Confessions of a Bibliophile

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Paradise

 

I sit here on yet another awesome Saturday morning of writing, with my dear friend Amanda. Only this time, our writing venue is itself an item on The List.  We’re in a building built in 1935, holding three floors of treasures, both old and new, being both a place of refuge and a place of learning, a place of pleasure for adults and children alike, and a place where a very specific musty smell permeates every breath – the Johannesburg City Library – a place I’ve wanted to visit for many years now.

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Johannesburg City Library 1935

Being my partner in crime for writing and seeking out unusual places to write about (and, in Amanda’s case, photograph), she blessed me with an exceptionally special birthday present for my 40th – in addition to a sentimental bottle of bubbles (a story for another occasion), I received a personal “voucher” for a trip to the Johannesburg Library, with Mands, for a writing morning. What could be better – being in a place I love, with a friend I love, doing something I love, surrounded by things I love.

I’ve been fascinated with books for as long as I can remember – one of the very first gifts I ever remember getting was a book. I must have been about three years old – Craig and I each received a book as a gift from a lovely lady who was friends with my folks and who had recently returned from some travels abroad. The fact that I can’t remember her name, but I can clearly remember the names of the books and can still see those pictures in my mind (I received The Gingerbread Man and Craig was given Rumpelstiltskin) is probably an indication of the prominence that books would play in my life.

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These are the actual covers of the books we received – brings back some earliest childhood memories. (Craige – remember??)

As you probably know, Craig is just more than a year older than me and so naturally he went to school a year before me.  (In that time, we didn’t have things like grade R or RR, you either went to nursery school, or “big” school, which you started in Sub A (which is Grade 1 for those of you that are too young to remember Sub A and Sub B)). I remember Mom and Craig sitting on the edge of Craig’s bed when Craig was in Sub A, doing his reading homework, and me – not one to be left out when a book was involved – sitting on the other side of Mom following where Craig was reading to her.  I’m pretty sure they thought I was just looking at the pictures – but in reality, Mom or Craig (or more likely both, were actually teaching me to read. They may have taught me unknowingly, but those reading homework sessions of Craig’s became priceless to me, and opened the world of books on a whole different level. (Of course, when I did start Sub A the following year, my teacher couldn’t believe that I could already read – I can honestly say though that this was one occasion where I wasn’t trying to be an over-achiever just to prove that I was “enough” in some way, and that it was purely because of my love of books).

The memories I have around books and reading are endless and varied. Some of the memories that remain particularly vivid in my mind centre around special times that I spent with my Dad on Saturday mornings when I was growing up.  Every second or third week, Dad and I would go on our regular Saturday morning outing.  (Craig came with sometimes, but seemed happier not to have to participate in what were probably considered mundane tasks for a Saturday morning).  Those Saturday mornings played out almost according to an unwritten formula – starting off at the building society to deposit some money, moving on to the butcher for some biltong and meat for the braai the following day, then the bottlestore for some beers for Dad, then on to town for the highlight of the morning, going to the public library.

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Remember these?

Entering the library with our plastic packet carrying the books that we had previously lent, we inevitably also had a handful of coins at the ready, because we were often late in returning the books, and so would get fined.  (The fines now seem laughable, but it was a fairly big deal to have to pay 50c or a Rand for being late!)  Those times were special – we’d spend a good half hour or more browsing through the rows and rows of books, overflowing with possibilities of new adventures and worlds to be found within the pages and, with new books under our arms, we’d then go visit Mom in the mall just down the road from the library where she worked most Saturdays. If I was lucky, after saying hi to Mom, we’d go and get an ice cream cone before heading home again with our new books. So yes, it may well sound somewhat mundane to some – but isn’t that what life is actually made up of? A bunch of small moments that, when you look back on them, you realise are actually big and meaningful moments. So it is with my Saturday morning library outings with Dad!

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Mrs Ploos – my teacher and mentor, and now my friend

I wouldn’t be able to write about books and their associated treasures without spending a few moments thinking about my high school English teacher, Mrs Ploos van Amstel (Hee hee, I know, not the most English-sounding surname for an English teacher :)) Mrs Ploos (as we affectionately called her) single-handedly cultivated in me a deep love for Shakespeare. She introduced and discussed Shakespeare’s works with us in a manner that made them so real, so meaningful and enthralling. And while some some of you may be rolling your eyes right now at the words ‘Shakespeare’ and ‘enthralling’ being used in the same sentence, I really did fall in love with Shakespeare’s works – a love that has remained with me and which is borne out by the fact that the most special books in my library are a set of Shakespeare plays that were published in the 1890s. I can take any one volume of that set off the shelf, open it at any page, just smell that “old book” smell, skim any words randomly, close my eyes and experience a moment of pure contentment. I’m still in touch with Mrs Ploos – the only difference is that she now insists I call her by her first name, Es. (Do you know how difficult it is to call your high school teacher by their first name?) I can never repay her for the love of Shakespeare (and much other literature) that she developed in me. Es – thank you! You will never fully know how much I appreciate your guidance and mentoring in my life. I love you!

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One of the precious Shakespeare volumes: 1895

When I moved into my home in January 2013, it was super exciting for me to have a garden and some more space, having previously lived in an apartment (which, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved!)  The first time I viewed what was soon to become my home, my folks came with me to have a look and I remember my Dad saying that it wasn’t even an option for me, because it had three bedrooms and what would I do with all that space?! Little did he know that it didn’t actually have three bedrooms – no, it had two bedrooms and a library 🙂 Since I was a little girl, I have always dreamed of having a library in my home one day. And although I had pictured it countless times in my mind, to the extent that it was virtually tangible to me, I never thought it would ever be possible. But clearly we should never give up on our dreams. Today my library is my escape, my haven, and my absolute favourite room in my home. A big couch (with enough space for both Chuckles and I to curl up on) with richly coloured throws and cushions, beautiful dark wooden floors and shelves and then, most importantly, my growing selection of precious worlds between pages – all of this accompanied, of course, by the old book smell that only a library can have (yes, even a private home library has that smell 🙂 )

I could spend the next fifty blogposts writing about my love of books, reading and all things related, and I still wouldn’t tire of it or run out of things to say.  For me, every book yields new adventures, different ideas, challenging insights…every book I have ever read has contributed to forming the person I am today. Books are powerful! And one day, I hope that the books I ultimately dream of writing will make an impact, even if it’s just on one person – that I may draw some readers into the worlds I create and leave them feeling just that little bit richer, and their hearts just that little bit fuller, for having read my musings.

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My 1890s Shakespeare collection – my pride and joy in my library at home

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The world (still) needs more hugs

Birthday2You may recall that in February I wrote a post called ‘The world needs more hugs’ and ended it with Virginia Satir’s expressed belief that “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.”  I had some awesome feedback about that post and about how it had encouraged some people to give more hugs, which absolutely thrilled me! But moving on from there, about two weeks ago I decided that would be a day on which I would contribute to the growth of everyone I interacted with… yes, everyone!  How could I could do that? Well, if it requires twelve hugs a day for growth, I determined that I would contribute to those twelve hugs a day we all require, and in so doing, hopefully contribute to the growth of everyone I interacted with that day. And, believe it or not, this was actually part of The List.  One of the items on The List (number 12, to be exact, although I’m not doing them in chronological order) is to “Hug every person you meet in a day”.

So, on my way drive in to work on 11 August (somewhere during my seven-minute trip, between flicking through radio stations, salivating in anticipation of my first cup of coffee at work and working out how far my running program dictated I had to run that evening during training), my thoughts turned to The List and the many items still to be accomplished. And I realised, the time had come… for “hug day”.

While I’m a naturally affectionate person, don’t just assume that hugging everyone would necessarily be an easy thing for me to do. It may well be easier for me than for many other people, given the fact that I am generally affectionate and quite tactile, but that doesn’t render it without its difficulties.  And so it was that, after declaring 11 August “hug day” in my mind, I was immediately overcome by anxiety, thinking of the people I was going to encounter during the day and where it would not come naturally for me to give them a hug. Let’s be real – we’re not best friends with everyone we interact with during our day and, going a bit further, there are some people we interact with who may not be our favourite people (and, in my case, I know that there is one particular person in the office who probably considers me his least favourite person).

