Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Paul the Octopus

I feel like I ought to write a really witty, incredibly tongue-in-cheek piece about Poor Paul, but to be honest, my brain seems to be in a permanent go-slow.

Oh, you haven't heard the news?

See, that's what comes from not being on Twitter... :)

Sigh! OK, well let me put you out of your misery: Paul the Octopus, that illustrious cephalopod who correctly predicted the World Cup 2010 results, has ...

... wait for it...


You thought I was going to say that he'd predicted the Currie Cup winner or some such, right? But no, Paul is no more, has gone to octopus heaven, is dearly departed.

Can you hear the howls from gamblers round the world? Sorry folks, this cash cow has left the building. Now you'll have to go back to the old method - your best guess.

Now let's all go have cup of coffee and carry on with our lives.


Did I mention our new fence?


We have a new side/ rear fence.

Wooden palisade with vibracrete posts.

With timber that is guaranteed for 20 years. (We'll see about that!)

I don't know why I'm so excited about it - it's just a fence, right? And it doesn't look particularly lovely or anything. After all, it's just a fence.

But still - I am really excited about it.

It's much lighter in colour than our previous fence, and we've had to cut back a lot of vegetation to be able to get it in. The result is that the area where it is suddenly seems bigger and brighter. I love space and light and air... so I really like my fence (despite the fact that the top of it is so uneven).

Plus, now we'll get no further complaints from the neighbour that our dogs are in her garden. I get that strange barking dogs in your garden is enough to scare lots of people. Yet, I look at my two "guard dogs" and laugh. How anyone could be scared of them...???? I'd say that they're complete push-overs, except that if you're a criminal reading this you'd probably be rubbing your hands together in glee at a statement like that, thinking about how easy it would be to get in.

(See, that nasty paranoia raising it's ugly head again...)

So I won't.

Instead I'll tell you that my new fence is a lovely shade of natural yellow-green and smells great too and will give you splinters if you try to climb over it so don't bother.

Now, if only getting my lawn to grow could be as easy as putting up a fence...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fame! Baby, remember my name!

So it seems that my name is about to get known in education circles. I got an email today from a WCED chap who would like to profile (pending all the bureaucratic yay-saying) my previous post on one of their email newsletter-type of thingys. (I never know what to call them - they're essentially email group membership list reminders, but can be used to disseminate other info too.) He obviously had a search term for the WCED (or similar) in his Google Alerts RSS.

While I'm flattered, and while I'm happy for others to read my blog, at the same time it makes me nervous. I have always known that complete strangers read my blog. I have no problem with that. I'm never going to meet you, you will never really know the people I'm talking about, so it's felt rather like going to a psychologist. I can tell you anything because you're anonymous and what you know can't hurt anyone because you don't know me or my family.

But of late I've begun to realise that there are increasing (although still very small) numbers of people reading my blog who, while currently strangers, have the potential to be people I will know through other circumstances. I find that a bit unnerving. It's one thing NEVER meeting someone who knows about me; it's quite another meeting someone who does. It's like meeting a stalker, except not. (And no, I don't consider you all to be stalkers! Let's just clarify that before someone complains.)

On the one hand, the fact that anyone else would really want to read my musings is vastly gratifying as I write predominantly (although not exclusively) as a record for myself, or as a reflection on my life for myself. (Reflection, for me, is a version of meditation. It helps me keep perspective.)

On the other, I do worry about my kids, my hubby, my family and my real-life-in-the-flesh friends. I'm a WYSIWYG kind of girl. I don't hide behind (or at least, I try very hard not to, but sometimes my insecurities get the better of me) pretensions here. I say what I mean and I mean what I say. Unfortunately, in the telling-it-as-it-really-is scenario, I also say things that open me up to things like identity theft.

And this is what worries me.

I talk about my kids here, my family, my friends, my daily life. I muse on all matters. However, I'm not sure that I want to open my life up too much to those with the criminal bent who might just decide to take my life (metaphorically speaking) from me. (Yet the thought of constantly having to censor my thoughts fills me with enough dread to stop writing entirely.)

Or is that just my paranoia rearing its head again?

