Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas day improves

After a flipping good howl while I was laying the table for lunch for 17, followed by a howl on Graeme's shoulder, I felt much better. Lunch proceeded to be a laugh a minute and a huge success. What a great day! Thank God.
Another bit of good news is that Nellie's fever has broken. Turns out that she DOES have baby measles (which isn't actually measles, I discovered - it's called roseola). The down side of this is that now she has too much energy to sleep. She's only JUST gone to bed (after 1opm, when her 'normal' bedtime is 7pm). The poor baby is covered in a rash now. Sigh! The joys!

Packing for our holiday will have to wait till tomorrow morning. I need SLEEP!

Love to you all, hope you had a FABULOUS day!

What's Christmas all about anyway?

One of the blogs I read asked for advice about toddlers and small kids lying and hiding things away. It's an interesting topic, and one that, thankfully, we've not really had to deal with yet.

A study done with littleys shows that there are 4 stages to the development of lying in a child. First, they have no concept of being able to lie, or how that might benefit them, so they always tell the truth. Then they realise that they don't have to tell the truth, but still can't actually lie, so stay silent in order to avoid trouble. Then they start to lay the blame at someone else's door - but can't yet identify who a logical alternative is, so for example will say that their teddy did it. Finally, they are not only able to lay the blame at someone else's door, but able to choose a viable alternative, someone that might actually have done it.

One woman, Rachel, who commented, said that what she had been telling hers is that stealing, hiding and dishonesty makes our hearts grow as heavy as rocks. When this happens the rocks fall into out tummies and make us awful sick. I LOVE that image. It's exactly what guilt feels like, and guilt does make us ill, so it's being truthful while putting the idea into words a kid can grasp.

I heard a story this evening while at supper with my mother's side of the family about my cousins who stole their mother's belt and buried it, and then gave the belt a proper funeral service - all because they hated getting the occasional hiding from her with it! How cute is that? Kids know what they want, and will find a way to get it.

This blogger's situation was that her child hid her phone away (not so accidentally), and turned it onto silent (accidentally). She commented that maybe her child did this because she spent so much time on the phone. A common toddler response, by the way, to you being on the phone is to misbehave. They can be playing happily by themselves, the phone goes and INSTANTLY they want your undivided attention, and then start to whine/ scream to get it.

Lots of parents advocate developing a signal that the child can give you when she really wants your attention, but stress that then you must listen to it when she uses it, and switch your phone off/ stop doing whatever you are doing. I have no idea whether this actually works with toddlers, but can see the value with older kids.

While our work (at home, or at work, or our ministry, or whatever) is vital, God can raise up others to do it (hard to hear, I know, but ultimately true). Children are precious, and only have one Mommy. It won't be long before they're off and out of the house for good - I know you know all this, but it is so important that we appreciate them while we have them, that I think it bears repeating.

I wish I'd really understood that while Zoe was still alive. Even now, I have to remind myself to stop and smell the flowers with Janel, remind myself that life does not consist of endless doing, but, rather, of endless being. Who (or what) we choose to be with is the vital decision - ourselves? our children? our computers? our TVs? our spouses/ partners? our kitchens? our cleaning equipment?

Ultimately, isn't that what Christmas is about? Jesus choosing to be with us - in the flesh, not at a distance going 'yes, yes, dear, I'm just busy stopping this earthquake in Guatemala [or whatever]; I'll pay attention to you when I've finished'?

This Christmas doesn't feel at all like Christmas to me. I don't know what it's supposed to feel like, or what I'd expected, but this was not it. I never used to like Christmas, in fact, I positively dreaded it. And it seems that nothing much has changed. I guess it's the stress of not being able to have one big happy family. Christmas-time makes me aware of how fragmented my family is. Blended families have unique pressures at times like these, and just because the kids grow up does not mean those pressures decrease.

I was reflecting earlier today that all I really want for Christmas is to have our entire family (all 70 odd of them) in one place at the same time, and for Graeme's family and my family to get along with each other, and to like each other, and for us to have enough time to talk properly to each of them, and for no one person to be stressing about catering or hosting. That, for me, would an incredible Christmas. But of course, that's the stuff of dreams.

They don't get on, they don't like each other (at least, that's how it appears to me!), and it feels like we're being torn in different directions with each family wanting their time with Janel (and us). All have said to us that they understand and that we should choose just one family each year, but then all of them demonstrate just how much they would miss us if they didn't see us. Kind of puts us between a rock and a hard place. I WANT to be with my parents. That already tears us in two. Then there's Graeme's family. Rrriiiippp. Then, it's Graeme's birthday (on Christmas Eve) so he wants to see his family (and vice versa) for that. Rrrrriiiipp. Please don't misunderstand, I love our family dearly, and seeing them is never a burden. I just find the stress of managing their expectations against my own desires very difficult.

So that brings me back to the question - what is Christmas actually all about? It's not about materialism, although buying and opening presents is great fun. (Can you tell that presents are one of my primary love languages?) It's not about doing stuff, although traditions and rituals bring a sense of security and familiarity. It's not about being with your family (ironically, we didn't see family for several Christmases and it felt more Christmassy than when we did!), although spending time with them is precious and special. It's not about going to church - at least, it never has been for me. I seldom go to church over Christmas because I hate carols. (Too much enforced carols practice at school!) It's not about the snow or lack thereof (personally, I think I prefer snow.)

That brings it down to one thing - the real deal. Jesus. It's about him, and him choosing to become a human being. And of course, he's the one person that I'm most struggling to talk to at the moment. Where does that leave me? I'm not sure.

No money (ok, not really true if you take in account a global perspective on wealth), no friends (not really true either if you have that global perspective, although so few of them have bothered to send us a card it sure feels that way - out of sight, out of mind I guess), no Zoe. And just in case I was thinking of having a good festive season despite all of that stuff, I got struck down with flu for a few days, and just as I'm recovering, Graeme and Nellie are both ill. (We suspect Nellie has measles.)

The only thing I am sure of this Christmas is that this is probably the suckiest one ever.

Edited to add:
I'm sorry I sound so miserable. It's just that several people have, in the space of 2 days, talked about Zoe openly for the first time, and it's been hard keeping my tears in check. I felt I had to, however, because this is supposed to be the season of joy, and I don't want to rain on anyone's parade. And it's not all doom and gloom. We had a lovely tea this morning for Graeme with friends, and we had a lovely meal with my folks this evening, and I'm sure that our meal with Graeme's family tomorrow will be lovely too.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Worth reading

I've been reading a really interesting book. Quite depressing in some ways, but definitely a good read. It's called 'The Shackled Continent' by Robert Guest. He's a writer for the Economist who has been stationed in sub-Saharan Africa for cumulatively a long time. He's worked in most of the sub-Saharan countries. The question he poses is why Africa has become poorer and more destabilised since independence, rather than less? Very interesting question, especially at the current time when the ANC has just had their election for president.

Guest is at pains to point out that he knows that there is much beauty in Africa, and bucketloads of potential. However, given the nature of the book, there is not much that is 'happy' in this book. It is, at times, a very emotional, difficult read, but I think his insights are eloquent and spot-on. This is something I have often wondered about, and Guest makes some very insightful comments - maybe I'm just not much of a political thinker, but I've learnt a heck of a lot about my own continent from him.

Reading this book, I have a fresh understanding of how God's heart must break when he looks at sub-Saharan Africa. I shudder at the hatred and violence we perpetuate, or that our leaders stir up in us. I struggle to understand how it is that we allow ourselves to think and behave the way we do, yet I know that when I examine my own thinking, the roots of the same evils I denounce are sitting in my own heart.

I haven't finished it yet, so I hope that the ending gives some hint about how to change the circumstances. The only criticism I have had so far is that the information he gives does rather leave one thinking there is no hope for Africa, and that one really would be better off emigrating. (Actually, SA politics at the moment leaves me feeling the same way.) I know that's not his intention; as he said, there is a lot going for Africa, and there is a lot of good in it - but his book deliberately does not deal with that.

Definitely worth reading, but not what I would call bed-time reading.

Christmas joys

The first "joy" is that I'm sick. Yup. Good old flu. I had a bug last week, for less than 24hrs, but it was obviously still in my system. (The other option is that whatever Nellie had over the weekend I've caught.)

Yesterday, I was driving around doing business stuff in 30 degree heat, and got a bit dehydrated, and then WHAM! by the time I got home had a sore throat, swollen glands, etc, etc. I've slept most of today away (which is not easy in temperatures above 30 degrees), but am still feeling fragile.

However, a real joy has been decorating the Christmas tree. It's been fun having a real tree again, even a pathetic pine. This morning, while I was lying on the couch watching telly with G and J, she walked up to the tree, turned to me and said, "It's Christmas, Mommy." Ahh! I know we've done a rotten job of teaching what that really means, but then, we're doing a rotten job of being good Christian parents at the moment. Maybe next year...
Another 'joy' has been watching Nellie develop independence in her swimming (photos on her blog). Graeme's mom found an old swimming ring she had, and Nellie loves it! We tried the arm bands route, but that didn't go down very well, so this is the perfect alternative. Now she can jump in by herself and swim by herself (under our supervision, of course), and she just loves it. I love seeing her so happy and relaxed and confident. It brings such joy to my heart!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Just when you think it's over...

