Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Road kill

This morning on the way to marking I drove past some road kill that was still alive and twitching. I think it was a eat, maybe a squirrel, I'm not sure.  It completely freaked me out. I can't even talk about it. Writing about it is the only way I can share it.

In that moment when I drove past, and saw it twitching, I realised how 'human' it was, how mortal. I connected with it in some way. I wasn't sure if it just bad a few broken ribs, so was struggling to get up off the road, or if it was in its death throes. Its little back leg was twitching; it looked more deliberate than just death throes though.

I wanted to stop, turn my car around, and go and help it... if nothing else, put it out of its misery. I couldn't bring myself to do it though. I was so freaked out by it, by the continual replay in my head of that little leg twitching.  I found myself crying over it, praying that God would let it die quickly, not make it suffer more.

Not being one to do drugs, I have to rely on the testimony of others, and they tell me that one of the greatest things about drugs is that they enable you to feel one with the world, with all living things, that they enable you to see yourself in everyone and everything else.

Here's hoping I don't have nightmares about it tonight... it's just the sort of thing I would dream about!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Google search failed me! OMW!

Occasionally, there are times when you need to convert from A4 to A5, but NOT just when you print. I recently had a situation where I'd created an A4 document in Publisher, and but I need it in 3 different sizes - A4, A5 and B5. Given that the document was over 300 pages, I REALLY didn't want to have to go through each page and resize the images, etc. to make them fit, for an additional two sizes.

As I usually do when I'm faced with a technological problem, I turned to Google - but this is one time when Google failed me (or maybe I just didn't scroll far enough down through the search results). Everything I found insisted that I needed to download special software to be able to do this.

This is NOT the case!!

As my heart began to sink at the thought of the hours I would have to spend resizing everything, I suddenly thought of this really nifty PDF reader called Foxit. I've been using Foxit for some time now, in preference over Adobe. I realised that if I first printed from Publisher to an A4 PDF, I could then create a 2nd PDF in whatever size I needed, just by selecting the output page size and then scaling the pages to fit correctly on the output page size.

Foxit is AWESOME! Well done to the team at Foxit for making this niggly little problem so easy to solve. They have literally saved me HOURS of work.

Monday, December 03, 2012

The Ultimate Gift

The book by this title, written by Jim Stovall, is a very quick read, but profound in its content; something worth reading slowly and thoughtfully.

Having read it in just over an hour (and thereby failing to follow my own advice), I find myself left pondering which gifts I could benefit from learning more, and how I can teach my kids these gifts.

The ultimate gift is becoming aware of the gifts you already have, and only one of those are material.

Theses are the gifts you need to learn:

The gift of work
The gift of money
The gift of friends
The gift of learning
The gift of problems
The gift of family
The gift of laughter
The gift of dreams
The gift of giving
The gift of gratitude
The gift of a day
The gift of love

What a great list!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Exam answers

Every year I am alternately infuriated ("why the hell didn't you LISTEN in class and do your work?"), depressed ("I must be such a poor teacher to have kids giving these answers after I know I taught this section properly"), or amused by the answers that pupils give to their exam questions. This year I've decided to share some of the funnier answers I've had.

Before anyone thinks about making a judgement on the kids at this school remember that EVERY school has kids who give answers like these. If they didn't, then every school would have EVERY child getting 70% or more for EACH subject.

When asked about why scientists think the dinosaurs became extinct, the correct answer should be that, currently, the most popular theory is that there was a massive asteroid which impacted the earth, sending up clouds of dust and ash that obscured the light. This, in turn, caused both a decrease in photosynthesis (and hence a decrease in plant growth and plant life), a decrease in the amount of oxygen present in the atmosphere, and an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide present. The fact that the dust obscured the light also resulted in a global cooling and an ice age. Because the dinosaurs are ectothermic (i.e. control their body temperature using the heat from the environment), they were unable to cope with the decreased temperature. This combined with lack of food and lack of oxygen, caused many species to become extinct.

Here are some of the more humorous incorrect answers I got:
  • The dinosaurs were killed by a bomb that went off. [OK then.... sure. Why not? That makes sense, right?]
  • The asteroid blocked out the sun's light before it hit the earth because it was so big [which means it must have been much bigger than the moon], and so when it hit the earth the dinosaurs were too weak to withstand  the blast so they fell over and died. [I guess they're assuming that all the dinosaurs were in the Gulf of Mexico at the same time....]
  • A glacier hadn't burnt up completely and when it hit the earth it whipped out the species. [glaciers? glaciers that whipped? I think I want to live in your world.]
  • As [the archaeologists]  found more remains they started thinking there should have been a  more recent occurrence of extinction because they kept finding more fossils that ages well, but not that far back. [Um.... yeeees. Did you read your answer back to yourself? How did this sound in your head when you were writing it?]
  • It could be possible [i.e. that the dinosaurs went extinct] but there are no proven facts to back the theory up. [Whatever your personal belief about creation and mass extinctions, kiddo, you still have to be able to explain the Alvarez-asteroid theory....]
  • An asteroid decided one day that it did not like the asteroid belt, because it was being made fun of by its friends for being smaller than them, and then it went on a trip to have a closer look at the sun as it was moving it noticed a planet was going to be in its way, it tried to change its course, but the sun's gravity would not let it and it decided that it wanted to commit suicide any way and kill whomever was on that planet. The end. [Notice that that first bit is all one sentence! Phew! Great little bit of creative writing there.] 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

'Show Desktop' icon gone?

One of my all time favourite things is my quick launch tray at the bottom of my screen. I don't understand people who don't use it. I mean, why waste time having to hunt for programmes you use frequently? Yes, you can use the 'Desktop' toolbar, and save shortcuts on your desktop, but I have SO many there already, that to find the one I'm looking for can be a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. Instead, I keep the top 10 apps I use in my quick launch toolbar/ tray.

Of those, the most frequently used one is the 'Show Desktop' one. Again, I know visually where my different shortcuts are, so it's quicker for me to find something by looking at my desktop, than looking in a LOOOOONG list of apps using the 'Desktop' toolbar.

Needless to say, I was therefore VERY frustrated to find that one of the teachers using my room accidentally deleted it. Yes, if you right click on the bottom toolbar you have an option to 'show desktop', but that's a WHOLE EXTRA click, and it's hard to break the habit of a life-time.

Today I eventually decided enough was enough, and Googled a way to fix it. I found a really easy way to do it. YAY! I love Google and I love it when technology works so simply. So, for those of you in a similar boat, who have accidentally deleted it, or have had someone else do it for you, here's the solution:


·         Click Start -> Run and type regsvr32 /n /i:U shell32.dll and enter

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy birthday to me!

Yesterday was my birthday. Although it comes around every year, it always catches me a bit unawares. I think it's the timing... we're already into silly season and in the light of the amount of work I have to do, my birthday seems less urgent, or something.

I was really touched at the number of people who wished me though, through-out the day. (Facebook definitely has it's benefits!) Between the chocolate & banana pancakes for breakfast, chocolate mousse for pudding, and champagne (ok - Methode Cap Classique!) at cell group, even invigilating & marking exams were a complete breeze.

My not-so-little-anymore girl picked out a necklace and handbag for me (from her and her brother) which are very cute. She has good taste (well, improving at any rate!) which I think she must inherit from me ;D

I still wait with bated breath to see what my hubbie is getting me... he hasn't had much chance to go shopping, although he says he knows what he wants to get me. (I believe him. The year he forgot my birthday he was at least completely honest with me about it - yes, I haven't forgotten! Plus, I've seen how hard he's been working the last little while - UNREAL.)

I'm looking forward to the festivities on the weekend. I've planned something fun ... well, I think it's fun - I think my guests might be a bit intimidated at first. I'm finding as I get older that I get more guts to do the things I really want to for my parties. Thus far, they've worked out (on the whole), so I'm hoping this works out too.... Hmm... however, this one has the potential to flop, so I think we need to get lots of cocktails to help ease everyone's nerves (not least mine!)

What I've loved most about my birthday though, is that it was filled with people I love. People don't usually tell each other how much they mean to each other - we reserve that kind of thing till after someone is dead, then eulogise effusively. Some of my friends are really good at doing that in the here and now - and it's SO affirming. I love having the opportunity to tell them how much I appreciate their friendship in return. It's all very warm and fuzzy, and I love it!

