On #FlyingSolo – And having awesome kids!

I drove to the airport this morning to pick up my husband, who had been in Lagos, Nigeria, on a business trip for the past week.

Before he left, I think we’d both been worried that it was going to be a tough week – for him because, Lagos, Nigeria; for me, because managing a household with four kids is busy enough for the two of us at the best of times.

As it turns out, he had a much worse week than I did, having to wrangle corrupt customs officials, poor planning and general incompetence at every turn on his trip, and coming home with a massive sinus infection to show for it.

Meanwhile, on the home front, I could not have asked for things to run more smoothly than they did. The kids – all four of them – were surprisingly cooperative and helpful all week, and we settled into a routine that allowed me to get things done while still ensuring that they were all adequately fed and ferried about as required.

I had imagined rushed mornings and general pandemonium, and instead, I had an easy-paced week in which I managed to check a bunch of items off my to-do list. All except one fairly big one, really.  And what makes this even more remarkable is the fact that I was able to manage everyone’s day-to-day, with dinner and bathtime done and dusted by 18:00 each evening. This meant that there were no late bedtimes, and, since we recently reinstated the rule that there is no television or screen time allowed during the week, it also meant that the kids were properly worn out and ready to go to bed at the proper time. Because they’d spent the afternoons playing outside, reading books, climbing our mountain and being kids.

Of course, it’s a huge help that they don’t get homework, and Michael’s exams are over. He’ll also be joining his younger brothers at their new school from next year, so we won’t have to worry about homework anymore anyway, apart from the occasional project.

I’ve also noticed a significant change since becoming stricter on their sugar consumption. The younger boys’ school does not allow ANY sugar in their lunches – no jams or syrups on sandwiches, no sweet treats in lunch boxes; that includes artificially-flavoured juices of any kind, cookies or even “energy bars”.  And I’ve started rationing the number of sweet treats the kids are allowed to have at home, too, and it is paying off in a big way.

It started with their Halloween loot, which I took from them and kept locked in my cupboard. Each child was allowed to pick two items out of his Halloween bag after school every day, and that was IT.  Their sweets lasted right up until this week, and they weren’t all sugar-hyped by the end of every day.

So, yeah. We seem to have hit a sweet spot with our current schedules and routines, and I’m definitely going to try to keep it going this way. Long may it last!

 

I choose the shoes

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine started a new job. Naturally, she needed to go shopping for some new things to wear to work. And, of course, such an expedition should never be embarked on solo. So, being an excellent friend, I volunteered to brave the rails and mannequins of the retail world and accompany her on the journey. We flattened two shopping malls and came away with a single pair of shoes.

Then, not long afterwards, my mom and I spent a bit of time together one Sunday, ambling around Eastgate shopping centre, looking at shoes and clothes and homeware. We went to a whole bunch of shops I would normally just walk right past because when you’re not looking to buy, it’s easier to grab something pretty off the rail and not worry about the price tag attached.

Of course, I saw a few things during both of these excursions that spoke to my heart, which is a dangerous thing. Why is it a dangerous thing, you ask? What could possibly be the least bit threatening about being surrounded by pretty things, and singling out the ones that capture my gaze and set my imagination sizzling?

I’ll tell you why.

Because, while I traipsed dutifully alongside my friend to several stores in search of the perfect pair of work/play-suitable shoes, without clunky “granny heels” or sky-high stilettos; that aren’t flat but aren’t too high; that would allow the foot to breathe without being too “bare”; that would hug the foot and hold it in place without being too hot; while we scoured every clothing and shoe shop in our path for just such a pair of shoes, there were many, many pairs of shoes that grabbed my attention. And during this time, my mind wandered to the trusty pair of wedges that have been my go-to summer shoes for the past two years, and to the fact that one of the decorative studs on the right shoe has fallen off somewhere along the line. It reminded me that the heels of these once perfect shoes were now scuffed and ingrained with dirt.

The scuffed heels:

It caused me to reflect on how, despite the fact that I rarely walk around barefoot, the inner soles of my favourite pair had developed a black-brown imprint of my foot in each shoe, and that the inner sole was beginning to peel away at the lip of the open toes.

The imprinted inner soles:

The lifting lip:

It drew my attention to the fact that my favourite pair of dress-up/dress-down comfy shoes had probably reached retirement age, and it kindled in my weak, womanly heart that most treacherous and fickle of emotions: desire.

Because, as my mom and I oohed and aahed over blouses, dresses, jeans and jerseys; as we held up mermaid gowns and summery skirts, commenting on the colours and coolness of the fabrics, I happened upon a pair of leggings at Zara that would be the perfect replacement for my favourite black pair, which had recently met its untimely doom at the proverbial hands of a rogue nail that had found its way into my new washing machine. And it awakened in me that wicked craft that all women possess, to calculatedly manoeuvre and justify the acquisition of a coveted item of adornment, even at excessive cost.