...it comes back and bites you in the butt. At least, that's the way it feels.

As you may have noticed, my recent posts have been about all sorts of 'other' things - nothing too personal. The first reason behind that is that I'm struggling to share how I feel, which is a pretty weird feeling for me. I guess that it stems from having been so busy recently and not having the time to think through how I feel. The second reason is that even when I've had time to figure out how I feel, I simply haven't had the time to sit down and write about it. (Plus I figured that maybe you'd all like a break from what must, at times, feel like the incessantly depressing posts I've been writing!)

Over the past few weeks, I've suddenly become (figuratively) surrounded by people having babies or announcing they're pregnant. I can honestly say this never used to be a problem for me. I know that for many women who lose a baby late term or through neo-natal death (or for women struggling to conceive) being around others with newborns or who are pregnant is like sticking a red-hot poker in your eye. I never had that. Maybe that's unique, but it really didn't bother me. I was able to compartmentalise what I was feeling about Zoe from the joy I felt for others in their gift of new life. I could hold babies, talk about babies, look at baby pictures, "gossip" about babies - none of it affected me.

However, that is no longer the case. In retrospect I've felt myself changing in this regard for several months now, with each new birth announcement feeling more and more like a dagger to the heart, but it all came to a head when a member of my family emailed to say she was pregnant. (I'm not allowed to name names because she doesn't want the rest of the family to know, which I understand, but it's a close family member.) Reading her email, I felt like I'd been hit in the stomach. That has never happened to me before, and I don't like the way I felt or the things I immediately thought.

Of course I'm thrilled for her, but I don't feel thrilled - I feel gutted. I don't wish any harm on her or her baby, but I wish she wasn't pregnant. I want to dance for joy and celebrate with her, but I also want to punch her. And feeling that way, wishing that, makes me feel as guilty as hell. I just keep thinking that it's not even that she's pregnant that I have the issue with. It's that she's pregnant and I'm not.

I have friends who have either been trying (unsuccessfully, even with IVF), or who are physically incapable of having kids (e.g. already had a hysterectomy), or who don't have a partner so won't have kids (unless they go to a sperm bank). I have one child. I should be grateful. I should be satisfied. I should be happy. But I'm not.

It's so easy to stand alongside someone who really wants a child (as I confess I have, on occasion, done) and soliloquise about stuff - that God will provide, that you're better off without kids, that you must just have faith and it will eventually happen - or even to say 'that sucks'; but BEING there is a completely different kettle of fish. Not being pregnant is killing me.

As I said to my grief counsellor this week: I expected this reaction back in March when Zoe died. Then I expected to struggle with wanting a baby, because that's what was supposed to happen. You get pregnant, you give birth, you get a baby. Psychologically and physically, I was prepared for having a baby. So not having one - well, I anticipated having issues with others who did have one. But I never did.

And I've been feeling a hang of a lot better recently. While my grief has been present, it's been much more of a background thing. I thought I was starting to reach the point where I could live around this hole in my life, where I could really start to put my life back together - start going back to church, start getting involved in ministry again.

I did not expect that, 9 months on, this would hit me now. I wasn't prepared for that. And I don't know how to handle this. I know that the first Christmas without your loved one is tough, so I'm sure that has something to do with it, and I'm sure that I will get through this. I just don't know what to do with my feelings right now. And when I get like that, I bottle, which is the very thing I should NOT be doing.

Take today - I had a MASSIVE temper tantrum at Janel today because she wouldn't eat her food. Mostly it was because she was simply being defiant (how I HATE these terrible two's of pushing boundaries and establishing her sense of identity) - and that winds me up like nothing on earth. But I know I also over-reacted because my emotional stress is high. Because I'm not coping with these feelings, they boil over into things they shouldn't. And I hate that. I made her cry this afternoon, and not just because she was being naughty, but because I was cross about not being pregnant - and that's really not fair on her. (I did apologise to her afterwards, and she did sulk for a while - just to show me how much I had hurt her - but we made up and now we're best friends again. Thank God little ones forgive and forget so quickly!)

I know I've said it before, but I really hate going through this grieving stuff. It's hard work. It sucks the life out of you. And just when you think it's over... !

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Who am I? Casting Crowns

In the midst of these turbulent times, I often find myself crying out to God, asking him to hold on to me, because I don't know how to hold on to him, and I don't want to be lost.

Here's a video a friend sent me the link for. The words are pretty awesome, but I just love the creative way they are illustrated by this church's drama team.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Pale skin drawings

This afternoon, my dearest daughter told me off. She'd been sitting on my lap, and looked down at my arms. 'No Mommy, no drawing!" she told me, wagging her finger at me. I looked down, and realised that she thought my veins were pen marks.
As I tried to explain that they weren't drawings, but my veins, she got more and more cross with me. 'NO MOMMY! NO VEIN! DRAWING!" Yes, darling, no vein. Drawing. You're right.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Musings about money

Why is money - having it, earning it, spending it - such a big deal?

I guess that not having money, but being used to having a certain standard of living, has created a certain amount of stress in my life. So I've found myself pondering this question a lot recently, no doubt helped along by the fact that some of our friends seem to be able to buy things we will never be able to afford, and that I can't quite figure out how they afford them either.

If we truly believed that God would provide for all our needs, we would not need to worry about salaries or income or sensible expenditure. Yet we worry, and we buy private health care and car insurance and life insurance.

If we truly believed that WHO and WHAT we are is more important than how we look, or what we wear, or what status symbols we have, we wouldn't worry about those things. Yet, we worry, and so we dress a certain way, try to keep up with the Jones' or buy the latest gadget (I personally want a Wii, iPod, flat screen monitor, wide screen TV, DVD recorder, decent hi-fi/ home entertainment centre, etc, etc, etc), or feel a compulsive urge to hoard our STUFF.

Obviously, we don't believe these things. We tell ourselves we do. We talk the talk, but we don't walk the walk. I don't want to buy into the commercialism of Christmas, but should anyone suggest that we stop giving Christmas presents in order to focus on the real reason for Christmas, I might just be forced to dunk that individual's head in a toilet, or wash their mouth out with soap. I WANT PRESENTS. I don't care that we can't afford Christmas this year. I'll happily max out my credit card. I WANT PRESENTS. Plus, I like buying presents for the people I love - trying to find something that will really make them smile, make them feel special, make them feel treasured (which is usually how I feel when I get a present, the exception being when I can see it's just a present for the sake of a present and that very little thought has gone into the gift - unless the gift is money, then that rule no longer applies!!)

I want the nice house with the nice car and a maid (even if it's only once a week)and a gardener and all the trappings of middle class living. I can't afford any of this, but it doesn't stop me wanting it, or envying those who have it.

Indeed, the love of money is the root of all evil. If I spent half the amount of time I've spent thinking about money (how to earn more in particular) praying instead, I think my life would be a hell of a lot better.

Just this morning, as I drove to work, I was thinking about how much I bemoan the lack of money in my life. Granted, most of that is done to myself in my head, but it still happens. On my route to work though, there is a particular robot (traffic light, for the non-Saffas) at which there is a man who collects the rubbish from your car and disposes of it for you. While this is a free service, he obviously hopes that you will give him a donation, plus he also scrounges anything recyclable and gets money for that. He dresses relatively well - nothing shabby or torn - and he always greets you with a smile. He doesn't have that hang-dog expression that so many beggars have. He has an aura of purpose, and pride in himself.

I doubt he earns much from doing this. Yet, rain or shine, he is there every morning. He appears grateful to have something purposeful to do, something that actually provides a service for people (as opposed to just begging). While I can only imagine how boring and soul-destroying it must be for him to walk the streets like this every morning, he always has a smile on his face. If you have nothing for him, he is gracious, wishes you well and walks on - no hard feelings or resentment play across his face.

By contrast, I am seldom gracious and giving in difficult circumstances. I am sure I earn a lot more than he does. I doubt he has private medical care. I doubt that he eats as well as we do. I wonder how many he supports on the little he makes every day. I have a roof over my head (courtesy of my mother), clothes on my back, food on the table, clean water, electricity that runs (although occasionally doesn't because of load shedding), private health care, a car, my daughter's nursery care is paid, my TV licence is paid, and I honestly want for nothing that is essential. That's a hell of a lot more than most South Africans. Plus, I have my health, an incredible husband, a beautiful daughter who is a delight to us and all who meet her, a family that loves me, and friends across the world.

So why is it that I am not satisfied with what I have?

What is it inside me that constantly hungers for MORE - more money, more stuff, more food, more acclaim?

There is an old hymn... "Riches I need not, nor man's empty praise".... it's a line from 'Great is Thy faithfulness'. Every time I sing that I know I'm lying. Something within me cries out for riches and man's praise. God's praise, God's love is not enough for me.

Which tells you something about the state of my heart. And I can't blame this on Zoe's death. I have always struggled with this issue, it's just that at the moment that struggle is highlighted for me because of the tremendous disparity between the haves (of which I am actually a member) and the have-nots in SA.