I had to establish a couple of ground rules to start off with:  Firstly, I would hug everyone I encountered personally or interacted with that day – not everyone I saw! So, for example, I did not need to walk around Virgin Active that evening and hug everyone in the gym – that may (would!) just have been weird! Secondly, I would ask permission before I gave anyone a hug.  I know that personal space is often a touchy subject (pun intended), and I did not want to make anyone unnecessarily uncomfortable. Thirdly, I would explain to the person where required or appropriate that it’s “hug day” in my world, and I was seeking to spread some love and bring some smiles through hugging everyone I spoke to… provide a bit of context for them (so that not everyone thinks I’ve totally lost the plot!)

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Two of my favourites to hug – Abi and Chuckles. (And only a mother can hug Chuckles when he’s as filthy and wet as he is in this picture, after a swim in the dam on our recent weekend in Dullstroom!)

So I won’t go through the chronological detail of all the hugging that took place that day, but I can confirm that I duly did hug everyone I encountered.  I started with the first person I saw in the office, being our office manager (who is a great hugger 🙂 ) and made my way through the office hugging everyone, including our CEO (who was somewhat taken aback, but nevertheless accepted the hug). But I had to take a massively deep breath when Mr…. um… let’s just call him Mr NFN (Not a Fan of Nicky) walked into the office.  My colleague, Tam, sitting next to me immediately turned to look at me, knowing how anxious I was about this individual, urgently whispered to me to take a deep breath, get up, and go and hug him immediately… the longer I waited, the more anxious I would become.  So with a whole lot of trepidation, I walked into his office (where he was talking with the boss), explained that it was “hug day”, asked him for a hug, and then held my breath waiting for the disdainful response that I was sure was coming.  The boss laughed and responded that I had no chance of getting a hug from Mr NFN. So you can imagine both my (and the boss’s) surprise when Mr NFN turned towards me and opened his arms for a hug! Seriously?

And so the day continued with hugs for everyone – even a new service provider that came for an introductory meeting with us.  When the consultant from the service provider walked into the room, introduced himself and held out his hand to shake my hand, I asked him if I could rather give him a hug. While everyone else in the room visibly cringed, he readily agreed and our relationship was accordingly established through a hug.

And while I know that I was enjoying “hug day”, bring smiles and a bit of extra love to people that day, I also came to learn that the people around me were enjoying it just as much. After being out of office for a meeting in the afternoon, I got back to my desk where a Skype message was waiting for me, from my colleague and friend, Linda, who had clearly been told about “hug day” and thought I wasn’t coming back to my desk. Needless to say, Linda got her hug 🙂

Linda

There were two very interesting reactions that I have thought about many times since then.  The first was from a guy in the office whom I have worked with for just less than a year. When I approached him during the morning and and asked him for a hug, he responded with a mumbled (but firm) “no” accompanied by an embarrassed laugh. Notwithstanding that he is an introvert and fairly quiet, I didn’t expect that reaction, and it somehow left me feeling a bit embarrassed and exposed – notwithstanding that I realised it actually had nothing to do with me.

The second was from a lovely lady at Bryanston Virgin Active. She swiped my access card as I entered the gym and, when I asked her if I could please have a hug, she immediately came out from behind the counter, gave me a warm hug and asked me, more than once, if I’m okay.  Although I assured her I was fine, and that it was “hug day” in my world, she insisted in making sure that there was nothing wrong that required me to need hugs from everyone that day. She was the only person during the day who tried to dig a bit deeper to really check that I was okay, and given that I had never met her before and she had no idea what my story is, this really touched me.

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My special virtual hug

I haven’t sat down to try and count everyone I physically hugged on “hug day”, but at a rough guess, it was about 40 people. And even though I couldn’t physically hug everyone in my world that I would want to on that day, the day still  ended with a virtual hug from someone very special to me who was out of town at the time, and who gave me a virtual hug via whatsapp to end my day instead.

I think Virginia Satir would confirm that 11 August was, for me, definitely a day of growth, having far exceeded the twelve hugs needed for growth.  More importantly, however, is my hope that I contributed to the growth of those in my world.  When I said in my post in February that the world needs more hugs, I firmly believed it at the time. And I believe it even more now, having seen the impact that “hug day” can have on your world.

 Two important postscripts:

  •  A few days ago, the guy at work  who refused my hug came up to my desk and asked to speak with me privately. (Now just to contextualise, if you ask me if you can speak to me privately, I start stressing.  It’s the same as if you leave a message on my phone asking me to call you. I need to know what it’s about, otherwise my overactive anxious mind jumps to the worst, and I immediately start worrying about what I’ve said or done wrong.) Of course I agreed and, in a meeting room behind a closed door, he confessed that he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about the hug (or lack thereof). And he wanted to ensure that I didn’t take it personally, and that I knew it had nothing to do with me. He said that he is the most extreme introvert and was completely taken aback by my request. But most importantly, he wanted to make sure that I was okay about it, and knew that it was not about me. Wow! I had a lump in my throat. This man having the guts to chat to me about this – as an introvert, and someone who does everything possible to avoid confrontation, I knew how hard it must have been for him to chat to me like this.  And, despite the lack of a hug, my respect for him is tremendous.
  •  The second postscript is more of a personal one and relates to the virtual hug that ended “hug day” for me.  That hug was sent to me from a man in my life whom  I have known for about nine months now and who has become very important to me.  Our relationship has gone through interesting times, and sometimes months have passed between when we have seen each other or chatted. Yet somehow we have always reconnected.  This man has been through a lot over the last two years or so and I have given him as much support and space as I could.  However, after recognising that I was starting to fall in love with this man, the reality was that we seemed to have different perspectives on our relationship and, a few days after the virtual hug, I lost him.  My heart is  sore. Very very sore. I was hoping to build a relationship with this man that would last a long time.  Why am I telling you this? Because the virtual hug I referred to above in this blog, is somewhat bittersweet to me as I look back on it now.  It was the last hug I received from him…and I didn’t know it at the time. So take the time to appreciate the hugs you give and you get. And never stop giving them! Your life and the lives of everyone in your world will be so much richer for it. 
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I wrote a letter to my love…

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I bought this tshirt for Abi last year when I was at Le Tour in Paris (and naturally she was never far from my mind)

Do you remember playing that game as a child? All of us sitting in a ring, most often at someone’s birthday party, with one person going around the outside of the ring with something akin to a letter in his hand and the rest of us chanting “I wrote a letter to my love and on the way I dropped it. Someone must have picked it up and put it in his pocket. It wasn’t you, it wasn’t you, it wasn’t you…” until someone was tagged “it was you!” and had to get up and sprint after the person who dropped the ‘letter’ and try and catch them before they sat in the empty space in the ring. (Repeat ad infinitum for purposes of a kids’ birthday party 🙂 )

Letter-writing is, however, so much more than a game. It’s an art. And there’s a reason why it is so often referred to nowadays as a lost art, given the instant communication we engage in, trying to say the most things in the least letters (but let me not get started on my pet peeve of text-speak…aaargghh!!!) I think you’ll struggle to find anyone in this world who doesn’t appreciate receiving a letter – the mere knowledge that someone somewhere took time to sit down and devote time to writing to YOU, and when time is the most valuable currency we have, I always find it an honour to receive a letter or a card.

Before any of you get carried away with wondering whether I’ve met my knight in shining armour given that I’ve referred to writing a letter to “my love” in the title of this blog, let me quickly say that alas, that has not happened yet. I have, however, written a letter to someone whom I love more than life itself. Let me explain.  Another contribution from Nicky to The List was to “Write a letter to your niece filled with all the lessons you have loved learning for when she turns 40.. or 18, or 21 or 30“. And it was a no-brainer that I would follow through with this suggestion when it combines two of my loves (being my niece and writing).

In thinking about the letter to write to Abi, however, I realised that there is so much more that I want to say to her, than I can fit in just one letter.  And about a wider variety of topics than only the lessons I have learned that I want to pass on to her.  I’m sure you’ve picked up through my previous posts and, on a much more regular basis, through my Facebook posts how much I absolutely adore Abi, my princess.

