Monday, September 25, 2017

Happy Heritage Day

Another month has flashed past – I keep having to remind myself that life should be an adventure and not a chore – right now I need to work hard so that my adventures can be paid for 😊 This weekend has been some nice downtime as the nation celebrates Heritage Day. Normally celebrated with a braai here – I am clueless when it comes to fires and grills and braai spice, so I celebrated with fish and chips instead which is a little closer to my actual heritage. I made time for catch up with friends and my family, did some gardening, played ten-pin bowling, spent some time watching the series Victoria while knitting an Aran Jersey for a special little boy and then I made a felt cuckoo clock – in a sense I celebrated all my ancestors.
Yes – you read that last sentence correctly – a felt cuckoo clock! I was in a shop in Bath on my last visit to the UK and saw the kit and before I knew what I was doing I was stood at the till paying for it. Holidays can do that to you – I suppose that’s where those millions of kitsch souvenirs come from. To make my clock, I had to sew through different layers and colours of felt, use a variety of stitches and then assemble all the bits and the clock workings – it was only at assembly stage that I actually referred to the instructions and read that this step required an adult to assist me! My challenging project which I had tackled with a seriousness that made my tongue stick out from time to time was for little people aged 8 and upwards. All I can say is there must be some very clever eight-year old’s that live in Bath.
I am not the only nutter out there – I saw a book called Pride and Prejuknits – a book of patterns for knitting Mr Darcy and his Austen buddies. I actually own a knitting pattern book bought to knit the last Royal Wedding.  I also saw a book called ‘WTF Knits’, which included patterns for animal costumes, a bowl of fruit , the Bee Gees and broccoli. I have just checked online and was astonished to see, not only crocheted cupcakes and reindeer hats with antlers for your canines, but there is a free pattern to crochet a uterus! It makes my felt cuckoo clock seem positively mundane.
The Heritage theme will continue as it’s the theme for our bookclub tomorrow and no doubt there will be flags, vuvuzelas, French berets and I am going as ……….will keep you guessing but I can tell you there is an inflatable crown involved.

NB. For those who don't know and are interested - I was born and raised in England but have lived here for 33 years. My father's grandfather was Dutch, his granny Irish and my mother was English with an Irish mother and a Scottish grandmother ......and there are a lot of cuckoos amongst them all!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Almost over August

