Saturday, December 9, 2017

Our Incredible Journey to NZ - #2 The Analysis

Disclaimer: This is our journey and the way we came to our own conclusions about what was best for us. This will obviously be different for each individual and family. We love the country we were born into. South Africa will always be in our hearts. You may disagree with our process or our decisions, but please wish us well anyway. We all need to live our own lives to the fullest and hopefully that is what we are doing with ours.

If you've just started reading, go to the first post about our journey here

Analysis Paralysis

In order to really process this concept of uprooting our entire family, we needed to take a step back and analyse everything. What was working in our lives, what wasn't and what we were doing on autopilot. It was time to look deeper into our stressors. We began analysing our life, our dreams and goals. There were no sacred cows, we looked at ourselves under a microscope. Were we where we (say that fast three times ha ha) wanted to be on our journey so far? Could New Zealand offer us the change that we were looking for? Weren't we too old? Wasn't this too much of a drastic move? We needed to re-evaluate our lives.


Stress

Hubby and I got married on a public holiday many many moons ago. The idea of getting married on a public holiday, was to enable us to go away for a long weekend to celebrate our anniversary and plan our year ahead. The plan would include work, home, projects, any hobbies we were going to pursue that year, finances and holiday plans. It was kind of like a new year's resolution without all the hype. It was our personal plans and goals for us as a couple and as individuals for our new year together. We looked forward to our anniversary weekends and booked the time and place well in advance. It worked brilliantly because when you're away in an awesome new place you feel relaxed, so the planning was mostly quick and fun and there was plenty of time for discussions and ideas. 

We did this religiously until we had children. Ironically, we even planned our children during those discussions and yet they were responsible for the demise of our favourite tradition. The last time hubby and I went away together, just the two of us, was on our 9th anniversary when I was heavily pregnant with Tomato. Knowing that our long weekend days were over, we didn't want to kill the tradition so we went out every year for dinner on our anniversary but it was never the same. We would be rushed and inevitably get side-tracked and our goals morphed into parent goals instead of our own and projects and activities revolved around our BLT. 

Family
We knew we hadn't really focused on what we wanted as a couple and as individuals, versus what was expected of us as parents, for a long time and we were both just going through the motions of life, trying to parent children who had their own issues, give our best to our jobs, and spend as much quality time with the people we love. We had a lot of great times and I thoroughly enjoyed lecturing. But holidays became fewer and fewer due to poor prioritising mainly, coupled with Tomato's skin condition which we needed to take into account before going anywhere, so it was easier to stay at home. [see how a silly "little" disease consumed our whole family here]  Once the skin issues were sorted, we seemed to continue a largely pressurised existence. All decisions we had made up to that point, had put us where we were and we couldn't really fault them.

It was fine for a while but we had become passengers in our lives which had become monotonous by our own design. Weekends were dictated by birthday parties and school events for our BLT. Hubby's company wasn't doing well and there were some seriously toxic clients who were demanding and draining on him. He was under huge pressure and when he became the pawn in a tug-of-war, it all came to a head. The result was that hubby began to hate going to work. He used to love work. Both of us are 'do-ers' and we love the achievement of getting things done and adding value to our clients and teams, but we were both struggling to find meaning in what we were doing. Not only was this scenario creating unnecessary stress, it was creating health issues. Why were we working so hard doing things we didn't enjoy? We had put ourselves on the hamster wheel in order to support the comfortable way we were living. Why?


Crime

It's no secret that violent crime is rife in South Africa. According to STATS SA, 50 murders take place in South Africa each day. There are many more crimes committed but I'm not going to go into that because if you know anything about South Africa, you've heard how horrific the crime is and everyone has a shocking story to tell. If, like me you've lived in South Africa for many years, you're used to the statistics and the headlines. As South Africans we tend to ignore these shocking numbers and focus our attention on keeping ourselves secure.

Hubby and I were both born and bred Jo'burgers. It's a stressful place to live, but we knew no different and we had been desensitised to the crime. When we travelled overseas, we marvelled about the way we could walk around at night without fear, but once we returned home, we slotted right back into the Jo'burg way, behind electric fences and guards watching over our area 24/7. 

Crime has, and probably always will be an issue in South Africa due to the stark contrast in living standards of the enormous population, and our families were not immune. Hubby's mom had been shot at in her car, the bullet lodged in the driver's door where she was sitting, missing her by a few centimetres, and a few years later she was hijacked. My mom had a gun put to her head, was beaten and the attackers tried to get her onto the ground, but she fought back. Fortunately hubby and I thwarted the attack by arriving to visit unexpectedly and noticed the strange car in our street. The thieves fled without it turning too nasty although my mom was battered and bruised. Her wedding and engagement rings were taken together with her handbag and a diamond pendant necklace that my dad had given her. Fortunately her attackers didn't succeed in taking her car, but they did get her house and car keys. Both moms were traumatised after these attacks, but although we were all shocked and upset, we knew that they were both lucky to have survived. 