I remember every minute of 26 January 2014 when I was waiting at the hospital for Abi to be born and then the miraculous moment of seeing Abi for the first time. A part of my heart melted at that exact moment – a part that would from then forevermore belong to Abi. I regard it as significant that I was the first person after Craig and Keri to hold Abi in my arms. And instinctively, the first thing I said to Abi as I looked into her precious face, was “I love you”. I knew then, as I know now, that Abi and I will always have a very special bond and relationship, and I intend guarding that fiercely.

So back to my letter to Abi.  Despite knowing how special it is to receive handwritten letters, I decided to take a different approach given that I don’t just want to write one letter to Abi.  I want to write a few – maybe 5, maybe 50, maybe 500 – who knows? But I want to be able to write a letter to her at any time, and about anything – so that when she is 18 or 21 or whenever the right time is, I can hand them over to her, and she can know how loved she has been and what a role she has played in my life. So, instead of handwritten notes, I decided that I’m going to email her from time to time.

This idea was clearly written in the stars some time ago (and way before the concept of The List came into being), because just after Abi was born I created an email account for her on gmail. I didn’t yet know what I was going to use it for, or whether I’d give it to her as soon as she was old enough to be emailing…I just didn’t know. But now – it’s perfect. I’m going to be using her email address to send emails to Abi from her Aunty Nix.  And yes, I’m sure they’ll include some valuable lessons learned in life as initially proposed by Nicky for The List – but they’re certainly also going to include some other things that are more general, some recollections of funny, happy times, some sharing of emotions and thoughts, some encouragements, sometimes even feelings about disappointments – some things that I just want to tell her, so that she’ll one day have some more insight into her Aunty Nix and realise very clearly how loved she has always been by me!

And so it was that, last week, I went to the Grosvenor Seattle coffee (which you’ll remember from my last post “won” my best coffee in Bryanston project), and sat myself down with my “tall skinny cappuccino, in a takeaway cup, extra hot” and my laptop, and wrote my first email to Abi. And, with it being electronic, I could even attach a video clip  to the email, which will no doubt embarrass her and make her giggle when she’s all grown up! And the email wasn’t about anything particularly spectacular – it was just a message from the heart for Abi from her Aunty Nix. So Abi’s inbox, as you can see below, now has one unread mail… the first of many….

Abi email

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Anyone for coffee?

coffee5It’s been a strange time over the last month since I turned forty – rather difficult to put into words (and for me, who loves and thrives on words and language, that’s saying a lot).

Today, however, is probably not the right time for me to be delving into that “strangeness”, and trying to figure out all the mixed emotions that seem to have followed me over the past month.  Why? Why don’t I want to try and explain and share some of this strangeness (because we all know that, if nothing else, I’m always real!) – to be quite frank, it’s because I’m not feeling quite strong enough today. While it’s a public holiday here in South Africa and I imagine most people are enjoying a day off work and spending time with loved ones, the last few days have been rough for me, and there have been moments when the anxiety has been overwhelming. So I’m doing some introspection, which includes figuring out my worth and my consequent boundaries (which has always been a challenge for me).  And one of the unfortunate things when you suffer from depression is that you don’t necessarily see your worth in the same way that others do and, as such, the introspection is not always pretty.

But moving on. I met Nicky for coffee this morning which, in itself, is nothing unusual as Nicky and I often meet for coffee, lunches, catch-ups, bubbles and all manner of good things, and probably see each other most weekends.  So what was so special about coffee this morning that has prompted me to write about it? Well, it has to do with another item on The List (which coincidentally was contributed by Nicky).  Nicky suggested that I discover the best coffee in the neighbourhood – whether that be my home suburb of Bryanston, the greater Sandton, trendy Braamfontein or wherever I choose.  This was not going to be a hard task – I love coffee as much as I love bubbles! So, without making a specific choice as to which area was going to become my subject, I started taking particular note of the coffee at the various places at which I’ve had coffee over the last few months (of which there are many!) so that I could come up with the winner for The List.coffee2

As can be expected, I had a number of different experiences – different tastes, quality, roasts, temperatures and ambiances in which the coffee was served.  In no particular order, there was the faithful Woolies cappuccino (and I say ‘faithful’ because it is of a consistent quality – you always know what you’re getting, no matter which Woolies Cafe you go to). There was the coffee at Tasha’s at Atholl Square, which was unfortunately a bit weak for my liking. There was Motherland at Dunkeld – lovely rich (but not overpoweringly strong) coffee, but a bit of a hit-and-miss experience with regard to friendliness of service (which is super important to me!). Mugg n Bean – often great coffee because I associate it with the halfway point at the 1-stop on the N3 on the way to Durbs. Are you starting to see the pattern of how other things are affecting the coffee experience?

And then, of course, there’s Seattle at Grosvenor Crossing, where Themba and his team greet you by name when you walk in the door (having remembered your name by the second or third time you’ve been there). And without fail, they make me giggle.  My coffee order is pretty consistent (as any of my friends will tell you) – tall skinny cappuccino in a takeaway cup, extra hot (or sometimes hot, hot, hot) please. And so at Seattle, when I walk in the door, I am greeted with “Tall skinny cappuccino today? Extra hot, like you!)” How can that not make you smile?! Glenda’s at Hyde Square was lovely, had quite a “posh” feeling associated with it and who can forget Naked Coffee at Melrose – excellent coffee, made triply enjoyable by the fabulous barista there, Mpho.  He is a real gem and, even though I’ve only been there once, he made such an impression on me and I will carry on recommending Naked Coffee because of him alone (although, like I say, the coffee was fab!).

So many options – and I’ve only mentioned a couple of them above.  So which one was going to be the winner? And on what criteria would I make the selection?

At the risk of disappointment and an anti-climax, ultimately the winner is not one of the above. Rather, to an extent, it is all of them… and none of them. Let me explain.

coffee1What I discovered is that, as I have already alluded to, there are a myriad of factors that influence the coffee experience – factors completely outside of the strength, roast and quality of the brew. And the biggest factor? Without any doubt, the company! Which brings me full circle to my coffee with Nicky this morning. We met at the Woolies cafe in Morningside (so it was sure to be a ‘faithful’ coffee) and, even though I spent most of our time together with tears falling into my coffee, I can still say it was one of the best coffee experiences. Why? I was with a best mate, I was listening to her exciting story of an evening out a few nights ago, and she was listening to my ‘stuff’ and supporting me through the tears. So even though my tears could have overwhelmed our time together, on the contrary it was an awesome coffee experience evidencing the depth of our friendship.

And so it is that I’ve realised that as with most things in life, it’s all about the people.  I have coffee traditions with so many important people in my life – Penny and I used to have coffee together every morning when we both worked at ENS, which was replaced by coffee (still virtually every morning) at the Vida e Cafe on Fredman Drive after she left ENS.  That Vida saw its share of laughter, tears, frustration, relationship analysis and virtually everything else through us.

Mands and I meet once a month on a weekend morning for a coffee and writing morning, where we drink good coffee (that’s still important!) and work on our respective blogs (take some time to see Mands’ awesome blog at http://cleanlivingchronicles.co.za). It’s an awesome focused time to write, but in the best company, which gives both the coffee and the writing a whole new meaning.

There are so many other examples of awesome “coffee mates” and experiences which are all about the company more than the coffee – Dannean, Jules, Angela, Heather, Ingrid, Christine, to name but a few (and who I’ve pictured here above). And let’s not forget John (who only drinks tea, but it’s still a “coffee experience” for me). coffee7John and I have coffee/tea together virtually every day at the office (sometimes just instant coffee in a big mug – see? nothing fancy, it’s the people!)

If I absolutely had to choose the best coffee in my area for purposes of The List (purely on the basis of taste), I’d send you to Seattle at Grosvenor Crossing – that would be my favourite. BUT (and it’s a big ‘but’) I cannot emphasise enough that, for me, it’s the company that dictates the coffee experience. So to every person that I’ve had coffee with over the years – thank you! A coffee experience is, for me, a bonding experience and a special experience. Thank you for being part of my world.  And to those “extra specials” whom I have coffee with SO often – know that for me a coffee meeting is a “heart” meeting – I love you!