I don’t generally like August – I never have. For the last 22 years I have disliked it even more because August is the month that claimed our son. This year he has officially been gone for the same amount of time that he was with us – Sigh! It has changed me forever and one of the ways it has changed me is how protective I became of my own life. I view my life as being made up of moments – pockets of time – If you waste my time you are wasting my life. My life is also a result of the decisions I make so I try to make the decisions that will shape my life to create the future that I want to live. I think this shows in my current reality. Some say that I am lucky – I don’t think luck has anything to do with it – I like to think I live life deliberately.  Many comment to me that I make the most of each day – well I think that’s normal and the alternative is unthinkable. I have been around too many people who didn’t know that their last day was just that – so I really do try and live each day as if it’s my last. So how have I invested my time this month? I constantly calibrate what and who is important to me, my goals and my time to try and get that balance. Of course I have to work to pay my bills and to eat but I do have some discretionary time that I have influence over – we all do – It’s that time I am talking about.
Where I have been My leopard quest was a long awaited outstanding item on my bucket list so that was definitely time well spent. It really was a magical moment and I am not finished – nor will I ever be finished fulfilling my curiosity about nature and the animal kingdom. I also make it a priority to spend a few days in nature with my grandies. I took Craig to a farm so he could run free and enjoy time breathing fresh air, enjoying fresh milk and our annual horse ride – the essentials of a happy childhood. I am planning a similar excursion with Jessica but at 13 she has school, sport and a hectic social life to consider – I think a night in Addo is on the cards with an evening game drive.
Who have I met: I met some young people whose lives have been impacted by HIV last weekend and was struck by how, despite their circumstances, how cheerful and energetic they were. A great reminder of how it’s not your circumstances but how you respond to them that makes the difference in the levels of happiness you experience. I have joined an art class as part of my goal to explore my creativity and met some lovely and talented people – all with a story to tell. I studied art years ago and while I have never lost my appreciation for art, I have forgotten a lot of technique – plus materials have changed. Anyway I have enjoyed it so far – I looked down at my paint spattered hands after the first lesson and had a flashback to Sue aged 19 in bell bottomed jeans, colourful tunics and with flowers in my hair, full of confidence and the arrogance of youth and felt something inside me click back into place. August is Woman’s Month so I went to a couple of functions and surrounded myself with strong, sassy and simply splendid women most a lot younger than me – I envy them that – to have the strength and beauty of youth. I come from a family of strong and independent women who paved the way for me and sadly this month, the last of that generation passed away. Aunty Gladys – business woman, entrepreneur, mother (although she outlived both her daughters) grandmother and great granny. She was a prolific reader and a charmer of people and she lived alone and looked after herself until recently and all at the age of 98,  Whenever I felt a touch of pity for my losses – I thought of hers and was inspired to pull my socks up!
What I have learned:
  •          A lot about Princess Diane – she also died in August and for her 20th anniversary the media      is full of her – even in death she can’t escape them.
  •      Of course I will survive  – it was a relationship not a lung! 
  •      I will more than survive - I will thrive.
  •          How to paint with a variety of palette knives.
  •          Your work and knife skills improve when you drink wine while painting.
  •          Accidental success is rare – plan – plan – plan – budget – budget – budget!
  •         Don’t put your electric blanket on when you wake up – no matter how chilly it is – you will      be in bed till lunchtime.     
  •          Greige! It’s a new term for a blend of beige and grey and it’s a hot décor trend right now.          I’ve always know it as ‘sludge’ and there is nothing hot about it!
  •          The term ‘sharenting’ refers to sharing pictures of our children on social media. I think it           more appropriately describes what we should all be doing – shared responsibility for raising       the next generation good manners and to respect one another and our planet.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

My Leopard Quest continues……

At breakfast on the last day of my visit to Leopard Hill Safari Lodge which I now think of as Dead Giraffe Safari Lodge, I lamented my lack of leopard hunting skills. I had seen a leopard once in the wild but I didn’t count it as it was depressed – yes it was a very sad leopard sitting in a field at Pumba – I have later learned that where I saw it is where they release animals into the reserve when they first arrive, so no wonder it looked sad and dazed and a little lost! Bill – remember the vet and father of four from my last blog – informed me that if I want to see a leopard then I must go to Sabi and another diner agreed and added ….if you want to pay R30 000 per night! Well I don’t have that kind of money but I did get home and google “Sabi Sands + leopard + cheap + camping” and Eureka I found a bed in a tent at Sabi Sands that I could afford. In fact it was very reasonable and my flights, transfers to Mpumalanga from OT airport, two nights’ accommodation (plus a night in JHB with airport shuttle), game drives and meals came in at under R 10 000.00. Eat your heart out Bill!

