Monday, 30 December 2013

Surviving the Christmas Extras

I’m writing this from the inside of a pup tent pitched in the depths of my sister’s basement.  Hey that’s luxury, my brother and his wife have been allocated to the garage on an air mattress on the back of a Dodge ram pick-up truck, with sleeping bags that are ‘good up to minus ten’ ... at about minus twenty degrees Celsius, (newly married, so we expect they’ll probably survive... body heat and all that... – well, that’s the story they’ll be getting when they arrive anyways --J).     
One thing has become abundantly clear this holiday season is that Christmas and extras seem to go together. 

Extra shopping.  Extra food.  Extra travelling.  Extra visitors.  Extra busyness.  Extra expenses.  Extra Stress.  Extra eating.  Extra calories.  Extra Pounds. 
Our ‘third’ Christmas feast is coming up tomorrow.  Yes, I know.  I’ve been telling myself that my shrinking jeans must be a result of the dryer too.     

Tis the season of abundance.  The question is; the abundance of what?   
And just how much of that abundance will require some process of recovery come January...?    

A whole lot of you are already rolling your eyes, praying over credit card statements and conducting internet searches for gym membership specials as we speak...   
In the midst of all that, one is expected to find the time to enjoy and appreciate the people in our lives.

Sadly, many of us have forgotten that finding joy has everything to do with us and less to do with the people around us.  We tend to find what it is we are looking for.           
So Christmas is the one season that highlights the significance of relationships.  It should remind us of the importance of adding value to the lives of the people around us.  If this were a measure of success, perhaps Christmas would be significantly less stressful and it would indeed be a greater joy to see family at the end of the year. 
On my side, thankfully, the extras have been kept somewhat to a minimum. 
Seeing the family has been good, but... well..., my sister has made brownies and so the extra pounds... will just have to wait until January! 


Monday, 23 December 2013

A Handful at Christmas

We grew up somewhat more traditionally and Santa Clause was sort of excluded from our celebration of Christmas.  Santa was not quite the ‘devil incarnate’ but he definitely had no place at our house during the festive season.    

So one evening while shopping, my friend and I decided having 'not ever sat on Santa’s lap' needed to be rectified at the age of 18, lest I grow up deprived of that experience and always suffer from an emotional void of sorts. 
So we proceeded to have our picture taken with Santa, my friend on one knee and me on the other. 

Now with the luxury of hindsight, Santa was very strategic and carefully laid his arms on the arm rests with his palms facing up.  We perched and had our picture taken.   
Took our photos and went on our way, secure in the knowledge that I had a least one experience of sitting on Santa’s lap. 

Upon taking a closer look at those pictures, it is quite apparent that Santa’s gloved hand is there securely cupped around my backside. 

Perhaps that is what my mother was talking about... 
On that note, I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and recommend that you simply keep a watchful eye on Santa!

May God richly bless you all this Christmas! 




Thursday, 19 December 2013

Rooted in Cynicism

Last week my brother indicated that his truck was missing and assumed that his brother’s friend must have it.  Nonchalantly and unconcerned he proceeded to the wedding reception with the assumption that the truck had already arrived before him and would be there. No panic.  No suspicion.  Not even concern.       
My daughter and I looked at each other and laughed at his reaction noting that back home, this is not the standard default reaction to a missing vehicle; our foreignness strongly evident.    

The other day, my mother received a phone call from a man who wanted to return a music folder that he had found.  During the process of collecting that folder, he requested her number because she was unsure whether the folder belonged to the choir to which she was a part.  The folder itself was worth about $2 and more was probably spent on petrol in the process of its return. 
There was a great divide between our thoughts regarding his intentions and the assumptions adopted by my mother.  I mean, it sounded like an excuse (a lousy one at that) to get contact details, doesn’t it?  ‘The foreigners’ looked at each other and laughed again.  My mother, without thinking twice, happily provided her phone number.