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Some things are forever…

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Getting some love from my gorgeous boy before my birthday party

Having officially reached the big four-oh last week (eek!), the question I’ve been asked most is whether I’ve managed to tick off everything on The List. I’m surprised (although pleasantly so) that this question is what is most top-of-mind for the people in my world when considering my fortieth, but I am significantly encouraged by this! I am so very blessed to have had all of you join me and become so involved on this journey to live the days and months before (and around) my 40th birthday intentionally and with meaning. Thank you!! And to answer your question – No – I haven’t come close to completing The List. BUT (and it’s a big but)… my story isn’t over yet. I’ve decided to extend the time period for completing The List until the end of this year, so the journey rather becomes my “40 before the end of the year in which I turn 40”.  A mouthful, I know, as well as clearly taking a bit of poetic license – but hey, I’m 40, it’s allowed!

Although there were two fairly big things that I ticked off The List before the actual big day on 23 May, I’ll confine myself to just telling you about one of them for now, which happened a week before my birthday when I found myself heading down to Parkhurst on a cold and rainy Sunday morning, for an appointment I’d booked a few weeks back. You’d be forgiven for thinking I’d booked a luxurious pedicure, facial or massage – after all, a girl turning 40 deserves to treat herself with some pampering.  However, it was a far bigger treat than that – I had an appointment at Hardcore Tattoos to unveil another personal and permanent expression of myself.

I know that just the name ‘Hardcore Tattoos’ probably conjures up images of tattoo-COVERED bodies, leather, darkness, piercings and all such things that may well have been associated with tattoos in the 80s and 90s. The reality, however, is totally different. Yes, the artists themselves may have more tattoos and piercings than your regular man on the street…but they’re artists! They express themselves far more freely than the rest of us generally do (and I, for one, think we can learn a lot from such freedom and confidence). In real life, the studio is open, clean and, above all, everyone is super friendly. So even when you hesitatingly edge in there for the first time feeling like a bit of a fraud (well at least that’s how I felt the first time – after all, I’m generally a clean cut and fairly conservative girl who you ordinarily may not expect to find in a tattoo parlor) you are welcomed with genuine smiles and warmth, and made to feel immediately at ease.

A couple of things before I tell you more about my latest ink expression that I acquired that day (and which I wanted to acquire before my birthday as an item on The List): this is my fourth tattoo. When I had my first one done (in May 2012), everyone told me that tattoos are addictive and I would soon get many more. I scoffed at them – I wanted ONE tattoo, that was it! And it was my life word “believe”, which I have permanently inscribed on the inside of my left wrist. I love the script, the word, the meaning…I love everything about it and just knew that was the only tattoo I would ever want or need. (Haha). However, even at the age of 35, I was still somewhat concerned as to what my parents would think of it when I showed them. I needn’t have worried about my mom – when she saw it (and finally believed me that it was real), her spontaneous response was “I want one too!” 😊 Dad, on the other hand, was somewhat less charmed (let’s just leave it at that).

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I am African – not because I live in Africa, but because Africa lives in me

My second piece of art came a year later and was no surprise to those of you who know me well and know how passionate I am about South Africa and about being African. Africa will always be in my blood – and now I have a permanent reflection to the world of the importance of Africa to me.

I’m still not one who says tattoos are addictive, but I can attest that the beauty of a tattoo and the art of tattooing grows on you much more when you have one and, for this reason, I think you become a lot more open to the possibilities of other tattoos. I won’t go into too much detail about my third tattoo, as I have already mentioned it in one of my previous blogs – it’s Chuckles’ pawprint, which I have on my left shoulder just above my heart.

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Even when Chuckles is not with me, his pawprint is always right above my heart

As I’ve shared previously, Chuckles lives in the centre of my heart, and this way he is always with me. And yes, it is his actual pawprint. It’s my favourite tattoo because of the depth of meaning it has for me.  (I still giggle now thinking back on the time when I showed the pawprint to my dad. He looked at me, visibly trying not to grimace, and pronounced that he “did not approve”. While not intending to be disrespectful in any way, my response was “Dad, I’m 38 years old. I don’t need your approval for this. And I’m sorry you don’t like it. Just as well I didn’t get it for you, I got it for me”.  This exchange highlights a couple of things for me…firstly, tattoos aren’t for everyone – I completely understand and accept that.  And secondly, you get a tattoo for yourself, not for anyone else. It’s an extremely personal (and hopefully meaningful) thing. It’s the art you choose permanently for your body. Yes, it is art! And in exactly the same way that we don’t all have the same taste in painting or sculpture, so we won’t have the same taste in tattoos. But that’s okay – we don’t have to like it, but we do need to respect each other’s choice of art.

And so full circle… there I was, on that rainy Sunday morning a few weeks ago, in the capable hands of Chelsea (who did my pawprint tattoo as well – she is fabulous, funny (and loves dogs!) and I highly recommend her), trusting her to bring the vision of my next piece of ink to life.   (Dad – don’t stress, it’s just a tiny semicolon!)

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My semicolon – so simple, but so meaningful

Prior to sharing the symbolism of the semi-colon with some of you on my birthday a week ago, I know all except a few of you would have been wondering why on earth I’d want to have a punctuation mark permanently imprinted on my body.  Even if I am passionate about books and writing, surely that’s a bit much? Well this semicolon is much more than a mere punctuation mark – it is a bold statement, and a symbol of hope and possibility. You will know by now that I was very ill a few years ago, and ended up in the Sandton medi-clinic for a few weeks. And while most of you will know that I was suffering with severe depression at the time, many of you will not know that I was suicidal, feeling no hope whatsoever. I had the manner, the means and the details of my suicide planned, the only thing that remained was to fix the time for it (which I was ultimately saved from doing through being hospitalised). From being at rock bottom, seeing no hope or light, there was simply no way that I could have imagined that, four years later, I would now be at this point in my life – celebrating (yes, celebrating) my fortieth birthday, surrounded by amazing people in my world, looking back on the last few years of family, friendships and adventures, and having dreams of what may still be to come.

Yet, here I am indeed…and it’s for this reason that I have my semicolon. The semicolon has become an international symbol for those who have attempted suicide or been suicidal. Just as a semicolon is used in writing where the author could have put a full stop, but chose to rather put a semicolon and carry on with the sentence, as the author of my life I could have chosen to put a full stop in my life in 2012.  However, I instead chose to use a semicolon. It’s my symbol that my story did not end there, that there’s more to come.

For me, it is best explained in the words of Lewis Thomas, who said:

“I have grown fond of semicolons in recent years. . . . It is almost always a greater pleasure to come across a semicolon than a period. The period tells you that that is that; if you didn’t get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with a semicolon there you get a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer.”

So this small but powerful tattoo, which is on my right index finger where I will see it all the time, is my constant reminder to stay strong, be expectant, things are getting clearer, there is more to come….

Postscript: although I generally talk quite openly about depression, and the difficulties I have had to face because of and through it, my heart is beating a thousand times a minute as I prepare to hit ‘publish’ on this post which reveals details of the depth of my despair in 2012 that may make some people uncomfortable.  But I will nevertheless press the ‘publish’ key…and hold my breath…and hope that my vulnerability has not scared you away.

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In it for the long run…

I didn’t grow up running – in fact, I hated it! I was a tennis player through school and varsity – there was no mention of running anywhere other than around the tennis court in those days.  (In fact, when it came to the school athletics day when it was compulsory for every girl to participate in at least one event, my house teacher diplomatically suggested (or instructed!) that I do shotput! Enough said.

But after I was unceremoniously thrust into running a half marathon in Knysna in 2007 (thanks Craige!), my road to running (pun intended) started and I strunning8arted entering a few races, going to time trials and including a run or three in my week. I was purely a social runner. Yes, by that I mean a slow runner – I kept the back of the pack going nicely, thank you very much. I’d love to tell you that I enjoyed every step of my running, but very often it was far more the feeling of accomplishment after the run was finished than the run itself – I know you understand 😊 So after having not run for a good year or so and, even then, run relatively little for quite some time before that, one of my mate Nicky’s contributions to The List was to run another half marathon.