But, speaking of warm and fuzzy, it's time to go and bake some cakes. What sort of cake should I have this year? (I don't see why only kiddies get to have fun cakes!) Hmm...

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Geocaching

We went geocaching again yesterday. Spectacular fail on two sites, but spectacular success on one.

The one we found was at this fountain in Mowbray. The fountain it's about a century old, and the twin of the fountain in Rondebosch.
Nellie was the hero who found it. She was super-excited, so I let her write her name in the cache list.

I think this could become addictive...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A very clever bird catches fish using bait

I don't know where this video came from originally, so can't give proper credit. I received it from someone via email. I have tried a variety of formats, but can't get it to upload, and for ethical reasons don't want to upload it to YouTube. (It's already there though - don't know whether the person who uploaded it is the original author or not... http://youtu.be/q-L2hzZqFGs.) 

The video shows a bird standing by the side of a pond with a bit of what looks like fish (but might be bread) in its mouth. It repeatedly drops the fish into the water, and then picks it up again, to lure a larger fish to the edge. Eventually, a large enough fish draws near to eat the tasty morsel on offer, and is quickly grabbed by the bird, who then walks up onto the bank to eat its meal.
In the midst of the recent spate of news about clever animals who 'talk', I think this shows that our current definition of having a culture (and thus, by implication [although I personally dispute this], being more intelligent) as the ability to use tools may be somewhat lacking. 
As a Christian, and a Biology teacher, I'm often asked how I can 'believe in' evolution and still maintain my faith. It's quite simple for me, really. When I look at this kind of evidence (watch the video) what I see is a species that is learning and growing, which is exactly what God intended for all species. Nowhere in the Bible is it implied that the creation was ever intended to remain static. In fact, the apocalyptic writings of The Revelation seem to indicate that the new heaven and earth will be a place where we (all of creation, not just humans!) will continue to learn, grow and develop. But I digress slightly.
This learning and growing is (rather simplistically, I will admit) what scientists term evolution. What people of faith (and not just Christians) term as God's hand in creation is the fact that this species is fulfilling God's purpose for it - to grow and develop and become all that God intended for it to be.
I stand in awe of a great God who makes creatures that are able to learn, grow, develop and adapt to a changing world!
The outcome, for me, of seeing this kind of video is that it reinforces my belief that humans have no greater right than any other species to make use of the resources this planet, and indeed, this universe, offer us. We are just one part of it, not the sum total of it. Because we have a greater ability to reason, we also have a greater responsibility to steward it well.
Of those to whom much is given, much is required.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Lullaby for my boy


Every night I sing lullabies to the kids, and tonight, for some reason, I suddenly wondered about what might happen if I were to die prematurely. Now I'm not saying I'm going to die prematurely, but I like to be prepared, or as prepared as one can be. My little man is so young that if I were to die now, he probably wouldn't remember me in years to come. I also know that one of the things people sometimes say, years on, is that they can't remember what their loved one sounded like, or even looked like. So, since the little man has a particular penchant for 'Summertime', I thought I'd record myself singing it for him - just in case, you know? (I know this plays with VLC media player, which you can download for free, so if you can't get it to play any other way, try that.)

Friday, October 12, 2012

The circle of life turns crookedly

Next year will be my 20th reunion... SCARY! I can't believe that I've officially been out of school longer than I was in it.

Today marked a rather special event for me - the first Valedictory that I have ever organised. 20 years ago, it was me sitting in those seats. Today, it is me standing in the background, organising and directing.

This was also a special event for me as this was the matriculation of the Gd 8s who started at the school in the same year I started working there. To them, I have always been at the school. There are some special kids (as there are in any year) in this group, but all the more so because I've walked the entire road with them through their high school years.

I have sat through, including my own, 13 valedictory services. As long as I continue to work in a school, I have another 11 years to go before my eldest child sits in those chairs, and a further 4 years until my youngest does - by then, a total of 28. This service was my aunt-in-law's (who happens to work at the same school...) 28th... AT THIS ONE SCHOOL! To me, 28 feels like such a HUGE number of services to have attended.

As the grade head who spoke today pointed out, there is a lot of maths in today's date. Today is 12/10/2012. The matrics are grade 12. Grade 12 used to be known as Standard 10. If you add up 2 + 0 + 1 + 2 = 5, which is the number of years one (usually) spends at high school. Pretty cool, eh?

And so turns another year in the circle of life... another group of prefects and RCL appointed... another group of Gd 12s move off into the big wide world... and yet, for those of us left behind, life goes on as it always has: lessons continue as normal from Monday. In many respects, it feels like nothing much has changed.

"She will always carry on.
Something is lost, but something is found.
They will keep on speaking her name.
Some things change, some stay the same."

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Aaaaaw... isn't he gorgeous?!


Every night I sing to my kids. It's part of our bed-time routine. I have done since they were born. While #1's song choice changes almost nightly, #2 is stuck on the same tune he has been since he was about a year old. However, clearly, having this musical input into his life has sparked a love of music in him. ("I LOVE this song, Mommy!" - said to just about anything that plays on the radio/ CD player). He often sings along with me when I'm doing my nightly performance. He's tuneless, and doesn't really understand rhythm yet either, so it can be challenging for me, but he's OH! so cute when he does.

For the longest time though, it has only been during private family time that he has deigned to sing out loud. He has been rather shy about singing in public. Even then, he has only really seemed to enjoy singing out loud (although he LOVES it when other people sing) when someone else was already singing.

So, it was with some amazement that just the other day I heard him singing out loud to himself and to his sister. I was even more amazed that the song he'd chosen to sing was an ABBA track! (The kids have only watched Mamma Mia! a few times, but it seems that that was all he needed to pick up the chorus of a few tracks.) I was absolutely gob-smacked though that he allowed me to record him - he usually refuses! So, herewith, a short clip of my boy singing (and accompanying himself on the piano... :D)

4 weeks and counting

For the first time in ages, I feel like I've had some time for me - time to reflect, time to blog, time to read. You know that you're too busy when the thought of logging on and tapping out a quick post makes you want to stick your head down the loo and flush! Well - for me, at least.

Things have been incredibly tough of late - on all fronts: work-wise, financially, spiritually, personally. Unfortunately, when things become tough, and there's nothing I can do to alleviate the stress, it makes me withdraw from the world. When I can't fix things, I feel helpless, powerless, and as a result I retreat to my cave. Of course, retreating doesn't fix anything either - it just leaves you alone with your thoughts, which isn't very helpful either.

It's been good to have a break. Although it was a holiday at home, and there were chores to complete around the house, it was good to have time off to just do some of the things I enjoy - going to movies, gymming, spending time with my hubby, seeing my friends. The only thing I haven't done is walk on the beach, but there's still time tomorrow, if the weather cooperates. :)

During this time off I was also able to make a decision that I think means next year will be slightly easier (yes, next YEAR, not next month, or next term!)

Of course, the work is already piled up for next term, and I'm already dreading it. Hopefully though, I've had enough time off to be sufficiently pulled back from the edge that I'm not going to snap. I just keep reminding myself that it's only 4 weeks to go, and then we're into exams. Only 4 weeks.


Friday, October 05, 2012

Farewell, Stranger

This afternoon I witnessed something rather horrific - I saw a man killed. It all happened so quickly... I didn't even realise what had happened until several seconds later. He was on a motorcycle and trying to turn right, when an oncoming car hit him, and knocked him off his bike. I heard the ka-thwack of his body hitting the road, and it took me a few seconds to realise that he was on the ground, and not moving.

Incredibly, a cop car had been coming down the road, so within seconds the cops had stopped to help, diverting traffic and calling the ambulance. The guy who drove into the motorcyclist stopped his car just past the intersection and had run over to try and help. He was distraught, but, sadly, all for naught. The motorcyclist died on the scene after he stopped breathing despite CPR.

As I drove away, all I could wonder was how his family would cope. My heart goes out to them. It's one thing to lose someone who is ill; it's quite another to lose someone unexpectedly. It reminded me how important it is to always part on good terms with people - there may never be a chance to repair a relationship at a later date. I also wondered whether he has a wife, and children, and if so, how they will get through their grief - what impact their grief will have on their lives. At least he died quickly, and never regained consciousness: he would not have felt any pain.

I can only pray that this stranger's death will be gentle on those he loves, that they have Jesus to lean on, and a strong family support system to lean on.

