I live in Cape Town, South Africa, with my partner, Niels, and (about a third of the time) his two children, aged 11 and 12. I'm an ex-journalist and magazine editor; now a consultant specialising in building resilience, managing reputation (they're tightly linked!) and communication strategy. I'm a believer in the power of design thinking to solve problems and elevate outcomes - and when "29 Gifts", which has lain unread on my shelves for some years, finally came into my hands, how could I not join in?!
GIFT TWO: JULY 20 Today is my lovely friend Susan's birthday. She's a great gift-giver - some of my favourite things come from her (a beautiful chalky blue-patterned pot that holds a plant in my bathroom; the prettiest sugar bowl). She's been a most solid, lovely friend to me: on the day my divorce came through, she lined up some girlfriends, a pile of carby things to eat, bottles of bubbles, and put Leonard Cohen on; and we sat on her balcony looking out over the city towards the sea, being by turns amused and angry and thoughtful - a perfect marking of a long-overdue divorce day. Susan and I share heartaches and heartstories; she's helped me understand how stepchildren and mothering work; and she's the writer of the most important blog I know (http://discopantsblog.com/). So it's important to me that I give her something that comes from a space of meaning. That's why today her birthday present is not just a present: it's my gift. I had bought - because I loved it, because I've never seen anything like it - the most beautiful melted-glass vase. It's been sitting where I can see it, and I've been wondered where it belongs. As my eyes lit on it this morning, I realised it belongs to Susan, and I know exactly where it might go in her home: on the high counter that separates the kitchen from the dining area. It's a perfect herb vase, so I'll put together a posy from my garden: bay twigs, with their deep glossy leaves; some branches of rough-leaved rosemary, and the finer, frothier prettiness of variegated thyme to hold it all together. Bay stands for glory; rosemary stands for remembrance; and thyme for courage and strength. Susan stands for all of these, in her own disco-pantsy way; and I'm spending time today being grateful for all that she means, and all that she gives, through her blog (to strangers) and through her friendship (to those of us lucky enough to be in her orbit).
GIFT ONE: JULY 19 Yesterday, 18 July, was Madiba Day in South Africa. It's Nelson Mandela's birthday; and there's a national movement on this day every year for each one of us to spend 67 minutes doing something for our communities, to honour the memory of that most wonderfully inspiring leader. I was having a bleak day, and although I'd planned and prepared quite a lot, I spent the day quietly, flattened. And reading "29 Gifts", and weeping for the rare and beautiful honesty of it. So I started my 29 Gifts today, July 19, with yesterday's intention: I went to Nazareth House, an Aids orphanage run by saintly Catholic nuns and their equally saintly support teams. I dropped off four large boxes: books for the Charity Shop; magazines for the kids to cut up for projects and fun; some clothes for the kids, donated by my stepchildren; some software for their computers; and a batch of heart-shaped cookies, with crystallised ginger jewels in the middle, for the staff for tea. The cookies, really, were my 67 minutes gift: it took about that to make them. Caring for the carers, who are always quicker to give than to receive; and whose big hearts give meaning to life for dozens of tiny ones who've been given a very raw deal in life. I donate to Nazareth House often. But this time it was a big, conscious, honouring-Madiba kind of gift. And the gift, in a way, was really to myself: everything I had given was surplus to my own requirements, and so a metre or so of bookshelf was cleared, which meant things could budge up a bit and everything just looks brighter, and less cluttered. I feel hugely inspired. And I look forward to what this journey offers.