So with a fully loaded camera, warm clothes and spades of optimism I set off into the wild again. I arrived here at Tydon Safari Camp midday and was told that I had been upgraded – apparently I am the only person who had opted to stay in the Bush Camp and they didn’t think I would be happy there alone so I was asked if I minded staying in the Safari Camp – to tempt me further they said that there was another lone traveler there – a guy – an Australian! Yippee! That’s all I needed a night with Hugh Jackman 😊 Welcome to the land of zips – everything had a zip on it – EVERYTHING! This was glamping not camping and as I unpacked my emergency bandana I was relieved to see there was a hairdryer in the chest of drawers in my tent. In fact, there was everything in my tent that a 5* room at the Ritz would contain including fresh flowers and a jar of rusks in a zip lock container. I zipped off for lunch and to meet Hugh Jackman – who turned out to be called Darren and the Australian version of Stephen Hawkins. :-0
An hour later I was bumping around the Kruger – not my favourite place as it’s like game viewing from the N2 with tourist acting like tow truck drivers is there is even a hint of a lion or a kill of any kind. We saw lots but nooooo leopard. Hugh/Darren/Steve tried to make it up to me by showing me his photos of the leopard he had seen yesterday sat in a tree with its prey while blood dripped onto the vehicle – Thanks Hugh/Darren/Steve I wanted to slap him – Leopard envy is a terrible thing!  Once out of the park and on the way back to camp though we stopped and star gazed in the still night – one of those skies that is full of stars and you sit there and feel utterly insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
That’s when the Chinese lady in the vehicle with us started to cry – well sob really! Her English was pretty non-existent but we tried to ask her what was wrong and I patted her a little. The ranger thought maybe she was afraid as we had just seen a hyena with a mean grin but no….. when she managed to compose herself, it was to sign to us that it was the stars – she shook her head. She had never seen stars – there are no stars where she is from – How sad is that!! To live a life under a polluted sky with NO STARS. We were all touched and starstruck and stayed out a little longer than we should have. What I loved about Tydon Camp was that our dinner was served under the stars around a firepit where we all sat in a circle with individual tables and shared our stories – most of Hugh/Darrens/Steve’s were about leopard sightings! Bastard!
I was escorted to my tent by an armed ranger and zipped in for the night – Panic attack – not because of the thoughts of marauding animals but because I was zipped in and it was pitch black – my claustrophobia was in full throttle and I had to unzip an inch or two before I could settle for the night. Up at 5.30 and telling myself that this was going to be the day – we set off again – this time to Sabi Sands. Watching the sun rise in the bush and hearing the birds wake up is a fantastic experience and one that I never get tired of. We saw the big four but again no leopard and I returned to breakfast and a hot shower and yes – a little snooze.
We were joined for lunch by an American family – that’s the great thing about travel, you meet such a wide variety of people and these guys had a son working in Mozambique and had traveled thousands of miles to see him ----- as parents do! Their first bush experience and they were thrilled to see nyala, a kudu, and even a bushpig and marveled at a yellow eyed malachite starling. Then we stopped, reversed, our guide had spotted tracks and YES it looked like the site of where two leopards were reported fighting yesterday.  I grabbed my camera as we crept along and there it was, hardly distinguishable in the long grass. I was about five metres away from A LEOPARD. It was such an awesome moment. He sized me up with those mean amber eyes and sat perfectly still. It was a amazing sighting……..after a few minutes, he almost disappeared as he stalked silently though the long yellow grass and then again he re-appeared and paused - not taking his eyes off us once. We sat for about 20 minutes in absolute silence just enjoying his gaze. This must have been a first for the three Americans – I have never known an American to be silent for this length of time but how lucky were they to see something that I have waited all my life to witness. The leopard came towards our vehicle and walked right next to me – I could have just reached out and touched that pompom tail but I knew better! WOW! He slowly crept off again into the grass and we were alone again ….and yet we knew we were not.
Everything I saw after that was a bonus and as we journeyed back to camp. The sunset lit up a herd of elephants giving them golden highlights and while we were off the vehicle enjoying our sundowners, a hyena trotted by – I was happy! Back in my tent that night I thought of my leopard not too far away and zipped myself in tight……… I wonder if he thought of me? 

PS - I can thoroughly recommend Tydon Safari and Bush Lodge - Excellent!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Leopard Quest Part 2.....

