Full Circle – A Year’s Adventure in Blogging and Other Things

Full Circle - A Year's Adventure in Blogging and Other ThingsOver the past few months, I’ve come to appreciate that nagging feeling – otherwise known as gut feel or intuition – and subtle reminders that life seems to send my way. Today was filled with that same constant nagging feeling, like a toddler pulling at your jeans with sticky fingers after more of the sweet stuff. I had to do something and it wasn’t my overwhelming load of German homework, the mountain of laundry that rivalled Mount Kilimanjaro or the breakfast dishes still in the sink well after lunch time…

It all started with a beautiful butterfly that my little boy discovered outside our front door. To my non-scientific eye, it was clear it was a very special kind of butterfly thanks to its bright, bold and beautiful colour combination. The sad thing was that it was struggling, fluttering its wings which seemed to stick together, but not able to take off in flight. My boy was intent on saving it and I was anticipating having to deal with a lesson about the circle of life. The more he tried to urge it to climb onto a leaf and gently blew behind it, the more I tried to dissuade him, telling him to let it sort itself out (secretly hoping that it would manage to crawl away out of sight and be left to die in peace, and that he could forget about it). We went out for lunch and when we came back my boy went straight to where he had left the butterfly. Surprisingly, the butterfly had made its way onto the top of an old laundry detergent cap that my son had left for it to try to climb onto and was fluttering its wings more confidently. My boy whispered words of encouragement and went inside to hang up his coat. Not long after, my husband came inside and reported that the butterfly was nowhere to be seen and must’ve flown off.

In that moment I experienced an ‘ah-ha’ moment. What seemed like a struggle towards an end, was actually a struggle to begin – to embark on a new journey. The irony that butterflies are often associated with a connection between two states of being, beginnings and endings, did not escape me. So what did I need to begin? What was the message that the universe was putting before me so blatantly?

The restless feeling continued and intensified until I started up my computer (which is a MISSION for me in this age of hand-held tablets that don’t need updates and time-consuming software tweaks before you can log on). After managing to deftly skirt the matter of writing on my blog over the past few months, I was suddenly compelled to open it up and hope that my skittish inspiration would come out of hiding.

I was drawn to scroll down and then it jumped out at me: Today, 2 November, is the one-year anniversary of my first blog post. I’ve come full circle. How could I not write a post? Inspiration presented itself with the beautiful photo my boy took of his ‘rescued’ butterfly.

Seasons move on, Inspiration presents herself in ebbs and flows, but what might be considered as an ending could turn out to be a beginning. What my boy and a butterfly taught me today is not to give up even when it appears as though the odds are stacked against you – and to continue trusting that nagging feeling, with or without the sticky fingers!

Woman, Machine and a Case of (Im)perfect Timing

Man and MachineThe kids were fast asleep in bed (finally, after a long, looong evening), it was blissfully quiet and I was inhaling my warm cup of tea when I realised I’d forgotten about the washing in the machine. As I made my way down to the utility room, my ‘doom’ sensors started to flicker. I hadn’t heard the familiar, annoying ‘bing, bing, bing’ that usually sounds the end of the cycle and summons me to unload it. Hmm. I opened the door and the first thing I saw, other than the evidence that the machine had tried to run away again by virtue of it being half a metre away from where I’d left it, was the bright digital ERROR MESSAGE. Just two little yellow letters that could elevate the heart rate of every mechanically challenged person and induce immediate perspiration.

My brains fled back up the stairs, grabbing the tea cup and muttering words of denial and something along the words of, “it’ll all work out”. So, instead of relying on my traumatised brains, I followed my instinct. It was all I had left. I pulled the plug out. Then realised the machine was still full of water and hadn’t drained. Oops. What to do? I checked my phone – nope, husband was definitely on a plane and in the air, heading towards another continent and wouldn’t be *vaguely useful until the next morning. *Vaguely useful because I think he has as much mechanical knowledge as I do, except he’s braver and stronger, and can break things apart and put them back again, even if they still don’t work. Typical – always when he goes away and always as he is just out of contact so that I don’t even have a sounding board, a second opinion or someone to blame.

With shaking fingers, I decided to make use of my technology and hitch a ride on the information highway. Google. YouTube. They answered my error message and a patient, kind and helpful female voice guided me through a visual presentation of how to open the machine and manually drain the water from it. I love how it worked out for the guy who was doing the demonstration. There was a lovely little flap that came down and formed a channel and the water flowed obediently into a little water tray that he had ready. All I had was a bucket, a little door that was too low to get the lip of the bucket underneath and a spout that preferred to spew the water right down instead of into the bucket. I emphasise the use of the word BUCKET because that is what I used and it still wasn’t anywhere near enough to contain all the water that came running out. The little water tray in the demonstration was a ploy – a false sense of security about how bad the whole process really is when you’re in your long t-shirt pyjamas, bare knees on the cold floor, trying to get all the water into a bucket and most of it is running along the tiles looking for the nearest exit. Thankfully, we have a drain in the middle of the floor. It never made sense to me because it seemed so shallow and useless… until now.