My daughter concluded that her Oma was 'grossly lacking in street smarts' as she deals with her world at face value, very casually, and given her environment, has the luxury of doing so.   We on the other hand, have developed a highly sensitive internal suspicion radar equipped with the capacity to attune to any perceived levels of dodgy behaviour emanating from any point.   
I suppose this is true for all of humanity.  We interpret the world based on what we know to be true largely based on past experiences.  Norms and standards differ around the world, not so much in the behaviour of humanity but in expectation.  Our world is interpreted based on our perceptions and judgement of others often made on what we ourselves would do in similar circumstances.   

Somehow disappointment and excitement / contentment are related to the difference between expectation and actual experience.  Depending upon which one exceeds the other, an incident is described as one or the other.
Having grown up in one world, and returning from another, I wonder how easy it is to adapt back to the simpler assumptions that I grew up with. 

How easy is it to relearn that the world is usually safe?  Or just how embedded is that seed of paranoia that comes from living in an environment that has a higher prevalence of crime?
And so, what I am really wondering is, am I destined to be cynical for life?   

I suppose time will tell...               

Monday, 16 December 2013

A Life of Wayward Ducks

A midlife crisis is characterized by a period in life caught somewhere between looking back and looking forward in our perceived assumption that we are somewhere in the middle of our expected life span.  It is a perception which causes many to make some crazy decisions to convince oneself that youth is still within one’s grasp.  But since I am only 29, that simply cannot be what I am experiencing. (I am saving that for much later, I am a firm believer that everyone is entitled to reclaiming as much of youth as possible).      
So the last few weeks I have been facing the ghosts of Christmas past having returned to the community in which I grew up.  The tragic haunting of decisions made that have altered the course of my life and set me on the path I am on at the moment.   

The what if’s of boyfriends past for example.  Have you ever wondered how different life would have turned out if you had made different decisions? Perhaps this is a process that is a reflection of not yet fully finding the path that one is intended to be on.  Or maybe everyone has a collection of what if’s stored in their closet.  I am not sure, but in any case it is a mental activity that my brain is quite happy to engage with; mostly with somewhat disastrous results.       
For me, coming from a small town, now living in a huge city, my life path would have been a very different one.  Growing up it was assumed (especially for girls); that you would ‘grow-up (I know, fancy that), get married, settle down and raise children’.  Aside from not being on the expected path, (my life has veered so far away it is simply not even possible to find the original path back) to be honest, that is one thing that I do not regret.  I am glad to be rid of that set of expectations, both imposed by others and adopted by myself through the process of societal expectation.        

Thankfully my journey of mental ‘what if’s yields more amusement and relief than regret, reminding me that life is more about the journey than the destination as it would seem that mine is a life where the destination continually evades me. 
Perhaps that is my excuse (a life of wayward ducks rather than an inability to get my ducks in a row), or because life lived as a series of end points quickly becomes stagnant. 

If one’s life objective is to marry, for example, what happens beyond that point?        
And so the trip back home reflects back on the ‘where’s of this happened and that happened and the ‘remember when’s of days gone by’.        

And while some places and faces are familiar and easy to recall despite the increase of wrinkles and grey hair and other changes, I sometimes need to remind myself that I too aged in the interim, at least until I turned 29.    
In some ways ironically, the community seems much the same but somehow I feel an increasing sense of displacement and wonder how easy it would be to return to live here. 

The reality is simply this, it is me that has done the most changing.
Whether that change was for better or worse…, well I suppose that would depend on whom you are asking.  

