thoughtsfromthepanda

I do my best thinking while driving. I drive a Fiat Panda.

Archive for the month “January, 2020”

B is for Busy… Part 3: 2017

A long time ago, I started this blog initially to record family events, so there would be a record of some of life’s significant moments, especially considering how fast children grow up. And so here is the third part of my catch-up, dedicated to my family, especially my beloved children, Liam and Matthew.

With love

Your mum

Xx

[Editor’s note: Not all details of the year are included but it gives us all a good snapshot, especially of some of the significant moments]

 

2017

 

We kicked off January 2017 with a drive to Hartebeespoort Dam on a really hot 2 January. We rode up the cable way to the top of the mountain, where we walked around and had a bite to eat, and then went back down and drove around the dam.

The dam was a heart-sore at the time, being very polluted, and with vast areas of the water surface choked under invasive hyacinths. It was another reminder that as a family, we need to continue being as vigilant as possible at home in terms of how we personally use and care for our natural resources.

The rampant, out-of-control hyacinths were a heartsore

The cable way, on the other hand, and all the facilities at the top, were really impressive. Looking out over the Hartebeespoort dam area and the surrounding mountains stretching to the distance is always a treat for the eyes.

A spectacular view from the cableway

The boys enjoyed the still relatively new cable way, although they were rather unimpressed at having to wait in the long queue before we could get into the cable car. To humour me, they sat in the old cable car that’s on display at the bottom. Looking at the old one, I was quite glad that the cars have since been upgraded – the original model does look pretty rickety these days!

The children were not terribly impressed with the long queue

 

The old cablecars look a bit rickety today…

On a different note, here I am in late February 2017, having just had my nose zapped again. It’s a semi-recurrent bothersome little melanoma, which is even more reason why these days, I happily embrace not being a sun-bunny. Luckily my latest round of treatment wasn’t as painful as the first time, a couple of years previously, when my nose swelled up to twice its normal size and made me look like a very unhappy clown.

Remember the sunblock, everyone, because our southern African sun is not to be trifled with.

A small bothersome recurrent melanoma

In March 2017, the boys and I went back to the Joburg Zoo after our previous visit in December 2016, this time with their dad in tow. So here comes a disclaimer.

[Disclaimer:]

I believe that zoos can play a real role in the global conservation of threatened animals, and help to educate sometimes ignorant humans about the other creatures with which we share our planet.

The key principle, of course, is making sure that the animals are treated with respect, understanding and compassion, and sadly there are many zoos in the world that are simply prisons for their poor unfortunate inmates – which is in itself the real crime. Today, I am particularly saddened by the elephant situation at the Johannesburg Zoo, and unsure when I will visit again.

More positively, I do note, however, that besides its breeding programmes, the Johannesburg Zoo has also played a role in recent years in drawing attention to the scourge of poaching. On a previous school trip for Matthew and his classmates, when the children were all still in nursery school, we were introduced to a wounded black rhino that had been injured by poachers and left for dead. The zookeepers were not only healing the poor female rhino in a safe place but were also, in the process, educating young school children in their thousands about the horrors of poaching, and why it is wrong.

And so I’m well aware right now that the presence of zoos in the world is a controversial topic that is too long to unpack and discuss now.

[End disclaimer]

On a lighter note: this particular visit to the zoo saw a version of the age-old nature story playing out in our family also, namely ‘The Young Buck versus the Old Buck’, with Liam and Frank running an impromptu obstacle race up the hill. Time to lace up those running shoes again Frank, to keep ahead of the young ‘uns?!! They are getting bigger and stronger and fitter by the day!

Liam is off to a flying start

 

Dad is catching up!

 

Did Frank let Liam win? Hmmm…

 

We also introduced Frank to the Amazon section, and spent quite a lot of time there. It’s very restful, especially when you are on the right side of the glass from the innocuous looking but deadly piranhas…

Watch out for the piranhas behind you!

 

Reclining in the Amazon section

 

Not to be outdone…

 

Reclining on mom

 

Also in March 2017, we met a little furry darling who was going to become the next member of our household. There is nothing quite like going to the dentist for a routine appointment and being offered a puppy – or does this happen to everyone?

In this case, the puppy in question was a Rough Collie, aka a Lassie collie, and as you can see it was love at first sight.

It was NEVER going to be easy to say no…!

 

All because Liam had to have some pre-braces dentistry work done…

 

We had to wait for our puppy to grow a bit before we could collect her and bring her home, in late April. Having arrived with what was still a fairly short nose, she rapidly started growing her long Collie snout and incredibly thick fur, which we think makes her look like a Womble.

 

Furry and round with a very long nose – it must be a Womble!

