an article this morning about our globally projected future.

In a nutshell:

  • jobs for lawyers and many others will become superfluous (scary)
  • Tesla-type cars will be the norm therefore no drivers (good thing), fewer cars (also) on roads allowing people to live quiet lives on country roads (also), just staring at their phones all day long (not)
  • these phones will even be able to tell their mood via a ‘moodies’ app ( I hoped that by now this is the ONE thing I would have learnt myself)
  • don’t bother with saving for possible international tertiary education since everything will happen on the phone anyway- (Parys or Paris, irrelevant)
  • cheap and sufficient electricity and water . In South Africa this is a highly contentious and debatable issue but it does make us feel better.
  • I will probably live to 100.

Then l logged onto my emails. No connection. Phoned the ISP, took a while to answer and proceeded to ask a million security questions (including my phone number which I was phoning from …?) and had to wait for them to phone back. Frustrated.

While I waited, I logged onto my Medical Health webpage since I’ve realized that I’m a little more active than they think I am and even though I don’t plug myself into my laptop to tell them so on my little device as often as I should, I know I am ‘cos I ran one or two races recently myself. Not like others I know who pop into the gym to swipe their cards and buy the nice coffee and walk out cos that’s another way the way to earn points ( by swiping, that is, an invigorating wrist exercise)  and everyone seems to do it but no- one seems to mind and they still get their health rewards.

I want the rewards too.  And after all, a penny saved is penny earned isn’t it?  And since my earnings have fallen hugely and in direct proportion to the number of children I popped out it makes sense to appeal to the mammoth medical aid industry to spread their surplus saver funds doesn’t it?

But I couldn’t get on because my password had changed. Phoned them to sort it out because even though I am a fully- fledged person with real email identity and cell phone numbers and been on the phone to them several times before to explain this, somehow my husband  gets sent the new passwords and since my email wasn’t working, this was even proving even trickier.

Another half an hour passes. I finally logged on.

Now to try to register my activeness. This I discovered required a new registration with a new password and the next person who tells me to USE THE SAME PASSWORD for everything  I do deserves to have his toenails removed because I know and you know that some passwords require big letters, small letters, one number, one of these &^%$# , one capital and preferably my friend’s dentist’s ex-wife’s cell number (for SECURITY purposes you know) and others are MUCH SIMPLER . Like this one.

So there I go. I’m on.

Now I have two new passwords and re-registered and created my profile with my VERY LONG name (TIP for Mum : short name, Sue Poo would be preferable to mine with it’s six syllables ) but the races aren’t there to register cos they’ve been run of course which is precisely what I asked of the nice lady on the online chat but she assured me that I can still record them even 4 months later so I’m well within the time but now somehow I can’t and so I start a new online chat with people on the new site to find out how I do this.

My message says it’s been sent but I have no idea who it’s been sent to or how long it’s going to take and I don’t want to be hanging around on this website all day because otherwise I’m going to go INSANE.

I don’t know if I want to live to 100.

And I think I want to rather remain sane than save. Because it seems to me that the longer we live and the more supposed ‘progress’ we make, the more disconnected and discontented we become, the consequence of which is the constant search for less stress and more peace and love and light on the world and ‘if we just see the beauty around us in filtered frames of beach scenes and mountain streams and indeed even within ourselves’ we will be healed.

But if we weren’t so disconnected and digitalized in the first place, we wouldn’t be so needy for this illusive quiet.

Or is it just me?

‘Naaa, Spice Mom’ I hear my 19 year old son echoing in my head. ‘You just gotta keep up’.

Having just had some quiet time in the bush in the silence of animals and this in my bag, I’m wondering if I’m just perpetuating a modern myth.

john gray

What do you say ?


On the sisterhood and our traveling pants

Growing up in the same household, exactly two years and one day apart in age, the thing we

shared most, my sister and I, was the bathroom. More different we could not have been. While I

would be chatting to Anna in the kitchen as she prepared supper, having done my homework

next door at the Parkview Library (Johannesburg)  painstakingly copying out paragraphs from

their Encyclopedias (no photocopiers , scanners, iphones) Rox could be found playing pinball at

the Tyrone Fruiteres. Or lighting fire crackers in the tunnels at Zoo Lake with the boys

of the hood.