Did you know that the basic wage in SA for urban areas has just been RAISED to R5.98 per hour? That's £0.43 per hour. In rural areas it's even less. How anyone manages to survive on that pittance is completely beyond me.

From another perspective, reasonably paid domestic workers get around R30 (£2.10) per hour, employers' UIF contributions (which is like NI in the UK, but a lot more basic), one to two meals a day, transport costs, 3 weeks of leave a year, and if they have a considerate employer they will also get some paid sick leave time.

Theirs is unskilled labour, mine is skilled. I clear about R45 (£3.20) per hour (after tax), with my perks being a small amount of paid sick leave, and 12 weeks of holiday. I don't get meals, I don't get a pension and I don't get a travel allowance. I also have deductions made for compulsory professional registration, as well as compulsory union fees*. Teachers are badly paid in this country, there is no doubt about that!

(*Fees are deducted irrespective of being a union member because all teachers benefit from the work of unions, even non-members. Union members' fees go to their unions, while non-members' fees go to a central fund that is then split between the various unions in proportion to their representation in the province - which I think is a really good system).

So I've rambled a lot. But this brings me back to the question - why is money such a huge issue? I guess that, on the one hand, it's about a lack of trust that God will keep His promises to us. On the other, I have a need to provide for my family - to see them cared for - and I want to give them the very best because I love them. But ultimately, I guess it's just greed, plain and simple. I want more. I want to be better than the Jones', not just equal to them. And that, I guess, demonstrates a fatally flawed understanding of the derivation of my self-worth and what brings meaning to life.

Next question - how do I fix the problem? (in one simple easy-to-follow DIY kit, please).


Last days... there is always something nostalgic about last days, even when one is pleased to be moving on.

Today was my last official work day at my current school, but it's been a slow wind-down as I had little to do. However, I've already started doing work for the new school. I have several units of work to prepare, and my lab is in DIRE need of a clear out. I doubt my predecessor, nor hers, has done a proper spring clean, so we're talking about more than a decade's worth of accumulated junk... joy. Not. Sigh!

I had my first proper exit interview today. Previous schools have done something on a more informal basis, which I doubt had any effect. I hope today's interview has an impact. By the end of the interview, I was surprised by how much I've picked up about the running of the school in just 6 months - things that, it would appear, the senior management are not aware of; things that seriously need to change. (That is not to imply that the school is poorly run, or that I am glad to see the back of it - merely that no institution is perfect and there are always things that can be improved upon.)

I am sad to leave. Apart from a handful of horrid boys in my register class, I really liked the boys, and I really loved the staff. I made some good friends in my short time there, and I will miss them next year - one in particular. Since I was a young girl I always wished for a sister. I love my brothers dearly, but I always wanted a sister. I think I may have found her in the person of Paola - the most dear, wonderful, amazing, inspiring woman. I will miss her tremendously.

But in the midst of all this work related stuff, life has been mad. My birthday passed in a quiet fashion with a handful of friends popping over for drinks (which was actually quite raucous at one point). Nellie's birthday, however, spanned several events. Firstly there was the family tea with Graeme's family (which was also a celebration of my birthday), then the birthday tea at nursery with her classmates, then there was the dinner with the grandparents, and finally the party with the cousins and extended family. Sjoe! Marathon. She's still singing happy birthday to herself, so I think she's got the idea that she has a birthday month, not just a birthday week, or birthday! Hmm... shall have to work on this concept for my birthday....

We've also had major stress about her eating habits at home (or lack thereof), only to realise that all toddlers go through something like this, and that since she's grown 2.5cm in 3 months, we're doing something right. So - deep breath - I think we can relax a bit on this issue and stop beating ourselves up about it.

And so one chapter closes and another begins. The Christmas Mania. God knows how we're going to manage this every year. The birthday madness followed immediately by the Christmas madness. I think my brother has the right idea - buy a farm and disappear to it for the entire holidays. This year was going to be more stressful, I thought, but it's actually working out ok (so far!), which is saying something given that there are 3 families to accommodate (my folks are both remarried), plus it's Graeme's birthday on Christmas Eve, plus both our mothers have their birthdays around New Year (one on the 30th, one on the 1st), plus the various in-laws don't seem to get on with each other very well, plus it's our first Christmas at home in YEARS, with the first grandchild being in attendance. So - only mildly stressful.

But surprise, surprise - I actually think it's all going to work out ok. Graeme's doing a birthday tea for his family on the 23rd, his family are coming to us on Christmas day, one set of my parents aren't doing Christmas this year - they're joining my brother on the farm - so we'll see the other lot on Christmas Eve (and celebrate G's birthday with them then). Sjoe! That was easily handled, I thought. If only everything in life was that simple.

And things for next year are already looking more complicated. It seems that news of my business is already spreading - I'm not even fully into production yet, and I'm already getting queries about stocking my stuff in baby boutiques in other provinces!!! I'm thrilled, but it has rather upped the ante. So, I've taken the plunge and I've booked a stand at the Baba Indaba baby show in Cape Town in July 2008. It's costing me an arm and a leg, but I think the exposure will be good. Plus, I think having a deadline to work towards will help me a lot. (But it does mean that I will not be getting 6 weeks of holiday this summer, or 3 weeks over Easter next year!)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


So today is my birthday. I have mixed feelings about it.

I'm another year older, and I feel ancient. I have wrinkles and saggy boobs, varicose veins and several rolls of fat around my middle (forget the beer boep - I have a tyre!). My skin is looking weathered and old, and having 2 kids has made the skin on my tummy feel like an old woman's. Yup, I feel and look old.

But, on the up side, I love celebrating my birthday. It's the one day in the year when I'm guaranteed to be told how special I am, how much I'm loved, and that I bring joy into the lives of those who love me.

As always, it is raining in Cape Town. No-one believes me, but I know, because it's MY birthday - it ALWAYS rains in Cape Town on the 21st Nov. Always. Today is no exception. It's pouring, and I can hear thunder in the distance. I had hoped to have lunch at Kirstenbosch, but there's no way I'm venturing out in this weather!

I had a lovely start to the day - I got breakfast in bed. In fact, even better, I got to snuggle with the 2 people I love most and we ALL had breakfast in bed together. The only thing that would have made the morning perfect is if Zoe had been with us. She would have been 8 months old this weekend, and probably already sitting on her own and crawling, possibly even starting to stand on her own. The ache in my heart is very present today.

Graeme, bless him, wrote me a beautiful heart-felt letter, in which he blessed me on this my "38th" birthday! And he's the mathematician in the family! I had to laugh.

Sadly, no real birthday celebration today as most of my friends are sitting in London, and the majority of those I have here are all teachers in the throes of marking, and the rubbish weather means no nice outdoors lunch. But maybe I'll wake Graeme up (he's napping) and drag him out for a light lunch somewhere else anyway. A girl's got to celebrate somehow!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Calling London

Thursday evening I was thinking about something that Bron (of coolthisaword - see in my links on the right) blogged about a while back - how we 'do' community across distances. Her conclusion was that, actually, it can't be done. I've been thinking about that a lot, on and off.

She's right that for community to work, you have to be able to see each other, spend time with each other, physically be there for each other. But her question, and the one I've been really thinking about, was what the implications of that are for long-distance friends.

I don't have an answer for that, not yet anyway. But on Thursday it suddenly hit me that I will never again be able to walk down Balham High Rd to pop in at Bertie and Boo's for a fresh smoothie, or share a hot chocolate/ tea with Sarah and Sara in Starbuck's, or buy my fruit from the market, or get some curry from the take away place near the tube, or have coffee in the park with my NCT group, or walk across the common to Lucy or Sue's house for GG or a coffee, or bump into folk from church as I wander down the high street.... or any one of a hundred little things I used to enjoy doing.

Even if I were able to afford to visit the UK again, or even if we were to move back, it would never be the same again. We wouldn't be able to live in the same flat. Our friends would probably be in different places (Sara has already moved to Sweden - by the by, LOVED the photos of the caravan conversion on fb!! Sam is a serious DIY hero!), and life just wouldn't be the same. The community that I was part of is no more.

And I think that's what I'm mourning right now - that things have changed. Yes, I miss my Growth Groups terribly. Yes, I miss London (who would EVER have believed I would have said that?!?!). I miss the commons. I miss my little garden. I miss all the things that go with living in a 1st world country (like public transport that works, a national health system that works, and a better standard of living). I miss a really good curry. I miss Terry Wogan (yup, I'm a TOG). I miss BBC Breakfast. I even miss being able to laugh at the chavs. I miss my drive to work. I miss Janel's childminder, Ashley. I miss my friends from work. I miss the long evenings and early mornings in summer. I miss the cherry trees in blossom. I miss the cold, crisp winters and moaning about how infuriating it is to get a snow storm in London (because London is not equipped to deal with snow). I miss the culture of walking everywhere. I particularly miss bumping into friends and church people on the road because we were living in the parish. I miss living on the doorstep of my church. (Stephen, the LOCAL church is SO the hope of the world!)