 

I quite fancied calling her ‘Orinoco’, after the brilliant Wombles children’s books and TV series, but the children permuted ‘Lassie collie’ into ‘Lucy collie’. As Matthew likes to say, if she’d been a boy dog, she would have been a Laddie collie…

Today, she is very busy and lively and brings us all great joy. She bosses our Labrador, Nicky, around all day long and thinks that the three cats are her sheep. She has clearly never heard the expression ‘as difficult as herding cats’ because she never stops trying to pen them into corners of her choice. Occasionally she even succeeds.

Who said herding cats was easy?

And so we will be forever grateful to our beloved dentist, Dr Basil Brook, for bringing this delightful little furball into our home, and if you should ever need a good dentist just give me a call. But please note that the puppies, to date, have been a once-off at his practice.

A baby womble in training

On 28 April 2017, Liam turned 12 and chose to go bum-boarding again at Avalanche.

Liam’s happy place

Frank went bum-boarding too! My mom and I were happy to watch, and drink good coffee on the sidelines.

Matthew having fun with his dad

 

The ladies in the group stayed off the slopes and drank coffee

 

 

Here come some notes about my work now.

From 1 July 2016 till 30 April 2017 I was based in Bryanston, honing my knowledge of the financial services world. But I wasn’t seeing my children enough. I felt that it was time to remedy this, if possible.

 

Spot the photos of the children on my wall

And so, when a new opportunity arose, I began working from home in May 2017, and I now write mainly in the arenas of technology, engineering and events management. By and large, I seem to have a good mixture of being able to get on with my work at home, sprinkled with just enough client meetings and events to make me brush my hair and get dressed in decent clothes so I don’t look like a ‘skrik’ five days a week.

June 2017: at an occupational health and safety expo for which we write

Just kidding about being a skrik. And it’s great not having peak-hour traffic as a regular part of my life.

Cheers to less peak-hour traffic! November 2017

Working from home, after years in the corporate environment, brought some adjustments initially and its own set of challenges, but the benefits so far are significantly outweighing any odd moments I might have of missing office life.

One of the early challenges involved those occasions when I would run out of data while on a deadline to get an article to a client. Kudos here to Frank for sorting out uncapped wi-fi for us! The children are even more grateful than I am, I think – it’s opened up new access to technology. One must roll with the times (although they will always have a Mother Who Makes Them Read Books).

Thanks for the uncapped wi-fi, dad…

And I am also grateful for my job, which has brought me overall a little more firmly into the 21st century, including being able to say that today I am a tech writer as well as a financial services writer. I can tell you much more about cyber security than I used to, but please don’t ask me too many questions about the networking side of the business. That is very much the domain of the technologically-very-abled, and still brings me its own challenges.

Networking chit-chat? Talk to the hand!

Eventually I also achieved one of my initial work-life aims and started walking my boys to school some days. We were often running down the road more than walking, I must confess, but our collective time-keeping is getting better.

I like walking my young lads down the road to school in the morning, and I think they like it too (even though it’s usually preceded by a few moments of grumbling). It gives us some interesting moments of catch-up time in the middle of everyone’s busy lives.

Sometimes I turn into Momma Bear and yell at inconsiderate drivers who don’t acknowledge the zebra crossing we are attempting to navigate safely, and my children in uniform trying to get to school on foot. I have even been known to bang on the boot of a car whose driver chose to ignore us and roar instead through the four-way stop, in an effort to reach the Melville traffic lights a whole 47 seconds or so sooner than if they’d waited to let the children cross. Some people just shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel of a car, if you ask me…

Pedestrian rage is something I’m learning to keep under control now (sometimes). I have moments of feeling mortified that my temper got the better of me, which can lead to interesting conversations about Being Considerate And Polite and Respecting Children’s Rights Too But Maybe Mom Shouldn’t Have Banged On The Car Boot And Scared The Bad Driver Like That. At least I admit my wrong-doings to my children. Most of the time.

One thing that was truly awesome during this new work phase was being at home to look after our darling Sasha. When I first started working from home in May 2017, our beloved Dobie Darling was about 11, which is a good age for a biggish dog, and the cancer in her right leg was on its way to announcing itself. In short, Sasha was getting old. Our beautiful girl, who had always regarded herself as being the children’s four-legged Other Mom…

Sasha and baby Liam

 

Sasha and baby Matthew

…needed a bit of cosseting and pampering at this stage of her old age, including sharing the drives to school and back when we weren’t walking, to give her some mental stimulation. I could never have done this if I was still working in a corporate office.

A bit of doggy mental stimulation while…

 

…Sasha joins the school run

Now that I was working from home most days, it was wonderful to be able to give Sasha that special care. I used to look up from my laptop and through the French doors, and it was heart-warming to see her comfortable and happy on her cushion just a couple of metres away. That was really a win-win.

Sasha passed away finally on 26 June 2018 (just five days after my birthday). We were with her till the end, and I am so grateful for the extra time I had with her. She was a truly special girl; enormously loved by all of us to the very end.