She was feisty, my sis. She played goalie for the first hockey team and a mean game of tennis. At

varsity she was one of boys- clocking up records for downing the most beers at the Pig (the

famous old Pig and Whistle Pub in Rondebosch, sadly no longer) and becoming the first female

cheerleader, swinging her baton in front of the IKEYS crowd against the mighty MATIES at the

annual rugby clash.

‘Who’s that?’ my first year UCT mates would ask when we attended the round of heats in Jammie

Hall the year she was elected. ‘You won’t believe it, but it’s my sister’ I whispered to the girl next

to me.


Next minute she was racing up Jammie Stairs holding a make-shift wooden boogie-board type

thing and flinging herself onto it in mid-air, smacking down onto the unforgiving stone stairs as

she flew to the bottom to be stopped by a flimsy looking mattress which was held up to stop her

path. Had she kept up her speed, she might well have collided straight into the pensive looking

Rhodes statue and saved us all a lot of angst.


Oh well.


Today she runs a successful series of three restaurants on the beautiful Garden Route. People

from far and even further book months in advance to sample her award winning, self-taught,

self-made style of food from The Girls, Flava Café and Roxi’s On the Square. Even PJ POWERS

chose Flava Café to launch her book, Here I am.


But no, this isn’t a food blog.

It’s about my sis and me. And maybe a little about diversity.


Her latest venture in Wilderness Village on the Garden Route, Cape.






For she has a beautiful head of thick, thick short hair, mine’s thin and long.

Her body is decorated with tattoos, mine ages without.

My skin doesn’t really do well in the sun; hers seems to bronze like the color of the foil of butter

she used to suntan with, years ago around our pool.

My house is filled with kids and dogs, hers with cats and DVD’s.

If you want to understand the latest gadget, need to change a faulty wire, or need something

digitally dissected, give her a shout. I have yet to record a TV program on a DVD (I believe TV’s

can be paused or rescheduled to watch at a more convenient time?)

She’s gay, I’m not. My house is full of books, her head is filled with what next shall we cook!


And then we took a little trip, my big sister and I. Off to Jerusalem we went, for the day, while the

rest of the family went their own way. (WRITING HABIT : Rhyme always creeps in when I need to

pick up the pace and have been laboring for too long on one piece. This is not necessarily good

or advisable but it adds a sentence or two. )

It was so HOT I had to buy a HAT!









Here’s the back story:

My aunt- my mother’s sister- turned 90 on 9 June (co-incidentally she shares this date with my

sister) and as we did when their older sister turned 90 (two years ago, also in June – June is a

busy month in our family though she sadly passed away a year later) the tribe comes to

celebrate. I didn’t plan to go, having just been on a wonderful trip just weeks before, but you

know what ? When people turn 90 you need to celebrate with them. And not only because most

of their friends aren’t there anymore, but simply because part of them is part of you.

My fabulous aunt (90) and incredible uncle (94) who have lived in Israel for 50 years.

So there we were, my sis and I, in the holy land of Israel.   The last time we’d been

there was in 1973.

It was time to pack our traveling pants and take a trip.

We hopped on a bus and a tram and the laughs began! We don’t speak Hebrew and the bus driver wasn’t interested in engaging with us at all- even to pay the ticket. He shooed us to a seat. I was already hysterical! She’s always made me laugh as only she knows how.

And all around us, young men and women, whether in army gear or civies slung heavy machine guns around their necks and no-one other than the two of us seemed intrigued. This guy just got off the bus…














And it seemed ironic that it was in Jerusalem that we shared such special memories for it is a

fascinating place where three dominant  and diverse religions of Christians, Jews and Muslims

alike lay claim to Jerusalem as their holy city.

Religious Jews walking in Mamilla Avenue, an area just outside the Old City of modern art galleries, eateries and modern shops like Zara.