I really miss BBC radio 2... in SA the music is 99% R&B - it all sounds the same to me. So on Friday morning, as I was driving to work and listening to KfM, I was caught by surprise to hear a song I'd last heard in the UK. I promptly burst into tears, because it reminded me of my afternoon drive home from work when I'd listen to the 'interesting facts' thingy while Nellie slept in the back of the car. In the midst of my tears, I caught myself thinking, "I just want to go home" and by 'home' I meant London. I miss my community there.

It took me two years to get used to being in London. I guess it'll take me another 2 to get used to being back home. We have to start all over again with forging relationships, building community, finding a niche for ourselves. It's hard work, but what hurts most is that the friends we had when we left (those still left in Cape Town) haven't ONCE picked up the phone to say hi, or invite us out. Not once. Some have made the effort, at least, to come along to stuff we've invited them to, and it's been great seeing them. Some couldn't even be bothered to do that. Not one of them, even the ones I expected to be sympathetic about Zoe, has picked up the phone to ask how we're coping - or even emailed us. Not one. Overall the message we're receiving from them is that, quite frankly, we might as well not be here, because we mean nothing to them and they obviously aren't keen to have us back as part of their lives, and that they actually don't care that we've just lost our daughter because they don't care about us. And that hurts. So much for friendship.

What's worse though, is that my family (apart from my parents) haven't phoned to invite us out either. Graeme's siblings have invited us out. Mine haven't. And the reason I wanted to come back to Cape Town was because I wanted to be near my siblings. Of course, one of mine has just upped and emigrated to the UK (2 weeks ago). (I understand his reason for going, but his timing sucks. I couldn't go to the airport to say goodbye because I was too cross. Then I felt like a twit afterwards because now I haven't said goodbye.) And again, they haven't asked us about Zoe either. None of them, apparently, want to know about her. Even Graeme's family haven't asked me, although I think he has had one or two conversations with his brothers.

So all in all, I'm feeling like I've been kicked in the teeth by friends and family alike. Not surprising then that I want to move back to London.

Which brings me back to my point. How does community work? My friends in the UK are miles away and we can't be community. My friends in SA aren't friends and obviously don't want community with us. So I guess we start again, but where? with whom? and do I really have the energy while I'm grieving Zoe to be trying to make new friends? I don't know that friendship & community are the same thing, but I really don't have the energy to be building community with people I'm not friends with....

Sigh! I'm just too tired to deal with all this. Living the reality that I anticipated (see posts from earlier in the year) is a lot harder than I thought I would be. And to those who said that they were sure things wouldn't be as bad as I was anticipating, all I can say is - you were wrong.

So tomorrow we're off to try a new church, one that we can walk to in summer, one that apparently has a lot of kids stuff going on, one where nearly no-one knows us, one that we might be able to start afresh in, because one can't go back I've discovered... it's just too painful. My counsellor is right about one thing - we might as well have moved to Jo'burg or New York. Apart from the Mountain everything else in Cape Town is different.

The only possible 'up' I can see in all this is that I've been spending some time with some cousins I hardly ever spent time with before. I'm rediscovering how lovely they are, and Nellie is making some friends. Maybe I'm not going to be as close to my siblings as I want, but at least some of my family may well become community.

I really, really miss you guys in London... there simply are no words to describe the hole in my heart where you were.

Sorry - this wasn't at all what I wanted to blog about. I didn't want to be all morose and morbid. I had planned a nice, intellectual discussion on the nature of community, and instead all this stuff came tumbling out. I'm doing ok. Really I am. I know it doesn't sound like it, but I am. I'm managing and coping and I even manage to laugh a lot. But this stuff is in here, in my head and in my heart, and because I have so few people I can really talk to, this blog becomes the place where a lot of this stuff has to come out. Sorry.

I KNEW it!!

Yes folks, it's official. There is a reason I'm fat - and it's a good one!

According to today's headlines from New Scientist magazine online, women with curves have brainier children. Yesterday's post is simply the evidence that my fat has been put to a good purpose!

Now... where did I hide that chocolate?

Friday, November 09, 2007

What a clever girl!

Who says my child isn't a genius?

Yesterday, while she was in the bath, Janel TOLD me she needed the loo, and when I popped her onto her potty, she ACTUALLY DID A WEE. She not only had the cognition that she needed a wee, but DIDN'T WEE IN THE BATH, and she managed to hold it until Mommy could come and put her on the potty! How clever is that?!

AND THEN, as if that wasn't enough... earlier yesterday afternoon, while I was lying in bed feeling awful, she came in, saw my empty tea mug, asked if I wanted more tea (to which I said, yes please!), picked up my mug, took it to Graeme, and told Daddy that 'Mommy more tea rusk"!!!!!!! Now I ask you - isn't that sheer genius?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Conversations with God

The past few nights, lying in bed, I've tried to pray. It's one of the few times in the day when I don't have other things (or people) competing for my attention or time. Last night's conversation was (once again) about Zoe. Eventually, after my monologue about how I couldn't reconcile what the Bible teaches with my experience of God until I had all the facts about why God chose to take her, God quietly asked me, "Do you trust me to do the right thing?"

And that's what it all boils down to, doesn't it. It's all a matter of trust. If I really trusted him, then this would not be such an issue. Right? Do I trust, in the absence of evidence, that God has done the right thing, or do I trust in my own experience?

Now I sit with the matter of trying to answer that question. Not an easy one to answer honestly. Much easier to try to sidestep, although that will be difficult. I know what the right answer is, but I'm not sure that's the answer I can give. Which puts me in a bit of a predicament. Either way, the answer will mean I need to change my behaviour. If I do trust God, then I have to let go of my anger towards him. If I don't, ... well, then that has implications for whether I call myself a Christian or not.

I think the only thing that looks positive out of this whole situation is that the last time God asked me such a big question, he gave me a few years grace while I grappled with it. I'm hoping he will give me time to work through this one too and not demand an answer tonight!

Friday, November 02, 2007

The hard road

Today I had a very interesting conversation with my HoD about my colleagues. Two of them do not get on. I'm not just talking about not liking each other - they positively hate each other. They can't be in the same room together or in a meeting together. This means that department meetings in which sensitive decisions are being made happen in two parts - with one of them absent from each meeting.

It's an awkward place to be, because I can see what both of them are saying - I can see the positive and the negative in each of them. They just can't see it in each other. They refuse to see it. They have each made the other into a monster and refuse to back down. It's tearing the department apart, slowly but surely.

I don't want to go into all the details of the conversation, save to say that my HoD has asked me for some ideas about how to get the two of them to work together without killing each other. I've been pondering this all day, and then I came across this lecture. It kind of puts things into perspective.

Oh yes! I nearly forgot to say that.... MY BUSINESS IS OFFICIALLY REGISTERED!! Woo hoo! Not that it makes any difference to how fast (slow!) things are progressing, but it's another box I can tick off.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Demolition Call

Oh boy, you gotta hear this!

Topsy Turvy

One second I think I've finally managed to drag myself back onto the wagon, the next I've fallen off again - the wagon of faith, that is.

On Tuesday evening our cell group (home group/ growth group) went to the Warehouse. It's a church-based organisation that aims to help individuals who want to serve the community find a way to do that. They run programmes of food/ clothing/ love pack distributions, organise practical tasks (like painting someone's house, or disaster response), support an orphanage and educare creche programme, run a programme for high risk youth in the townships, etc. Their work is identical to that of the Besom Foundation in the UK, but with a few more hands on, long-term projects.

Anyway, we went along to find out how we as a group can get involved on a regular basis. We had a great evening of both getting information, and then getting stuck into a practical task of packing up some love packs and some clothing packs. Being in the Warehouse (it is actually a warehouse) and doing this stuff made me remember how my faith used to be. And I found myself desperately longing for those days when God was my friend, rather than my enemy.

Since Tuesday, I've been praying a lot (well, in comparison to previously anyway) and I've been enjoying making the effort of beginning to rebuild my relationship with God. In fact, driving home yesterday, I even remarked to God how, as long as I didn't think too deeply about Zoe, it actually felt like I was 'better' (fixed, healed, restored, whatever).

This evening I received an email from a pastor in the US who asked whether he could use my comments about Zephaniah 3 in his sermon on Sunday. Since I couldn't remember what I'd said, I went back to read it. And I fell off the wagon.

As I replied to this pastor, he was more than welcome to use my comments, as long as he understood that I no longer subscribe to that view of God. I cannot reconcile the understanding of God that I have gained through experience (of one who destroys community, hope and joy, and who abandons) with that presented in Scripture (of one who builds community, hope and joy, and who rescues).

I guess my remark hit the nail on the head. As soon as I think about Zoe, whatever construct I've created falls like a house of cards. When I don't think about her, I can pretend everything is hunky-dory. I just don't have a way to be the believer I long to be until I can find some explanation for God's actions in my life.

Of course, the fact that I'm barely on speaking terms with him probably makes that much more difficult to hear/ receive...


This grief stuff is *%$!. As my colleague George says, "I'm so OVER this already."

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Cancer and relationships

No - not mine, before everyone starts to panic - my father's. He's been having real difficulties swallowing again, but (as with his last scare over Christmas) has been declared cancer free in that part of his body.

However, the cancer is still in his body. This past week he showed up at our house with large, deep red patches on his face. They looked like really bad mosquito bites, and since 'tis the season for them here in the southern hemispheres, I thought nothing of it. That was, until he told me they were cancerous.

