Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ben Zander - is he all he's cracked up to be?

I've already posted very briefly about Ben Zander, and the 'Art of Possibility' here. However, here's a copy of the post I made on the education discussion site Huddlemind. Most of it is new, some is a repeat. But right now I would rather spend time with Nellie than spend another half hour editing this to remove the repeated stuff, so I'm afraid you're just going to have to trawl on through!
I can't believe it's already been a week since I went to a Ben Zander seminar here in Cape Town. I'd already seen him on video, so I was disappointed by him in real life. I guess I hadn't anticipated just how many of his lines are standard things he does in every seminar... like his one-buttock playing. I guess I was hoping for something fresh and new.

I was also frustrated by the fact that the event was a mixed audience, because I'd been under the impression that it was just going to be educators present. I was really looking forward to hearing him speak into how we can, in a SA school education context, really do the things he says we should. So I left feeling disempowered, rather than empowered, because he was not able to speak into that context given the audience before him.

One of my questions, for example, is how we can give everyone an 'A' while working within a system that requires us to mark and submit CASS work. How can we require learners to write an exam at the end of the year and at the same time give them an 'A'? How do we work the system while working within the system?

Another question is how you give everyone an 'A' when, quite clearly, people are not all at the same level. I think I prefer our system of giving a 1-5 rating. 5 means 'You've got it', 1 means 'you haven't got it at all', and 2,3 and 4 are varying degrees of success. I agree with Ben that marks are all made up anyway. Likewise, I agree that marks engender a culture of comparison, which in turn can lead to very critical self-talk. It doesn't have to be that way, and I guess his philosophy is one way of addressing this issue.

I'm not sure that it works in SA, or in a school where learners have to take a certain number of subjects, irrespective of whether they want to, or are able to cope with those subjects. And I'm not sure that giving everyone an 'A' is any less dangerous than giving a mark.

I think we need to create a culture in which possibility is everything, but I think we need to do that in a manner that teaches kids skills to cope with the world around them, rather than wrapping them in cotton wool and saying - 'you're brilliant', even if they're not. Kids can smell truth and falsehood a mile off.

While I did walk away from the seminar frustrated and disappointed, that doesn't mean to say that I'm going to throw the baby out with the bathwater. What will I take away, then, from Ben's seminar and attempt to implement in my lessons on Monday? (We've been on Cross-curricular Week this past week, so I haven't been in a normal class environment for a whole week - it's been great, but exhausting!)

Firstly, that I need to watch the verbal and non-verbal language I use in the presence of the kids I teach. When I hand back tests (as I will be doing), do I focus on the negative, or the positive? Do I create a culture of real learning from mistakes (as Ben would say - "Fabulous!"), or do I create a culture that says making mistakes is anathema and that if you do you're stupid? Do I blame the kids, or do I take some blame myself for possibly not preparing them adequately for the task? Do I create negative spirals, or possibility circles?

Permit me a digression here... My Grade 9's have just completed two practicals for Natural Science. Before that, they completed a Science Fair project. At the end of the first practical, I was aghast at how few of them had bothered to write a proper scientific report, despite being given the rubric on how they would be assessed. So, I spent time creating a model answer for them, which I gave back to them at the same time that I returned their reports. I then instructed them to compare the two, and see where they went wrong. They sat in silence for 10 minutes or so, doing this activity.

Then, at the start of this past week the kids handed in their second report. While most of them had made some improvement, I was stunned at how few of them made the sort of improvement I had been expecting. When I discussed this with one of my colleagues, I was stunned to realise that not even this particular, experienced educator fully understood the difference between the hypothesis and prediction! Maybe it was that the rubric and the instruction sheet were not properly crafted, creating an ambiguous activity - in fact, I'm sure that was part of the problem.

I spent some time on Friday afternoon investigating this further, and found some really interesting research that says that 60% of science teachers do not really understand the difference between hypothesis and prediction. That really scared me. How can we expect our learners to complete a task when we educators (as a group) don't really understand the task either? Needless to say, I created a summary sheet for the kids, which the departmental staff will also get, of the differences. That will be handed out along with copies of a model answer for the current report activity.