Did I tell you that the family 3 doors down from us were held up at gunpoint last weekend? No? Yes, well, they were. My reactions are a bit all over the place. Firstly, HOW DARE anyone with a criminal bent come into our little street and perpetrate any kind of violence?

Secondly, I have become anxious: we are the last house in the complex, next to an open field, so very vulnerable; our doggies aren't half as vicious as the dog in the home 3 doors down (who still got held up); you can't see all the potential hiding places from our gate very easily (coming home I can change the route I drive to be able to see them all, but the time that really worries me is leaving home, because then I can't see them all, so will be driving blind, as it were....).

Thirdly, I want to shrug my shoulders and say "well ya shouldn't be coming home at 4.30am in the morning in the first place, now should ya?!", but I'm trying to restrain myself desperately, cos I know that if that HAD been me, I would have been scared witless - so a bit of compassion won't go far wrong.

So anyway, maybe my paranoia is not so misplaced after all.

In this day and age when we can be famous for being famous (Miss Bess Stovall from Max Lucado's book 'Best of All' comes to mind...) and where everyone wants to be famous (including me, if I'm honest), fame does have its drawbacks. I really do wonder how the really famous people cope with their lack of privacy.

Of course, I'm not famous, and I'm not even close, but the potential increase in readership of this blog has given me pause for thought. I shall have to think carefully about how I shall respond. I don't want to change this blog into something else. I also don't really want to start another blog for my teaching stuff (although I may have to do that).

Where does that leave me? I guess, in your hands. I'm thrilled that people want to read what I write. All I ask is that you show me some respect regarding the things I say here. That way, I don't have to change what I'm doing, and you still get to read all my drivel. Sound fair to you?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What makes you good at what you do?

Yesterday I attended a meeting for our district, to discuss the changes to the syllabus for next year's matrics. Once again, I was really impressed with our curriculum advisor. She's the first person I've met from the WCED in a very long time who actually speaks from the hips - she tells it like it is, she doesn't sugar-coat stuff, or (even worse) side-step the issues, or try to make her problems mine. I was really very impressed. I hope that the bureacracy at the WCED doesn't wear her down.

The meeting took place in a school just across the railway line from where we are. Although I've been that side of the tracks before for several different events, I was struck afresh at the disparity between my experiences of teaching and education, and those of my colleagues in those areas.

I consider myself a good teacher, but if I was asked to work in those circumstances, would I still be such a good teacher? What makes a good teacher, really? Is it the ability to effective use of the resources at hand? Is it about the ability to communicate effectively with OR WITHOUT resources? Is it about particular character traits? I'm not sure. I know I have the potential to be a GREAT teacher, not just a good one, but I really don't know whether I could still say that in circumstances vastly different from my own.

When I read this story this morning, about a teacher who has been banned for life for incompetency, it made me wonder afresh. I recalled teaching in one particular school in the UK, in which I found myself not performing. The reason I stopped caring, and stopped trying, was because the kids were so horrible. Their attitude towards learning depressed me, and because I was immersed in such a culture of poor work ethic, lack of respect for others, and general apathy, I found my strength sapped and my will to perform eroded. (Eventually, I wound up depressed and then resigned in order to take myself out of the situation.)

So what makes you a good teacher? Can anyone with resources can look good? or is there more to it than that? Will the same person be regarded as a good teacher in all circumstances? Is that a quality of who you are, or a choice you make despite your circumstances? And who holds you to account for it in SA? Your Subject head? Your principal? or do you hold yourself accountable?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dreaming of lost worlds...

I dream in glorious Technicolor and surround sound, which is not a good thing if you have a nightmare, and the topics of my dreams are always bizarre. G always says I could write a book based on my dreams and make a killing.... Maybe I should give it a go... anyway!

My dream last night was another weird one. There's a park near to where we used to live that has an old-age home on corner. I dreamt that someone was building a special driveway/ road past it so that tour buses could get easy access to and from the old age home, and this road was built partway across the park area. However, this was no ordinary road! More on that later.

Earlier in the dream, I had dreamt that, somehow, my kids and I had been whisked away into an alternative world, a world that twins our own, but where everyone there is slightly different to who they are here on earth. That in itself was bizarre and disconcerting - meeting people you know and love only to find they're not quite the same. However, the worst part was that when I returned to earth, I couldn't take Nellie with me. She had to remain behind. Besides the heart-wrenching fear of leaving her with people I wasn't entirely comfortable with (after all, they weren't quite themselves and I didn't know whether they would harm her or not), there was the gut-wrenching grief at saying goodbye and never being able to see my precious little girl again.