Before I get to part 2 of my goal to see a leopard in the wild, I had to take a short detour - two and a half weeks in the UK. Why would anyone spend that amount of money for a short trip like that you may be asking - well apart from wanting to see family I have split from V and I wanted to be away when the sh*** hit the fan. Sad as it is I decided that I was worth more than a long weekend a month and a nine o'clock phone call so I called it a day. Although I truly thought we were going to ride into the sunset together the decision to journey no further is my choice. I rode to Bliss with him and then took a sharp turn to Cancer-ville  and on to Remission but now I have got off the horse, slapped its backside and sent it on its way.
So I had a short break in the UK to have fun with my sister Julia and visit my Wiltshire family too. It was all the therapy I needed. Britain was at its absolute best and the gardens were magnificent. The weather was kind and we really enjoyed some outdoor time. We visited Chatsworth House in Derbyshire - our parents loved to take us here and my mom 'Oohed' and 'Ahhed' over all the treasures -- most of them still there but it doesn't seem as grand as it once was. We particularly remembered a HUGE vase made of Blue John stone which is mined locally. Its the largest example carved from one piece and we used to marvel at it. We couldn't find it so asked on the way out where it was and was directed back to the previous room to find it looking much smaller. Amazing how the mind works!
There was an exhibition of wardrobe pieces on display with beautiful wedding gowns, dramatic mourning clothes and elegant ball gowns. All very splendid. The gardens were looking great and then afterward came the highlight- afternoon tea. No dainty sandwiches though - rather Derbyshire doorstops! No tablecloth either milady's standards are slipping I am sad to report. Lovely Lapsang Shouchong tea  was served with fresh scones and delicious jam and clotted cream.
We also visited a smaller country seat - Arley Hall which is famous for its gardens and rightly so they were ablaze with colour and really beautiful in the gorgeous sunshine. The hall itself was not open as usual as there was a Bollywood Horror movie being filmed there - we managed a peek at a few of the rooms and saw the set for the scene they were about to shoot - all looking very austere and Dickensian which I suppose is perfect for a Bollywood Horror film.
We spent a weekend at the country home of my niece in Wiltshire - in a village called Great Somerford. We meandered around the allotment stopping to chat to village gardeners and we admired their produce and the country flowers being grown, It was my niece's prom and it was lovely to see her and her young friends dressed up to the nines taking off in a vintage VW camper van to arrive in style.
Julia and I managed a day at Corsham too - where Poldark and company swagger around when a street scene is needed. We had lunch at the local and chatted to a true Wiltshireman - "Wiltshire born and Wiltshire bred. Strong in th'arm and thick in th'ed." He was the village character - and the retired head gardener at Corsham Court. when he told us this I  had to dismiss the picture that popped into my head of a row of heads planted in the garden! Corsham Court is impressive - the hall was closed so we checked out the gardens where we spotted a man taking his peacock for a walk!

A lovely evening at a spa and golf club was just what we needed after that which included another afternoon tea - I was spoilt :-) Of course there was the usual shopping marathons and I made good use of my 46k luggage allowance - they don't call it retail therapy for nothing!
Sad to leave my UK family but work and duty calls and I headed home with a heavy heart and just a small spark of joy on the horizon - a weekend in a tent in Sabi Sands Reserve and the possibility of seeing the elusive leopard.
What I have learned:
* a lot about getting unmarried
* there is no place like home - Its complicated when you have two!
* junk status means things cost a lot more in the UK
* its not only your clothes that shrink as you get older!
* diamonds are not forever
* you can take peacocks for a walk :-)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Leopard Quest....written in May!