Tomorrow's lesson will be similar to the one when I returned the first report, with one major difference - this time, it will not be an exclusively silent activity. I will get the kids to look at their own reports and analyse them, yes, but then I will also do a group activity where, as a class, we will look at one model example of a 'poor' report, and WHY it's a poor report.

Through these two tasks, I've realised just how right the new curriculum is in trying to get us to do more skills based work with the kids. In Science that means actually letting the kids do more practicals (not just doing demos). To those of you in the US, or the UK, I know that sounds so obvious. Here in SA though, one major obstacle to this is the lack of equipment. We simply don't have enough Bunsen burners for the kids to work in groups any smaller than 5 or 6. We don't have enough glassware for the kids to work in groups smaller than 8-10. Even these pracs, the kids did in groups of 8. Large groups are better than none, but it does mean that many of the kids are sitting around doing nothing, instead of being involved, and so there is potentially a real behaviour management issue with doing pracs.

While there's a lot about the version of OBE education we are aiming at in SA that I think is a waste of time, I think that in this particular area OBE education has a lot in common with Ben's philosophy. So - I will need to watch my language. I will need to try to create an environment where honest analysis is not about how wrong a child is, but about the possibility for growth through this experience.

The second thing I will take from Ben's philosophy is that a once-off activity is not going to fix it - as Ben says, it's an 'ART'. It's something I need to practice and practice and practice. And maybe I won't get it right with this class, this year. But maybe I will. And that's what I'm going to aim for.

The third thing I will try to implement is Rule #6. Stop taking it (myself, the subject, the system) all so seriously - let's have some fun!!! Learning is fun, so the learning environment should be fun.

There are a few other things, but I think that's quite enough to start with.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Extreme weather

Although spring officially starts in 3 weeks, it seems that winter is determined to remind us of her strength and power. After several fronts have passed through Cape Town, this weekend we have a serious storm passing through. Gale force winds with 7m high waves. Yup - it's a proper Cape Storm. In fact, so much so that the road at the end of our block is flooded. Now it's not just the residents in the townships who are looking to high ground... now even the 'rich' suburbs are starting to feel the pinch.

And us? Well, we're fine - got a roaring fire to sit in front of, going to watch a good movie on TV, and our beautiful child is fast asleep in her warm bed. What could be better?

I wanted to find a pic - but it seems no-one has posted any online yet. Wait for tomorrow! There's sure to be something on the front pages of the local newspapers.
Edited on Sunday 31st to add... check out some of the photos on Cape Town Daily Photos Extras (some of them are rather arb because they don't convey the awesomeness of the storm, but I particularly like the 8th one).

This one (below) was taken by Anton de Lange of Cape Town Radio. It's of the tanker Sealand Express. Have a close look at how the waves are behind it, then remember - this is a TANKER!

Blogger awards

Every year, Blogger's Choice Awards takes nominations, and then votes, for the best blogging site in the blogosphere. The 2008 nominations have just opened, and voting will take place early next year. (While I doubt this blog is sufficiently widely read to be nominated, or once nominated, to receive sufficient votes to make the final list, one can dream, right? One day....)

Anyway, go check out some of the blogs that are really having an impact on the blogosphere. There are hordes of different categories, so lots to choose from. I'm sure there will be one to interest you.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Ethics in business - have your say

I really don't know what to write tonight. For the first time in ages, I feel like I have so much to say, but can't say any of it. This week has been incredibly difficult for me on a personal, emotional level. I've been struggling with an ethical issue and it's left me feeling adrift. I've been struggling to concentrate. Worse, I've been struggling to sleep. As a result, I don't feel I've been very productive this week (although, actually, I have), and I certainly don't feel I've spent enough quality time with either G or J.

This story starts a little while ago. When I set up LL I initially started just by offering advice to pregnant women (well - to anyone interested, but it's only been pregnant women who have asked, thus far!) on nappies: the different types, the pro's and con's of each dependent on their lifestyle, where to buy them, what they cost, etc. Now that I have my own brand, I've tried really hard to continue to offer unbiased advice.