Safety

After my mom's attack, we were all shaken. We then did what all South Africans do in this situation, we up scaled our security, moved my mom into a more secure living environment and continued living our lives in one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Sadly, living in SA it is par for the course that some criminal element will darken your doorstep from time to time and although unacceptable, it is pretty much understood. Most violent crimes don't even make the headlines as the variety and number of crimes is so great that the media is spoilt for choice. These "close-to-home" incidents formed a large part of the decision we made, to work hard and save to buy land and build our dream house. We built in a security lifestyle estate specifically because statistics showed that houses "on the street" outside of a complex or estate, were where the majority of home invasions took place. We wanted our BLT to be able to ride their bikes to the park and feel safe like we had done growing up. After ensuring we had a beautiful, relatively safe place to raise a family, we planned to have our first child. After ensuring that we were as safe as possible, we sat back and enjoyed the fantastic lifestyle that South Africa offered. And boy is the lifestyle great!

Children

Fast forward to having children...... as our BLT got older, it became more and more difficult to shield them from the harsh reality of crime and crime prevention, which we as adults did automatically. Although we had personally "only" suffered a few minor incidents, like an attempted break in inside our security estate while we were asleep, and we'd had a few items stolen over the years, crime happened to other people and we were, dare I say, pretty used to it. When stories in the media were shocking, it would stay with us for a while, but we would get over it as life got busy. Those families never got over it but we were far removed. One thing that did change after having children, is that when I heard stories about crimes inflicted on children, it made a more emotional impact, as I envisioned the terrible crime happening to one of mine and my heart would break for the parents, whereas before, it was sad but it didn't really hit home in the same way. One of the most memorable reports was when a mother was hijacked and was trying to release her child from his car seat as the car was being taken. The child was dragged behind the vehicle to its death. I sobbed for that mother and her child who was killed senselessly.

It was difficult to watch our children begin to stress about things children shouldn't have to worry about. My eldest, Tomato is a highly anxious child, so when ADT (a private security company) went to her nursery school to explain to the preschoolers about 'baddies' she didn't sleep for six months - yes SIX MONTHS! She had nightmares about the baddies. When they got older Bacon, our youngest daughter, wanted to know why her little friend at school didn't have security guards protecting her family. This was so strange to me, I hadn't thought that some people live in constant fear because they can't afford security. I mean, I knew that, but I didn't think about it until my child's friend was one of these people. We have always surrounded ourselves with security enabling us to live blissfully unaware and we avoided the news, so we were good right? Or were we? 

In one of Tomato's classes in grade 2 or 3 the students were asked to listen to the news and report back on a news story they had heard. So we put the radio on. The headline story was about a grandfather raping and murdering his 2 year old grand daughter and hiding her body under his bed! Thankfully I was tuned into a bilingual station so that news was in Afrikaans and Tomato was none the wiser. I just couldn't do it, I didn't know how to desensitise her to what was happening to children in the place we called home. 


OCD Behaviour

I realized of course that my OCD checking of my car (had it actually locked and not been car-jammed) every time I stopped the car, was impacting the kids as they began to check and re-check without me asking. My freaking out that the gate be closed behind them every time they came in or out of our secure complex was, in their minds, totally irrational because they felt perfectly safe. My kids could never understand why they had to have their car windows wound up at the robots and I blamed the aircon needing the windows closed because I didn't want to tell them that I was scared of smash-and-grabbers. The guys at the robots seemed so nice and had such fun stuff to look at. I knew the time was coming when they would have to grow up really quickly and start being more aware but even though Tomato was almost 11 years old at the time, I knew it would unnerve her and she would become insecure and an emotional wreck.


Living in a Bubble

I truly believe that the best way to live in South Africa is the way we did, by creating a secure bubble for yourself and your family. We probably lived in this bubble all our lives to some extent. Once we were grown, hubby and I always resided in a secure complex, some more secure than others. Our decision to not access the media on a daily basis, ensured that I was seldom afraid to live in Johannesburg or drive around at night on my own, in fact I enjoyed it. The doors and windows of our home were wide open all day long and some nights as well, but the gate was always closed to assist with my false sense of security as it could easily be scaled. In fact I've climbed over it. I therefore never felt unsafe and neither did my children. We had beams in the garden, cameras at every corner, with instant access via hubby's phone and an alarm system that activated and deactivated on a timer, so security hardly entered our minds. Of course when the alarm triggered in the middle of the night, that was a different kind of petrified as all the news headlines that we had managed to tune out, would come crashing into our consciousness, but again, that seldom happened in our bubble. 

Both hubby and I needed to keep working at a frenetic pace, running on that hamster wheel to earn good enough salaries to keep up the super secure lifestyle bubble. It was entirely possible that we may be forced to retire OUTSIDE the bubble (literally bursting our bubble!) Maybe we weren't so happy to do that. 


Finances

Due to my auto-immune disease, which is fortunately under control now, I was not bringing in the large salary that I had in the past, although I was working. This made us re-evaluate our lives earlier, purely based on what we were spending money on. We knew that inflation was growing faster than our salaries. This meant we had significantly less disposable income than the previous five years. We were struggling to understand how to plan for our financial future. It was difficult predicting where the economy would be in a years time, let alone 10 years, although many financial planners would disagreed. I won't even go into the changing price of electricity during this period. Watching my mom stress about whether she would be able to pay her medical aid each month made us concerned for our future. We would have to invest most of my salary, purely to ensure that we could remain in the bubble. But what if we lived to the age of 83 like my mom did?  I was hearing about more and more retirees who were struggling to manage on what their financial advisors had advised was a good retirement figure. 