Still, you might argue, for a woman to desire and covet something is perfectly natural, and to possess the mental alacrity to motivate for its procurement is nothing to be ashamed of. And were you to argue in this vein, my friend, you would not speak untruth.

But what if, as in the particular case of a certain mother of four, there has been an aberration at play for several years? What if this aberration were manifest in, say, the habitual abnegation of the aforementioned desire and coveting, and thereby also in the abject neglect of the accompanying craft of obtention?

I put it to you, friend, that in such an instance, disaster looms. And I do not postulate such an alarming prognosis lightly, but on the premise that the long-term suppression of a powerful force – such as the natural wile of a woman in the pursuit of her material desires – seeks to stifle and restrain something that is, in effect, uncontainable.

We’ve all studied Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, right? Exactly.

I see that questioning look you’re giving me right now.  Are you asking me whether I’m comparing a woman prevented from shopping to an obscurial? Well, yes. Yes, I am.

You see, much like an obscurial, a woman who suppresses her natural urge to shop for an excessively long period of time will eventually succumb in spectacular and unstoppable fashion to the urge to buy an item whose price tag matches the magnitude of the previously suppressed urge to shop. And when this happens, the woman in question will be completely and utterly unable to do anything but submit and let her nature take its course.

There is no way of telling when this might occur, of course. I mean, some women have been known – renowned, even – for frugality in the face of retail taunting that would have most others grasping for their credit cards before you could say “Marc Jacobs/Alexander McQueen/Versace/*insert-top-fashion-label-name-here*”… But, sooner or later, some trinket or gadget or statement piece of one sort or another will cause a stirring. That stirring will soon become a murmur, building in depth and intensity until, in what seems like a moment, it has evolved into a scream – visceral, primal, and omnipotent, and it overrides all reason and any objection. It simply takes over and, before she knows it, the once-responsible woman finds herself bowing her head in shame while simultaneously sending herself Straight Home to Think About What She’s Done.

This could totally happen. As a matter of fact, I have seen it with my own eyes – just last week, actually.

There I was the poor, unsuspecting woman was, wandering around Eastgate, looking for Zara so that she could purchase a particular pair of trousers and all the while keeping a keen eye out for a suitable pair of wedges to replace her trusty favourites, when I saw the perfect pair of espadrille wedges jumped into view from a shelf right at the back of the Preview shop as she passed through by a shoe shop of no particular description.

Since there’s no rule that says being frugal means you don’t get to look, she stopped and examined these paragons of perfection, and noted with delight that they were on sale before noting with just as much shock that, on sale, they were marked down to R1190*.

Naturally, she left the store then and there, and made her way to her actual target – Zara. Once there, however, she discovered to her chagrin that the longed-for leggings she’d sought to purchase were of the currently-trendy “cropped” or “ankle-grazer” style, which would not do. So, after perusing the shelves and rails at Zara in hope of finding a suitable substitute, she walked away emptyhanded and triumphant in her saving of R500. But unbeknown to her, that stirring I mentioned earlier had already begun.

By the time I had marched into Preview again she made her way past that store with the beautiful, expensive shoes, the stirring had blown beyond the murmur stage and the full-volume scream had calculated that her earlier saving of R500 essentially brought the price of those shoes down to R700. And for quality like that, it was a total bargain.
Even more so when, on closer inspection and after trying them on, they happened to carry the name of a certain sought-after designer. Now, normally, the sheer folly of paying the kind of prices commanded by certain names would cause this particular shopper to smirk at the pretention of those who would pay them. But at R700, the quality and the sheer perfection of these shoes was nothing to sneeze at. So, albeit not without trepidation, I bagged those babies before I could blink she plucked up the courage along with her card and made the purchase.

*Only, it turned out that, in my blind excitement, in her summary initial dismissal of the possibility of paying in excess of a thousand rand for a pair of summer shoes, she had misread the marked-down price, which was actually R1990. For a pair of summer sandals. At 60% off. (Yes, that’s what I said, too.)

Needless to say, it wasn’t long (less than 30 minutes) before the buyer’s remorse gravity of her actions set in, and our friend found herself walking back into that store to return the shoes. At this time, however, she was informed that store policy prohibited the return of sale merchandise, except in cases where the merchandise was defective. However, the store manager would be in that afternoon, and she could come back then to discuss the matter with the manager if she so desired.

And that was when my good sense finally kicked in and I realised that I am actually allowed to buy myself things sometimes. So I kept the shoes, and I love them. So I’m locking that stingy bitch that lives in my head and keeps telling me I can’t have stuff, in a trunk, and slipping sedatives into the half-cup of water she gets with her daily ration of dry toast. Because I am a woman, and I choose the shoes, damn it!