To an extent, it's easy to do - e.g. an all-in-one that isn't a pocket nappy dries very slowly, so is not suitable in Cape Town winters, or humid Durban, but will dry in a jiffy in Jo'burg or the interior (as long as you remember to bring it in before the temp drops).... or that bamboo and hemp give you a much slimmer look because they are much more absorbent so you need less fabric (so they are really good for mothers who despise the bulky look of cloth and love the slim look of disposables), but that also means they take longer to dry - which may be an issue in Cape Town in winter (etc, etc).... or that the birth-to-potty nappy leaks more with newborns than a two-part system because you can't get a really good fit, but is cheaper to buy since you don't have to buy a set of each of two or three different sizes... or which nappies are best if you live in an area with those horrible flies that lay their eggs in your clothes so that you have to iron everything. Etc, etc, etc. For each type, I try to point out good things and bad things, and link it to the client's lifestyle, but I always offer them at least 2 options (usually 3) and then leave the final decision up to them.

However, many of my clients have already done their homework, and they ask me specific questions like how one particular brand compares to another. This is where it becomes difficult, because now that I have my own brand, there is the temptation to say that mine is the best. I've been really good so far though, and have managed to avoid that temptation. But it struck me the other day that I really don't know enough about the other local brands to be able to answer questions authoritatively.

So I decided to do something about that. I started by contacting another company explaining what I do, and that I'd like to purchase some of their products to try on Nellie, so that I could talk about their product with some authority when clients ask me specifically about them. Big mistake number 1! I've not only been threatened with legal action for talking about their product, but have been warned that if I say anything about them on my website they will sue, and I've been told that I have been harassing this person's family and that if I don't stop they will lay a charge against me. I've also been accused of saturating the market. (As if! This person needs to do their market research!... sorry, I don't want to be bitchy. I've been keeping tight rein on my thoughts and emotions all week, but I need to vent somewhere.)

I don't even know where to begin on this one. I take all criticism personally. I also don't like people thinking false things, or badly, about me. That's just me. I understand that this person thinks I'm a threat - I also sell nappies. I understand that this person is worried I will tell clients that their product is rubbish and try to direct all sales to my own products. I get that. I think that's a legitimate fear.

My second mistake was that I responded to the email. I tried to explain, as best I could, that I had pointed several people to their products, rather than my own, because I genuinely believed their product was better for these particular clients, and that I hoped this would prove to them that I am an ethical person. I also pointed out that I could have got a friend to pose as a customer and buy the stock, or I could have bought the stock from a shop. Either way, they would never have known. The fact that I approached them directly should demonstrate that I am an ethical person and that I mean them no harm and that I do not wish to be their enemy. Sadly, they don't see it that way at all. According this person I am not only unethical, but underhanded, devious and bitter that I didn't get onto the market first.

I don't do harassment. Apart from this person's spouse, I don't know anyone else in their family. While it's possible that they've got me confused with someone else, I doubt it. So I've spent several hours and days perplexed by this and racking my brains to try and figure out who I might be harassing. Since the only people I contact (in a business capacity) on a regular basis are my suppliers - who are more than happy to do business with me - I honestly don't have a clue what this person is talking about.

So this has been a miserable week for me. I can't seem to let go off this, because I really, honestly and truly believe the things this person has said are wrong, false and untrue. I am outraged and my sense of fair play has been affronted. I've been maligned and slandered, and I want to hear them acknowledge it, and apologise. That isn't going to happen though, so it seems I am left with someone who believes me to be their enemy. And I hate that. I don't want to be anyone's enemy.

But I know that if I were to call this person, or go to see them, it would be construed as harassment, which would only serve to entrench the wrong views this person already has of me.

This person is, as far as I know, also a Christian. This kind of ... grievance... shouldn't exist between siblings-in-Christ. It's just wrong. Since I'm not perfect, I can accept that I'm not 100% in the right here, but I can't see where I'm in the wrong. I can't see anything I've done that has been unethical, or underhanded, and I definitely can't see how I'm accused of harassment!

I've given my word that my intentions are not to harm this person or their business in any way. But clearly my word isn't good enough.