Apparently, there's this new whiz cream on the market. You apply it to your skin and wait. If the skin turns dark red, it's cancerous. If not, it isn't. He has two patches on his face, one on each cheek. This cream also destroys cancerous (or maybe it's pre-cancerous) cells, which is what causes the colour change. In a few weeks, those cells should be completely dead, and should just flake off, looking like really bad eczema.

At first, it didn't freak me out. I guess the biologist in me was too fascinated by the workings of the cream to register the implications. But yesterday, at lunch with my dad, step-mom and several of the grandchildren, he said something that really brought it home to me.

My dad has cancer. Being in remission doesn't mean you have no cancer. It means that the cancer isn't growing. It's still there, lurking n the depths of your genes somewhere. It can jump out and bite you at any stage. I always thought that when you got to 5 years of being 'cancer free', you were in the clear. But, my dad told me, this is not the case. So he will continue to have check-ups every 6 months to a year, for the rest of his life.

Because, as has been proven by these patches on his skin, the cancer can re-appear at any time. I guess the truth is that he's living on borrowed time. All of which only makes days like yesterday even more special...

... while I was making lunch for all of us, he took the time to sit on the ground and play with the grandchildren, Nellie included. I haven't heard him laugh like that in ages. He adores the kids, but is so busy and is often so tired/ sore that he doesn't really have the time and energy to play with them. This is the reason we came home - so that Nellie has the opportunity to get to know and enjoy her Oupa, and for him to enjoy her, both of which are blessings I never had as 3 of my grandparents died before I knew them.

Following our grief counselling session, I was thinking that, in hindsight, coming home so soon after Zoe's death was the wrong thing to do. We should have remained in the midst of our community, both for them to support us, and so that our grief would be held in context. But after yesterday's lunch I can only say that the sacrifice of having to grieve in isolation is worth it all for moments like that. I got such joy from listening to my dad and the grandkids playing together, and I know they did too.

While we were out playing croquet this afternoon (tell you more about that some other time) one of the other women there commented that Nellie was very independent, and seemed to go off and do her own thing a lot of the time, rather than playing with the other kids. My heart broke when she said that, because what I heard was that Nellie doesn't know how to make friends or play with others. This is yet another reason we have come home.

Where we were, Nellie didn't have many friends. She had the 2 other kids in her childminder group, but that was all, really. She didn't have a ready-made play group of cousins or siblings, and I want that for her. I know what it is to grow up alone. My brothers were out of the house before I was even in high school. My cousins were (on the whole) also so much older than me that I didn't have friends amongst them either. It sucks to be an only child (which is why I've always wanted a brood).

I want her to learn how to be amongst a big group of people and find her feet. I want her to be a confident, outgoing child (and adult) who knows her own worth so well that she has the wherewithal to reach out and befriend others. Instead, I see a shy, insecure child, afraid of big gatherings and strange people - very much like both her parents, if truth be told.

(Despite what people may think, I do actually prefer my own company and solitude to being with people, and I do get incredibly overwhelmed by large groups of people. Meeting new people stresses me out, especially if I have to be the one to make the first move. I think the difference is that I can hide my fears a lot of the time.)

My hope is that by being around her cousins (and there are a lot of them! although less now that 4 of them have emigrated to the UK this past week) she will develop confidence to just be herself, and hold her own. She's already getting better at it, and I know that this exposure will be good for her. While I value the fact that she can entertain herself for a measure of time, I don't want that to be because she's too scared to interact with strangers her own age.

So, all in all, coming home was the right thing to do - even if it's made my grieving a whole lot harder.

Friday, October 26, 2007

I didn't think of that!

We went for grief counselling this afternoon, which was good. It was good to be able to talk about Zoe without worrying about the person we were telling falling apart or not knowing how to respond. I've really missed having that kind of freedom...

But equally important was something our counsellor said, which is something that I just hadn't realised. We're grieving in a vacuum. In London, our friends and community all knew about Zoe in a personal way - they'd seen my bump growing, they'd prayed for her and walked the road with us through all the little problems along the way. They were at her funeral. But here at home, no-one has done any of that. They never saw me pregnant. They never connected with Zoe in any way. So for them, there is no-one and nothing to grieve, not really. So Graeme and I are in a vacuum.

I'd never seen it like that, but she's absolutely right of course. That explains why I've felt a need to clam up and grieve in private rather than in public (although this blog is one public space in which I feel free to grieve). No-one 'out there' can grieve with me, whereas back in London, all our friends were grieving with us to some extent.

Anyway, tonight we're going to do something for us - we've invited friends over for home-made pizza. So I need to get going to make dough...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What does it take?

Some people have self-control, others have none. Some have control in one area of their lives, while others have it in another. Why? Why are some people able to learn this skill and others not?

I have an Internet friend, a guy who's blog I read regularly. He's an alcoholic and schizophrenic. He's desperately trying to get his life together, but his medication for his schizophrenia makes that really difficult to do. He's been attending AA meetings for a few months now, and is mostly on the wagon, but almost every day he talks about how much he's been thinking about going and getting drunk, and some days he does. His marriage has been destroyed by his problems, and the only friends he seems to be able to keep are the homeless drunks and other outcasts in his little town. Yet, he perseveres.

Almost every time he wants a drink, he manages to talk himself out of it. Almost every time he needs a drink, he manages to find a way to stop from taking that step. He has self-discipline to a degree that I could only wish for.

I've been trying to get started on a diet and exercise programme for months now. Having hurt my knee about a fortnight ago, the little bit of walking I was doing has gone out of the window. I keep looking at my Rollerblades and thinking about how much I'd like to get back to learning to use them (especially now that we have a nice, smooth driveway for me to practice on!), but it will have to wait till my knee is better. We don't have money, or I'd join a gym. And our pool is still WAY to cold to swim in - although summer is on the way, it's going to take a week of some seriously hot weather before it heats up sufficiently.

So that leaves me with trying to reduce my calorie intake by cutting out junk - biscuits, sweets, icecream, puddings, cakes, chocolate. But I simply can't. I just don't have the willpower to say 'no'. Even as I'm reaching for the biscuit, I'm telling myself that eating that biscuit is really not a good idea, and then I reply to myself that, frankly, I don't give a hoot. I WANT that biscuit. I MUST HAVE that biscuit. So I eat it, and then for good measure I have to eat a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, or sometimes even the entire packet. One is simply not enough.

I know this is a habit I had before we left for the UK, but then my metabolism was high enough that it didn't matter. Since living in cold London, I got the Heathrow jab. Having 2 kids so close together means that I never lost the weight I put on with Janel before I was putting on more weight with Zoe. As a result, I guess I'm easily 10kg overweight now, if not 15kg.

Giving up smoking is not a matter of being convinced that it's the right thing to do, and then stopping. If it were, then giving up would be easy. For me, dieting is the same. I KNOW that it's the right thing to do - to eat healthily and sensibly, to stop gorging on rubbish, to eat more fish and vegetables... but that's not enough for me. I simply don't have the self-discipline.

And not having the stuff in the house is not an option either. I simply eat more at school (because there are usually people around with stuff that they're offering to me) or I binge over the weekends when we visit friends and family.

I feel the same way about my relationship with God. I was emailing some friends the other night with an update on our lives when I realised that I hadn't mentioned God once during the emails. He simply did not get a mention. That's because I don't have the self-discipline to be a faithful follower. It's not that I don't have time, because if it was a priority I would make time (after all, I make time to blog!). And it's not that I don't want to, because in my heart of hearts, I miss God. It's simply that I'm sulking and don't have the self-discipline to pull myself out of it.

When Graeme and I had some counselling a while back (we start another lot of that tomorrow) our counsellor mentioned that being in a downward spiral draws us further down passively, and as long as we sit and do nothing about it, we will continue down the spiral. If we want to get out of it, then we have to be active. When you're depressed you feel tired all the time, so you feel like you have no energy to fight being depressed - no energy to do anything that might make you feel better. As time goes by you feel more depressed because you're not doing anything to help yourself feel better, so you feel even more tired. Etc.

I'm there. In that downward spiral. I'm too tired to do school work in the evenings any more, even though I need to. I'm too tired to prepare my lessons properly anymore during the day (I spend the time fart-assing around instead). I'm too tired to spend quality time with Nellie - I'd rather be sitting in front of the TV or the computer, vegging. I'm too tired to look after the house, but not doing so means I feel overwhelmed by the mess when I look around. I'm too tired to spend time talking to Graeme. I'm too tired to make love. I'm too tired to follow up the business stuff I need to. I'm too tired to spend time with God, or pray. I'm too tired to exercise. I'm too tired to fight my food cravings. I'm too tired to do all the things I know I should. I'm just too tired.

But doing none of those things means I only wind up feeling more overwhelmed, more tired, more useless, more pathetic. So really, I need to have the discipline to get up off my butt and DO something, be proactive.

And I know that some of you will say that this is just the stress of the recent months catching up with me. That may well be true, and I may well need a proper holiday, but I think that's only a small portion of it. I think the majority of the reason behind all this is simply that I'm a lazy slob who lacks the self-discipline to do what's right - for myself, for my family.