Back in the "real" world, in my dream, it was no longer Nellie who had been left behind, but Nathan. (I don't know why dreams switch things round like that....) I therefore had to take his car-seat out of my car (I wasn't going to need it anymore) and leave it with the relatives who, in the twin world, would be looking after him. Somehow, the relatives in the twin world would be able to access themselves in the "real" world and so would be able to get hold of the car seat. (I told you it was bizarre.) Again, facing the reality that I would never see my precious little boy again was awful to say the least.

But back to the old age home... I was walking across the park with an ex-colleague, someone I haven't seen since I stopped working at that school, when I noticed the road being built. I stopped to observe. One of the workers was holding some kind of electrical device in his hands, when I heard him comment that the device was picking up some sort of interference. I stepped closer. Then it struck me - somehow, impossibly, the road was acting as a gate-way to the twinned world, and the kids (now it was BOTH Nellie and Nathan) were being allowed to come home.

Naturally, I started yelling and screaming, and running to the road, but I woke up before the kids actually arrived. Typical. Go through all that heart ache but then be unable to have it fully resolved before waking up.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Who gets to be a parent?

As a teacher, I get to meet a LOT of parents. Some are incredible. Some are dire. It never ceases to amaze me that, in a world where there are such stringent requirements for people wanting to adopt pets from vets and other organisations that rescue animals, or for people wanting to adopt a child, there are no rules when it comes to who may give birth to a child.

Sometimes, in the staff room, we joke about enforced sterilisation, with we teachers as the deciders of who should be sterilised. It is only a joke, and we know that, but there is an element of honesty and truth in it. We see kids who are repeating the negative cycles their parents and grandparents have repeated. We know that if these kids have kids of their own, the cycle will be repeated once again.

As a Christian, I also know that there is hope for these people, because I believe that Jesus makes a difference. But what happens to them if they don't find Jesus before they have kids???

I was thus very interested to read this morning that there is a project that PAYS people to be voluntarily sterilised. Not just any people either - drug addicts. It's interesting because those who are using when they fall pregnant usually give birth to addicts, and those poor babies have to go through withdrawal cold turkey. Many do not survive. Those who do are often permanently damaged.

Of course, this is still voluntary. However, this is only a few short steps away from being an enforced strategy. Imagine a world in which, if you are found to be a regular user, you could be forcibly sterilised.

While I see the benefits, such a world also shocks me. I'm not sure I would be happy to live in such a world. While I believe in saving the innocent, I also believe in freedom and free will, even when that free will impinges on the rights and freedoms of others. It's finding the balance between the two that is crucial.

For the moment, this project is on the correct side of that line, I believe, but it's right up there, and I'd hate to see someone step over onto the other side.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What's for dinner?

While away with Eskom Expo, I sat and chatted with some of the kids in the group over supper. I don't know why it surprised me, but they had never come across the etiquette regarding knife and fork positions at the end of a meal. I discussed the correct positions with them, but it got me thinking about them again, and about when to start teaching my own kids about them. (How young is too young to learn proper manners?)

Do you know how to signal to the waiter that you're resting during a meal so s/he doesn't whip your plate out from under your nose, or have to interrupt your conversation to ask whether you're finished eating? or how to send the message that the food was disgusting? or that you have now, finally, finished your meal? It's all down to how you place your knife and fork.

Technically, there are only two methods - the American and the Continental methods, but in SA I think we use a third variation. In SA, putting your knife and fork together, with the knife blade to the middle and the fork tines pointing up, in the middle (6/12 clock position) of your plate, with handles on the rim of the plate, indicates that you're done. However, both the American and Continental methods say the knife and fork should be at an angle and not directly in the middle of the plate (in a 10/4 clock position).

Something new I learnt though is that in very formal settings, the fork tines should be pointing DOWN, not up. This dates back to when cutlery was made from real silver. Silver tarnishes easily, and so the fork should not be allowed to rest in any acidic residue left on the plate for any length of time. Doing so is very rude as it would mean that some poor servant would have to spend hours polishing the fork to remove the tarnish marks (which isn't always possible I've discovered, to my chagrin).