[As an aside, they also made a comment that I'm not a nappy expert/ authority, and so have no right to make comparisons or give advice. I didn't ask this of them in my reply, because I thought it would be unhelpful, but I'm dying to know what this person would consider a nappy expert! Would it be someone with experience of lots of different brands? Or would it be someone who has extensive knowledge of the different fabric types? Or manufacturing experience? Because I have all of those. Or is there some sort of nappy qualification that one can get that this person would expect me to have? What skills or experience would you expect a nappy expert to have?]

Should I just try to let this go - and if so, how do I do that? Should I try to resolve this with this person - and if so, how do I do that? Is this 'merely' a spiritual issue that needs to be resolved in the heavenlies (ie a specific attack of Satan)? Am I in the wrong here - should I stop offering advice and just sell nappies? WHAT DO I DO???????

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Art of Possibility, and other thoughts

As you will have read (possibly) on Graeme's blog, yesterday I went to a Ben Zander seminar. He's the guy who co-authored 'The Art of Possibility', which is essentially about making a paradigm shift that allows everyone to reach their full potential. While it is especially applicable to teaching, this paradigm shift applies to every sphere of life.

I won't go into detail here about it, because you can read his book. But I will say this. I found the idea intriguing and exciting, but I left on a complete low. I was incredibly frustrated because I can't see how to make that paradigm shift in my own mind, and even the little bit that I can see to make, I don't know how to implement in my own classroom and life. How, for example, am I supposed to give every child an 'A' when the WCED requires me to give them a mark for their CASS work? I can see how Mr Zander's strategy works with kids/ people who WANT to take a particular class, but what about those who are in your class simply because they have to fill their timetable, and have neither interest nor aptitude for your subject? I love his theory, but I just don't see how it works in MY classroom, and in MY life.

I fully recognise that I need to read the book - that I can't hope to understand this stuff fully after a mere 2 hours. But .... (there's always a 'but', isn't there?) ... I am completely frustrated and I feel cheated and betrayed that by the end of the 2 and a bit hours seminar Mr Zander hasn't even been able to help me discover the first step that I can take to help myself make this mind-set change. Contrary to what he said, that was not transformational speaking - it was just motivational speaking.

Apart from that though, I have had the most perfect weekend. It's the first really normal weekend I've had in a very long time. I actually got to spend time with my family, and with my extended family. I did do some work (on LL stuff), but it wasn't that panicked, rushing around, all-stations-go kind of work. It was wonderful and I am feeling so much better for it. I'd forgotten what a more normal weekend looks like and feels like.

On Sat we went grocery shopping (which was fun, for a change), then Nellie had her nap while I did some work on the computer. When she woke up it was time for me to head off to Ben Zander. After that, we went to visit Oupa and Ouma, then home again for supper and bed, followed by a bit more work before watching a very frustrating broadcast of 'Luther' (our signal kept fading in and out), before heading to bed.

Today we went to have breakfast at Granny and Grampa's house (and Nellie had the greatest fun feeding the Guinea fowl - my mom feeds about 30 of them, all wild, and it's an incredible sight watching them come to her when she calls) and played with all sorts of toys. Then it was off to church (well, Nellie and Daddy slept in the car while Mommy went and did creche duty!) at which I nearly came home with two daughters*! This was followed by a lovely, long, lazy birthday Broster lunch at Phil and Brenda's house by the sea with lots of laughs (including watching Sue climb the roof to get Nellie's ball that Phil had thrown up there and got stuck), reading of newspapers (when last did I have time to read anything?!?!?!) and a walk on the beach - we only got home around 5.30pm!

* A local orphanage/ foster home has recently started bringing several of their kids to the church every Sunday. One little girl, Candice, latched onto me today. She can only be about 3 or 4, but she's half Nellie's size, and is in desparate need of love. She was constantly torn between being cuddled by me, and wanting to play. She was tired, and just wanted to sleep, so she kept coming and asking for a cuddle, during which she'd put her head on my shoulder, snuggle into me, close her eyes and rest for a few minutes. Then she'd go off for a little play before repeating the cycle. It was so obvious to me that she doesn't really get enough of that kind of love, and I quickly found myself thinking that I'd love to be able to adopt her, and give her that kind of love.