Farewell, stranger. Rest in peace.

Worker worth his wages?

It's that time if year again when the unions strike as part of their wage negotiations.
The miners have ben on strike for weeks now, with many dead after the cops opened fire (although I believe things are more complex than just laying the blame at their feet). Needless to say, the country has lost billions as a result.
Then there is the truck drivers' strike, now in it's 2nd week (I think). ATMs have run out of cash as a result.
On the one hand, I have little sympathy, because their actions have cost the country money, because their requests are out of life with what can realistically be awarded and because they resort to violence, which I am totally opposed to.
On the other hand I feel for them. They work long hours, in dangerous situations, for very little pay. In fact, how they manage to survive on such a small salary is beyond me.
The amount we pay someone us a measure of the worth we ascribe to them. As a poory paid teacher, I know about that, although I get more than either a money our a truck driver.
A friend recently had her eyes opened to the worth ascribed to teachers as evidenced by their pay skip when she became a school treasurer. Working in marketing, not only are the salaries exorbitant but the bonuses are ludicrous. When teachers work overtime, which we do, we get an honorarium of a few hundred rands. Compare that with overtime in marketing, where you would get several thousand our even trends of thousands of rands for the same amount of time and effort.
Or look at Mr Zuma's salary...one of the biggest in the world, and we've got a third world economy....
Something is just so wrong with this picture. From this perspective, I can almost see myself becoming a communist. Yet, there should be some justice somewhere.
How is it that someone who designs an as for a drug like nicotine, while exploiting women to do so should earn in one month what a miner earns in a year? Mining its our primary industry, which brings in bucket loads of foreign cash into the country, while the advert only promotes drug abuse and self-destruction. Where is the justice in that?
How do we fix this though? If the miners receive their demands (and again, I've heart rumours that they are supposed to be receiving the amount they are demanding, but a fat cat I won't name is pocketing the difference) then as a teacher I feel my salary should increase by about R4000-5000 nett per month as well. And what about our police, armed forces and health care professionals?
What are we worth, SA? Those of us who are working to keep this country functioning, or are generally working to promote our future as a nation - what are we worth to you?

Sunday, September 02, 2012

The first signs of new life

Spring is such a thrilling season. In countries where there is a vast difference between summer and winter, particularly countries in which there is snow in winter, spring is a time of celebration - a time when there are the first indications that life is returning.

Years ago, I felt I had a close relationship with God, when I was able to hear him speaking to me easily, and frequently. Then I suffered a series of disappointments, including Zoe's death, and I found myself in the valley of the shadow of death. At the bottom of the valley, I felt I lost my connection with God. I couldn't hear him, and that feeling of isolation has been incredibly difficult to manage or work through. These past 5 years have felt like the hardest, darkest, longest winter of my soul. It's felt like the winter in Narnia - I've known what spring and summer feel like, what the warmth of the sun feels like, but can't really remember what they felt like. Over the past year or so I've felt the gradual thaw, but spring still felt like a long way away.

This past week though, it feels as if spring has finally arrived. I had a moment of celebration earlier in the week when I heard God speak words into my mind for me to share with someone else. It has been about 5 years since that last occurred. What joy! To hear my Saviour's voice again... For whatever reason, he's decided I'm ready again, that this ordeal is at an end.

My celebration and relief were short-lived though.

Back in the late ninties (I think it was in '99, but I can't find the exact journal entry to confirm it) I felt that God had given me a passage of Scripture as the direction for my life. At the time, I believed God told me that this passage would be the mission of my life, that this was his calling on my life. The passage in question? Is 61: 1-4:

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of   mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations."

It was confirmed for me several times since then that this IS God's calling on my life. In the darkness, when I was questioning everything, I tried to hold onto those previous moments when I felt God confirmed this for me. Today, God confirmed it for me again, but not in the way I would ever have anticipated.

It struck me, on this occasion, that when Jesus spoke these words in Luke 4, he hadn't yet been to the cross. The cross was still to come - and Jesus knew that. He knew that in order for him to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim release, etc, he would need to suffer and then die. What's more, even as he said those words, as he opened the scroll and read them, he knew that that was what would have to happen.

It then struck me that when God has made this passage the calling over my life, he knew that in order for me to fulfil it, I would have to share in Christ's suffering. I would also have to experience a death, an isolation from the Father and a grief. I, too, would have to be wounded. Where in the past I have focussed on the positive aspect of the words, without thinking about how I would get there. Today,God revealed to me how this long night of the soul and the disappointments of the last few years have all been part of God's plan for my life. Even Zoe.

It struck me that even before I was born, God knew that Zoe would die. He chose not to remove this grief from me. He chose to allow it. He made her death part of his plan for my life. Paul had his "thorn in the flesh". 3 times he asked God to remove it, and 3 times God's response was that His grace was sufficient for Paul. While Paul's thorn may have been physical rather than spiritual, the principle remains. God allowed him that grief, that wound, in order to use him to bring God's good news to the Gentiles.

As I reflected on this, and on the passage, instead of seeing the positives, I saw the pain. How do I bind up the broken-hearted? By having my own heart broken and allowing myself to weep with them. How do I preach release to the prisoners? By sharing my own journey of release. How do I comfort those who mourn? By having mourned myself. For each of the promises, where before I saw myself in a position of strength reaching out to help the weak, now I see that God's plan was always for me to be in a position of brokenness sharing my life with fellow sufferers. And how would he achieve that? By breaking me. By isolating me. By leading me into the valley of the shadow.

My reactions were multiple. First and most overwhelming was my shock. Zoe's death was purposeful. There it is. In my face. How do I carry this cross? However, fortunately, that was not my only reaction, which in itself says something. It struck me that God didn't have to reveal this to me. The fact that he did tells me that He thinks I've come far enough on the road to be able to handle this piece of news. Wow. Wow. Overlaid on this are my reflections on how I handled her death in the first place. 

In grief, some Christians are able to maintain their joy, not to move into the blame game. I was not one of those. So, as I was reeling from shock, I deliberately chose to take it to God, to continue to honour him. I was able to thank him for revealing this to me, for trusting me with this information; praise him for moving me on from where I was.

That I was able to do so was some comfort. Her death has not been in vain. It has helped to mature me. But it hurts. It really hurts.

Moving beyond my pain, after crying my way through a good deal of the service, I have come to a place of acceptance. Her death is not something I will ever get over, partly because it is only in this place of grief that God can fulfil the calling he placed on my life. It is only as I allow my heart to be turned from stone to flesh, to be wounded by the woundings and brokenness of others, that God's words over my life will bear fruit.

Jesus had to be crucified in order to bring shalom into our lives. I had to lose Zoe.If God had revealed this to me beforehand, I think I would have walked away. Jesus, in facing the cross asked God to take it away, if he could, yet submitted to God's plan to save human kind. My role on this earth is FAR from being that far-reaching or vital. Having had my own "cross" to bear, I can still choose to walk away, to say this is too much to bear.

All this was running through my head during the service. There were tears, and lots of them. Yet, I have chosen to walk this road. Why? Because God spoke to me. God spoke to me! If I have to go through another grief like that, then I'd rather do it with God on my side, than not. Being isolated from him has been hell. Sheer hell. I can get through anything else if God is at my side.

Spring has sprung, people!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

IQMS, OFSTED... a rose by any other name...

Doesn't matter what you call it, teacher and school evaluation is stressful. STRESSFUL! Because teachers work on their own so much, having someone else come into their classroom and watch them is stressful. Knowing that that person is also evaluating you - deliberately looking at your strengths and weaknesses - is doubly so.

Over the years, teacher evaluation has become a bit of a buzz word, a promise of a means to an end, a way to fix what is wrong with the education system. (No matter what country you're from, the average Joe on your street will tell you that your education system is failing, that schools are worse now than they used to be, that it's all going to hell in a bucket.) Is that necessarily true though?

One of the tricks that has been used in recent years is to link teacher evaluation to pay. In every other sector, your performance at work is already linked to your pay. If you don't perform, you don't get paid - as much, your bonus, or at all. Those performance indicators are the all-important grail which you aspire to reaching. You have to make X number of sales. You have to produce X number of units of whatever you're manufacturing. You have to publish X number of articles per year.