And before you think you know where this post is going and this is going to be some motivational post about getting off the couch and getting active, I’m not about to tell you about the training I did for the race (which wasn’t enough) or any magic strategies I implemented going into the race that I chose. Suffice to say that yes, I did it 🙂 I finished the Pick n Pay half marathon on 14 February 2016 in a time that I was properly chuffed with. And I finished it because in my mind I knew I could – I knew that, despite not being quite fully trained for it, I had it within me to finish the race, and to finish it strong.

And so it is that I’d like to share with you the story of a seemingly impossible race for me where I only finished because I mentally knew I could.

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Still happy and smiling at the 8km mark on my marathon

Some years back after having completed quite a few half marathons, I decided that I wanted to run a marathon.  I may well have had too much champagne when I made that decision, or I may have been just unrealistically inspired by my brother, who has completed seven Comrades ultramarathons, countless marathons and two IronMan events. He is my inspiration and my hero on so many levels in life.  Nevertheless, having made the decision, I marked the marathon on the calendar that I was aiming for – Waterval Boven 3-in-1 – and trained religiously, slowly building my mileage up. Even after not being allowed to train for six weeks before the race because of an injured foot, I lined up at that Start Line, ready to take on my marathon, both literally and figuratively.

I will not subject you to a ball by ball commentary of my marathon – but what I will tell you is that as I crossed that Finish Line, some five and a half hours and 42.2 kilometres later, the lump in my throat that had been with me since about the 20km mark, finally gave way and the tears started to fall.  And while being hugged by Mom and Dad (who had made the journey to support me along the road) I said to them through the tears “I bet, when I was born, you didn’t think I’d ever run a marathon!” By this stage Mom was crying too and then either Mom or Dad (I can’t remember who it was through the tears and emotion of that moment) said “When you were born, we didn’t even know if you’d ever walk, let alone run a marathon!”

The reality is that I was born with a club foot. For those of you that don’t know what that is, essentially my left foot was turned inwards and upwards – the level of severity of my club foot was such that my toes were virtually touching my shin (and hence my parents’ fear about being able to walk). While there are many newer and successful methods of treatment of clubbed feet today, some 40 years ago a club foot required fairly extensive surgery, often without significant success.  My lower left leg was in a cast for much of the first year of my life (with the cast being redone every six week to try and straighten the bones as much as possible) and I had three sets of surgeries.  The first was when I was a few months old, the second when I was 3 years old and the last when I was 5. And in between that, as a toddler going off to nursery school, I had to wear some sturdy black boots (the type that are often accompanied by callipers and are (or were) fairly common for kids who have had polio).  And those boots hardly came off. To this day I recall a nursery school ‘report card’ from when I was about 3 or 4, specifically commenting on the fact that I apparently “happily” wore my boots in the playground while all the other kids were running around barefoot on those hot Free State summer days. My casts and my boots were just part of who I was.

All credit to my parents, who never let the disability hold me back in any way.  Despite the surgeries, they didn’t make me feel different because of my foot – the only thing I knew as a little girl was that one foot was smaller than the other, it looked a bit different, and I couldn’t balance on my left leg. (I love it how simple things are at that age!)  I certainly didn’t think there was any reason for me not to be out running around and playing sport with the other kids. I played (and excelled in) tennis, and loved being out on the court.  I remember one Saturday morning in Standard 9 (that’s Grade 11 for my younger friends out there!) going to a first team tennis practice with a new coach and, when explaining the first set of drills which involved some sprints and skipping, he turned to me and asked if I’d be able to manage that with my foot.  I was so offended – how did he think I got to play tennis for the first team if I couldn’t run or skip? (Yes, I know in retrospect he was being considerate, but try tell that to a 15-year old!)

You may wonder what the relevance is of all of this to The List – why am I sharing this story ? Well, taking on that marathon is the one and only thing I’ve ever taken on in my life (so far) purely for the purpose of proving that I can do it despite my foot.  And I didn’t want (or need) to prove it to Mom, Dad, that tennis coach or anyone else – it was solely to prove to myself that I could do it, that I was stronger than some physical disability. And I was. I am.

Physically, have I let my foot impact me? Hardly. Yes, I limp when I’m tired and I often have people asking me what’s wrong or if I’m okay and I wonder what they’re on about, until I realise I must be tired and I must be limping a bit more than I appreciate.  Probably the biggest impact is when I go shopping for shoes. And before you laugh and shake your head concluding that it’s always about shoes with girls 🙂 let me fill you in. I long to wear a pair of glamorous heels, but unfortunately I can’t.  With virtually no mobility in my left ankle and overpronating substantially, I am physically not able to walk in heels.  So my dream of wearing a pair of high-heeled knockout glamorous shoes, will remain a dream. And when buying shoes, I need to buy two pairs every time – my left foot (or my ‘little foot’ as my family affectionately calls it) is a size 3 and my right foot is a size 6.   In addition to this often being practically difficult as a shop doesn’t always have both sizes in a particular style, you can imagine it’s also expensive. But if those are my biggest physical limitations, then I’m doing well (and better than my parents could ever have imagined when I was born).

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Mom and Dad – thanks for believing in me. Love you more than words can ever express!

Emotionally, however, my disability has impacted me. Like I said, my parents were amazing, but as I grew older, I saw that I was different to the other kids. And so started the striving to be “good enough”. I felt that because I had a disability, I had to make sure I made up for it in every other aspect of my life.  So I tried to be the child who never caused problems or issues and just tried to make sure everyone else was happy – in some way trying to justify my place in the world.  And let me be crystal clear – my parents only ever encouraged and supported me. They in NO WAY made me feel “less than”.  The striving to feel as good as everyone else was all self-imposed – and it’s amazing to me now to see the complicated emotions and strategies we can teach ourselves from a very young age!

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My brother, my hero

Bottom line… despite the physical and emotional impact of my club foot, it’s part of who I am. I’ve earmarked my next marathon and I’m in this for the long run, both physically and metaphorically. Most importantly, this is a big thank you to Mom, Dad and Craige who have supported me in everything I’ve put my mind to, including climbing mountains and running marathons – it’s because of you that I know that physically I can do (virtually) everything that anyone else can do. I know that there are times when it must have been hard for you, when you have wondered why certain things turned out the way they did – but thank you for never letting me see that, and for only letting me believe that I was perfectly made.

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The centre of my heart

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Wind in my hair, sand beneath my paws – pure joy!

When thinking about where to go for a coffee and some writing time on this lazy Saturday morning in March, I knew I needed somewhere with good coffee (obviously!), a place you could sit outside to enjoy the awesome end-of-summer weather and, most importantly, a place that allows dogs.  And so, as I sit here at the Mugg ‘n Bean in Lonehill (which fulfills all of these criteria), with Chuckles next to me, I am struck by how much my life (and my requirements for an ideal coffee shop) have changed over the last few years.

Not only have my requirements for a coffee shop changed, but similarly my requirements for a weekend break or a holiday.  I’m sure it wouldn’t surprise you that one of the items on The List was a trip to the coast for a long weekend – for some long walks on the beach, fresh air, sun, sea, ocean spray… and just to feel the sand beneath your paws! Yes, you read that right… paws! Because on The List was to take Chuckles on another beach holiday!

I first took Chuckles to the beach about two years ago, when my dear friend Penny invited Chuckles and I to join her and her family in Zinkwazi Beach.  I had no idea how Chuckles would react to the beach and the waves (particularly given that he took a few years to learn how to swim!), but surprisingly he had absolutely no fear and cavorted in the shallows as if he’d grown up on the beach (as opposed to being a Sandton dog!).

And so I wanted to have Chuckles experience that again – I knew that seeing him so happy and carefree would bring me as much (if not more) happiness as it did him. I’m like any mom that way – just wanting to see their child happy, having fun, fearless and carefree, and enjoying even simple experiences to the full.