I don't kid myself about the difficulties in adopting, especially for Janel who would then suddenly have competition - and not just the competition of a baby, but of someone roughly her own age - or for us, trying to balance Janel's needs against those of our adopted child.

I've been thinking a lot recently about how I will handle it if I lose another baby, because the chances are high that I will. I hope that I would be more at peace about it, but I really have no idea. Part of me knows that I WANTNEEDMUSTHAVE another baby of my own - there's some biological imperative for me that feels like a compulsive-obsessive need, something I have no control over. Part of me understands that that might not be possible for me, in which case, I am more than happy to consider adoption. I just don't know when I stop trying to have my own, and start down that route of looking at alternatives.

So I had rather mixed reactions to my emotions today. On the one hand, I was really pleased at easily I was able to contemplate opening my heart to another child. On the other, I found myself wondering whether I'm getting cold feet about trying again because I'm too scared of losing another baby, and adoption is an easier alternative to facing that reality.

Right now though, I have a baby who needs my attention and love.
Hope you all had a good weekend!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Where are my tap shoes?

(With apologies to Robert Frost)

Three stories converged in a yellow afternoon,
And thrilled I had travelled them all
while being one traveller, long I stood
and thought back through all three as far as I could
to where they began their tale...

Story #1: Just last night, I had been watching Top Billing on TV, and they'd done a promo on Lord of the Dance (now in it's 16th year, or something ridiculous) that is coming to SA next month. I've seen it on TV, and loved it, and I thought to myself that I really ought to get off my butt and organise tickets for the Cape Town show (especially as the venue is almost in our back garden), as a special treat for me and G, because we really don't have enough (any??) 'us' time.

Story #2: I never win anything in competitions. At school, I had a friend who, along with the rest of her family, were so well known amongst radio stations for winning their competitions that at least one radio station had barred them from calling to enter competitions more than once per week! They won ALL kinds of stuff. It was amazing.

Me? Well, firstly my general knowledge sucks, and secondly I have no memory for names (faces, yes, names - not so much). That severely limits the competitions I can enter. And then, when I do manage to hear/ see the competition, know the answer, and have the means to enter (ie, pen and paper to take down details, or my phone to sms), I never win. It's like a law, or something. So I don't bother to enter the Lotto, because I know I'll never win.

Story #3: Today, after school finished, I was rushing around doing LL stuff. As I left the house, my errands lay in two completely different directions. So as I pulled out, I had to make the decision about which direction to head off in first. Would I go towards town first, or out to the industrial areas first? After changing my mind several times, I eventually decided to head off to town. On my way, I was listening to the radio. Now, every Friday, my preferred station has a give away. They have a team out on the road, and they give away some really lovely prizes. The deal is that you have to go to them, and do or say something, after which you get the free stuff. Of course, I'm usually on the other side of the city from them when this happens, so I seldom pay attention to it.

And now the convergence... BUT NOT TODAY! Nope. No sooner had they announced the start of the competition, and given their location, than I realised I was right around the corner. So off I dashed to get the free stuff. And what was the free stuff, I hear you ask? Well, let me give you a clue. To get it, I had to do a little jig. Yup - that's right folks. The free stuff was two tickets to 'Lord of the Dance'!!

Now, I know that some people will think that's an amazing coincidence, but I really believe that God had a hand in it. Firstly, my chess matches were cancelled for today, enabling me to have the time to run around. Secondly, I could have chosen to go to the industrial areas first (which means I wouldn't have heard the announcement, because I would already have been in the workshop). Thirdly, what are the odds of the very thing I thought about getting last night being the free stuff being given away today?