Teachers have, for the vast majority of the time, been exempt from this. Once you're in, you're in, and it's nigh on impossible to be fired unless you commit murder, or embark on a relationship with a pupil.

In SA, in many schools, or so the rumours go (and I see no reason to discount them), teachers sit in the staff room all day, or arrive drunk, and there are no consequences. Pupils don't bother coming to school because they know they won't get taught. It is in this context that teacher evaluation being linked to pay is being discussed.

How do you force those who aren't doing their jobs to do so? Firing them won't work, because where will you find new teachers in a country that simply isn't producing enough high quality graduates? It would be better by far to get them to do the job they were trained for, to help them improve, to work with them to improve the quality of education. I believe this is what is at the heart of the move to link teacher pay to evaluation. Of course, the very teachers this is aimed at helping have jumped up and down and screamed injustice - or rather, their unions have. After all, it is much nicer to sit around drinking tea (or booze) all day and getting paid for it, than actually having to get off your butt and earn your salary.

For teachers who are doing their jobs though, teacher evaluation seems like such a waste of time. It's window dressing. It's providing evidence of what we already know.

And yet, it is so stressful never the less. Having your weaknesses see the light of day in black and white is not pretty, nor is it easy. For this reason, many teachers don't take the evaluation seriously. When they are observing their peers, they gloss over the weaknesses, they focus on the strengths. They would rather not cause offence, or pain, and so don't use it to really help that teacher develop. One lesson during the year we nip into someone else's lesson, make a few notes about what they're doing, and then all the forms go into a folder, where they sit until the following year. A few numbers are crunched, and we all get our increases, as normal.

Which leads me to wonder, again, at the value of this exercise.

Thus, it was with a measure of great surprise that I read this article. I guess, as with all things, implementation is the key. The question is, how do we go about changing the mind-set of our teachers, to see this as a positive experience, a learning experience, and neither a waste of time nor a terrifying obstacle?

Some broken things can't be fixed

The saying goes that you shouldn't fix something if it ain't broke. However, sometimes, even when something is broken, you still can't fix it.

I'm usually very professional at work - I keep my mouth shut when I'm supposed to, even when I don't want to. I can think on my feet and improvise when I need to. I am respectful for all those around me, I go above and beyond the call of duty and I live to help and serve those around me. But I'm human. I make mistakes. We all do, right?

My weakness is that when I'm focussed on a task, I'm not really aware of anything else. I zone out. Ask my family. LOL! They can tell you stories!

A few day ago, I was working in a shared space, focussed on fixing a mini-crisis not of my own making and saving someone else's professional pride, and people were talking around me. Some part of my brain must have registered the conversation, because, before I knew it, I found myself commenting on something. As the words left my mouth I realised that I'd said something that I shouldn't.

I'd inadvertently made a comment that would lead, via a series of questions, to sharing something confidential about someone. Actually, it's not confidential. Everyone already knows this piece of information, but no-one talks about it publically, because it would embarrass the person it concerns. In other words, my comment was said in the presence of the person my private conversation had been about. Ouch!

(And before you start thinking I'd been gossipping, and had now been caught out, I hadn't. I try very hard not to gossip at work. My private conversation had been held in my position of authority, as I have responsibility for a portion of this person's work, and it was regarding that work.)

I immediately tried to divert attention, dodge the inevitable questions and otherwise wangle my way out of it. With my brain already 95% occupied with fixing this crisis, it didn't have the requisite power to find the right words to say. Naturally, I thought of what they were later, after the crisis had been solved. Naturally. *rolls eyes*

Unfortunately, my inability to find the right words to save my own ass happened with someone who is already a rather touchy person, who easily takes offence when none is intended, who easily gets on her high horse, who fails to admit that she might be human, who is so concerned with being perfect all the time. It's like the story of the person with the log in his eye trying to take the speck out of someone else's. Sigh. It would be THIS person I'd made my comment to.

As I've lain awake at night, replaying the story in my head, I've imagined what I would have done if it had been me in those shoes. My response would not have been as dramatic as hers. I would have been puzzled by the comment, and I would have asked the same initial questions. However, I wouldn't have demanded answers the way she did, and I also would not have taken it personally. I would also have followed up on it differently.

I have mused over what might cause me to react in the way she did, and I realised that it must come from a deep-seated insecurity, or fear. That realisation has helped me, actually, not to take her reaction personally. But still. I want to fix this thing I broke, and I can't. But I digress.

The following morning, immediately following our usual morning meeting, she confronted me, loudly, angrily, and in front of everyone. I suppose I deserved that, since my comment had also been made publically. However, as we were all rushing off to a second meeting, there was no time to really discuss it. All I managed to get in at the very end of her tirade was to say, "You're right. I'm sorry." and that to her back, as she pushed past me and stormed away.

She hadn't intended to give me a chance to apologise, nor had she any intention of forgiving me. She had deliberately intended to humiliate me the way she felt I had humiliated her. She deliberately tried to recreate the situation she felt she had been in, in order to wound me the way she had been wounded. I was certainly embarrassed by our confrontation, but if her intention was to humiliate me, then she failed.

We all struggle, I know, to admit it when we're wrong. In this case, I know I was wrong. I'm more than willing to admit that. I'm sorry that I said what I said. I'm sorry that I wounded her pride. What upsets me though, is that I am being barred from fixing this, that she won't allow me to apologise, nor will she consider forgiving me.

Thus, I have turned to the One who ultimately grants forgiveness. I can't fix this situation. The damage is done and can't be undone. I screwed up. I shouldn't have said what I did in the way I did. It might have been the truth, but it shouldn't have come out in the way it did. While she may not be willing to hear my apology, God is. While she may not be willing to forgive me, He has.

There is great comfort in knowing that. However, being forgiven doesn't mean the consequences of my actions disappear like smoke, more's the pity. And so I am left replaying these situations in my mind, over and over, trying to find a way to change the outcome, and constantly failing.

At least we have a long weekend now. Hopefully, by Monday, we will have both moved on. Maybe, by Monday, she will have replayed her confrontation of me over in her head enough times to have heard my apology, and maybe she will have cooled off enough to accept it. Maybe, by Monday, I'll have been sufficiently distracted by other things to be able to let go of this. One can hope.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

The tap has been opened again

Oh wait! I know what I should tell you about! How could I forget?!?!

This past week, I discovered that our nanny's husband has been diagnosed with TB. Fortunately, he is HIV free, as in SA the two go hand-in-hand in most cases. He's been on treatment for 2 weeks now, so should no longer be infectious. Fortunately, he's the type to be very religious about taking his meds, so unless he has a resistant strain (which I'm not sure about, because neither of them have good enough English to ask the right questions, or explain to us the answers they get), he is well on the road to recovery and should make a full recovery.

Our nanny, his wife, has had sputum tests, and her results should be back in about 2 weeks. She's also had an X-ray, which is clear, but she's got this cough.... If her results come back positive I'm going to take our kids for screening as well. If she's clear though, then I'm not going to worry. Living in Cape Town, our kids will get exposed to it more than once, and probably have already been exposed. So, unless they show symptoms, which neither of them currently do, then I'm not going to panic.

So there we are then. That's our little bit of excitement for the week.

At a loss for words

This past week I have had bronchitis - I was off work for 4 days. The result is that I've been too tired to do much of anything. The result of that is that I feel I have nothing to say - I have been sitting staring at the computer screen wondering what on earth I could share with you tonight. Blank. Utter blank.

I could talk about the Olympics, but everyone is doing that. Of course, I'm impressed with Le Clos, and Pistorius. Who isn't?

I could talk about how my daughter dealt a crushing blow to my self-esteem this evening, but that's just depressing.

I could talk about how cute my son is, or about how I can't wait for the terrible threes to come to an end, but if I do the former, I feel I need to say something equally nice about my daughter, and if I do the latter, I'm not sharing anything new.

I could moan about how much my car is going to cost me to repair, and how that means we're going to be broke for the rest of the year - but I'm really not in the mood for moaning, oddly.

I haven't seen any movies, or read any books worth discussing.

Work is work - nothing new there. Marking and more marking, with never enough time to do what I think is necessary to be a good teacher.

I could talk about what God said to me today, except that I'm not sure what it means, and until I do, I don't really want to share it.

So. Bleh. It turns out that I have nothing to say. I reckon this is because I'm still tired and recovering, and just not myself. I'm hoping that's it, cos I really don't like being this way.