And there-in lies the rub. How do I teach myself, at this 'ripe old age', to become more self-disciplined? Can an old dog learn new tricks? And how do I go from just wanting to, or just knowing that it's the right thing to do, to actually having what it takes to start this life change and see it through to completion?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Rugby mania

Thank God we won. That's all I can say. Can you imagine this nation if we'd lost? It would be a national disaster and the entire country would be in mourning.

Of course, I'm thrilled that we won, and I'm proudly South African today, but I'm not a fanatic. I can keep perspective. Rugby is just a game, not the b-all and end-all of life. (Thank God for that too!). Still - well done, Bokke! You made me so proud of you!

Another group I'm really proud of are the boys at school who put on a cabaret this past week to raise funds for their matric year. It was fantastic! I can't even begin to describe how brilliant they were. Not only was the stuff they played performed to a standard well beyond what I would expect from school children (as young as 15 in some cases), but they played it without sheet music, and with such passion and obvious enjoyment. I was so proud to be able to say that I teach these incredible boys.

And I'm even more proud of the teacher who organised them, a personal friend of mine. She is an incredible woman and was such an inspiration to them all. How she did it, I don't know. Not a word of complaint from her, although she was obviously stressed by a lot of the details that had to be negotiated and sorted out. What an inspiration she is to me. Paola - you go, girl!

And I'm equally proud of my little girl who went to nursery this week without crying when Daddy left her! What a big girl!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Nellie's videos

Just to say that there are new videos of Nellie on her website, for those who don't keep a regular check on that site.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Head, shoulders, knees and toes...

Yet again I've been in the wars. On Friday I slipped and fell, landing on my knee. At first, the pain was so bad and the swelling so massive, I thought I'd cracked my kneecap. However, after several x-rays I was told that it's just ligament damage (just a really bad sprain).

So, several hours of treatment later I'm recovering nicely. I can now walk without pain, but climbing up or down stairs is still painful.

At least this week has been easier at work - the Gd 9's are doing exams; the Gd 8's are doing a unit I taught in the UK, so there's no prep for me as I've got everything I need all ready; the Gd 10's are doing PPT presentations on a section of the work they need to learn (so again, I get to avoid doing any prep!); and the Gd 11's are doing exercises on theory work they've done - but because the whole grade is involved in evening fund raisers this week, there's no homework. Sjoe! It feels weird not taking work home with me, but I'm enjoying it as much as I can because the marking starts soon! And when it does, I will have to disappear for a few weeks. I worked out that I have 10 sets of exams to mark. Oh joy!

Something that keeps me going is my little darling. Tonight she spontaneously came up to me, gave me a hug and said 'Miss you'!!! How cute is that?!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Only in Africa...

So, Graeme's calling Home Affairs in Cape Town, on speaker phone, to find out something regarding Janel's passport (yes, that saga continues!).

Ring ring, ring ring,...

...when an automated voice answers.

"The number you have dialled no longer exists. The new number is not currently available."

Hello? Did I just hear right? Umm... ok, so how do we get hold of you guys? Oh! Wait! I get it now - you're doing such a rubbish job that you've gone into hiding!! Yes, that's it!

Monday, October 08, 2007

How'd they do that? Gotta love Photoshop!

I just love Science!

Ok - here's the biologist in me. One of the RSS feeds I've subscribed to is "EurekAlert!-Biology". Of course, I get about 50 feeds a day, so I don't read them all, but as I was trawling through them this evening (work avoidance behaviour.... I'm supposed to be setting a Gd 10 exam paper...) I found this INCREDIBLE news. I just LOVE it when something we don't understand is proved to be useful/ necessary/ good. That just makes the creationist in me want to shout - 'See, God knew what he was doing! You evolutionists aren't even close to catching up with him!'

So - what is this incredible news? The appendix is not the useless item we thought it was. No, it is, in fact, still a life saver.

The short story is that it is the place where good bacteria live. In fact, we have immune tissue there that specifically protects and nurtures good bacteria (while attacking and killing the bad bacteria). When we get diarrhoea, the good bacteria ride it out in the appendix while the rest of the gut is completely evacuated. Then, when all the fuss is over, they climb out again and repopulate the gut before the bad bacteria can.


So why do we get appendicitis? Because we aren't regularly exposing our bodies to parasites and intestinal germs our immune response over-reacts to the smallest of infections. The appendix swelling is just such an over-reaction. Unfortunately, a swollen appendix causes massive problems for us. In other words - our life style is killing us.

So maybe we should all let our dogs and cats lick us in the mouth a bit more, and not deworm them quite so often...

maybe we should undercook our meat a bit more and eat chicken that's a little raw...

maybe we should eat cooked rice a few days after cooking...

maybe we should eat more raw fish....

maybe we should eat food dropped on the floor after the 3 second rule has expired...

But that's beside the point. I just LOVE science! And I just love how incredible our bodies are - how incredible creation is. I know that some people will look at this say that we evolved that way to cope with all the parasites we faced in eons past. Believe what you will, it doesn't detract from the fact that our appendix is just the most incredible little organ. And here we all thought it was useless and pointless. More fool, we!

Wise advice

by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


The light at the end of the tunnel is a rubbish analogy when it comes to grief. A much better one would be a storm....

I'm sitting in my classroom, marking tests, with some music playing, when I suddenly realise that I'm singing out loud.

Enthusiastically. Loudly.

And it's a worship song.

Then it hits me - I'm no longer angry with God.

How did this happen, and when? I don't know. But it strikes me that I feel like I'm in a Cape winter storm. Above me a small gap has appeared in the clouds. I can see blue (grey) skies above me. The wind is still howling; the rain is still falling; but for a moment I can feel the warmth of the sun. I know that this may only be a brief respite from the anger of grief, but I'm going to revel in it while it lasts, remembering that 'summer' is just around the corner.

In the words of Geoffrey Rush's character in 'Shakespeare in Love': "It all ends happily. How? I don't know. It's a mystery."

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Generosity and other stuff

This week has been a mixed bunch. On the one hand, it's been great as I've managed to get some business stuff done - like getting my business cards printed. YAY!! I've also managed to update my business website with images that don't take as long to download. I'm still fixing bugs on it though, so if you go and check it out, it may not all work brilliantly.

On the other hand though, I'm still feeling very low. At my obs-gyn appointment on Tuesday past I was told that my APS is not just a contributing factor to Zoe's death (as I was told by my UK specialist), but is in fact the direct cause. In addition, it would seem that the type of APS I have means that any clotting event is a sudden thing, rather than a gradual one. This means that Zoe would have suffered more than I thought. With a gradual clotting, her asphyxiation would have been gradual, meaning that she would have slipped into a coma gradually and painlessly, a bit like people who commit suicide using carbon monoxide poisoning. With a sudden event though, her asphyxiation would have been sudden - a bit like being strangled. Needless to say, I have found that very upsetting.

As I think I've told you before, our medical aid has refused to pay for any of my APS treatments for a year. When I saw the obs-gyn I asked her what that would cost if I paid for it myself. Wait for it - my entire monthly salary before tax!! GULP! So there is definitely no way Graeme and I can afford to fall pregnant before Oct next year. I'm gutted. I know that there are plenty of very good, logical, sensible reasons why having to wait till Oct next year is a good thing, but on an emotional level it just plain sucks. It's just so damn unfair.

We're in the process of joining a new small group from church. I'm excited about that, because it means we finally get to make some friends. Our church assigns people to groups based on a questionnaire that you complete about the sort of group you're looking for. So until this week, we had no idea who was in the group. Turns out that there's a woman in our group who recently suffered a miscarriage, also of a little girl, who was also called Zoe. Plus, it turns out that there's an old family friend of Graeme's in the group. And then, there's a guy I used to be in a band with from a previous church. What a small world!

All these individuals send us emails, filled with compassion and messages of support. That's great, except that one of them is clearly from a much more 'spiritual' background than I think I can stomach at present. While I shouldn't judge, I can't help but think that they have never suffered any deep grief. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that this individual has led a charmed life. I had to rewrite my reply several times, to avoid telling this person where they could stuff their prayers. I know that everyone has their share of trouble, and I know that this individual was just trying to be supportive, and that means the world to me right now. But I really hope I don't say something I'm going to regret when we have our first meeting! I hope I can either hold me tongue, or that this person proves to be much more grounded than their email would suggest - because if not, I think we will have to find another group, and immediately.

So that's the background noise I've been dealing with emotionally all week. Then at church this morning, the sermon was on generosity. While most people look at generosity from the perspective of what people give (money vs everything else), from a Christian perspective the bigger issue is not what you give, but how and why.

Why do we give? Because we have received so much. God has been so generous with us (by dying on the cross) that we cannot help but respond by giving.

How do we give? Hysterically (translated as 'cheerfully' in many Bible translations). i.e., we don't give out of a sense of duty, or with a grudging heart, or because it's the 'right' thing to do, but joyfully and cheerfully and abundantly.

That's the theory, at any rate.

So our minister then points out to us that true holiness is marked by tremendous generosity, because God has been (and continues to be) incredibly generous towards us, and holiness is being like God. He then flicks a prayer up on the projector, for us as a community to pray together, asking God to make us more generous with each other, as a 'deep acknowledgement' of his incredible generosity to us.