I think God wants to bless us with some time out on our own. So we're going to arrange a babysitter for the night, and head off for a little dinner and the show - just us. I'm thrilled! Thanks, Lord, for arranging all the little coincidences nicely for us.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


There's a fantastic website that a friend introduced me to. It's called Postsecret. It bills itself as 'a community art project'. Essentially, this guy, Frank Warren, invited anyone and everyone to post him their secrets anonymously, on one side of a postcard. He's had such an overwhelming response that he's been able to publish 4 (or more?) books of the postcards. Frank described how amazed he was by the response - firstly by the amount of original artwork that people create as they create their unique postcards, but secondly by the bravery of people to write down their secret and send it off to him.

Over the months that I've been reading Postsecret, I've been amazed at the things that other people struggle with, the things that people wish others really knew about them. I've been touched repeatedly by the desire that we seem to have to truly know and be known. Sometimes I've been appalled by what I've learnt - the capacity that people have for rage, revenge, cruelty, hate, and inflicting pain on others - but mostly I've been saddened at the thought that all these hundreds of people appear to have no-one with whom to really share themselves.

On several occasions, something I have written here has hurt one of my readers. While my intention is never to hurt others, my response is not to begin censoring what I write. While I don't choose to share my deepest secrets here (I don't know exactly who is reading this, and I don't really want to share all of my private thoughts with a lurker who may be crazy) I do try to remain honest about my thoughts and feelings in the moment that I write. While I still have secrets I could share with PostSecret, I guess that this blog is one way of letting myself think that I am actually communicating with others, being heard.

PostSecret and this blog have something else in common though. While I may feel like I'm communicating well, and being heard, in truth, it's not a substitute for real, face-to-face heart-to-heart communication with another human being. In the end, the only thing that really satisfies is the real deal.

And this is where I confess that I know I'm living at an unsustainable pace. The past few weeks have been the busiest of my life. I have never worked so hard in all my life. I'm loving it, but I know that I am sick because I've been burning the candle at both ends, and in the middle. And I know it has to stop. I don't know how though, since there are still things that need to be sorted out for the business. I'm still having hassles with patterns and fabric. Once that gets sorted, and I actually have a product, then I can rest for a bit. At least, that's what I hope.

I do feel rather miserable though at the effect this is having on G and Nellie, on home life, on the time I have available to be with my extended family... time with loved ones can never be recaptured.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The light at the end of the tunnel

The end is in sight for all cancers everywhere! Believe it or not, it looks like a cure has been found for cancer! And get this - it was in our own bodies all along!

Following the incredible story of a man who spontaneously recovered from terminal stomach cancer (he'd exhausted all the traditional treatments and been sent home to die) a treatment has been devised using our own antibodies which is proving incredibly successful.

Very simply (although it's actually not as simple a process as I make it sound), some white blood cells are extracted from you, and introduced to a virus that helps to trigger a slight DNA change that switches on the production of cancer-killing antibodies. These antibodies are then produced in the lab en masse, harvested and injected back into you. All you need to do then, is sit back and wait for the antibodies to start attacking the cancer leading to your recovery.

OK, so it's not that simple, and there are some complications. First of all, there's the complication of how much this little process costs - several tens of thousands of US dollars per patient. Then there's the complication of side effects (chills, fever, confusion, tremors) - but they disappear as soon as treatment stops, and compared to the side effects from radiation and chemo, that's not bad going! Then there's the complication that before you can inject the antibodies back in, you first have to deplete the blood of existing antibodies, but again - that's not insurmountable.

And of course, proper trials have yet to be done. And of the tests done so far, the results seem to indicate that either you do or don't respond. If you do, you're basically cured. If you don't, well, then you're still very sick.

But the fact remains that when this works, it works brilliantly - making surgery possible in cases where it previously wasn't an option, making life possible where previously it wasn't, giving hope and future to those who previously would have been told to prepare for death.

So, the end is finally in sight. Finally, after this very long walk in the dark it seems that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Cancer CAN be cured. Cancer WILL be cured.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Scoot along...

I have been very anti motorcycles and scooters ever since I was a little girl (about 9) and our lodger came home late one night. He turned into our road and misjudged the corner, hitting a massive pine tree head on. He killed himself.