Hope you'd had a good weekend though.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

There's a [guest] in my kitchen, what am I gonna do?

You know how awkward it feels to have someone else working in your kitchen making you food?

Yeah, well, that's not me.

I have no problems sitting back and watching while my guest makes supper for me. None.

Does that make me selfish, or incredibly hospitable?

And you know how weird it feels to be working in someone else's kitchen, especially with them watching you all the time?

Yeah, well, that's not my guest tonight.

I guess, in that regard at least, the lovely lady who made supper for us tonight, and I, are well-matched.

....

I must confess though, I was disappointed that she wasn't wearing her slippers while cooking for us. Last week she promised me she would, and then she didn't. Talk about leaving a girlfriend hanging like that!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Textbooks, and textbooks

It is with an increasing sense of dismay that I've watched the textbook debacle* unfold. In addition to that particular scandal, there is another textbook scandal brewing - one about the selection of authorises textbooks. In this scandal, it would seem that there is yet more corruption at the highest levels. I say this because of the lack of transparency regarding the issue of the process of the selection of textbooks that occurs in Pretoria.

I have chosen not to comment on it thus far, because I felt that this was a conversation that needed to be held through the proper channels. However, those proper channels appear to have failed us. Thus, I have decided to go public. Following a meeting with my academic head today, I have been given the go ahead to contact the papers, and to forward to them the various emails I have seen/ received/ written to the WCED. 


Suffice to say, after I had only just begun to have my faith in the provincial education department restored following a few really positive steps, my opinion of them has hit rock bottom again because of the manner in which they have handled (or failed to handle) this situation. It would seem that a leopard really can't change its spots. 


I'll be posting all the details over on my education blog - nimming - so if you want to follow the saga, you can head over there for more. (I will be posting as the story unfolds.)
_______________________________________________________________________________
*For the non-Saffa's, there are schools in Limpopo province who STILL don't have textbooks - and this is the start of the 3rd term. Textbooks have been found dumped in the veld, and, reportedly, burnt in a warehouse - this after several missed deadlines to deliver them over the mid-year/ winter holidays to schools.

Transformation, not preservation

The saying goes that you never know what you've got till it's gone. There's truth in that, which I guess is why I appreciate my little groupie group so much.

Last year, in October-ish, G and I started leading a new cell group at our church. 3 months ago we took a break so that we could attend a parenting course. At the time, I was grateful for the break, as I'd found leading more intensive than I'd bargained for - as usual, too many other things on the go.

As much as I really enjoyed the parenting course, and loved the people in my new group, after a few weeks, I really started to miss my little groupie group. So it was with great joy that we finally met together again for the first time tonight.

I am re-energised for the next 6 months. I am looking forward to growing with these people, being challenged by God and held accountable by them, leading them to deeper depths and higher heights in their relationship with God and each other.

Maybe that sounds all a bit airy-fairy and pie in the sky - typically religious. Hmm... yet it's true, never the less. One of the things that has stuck with me from the past few months is a statement that one of the preachers made: if you're in the same place that you were a year or 18 months ago, then you're dying, because God is in the business of transformation, not preservation. That sums up what I believe God has been challenging me on. It's time for me to respond.

So, these next 6 months I am going to do my best to be intentional about this group - about challenging them, about challenging myself, about making this group really accountable (we have a safe space, so that's possible), and about doing my best to respond to God's challenge to move forward and not stay in the same place. You can hold me accountable to it too.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sing a song...

This afternoon our nanny brought #2 into the kitchen before she left to perform for us. He sang a complete, and correct, rendition (2 verses) of Jesus lives the little children...all by himself! He's never done that before. Bits of a song, or an incorrect version (wrong words, or tune), yes, or he gets so shy he won't complete the song, so this was huge!

I wanted to record it, but felt that staying in the moment was more important. I was fit to burst from pride!

Friday, July 20, 2012

The sky is everywhere

When I read a book, I often can't put it down. Once I start, I want to just immerse myself in it until it's finished. Then there are books that change your life. Then there are books that could change your life, but you' re just too tired, or scared, to finish.

This book is none of those. Initially I didn't want to read it because the main character is deep in grief, having just lost her sister. Once I started though, I couldn't put it down. But more than that, I found myself reading the most incredible story of someone coming to terms with her grief. It was such a heart-warming story, and so healing to read.

I still sobbed my heart out at the end, thinking about all that Zoe will never know, or experience, our share in our lives.

What I loved most tho, in this story was the way that the author was able to express the effect that a deep grief has on the way you view life forever after. There isn't a day that goes by when I don't think about losing someone else I love: my other kids, my best friend and husband, my parents... I know some would say that's morbid. Well, it is, but it's also so realistic, so NORMAL. Death is inevitable, it is a part of life and I think we do ourselves a disservice to pretend otherwise, or to live with our heads in the sand.

This story manages to make that point without bring too moribund about it.

This is a book I'm glad I bought. It's money well spent, and I would highly recommend this to anyone.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Soul space

Following the sermon on Sunday I've ben thinking again about how I do, or don't, make enough time for soul reflection. I need to have space, time and quiet for reading God's Word, and prayer. I need to find space and time to worship privately, individually. I need to find time to feed my soul. Soul space.

God help me, cos I just don't see how to change my life to get that space. This isn't about spending every moment in God's presence, or practicing the presence of God.

This is about finding those still quiet moments, quiet enough to hear the still, small voice of God, to appreciate the scents on the breeze, the colours of the creation around you. This is about 'be[ing] still and know[ing] that [He is] God'.

My soul craves this. My soul needs this.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

For sale: one used shoulder

About two weeks ago I did something to my shoulder. I know exactly what I did... I worked too hard at marking. My body's way of sending me a message is to cramp up. After 2 weeks, I'm finally fed up enough to go and see someone.

I've done the heat, rest and compression thing. I've stretched, exercised and Voltaren-ed. I've Neurofen-ed and warm-bathed, and massaged.

Clearly, none of that worked. So, I admit defeat. I surrender. I will call a physio on Mon.

Sigh.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Happiness is...

I've been thinking a lot about a throw away comment someone made to me recently. The comment was that you make your own happiness.

This person, I should point out, is of a different faith to me. When dealing with people of other (or no) faiths, I try really hard to hear the truth in what they say, because I don't believe that Christianity is the only source of truth (although I do believe that the God I believe in is the ultimate source). Sometimes it's really hard though, because when I hear what others believe, warning bells go off in my head to warn me not to be duped by false truths, not to be sucked into lies.

So I've really pondered this comment. This person believes that everything in life is the result of what yourself do, or fail to do, that you really can make your own happiness. Oprah also seems to believe this sort of thing, with her publicity of the 'Secret of happiness" (I think that's what it was called). Is it true though?

I know what the Bible tells me. Happiness is fleeting, temporary, and depends on the circumstances around me. Joy, on the other hand, is a deep, abiding, everlasting contentment that comes from internal factors that are not dependent on external circumstances - like our faith in God, or his faithfulness to us.

So, when Zoe died, I was NOT happy. However, I could still have been joyful, if my faith in God had been sufficiently deep and secure.

Maybe, when this friend was talking about happiness being something we create for ourselves, what she really meant was joy. Joy is still something I'm trying to figure out, because I'm still working on getting my daily walk with God sorted out. But I reckon that's what she was talking about.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Have we cracked the nod?

I've just had such an exciting phone-call. Many of you who have been reading this blog for a few years will know that G and I run a support group for parents who have lost a child through miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death, based in Cape Town, but for all South Africans. For a long time, we pushed on doors at various maternity hospitals and wards, to publicise our work, to no avail. We had several positive meetings with various people, but since then, we've heard nothing at all.

In retrospect, it was probably a good thing, as I doubt we could have coped with much more than we were doing at the time. On average though, we get about 4 or 5 contacts a month, several of whom take it no further - just needing to know that there is someone there if they need it. However, we've been having about one meeting a month of late, so things are slowly picking up.

Which leads me to the phone call I've just had. I don't usually answer my phone for numbers I don't recognise, but for some reason tonight I decided to answer. On the phone was a trauma counsellor who works for Discovery, wanting to know whether he could refer someone to us!! I'll skip the bit about the woman involved, and jump straight to the bit I found exciting. I asked him how he got our number, and he said he's not sure. He didn't know of anyone offering a support group for stillbirth, so he contacted a friend at Cape Town municipality, who then contacted someone else, who then contacted someone else, who just 'happened' to have our number (not even our website url or email!).