As I was muttering words we never say in front of nice people or our children, my feisty memory jumped back to another time, long ago, when I was dealing with another kind of water flow…

Husband and I had recently moved into the very first home we had bought together. I had enjoyed a long, robust day at work, begging clients to accept my spelling and grammar changes and getting their very late adverts into their chosen publications through diplomatic – um – begging with our media contacts. I was looking forward to a nutritious, gourmet microwave meal (no kids, no conscience). Husband was away on business and I was going to watch all the girly TV programmes of my choice. As I entered the townhouse complex with my car window open, I was struck by the sulphuric smell that must’ve been from those building works down the road.

As I entered my kitchen through the adjoining door from the garage, I realised that the smell was somehow stronger. As I turned left out of the kitchen and into the hallway, a flow of water trickling out of the guest bathroom on the opposite side of the hallway caught my eye. It was immediately very clear to me that it was more the kind of water that goes out of a house via the toilet than the kind that you allow into a house…

The realisation of what that ‘water’ contained completely overwhelmed my OCD-inclined self and I can only say that my reaction was similar to that of Janet Leigh in the horror film Psycho. It all happened in a bathroom, the ‘visitor’ was unwelcome and there was a lot of water and other stuff.

I realised that I had to take control. I was an independent, salary-earning grown-up and this was no time to stamp my feet and wring my hands like a five-year-old. I grabbed hold of a mop and bucket and approached the offensive stream with purpose. After a few ineffective dabs and a lot of dry retching, I knew this was not going to work. I had to be decisive, a problem-solver and make a mature decision about the next steps to be taken. So, I burst into tears and phoned my dad.

Don’t judge me. There’s a lot to be said for appreciating the value of your parents even after you’ve left the fold. He arrived in a flash, armed with a plunger and already wearing his black gum boots (wellingtons/rubber boots). He’d called the emergency plumbers who were on their way and he’d brought my mother with for moral support as I tried to process the horror of my hallway and living room having been turned into a sewer.

It’s important to note that, at that stage, we were slowly discovering that the very things that usually secure a building certificate were turning out to be non-compliant – plumbing, electricity, and so on. All I am grateful for was that they were also not too perturbed about how to lay the concrete so THANKFULLY there was a slight dip in the flooring (not normally visible by looking at the tiling) that created a channel. All the nasty stuff was somehow making its way out of the front door via the hallway and straight out of the back door via the living room without entering the kitchen. We had no carpets and everything was tiled. These were my silver linings on a very murky evening.

And, so, going back to the other night when I was busy rinsing off the clean washing in the bath, I realised how grateful I was for the fact that the washing was at least clean, although not properly rinsed and that I had drained the machine all on my own. I was very proud of myself.

The kids weren’t too interested though. Neither was the repairman nor my husband.

So, I just had to share my story with you.

Wordy Cara on How Not to Tackle Valentine’s Day

How to Mess Up Valentine's DayLittle pink and red hearts, long-stemmed roses, cards filled with loving words and/or cryptic clues and question marks, romantic candle-lit dinners all under the umbrella of ‘Valentine’s Day’ are… not for me. Believe me when I say that it has nothing to do with commercialism (that’s the excuse we’ll attribute to The Husband and 50 million or so other people). I am a hopeless romantic. Hopeless. No, my aversion to celebrating this day has taken root over many years and for many reasons. So, I’ve come up with some hot tips on what NOT to do on this day of love:

1) Tell a four-year-old that her heart is actually the shape of a fist (so not full of love, right?) and not at all like the pretty little cut-outs that she made at school for someone special. It’s right up there with decimating the secrets of the Tooth Fairy and Santa. Sooner or later she’ll take a biology course and all will be revealed.

2) Do not send a fake Valentine to your teenage daughter, who’s into reading detective novels and handwriting analysis. She’ll throw all her resources behind finding that sensitive young man and when she finds out it’s you, she’ll have completed a very revealing summary about your personality too.

3) Never believe your boyfriend/partner/husband when he says that Valentine’s Day is driven by pure commercialism that he will not entertain. There’s nothing worse than when he has had a change of heart and got you the CD you were hinting for and you – who fought your romantic inclinations – stand there empty-handed. Follow your instincts and buy him a fine gift (one that you can enjoy if he doesn’t come up with the goods).