G bought a scooter on Saturday afternoon. A cute little yellow Vuka Scuta. Needless to say, I am very anxious about this new development in our lives. (I insisted on yellow because it's the most visible colour on the road.) I see the practical side to the issue - as petrol prices continue to soar, it makes sense to use a scooter rather than a car. I get that. It's quicker on a scooter than sitting in traffic. I get that. After years of steadfastly refusing to even consider it, I've relented because I get these things and in the current climate, it makes sense to use a bike. But if G gets hit, he is extremely vulnerable, and I really don't want to lose him just yet - even when he's being annoying I'd rather have him around than not!

On Wednesday, once it had been registered, he went to collect it. I dropped him off, then drove behind him all the way home. It was pouring with rain (not ideal conditions in which to drive a scooter for the first time!). Going across a busy T-junction in a minor road, the scooter slipped, and he fell over - nothing too dramatic as he wasn't going very fast, but he couldn't have picked a worse spot. My heart stopped as traffic roared towards him from both directions. Fortunately, the car behind him stopped in time, and the car from the other direction swerved to avoid him. He got up, and we continued on our way.

On reaching home, we discoverd that he had a nasty little gash on his arm (despite his jacket) and a massive bruise on his thigh (and he doesn't bruise easily because of his ITP). Then last night he was complaining of a sore neck and other muscles. All because of a little fall. Imagine what might have happened if it had been a more serious incident.

G is his own person, able to make his own decisions, and I trust his judgement. He has promised to practice more before he starts riding to work on it, and I know he doesn't take risks. He is a sensible person, but I worry about the other idiots on the road and circumstances beyond his control. While I wish him many happy hours on his bike, I just hope and pray this decision doesn't come back to haunt us both.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Ding ding: Round 2

It's been the busiest time of my life. I don't EVER recall working this hard before. But I've (mostly) enjoyed it. This weekend marks the end (please, God!) of the frantic busyness, because by the end of tonight I will finally be UP TO DATE with my marking.

Of course, just in time for things to start falling apart again with Laities - there are real problems with the waterproof wraps... but I'll get it sorted, even if it means moving heaven and earth (again, it feels like!).

We've had a lovely weekend as a result - because I've been able to relax and enjoy my time off with family, without getting stressed about the work I ought to be doing.

We've started going to a 'new' church the last 2 weeks, to just check it out, and I've SOOO loved the worship. Even though I've been going with Janel to her group, just being able to take part in worship again has been such a breath of fresh air. I wish Graeme felt the same, but he's really struggling with faith and God and all that stuff. I know how hard it is being there, and I wish I could do or say something to make it better for him, but this is one of those things that I know God has to sort out for him. All I can do is pray. However, it's great that we're actually going to church - that's a major improvement in itself, and I hope this church has the potential to be our new spiritual home, because I really need somewhere now.

After church this morning we went for a walk around Rondebosch Common. This is a local Common that is populated with fynbos. It is completely undeveloped (think: wild parts of Wimbledon Common, or walking along some of the Downs, for those in the UK). The only drawback is that wherever you are, you can still see the traffic around the edge, even if you can't hear them. STILL - it has one of the best views of the Mountain in town, and it is just so great to be able to get into fynbos without having to trek for miles. It was wonderful benign able to get out for about an hour this morning - what is it about walking in creation?

This weekend has been full of family time, which I love. Yesterday we went to my mom's and spent the afternoon with her and my step-dad. Today we were with Graeme's family and then with my dad. It's great to see Nellie interacting with her family and her cousins, and enjoying herself (and them enjoying her too)! It warms my heart so much. Every time I see her with family I am reminded that coming home was the right move for us - even when I miss London (as I've been doing a lot this past week).

However, the end of the weekend has been tough. Many of you are aware that my dad developed cancer of the throat in 2001. The surgery, radiation and chemo really destroyed him - he has lost nerve function in his skin and muscles in his upper body, so he can't really taste his food, or feel anything against his skin, and his back muscles don't hold his head and shoulders up too well. He is also losing his teeth, still suffers with terrible ulcers in his mouth and frequently has a tongue so swollen he struggles to talk.

As a result, he decided that should his cancer every return, he would not have chemo or radiation again, but would let nature take it's course. His decision is perfectly understandable from his perspective. Unfortunately, with his type of cancer, it recurs in 1 in every 3 cases, and for those it does recur in, it is usually (eventually) fatal.