The Shoes:


 

Doors

I started writing a post in November about the doors we bought for our house. Because when we first moved in, the whole place had been stripped of its interior doors.

There’s been a lot of drama around the doors. You’d be surprised at how important they actually are, on so many levels.

Aside from the way that a lack of doors can make an entire house feel completely bare, even when it’s full of your family and furniture and you’ve finished unpacking all your boxes, it takes away so much from ordinary, every day things you wouldn’t otherwise think about.

Without a bedroom door, for example there’s no escaping yelling kids and needy cats, no quiet time spent catching up with each other, sharing intimate moments or arguing differences of opinion out of earshot of the offspring. (There’s no stalking off and slamming anything when you’re not winning the argument, either.)

No bathroom door means never feeling comfortable enough to poop in your own toilet.

And no doors on the kids’ rooms means that even when you want to, you can’t turn a blind eye to the mess they insist on making of all their toys and clothes and books and school stuff… You can’t just close off their bedrooms when visitors stop by and see the state they’re in. And so you worry about more than whether your guest prefers Earl Grey or normal tea. No, your anxiety levels shoot right up because now you’re also painfully aware of how they’re judging you for your poor parenting skills…

Doors are important, people!

So, I had this whole post half drafted about how the seller we purchased our house from had promised us doors as part of the sale agreement but it all went horribly south. I went to great pains not to refer to the seller as anything else. More specifically, I made a conscious effort not to refer to the seller in terms that I would not use in the presence of a prospective employer or client. Which is more than said seller deserves, but okay…

Anyway, I was interrupted while writing the post and then just never found enough time to get back to it and do it justice, so you never got to read about the doors we got after the doors we got from the seller were a complete disaster.

Instead, you got the watered-down, PG version, because for all of my big talk about reclaiming my writing voice and bringing old-school back, I’m still afraid of the bogey man and the swear word police. And all of that just to let you know that we now have doors. Because, as was established earlier, they’re really, really important.

 

Not a Blogger

It’ll be twelve years in March this year, since I first started writing online. Back then, I was afraid to call myself a blogger, because I was still so new at it. Because I didn’t know all the technical stuff.  Because we were far away from everything we knew, in a new and foreign place and I was just me, writing my personal rants and journal-style stuff, and no-one actually read it.

And yet, what I was doing was keeping a web log of my life. A blog. I wrote almost every day, and had loads to say about all sorts of things. And it turns out someone, somewhere,  did start reading it. And after a little while, that someone became maybe three someones. Eventually, my three readers became five or six. And as I found my voice and kept on writing, a few more people started stopping by to read my posts. By the time we moved back to South Africa, I’d made contact with a few other South African bloggers and we started meeting up every so often, to share offline what we didn’t necessarily share online.

Brands started taking note of blogs as a potential marketing tool and, by some fluke, I somehow landed on a couple of media lists and started receiving invitations to cool events.

And then everything changed. Blogging as a thing and blogging in South Africa in particular grew up and got serious.

Suddenly, it wasn’t enough anymore just to have an opinion on something and to write about it. Now we were comparing ourselves to other bloggers, installing site counters (remember those?!) and keeping track of how many comments we received on each post. Within what seemed like moments, there was a massive evolution and various metric and analytics tools started showing up everywhere.

Intimidated by how much I didn’t know, I let myself get left behind and started blogging less and less frequently. Concerns around my family’s privacy started becoming an issue and I started blogging even less. Until, eventually, managing to throw together a single post per month became an achievement.

And still, life, family commitments, laziness, fear of failure – all these things – caused me to hold myself back from learning about and using all these new tools of the blogging trade.

Meanwhile, braver souls who had embraced these things started really going places with their blogs, while I stopped writing at all, sometimes for months at a time. Because I was either too busy, too blocked or just too damn tired. Of what, I can’t honestly say…

I started doing a blog makeover toward the end of last year and got as far as a header & logo after having booked and paid for an hour session with a consultant. And when I look at it now, I’m not even sure I like what I’ve done all that much.

Maybe it’s because proper blogging and all that that entails costs money these days. I definitely don’t feel I can justify spending money on my blog, when there’s so much I still haven’t taken the time to learn how to do for free…

Maybe I was just never that into it in the first place. I find that a little hard to swallow, but the statistics speak for themselves, don’t they?

Whatever the reasons, justifications, explanations or excuses, I think it’s safe to say I can’t really call myself a blogger anymore. Certainly not in the most current sense of the word.

I’m almost relieved to have reached this point, actually. No more feeling guilty for the things I haven’t learned how to do; no more pressure on myself to meet unrealistic goals; no more interrupted posts sitting in my drafts folder forever because the moment is gone. No more fooling myself that I have the time or inclination to ingratiate myself with brands or with anyone else, or writing out of a sense of obligation rather than desire.