And this is the point where I break down in tears, again.

Many years ago I had this discussion with my brother, about God's grace. He, being the older and wiser Christian, pointed out to me, the younger and less wise Christian, that if the only thing God had done was die on the cross for us, none of us would have any cause to complain, because that is the most generous thing anyone could have done for us. God could have done that and then washed his hands of us and had nothing further to do with us, leaving us to deal with a world devoid of love or grace, and we would still be held accountable for living a life of holiness.

Be that as it may (and he's absolutely correct), I couldn't pray that prayer. I can't ask God to make me more generous as a response to his generosity to me. All I kept thinking was - how is letting Zoe die generous? Where is the generosity in that? I can ask God to make me more generous - no problems there - but not in response to his generosity to me. I freely acknowledge that God has been generous to me in the past. I freely acknowledge that by dying on the cross God demonstrated the ultimate generosity towards me. But, blasphemous as I know it is, that is simply not enough for me anymore. If I am to believe that God has no limits to his generosity, then I need to know where that generosity is as regards Zoe, because I just don't see how taking her from her family is generous.

(And don't try telling me that maybe there something worse ahead in her future that God spared her from, because then you will need to explain why God doesn't take all children who are born to abusive parents, or born with AIDS, or born to drug addicts so that they are already addicts themselves or suffering from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, or those that have severe mental or physical disabilities... because there is no answer for any of that, because there is no generosity in allowing those kids to live, and there is even less generosity in taking Zoe while allowing those kids to suffer on earth. So that rubbish doesn't cut it with me anymore.)

This afternoon I've been recalling the pictures we were given in those first few days after Zoe's death, of her in Jesus' arms, and of her with Graeme's gran. Thinking about them, I know that God was being compassionate and allowing me to know that she's ok. And I am still grateful for that - knowing that does bring me a measure of peace. But knowing that does not alleviate this gaping hole in my heart, through which I seem to bleeding a lifetime's worth of faith.

I will strive to be more generous, but I have to confess that it will simply be from a humanitarian perspective - because I know that it's good for me to give, because I know that it's the right thing to do, and because I know that God would approve. But right now there is just no way I can pray that prayer.

So, as the new term begins, I'm already emotionally exhausted. I long for this grief to be over. I long for the halycon days of an easy faith that never sucked the energy right out of you. But hopefully having structure in my week, and knowing that there are only 8 weeks to go till we break up for the year, plus joining this small group, will help me get a grip on this grief. I can only hope.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


A friend asked for photos of the house, so she can "see" us in our new home. Ask, and ye shall receive.

Firstly, a plan of the house.
I haven't photographed every room - I mean, do you REALLY want to see a photo of a toilet? - but the photos should give you an idea of the house. I make no apologies for the mess. Well, no, actually, I do. I blame it on the whirlwind bomb that is Janel, plus the fact that it's too gorgeous a day to spend inside cleaning house. As soon as I'm done posting here I'm going to lie and read a book in the garden, by the pool.

Although most people enter using the 'Tradesman's entrance', I'll start at the front door. Here's the lounge and dining room.
From there, you either go down the passage to the rest of the house or into the kitchen. Let's go into the kitchen.

Now back to the rest of the house: First stop - the family room. We still want to get an easy chair to put in it, and hook up a sound system, but for the moment it's serviceable.

Then on to the bedrooms.

And finally, onto the gardens. Let's start at the front of the house.

And now the back gardens. (I haven't included the flat on the house plan, since it's rented out and a completely separate entity, but obviously you can see it in the photos.)

You can also see the back conservatory area (not fully enclosed, but definitely more than a patio!) To the left of the patio (as you look at it in the photo) is the garage, which has been converted into an office/ spare room space. I haven't bothered to take a photo of it, just in case you're one of these very spatially aware people who has figured out that there is something missing!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Letter to God

This evening I received two emails, both of which caused me to question God.

The first was an email from a woman I hardly know, to tell me that after many years and many struggles (including losing a child at term, which was how we met) she is engaged to a lovely Christian man. Her point was that she trusted in God to do the right thing, and find her the right person, and now she's engaged.

The second was from an email service I signed up for ages ago called 'Daily Thought'. It's a South African run service, providing a daily Bible verse, thought and prayer. Tomorrow verse (sent out this evening) was 'From this day forward I will bless you,' Haggai 2:19

So my question is this: is this coincidence or not? I have no trouble believing that God wants to bless me, or is capable of blessing me. The trouble I have is that I know God won't bless me in the way I want, nor will He bless me every day. He will continue to say no to the prayers I pray, because that's what He's done up until now. The two biggest things I ever prayed to Him he turned down. The first was about a change in career, which has still left me scarred and hurt, because I don't see how to use the gifts He's given me in any other capacity (although, something a friend said before I left London may have opened a window for me on that...). The second was about Zoe. I have no doubt that Zoe is in heaven, surrounded by family, and that gives me a measure of peace.

But that still leaves me with the fundamental question. Is it coincidence that I received an email about God giving someone the desire of their heart, blessing them in the most profound way, and that today's Daily Thought is about being blessed? I honestly don't know what to believe anymore. I used to believe that there were no such things as coincidences, only God-incidences. I don't believe that anymore. Sometimes shit happens (oh boy! there goes my resolution to avoid foul language). Sometimes God is powerless to do anything because he respects our freewill.

So I had a conversation with God tonight and wanted to record it for posterity - as an accountability measure, if you like. The gist of it was this: because I'm not walking in relationship with God at the moment (I've made the choice not to worship, not to pray, etc), I don't feel I have the right to ask for blessing. That would feel hypocritical to me. However, I do feel I can ask God to cause me to walk in truth again. For me, at the moment, that means finding a way to reconcile my experience with my knowledge, so that I can move forward from my grief. This is what I have asked of God.

Since prayer feels random to me at the moment - no rhyme or reason to which prayers God answers 'yes' and which he answers 'no' - I need to document both the prayer and the answer (or lack thereof), so I can prove to myself that there either was or was not a definable answer. Since this is the kind of prayer I suspect God will answer in the affirmative, it should be easy to see whether or not he answers.

Now I know lots of Christians, reading this, would be up in arms about the 'do not test the Lord your God' thing. All I have to say to you is - tough! If God could handle a fleece being put out several times, then I think he can handle this little request without throwing his toys out of the cot. If not, then what difference does it make? I'll still be on a road to nowhere.

So come on God - if you really want to bless me from this day onwards, help me out on this little issue. How do I reconcile my experience of your answers to prayer with what I've learnt from your Word? How do I reconcile the fact that you took my little girl from me, when you could so easily have saved her (You didn't even need to do anything except send me into labour 48hrs earlier), with the fact that you want to bless me. How is taking her from me, taking her from this life, blessing me? How has that blessed her sister, or her father, or her grandparents? How has taking her blessed anyone left behind on this earth, for that matter? I'm sorry, but I don't see it. I don't buy it.

Your blessing seems as fickle as the weather - as random as the wind. Blasphemy, I know, but at least it's honest. Show me where the answer lies, and I will walk in it. Show me where the good is in all of this, and I will proclaim it to the heavenlies. Show me how your Word is truth in this, and I will walk in it. But until then, I simply can't. I don't have the faith to walk blindly in this. I cannot follow a God who allows some their heart's desire while tearing the heart out of others. Open my eyes and my heart and my mind to understand, I beg you, because not understanding is killing me - slowly and inexorably - and if my faith dies, if my heart dies, then what is left? What meaning is there if You are not part of life?

National Braai Day

Unbelievable, but yes. We have a National Braai (BBQ) day.

We spent ours wandering around Tygerberg Nature Reserve. I have lived in Cape Town practically my entire life, and never knew this reserve even existed. The first I knew of it was when my mother moved house to about 1km from it (about 5 years ago), and mentioned it to me. Because of its position, it's not the kind of place you want to visit in bad weather - it's very exposed, so can get very windy and cold.

However, the weather was playing along today, for all the braaing that's taking place, no doubt. We decided to brave it and go have a wander. Needless to say, we are all thoroughly exhausted (up hill and down dale pushing pram and toddler = very sore back, arms and legs!). However, it was well worth it. The views were incredible - the wind had blown away the smog (I wish now I'd taken a photo of the view from the other side of the mountain, looking towards Cape Town) and so we could see all the way to the Franschoek mountains, Houwhoek on the far side of False Bay, down to Simonstown on the other side of False Bay, and across to Table Mountain. As I said - awesome views!

In addition to the stunning views, we were treated to our first exposure to ticks (welcome home to Africa!) since coming home, but more importantly, we saw buck! Up close and personal. At one stage, they took a real interest in the pram and followed us up the hill for quite a way. Finally I think they got a bit spooked by the sound of my phone taking photos and wandered off the road again into the bush. Incredible!

Here are a few photos (of the loads I took) to give you a flavour of the day. This is the back of the mountain - looking up towards the only eyesore: phone masts (which I've skillfully avoided including in the photo). The purple flowers look rather grey in the photo, but they were just gorgeous in real life. The yellow ones also look a bit dull. I think I will have to play around with my phone settings to get the right light.