If you're just resting, then the Continental method is to leave your knife and fork at a 45 degree angle to form an upside down V on the bottom half of your plate. The American method is to place the fork in the 10/4 clock position. The knife, however, should lie across the top of the plate at a slight angle, like wearing a beret. I was taught though, that if you're resting, the cutlery should be in a kind of upside-down V position, but the handles should be touching the table. Apparently, that's not acceptable in either of these methods. Bahumbug, I say.

While I can't find this anywhere on the web (and I don't feel like purchasing an etiquette book to check), I thought I'd share with you what I learnt about telling the waiter you don't like the food. Assuming that the rest position is with the handles down, then the 'this food is disgusting' position is with knife and fork wide apart, both pointing to the centre of the plate, but handles still on the plate. The idea is that the further apart the handles are, the more disgusted you are with the food. (See, my method makes sense - handles up = you're done. Handles down - still busy.)

Since I can't find this method anywhere on the web, I have to assume that this is just my family's idiosyncrasy. Still, I rather like it. Sometimes the food isn't so bad you want to call the chef or manager out, but you still want to send a message. Of course, in this generation, subtleties like this are lost. This is such a WYSIWYG generation that it really doesn't surprise me at all that no-one seems to learn basic table manners anymore.

But what about you - what table etiquette have you learnt that no-one seems to use any more?

(My Ouma used to have a rhyme to help. She would say to me: Say 'able', which I would duly do. She then responded with: get your bum off the table. You can tell sitting on tables was something I loved doing. It's something my daughter loves too. Maybe I should repeating the rhyme to her as well....)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dreaming big

I need some help here. (Yes, yes, okay peanut gallery. I'm being serious here.)

I know that God gives us dreams and visions for our lives (not just dreams while we're asleep, although he can do that too). So my question is, how do you know the difference between a dream birthed in you by God, and one birthed by your own desires?

I have a dream, one that I have had since I was about 9 or 10. It requires skills and gifts that I believe I have. It's something I believe that God birthed in me, but every time I've thought he was finally moving me forward towards fulfilling it, it hasn't worked out.

During the morning sermon this past Sunday, the preacher mentioned that God gives dreams and visions as a creative force. It's not just about showing us what his plans and purposes are for us. It's also about birthing hope in us, giving us something that will stretch us and give us something to work towards.

In my case, that has certainly proved true. This dream, or vision, has stretched me tremendously - this most recent time I think to the point of breaking. In fact, it feels like this last time I was stretched beyond the point of breaking, because now I have HUGE doubts about this dream. As I reflect on my past, I honestly don't know whether this dream is just a fabrication of my own desires, or one God has given me.

I need some answers. I don't know what to think. I'm not sure how to proceed. This vision burns like a fire in my heart. I have tried to ignore it, but I can't. The yearning in me simply won't abate or go away. I can ignore it for a while, but every time I just think I'm getting the hang of ignoring it, something comes along to remind me that it's still there. The minute I start to think about it again, it's there with the same intensity as before. I know I have the gift to achieve it, but now seems not to be the time or place.

For one thing, I'm not where I believe I need to be as a minimum in terms of my relationship with God to be able to even consider fulfilling my dream. I know that God alone has the ability to decide when someone is 'ready' to move forward in achieving the vision he gives. I know that I'm ALWAYS unworthy, but that God may choose to use me irrespective of that, because that way he gets the glory. Yet, I still don't believe that God would chose to use me until certain minimums are restored.

In addition, I don't see how, or rather, when, in my current situation, my gifts could be used, or my dream could be realised. Again, I know that God is able to work despite situations and circumstances, yet I still don't think it's going to happen in the current set-up because that would seem to violate God's other priorities in my life.

So I am thoroughly frustrated and confused. Thus, I want to know - how do you know? How do I know FOR SURE whether this dream is from God, or from my own heart?

The sense of loss and emptiness that comes from this dream being unfulfilled is overwhelming at times. I don't want to give up on it, but in order to stay sane, I feel I have to. If I knew FOR SURE that this dream was just from my heart, then letting go of it would be easier to do.