I am always amazed at how the universe places us where I need to be. Not necessarily where I want to be sometimes but where I need to be. This month I have been reminded on several occasions that we are all connected and nothing happens by accident - everything happens by design.
Just this weekend I was in St Lucia - well a game reserve just north of there on my leopard quest (have I told you that this is the year I AM GOING TO SEE A LEOPARD IN THE WILD) I went to a place called Leopard Mountain Safari Lodge - not a leopard in sight - but what a fabulous place and I saw a deceased giraffe - a first!
I went out on several game drives and was placed with an older couple who were keen bird watchers.
I have to admit that I find 'twitchers' a little irritating. They are usually fussy, meticulous people who record everything they see and these were no different - the little book was out and Estelle had a clever device that played the bird's call too. I was there to take photos and find THE LEOPARD and I sat impatiently listening to Estelle's  twitter in the leopard free veldt! 
Over the couple of days I learned that this same couple had been married for as long as I have been alive and that's over 60 years! I also learned that Estelle had been in a microlight in April - a treat for her 87th birthday ad her 89 year old husband booked as well in case she got scared - I was beginning to like Estelle and Bill. But is was on Sunday as we stopped for our bush coffee break and we got chatting about family that I realised that our encounter was no accident. I asked how many children they had and Bill said three and at the same time Estelle said four. Our ranger looked from one to the other and Estelle explained that one of their children had died - a daughter had committed suicide thirty years ago. So here we were two women with more in common that we thought - drinking coffee in the bush in peaceful silence reflecting on our loss. I remarked that a woman who has lost a child will never say she has one child less - I also tell people that I have four sons. I also know what it takes to tell someone openly that a loved one has committed suicide. When faced with that question, "What happened?" You have to make a choice in that instant - do I tell the truth or do I invent an illness instead and perpetuate the stigma around depression and suicide. 
So the universe looked down as two bereaved mothers hugged one another by a watering hole in the middle of the bush on a beautiful Sunday morning.
What else has happened during May - Well I have anther group of learners who I will be seeing monthly for a whole year and we got along famously. I am always surprised how little young people know about what is happening globally - they don't read the local news never mind the international news - they think news is whats happening on Face Book. Learning requires that reading takes place and in my line of work - facilitating leadership and business skills - learning means knowing that we don't exist in isolation and need to understand things globally like when someone hacks into the Internet in USA and causes a global IT threat then that affects you, your bank, your privacy, your safety, your job security. your family. I watched them discuss this animatedly and thought - Yes, I have been given this group for a reason - I am here to bring light - to open their eyes wider to business challenges and to encourage them to be curious. One of them is permanently attached to her phone which has a dodgy battery so its plugged in for charging 24/7 which means she exists with a cord length of a power point - SAD. I am trying to pry her away from her phone by encouraging her to report to me on the colour of the sky, what the sunrise looked like and encouraging her to feel paper pages between her fingers occasionally!
I met a lovely group of ladies when I enjoyed a paint effects course - we were all relaxed and chatty until a paintbrush was put in our hands - then we all froze - frightened to do the wrong thing! I reminded myself and them that this was going to be fun and we were there to play with paint - so we did!

However I am not always the teacher! I am here to learn too - I asked myself every evening "What have I learned today?" This month I can say I have learned:-

  • That its foolish to believe that giving up is a sign of weakness - sometimes its the strongest and most courageous thing that you can do. Although I am not ready to give up on my leopard hunt yet!
  • That I need to take a playful approach when trying new things.
  • That when you affirm others - you in turn will be affirmed. 
  • That there are some idiot drivers on the road and there seems to be more of them as you drive northwards .......
  • That not everyone who speaks like a gentleman is one! 
  • Giraffes can die of natural causes and when they do they vultures come to them in hundreds!
  • Leopard 'hunting' is frustrating ....but fun!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A peek at my month......

Its after 9pm on 30th April - nothing like a deadline to get your fingers on the keyboard! Yes my last blogpost was 31 March and I really cant let myself leave April without keeping some record on my April 2017. So what have I been up to? It seems its all  been work and travel this year. I can't believe that I have been to Singapore twice, Capetown, Natal twice in three months! Its time to calm down I think and enjoy my home and my friends and that's exactly what I intend to do for a couple of months at least!
When I haven't been travelling, I have been working - all over the place and I have enjoyed every moment. I have a new group of young and energetic learners who make me feel like a high school teacher at times but they are fun and they keep me on my toes - except they make me feel ancient. I have also worked at NMMU and at the NM Business Chamber where I offered to do a session on dealing with difficult customers - I had no idea how popular it would be and I ended up with a group of 30 - it was a great success and I am sure I will repeat it. I think "How to complain (in a manner worthy of respect) should be a subject for life skills at school. Really - I heard some horrible stories of rude customers who have even thrown things at those serving them. So wrong! I am a someone who loves to give feedback when I am happy with service .......and also a responsible consumer who complains when necessary. Social media is also not helping as there is plenty of evidence on Facebook of adults having tantrums, melt downs and behaving in a seriously abusive way when not happy with the service they have received. I think you should give the service provider a change to rectify it first before ranting online.
Lots of special birthdays this month too - so I have partied with the best :-) Janine, Craig (turning 8) and today Jessica turns 13 and had a lovely birthday celebration at my house. again I found myself surrounded my young people and what lovely young girls they were - full of fun and life - well mannered and on the brink of womanhood - Just lovely! Craig chose to go to a movie with me to celebrate his birthday - he drove there with his 3D glasses on and his head out of the window so his hair would look spikey and cool which tells me he is growing up! We saw Boss Baby which is excellent - the animation is fantastic and I enjoyed the humour as much as he did.
I have a new camera - I had to replace the one stolen - and I have been getting used to it so have made a couple of game viewing trips to do just that - to Tala in Natal and today I went off to Addo and enjoyed wall to wall elephants - I could watch them for hours ....and sometimes do.  There are a lot of babies there at the moment and I love the way the herd protects them and then once in a while they make a break for it and take off - trunk feeling the way with mom in hot pursuit!
Just like those baby ellies - we are all learning lessons - I believe that is our purpose in life - we are here to learn and everything that happens to us - every challenge - every triumph teaches us something.
What have I learned this month?