Another concern was that hubby's company was poorly managed and the writing was on the wall, he would need to start looking for something elsewhere and he would require a much greater salary. Larger salary = larger stress. This started our questioning. Is that all there was going to be to life? Stressing out every day, rushing from activity to activity and counting down to the weekend? We were waking up just after 5am, rushing to get the kids up and out the house, sitting in traffic for an hour, just getting to school on time, sitting in more traffic to get to work or home and we were exhausted. Then we were rushing the kids through dinner and getting them to bed early so that they got enough sleep as it would be an early wake up call. Was this the life we wanted for our family?

I have always wanted to take my BLT to Disney World in the US, to see Buckingham Palace in the UK and to visit K and G, to visit my brother in Perth and my sister in San Francisco. I want them to experience other cultures and countries, but the Rand is volatile (I can hear you screaming "invest off shore!") We needed to gain a foothold but felt like we were just flailing around with no solid base to work from.

New Zealand offers free medical, free schooling and no need for security or lifestyle levies. Inflation is predictable and the services work. That would shave off almost 50% of our monthly expenses. 


School

Tomato was assessed with some difficulties due to concentration. She was struggling at school and we were sending her to many extra lessons, privately and those provided by the school. She needed a scribe and when she got one, she did well, but when she didn't, she did poorly. She felt stupid and was teased for being different. Every day homework became a swear word and we waged war to get it done. I became a slave-driver forcing her to do what was required of her. She was miserable and hated going to school. It broke our hearts. 

After this analysis, it was clear that there was massive room for change. Would we make changes in South Africa or in New Zealand. It was crunch time. We felt a little bit excited about starting fresh, wiping the slate clean and seeing what would happen if we just said "what the hell" and went. Was it even possible? 

Hubby had just turned 48. If we wanted to make a change, it had to be soon. Time was not on our side. We would have to make a huge decision in a small amount of time.



Spoiler alert:

"If we knew then what we know now, we wouldn't have done it."

















Saturday, November 18, 2017

Our Incredible Journey to NZ - #1 The Seed

Many people have asked me why. 

Why did we emigrate? Why did we choose New Zealand? Why did hubby go before me? As the explanation is not a simple one that can be explained in a couple of sentences, I've decided to blog about it, not only to answer questions from friends and family but also maybe help others who are starting this journey or contemplating it. This series of blog posts will give you the reader, a glimpse into our highs, lows, frustrations and finally our new life. Here goes....

In September 2015 the foundation of my world was rocked when my mom was taken from us. She had lived a good, long life, but nobody is ever prepared to lose a parent, no matter their age. I felt orphaned as my dad passed away when I was 20.

My cousin Phil flew up to Johannesburg to be with us while we mourned. During this time she brought up the subject of emigrating to New Zealand. I was a bit taken aback as I had never thought that she and her family would leave South Africa although there were some rumblings of them looking into Australia a few years earlier. Phil and her family live in Cape Town which is arguably the best run province in the country, so I was intrigued. Why would they leave? Hubby and I had often talked about moving to Cape Town (it's so beautiful there) but jobs aren't so easy to come by in the Western Cape for marketing and IT professionals and it was just a fleeting idea.

Phil told us all her reasons for wanting to move to NZ and she made some good points although we had never considered emigration, it just wasn't on our radar. My brother, Dorothy from the land of Aus and Aunty Lollipop (my sister) both hold foreign passports now, so they were easy to convince that New Zealand held many opportunities for us and they encouraged us to look into it. Dorothy shared some of his own views of the land that is just a hop, skip and a jump from his back door (well an eight hour flight to be exact, but he lived closer to the island than any of us.)  After the funeral the family scattered back to their homes around the globe and life went on. 


But the seed had been planted.

Many life changes happened between September and December (including losing great friends to the UK and Cape Town) so we decided to go and visit my family and friends in Cape Town so that I wouldn't be reminded of our usual Christmas at home without my mom. For the past 44 years I had spent every single Christmas with her. We booked a lovely Airbnb close to my cousin and the beach and had Christmas lunch with them. We spent many nights chatting, laughing, eating, drinking wine and discussing New Zealand, way into the early hours of the morning. They were seriously considering moving to New Zealand and told us all about their extensive research. It really seemed like an awesome little country. "Little" because the South African population sits around 50 million whilst New Zealand's is just over 5 million.

But was the grass greener in NZ? Well yes, because there's loads of rain, but South Africa had given us wonderful opportunities, an amazingly comfortable life and it's the only home we have ever known. This wouldn't be an easy decision.
Hubby and I had a lot of time to talk about it on the long drive home from Cape Town and we were interested but didn't know where to start. We decided to attend one of those emigration agent seminars to gain as much information as we could about this intriguingly beautiful country, that we really knew very little about. As soon as we got home I booked for the next seminar. I was astounded by the number of people who attended. As a marketer, before any public presentation, I prepare myself for the marketing angle, which is usually fear-based and eliminated that from what we took away from the presentation. We left with our interest piqued. It was all very interesting and we found out some really fascinating facts about NZ. 