4) Do not spray paint (or even worse – paint) declarations of love all over highway bridges or the sides of buildings unless you can spell and compete with artists the likes of Banksy. Your failed attempts with runny red paint and poor spelling make you seem like an obsessed serial something.

5) I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read newspaper articles that ended really badly with this grand gesture – do not throw an engagement ring or piece of jewellery in her food or arrange for it to be submerged in her food by the chef, unless: you want her to gobble it down and experience the joys and tribulations of being a diamond smuggler and waiting for nature to take its course; you are happy to pay for aesthetic and other dentistry; you actually want her to choke; or you are prepared for the eventuality that your donated gesture of love sets in motion the betrothal of a couple sitting nearby by virtue of it arriving at the wrong table. By all means, surprise her. Just leave it out of the food.

6) When dedicating a song you love to the one you love, make sure you know the lyrics very well and understand their meaning too. I recall a radio DJ commenting on how many weddings he’d been to where the bridal pair had played Dido’s ‘White Flag’ for their first dance. I also recall the DJ made this comment after having numerous callers phoning in with this song as their Valentine’s Day request for that special somebody. Same thing with Eurythmics’ ‘Thorn in My Side’. Nice tune, but listen to the words. This could be the deal breaker.

These are just my top six, front-of-mind ‘Don’ts’ and I get the sense that the list is bound to grow over time. If you’ve got some great stories to share, don’t be shy – we need to help all those misdirected souls out there and save them from Lonely Hearts parties.

Whatever your feelings about the day, the best fact about Valentine’s Day 2014 is that it falls on a Friday and I just LOVE FRIDAYS! Oh, and I love that this also happens to be my 14th post on my blog!

Tongue Twisters and Other Misadventures in a Foreign Language

Tongue TwistersVisiting or living in a foreign country brings adventure, new tastes and smells, great discoveries and loads of fun. It also brings – often with a nasty surprise – the challenge of having to deal with a foreign language. Coming from a country that has 11 official languages (along with loads more unofficial ones thanks to South Africa’s colourful history), I am no stranger to different sounds and words, but I am no multilingual aficionado, able to seamlessly chop and change languages as I please.

After the Big Move to Germany, I would start a question, request or brief chat in German, then apologise profusely for my poor German language skills, explaining that I had just arrived in the country. The person I would be talking to would look at me wide-eyed and puff out their lips with adoptive pride and reassure me that my German was very good indeed for someone from the southern tip of Africa as I bowed my head in false modesty. You see, I wasn’t being entirely honest with them if you count the year of German I had at school when I was 13 and the five or so cramming sessions I had before we made the big jump across the ‘pond’. Plus, I had managed to master first-year University-level isiZulu during my degree years ago and I felt rather cocky and self-assured of my linguistic abilities.

Oh my, how I’ve learnt. After almost three years of going to class once a week (when the kids aren’t sick or on school holiday), I haven’t progressed as much as I expected and now my modest protestations of language proficiency (or lack thereof) are met with motivating attempts from those who know me far too well by now – my neighbours, pharmacists, doctors, sales assistants, cashiers and my German teacher (bless her for not banging her head on the desk or flinging herself down the stairs when she has to repeat the same concept or word for the umpteenth time). It’s embarrassing, but speaks volumes of the depth of their kindness in being so encouraging, even though I suspect I am a disappointment to them.

So, it was with great admiration and delight when we recently boarded a train to embark on our big weekend adventure from our city to Paris and I heard the announcements in French, German and English. “Wow!” I thought to myself, “These people are an inspiration”. At first, the announcements were impressive as the gentleman reeled off instructions and updates in all three languages and then I started to notice little discrepancies between the German and English versions. We were close to France when he gave an update in French without any hesitation; then came the German, which seemed alright; and then the English, “We will already apologise that there is a 30-minute delay”. Then, in German, he said something along the lines of, “If you would like more information (pause as he realises that he’s messed up)… I will give you more information when I can.”. Now, I know that pause meant he knew he messed up, because it’s what I do while I scramble through the Rolodex of words in my head and try to match them with the mastermind code of grammar.

The next announcement in English had me in stitches, “Laydees and jennelmen, we are no longer on the fast track, so we will go on the tracks and we will be 40 minutes later”. The kids were understandably a little confused, so Husband helpfully (?) decided to translate, ” We’re completely lost, but the driver says he’ll take the ‘agterpaadjies’ (back tracks in Afrikaans) and we’ll get to Paris only 40 minutes later than planned”.