After endless searches for pet-friendly accommodation (which is a lot harder to find than you may think), Chuckles and I headed for Salt Rock on the north coast at the end of February. And immediately after checking in at our beautiful apartment, we headed down to the beach in the late afternoon to feel the sea sand between our toes and breathe in the sea air as soon as possible.  And again, my heart just melted at the sight of my boy running through the sand and the waves.  (He didn’t venture in to the sea very far…in fact, he didn’t venture in at all, he only got wet when the waves came closer to him than he’d been expecting and he couldn’t get away fast enough 🙂 ) I don’t think it was a coincidence that these first photos I took of him that evening shows his footprints having formed the pattern of a heart, with him in the middle.

Whenever I’m trying to explain to someone how much my precious Chuckles means to me, I always say that he lives in the centre of my heart – it’s the best way I know to explain it. And as I said at the outset, I still can’t believe how much my life has changed since it was blessed with Chuckles.

You would, by now, have seen many photos of Chuckles – both on this blog and on my Facebook page. So you’ll know that he’s a maltese (albeit a ‘giant maltese’ as I call him..the biggest maltese most people have ever seen. Hee hee, when he was a puppy, I feared he was going to grow into the Dulux dog when he didn’t stop growing 🙂 ).  A few months ago, my dad asked me how I came to choose Chuckles, given that I had never had an affinity for small dogs.  And my response was simple and immediate: “Dad, I didn’t choose Chuckles. He chose me.”

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“Why is there soil inside, Mom?” Such an innocent puppy after digging up the potplant!

Let me take you back to an ordinary Saturday morning in March 2012. It was just over a month since I’d come out of hospital, and I was trying desperately to put my life together again.  So that Saturday morning saw me doing normal Saturday morning chores at the Morningside shopping centre, when I bumped into one of my best mates, Nicky.  After hellos and hugs, she told me about these gorgeous puppies she had seen in the petshop downstairs and asked me to come with her and have a look.  Now, for the record, I HATE petshops – they break my heart. And I would normally find a reason to say no – but I found myself saying yes (thinking to myself “just humour her, she’s your friend, just go”). So Nicky and I headed down to the petshop and as I walked inside, there was a cage front and centre, with this little bundle of cream fur inside and which I found myself making a beeline for.  (Evidently there were some spaniels in the window, which is what Nicky actually wanted to show me as I’ve always loved spaniels, but I didn’t even see them).

I wasn’t looking for a dog, had no plans to get a dog, and yet when I picked up this bundle of fur and snuggled him in my arms, I just knew I was going to be taking him home with me. I was too smitten to be logical about any aspect of this experience, and unbeknownst to me Nicky was checking his paws, checking his eyes and checking for various other signs of health (Thanks Nicks!) while I was falling in love. (The one thing I do remember is that while I was cuddling the bundle of fluff, a little girl of about five or six came up and wanted to stroke him in my arms and was in the process of calling her parents over to tell them that she wanted him.  And Nicky, in her inimitable fashion, told the little girl to “Back off. We have a credit card, you don’t”. Hahahahah – I still giggle about that moment now.)

So, moving forward, precious Chuckles joined my world on that day in March – a day which started out as ordinary and turned into being extraordinary and the day that my life changed forever for the better.

I can’t begin to explain everything that Chuckles means to me and I could never hope to convey it fully.  I know, though, that I feel about him the way others would feel about their human children. He is my child – the centre of my world and my heart.  And he is the happiest dog you’ve ever met – people always comment on that.  He doesn’t have an angry bone in his body and loves everyone and everything. And heaven help anyone who refers to him as “just a dog” – he’s not “just” anything – he’s everything to me!

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My friend Max and I (with Chuckles’ pawprint always with me!)

And if anyone didn’t know how much he means to me, they would certainly be able to guess it if they met me and saw my tattoo. I have Chuckles’s pawprint tattooed on my shoulder – and it’s not just a generic pawprint, but his actual pawprint. It’s my favourite tattoo and an indication of how much he has impacted and changed my life.  On my journey of healing, Chuckles has done more for me than any medication and therapy could have.  And I know this is true for many people (I think Discovery should start offering benefits and subsidies for having dogs in your life, the same way they subsidise you going to the gym – it makes you healthier!).Chuckles9

So, if you want to call me a crazy dog lady – go ahead, I’ll be honoured, because that just means that it’s evident how much I love Chuckles and what an integral part of my life he is. I’d prefer, however, that you are merely grateful for the love he continually gives me, and the joy he brings to my life. I wish moments of that kind of joy for all of you – they are priceless!

**Postscript: this morning (which is a few days after writing this post, but before it was ready to be published) I had a bit of a rough morning. I was lying in bed and was just incredibly sad because of a number of things that have happened over the past few days. And as I lay there and cried, Chuckles came across to me and gently licked the tears off my face as they rolled down my cheeks. There are no words to describe love like that.

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The world needs more hugs

In the two months that have passed since I first started writing this blog, I have (only) written five blog posts – which means that I’m still a verrrrrrrrry long way off from achieving my 40 before forty.  Neverthless, there are a number of processes that are in motion in the background that you may not yet know about (including plans made and bookings confirmed today for a little trip at the end of the month that is on The List), so there is still hope of getting through The List before the big day 🙂

I’m not sure if you’ll be disappointed to read that this post isn’t about another thing on The List that I’ve managed to tick off; and I don’t have any quirky or entertaining stories to regale you with today.  This post is just about a part of my journey – not only this 40 before forty journey that you’re so graciously joining me on, but also the greater journey of my life as it unfolds. In my very first post, I shared with you that turning 40 filled me with much trepidation and anxiety and it was to counter those thoughts and fears that I decided to live the journey to 40 deliberately, with intent and, in so doing, to hopefully uncover some moments of meaning, passion and purpose along the way.

You’ll hopefully agree that my first few posts have revealed that I’m committed to making this journey a successful, happy and exciting one and am actively going out to live with passion and purpose.  (As my friend Nicky says, you have to be “all in” in everything in life, and I’m certainly trying to follow that mantra!)

The last few weeks, however, have proven to be difficult and there have been speedbumps along this road that have slowed me down, even threatened to derail me entirely…

If you are someone who accesses my blog through Facebook, you would know that at the beginning of January I decided to go off Facebook for a few weeks – there were just some things on there that were upsetting me, so I made a choice not to access FB for a while – why voluntarily put yourself through something that you know upsets you?

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Gavin, Bron and Duncan stopping in to give me TLC on their way to watch the ODI against Sri Lanka in 2012

However, when I wanted to publish my last blog post, I went on to Facebook just to check that the link to my blog had indeed been posted – only to be assaulted, front and centre on my home page, with a photograph of me in a hospital bed, from four years ago, accompanied by a cheery message from some automated FB know-it-all saying “Nicky, we thought you’d like to know what you were doing on this day four years ago, so you can share the memory“. Seriously? Why would anyone possibly want to share or relive the memories from such a difficult and painful time?

So what exactly was it about this photo that upset me so? Well, in it I saw myself surrounded by awesome people, who were excited and happy about life (as well they could be, seeing as these special friends were on their way to a cricket ODI at the Wanderers that day 🙂 ), while I was desperately struggling to just make it through the day (no doubt you can see how heavily medicated I was – I can hardly even open my eyes in the photo!) In this photo, I saw someone trying bravely to smile, just so others could worry about her less.  In this photo, I saw three gorgeous friends who have all moved on to get involved in loving romantic relationships (two of them with each other, hee hee), and there’s even a beautiful baby in the mix now 🙂 while I (again bravely) smile while expressing genuine happiness at their joy and good fortune.

So it is that this one little photo led me further on a downward spiral of emotions that had marred much of January, where I found myself questioning what real progress I have made in the years since that photo had been taken in 2012. Am I the same person who desperately struggles to just make it through each day, all the while looking around me at everyone who appears to be living the dream, pairing off, having beautiful children, and effortlessly living one happy moment and occasion after the next, all the while smiling bravely so people will worry about me less? January 2016 has been a month for me when the answer to that question has unfortunately been “yes”.

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My precious ice-cream loving princess is two!!