We sat down and did the pros and cons list and decided we would look into NZ as a potential new home. The first step was to join a few Facebook groups with people of similar interests and then start doing our own research. We uncovered some really interesting, helpful bits of information (about everything) over the next few months and it was a bit overwhelming at times. Once we started researching, we were both up until the early hours of the morning reading, searching and discussing. We had heard and read so many stories of people moving to NZ and how hard it was. Some made it and loved their new lives, some had returned to South Africa (minus a huge chunk of change) and some were sent home by immigration against their wishes. This wasn't going to be a walk in the park.
 




Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Twisted Sister

The chocolate-lemon cake
In July I was sooo excited because my sister and her family were coming to visit for a whole three weeks! Well I blinked and the three weeks disappeared and before I knew it, I was waving them goodbye with a huge lump in my throat. But we had SUCH a great time.
Making the cake
The day after Aunty Lollipop landed it was hubby Kal's birthday so that meant cake and pressies, so we set to work (actually the birthday boy made half of his own cake, let me explain....) When asked what sort of cake he wanted for his birthday, he happily replied that he wanted a lemon and chocolate cake! Gulp. Say what? I'm all for chocolate cake, but with lemon? Hmmm wasn't sure about that. So husband and wife set to work, Sis on the lemon and Kal on the chocolate, while I made dinner for twelve of us - it was a busy kitchen! And the cake turned out beautifully! Contrary to popular belief, swirled chocolate and lemon cake is divine. Did I mention that we ate a lot while they were here? Well we ate, A LOT.

The Car!
The rental car was hysterical. Identical to SA taxis. So Aunty Lollipop could do ANYTHING on the roads and nobody hooted or complained!

My bestie K was also visiting at the same time so I was in my element with all the overseas visitors. She phoned and asked what time I'd like to meet up with her on a certain day and I said "I want the whole day" haha so we all got together and went to Gold Reef City aka "child heaven." Kal noticed a printed sign on the cashier's window stating that their credit card machines were not working, which kinda makes you think that if they went to the effort of professionally printing a sign, they should just state "cash only" but that attracts criminals, so they obviously prefer the permanent sign mentioning the temporary situation. Welcome to Africa! We all had a blast, the kids rode on every possible ride, panned for gold, tried to win teddy bears and we had an "old western" photo taken of us which was pretty cool.
How many cousins fit on a trampoline?

A few days later cousin Phil and her two kids Logoff and Mistletoe flew up from Cape Town and we had a huge family lunch at the older cuzzies' house. These holidays were all about fun, family and friends and more fun. The following day we were off to the Drakensburg for 5 days. We took my car and the taxi and the kids alternated the seating arrangements every time we stopped. The kids had a blast (and the adults did too.) It was freezing but so beautiful. We arranged for our chalets to be next to each other and we walked the path flat between those two. The kids went horse riding, even Tomato who is super-allergic to animals. She loved her out ride so much that she wanted to go again! 

The Kiss
We peeked inside the hotel chapel and performed a mock wedding ceremony (I sang the wedding march) and Lettuce and his cousin tied the knot again, but this time in a church. Aunty Lollipop gave a lovely sermon. When we got outside the happy couple were supposed to kiss but they became shy so Lollipop and I were snapped showing them how by cousin Phil!

The "Quiet" Walk
After the guided walk to see the bushmen paintings, I went on a walk by myself because I love the quiet of the berg, but with 7 kids that was near impossible, so I ventured out alone. But before long I was joined by an entire entourage. They joined slowly but before long we were pretty much all on my "quiet" walk..... well except for Uncle Kal, who was busy catching the first fish that had been caught in the hotel trout dam in months. [note: there was no actual footage of said fish but apparently it was "this big" #justsaying] Brekkie was in the dining room every morning which was a huge hit, especially the hot chocolate machine. Yes, we ate a lot in the berg too. 
Pssst Cadbury
 this is what a REAL
block of choc looks like

Every night once the kids were in bed, someone would whip out a hidden choc and Lollipop would sneak away to our chalet to indulge. Lollipop and I are into green tea and we drank an entire box full while she was visiting although we forgot to take our teabags with us so we were forced to have Rooibos or coffee with our late night snacks. Fortunately (or unfortunately) the chocolate gene runs deep in our family, so cousin Phil and Logoff joined in on the feast. Logoff was quite entertaining explaining to us old folk the fascinating benefits of marijuana. He was so cute (ok he's 15 so he won't like being called cute) on the very first day he pulled out a buff which he gave to Lettuce and put it on his neck and showed him how to wear it. From that moment on Lettuce and Logoff were best friends and Lettuce was never far from his buff. He even slept in it.
Hitting the town
On the last night we bribed Logoff (with chocolate of course) to stay and babysit Lettuce and Mistletoe while us girls went to paint the town red. Ok it was one pub and we couldn't really paint it red, but what we lacked in painting skills, we made up with imagination. In the freezing cold we ordered iced cocktails of course! Well a little strawb daiquiri, moijito and margarita got us giggling and Lollipop and I tried on the lampshades and we all pretended to play pool without the balls. But we had fun and laughed ourselves silly. Photos of that night shall remain safely away from the Internet. Thankfully we didn't have a selfie stick or things may have gotten out of hand! The kids were none the wiser that we had sneaked out. 

Unfortunately we had to hit the road the next day and after some roadside shopping (every child needs a wild animal made out of clay) we discovered a blast-from-the-past - a Pikki. Do you remember Pikkis? They came in triangular shaped cardboard thingymajigs with condensed milk in them. Well here they are, so we had to have a pack each (according to cousin Phil.)