By this time I was beyond mirth. I was gleefully loving every mistake I could discern. It was just so good knowing that everyone makes mistakes. We do our best and thank goodness nobody has ever been as wicked as I was laughing at this very brave fellow’s slip-ups.

As I said, every now and again, I am brought back to earth with a bump. Wrapping my mouth around words and sounds that my tongue just isn’t as agile for as it should be. The worst is when you confuse your second or third language sounds with what should be those of your mother-tongue language. My best example is the German ‘S’ (a ‘shhh’ sound) and the regular English ‘S’. It’s gotten so bad now that I cannot say Stellenbosch without my first attempt sounding something like ‘Shhtellenbosch’, which makes me appear to have enjoyed far too many jolly trips sampling the offerings of its world-renowned vineyards. Oh so much still to learn…

If I can give you just one word of advice – actually I need to give two – rather sacrifice your pride and memorise at least a few key phrases like “Excuse me, do you perhaps speak English?” in the language of the country you are visiting. I cringe when I hear tourists stomp into a shop, braying for some help in English, giving the absolute impression that the language of their host country is inferior to their own. Sometimes a pathetic attempt at another language conveys a more sincere message that you appreciate their culture, respect them and are at least trying. It is more often than not met with kindness, even if not reciprocated with the requested language.

The other piece of advice I do have to share with you is to NEVER, ever ask, “How much does that cost?” in the foreign language if you cannot at least count or do mathematics in it. The blank look the sales assistant gets from you just gives you away as being another dumb tourist who can’t afford to pay…

Stand up, be Counted and Make a Difference to your World

Farewell Madiba  Copyright Wordycara 2013

Farewell Madiba
Copyright 2013 Wordycara

I remember the crisp, fresh autumn morning in April 1994 well, right down to the clothes I wore. I was waiting in a queue that went on and around a few blocks ahead of me – no front in sight. Behind me, the queue went on for even longer. People were chatting. Strangers striking up conversation with one another… laughter, joking, excitement, anticipation. English, Afrikaans, isiZulu, Setswana and so many more languages merging together into a unique rhythm, music to the ear. Strangers – young, old, healthy, frail, male, female and – then – most importantly, black, coloured, Indian and white all together with the same vision ahead of us.

18 years old, having just recently celebrated my birthday, I held my identity book as if it were gold. This was one thing that my normally flippant teenage mind grasped the importance of and I took a mental photo of that moment, standing in that line waiting to cast my first ever vote along with so many others who had waiting so long, too long to have their individual voice heard.

It did not matter which party we were voting for. What mattered was that we could now share the same experience, irrespective of our backgrounds, beliefs, language or colour of our skin. We knew that change was inevitable. What was not inevitable in our minds was how it would all turn out.

Everyone recalls this day – the first free and fair democratic elections in South Africa that marked the end of Apartheid. The picture of snaking queues of people that went on for kilometres and that filled television screens will remain imprinted in the minds of everyone around the world. What must not be forgotten is that the wheels were set into motion long before these queues gave the first insight into the sheer number of South Africans who yearned to make the country something to be proud of. I cannot detail the intricate political history or the many steps along the way, but I can share my memories – the thoughts of an adolescent who understood that what was happening was significant, but perhaps not yet how significant it all was.

The first memory I have of the impending change of ‘the way things were’ was on 11 February 1990, when I saw, on the news, a man called Nelson Mandela being released from prison. Not being too interested in adult chatter, but still managing to absorb snippets of conversation, I recall being unsure about whether this was a good or perhaps not-so-good thing.

A referendum was called in 1992 to determine whether white South Africans supported the negotiated reforms that would bring an end to the Apartheid system. Always grateful for my multi-racial schooling, I remember the entire school being led out onto the athletics field as the referendum was due to take place, creating a colourful chain of joined hands, singing songs of peace and hoping for a positive outcome. It was.

Leading up to those elections in 1994, there was naturally a great sense of apprehension and uncertainty. Would revenge be exacted by those who had suffered for so many years in so many ways – humiliation, physical violence, exclusion and separation? Would extreme right-wing groups scupper the work that was being done? What would happen and how would it affect us all?

Well, on that day in 1994, there was no sign of those worries and fears. Cleaners, gardeners, rubbish collectors, teachers, lawyers, doctors, the educated, the illiterate stood side by side. All wanting the best for themselves, their families, their future and our beautiful country.

Nelson Mandela became our President by means of a legitimate process, but he became our hero through his example, his instinctive talent for leadership and his decision to leave bitterness to evaporate in the confines of a prison cell.