 

Let me rewind now to September 2017. We were so very proud of Liam the day he landed up presenting his Eistedfodd speech on live television, on 12 September 2017.

Live on national morning television!

 

This opportunity arose purely by chance because of Frank’s work. The day before, the SABC-2 Morning Live producers had been discussing the next day’s show and how to focus it on the 40th remembrance of Steve Biko’s death. Frank was in the meeting and mentioned out of interest that Liam’s pending Eisteddfod speech was about Steve Biko – his contribution to South Africa and his tragic death.

The producers thought it would be an excellent idea to bring Liam in – if he was okay with the idea. Our child was nervous at first but agreed. We also got permission from the school in advance. So Liam, then in Grade 6 and aged 12, presented his speech on Steve Biko on Tuesday morning 12 September 2017. He was understandably nervous at appearing on live television, but he came through with flying colours! It was a defining moment.

Frank, Matthew and I were sitting on the other side of the studio and looking at him through a glass window. He looked very small… but he rose to the occasion beautifully. After his speech, the entire studio crew broke into spontaneous applause. Here’s the link to watch it, and some stills below.

Looking smaller than usual…

 

…but so bravely composed

Late 2017 also saw both of our children going on school tour to KwaZulu-Natal: Liam in grade 6, for the second time; and Matthew’s first school tour, in grade 4. Seeing them off on the Shosholaza Mail train was hard. For the parents.

I seem to recall that both of our children, bursting with excitement, bounced through the gates to the platform without a second glance at their mother and father. Individual cell phones weren’t allowed, which meant that it was a long, strange week, with a remarkably silent house. Luckily the teachers sent through excellent group reports via WhatsApp on a daily basis.

Liam (now with braces) is packed and good to go

 

Matthew bounces away from his parents towards the train

 

The WhatsApp reports from the teachers were to prove incredibly necessary when, most unfortunately, the tour’s timing and itinerary coincided with a deadly hurricane that swept through KwaZulu-Natal, forcing some of the activities to be cancelled.

This, however, was the least of the parental worries as reports of casualties in the province started coming through. Fortunately the experienced tour guides and teachers kept our children safe, and their parents updated.

Additionally, our poor Liam also became really ill towards the end with a stomach bug. All in all, I suppose it was a good life experience but I think they were both very glad to come home. Certainly their parents were glad to fetch them from the airport! At least they had a little bit of beach time and experienced both the train there, and the plane back home.

After the tour, the year sprinted towards its end, as time ticked inexorably on. Karate lessons continued, exams were written, Christmas holidays came and went, and 2018 beckoned.

The boys take their karate very seriously

Grade 7 for Liam, and Grade 5 for Matthew, lay just around the corner.

 

To be continued into 2018…/more in my next blog entry

B is for Busy… Part 2: Reflections on 2016

As I mentioned in my last blog entry: I’ve been away.

I’ve Been a Bad Blogger (Because I’ve Been very Busy)

A long time ago, I started this blog initially to record family events, so there would be a record of some of life’s significant moments, especially considering how fast children grow up. And I got busy… and we’ve had radio silence for way too long! So here is part 2 of my catch-up, dedicated to my family, especially my beloved children, Liam and Matthew.

With love

Your mum

Xx

 

In comes 2016

As 2016 rolled in, the children, aged 10-coming-11, and 8-and-a-few-months, prepared to enter grades 5 and 3 respectively. We had a quiet new year’s eve and first of January, and went to Maropeng and the Sterkfontein Caves on the second. Maropeng was a good trip but a long day!

Matthew painting on new year’s day 2016

 

Liam on new year’s day 2016 – hobbit feet!

 

Hard men and their hard hats!

 

In late February 2016 we put up the plaque for my dad, in the Garden of Remembrance at St Charles Catholic Church. We still miss him every day; nobody more than my mom.

The Garden of Remembrance is opposite De La Salle Holy Cross College (DLSHCC) High School, where sometimes you can hear the bagpipes band members practising. I like to think that my dad hears them at those times too. A true Scotsman with a great accent, he always loved the bagpipes.

We miss you every day

In February, Liam and his dad did a great 3D project to create a representation of a frog skeleton. We were all very impressed.

Frog skeleton project

And then the rain came pouring down one night, and the real baby frogs arrived at our back door, having been washed out of a nearby pond (we think). To ensure that they didn’t fry in the sun over the next few days, a rescue operation was required. I wrote about this before, in another blog entry at the time.

The baby frogs – and one baby toad – were really cute. We rescued almost 20 tiny amphibians, in total, and put them into a section of the garden where there was moisture, plants and shade – from which, in the fullness of time, they have ungratefully hopped away on their further travels. But it was fun having froglets while it lasted. From time to time we still come across the big toad that lives at the top of the garden, in a hole in the stairs.