The drive home was fun. Logoff was thrilled to discover that he could sync his phone via Blue tooth to my car radio. We only agreed to let him use the Blue tooth if he played music we liked, so with loads of 80's music pumping at full volume, we ambled home and hit the sack. Cousin Phil and I shared my bed, so we stayed up talking waaaay into the night. Not a great strategy, because early the next morning I had to take them to the airport to say goodbye. Fortunately it was a quick drop-off otherwise the make-up I wasn't wearing would have smudged. So sad to say goodbye after such a fun time, not knowing when you're going to see them again.

Because Aunty Lollipop wanted to see everyone and not leave anyone out, she decided to have a "sip and see" - basically we provide the venue, food and drinks and friends pop in for a sip of something and to see Lollipop and her family. Becaue we were expecting ladies only, sis decided a tea party was in order so tea and coffee and juice were on the cards. The kids had a ball setting up the table and taking photos. We were all set for a high tea..... but when an ex boyfriend arrived with Strawberry Daiquiri mix and a bag of ice, the party got a whole lot more interesting! Who knew you could get Strawb Daiquiri in a ready-mixed box!! I need to spend more time in Tops apparently. I got the kids and uncle Kal busy on the ice crushing while I dusted off the appropriate glasses (strangely I had 12 perfect glasses, waiting to be filled with daiquiri mix, in my cupboard - how odd lol). We poured the delicious mix over the ice and I took a sip.... hmm. Ex boif was watching my reaction and asked "what's wrong?" I didn't want to upset him but it was seriously weak so I said "umm I think needs a bit more zing" to which he responded "no problem" and reached into his bag of goodies and pulled out a full bottle of Mainstay!! Awesome!!
The daquiri
The mix
I hastily topped up the glasses and took them out to the party. Oops I'd made too many, and I didn't want them to go to waste.... well after two of those (with extra zing) I was buzzing a bit. It was a good party, but being a tea party, I didn't expect people to stay for dinner so I had to razzle up something quickly (in my buzzed state) and then I wasn't quick enough, so we ended up eating 2kgs of Nigella's famous cocktail sauceages over the next few days!! If you haven't tried these yet, do yourself a favour! I also have half a bottle of Mainstay and some daiquiri mix here at home with me..... hmmmm.

Back to making it the best holiday ever, we ventured into, what I still call Town. There is an awesome science museum in Newtown Johannesburg called The Sci-bono Discovery Centre. I had taken Gramps and the kids there earlier this year and raved about it and my BLT were keen to show their cuzzies, so we hopped into the two cars and we were off on a day trip. The kids had a blast. The place really is cool with loads of things for kids to touch and see and interact with. I thought I had seen most of it the first time I went but there was more that I hadn't yet discovered. But by far the kids' favourite was building with cememt and bricks. They ended up building the whole building! We were put to work and had to help (gulp). Then once the entire building was built and the place was closing for the night, the kids shrieked with delight as they broke it down. Unfortunately when we told them they had to pickup all those bricks and concrete pieces and put them back where they found them, they were less thrilled.
Vietnamese wrap
Did I mention that Aunty Lollipop brought gifts? Well she did! Firstly she brought every type of gluten free product she could find. I'm sure my pressies weighted about 10kgs. She lugged across a 2kg bag of gluten free a.m.a.z.i.n.g. flour and every type of pasta she could find, but also chocolate.... ah the chocolate [swoon]. She also brought Vietnamese wraps and taught us how to make them with prawns, loads of veggies and noodles. They were divine and we laughed ourselves silly trying to make them the first few times. They literally turn from a hard plastic-like circle into the milk skin that firms on top of hot milk, within seconds of wetting them. This proved to be quite a challenge! Apparently it's like flipping pancakes - it's an acquired skill.

Growing beads were endless fun
Another awesome gift was my Bluetooth speakers so that I can pair my phone to the speakers in the house and tonk out my favorite classics for everyone to hear. When I wake up my BLT every morning, I scrummage around and find a good "wake up" song, put my cell phone in a cup and put the cup at the top of the stairs to make it really loud. Yes, try it, it really works! A cup gives you instant volume. Obviously Lollipop thought I deserved something a bit more classy haha.

Uncle Kal had the kids enthralled with his guitar playing. So amazing to have music in the house (apart from my cup lol.) The kids were super-spoiled with pressies from the US and even more from SA. It was awesome to watch the cuzzies playing together and the "slap yourself in the face with cream" game was surely the winner! As dinner guests arrived, they had to play Russian roulette with the "slapper" the kids shrieked as they watched their older cousins and then their uncle Ivan get covered in cream. So much laughter!

Who is Jack?
Apart from his birthday and guitar-playing, my favorite brother-in-law Kal was my ultimate hero - OMG was he fantastic - totally opposite to our family, but in a good way. We like to sit and chat and catch up and he likes to be busy 24/7. Well did I love that quality. Firstly he noticed that the tyre on my car wasn't looking good, so the day before our trip to the Drakensburg, he took my whole wheel shaft apart because the bolts had been stripped. He went to the shop, got a new bolt and reassembled the thing so it was safe. He even left me a note so I wouldn't drive. 