He took what utopian thinkers might call the best possible outcome and made it a reality. We wanted to be able to live side by side, accepting of and acknowledging our differences, carving a life for our families filled with opportunity and making South Africa an example of how an infamous country can become one to be emulated, held up as a model of reconciliation, respect and worthiness.

He helped us to feel worthy – worthy to each have our place in society and on the world stage. I always smile to myself when people from overseas talk about the film Invictus and how magnificent the World Cup-winning rugby match must have been. It is indeed a wonderful film and one which had my husband and I teary eyed as we managed to catch it randomly and at least three times on TV after we arrived in Germany. Oh, but it was so much better in reality. To experience a such a sense of unity, of support for one another and our team, and to admire the example set by such a savvy, yet authentic and sincere leader is indescribable.

What a sense of pride it gives me to know that I am a witness to one of the most significant periods of African and world history.

As I think back to that day in 1994, it strikes me as significant that I cannot actually recall the very moment that I made my first cross on a ballot. What stands out is the camaraderie I felt in the queue, the excitement, the acceptance and the knowledge that every person has the power to make a difference.

I will forever be grateful that we had a leader who showed us that forgiveness and love for your fellow human will overcome the darkest possibilities. Nelson Mandela served his South Africans well. Now it is our duty to continue his work, to persevere and to never allow the principles, for which he and so many others fought so hard to make a reality, to be discarded.

Rest in peace, Madiba. You are our pride, who held our hopes in your hands and kept them safe. It’s time to take those hopes and continue to strive towards them as our guiding star.

The Best Laid Plans…

“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans”

is one of my favourite quotes by John Lennon and I often find myself muttering it like a mantra, clutching to the last few strands of sanity as I try to release my obsessive-compulsive tendencies and accept that things happen that I just cannot control. No matter how many times I revisit the sequence of events in my mind, I cannot change the course of events through sheer willpower or desperate need to have things go MY way.

Now, while this quote has quite a universal appeal, I am convinced that parents (of children or pet children) know its true meaning better than most, so allow me some poetic licence when I say that KIDS are what happen while you’re busy making other plans. No, I’m not talking about the level of surprise associated with their conception (that’s another topic entirely), but rather how well they manage to scupper your best laid plans once you’ve taken on the reigns of parenthood.

Ask me to put a date (usually a very keen social one or – in my previous life as an office-bound mom – a rather crucial, this-could-bring-me-a-promotion kind of meeting) in my calendar more than a few days in advance and you’ll see the look of doubt that flashes across my face. Don’t mistake it for hesitance directed at spending time with you. Oh no, it’s all about me jinxing it by actually putting it in the diary instead of immediately booking a visit to the paediatrician.

Gone are the days of looking forward to that shopping trip to the City, followed by a hearty lunch (usually a salad for the figure-conscious friend who accompanies me) and a glass of wine, followed by a slice of cake because “we’ve earned it” (the said friend by going to the gym, me because I actually made it there which calls for celebration). Oh no, every minute spent counting down to the big day of possible parole from parental duties has me fraught.

Vitamin dispensing, temperature checking, skin-erasing hand-washing and looking for the signs of a snotty nose fill my days as the date draws near. The night before my big day out, and I start to exhale… slowly. During the night, my ears are alert to the sound of any possible cough, but the only sound is the buzzing of my ears as my excitement grows about ‘Mom’s Day Out!’. By the morning, I’m cock-a-hoop, punching the air in victory, silently high-fiving myself for being so darn good at staving off any chance of my child picking up some nasty virus and I start to visualise the layout of my day…

Just then, little Sheila shuffles into my bedroom, clutching her throat and looking like a little mini-vampire with her suddenly pale skin, dark rings under the eyes and red fever-cracked mouth. That much-longed-for taste of a creamy, strawberry laden scone evaporates on my tongue and becomes rancid as reality thwacks me on the back of my head.

By the time we’re on our way to the doctor, the adult within has taken charge again and my concern is focused on the mini-vampire in the backseat of the car. The truth is that I’ll always rather be there in the car with her, making sure that she’s soon back to normal so she can make me laugh with her alternative opinions that I never thought a child was capable of.

Soon – but not before racking up a sizeable paediatric bill and substantially supporting the local pharmacy, we’re back home lazing on the couch, spending invaluable time together – sharing a day we wouldn’t normally have been able to. There will always be more trips to the City with my pals (even though it doesn’t feel like it!), but she’ll never be as little as she is today and her unique world view is as untainted as it ever will be.

Sometimes the best thing is to let go of those plans like helium-filled balloons, admiring them as they begin to disappear above the clouds, and then turn your attention to the very best things that are right in front of you.