I decided that my sister and I were a microcosm of this holy place: bound by both common

history and diverse daily rhythms,  where focused time allows you to dig deeper and reveal new

insights, and perhaps ultimately understand, that in the end, we are all threads of a

shared human existence.

Continuous excavations reveal new historical facts.










But there is one thing that I alone can lay claim to : my own unique sister. And how special is that ? !

Outside Jaffa gate. We happened upon a ‘free’ guided tour which took us through the Four Quarters of the Old City: Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Armenian. Fascinating and a good starting point for future visit.







12 Things I See Happy People Do (that unhappy people do not)

Rev. Shane L. Bishop

I have been thinking a lot about happiness of late, partially because so many people seem unhappy.  I think that was my first epiphany upon entering the world of Social Media; people are unhappy and there are a lot of them.  Now don’t get me wrong, we all know some people who wouldn’t be happy, were they not unhappy but I am not talking about them.  We will just let them be.  I am also not thinking theologically here (i.e. juxtaposing happiness and joy), today I am going to err on the practical and pragmatic side of things.  With that being said, let’s get going.

I think most people want to be happy; they are just not quite sure how to get there from their present location.  Many people honestly believe that happiness is a lucky bounce; a sunny disposition or favorable circumstances but I disagree.  Happiness is a choice…

View original post 601 more words

what was YOUR trip of a lifetime?


Look who I found strolling around Dubrovnik- our host, Dave Koz!


The road to Manarola


Long time fan of Jeffery Osbourne. Gorgeous man.


Local at Monterosso. Couldn’t resist the captivating smile.


Our incredible ship


Example of what’s on for the day. Exhausting! And incredible !

Tell me about your trip of a life time!

It’s partly the anticipation of travel that makes it all so exciting – not so? The images you

create, the foreign sights and tastes you foresee? Once you’ve arrived is almost passive in

its enjoyment as you swiftly appreciate that you are one of a throng of thousands of

tourists all snapping away at the same astonishing

architecture, dodging other people’s selfie sticks, stroking the shirts,

bags, magnets and touristy trinkets which colour the marble-paved squares.

So it helps to do a reality check when you’re there too.  Just to be really present in your

new surroundings because before you know, you’re back again.

But travel is essential for it provides perspective on how you live your life, the value of

your relationships, the familiarity and comfort  of home and the one thing that puts it all

into context: the realization that even if you had the time and resources to travel to all

the countries in the world on your bucket list, it would all be meaningless if you didn’t

have the anticipation of being reunited with your children again.

Which is exactly why when you DO travel, it’s the most exciting thing on the planet! And

when you combine that with non-stop jazz, well,  it’s simply extraordinary!

So, with that bit of reflection done, allow me to share with you a once in a lifetime trip

my hubby and I just returned from.

And for once, I will do away with any more wordy trivia,

because it cannot do it any more justice.

ONE TIP: BEFORE you scroll through the pics,  familiarize yourself with just a few of

the jazz legends (65 artists in total!) who accompanied us on the DAVE

KOZ and FRIENDS at SEA Cruise 2017, Venice and BEYOND.

Dave Koz  – the most entertaining, energetic, warm, affable man I have yet to meet (Try

the track ‘‘Together Again” which was the one I played over and over

and then googled. The CD that made me book the trip, way back in September 2015),

Rick Braun, Richard Elliot,

Jonathan Butler, Gerald Albright,

Peter White, Vincent Ingala ( the new young hottie from Connecticut)

Jeffery Osbourne,

Sheila E, Valerie Simpson and the list goes on….

and you will get a glimpse, perhaps, of the extent of my 7 day euphoria as we sailed

down the Adriatic Coast, and then cooled off on the cliffs of  the Cinque Terre for a few

days more.

The pics are not in order. It doesn’t matter.

ENJOY and SHARE with me your OWN story!


Exploring the Doges Palace, this room supposedly the largest hall in Europe


A glimpse from our breakfast dining room


Leaving Venice


On the edge of the old city – Dubrovnik, Croatia


Spring flowers along the 1300 step climb up to fortress, Kotor, Montenegro.