When we got back from our holiday, Kal got stuck into the house. Not having a man around the house for the past 16 months, had taken its toll so Kal become hubby #2. He went mad fixing and sorting and painting and cauking everywhere, yes cauking. I had no idea what he was talking about when he showed me areas that needed cauk. Eventually I just burst out laughing and asked him what the hell is cauking? Apparently it is silicone seal. With Kal's American accent it sounded like he was saying "this area needs some cock." Even once I knew what he was saying, I couldn't stop snorting every time he said it and eventually he reverted to calling it silicone to stop me being silly haha. I wanted to go with him to Builder's Warehouse to be there when he asked them where they stock their cauk, but he wouldn't let me - darn! So while we had a blast, Kal was having his own fun taking my entire kitchen sink out and measuring for new shelving, changing light bulbs, painting, sanding, waging war on the ants, the list goes on and on. What an amazing guy!
Some serious cousin baking
going on here

Needless to say, the three weeks sped by in a happy blur and the dreaded day arrived...... they needed to leave for the airport at 4pm. From about midday everytime we looked at each other we cried. We focused on getting stuff packed and sorting out things and cried.  People started dropping in to say goodbye and the rush was on. What felt like minutes later, we were trying to be brave in front of the kids but we weren't doing a very good job. 

Crumpets
As quickly as they had arrived, they were gone. Tomato started to cry. Bacon and Lettuce just hugged me and we stayed like that, waving goodbye and just being sad. Then we went back into the house to listen to some music.

Later that night I got a pressie under my pillow. I cried again.

People always ask how I coped with four more people in my house for three weeks and I respond by saying "I wish they'd stayed three more!" Such great memories.

Next meet up: Hawaii


Lettuce was not happy.
They're gone :-(












Saturday, August 12, 2017

One Decision

I've been meaning to write this post for a while as it has been weighing on my mind, but life happens and there's always something more important to do. To be honest, looking at my To-Do List is too daunting at the moment, so I'm shoving it aside and spending some time blogging. I like sitting here while the kids are watching Jake and the Netherland Pirates because I know that the movie lasts an hour and a half so I am pretty much guaranteed a small respite from "mommy mommy mommy MOMMY."

The reason for the weight on my mind is this. Last month I was sitting at my desk, in the same place I am now, feeling sad, remembering my mom. The world didn't care. Life went on, oblivious to my pain, so in order to prevent the downward spiral of sadness, I decided to go for a walk. After walking for a while I sat down on a bench in the park, thinking about my mom and I heard an old voice ask if he could join me. I smiled and made some space even though there was plenty of room for both of us. He sat down with a sigh and we were both lost in thought for a while. Soon we got chatting and the man with the kind face told me his name was Rudi and he was 90 years young. I was immediately drawn to this man who was double my age (everyone knows I have a soft spot for the oldies - see my previous post 50 Shades of Grey if you haven't seen it yet.)  After a while of chatting I asked him my favourite question that I love to pose to older people, do you have any regrets? And he told me this story that has stuck with me:

He too was sad that day. It was the birthday of the love of his life who had passed 18 months before. I asked if they had been married long and he stopped me. "It wasn't like that" he said, drifting off. He explained that he had been sitting at home remembering Marie on her birthday and he didn't know what to do with the sadness that he felt, so he had phoned her daughter. I was confused but kept listening. He had decided to phone her daughter so that he could hear Marie's voice in hers. It hadn't taken much to set her daughter off and they had cried together in their shared grief. Rudi told her daughter that the way she said certain things and the way she laughed reminded him so much of Marie. It made her daughter feel better hearing that. I was intrigued. Who was Marie and why was he phoning her daughter after she had died?

So I asked him quite bluntly "what happened between yourself and Marie?"

He got a far away look in his eye and told me that he had met Marie when she was 18 and he was 23. They had known each other for 68 years. "I asked her to marry me" he smiled shyly, "but she refused." I asked him why she refused to marry him and he laughed and explained that although there was very little money in her family, Marie was a bit of a princess and her mom had always doted on her. He gave an example of how her mom would wake Marie with coffee, ask which outfit she had chosen to wear and then her mom would rush off with the chosen outfit to press it while Marie got herself ready for work. Marie would arrive in the kitchen to a fully cooked breakfast but would always be on some diet, so she would pick at a few things and leave the rest. He believed that the first time he proposed, Marie was too young and didn't want to move out of home as she wasn't ready to have her own home and family. She was too spoiled and enjoyed her mother's attention.

The first time? How many times did he propose? This was getting interesting.

He explained that they would date for a while, then fight and break up and get back together again (sounds like a Taylor Swift song.) They were in the same friendship group and all got on well and it just seemed like the next step. He had dated her for years and most of their friends, including Marie's sister who was younger, were engaged. He proposed again. This time she declined because of work. "She was always very focused on her career" he said sadly. "I told her that I wasn't going to wait for her and she told me that was fine." After the second rejection, he said he made a conscious decision to stop chasing her and cut off all contact. He was hurt. "Remember I was then a man in my 30"s and most men my age had married, settled down and started families already. The next time I saw Marie I was engaged to Talia." Marie was devastated.

What? Why? She had refused two proposals, what was her issue now?