The jury is still out on that one… 


Thursday, 12 December 2013

A Tribute to Former President Nelson Mandela

The passing of Former South African President Nelson Mandela features on front page news around the world.
Its a modern day Joseph story; spend 27 years in prison as a political prisoner and end up as the president of a country. It was a life that has captured the imaginations of people world-wide.
Being overseas at the moment I feel like I am watching the events through the lens of someone else's perception. I cannot help but notice that along with a life that large, comes a huge amount of expectation.
What is highlighted regularly is the gap between the political freedom of South Africa and its continued lack of economic freedom. So the question for me is this one.
Whose responsibility is it? Can the lack of economic opportunity be attributed to the shortcomings of the life of a single man? Or is that an expectation of an icon that has been made to be larger than life?
And so: Is his greatness attributable to the positions he filled or the convictions he held?
I doubt that during the Rivonia Trial, Nelson Mandela saw his future as the President of South Africa. At that point I can imagine he only saw possible death or a life spent in prison.
He was a man who simply valued his beliefs more than he valued his life. And so justice, freedom and equality were ideals for which he was prepared to lose his life.
His memorial attracted the who's who of the world.  And the cynic in me cannot help but wonder if it is the values of equality, justice and freedom that the world wants so desperately to publicly associate with or is it the last opportunity to rub off a little of 'Madiba's magic'?  
And so to carry on the legacy of Nelson Mandela is to adopt his thinking not necessarily his political party. A country and world that holds the ideals of justice, freedom and equality as standards for which people are prepared to die, will build a bright future for itself.
But to a large extent it would appear that these ideals are ones which people feel they are entitled too, rather than feel inclined to sacrifice for or work toward.
When ideals are held higher than life itself, that is when history changes. It is when the church grows, tyrannical governments lose power, new regimes get established and justice starts to win over injustice.
Although the world might see former President Nelson Mandela as an icon. Nelson Mandela himself, did not. Having met him a few years back as part of a youth service programme for which I worked, Nelson Mandela himself was touched that a group of young people had the time to come and visit 'an old man'. A comment to which one of the participants of the programme said, "It's like Nelson Mandela doesn't know that he is Nelson Mandela". And therein lay his greatness.
Fighting a struggle because you have nothing to lose, is a fight that has many willing participants. Taking up a cause that will potentially cost you everything you have, is a war that attracts very few warriors.
And that was the greatness of Nelson Mandela. Rest in Peace Tata Madiba.  May your legacy live on... the world needs it.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Leather in Context

Context is important.  A comment in certain circumstances can be very entertaining and its meaning is interpreted based upon the environment in which it was said.  But the same comment can also be thoroughly inappropriate elsewhere.  Humour to a large extent is very much context dependent.
It is partially why I interact with the internet with caution.  Twitter is one of those tools that invoke high stress level responses.  It is so context dependent, permanent, public and quotable.        

At the moment I blog and have the opportunity to sleep on what I have written before I publish.  Twitter is reactionary.  It’s quick.  One line, press send.  Spend the rest of the day analysing its potential consequences, wishing you could turn back time... 

To a large extent, twitter highlights why context is so important in communication.  Consider the following paragraphs: 
She was ready.  She was a tough competitor and in a good position to win the competition having won three out of the four previous rounds. Dressed in her reinforced leather gear the breeze gently blowing her hair she watched the time go by, oh so slowly.  She wrung her hands nervously and tapped her foot impatiently, waiting for the light to change. 

The loud speaker boomed over the noise of the crowd and called her name.  She was up and so she took her place on the racetrack in pole-position. 
She was ready.  She was a tough competitor and in a good position to win the competition having won three out of the four previous rounds. Dressed in her reinforced leather gear the breeze gently blowing her hair she watched the time go by, oh so slowly.  She wrung her hands nervously and tapped her foot impatiently, waiting for the light to change. 

The loud speaker boomed over the noise of the crowd and called her name.  She was up and so she took her place on the stage in pole-position. 

Despite the paragraphs reading almost identical, there is a very different picture that comes to mind upon completion. 
‘Reinforced leather’ went from safety gear to raunchy garb with the change of a single word. 

That is the power of context, the importance of context and the significance of context. 
Whatever titbits of information you have, consider the context... the meaning may not be exactly what it appears to be.  