I could really use the advice of wiser, more experienced Christians right now. I could also really use the prayers of any who do so, that I could find the answers I need, not the ones I necessarily want.

Monday, October 11, 2010

End of year madness

It was the last week of September. I was standing in MerryPak. That's when it struck me: this year-end is going to be crazy. How did I know that? Quite simply, because as I was waiting in the queue, gazing around me, I realised that the MerryPak staff had ALREADY put out their Christmas stock. Yup - it wasn't even the end of Sep and the new Christmas trees were out.

Our year-end is crazy anyway. In the space of 41 days we have: my birthday, Nellie's birthday, Graeme's birthday, my mother's birthday, my mother-in-law's birthday, my step-father's birthday, and two of Graeme's uncles' birthdays. Oh yes, and a little celebration called Christmas. Christmas is complicated as well because we have 3 families to split ourselves between because my folks are divorced.

To pay for all this, I do matric marking, to try to make a little bit of extra money. So for me work only finishes about 10 days after school closes, so there is less time available to plan for Christmas.

Before most of these events take place, I still have a manic term at school to get through - exam setting, exam marking, planning for the next year (sorting out the sets for each grade, planning schemes of work, sorting out the server files, etc, etc), organising reports, etc. Plus, since I'll be doing matric marking, I'll have to leave school a day or two before it closes, so all my work will have to be done early.


Sigh sigh.

Still, at the end of the madness there are going to be some AWESOME parties, and CHRISTMAS! Yay!! And this year my little-big brother and his family will be home for a visit from the UK. Double Yay!!

It's going to be madness, but the end is already in sight. After all, MerryPak's Christmas stuff has been out for several weeks now.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It's time...

For the longest time now I've been toying with losing weight. (See my last post.) This past week, I've actually decided to do something about it. Yup, I've finally got off my fat ass and got active.

I'm trying to be realistic about it all. I recognise that I'm addicted to sweet things (particularly chocolate) and that going cold turkey is not going to happen. I also recognise that I simply don't have the time to make 2 callinetics classes a week, much as I would love to.

So... new strategy:
  1. make one callinetics class a week
  2. get up early on three mornings a week to do exercise on the Wii
  3. cut down to one chocolate/ sweet thing per day, preferably none during the week
  4. have a pig out day on the weekend to boost metabolism
  5. get back to walking the dog at least once every 3 days, preferably every day
So far, so good. But of course, everything is easy in the beginning. It's whether or not you have the willpower to stick with it that counts.

Ke nako. It's time.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

How fat is fat?

I'm overweight. I hate it. I hate having a tyre around my middle. I've had one since shortly after leaving school. While I know that exercise will help, I also know that my genes are against me on this one. If I could afford plastic surgery, I would have a tummy tuck. Definitely. Especially since I'm not having any further kids.

However, the real problem is that I seem to be a sugar addict. I don't say that in jest. I find it impossible to resist anything sweet - chocolates, cakes, sweets. (I also find it impossible to resist chips, and biltong.)

A few days back I made a private agreement with myself to consider myself to be on a sweet-things fast, in an effort to break the habit. Every day since then I've failed. I've made some progress though - tonight when I was about to take a chocolate brownie from the plate (at a church event), I got as far as thinking about the fact that I did not need it, and that I would hate myself for it later.... Then I popped it into my mouth and gorged.

And I hate myself for it now. I feel even more fat and disgusting.

But, I will pick myself up and try again tomorrow. What else can I do? I have to try, because I have to lose some more weight. I've got 3 pregnancies' worth of preggie fat to lose, and until I do, I won't be happy with myself.

So if you see me eating something I shouldn't - please help me by moving the plate away from me, or me away from the plate. Don't say anything as I might hate you for it, but gentle action is called for methinks, since I clearly lack the willpower.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Lead SA

KfM 94.5 have a campaign running called LeadSA. It's designed to encourage average, ordinary citizens to do the right thing at all times. One of their current drives is to get people to drive with their lights on, whether it's daytime or nighttime. Another is not to use your cell phone while driving.