She said that she had always assumed that Rudi would be there when she was ready to marry. "She asked me to break off my engagement but I refused saying that Talia was a kind, decent woman that I didn't want to hurt. Talia would make a good wife for me." Marie just had to accept that Rudi had moved on. Marie and Rudi remained close and Rudi told me about he two of them sitting in the living room of his parent's home, opening his and Talia's wedding presents together! He suddenly looked guilty and quickly added that he had had a good life with Talia, they'd had two children who had provided grandchildren and he said he really couldn't complain.

BUT........ then came the part that has haunted me......

"My girl, over the years I have thought back to that night where I refused Marie. I've always wondered about that decision. If I had said yes, where would my life have taken me? That one choice changed not only mine but a lot of other lives. I'm 90 years old now and I can't say I regret much, but I will always wonder about Marie. She was the one that got away. She was the one that, I allowed to get away. I sent her away because I felt it was the right thing to do but truthfully it was because I was too proud to break my engagement after she had rejected me twice. What would that have said about me as a man?"

My heart broke for him. His honour, pride and commitment to his fiance led him to make a decision that he has regretted, to some degree, for his whole life! Logically he knew that he shouldn't be sad because if he had married Marie, his family would not be here or if it was, it would be very different. His experience would be different, his children's personalities would be different. It was a weird thing to wrap your mind around. One decision.

I had to ask "what happened to Marie?"

"After I married she moved from her home town of Cape Town to pursue a career opportunity in Johannesburg, where she met and married a lovely man. They settled in Johannesburg and had four children." Over the years Marie was in contact with Rudi and Talia and Marie's children called him Uncle Rudi which seemed to please him. "They knew we were old friends and that we grew up together. We had so many people in common. Marie confided in me that her kids used to tease her about me." He laughed. Rudi and his family moved to Durban and Marie and her family visited them once or twice and Marie and Talia used to talk on the phone from time to time, they seemed to get on well.

Rudi didn't go into it, but I wondered, how did Talia feel about this? She must have felt that her husband loved someone else. She must have known that she was not the one, his one. She was not the love of his life, Marie was. It must have had some effect on their marriage, perhaps unspoken. How sad. Perhaps it was the same in Marie's marriage, a negative undercurrent of regret.

Many years later Marie's husband passed away. Rudi and Talia had since moved to Johannesburg as their children were grown and they wanted to be close to their grandchildren. "A few months after Marie's husband's death I went to see her one night." I leaned in, this story had me mesmerized. "I proposed for a third time." No way!! I was gobsmacked! Was he going to leave his wife for Marie after all that time?

"I remember asking her if she would be with me. I was prepared to leave Talia. She just shook her head and told me that our time of being together had passed. She would never be able to live with herself if she broke up my family. I was already 67 years old. We could have had 23 amazing years together, but again she rejected my proposal and broke my heart. Turns out third time isn't lucky for me! I don't know if it was too soon after her husband's death, but she was adamant. Marie told me then that she would never marry again and she stayed true to her word. Only afterward did I realise the gift she had given me. What would have happened if she had agreed? I would have lost everything that is dear to me."

I told Rudi that his story made me sad and he again mentioned that he had had a good life and he really loved his family. I said that I was happy that talking to Marie's daughter had given him some sense of comfort over this sad time. Then he said something that I found very strange. He told me that he felt bad because he had told Marie's daughter not to contact him. I was surprised. If she had given him some comfort, surely they should stay in touch as it seemed to help them both through the difficult memories. Rudi tried to explain "it would make things very difficult on my side, if you know what I mean."

The reality of the situation hit me hard. This frail, sad, 90 year old man was making a "skelm" call to the deceased love of his life's daughter, on her birthday, just to have some sense of feeling close to the lady that he had loved all his life, but who he could never have. He was running the gauntlet for a second hand conversation with an almost stranger, trying to ease the pain of his loss, by listening to her voice, imagining it to be the girl he remembered so well but knowing that it would upset his wife if she found out. He still was being held back, unable to do what he wanted to do, phone who he wanted to phone due to social constraints and I would imagine years of hurt over this issue, so he was hiding the call from  her. He was still doing the right thing. This saddened me even more.

But as sad as I felt for him, my mind kept going to his wife. Think about this from Talia's perspective, how would you feel if your husband of almost 60 years, was still so desperate to be close to the woman who rejected him all those years ago, that he was phoning her daughter to try to get a glimpse of what he had had with her all those years ago. It was ludicrous. A lose-lose situation.

Rudi looked at me with tears in his eyes, patted my hand and said "I'll always wonder about that decision. But to answer your question, I'm not sure if it is a regret per se because I have gained so much, but I will always wonder what if....."

After that conversation I couldn't stop thinking about what Rudi had told me and how it related to my own life. I've never shied away from making decisions, even difficult ones, in fact I enjoy taking a road and seeing where it goes. There are very few choices I regret. In fact I've made some massive ones that have been really positive and if I think back, if I had chosen differently, the results would most certainly have left me worse off. So it is mind-boggling to me that just one wrong decision can literally change your life and your life's trajectory as well as the lives of those around you. We are all a product of all of our choices. Every opportunity you took, every opportunity you were too scared to take, every date you went on, every date you were too tired to go on, every job you applied for, every job you thought you wouldn't get so didn't apply for, is imprinted on the embroidery of your life.