Now I ask you - if that isn't Providence, then what is?

So - it seems that news of our small support group and the work we do is slowly starting to filter around the city. This thrills me beyond words! Not because I want to be famous for anything, but because it means that the men and women who are in deep distress can be reached, and comforted, and given hope. I'm not expecting much to change in the immediate future, really, because our experience is that Saffa's don't like to talk about death, or about losing a child.

Yet, just knowing that the right people out there are becoming aware of us, and can refer others to us, means that I know that our work of bringing hope and support and comfort to these very broken people will increase, and that excites me intensely.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Catan - still the best by far!

I love playing boardgames. I love the whole group gaming experience thing, despite being useless at strategy. As a child, I played Monopoly and Cluedo till even I was bored by them. As an adult, I've found it's rare to find a game that I really love - either they're too complicated, or too infantile, or just too embarrassing (and here I'm thinking of any game hat requires me to draw or act!).

And there's Catan. Aaaahhh!! What a brilliant game.

It requires a little bit of strategy, but because randomness is built into the game, even someone like me has a chance against those who have far greater skill (and here I'm thinking of those who like to play Age of Empires, or D&D, or the like, where strategy is EVERYTHING). The best part about it though, is that you can play an entire game in an hour. Perfect! Time is a precious commodity, and when you only get to start playing after the kids are in bed, and if you want to go to bed at a reasonable hour yourself (because you know those little mites will be up before the crack of dawn), then this is just what you need.

Last night, though, we were introduced to an extension game for Catan - Seafarers. Just when I thought Catan was perfect, I discover there's something even better! I've heard (from others) that some of the other extension packs aren't great - that they make the game long-winded - which is why I have avoided them. Then a friend raved about Seafarers, so we thought we'd give it a go. I'm so glad we did!

So - if you're looking for a good game for the holidays, that the whole family can play, that doesn't go on forever (like most), and that isn't one-sided (as only Monopoly can be!), then do yourself a favour and buy Catan. Learn it, and then buy the Seafarers extension pack! It will be the best value for money you've had in ages!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Freak out

On Friday we had a rare night out sans kids, with a regte, egte babysitter. We went dancing! The fact that it happened to be a matrix dance it's besides the point, really. And what a blast we had!!!! It was the perfect way to end off the term and let our hair down. I think we both needed the relaxation and destressing. Although me feet took a hammering, my soul was energised and my spirits lifted.

However, at one point, I did kind of have a bit if a freak out. I was during watching these matric girls, dressed to kill with cleavage and bare backs all on display, flirting with their partners, and to some extent with each other, relatively (but not completely) unaware of just what message they were giving off.

Then it hit me: in a few short years, that will be my little girl, flashing her gorgeous body around for all the boys to see, behaving coquettishly, yada yada. I nearly ran home there and then to put a lock on her door.

She will go to a school that one of us works at so that we can attend her dance to ensure she behaves herself, and there will be no after party. Her dress will be designed by moi, and there will be no display of flesh, anywhere. She will never date, and her brother will be her partner for the night. Any boy showing any interest in her will be shot. She will never be allowed out of the house....

*DEEP breath*

Ok, maybe that's an over-reaction, but I did totally freak out, just for a few minutes. I was suddenly acutely aware of the dangers that lie ahead for her, particularly because she isn't fully aware of just how gorgeous she is.

But, I guess that's why it's a good thing we get to watch her grow up slowly, and grow with her. Hopefully, by then, she will have a mature spirit, one that is sensible, responsible, and trusting of her parents' guidance and wisdom. I know I can't protect her forever, and that the best protection I can give her us to teach her how to behave and care for herself, and then to entrust her into God's care.

Sjoe!!! This parenting thing is hectic!!!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

9 little monkeys, jumping on the bed...

#2 turned 3 two weeks ago, but we only had his party with school friends today. He asked for a Curious George theme. 

Apart from making their own "George" masks (with prizes awarded for best mask), we acted out the monkey song, with 9 little monkeys jumping on the 'bed', while Mommy ran around and caught one of the monkeys in lieu of them 'falling off', and then they yelled the last line: "NO MORE MONKEYS JUMPING ON THE BED". Great fun! 

Of course, no impromptu game is without its mishaps. Ours included monkeys crawling off the 'bed' by themselves, monkeys crawling back onto the 'bed' by themselves, and ... HORRORS! ... the dog leaving a fresh present for us, that the 2 of the monkeys then walked through and carried back onto the 'bed' with them. YUCK! A quick bit of hosepipe action called for, on shoes and trampoline alike, while the monkeys were quickly hoisted to safety and the distraction of pass-the-parcel and cake!



This was my first EVER attempt at working with sugar paste/ gum paste/ sugar dough. Lessons learnt, definitely, but I'm pretty chuffed, actually, at how it turned out. I had to settle for something less fancy than I wanted, but I still think it's a cute cake.


#1 was upset that we didn't get to play the last game of 'pin the yellow hat onto George", because the monkeys got distracted by riding of scooters/ bikes on the driveway after cake. So, after everyone else left, we got to play a little game on our own - still lots of fun! PLUS, this is one game we can keep on playing for a while now, as we've got the poster and yellow hat all set up. Bonus!

As usual, Monkey was spoilt rotten and got lots of FABULOUS presents! I don't think there was a single present this year that I felt was either inappropriate. I just know he's going to love playing with them all. He got a scooter, several items of clothing (his current favourite of which is a blue zip-up hoodie with pockets), a rocket, a soccer ball and goals, LOTS of car/ truck items (one including a felt town background to drive them around on), several Lego "sets"/ items, a dinosaur set (with a Triassic era background to place them on), books, playdough, a hockey stick and ball, and lots of sweets! (And I'm sure I've forgotten something....) He is thoroughly spoilt, and we are so grateful to everyone for their gifts, which have (and will continue to) enrich his life over the coming months.

All round, a very successful afternoon, and well worth the hours and hours of effort to get everything set up for it.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My father's (grand)child

OK, from my last post, you know how much I adore my father, and how amazing he is. Well, blow me down with a feather if my daughter didn't prove that his blood flows in her veins tonight!

Chatting over supper, #1 informs us that the toilet broke again this afternoon. It's been doing that for a while now. It really needs a new flushing mechanism, but we just keep fixing it with various bits of McGyvering (I am my father's child, after all, and one of the lessons I've learnt well is that "... 'n boer maak 'n plan"). Why spend money when you don't need to, right?

Anyway, #1 then proceeds to tell us that SHE FIXED THE TOILET!

After we picked our jaws up off the table, we asked her how. Oh, says she, all so blithely, I took the lid off the toilet, and I saw the white thingy wasn't attached to the black thingy anymore, so I twisted it around a bit until I could push the black thingy [we clearly need to work on her vocabulary] back through the white thingy. I put the lid back on and then it flushed again.

Now I swear I haven't shown her how to do that, nor has DH. So she figured this out all by herself.

She definitely has my father's blood in her veins. My McGyvering daughter! Who would have thought?! I am one pretty proud mama right now!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A man for all seasons

June is definitely a month of remembrances for me! A week ago it was my son's birthday. This week it is my father's, and in between is Father's Day.

I know that all (okay, maybe not all, but let's go with the generalisation anyway) little girls think their dad is the best, but mine really is. The longer I'm a parent, the more I appreciate what an incredible father my own dad is. I know he would disagree. He often thinks he was/ is a failure as a parent. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's just that his standards for parenting are utter perfection - and if that were the standard, then no-one would ever make it.

My dad can make ANYTHING from ANYTHING. He's a real, living, breathing McGyver, except 100x better. He loves science, and particularly astronomy. He is brilliant at maths (especially calculus, which I abhor - AND he can work out logs in his head!). He enjoys soccer, cricket and rugby, but not half as much as he does athletics and gymnastics. (He was nearly a Springbok gymnast in his day.) He ran goodness knows how many Comrades and Two Oceans. He sails. He loves the rain, and a damp, lush garden. He loves jazz. He could spend days reading (science fiction or mysteries) if there weren't so many things to do around the house, or if there wasn't work to do. His general knowledge is phenomenal. The only things he can't do, are cook and sew.