Rather, I’m getting back to just being me, writing my personal thoughts, experiences and other life stuff, without guilt and without fear. I’m bringing back the old-school blog and there’s space on this bus for two or three someones…

 

A Long Overdue Catch-up

Can I ask a serious question?

HOW do all of the other bloggers manage to find the time, not only to write blog posts but to figure out all the “pro” stuff like creating awesome looking photographs and graphics and do the necessary blog maintenance?

I can barely throw together a post per month these days and my “grand blog makeover” has stopped short at a new header and logo. Beyond that, I simply don’t know what next, or when I’m ever going to find the time to explore all the different themes, or read up and figure out how to take beautiful photos, or to play around with design tools like Canva and the like. Seriously, when everyone else also has a job, kids, life stuff, how do they also manage to do the blog stuff? Do they pay other people to help them do it? Do they know something about something that I have just completely missed? Do they work harder than I do to fit everything in?

Sigh.

And on that note, let’s take a look at all the stuff I wanted to blog about over the last two months:

First, there was the Jacaranda FM/Discovery Spring Walk. I mentioned the pre-event activation in my last post, I think. The event itself took place at the Pretoria Botanical Gardens on 10 September and D and I were treated to VIP entry, parking and hospitality… And at the end of it all, I was gifted my very own Fitbit Charge HR!! I could not be more thrilled – this is something I’ve wanted for absolute aaaaages but have always felt I could not justify buying for myself when there’s always something we need for the house or one of the kids…

Then, I meant to do a follow up on the Argan Oil giveaway I did in August. I think I may actually take this one up in a separate post, as there were some lessons learned here.

Another awesome event I got to go to with my little boys was the Secret Life of Pets event at the Mall of Africa – we were treated to Krispy Kreme donuts, face painting, balloon animals, some fun photo snaps and we got to see the movie, which my boys really enjoyed.

In between all of this, I received my first proper Blogger drop, even though I pulled out of attending the event at the last minute due to work obligations. I am definitely going to pick up on this one in the near future – PediaSure has changed my life!

And then I also finally got around to trying out Uber for the first time and I really wanted to document my experience and thoughts on the service… Perhaps I’ll find a few moments to squeeze in a post about this at some point in the not too distant future, too.

Clearly, I have no shortage of blogging material, so that’s not the issue. The issue is that I don’t want to write these half-arsed mentions of things instead of proper posts. But I simply don’t have hours – even half hours! – to spend blogging.

Common sense tells me that I should stop worrying too much about my blog’s look and just focus on the writing. But in my heart, after so many years, I feel like my little corner on the line should at least *look* as though I’ve been keeping up to speed…

Still, I guess that just sitting down to post this is something. I’ve also created a Facebook page for my blog, but I am still figuring that out, too. I’ll get there eventually, I suppose. In the meantime, tips and suggestions are welcome.

 

Sprung

How is it already the end of September? I thought I was getting into this blogging groove thing but it’s already been more than a month since my last post!

That said, I’ve done a lot more thinking about posting than I usually do, and even drafted some notes on my phone, with the intention of doing some scheduled posts. I know that many of the bigger bloggers out there use scheduled posts to make their lives easier. I haven’t tried it yet but I’m wondering whether it’s worth the bother in my case, because, scheduled or otherwise, there’s still the issue of having to find the time to actually write the posts. (Those of you who have this down, some tips would be welcome!)

As you will have guessed by the title of this post, I’m doing my Spring thing today – half-arsed and late to the party, as always. I must be honest, though, and tell you that I’ve had some really cool things happen since my last post, not least of which was being invited by Jacaranda FM and Discovery to participate in a blogger activation in anticipation of the Jacaranda FM & Discovery Spring Walk 2016, which took place on 25 August at the gorgeous Planet Fitness Platinum health club in Sandton.

Upon arrival, bloggers were treated to refreshing drinks and delicious smoothies, during which we exchanged Twitter handles, greeted familiar faces and tweeted the obligatory selfie or two. Next we had a bit of a warm-up stretching session with a semi-sadistic fitness coach, interspersed with frequent water breaks and fuelled by some delicious wraps, juices and other edible treats. Because you can’t exercise properly without being appropriately plied with food, right?

Suitably stretched and refreshed, we made our way to the club’s fabulous indoor running track, where we split into teams and it was fastest feet first for some amazing prizes. This part of the day’s fun brought me to the shocking realisation that, having not run all winter, I am extremely unfit! Luckily, through sheer luck and the kindness of better athletes, I walked away with the best prize of the day: A complimentary 6-month Premium membership to Planet Fitness, which I intend to put to very good use, regaining some semblance of fitness and (hopefully) toning up for the coming summer! You can catch a glimpse of me coming in 6th or 7th place, here:

(I’m the one in the light blue crop top! 😛 )

Because happiness is healthy-ness, right?