Beautiful white and blue of Oia, Santorini


Leaving  Monterosso by ferry to Riomaggiore. Crowded!


Arriving Riomaggiore.


Sunset over Riomaggiore


Two of the best – Rick Braun and Michael Lington.


An essential Aperol Spritzer overlooking the Grand Canal


Bridge of Sighs- the sounds of prisoners as they were led to the cells


Sculptor’s contribution to awareness of climate change and rise in ocean levels.


St Marks Square


And Jonathan Butler!

Three R’s: Running, Rhinos and wRiting


At 5.30am I stood in the relative dark on Main Road along with another couple of thousand runners – about 27000 apparently. I’d been up at 4.15am, had a cup of coffee and a banana and debated with myself about which top to wear over my vest and pinned race number. What to do with the fleece when I got warm? Would I see my hubby and kids somewhere to throw to them and if not, would it annoy me around my waist for the 2 or 3 hours I planned to be on the road?


Then, yellow street lights and a happy announcer buoyed the runners, the smell of Arnica Gel and a sweetish deodorant wafted around and the wind nipped unsuccessfully at my fleece. I expected to be more nervous but somehow wasn’t. I smiled at the odd person next to me if I happened to catch their eye and did a few stationary steps on the spot but no real warm up if I think back on it now. At home on the stairs from my bedroom I had stretched my calves a little as imagined that if anything was going to give, it was likely to be these-they had been tight on occasion.

Figuring I was in a good spot more or less at the front of E Group so I wouldn’t have too far to shuffle to the Start once the 6.20am gun sounded, I kind of stood there, amazed that it was finally me who was part of the expectant throng. Me ! Well we all have our things we want to do don’t we? Like climb Mt Kilimanjaro or fall out the sky with a parachute or something. Personally, I prefer hearing Johnny Clegg’s ‘I’m on the top of Kilimanjaro’- it makes my heart feel profoundly proud of being African in a way I cannot explain – but running this Two Oceans Half Marathon was officially on my bucket list. For years. I had just not committed to it properly in my head but then writing it and sharing it out in the public domain last year when I was about to turn 50 made it a kind of thing, you know?

Then of course came the Rhino bit which in all honesty, was a beautiful bonus. Having decided only a month before that I couldn’t wait another year, the only way I was going to get an entry was through a charity and luckily, Saving Private Rhino, an initiative organized by the Aquila Game Reserve was something close to my heart. I was in. Then to solicit some pledges (I’m flippin’ hopeless at asking for money but family filled in furiously as usual and a few friends- THANK YOU ALL)  and it was done.


So there I stood. My first attempt to run 21kms. All in one go! My furthest to date had been 18kms- and that was in 2002, unknowingly pregnant with my third baba. On Doctor’s orders I had been told not to run anymore, having miscarried the month prior and then suddenly it wasn’t such a thing anymore.

Now. I had been told by those in the know that one or two longish runs were enough and that I had done. One 14km and one 15km and the last 4 weeks of deliberate ‘training’  runs, twice a week, about an hour or so of running each time, nothing more than 8 or 10km at a stretch, usually a little less.

Only one wish: not to be hauled off the road at the cut –off and told that my efforts were in vain.

And that’s that.

About 10 mins to go the gun.

The young woman next to me asked me to fasten the holder thingy on her arm which housed her keys and phone. But there was little chatting beyond ‘where are you from ?’ and ‘how are you feeling? ’ I looked around and saw a banana on the floor. I stretched my foot and tried, surreptitiously to prod it, wondering if I had underestimated my breakfast requirements but it was too late now. And how embarrassing anyway to pick up someone else’s food off the pavement!

I wiggled my shoulders to Coldplay’s Viva la Vide playing loudly over the speakers and then it was the countdown and the sound and smoke of the gun.

Shuffling up the road, turning the corner, listening to the chirps and encouragement of fellow runners on the ups, feeling the breeze on the downhills, overtaking the Sub 2.30 bus at the 7km mark, it all seemed kind of surreal. By 7.50am I was at the top of Southern Cross Drive and felt that this was a thing I could do. For heaven’s sake, I had passed a few 70 year olds doing exactly that!