While I really support this movement, I've also been caught short by it. Like tonight. Driving home from a mom's event, I decided to drive a slightly longer route past a particular set of robots (traffic lights) as it's a simpler route with fewer turns. I was driving behind two other cars. The robot changed, and one slipped through. The other chose to stop. I nearly ran into the back of them - not because I was too close, but because I was so tired that it took me a while to realise they'd actually stopped and were not going to run the lights (as so many Saffas do ... as I'd been planning to do).

For a moment I felt myself get really angry that this person was inconveniencing me by stopping. There was no traffic from the other direction. No accidents would have occurred. How annoyed I was that they had forced me to stop and spend an extra minute or so on my journey.

And then it hit me that, really, they were doing the right thing. They were choosing to LeadSA by obeying the law, even if there was no cop, and even if there was no traffic. I felt shamed.

So a few blocks on I stopped at the stop street I normally only yield at. I don't know what I'll do tomorrow, or the day after, but for tonight at least, that person led SA by leading by example and shaming me into obeying the law.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

School holidays... we miss you!

Unlike most other teachers, I didn't have a holiday, or not really. The past 3 weeks or so have been so stressful. Initially it was just school related - end of term exam marking and report writing.

Then things escalated at home as our nanny went off sick for several days. I won't bore you with the details, suffice to say that she was told she'd had a stroke (at age 35!) and was suffering from high blood pressure. Fortunately, further tests revealed that she hadn't had a stroke, but she does have high bp.

This all transpired at the same time that Nathan went for emergency surgery to have grommets put in and his adenoids removed. (The surgeon said his adenoids were the size of plums....) I had to deal with most of this on my own, as Graeme was away with a school group doing a trail in the Umfolozi Game Reserve.

Graeme was back for 2 days (during which we both had some work to do on one day), then I headed off to Pretoria with the Cape Town Eskom Expo group. That means I had 3 days in a row of early mornings, late nights, stress and lots of time on my feet while I was judging and marking and doing other bits and pieces.

Today I had the kids for the morning, as G was at band practice, and then we had a braai with Nathan's friends' parents that we've been trying to organise for ages. While it was lovely to spend time with them, it was, never the less, an energy-consuming day. (Although, it probably only felt like that because I'm so tired.) And now, as I sit and contemplate tomorrow (and have just worked through about 2/3rds of my school inbox), I realise that I'm not prepared yet for tomorrow, or this week.

I feel like I've aged 5-10 years over the past few weeks. Sadly, the stress won't relent until the 16th Dec. So, somehow I've got to plow on till then. What I have gained through this time though, is a new-found respect for single parents who have more than one child. I think I could have coped a lot better if I only had just the one, but two has been.... trying.

Still, there has been a lot of joy and good in these weeks too. Nathan is feeling better, and so is sleeping MUCH better during the day (night time habits die hard, it seems), and is responding to instructions much better. Today he said a new word - bye bye. Nellie has decided (mostly) that she gets more attention if she's a helpful big sister than a whining pain, so has started to be truly helpful, loving and sweet towards her brother - long may that last!! Our nanny's bp is back down to normal (with a little help from medication) and she seems to be on the mend. G had a fabulous trip away with some close encounters with rhino and buffalo. The Cape Town Expo group got 9 bronze, 4 silver and 5 gold medals (out of 25 projects), as well as winning 2 best-in-category prizes, 3 special awards and having 4 people nominated for the international expos.

But I think that, for my birthday, I'd like a weekend away without the kids - just me and G. I'd like some time out to just walk, read, sleep and eat, without having any other demands on my energy or time. I think that I really need the time out if I'm going to avoid burn out. Anyone offering babysitting for a weekend in November?


Talk about a mind-f#ck! Oh. My. Word. What an awesome movie.

I know it's been on circuit for a while now, but with the #pinkmilkshake crew around, we seldom have time for ourselves. We took a day out during the school hols to go and see this movie, and it was well worth the money, IMHO.

This one is definitely best seen on the big screen, so catch it while it's still out.

The underlying theme of the movie is a question about what reality is. One of the recurring comments is that the worst parasite is an idea - for once an idea really takes root in your brain, there is no stopping its growth, multiplication or outworking.

Nearly a week later, I'm still pondering and reflecting on the questions raised by the main theme - about the nature of how the brain perceives reality, about how that might be used against one. It's a very powerful movie, for those willing to enter whole-heartedly into the story.