  • Surround yourself with the right people - people who build you up and make you feel good about yourself.
  • Be that kind of person too and you will never be lonely!
  • I am usually time conscious but I have been reminded to invest my time wisely - its a precious commodity and people who don't treat it as such aren't going to get any of my time!
  • Be careful what apps you leave open - or you may get goat noises coming from your handbag when you least expect them!
  • Rejoice in nature!
  • Let go of things that are out of your control - que sera sera!
  • Don't make fudge unless you know someone else is coming to eat it.
  • Dont say Yes to anything without checking your diary - I have had a couple of "moments" this month.
  • Hang in there  - Its all in the plan!

My year is already quite full and I am blessed - I have a real feeling that I am in transition right now even when I am stationery. To where I don't know but I do know that the universe is conspiring to challenge me in new ways and that whatever happens I know that this year will be memorable and life changing - "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Friday, March 31, 2017

Freedom of expression.

Well I heard it with my own ears yesterday, "My child isn't crying - she is expressing herself."
I was in a kiddies play centre in Singapore which Katherine and Adam love. Lots of children running swinging, jumping, sliding and bouncing and lots of bored moms staring at their phone screens. In the middle of all this chaos was a screaming toddler in a high chair - her older sister was playing with - whoever - I don't think the mother even noticed who her daughter was playing with because she was busy tapping away at her phone screen. Noticing the toddlers distress I clapped my hands and tried to distract her......and that's when the mother said,"My child isn't crying - she is expressing herself." in quite a defiant, challenging tone.
I was taken aback more by the tone than the words - I am not it the habit of commenting on any child's behaviour when the parent is present. However, I have heard this expression before - it seems to be the current craze among young parents and quite frankly I don't know which child behaviourist served up this rubbish that they have latched on to as an excuse for not bothering to interact or discipline their kids. It is a crock of shit!
So - I did the world a favour and replied quite pleasantly,"Yes she is expressing herself isn't she, she is telling you that she is confined in a high chair and cant get out to play with the others. She is telling you that she needs your attention. She is asking you to entertain her as she is too small to entertain herself"  I looked at her phone as I said the last statement. I felt really good expressing myself!

Recently my sister and hubby had to endure a long haul flight with a screaming toddler who cried every time Peppa the Pig went off - about every 20 minutes. Obviously there wasn't a Peppa the Pig film on offer on the flight. Another lazy parent finding an 'electronic' baby minder easier that using her own energy and skills to entertain her child and inflicting stress on 200 people. No doubt the excuse if challenged would be " My child is expressing himself".

The mom in the playcentre put her phone away and packed up her stuff a few minutes later. The little was lifted out of her chair and clung to her mom as she sauntered out.....and the crying and screaming stopped. Perhaps her mother got the message after all.  Having children is a fun loving and joyful and rewarding experience. It is also hard work, challenging and demanding!