With beautiful chestnut strewn paths on the way up to Kirstenbosch and an easy down to the beginning of ‘Chet’s Hill’, it was my bum and right thigh which felt tight. ‘Don’t think about it’ I said to myself and plodded on. I decided to take a sip of Powerade at this point, believing that a little booster for the last 3kms could come in handy and then suddenly, the green lawns of UCT loomed large. I picked up the pace and felt my heart smiling back at me though my ‘sprint’ didn’t last the entire of that home stretch which seemed to have got further the faster I ran! But I made it past the FINISH line. In time.

And so ‘there’s it’, as Suzelle would say.




Final word? How lucky that I have legs to run and an able body that helped them along.

#Yes, Grateful

#Saving PrivateRhino

#DOT Challenge and amazing boys that are rowing to RIO- thought of you too!

#Tracey Todd and your amazing, brave story Brave Lotus Flower Rides the Dragon

brave lotus flower

#Running’s a bit like writing: the more you do, the further you get!

And now for more of my book…

See ya next month!



What would your biggest regret be?

I arrived in Cape Town aged 17, unwilling and unexcited about the prospect of studying at UCT. I wanted to stay in Johannesburg so that I could stay close to my ‘serious’ boyfriend. At all of age 17.

Note to young seventeen year olds: Even though you may not like your parent’s advice about what you should do when you leave school (knowing of course that the decision is really yours) know that they usually have a good reason to believe as they do. They were also 17 once upon a time.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t know how else to defy the path I had been encouraged to follow so I stayed and studied at UCT. And have never lived anywhere else since other than a few months here and there.

Note to 50 year old self: This sounds extremely boring. In your next life remember to be braver and live in different countries and continents before you settle down. Why ? Just because it will make you a more interesting person.

When I finished studying, I started working immediately – never leaving Cape Town  – and apart from birthing four babies which has thrown that young 17 year old into a lifetime of ‘how the hell do I look after them AND become a super successful career woman?’ living and working in Cape Town has been a treat. It is a beautiful city with SO much to offer.

Note to new parents (especially with more than 2 children): Don’t kid yourself into believing that you can ‘have it all’. You will have to learn to make innumerable compromises either in relation to your career, or to the type of parent you thought you’d be. Probably both. You’ll learn that ‘each to their own’ but you need to know this. 

A sad but common human trait is of course that we don’t often appreciate what we have, until we don’t have. We take everything for granted: our able bodies and strong minds, our sense of adventure and self-imposed limitations, our defined and categorized tick boxes on how to make a successful live; our beautiful open spaces and incredible wild animals.

Note to all: Take stock of what you do have, and then be grateful for it.

So. Over the years in Cape Town, I have been aware of and watched and cheered and clapped and encouraged with a lump in my throat every time (from the pavement or on the couch) the runners in the TWO OCEANS MARATHON. I’ve known many who have run this race many times. Each time I have promised myself ‘I’ll do it one day’ and then it was ‘before I turn 30’ and then ‘ok, before 40’ and I know for sure that I don’t want to do it at 60! So it got onto my ‘Things to Do in my 50th year’ and then I forced myself not to think about it.

AND THEN, suddenly last week, it was only ONE MONTH away.  So now it really is my turn.



Entries are long closed of course cos people plan for months and all I’ve done are irregular ordinary silly little (walk /runs) around the roads when other people do MAD CRAZY THINGS like ROW TO RIO 6700kms across the bloody Atlantic ocean  in order to raise awareness for the PLIGHT OF OUR PLANET and other mad cyclists can do the Cape Epic putting their lives and health in blatant jeopardy for a greater cause (sometimes) or just cos they want to challenge themselves (it feels better somehow when you are doing something for a greater cause that just yourself doesn’t it? ) and so NOW I am extra excited about the opportunity to support a worthwhile cause and challenge myself to run 21kms!


rhino pic