Shaken, not stirred…A special birthday for Tom filled with surprises…Merry Christmas to all…

The festive spirit took over. Danie, Rita, me, Tom, Gerhard (in the back), Kathy and Don from left to right.

“Sighting of the Day in the Bush”

Party or not, this is Africa, and a scorpion visitor joined the party on the back of the bathroom door.

It’s not easy to pull off a surprise birthday party. Tom began to wonder when I packed two bottles of gin and two bottles of vodka with about 30 lemons to make sugar-free Lemon Drop Martinis for Rita and me. Most likely, neither of us would drink more than two.

The bright light behind us wasn’t the best vantage point in taking this photo. From left to right: Don, Kathye me, Tom, Danie, Gerhard with Louise and Rita in front.
But, in Tom’s usual go-with-the-flow mentality, he went along with the premise that I always make a lot of whatever we’re having, and he brushed it off as my usual nonsense.
Beautiful platters of snacks.

We made our way to Rita and Gerhard’s giant condo at Ngwenya Lodge. We made our way down a few steps carrying the apple crisp dessert I’d made earlier in the day, a box of four fancy martini glasses, an electric juicer Louise had provided, and two chill boxes (coolers in SA) filled to the brim with ice.

Jandre, Danie, Kathy, Tom, Rita, Louise, and Gerhard on the veranda overlooking the Crocodile River.

Rita and Gerhard greeted us with much hoopla and enthusiasm as we entered the condo to find it beautifully decorated with balloons, streamers, blowers, and sparkly “Happy Birthday” confetti strewn about. We gasped in sheer wonder.

The outdoor table is set for 10.

It was apparent they’d gone to a lot of work for the dinner party for four. But wait.  Moments later, Kathy and Don, Louise and Danie, son Jandre, and girlfriend Michelle popped into the living room with blowers in their mouths shouting, “Happy Birthday, Tom!” 

Our hosts, Rita and Gerhard, couldn’t have done anything more to make this a spectacular birthday for Tom and a celebration for all of us.  Our heartfelt love and thanks to them both.

A surprise birthday party was born, albeit with only 10 of us but easily some of our most beloved friends in the bush. Tom couldn’t stop smiling as I “oohed” and “aahed” over every detail, gleefully taking photos of the stunning spread.

We mulled around chatting until dark when we finally sat down to dinner.

There were appetizer platters made by Rita and Louise, the outdoor table set for 10, with the aroma of delicious foods cooking on the stove and in the oven. How did we get so lucky to have such fine friends?

With the help of Jandre, who juiced all the lemons, after some photo-taking, Tom and I got to work making the Lemon Drop martinis, after everyone who wanted one, eight out of ten, specified if they’d preferred Bombay Gin or Seagram’s Vodka (the only vodka brand we could find at the local liquor shop).

Jandre and Michelle.

“Shaken, not stirred,” we made the martinis which everyone seemed to enjoy, several asking for seconds a while later. Rita was busy in last-minute preparations for the fantastic meal she’d prepared while Kathy and Louise also helped in the kitchen. 

The festive nature of this special night was easily felt by all. The spirit of Christmas wafting through our heads, coupled with the smells of great food, the sights of the decorative setting, and the joyful nature of each one of us in attendance, created a night we’ll never forget.

Danie and Louise.

The night flew by too quickly. From the food served seamlessly on a buffet table in the kitchen to fill our plates and return to the outdoor table to the giant scorpion Michelle discovered on the back of the bathroom door, every moment was memorable.

As the evening ended and we packed up our remains, glassware, juicer, and two cool boxes, we hugged everyone goodnight, thanking them for sharing Tom’s special night.

Jandre, Michelle, Tom, Rita, Louise, and Gerhard huddled together for a photo.

And what can we say to Rita and Gerhard that could praise the depth of our appreciation? Thank you didn’t seem sufficient enough, but for now, we hugged, we praised the fantastic job and hard work in putting it all together, and we walked out the door, looking forward to today when they’re joining us tonight for Christmas Eve dinner.

Our dinner tonight won’t be quite as elaborate. We’re making homemade pizza, salad, and garlic bread (for the boys) with more of the delicious apple crisp for dessert, which everyone seemed to love.

Tom and Don, celebrating together. We met him and Kathy five years ago today, Christmas Eve, when they invited us to their bush home, having never met us but heard about us from friends Lynne and Mick, who we’ll all see again sometime in January.

So, now we change gears for the Christmas celebration in the bush, our second such affair in the past five years. But, this time, our circle of friends has expanded, and the meaning and blessings of the holiday season hold all the more joy. 

Tomorrow, us and Rita and Gerhard will join Kathy and Don at their home for Christmas dinner, and the good times with friends will continue. 

A few weeks ago, Kathy and Rita nonchalantly asked Tom, “What’s your favorite meal?”  He replied, “meat, mashed potatoes, sweet corn, and green beans.  Well, look here! All his favorites and more, steamed cauliflower, potato salad, Greek salad, and spinach salad. What a fantastic meal!

May your Christmas season (should you celebrate) be filled with the company of those you love, with the spirit of the holiday season embracing your heart and soul.

Note: On December 26th, we’ll be posting photos from Kathy and Don’s two-holiday events. Please check back.

Photo from one year ago today, December 24, 2017:

Another colorful building exterior as we made our first walk in the neighborhood in Palermo, Buenos Aires, Argentina, one year ago today. For more, please click here.

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