Well, thus far, he has been free of cancer. He was officially in remission - you have to be cancer free for 5 years to be so.

Until this past week.

He had surgery last Friday to remove a malignant tumour.

The surgery team say the tissue around the tumour was completely healthy, so they are pretty confident they've got it all. The tumour was in his groin, not in his throat. He has refused chemo and radiation. I understand that decision, despite the implications for those of us left behind.

My fear though is that there are cancerous cells floating in his blood that broke off from this tumour, that will now settle in a new area and grow into a new tumour. While he is not at death's door, nor is a cancer death in the short term future for him, the fact is that the cancer is going to get him - that much is clear.

I've been feeling so confident that he had beaten it, that he would still be here to watch Janel start school, matriculate, graduate, get married, and maybe even have her own kids. Now, I have to prepare myself that he will probably do none of those things, and every day we have with him is precious. I know that sounds melodramatic, and I know it's actually true for everyone I love. But somehow, facing this with Dad makes it more real.

Again, I know that my father is, at heart, a fighter. If he wasn't, he wouldn't still be here. He's been cancer free for 7 years. The lump was fairly small. These are all good things, and they all contribute to him being around for a long time. But he is tired, and his two best friends are both dying of cancer. Now for him to find another lump... well, he isn't feeling too positive right now, and a positive state of mind is essential for recovery.

So I don't know what to think really. He isn't terminal, but he is dying. How does one prepare for this future? I don't know. I don't want to contemplate a future without him....

Friday, August 01, 2008


It feels like AGES and AGES since I last did a proper post. I'm getting withdrawl symptoms!

But seriously, it's been so manic I haven't really had a chance to catch my breath, until tonight. Tonight G and I are going on a date night. This will be our first in several months (although we did grab a quick cup of coffee about 3 weeks ago...). I'm really looking forward to it.

In between all the manic-ness of Baba Indaba, and work, and Nellie, (and house stuff, and car stuff, and study stuff...) I've found myself reflecting on where I live. In all my years as a teacher, I've never wanted to live near my work. I could think of nothing worse than running into one of my students at the shop, or library, or even just out and about for a walk. I wanted a very clear divide between my job and my private life.

Where we're living at the moment is, however, exactly the sort of place I've never wanted to live in. Not only is it close enough to walk to work (only a 3 minute drive), but because the suburb is more of an over-grown village, there is only a limited number of places to shop/ grab a coffee/ walk, and half the kids at the school live in the same suburb. There is no escaping them.

The first time I realised this, I felt myself shrink in horror from the thought. But somehow, between then and now, I've realised that my thinking has done a 180. Now, I relish seeing my kids, and having them see me in an ordinary life. Why the change? I'm not sure. I've been thinking about it a lot, but I can't really pinpoint the reason, so I think there must be several. So far, what I've managed to come up with is that me seeing them in an ordinary life, and vice versa, is normalising for our relationship in school. There is a hang of a lot to be said for knowing more about the kids than the 45 minutes five times a week I see them. And vice versa - there is a lot to be said for them seeing me as human.

In addition, for the kids I think it's important to see me, because my standards are the same wherever I am. If I see them misbehaving in public, whether or not they're in uniform, and they see me, they know I will walk over and say something. They see, and learn, that the codes of behaviour we subscribe to at the school are not just rules, but a way of life - a moral code that applies to every facet of life, not just the 7 hours a day in school. And that's an important lesson.

It's also a lot more fun than I thought it would be - they're usually polite, and often share a smile. Sometimes I'm able to tease them about something, or make a comment the following day. I'm finding that integration brings a lot more joy to my life than I thought it would.

Maybe it's about the kids I'm teaching now. The kids I taught before (in the UK) were mostly awful, and the last thing I wanted was to spend more time with them - however fleeting! The kids I teach now are an inspiration... they're personable, with a great sense of humour, but generally respectful of boundaries.

So there we are.... who would have thought! Sometimes doing a U-turn on something you believe is the right thing after all!