Each day we take decisions that can make or break us. This is great news because if we are unhappy where we are, we are only one decision away from changing it, even though it can be scary. Fortunately I have never made a decision like Rudi because I know that it would eat me up inside always wondering what might have been.

Life lessons from a 90 year old. Thanks Rudi x














Thursday, June 15, 2017

Got a Ticket to my Destination

I love it when a simple quote that I've heard many times before, suddenly hits me on a completely new level and ignites the spark of a new blog post. That's what just happened. I read (for the hundredth time) that life is short and you should make the most of it, take risks, stop and smell the roses and stop sweating the small stuff blah blah. We've all heard the worn out quotes "Life is a journey, not a destination" and "Life is a marathon not a sprint" but it didn't really hit home.

It just occurred to me that we as humans are programmed for the finish and not the journey.

So in keeping with the quotes about journeys and marathons, give this some thought. How many times have you started a journey without an end goal in mind? Hardly ever. You plan a holiday and you work out the travelling time, distance etc. When you get into your car to go on a road trip, even if you know the way, you plug the co-ordinates into your smart phone map app or GPS device so that you can track your progress. These devices recalibrate in real time, adjusting constantly, toying with your expected time of arrival. The traffic slows in front of you, you look at the screen to see the impact on your ETA, you get some open road where you can speed up, and you again monitor the screen, how much lost time have I made up? When serious runners enter a marathon (ok this is purely hypothetical because I never have, nor will I ever run a marathon. Runners are crazy-mad) they plot how far they should have run during a certain period of time. As each runner crosses the finish line they can be seen marking the time on their watch. Later when they have recuperated they trawl over the time it took them to finish, dissecting the race, identifying problem areas and begin planning how to better their time in the next race. It's all about getting to the destination as quickly as possible, preferably quicker than before.

Have you ever tried to lose weight? You decide what your body should weigh and determine the length of time it would take to shed those unwanted kilograms. Then you begin to monitor your progress by stepping onto a flat surface with a digital display that will determine whether your body mass has decreased or not and if so, by what extent. Millions of people are white-knuckling, resisting unhealthy foods and exercising in order to see that number change, even slightly, not because that is what they want to do with their time but because a good, healthy, attractive body is expected by society, so they obsess. The scale is given the power to influence that person's mood for the day or week. A large portion of their day is spent planning, preparing, packing and consuming foods that are on the "good" list and then binging on the "bad" list due to stress. We are programmed, we cannot give up until we have met our goal. Winners never quit and quitters never win. If we do give up we feel like a failure with a healthy dose of guilt.

This begs the question, does the runner enjoy the minutes passing during the marathon or are they focused on their next mini goal in order to get to the finish line? Is the dieter enjoying each day of healthy eating and training that is making their body better, or are they focused on their next meal and how many calories they have consumed? It came as a bit of a shock today to realize that LIFE IS ONLY THE JOURNEY part. There is no finish line that we run triumphantly across, slapping people on the back, relishing in that awesome feeling of achievement. Life is only the journey. Let this sink in for a bit (if you're like me, it's taken 40 odd years for this to really sink in.)

Life is the only journey that, when we reach our destination, we die.

Realistically, when we as humans reach our goal or our destination, we become energized by the achievement and feel fantastic, unstoppable. Not only have we achieved something phenomenal and we are proud and others are proud of us, it's the start of something new.... you've reached your goal weight - now you're going shopping for a bikini, you've bettered your running time, you're off with friends to have a cold one, looking forward to planning your next run, you've arrived at your beach holiday house and you can't wait to feel the sand between your toes and start relaxing. Reaching our goals gives us a great feeling of accomplishment and springboards us towards our next goal.

Food for Thought
Imagine how differently runners would be running if, as soon as they reached the finish line, instead of shutting off their timers, their own time was up? There would be no more camaraderie, no more feeling of achievement, close friends and family rushing to hug them, there would be no pride of finishing, just death (and any wonderful afterlife that follows of course.) So would runners, running their marathon, all be rushing to get to the end, to beat their previous time? I think not. Would dieters be dieting and exercising like they have done, if, when they reached their goal, they realized that the dieting was the fun part, not actually reaching their goal weight?

Similarly, what would you do on your next holiday/ road trip if the holiday ended as soon as you got there and the real holiday was actually the car ride? Would you have taken the highway, aimed to drive at 130km per hour and only stopped once to refuel, stretch your legs and rest? No way. You'd be looking at and enjoying every little windmill and cow you could spot along the way.

In conclusion
The harsh reality of Life, is that when you hit your goal (of living as long as you can), it all goes pear-shaped. Some journeys will end abruptly in the middle of the race while others will end slowly, with our energy gently dwindling, there is no big finish (unless you're Thelma and Louise and let's face it, there was a reason they freeze-framed that last shot, because the next one would have been a lot more real and messy.) If only Life was as glamorous as movies.......

I am not going to end off by telling you to live your life, stop and smell the roses and not to work too hard, you know that already. What I am going to say is that I hope this post gives you some food for thought and you re-evaluate how your journey is going and whether you're on the right road. Are you focusing on how to get there or when you're going to get there? Are you celebrating with your loved ones along the way? Because all the little minutes, hours, days, weeks and months add up to the whole journey and if you're not enjoying the hours that make up your days, then perhaps something needs to change before you reach your finish line. You won't have the luxury of feeling satisfied then, like you do now.