This is looking out from the back of the reserve towards the Franschoek Mountains. From the top of the reserve you can see from there all the way round to Table Mountain.

This is the last of the buck disappearing back into the bush. They had followed us all the way from the large tree you can just see on the right, at the very bottom of the hill.

Here are the other buck - this is looking out towards Table Bay again. If you look closely you can see the baby buck with them. If I remember correctly, these are Bontebok, a type of antelope (we don't get deer in SA).

I love this country!

Friday, September 21, 2007

A very long post...

Holidays are here! Yay! And the sun was out in force today. It’s been hotting up all week, and I’ve loved it. I even took 2 classes outdoors. (SKOK!) (OK, admittedly, one was because the art room down the corridor were using thinners and I had an asthma attack as a result, so had to evacuate my classroom, but still.) Today was another gorgeous day – one of those beautiful spring days that holds such promise for a fantastic summer. After the final assembly I took to lazing in the sun on the Matric Lawn, waiting for my colleagues to pack up so we could go out for lunch. I kept thinking to myself – there’s no place like home!

Yup, there’s nothing quite like azure (not just blue!) African skies, bright sun, lazing on the thick, dark green lawn, gazing up at the Mountain, feeling the light breeze play over my skin, listening to the birds in the trees… and all accompanied by the lovely smell of diesel fumes from the lawnmower 15m away that sounds like it’s eaten a toaster for lunch and got bits stuck in its teeth. But lawnmower aside, I had the most glorious 20 minutes laze. I haven’t done nothing like that in ages. No books to mark or lessons to prepare, and no other human beings needing or demanding my attention. Glorious! Heavenly! I felt like a student again at the start of the summer holidays – with weeks of summer nothingness ahead.

Of course, being on a lawn, it didn’t take long before I was drumming up earthworms and doing a bit of weeding. I can’t help myself. Really, I can’t. I love weeding (anal, I know, but I do) and I still find earthworms fascinating… the way they wriggle around, the way they feel in your hand, the way their internal structure is designed, the way they mate, their similarity to parasitic worms… Once a biologist, always a biologist I guess.

But it brought back so many happy memories of years gone by and all the hours I spent weeding the lawns with my mother (at the same house Graeme, Nellie and I have just moved into, in fact). This is one the reasons I’ve come home. I want my kids to have the kind of childhood and young adulthood that I had (minus the stuff ups and heart break) – not necessarily weeding the lawns (although I do hope they learn to love gardening), but just having happy times doing ordinary stuff with family. There is nothing so precious! Kids don’t need lots of expensive gadgets – they need love and time and words of affirmation from their family. I want Nellie to have all that.

Much later, after Graeme had collected Nellie, we were all outside on the stoep (porch/ patio) and in the garden, enjoying the late afternoon sun. Nellie was riding her car (she can now push herself forwards, so she doesn’t have to just go in reverse anymore!), I was reading in my rocking chair, and Graeme was practicing his bowling. (Oh, the injustice of SA being out of the twenty 20!) Suddenly I heard this voice – my voice – saying ‘Be careful of Nellie – you don’t want to hit her on the head’ and ‘Don’t throw that on the roof – you’ll crack a tile’, and ‘Don’t bowl in that direction, you’ll hit a car’, and ‘Don’t bowl up against the house – you’ll crack the bricks and we’ll get leaks’. When did I turn into my mother (no offence, Mom – you’re the world’s best mother and I couldn’t cope without you!!)? Not sure, but we did have a really good chuckle about it.

Speaking of sport, I had a lovely evening out earlier in the week. Rondebosch rugby boys are touring in Argentina next year and so have organised a series of fundraisers. One was a ‘Rugby Rules for Girls’ evening, and as I teach some of the boys, I bought a ticket and went along. I was really hoping that they would cover the off-side rule, and when penalties are awarded, and what affects the decision to either kick for the posts or have a line-out, but they didn’t. Never the less, it was a really fun evening.

We had former SA Springbok prop Toks (Albert, I ask you!? A good Afrikaans rugby boy-tjie and his name is Albert! Go figure.) van der Linde and commentator Gary C as the MC’s and they were fabulous. They got women up on stage and taught us how to tackle correctly, scrum and do (is that the correct verb?) a line-out. They also went through the various positions on the field, and the difference between a ruck and a maul. Some of the stuff I already knew, but I definitely learnt stuff. They were a good laugh too, and the food was delicious (Woolies food always is!), so all round it was a great evening. I even managed to teach Graeme something afterwards! Now that’s something.

So – what are my plans for this glorious week of freedom I have ahead? Sadly, very little lying in the sun lazing. No – this week is the time I have to catch up on my business plans that have been on a back burner while I’ve been working and sorting out the house. It is also the time to finish sorting out the house. Our housewarming is next weekend and I’d like the last few boxes and bits and pieces to be done by then.

I’m hoping that the change of scenery and focus will help get me back on an even keel though. I’ve really been struggling with grief again recently. I’m back to being mad with God and therefore not really wanting to talk to him. I know that grief goes in cycles, so I’m not too worried about this; it’s just that it’s hell living through it. I know I will get through this and that at some point in the future I will find a way to live with the pain, to reconcile my (intellectual) faith with my experiences, but right now that’s a bit beyond my capabilities.

I was having a conversation with a colleague at work about this just last week. She lost her dad to cancer a few years back and her faith took a massive blow. Like me, she’s still struggling to find a way to make sense of her pain and her loss, and to reconcile her experiences with her faith. I was deeply pained to hear that her church family told her that the reason her dad died was because she didn’t have enough faith when she prayed for his healing. I know that lots of Christians believe this particular doctrine (and that they fail to temper it with the freewill of the individual or with the effects of the sin of the individual, or with God’s omnipotence) but it still angers me that they could be so unloving as to express it to someone who is grieving. Where is their compassion?

One of the kids in my register class made a comment this week about the Americans remembering their 9/11 dead and he said something to the effect of ‘oh just get over it already – that was 6 years ago!’ I nearly hit the roof! Before I left SA, I didn’t really understand what a big deal WW1 and WW2 were, and every year at the remembrance services I would think pretty much the same thoughts as this kid. Then I went to the UK, where it is a MASSIVE event every year, and slowly, as I absorbed the national culture, I came to understand what a massive impact the wars had on the population, economy and industry in the UK. Then I lost Zoe. On one of the grief message boards I’m part of the rules there state that there is no time-frame by which you are supposed to ‘get over’ your grief, and that therefore no-one should ever tell another member that they ought to be ‘over’ it by now – whether that was 6 months or 60 years after the event.

I understand now what it is to be a loved one left behind after a tragic, unexpected event, trying to move on with life, but never fully able to because someone you love has been prematurely ripped from your life. It doesn’t matter whether that loved one is lost through war, natural disaster, accident, illness or some other tragic circumstance. The fact is that you never forget. You will always remember, and you will always try to celebrate the life cut short. If that loved one is lost in an event that kills hundreds or thousands, then all the loved ones affected may choose to remember together, thus creating a memorial event. To be told to ‘get over it’ is like being told that your loved one no longer has any worth or meaning, and no-one has the right to say that about another person.

I tried to explain this to him, calmly, but either I wasn’t doing a very good job, or he just wasn’t getting it. He kept saying that he’d lost his grandparents, so he knew what it was to lose someone. I kept saying that he obviously didn’t understand the nature of grief if he was able to say he’s lost a loved one and yet can make a comment like that. The more he failed to understand the connection between the two, the more irate I got, until eventually I lost my cool and yelled at him so loudly the entire class (and they are a noisy bunch!) shut up and told him to shut up too. I told him he was being incredibly rude, selfish, inconsiderate and insensitive and that if he ever dared make a comment like that in my class again he need never return to my class – he could sit in the corridor for the rest of the year as far as I was concerned.

By this time, I was just about in tears. I was shaking with anger and grief. I felt like his failure to understand this was such a slap in the face. And something has just occurred to me – he hasn’t been in class since. I’m sure it’s coincidence – he’s probably been bunking school to watch the cricket. Still, I hope something I said, other than the message to get lost, has stuck and given him pause for thought. I shouldn’t have lost my cool. I shouldn’t have allowed myself to take it so personally. But I’m human, and as I said, recently my grief has been very close to the surface. I guess I was a time bomb waiting to explode. Not having the space and time to blog (or write) has curtailed a very important outlet for me.

Not having my London friends around to talk to has been another problem. I don’t think I realised till now just how much I’d been relying on them to help me through this aspect of my grief work. (I miss you guys so much – both my morning GG ladies and my evening GG! You were my lifeline!) I think it’s time that Graeme and I followed up the support group thing here so I have another outlet for my grief. I really don’t want another explosion at a kid (or anyone else, for that matter) because I’m not dealing with my grief very well.

For the moment though, at least I’m back online can blog again. But for those who pray, please keep praying. I know that it can be hard to keep praying the same prayer for the same person over a long period of time, so I appreciate your prayers all the more. In some respects I think the grief only really starts when the world around you starts to forget you are still grieving.

And on the subject of prayer – this was sent to us recently on email. Oh to have the faith of a child (dog)!