My dad has a capacity for love that continues to astound me. He has learnt that people are more important than things, and over the years, "things" have lost their value for him. (Not to say that he doesn't appreciate the finer things in life, just that they're not as important to him as they were 3 decades ago.) He adores his kids, including his adopted ones, and he adores his grandchildren.

But to me, the most important thing about my dad, is that he never, ever gives up. Ever. He has faced life threatening situations in more ways than I care to remember - whether physically threatening, or financially, or emotionally. Yet, every time (after a period of deep sadness and maybe depression), he eventually picks himself up and carries on. He finds a way to go on living. He makes a plan. He's like a cat with 9 lives. Just when you're sure that this must be the end, he re-invents himself, re-imagines his life, and finds a new direction for himself.

If I was ever in a tight spot, he's the man I want in my corner. He believes in me, and supports me, and cheers me on. Everyone needs someone like that, fighting on their side. My dad's one of those I know I can rely on, no matter what. Even when I have stuffed up completely, he's there for me. Always.

Just by being who he is, my dad has taught me so much. He's taught me that:

  • it's not what you know (and this coming from the man who still knows SO MUCH MORE than I do) that counts, but who; 
  • it's not what you do that matters, but how; 
  • it's not how many friends you have, but the quality of those friends that counts;
  • it's not how much stuff you have, but whether you have the love of your family;
  • it's not about what sort of work you do, but about whether your work enables you to provide the necessities for your family;
  • it's not about what political values or opinions you have, but about whether are true to yourself and to God.
As I parent my own kids, I constantly measure myself against his standard. He taught me the value of hard work, of love, of family, and of how to stand on my own two feet. Good parenting is to teach your kids the character traits and values that will enable them to be independent, and to put their ultimate trust in God. My dad did that. I reckon that makes him a brilliant father.

I love you, Dad. You are awesome. Never under-estimate how incredible you are. I hope and pray that we have many more years together, so that my children can get to know the amazing man you are, and love you as much as I do, so that your legacy of wisdom and hope and love can continue for generations yet to come. Happy Father's Day, and happy birthday!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

And down they all go...

We are currently living in a house of invalids. Again. Sigh.

So I have really bad sinustis (homeopathic stuff didn't clear it; neither 1st nor 2nd lot of antibiotics have cleared it... looks like a 3rd dose is forthcoming, followed by ENT visit to determine whether operation is necessary). Yay.

Nathan has tonsillitis - 2nd bout in as many weeks. Oh yay. (In other news, his grommets have fallen out and his eardrums are fully healed; that's good, right? Yes, but only if the tonsillitis doesn't mean he needs to have another op to put another set in. Sigh. Yet another waiting game we will have to play.)

Nellie has a sore tummy and is coughing. Joy.

And Graeme... well, he keeps threatening to get sick, and I just keep threatening him back. ;) So far my tactic seems to be working. But no doubt, no sooner are the kids better and me mostly better, than he'll succumb.

WE NEED A HOLIDAY!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

YUCK!

So it seems that my sinuses are still infected. Another dose of antibiotics, with a good measure of cortisone, and sinus douching (YUCK!!). If that doesn't sort me out, the doc wants to refer me to the ENT and investigate having an op. Oh joy!

While I really don't like the thought of having this op, I have to say that the thought of putting up with yet more antibiotics, or pain, doesn't thrill me either. The amount of pain yesterday was unlike anything I've ever experienced. It felt like a migraine, but without the vision impairment. Eventually it was so bad that I threw up! I mean - seriously?!?! I've heard of people doing that before, but experiencing it myself was something else completely.

So - we wait now to see how this dose of drugs works. Not fun. Especially not the douching. YUCK! YUCK! YUCK! Hold thumbs for me, and cross everything that can be, and pray, pray, pray. I really don't want an op...

Monday, June 11, 2012

Birthday boy


Singing to him (and Sue) made him terribly shy... but not for long!



Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bonnievale worse than Hillbrow?

I heard some stories today about life in Bonnievale... horrific stories. Granted, it's hearsay, 3rd hand information, but the quote that stuck with me is that someone in power in the boxing world said he'd recently run a trial event with the youth in Bonnievale, and the aggression he saw there was worse than in Hillbrow.

With the recent death of a 6yr old, it would seem that things in Bonnievale are almost ready to boil over. Drugs is HUGE amongst kids. One 74yr old is working hard to change things there. She's got a programme going for pre-school kids, as well as for teenagers. Apparently, she told my source that many of the 18 yr olds she was working with did not even know what a toothbrush is for!!!

I don't really have many details, but I've asked for them. If even HALF of what I was told today is true, then Bonnievale is in desperate need, and I can't stand by and do nothing. I don't know what to do, but I know some people who might. I know my sleep will be troubled tonight, no doubts about that.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Three years ago

Three years ago I was already in hospital, BORED out of my mind. I'd been admitted a day earlier and was already just wishing it would all be over. I knew the induction lay ahead, and wasn't relishing the thought of being woken at midnight to start the process.

I was also terrified.

2 years before that I'd been this close to birth and then Zoe had died in utero, after labour had started.

I'd spent the entire pregnancy with Nathan trying so hard NOT to bond with my child, NOT to get attached to him, just in case I lost him too. I didn't think I could survive losing a second child. Yet, against my better judgement, in the third trimester, I'd realised that I couldn't help myself. I was already attached, both literally and figuratively. As my "dead baby thoughts" intensified, I fell more deeply in love with my baby.

So there I was, sitting in a hospital bed, bored, and desperate.

When I was finally woken at midnight, I knew the induction wasn't going to work - I don't respond to the gels; I only respond (and HOW!) to the injections/ drip. Eventually, at 5am, I was moved across, and given more drugs. By 10am, there was still nothing to report. I was tired (only having got to sleep around 10pm the night before! Hospitals are really noisy.) I was also starting to get worried. I slipped into the bath, to try and speed things up, and that's when these big clots (bigger than a R5 coin) starting pouring out.

TERROR!!!!

I jumped straight out again, the gynae was called, and we went into emergency mode.

After a further hour or so of hard labour (and it now being around noon), I was too tired to push any further. I was at the end of my strength, both physically and emotionally. I was terrified my child wasn't going to make it, and I just wanted to go to surgery and have a caesar.

At that point, I lifted my head, to tell my gynae that enough was enough and to just cut him out, when she grinned and said, "There's his head!" I looked down, and could see the crown of his head appearing. I knew then that the only way he was coming out was if I pushed - it was too late for surgery. So from somewhere deep inside (I still don't know how I did it), I pushed and pushed and pushed some more.

And then there he was - in all his nearly 4kg glory!

The relief at knowing he was safe, and alive, was so much, I basically just passed out on the bed. My job was done. I didn't care if he lacked fingers or toes, or if he was in any other way impaired. He was alive.

I then made Graeme swear to stay with him ALL the time - there'd been a recent spate of baby abductions from maternity wards and the last thing I needed was for my baby to be taken! - and then I really did fall asleep.

When it came to dedicate him to the Lord, my only prayer was that he would continue to bring joy into people's lives, and with that, healing, in the same way that his birth brought joy and healing into my life.

Bringing him into this world alive vindicated me in some way as a mother. I'd failed to do my job properly with Zoe - it's because of me that she died. I know that nothing I could have done could have saved her, because I didn't know about my APS then. Never the less, she's dead because of me. Yet, here I was, giving birth to another child, a living child. I'd overcome my disorder. I'd completed the circle.

And what joy! He was (and still is) a bruiser of a child. And given the amount of adrenaline floating in my blood while I was pregnant, how he turned out so joyful and calm (most of the time) is beyond me! He is a miracle.

As much as I love Janel (and how I love her!) Nathan is special to me in a way that she's not. I know that she is just as much a miracle, even more, because I wasn't on drugs through my pregnancy with her. Because I had to fight for Nathan though, he's got a special place in my heart.

Every day, as I was injecting myself, I would have to talk myself into it. It didn't get easier every day, as the gynae said it would. If anything, it got harder every day. Every day, I would have to tell myself that if I wanted Nathan to live, I had to do this. I had to stab that needle into my own flesh, and grit my teeth through the searing pain (I'm told an insulin injection is relatively painless). And every day I did. Every day I made the choice for him, in spite of what it meant for me. Every day I chose to do what was necessary so that he would live. It doesn't surprise me then, that he has such a special place in my heart.