Thursday, 5 December 2013

Blood with Bubbles

A friend and I, once dressed up in the middle of August to go ‘trick or treating.’  Halloween being in October, it did amass some confusion and amusement.  We were twelve at the time.  Went to the neighbours and all and they thought we were a little bit strange but despite that, entertained us and we got juice and cookies for our efforts.  That was quite some time ago and society seems to be changing.  There are few neighbourhoods left where that sort of behaviour would be well received.    

In communities we often impose what we believe is best for everyone through social expectation rather than law and to a large extent this is more effective.  Thus, we have created a culture of silence; an expectation of conformity.  A society that simply looks the other way.   

Sometimes I wonder if what we assume ‘we know’ about the world and life, is what is actually true?  Could we have been taught wrong?  How many things have we been lied to about?   

The majority of us live lives that will not draw any attention.  We don’t raise issues, concerns or ask questions.  Then no one will judge us or condemn us.  No one will single us out of the crowd.  We will have lived a life that blended in with society and conformed to what our families expected us to do and social norms dictate.  But is that a life that will have made a difference?  Will it be a life of fulfilment, purpose and joy?  Will it have changed anything?  Is it a life that is noteworthy?     

And so the most dangerous lies I think, are the lies we tell ourselves.  Sometimes the hardest thing about life, is seeing it for what it actually is and not what we want or hope it will be someday.

 I suppose living an honest life with oneself is a challenge.  It is often easier to keep the illusions alive.  Things are going fine.  We live according to other people’s expectations and hopefully things will get better. We blend and try not to draw attention to ourselves.  And so we continue and slowly, bit by bit, we lose ourselves.      

Sometimes the truth is hidden under layers and layers of partial truths.  Partial truths are usually more effective than outright lies.  Half truths are simply more believable and can hold people in bondage much longer than overt deceit.  It’s why deception comes embedded in propaganda.    

So here’s the challenge.  To strip away the partial truths we have held on to for so long and have a good look at what is real.  Then make a decision to take action and live a life that frees ourselves to be all that we can be. 

That being said, I have been lying to myself about an addiction to Coke light and caffeine for a very long time.  By this time, it has probably changed the colour and texture of blood that my body manufactures; blood with bubbles.    

The good news, it's new year’s resolution time, so for the next few weeks, I will lie to myself and tell myself that I will change it next year, starting in January.   


Monday, 2 December 2013

‘Dissed’ by my Daughter

I went to the doctor recently as I was having some chest pains.  I am a little bit negligent in the up-keep of regular doctor check-ups and what not; After all, why go and look for bad news? 

But anyways, I was experiencing a little pain and figured; I better go and check it out.  Maybe I had a lump in my breast or something. 
So when sharing this information with my daughter, she was like: “but Mom, wouldn’t you be able to see it?  Now in essence, I am not writing this to belittle anyone who has found abnormalities anywhere in their bodies.  

But this statement in my case had very particular implications.  You see, while pregnant, I was a good ‘A’ cup bra size but in everyday life I am pushing hard on a regular basis to fill in an ‘A cup’.  I am not what anyone would ever refer to as 'well endowed.' 
In fact, I need to shop carefully for bras to ensure that the cups are not prone to denting lest I accidentally bump into someone and be walking around with an ‘inverted boob’ for the remainder of the day. 

So the comment about being able to ‘see the bump’ was in essence saying that what I have is two small bumps at the moment and so any additional lump, no matter what size, should be easily visible. 

This is truly a whole other level of parenting.  When your children start to out develop, outperform and outsmart you.  It highlights a need for me to regroup in the parenting department and draft some new policy and strategies to deal with this more advanced level of parenting, clearly now required.     

So the doctor’s appointment yielded no lump, just some trauma to my pectoral muscles; cured by lowering my exercise level temporarily and some aspirin to take down the inflammation.  So all in all, the diagnosis is not too serious. 
It’s just taking my ego a little longer to recover however...