So while I’ve been avidly trying to tick some items off The List, and while I’ve been doing all the things which are good for you mentally and physically – training, working on my nutrition, seeing friends, reading great books, spending time with Chuckles and celebrating my my gorgeous niece’s second birthday (just look at that pic – isn’t she the cutest?!) – the reality is that this past month has been difficult. And I have been sad. Very sad. I have been faced with relationship disappointments and had to deal with one too many social situations which pressed too hard on my emotional bruises.

So why am I telling you all of this? Am I looking for your sympathy? Or your pity? Am I just looking for someone to tell me it will all be okay? Or to point out how many good things I have in my life? Definitely not – in fact, the absolute last thing I want or need is for you to tell me how much I have to be grateful for. I know that. I know undoubtedly that I am blessed beyond measure, and the fact that I am on a rough part of the journey doesn’t in any way lessen my gratitude for everyone and everything I have in my life. Just looking at these few pictures (all from January) proves how blessed I am!

A smile can hide so much though – so I guess the reason I’m telling you all of this is because, if you’re on this journey with me, it’s better that you know the person who you’re on the journey with. The real person. And the journey that she’s on. The real journey. Because while she’s a professional attorney who brings optimism and sunshine into any room she enters, and while she’s always planning the next mountain to climb, hidden spot to travel to or adventure to go on, and while she’s constantly seeking ways to encourage, counsel and support those in her world, she’s also someone whose hope and faith has slowly been crumbling over the past years. She’s someone trying to hide the fact that she’s terrified because she’s a 39-year old single girl who has yearned for a family – a husband and kids – most of her adult life and is fearful that she has to give up on this dream. She’s someone who gets tired of being “the strong one” all of the time and who would appreciate the people in her world stopping every now and then – just stopping – to put their arms around her, and check in on her and her world. Her real world.

Virginia Satir, a respected psychotherapist, famously said “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.Perhaps my tough January is because I didn’t get the required four hugs a day (just for survival) – you never know.  So can I encourage you stop and hug the next person you encounter in your world – whether it’s at the workplace, at home, out and about, or anywhere….the world (and I) need your hugs!

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But weight, there’s more…

I was never a skinny child. In fact the word “skinny” or “slim” has never been associated with me, whether in childhood, my teens or at any time thereafter.  On the contrary, for most of my life I’ve considered myself to be on the slightly larger side of average. Who am I kidding – I’ve considered myself overweight (there…I said it… <shudder>).

There’s a big difference between thinking yourself overweight and putting it out there on a public blog, like I’ve just done – and having just written the above sentence, I already feel exposed. Nevertheless, I press on …

I know that every girl, by the time she gets to the age of 40, has been through many ups and downs about her weight and physical appearance, both physically (the curse of fad diets!) and emotionally.  I know I’m not unique in that way. I also know that some of you may be wondering why I’m focusing on this topic at all, perhaps preferring to placate me with sentiments that physical appearance is not important and that you love me just as I am. However, this is an issue that has made it onto The List and, as such, it’s an issue I’m going to delve into a bit more… (And yes, to the guys, there will be more talk of weight, diet, exercise and all those good things in this post…so you have my full permission to skip to the end if this is TMI (too much information) 🙂

Having always been unhappy with my weight, even since I was a young girl, (save for a few short months at varsity in 1996 when I was at my ideal weight after having been on Weigh Less – which was nicely helped along when I lost my appetite for a while after falling in love, as only a giddy 20 year old can do), I had become used to a life of constantly trying new eating plans and new exercise programs in an effort to look and feel better.  Despite the numerous ups and downs that plagued my teens, twenties and thirties, I was certainly not prepared for what I was to face in early 2012. I mentioned in an earlier post that I became ill in early 2012, which had a profound effect on me in so many ways – including physically. I was placed on round after round of a mixture of schedule 5 medication in order for the doctors to try and find the right combination of drugs that would work for me. Having to swallow a rainbow of drugs every morning and evening, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by the inevitable side effects to follow – yet I was in no way prepared for the significant weight gain that was to accompany the drugs. And when I say significant… I MEAN significant. This was not 2 or 3 kilo’s that I could cover up under a slightly looser shirt or pair of pants. No, try 15kg! 😟 That’s the sort of weight gain that one only reads about, and you think will never happen to you. But it did, and given how essential the drugs were to my healing, there was simply no way that I could refuse the drugs just to reverse the weight gain.

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Focusing on the weights on the bar (instead of the weight on my body 🙂 )

This weight gain was not, however, something that I accepted readily. Without going in to all the minutiae of what I tried in order to get rid of the weight, it included every diet and eating plan available, and hectic exercise (try CrossFit five times a week!). Nothing worked 😞 The medication and my own body were working against me, counteracting every effort I put in, which left me feeling trapped in a body that I felt didn’t belong to me.

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Jeannie – Coach Extraordinaire

Fast forward to now…and the reason for writing this blog. I only weigh about three kgs less than in 2012, and the loss of those three kilo’s has only come through tremendous sacrifice, bucket loads of sweat and tears and single-minded commitment to my healing which has reduced some of the medication that I’m on. But right now I’m not overly worried about those three kilos …. I was so very lucky to be introduced to Jeannie Jordaan in May 2015, on my birthday in fact, when my friend Ingrid suggested I join Jeannie’s “5 weeks to 5 km’s” running program. It was early on a cold and drizzly Saturday morning (when any sane birthday girl would have been under the covers eating birthday cake for breakfast in bed), when I first met Jeannie (aka Coach Extraordinaire, Trainer, Motivator and Leader of the “Strong Girls”), I thought there was no way that someone could be so energetic, enthusiastic, and just so NICE! The cynic in me said she couldn’t be genuine! Needless to say, I was to find out in the months that followed how very real Jeannie was. In addition to the running programs I did with Jeannie over the following months (which I’ll write more about another time) I had some one-on one sessions with her about nutrition and training and started personal training sessions with her once a week. Most importantly, I believe, Jeannie invested some focused quality time with me – sessions where she asked pointed (and sometimes uncomfortable) questions, where she discovered various aspects of who I really am, and what makes me tick. And I am convinced that has been the key to unlocking the progress in me that she has – because Jeannie knows me now, and trains me not as a number,  but as someone she understands and genuinely cares about.  (Jeannie – you rock! I love you!)

So while I’m sure you’re now expecting me to say that Jeannie’s either already helped me or is going to help me lose all the extra kilos, you may be surprised to know that’s not what we’re focusing on at all. The goal over the next few months is based on health – I want to lose another 5% body fat – and that is what is on The List, with the accompanying increase in muscle mass and increase in hydration levels. I’ve already lost 3% body fat since starting my training with Jeannie, and am now focusing on this next goal.

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Goal setting in progress

While I had told Jeannie towards the end of last year about this item on The List, I realised she was totally committed to helping me achieve this when she finished our first training session of the year with “Nix, we need to meet for a strategy session“.  So one afternoon in the second week of January, Jeannie and I could be found strategising about my nutrition and training plan for the next few months, over a cappuccino at Woolies (and I’m pretty sure Jeannie only suggested we meet there so that I had the distraction of a yummy cappuccino while we put together these daunting plans!) The nutrition plan is going to be challenging, but the training even more so… bring it on!

So now you know my goal and some detail about this item on The List.  In disclosing this here (and in again making myself vulnerable in a way that is either brave or stupid, or more likely both!) I’m now making myself accountable to those in my world – so feel free to gently (or vehemently) dissuade me from that slice of baked cheesecake that I may be convinced is winking at me.  And similarly feel free to ask me why I haven’t been for the run I said I was going for, or the training session I had committed to – because I know I’m not going to stick to every element of the plan perfectly all the time.  I know myself – I’m human, I fail, and sometimes I set loftier goals than I can manage at a point.  In fact, I have already missed some of the planned training sessions on my schedule, and have already fallen off the wagon once (or twice!) with my nutrition, and my plan is only a few week’s old.  And that’s okay.  I just start again the next day, or the next mealtime…as soon as possible.  Just carry on going – and working towards that magic 5% number that I’m looking to decrease in body fat.