Seeing him alive, every day, brings such joy into my heart. I thank God for him. Here's to the last 3 years with this very special little boy, who has brought me such love, and joy, and healing, and life. Happy 3rd birthday my precious baby! And here's to many more! May you grow to be all that God has planned for you to be, and to do.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Professional development in schools

Here is a post I've just written for my school, following on from an #edchatsa discussion on Monday. Comments and feedback appreciated!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Punishment vs. discipline

With all the talk about the Zuma spear, and whether the artist should be punished, I found tonight's session in the parenting course rather topical. What do you see as the difference between punishment and discipline? Is there a difference? Is punishment part of a discipline strategy? Are they two separate ideas, ideologically incompatible?

We were given an answer, which I happen to agree with, but before I give you that answer, I'd be interested in knowing how you see it. Do you discipline your children, or punish them, or both? How do you view these two concepts? How do you understand these two words?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I did it!

This is a short video I've edited from Monday, after an afternoon of Nathan playing on my laptop. Google Chrome has a nanny site called Zoodles. Once you've set up a profile, including the age, for your child, it selects appropriate games. You can veto any game it selects, but at least you know that the games your kid is playing are good ones. So, today, Nathan and I (since we were both sick at home) worked on his colour and shape recognition, as well as learning how to use the mouse on a laptop (not the easiest thing for a little one who isn't even sure whether he's right- left-handed!)

video

Monday, May 28, 2012

PAIN!

I'm usually so god with pain. I have a high threshold. I mean, I gave birth naturally to 3 kids (although, granted, with the second one I had morphine, but then, I think that's okay under the circumstances!). For 2 of them I had no epidurals, and I only had gas & air for the first one. I usually don't take pain killers unless the pain is REALLY bad - as in, migraine status.

But these past two days... this has been a completely different sort of pain, and to be honest, I've welcomed the drugs.

I have a cold. I know, I know - it's just a cold. However, my sinuses are so swollen (not congested, really, as I can breathe fine - it's not like flu) that my teeth ache so badly I can't eat. In fact, it's so bad that even with my mouth open, every step I take makes my teeth feel like I've just fallen 10ft and landed with a massive bump. OW!

Of course, this hasn't helped my (non-existant) diet, as I can suck chocolate and eat dunked rusks, and dip bananas in nutella or peanut butter....

But it's meant I've had to stay in bed cos otherwise I a) fall over or b) have to do this funny crab-like shuffle to keep from hurting my head and teeth.

Aaah, the "joys" of being sick.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Skies of freedom

One of the things I remember best about the UK is walking on the commons. Not because they were pretty, or anything, but because they were the only places in London where you could see the sky. The lack of open sky is one of the reasons I found London so oppressive. My spirit would long for weekends in Guildford, or anywhere out of the city, where the sky was unfettered, unimpeded. Returning to SA, one forgets all too quickly what a blessing it is to see the sky.

Just recently, in the maelstrom that has been my life, I would catch myself driving somewhere, paying no attention whatsoever to the road. Instead, my eyes would be glued to the sky. I would be drinking in the vastness of it, the colour, the wind-sweptness (is there such a word?)... eternity made visible. Somehow, blocking out everything else and just focusing on that would grant me enough peace to carry on. Similarly, when I felt I was drowning, I would find myself longing to be outside, staring up at the sky.

While browsing through my photos this afternoon, I realised how many photos I have of skies - cloudy, rainbows, sunsets, moon risings, sunrises, mountains lifted high against them, even an unintentional self-portrait of my hair against the sky.... It made me realise that there is something truly spiritual about skies. They breathe freedom into my life. (Maybe that's why prison cells have no windows with a view of the sky....)

I find it interesting therefore, that the gospels describe how Jesus left, rising into the sky. Revelation (not Revelations, people!), similarly, talks about Jesus returning from the skies. What is it about the sky that is so elemental, so fundamental, so profound? Is it merely that it is so vast? Or is there something more to it?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Beautiful on the inside

You know those moments that are just so precious, you want to stop the world and freeze-frame them? I had one of those this morning.

#1 was having a  friend for a play date today. As I was getting dressed I remembered that the play room was in a terrible state. I called her to ask her whether she had brushed her teeth, and if so, I was planning to ask her to go and tidy up. As I asked whether her teeth were brushed, she replied, "No, but I'm busy cleaning up the playroom because all the toys were spread all over and it's very messy. I'll do that as soon as I'm done."

My daughter. Clearly. She likes a neat, ordered space to work (play) in.

Then a few moments later, she appears again. "Mom, I want to put some flowers in a vase for XX. Can you help me?"

??!?!

Needless to say, I hurried to help her. We made a cute little posie of garden flowers in a small vase that is now sitting on her little tea party table.

I am so proud of her, so proud of the beautiful spirit she has, of the beautiful person she's becoming. I am so blessed to be her Mommy, and I told her as much. I know it's a small thing, but the respect, initiative and consideration for her friend that she showed this morning are actually really big things for me. They're life skills and I'm thrilled as punch that she's already showing she's learnt them (to some extent). Encore! 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Post-Apartheid demographics

I'm not a Born Free (i.e. born post 1994). I was born and raised under Apartheid. I benefitted from it to some degree, although I never voted for it. In fact, the first time I was able to vote was in the 1994 elections.

I try to treat all people equally. I try to look beyond the colour of a person's skin. In most cases, I think I'm successful. In I do notice skin colour, it's usually because something else has drawn my attention - nationality, socio-economic background, etc.

While I have an intellectual understanding of what it was like to be a non-white under Apartheid, that's all it will ever be. I frequently get frustrated that we haven't moved on from the "race thing" in SA, yet, periodically I am reminded that it's only the whites in this country that feel that way. For many blacks, coloured and Indians, the legacy of Apartheid is still very much a present reality.

Today I was reminded about this again. While having a discussion about how one should go about appointing teachers with some colleagues, I was amazed, yet again, by the passion with which various non-whites spoke regarding their disillusionment with the system - that it still fails to deliver the kind of equality it should.

I've deliberately chosen to send my daughter to a school that is majority non-white, over the closer (almost entirely) white school. I don't want my child thinking that majority white (or nearly all white) is normal. While academically it may be a better school, there's a lot more to life than academics! I want my kids to grow up with friends of colour (which has happened for my daughter). Our issue, instead of colour, is dealing with people of different faiths. (How DOES one explain to a child that while we may believe our God is the only God, her best friend believes something different, and that we need to demonstrate respect, love and tolerance towards her in that regard?) Similarly, I know that when it comes to choosing a high school for my kids, the demographics will have a big role to play in that.

I confess though that I do find this whole topic almost boring. On the one hand, I feel like telling those who bang on about how many white males or even white females (we're also not acceptable in this new country of ours) there are in positions of authority to just get over themselves. On the other, I sympathise with their plight - even nearly 2 decades is not long enough to erase the cultural brainwashing they received or to put right the educational wrongs that were perpetrated.

It feels like I'm stuck between a rock anda  hard place. I know that to put right the wrongs, to do the ethically correct thing, means that I and my children won't just be 2nd choice, or 3rd, or 4th, but completely last in job applications. The knock-on effects are huge - lower salary, poorer standard of living, fewer educational opportunitites, etc.

Of course, we have the alternative of leaving SA, but all over the world there are discussions about nationalism, and what it means to be "British", or "Australian", or "American", and immigrants and minority groups are given a raw deal. The grass isn't greener, necessarily, on the other side. It's just that today it didn't feel particularly green on this side either. I was very disheartened by the discussion I was part of - I felt like all the good we've been trying to do hasn't been seen; it's disregarded because it isn't enough.

As any good teacher will tell you, in order to know when you've reached your obejectives, you need SMART targets - specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and time sensitive. How will we know when we have reached the goal of being a fully integrated society? How will we know when we've hit the target and can do away with affirmative action (which, simplistically, is just Apartheid in reverse)?

And who will make the decision? If the youth make the decision, then their targets will be completely different to those chosen by the older generations. Who says which generation is more correct? Have we integrated if the youth no longer see the colour of each other's skins? Or will we be integrated when every institution has a demographically representative management (including those with disabilities, sexual orientations, genders, etc)?

Big questions - and not ones that will be easily answered, I guess.