I share this with you now, at the end of January, when so many well-intentioned individuals have already forgotten about the health or nutrition New Year’s resolutions they set a few weeks ago – that they swore they were going to stick to this year.  I share it now because this is NOT a New Year’s resolution.  I am embarking on an ongoing journey to health. I will no longer be beholden to a mere number on the scale – but want to enter my 40s as a more energised, vital and healthier version of me.

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39* (not out)

What’s the one thing that makes your soul sing and spirit come alive?

What an awesome question to ponder – because for all of us this question will yield a different answer and, no matter the variety of answers that will certainly abound amongst us, each of our answers will be beautiful, uplifting, encouraging…

Think about when last you’ve done something almost purely for the purpose of making yourself happy, and awakening your spirit in the process? And hear me out before you criticise me for contributing to an already overly-narcissistic world. Yes, there is far too much material self-promotion in the world around us, but for the most part the people in my world are on the other side of that particular scale.  The people in my world are those who are continually seeking to help others, put others’ needs before their own, run around after kids, family, friends, charities… you name it.  And generally, everyone else is looked after before yourself.  So it’s those people I’m talking to – when last have you done something that made your soul sing?

I am so blessed to be able to say that I did just that, for myself, a few weeks ago, prompted by my precious friend Dannean’s contribution to The List, being:  “What’s the one thing that makes your soul sing and spirit come alive? Being in nature? Time at the sea? Browsing through an old bookshop? Whatever it is – do that!

From dinner parties, to writing a blog, to kicking a nasty habit, the items on The List are clearly diverse, and so you would imagine there would similarly be numerous diverse options for me to consider in order to fulfil Dannean’s prompting. There was, however, absolutely no question in my mind as to what that one thing is that makes me “come alive” – and that is watching cricket.  I remember someone asking me a few years back about where I’m at my happiest (hoping to provoke an appropriately philosophical answer to such an existential question), and my unhesitating response that it’s when I’m at a cricket match, being part of the crowd, cheering, and being totally immersed in the spectacle and strategy of it all. Not much has changed since I gave that answer a few years back – if anything, my passion for the game has only intensified.

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Kingsmead – my happy place from 26-30 December 2015

And so it was that while most were planning their Christmas/ December holidays around being on one or more of our beautiful beaches, I decided to drive down to Durban for the five days between Christmas and New Year to watch the first Test Match of the series between South Africa and England. I booked a place for Chuckles in his doggy-hotel (with only the presidential suite being available because of the high demand at this time of the year – the doggy hotel and presidential suite clearly require further explanation in another post!)), found a place for me to stay in Durbs – and that was all the planning required.

So early on Boxing Day morning, I left Joburg to drive down to Durban, with much anticipation to join a nearly sold-out crowd at the start of the traditional Boxing Day Test Match.  After a rain-interrupted day (which led to slightly dampened spirits in accordance with the weather), however, Day 2 in Durbs dawned without a cloud in sight – beautiful bright blue sky, no wind, hot sunshine…it was set to be an absolute gem of a day for watching cricket!  But don’t worry – before you skip ahead to the last paragraph – I don’t intend giving you a blow-by-blow account of the whole five-day test match (haha, I can just hear your sighs of relief!). I can say, however, that it was one of the best days of test match cricket that I’ve ever been to – and not necessarily because of what happened on the pitch, but rather because of the awesome people I sat with and the general atmosphere I was part of. It wasn’t even that I went to cricket with my group of best mates, I actually went alone. (I know people find that strange – but I’m quite happy to be at the cricket by myself – it’s my happy place). But I met fabulous people that day in the stands – there were various groups of diverse people around me (including a father and his young son, a group of a few women from Joburg, an elderly couple who only arrived after the stand was sufficiently shaded for them, and another group of brothers and their families. Very diverse, and yet within the first hour or so, we were all chatting like old friends. Everyone bought each other drinks when they went to fetch a round, shared picnic baskets, laughed and cheered together – all brought together by a common love of the sport!

I have often been asked why I love cricket so much and although I’ve always loved most forms of sport and spent my fair share of time as a kid growing up in Bloem watching cricket at Springbok Park (who remembers those Benson & Hedges Day/Night matches that were so exciting??) – the intense passion for cricket I now have didn’t really grab me until about ten years ago.   And while I’ve managed to come up with a few things about the game that intrigue and attract me, the truth is that I can’t really explain why I love it so much… I just do.  (And that’s alright too – sometimes things just are… without reason, justification or logic… they just are).

In my university days, I remember some guys being visibly impressed when they first met me and realised that I could more than hold my own in any cricketing conversation or circle. Cricket_educationYou may forgive me for thinking at the time that my ever-growing love for cricket may even have yielded an unintended bonus of making me more attractive to the opposite sex.  But that naive thinking was cruelly shot down one day when a bunch of my guy friends came over to watch South Africa play Australia and, while we were all gathered around the TV in my living room and in response to my “Not out, going down leg” comment after a particularly vehement LBW appeal, one of my mates calmly remarked “Wow, I would marry any girl who said ‘Not out, going down leg’ “, and calmly proceeded to take his next sip of beer.  My single self audibly sighed… my cricket love and knowledge was clearly not going to make me more of a catch (pun intended), but rather merely rendered me one of the boys!

One of the beauties of cricket, for me, is the sheer unpredictability of it. I remember once asking my dad, at the tender age of 12 or so, how it was possible for the top batsmen in the world to still be clean bowled? Surely at that level of expertise and skill the batsmen should be able to handle any and every ball bowled at them – otherwise how can you be a top batsman? Dad wasn’t quite able to explain it to my satisfaction at that time (sorry Dad, you did have most of the answers for me growing up though 🙂 ) and I think that’s because of the very nature of cricket – even at the top of his game, a batsman will be beaten by a bowler, and conversely a bowler will be pelted for six by a batsman.  That unpredictability, that excitement…it’s no wonder I get drawn into every game!

Cricket 22_1I also fell in love with cricket because of the intense strategy involved in the game, especially in the test arena, and the careful calculations that are required throughout the game if a win, or often even a draw, is to be on the cards.  (And when I refer to these “careful calculations”, please be assured I mean things like thoughtfully considered field placings, wisely timed declarations and the taking of a cheeky single …. I do not refer to any calculations related in any way to the Duckworth Lewis system, which system has only caused South Africa marginally less defeats than our unfortunate lack of BMT (aka choking tendency)).

For many years, watching the Ashes at Lords has featured right at the top of my bucket list, albeit that I had little hope that I would actually get to do this given the virtual impossibility of obtaining tickets.  But, through a number of instances of sheer luck, coincidence and good fortune, the universe conspired to transport me to the Home of Cricket in July last year, to watch the second test in the Ashes series.  Not even having to wear an Australian cricket supporters’ shirt and cap (as I was travelling with a Cricket Australia group) could dampen my enthusiasm – there was clearly very little I wouldn’t do to sit in the hallowed ground at Lords watching the teams pursue the oldest trophy in Test cricket history, surrounded by tradition and, of course, drinking the mandatory champagne.

I was quite anxious walking from the tube station at St. Johns Wood to Lords on the morning of Day 1 of the Test – this had been on my bucket list for so long that I suddenly feared I may have built it up in my mind as too big of a deal, and that I was setting myself up for disappointment? Not a chance! As I went through the turnstiles, ascended the grandstand, and got my first glimpse of the gloriousness that is Lords, I stopped, smiled and just breathed it all in. Literally! I just breathed – THIS was the home of cricket, THIS was a dream come true, and THIS was the start of one of the most exciting and memorable experiences in my life.

Dont like cricketSo although my passion for cricket didn’t win me any more boyfriends at varsity, it has certainly brought me more colourful, fun and passion-filled experiences than I could have imagined.  So whether it’s the major events like Cricket World Cup in South Africa in 2003, and the Ashes at Lords in 2015, or whether it’s just a local T20 match down at the Wanderers or Supersport Park – cricket ignites a spark in me. Because when I’m at a cricket match, I feel alive. I feel vibrant. I feel involved. I feel enough.  I feel more of my authentic self – I’m just me. Deeply involved in a strategic but fun game, which I don’t like…I love.

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