Toadlet and froglet – look closely

In March 2016, Matthew as a Grade 3 pupil took part in the school’s chef competition, and we worked out a really awesome seafood salad. He almost got into the finalists’ section but was marked down because his workstation wasn’t very tidy (some chefs are a little flamboyant when they work), and he also ran out of time to finish the end touches on his presentation.

So he looks a bit sad in the photo, but what he doesn’t realise is that all the judges quietly sidled up to his mother, one by one, and asked her for the recipe… which I think is a perfectly fine accolade.

Vigorously mixing his masterpiece

 

All the judges asked for this recipe!

March of 2016 was a craft-y month all round – as well as the chef’s competition, Liam invented a new country with mom’s help, and Matthew created pretty artwork for his teacher:

Liam and his mom invented a new country

 

Matthew painted this for his teacher

At the end of April 2016, Liam celebrated turning 11 by going to Avalanche in Fourways, where some adults learn to ski but a lot more children go bum-boarding. This option is always a birthday hit!

Yee-hah!

 

Happiness! (and a missing tooth)

 

Taking a breather

 

Here’s a quick shot of Frank and his boys in May, back before he started growing his hair…

At the Ocean Basket

…and me in June. Look carefully and the grey is starting to arrive in my own hair. At the time I thought it was free blonde highlights, silly me.

Free blonde highlights because that’s the way the world works – not!

Late May brought good sports weather. Liam is a brilliant goalie, both in football and hockey, and here he is in grade 5 – playing with the big boys – during a short break from the morning’s seven-a-side tournament.

Talk to the hand (No, mom, not MORE photos!)

Later that day, he saved a goal that made my heart stop, mainly because there was only about a centimetre of air between his teeth and the other child’s boot. Luckily the teeth were fine (later to be encased in braces).

In the end, their team were runners-up, but only on goal difference, so naturally it was a little bitter-sweet for our competitive young man and his team-mates. But that’s life.

 

The medals were well-deserved

In June 2016 our darling Vincent went to kitty heaven (at the age of 18), where I hope that he very quickly found Nenya, who had died a year before, in 2015 (at the age of 19). I wrote about our two beloved cats in another entry previously, but here are some photos of Vincent to remember him here as well: our little one-eared ‘thuglet’ with the gigantic personality, who was a confirmed cheese and chocolate thief any time he was able.  Dearest little cat…

January 2016

 

With Matthew

 

With Liam

 

The tooth came out when he was happy

For this next section of my blog entry, I would like to introduce the Egg Files. As 2016 ticked on, it became apparent in the middle of the year that I was wrestling with a very difficult work situation. So at odd moments I drew faces on eggs before boiling them, to introduce some moments of silliness and cheer myself up in the mornings. It was quite therapeutic at the time; I can recommend it. Anyone can draw a little face on an egg – trust me!

Mr Grumpy

 

Mr Surprised

 

Mr Seriously Fed Up (that must have been a bad morning)

 

Mr Confused

However, even while I was drawing faces on my eggs in late July 2016, I was still able to count my two greatest blessings, in the form of my children. Here is Matthew, sleeping, and Liam wearing my winter coat. With them in my life, I could fortunately still draw some happy egg faces!

Matthew always looks so young when he sleeps (here aged almost 9)

 

Liam in my coat reminds me that he was almost as tall as I am, and here he’s only 11

 

When the children are happy, the world is egg-zactly right!

When Matthew turned 9 at the end of August 2016, his parents gladdened his heart with his first pair of proper headphones and, at his request, a party for a select few friends at the Spur. (He’d also had a Spur party the previous year, 2015, when he turned 8. I guess Matthew likes the Spur.)

Proper skull candy – his father’s child!

 

The Spur on any given Saturday afternoon is a busy place!

In September 2016, Matthew won the prize for the Grade 3 book day when he dressed up as his favourite character, Asterix. Here is Asterix in all his majestic warrior glory! Be afraid. Be very afraid. Dynamite comes in small packages, as does Asterix himself.

 

Beware the famous Gallic warrior

In October 2016, Liam discovered Bounce trampoline park, and a new obsession was born. The harder you fall, the higher you bounce, they say, and it’s not a bad way to look at life’s knocks.

Bouncing the blues away

Towards the end of 2016 I started painting again, after having been creatively idle for a period. I began with recycled boxes, which was a thing for a while…

My happy place

…and then I started on an English landscape for Mike and Jane. I got off to a great start and then the enormity of what I was trying to do with this painting stalled all bravery – as well as inspiration – for many months, so that in the end, I completed it only a year later!

 

The landscape stayed as a work in progress for many months

 

Here’s the final version, but it looks better in real life

Between September and the end of the year, I revisited my Heart Art to gold effect (see what I did there?)

Navy and gold heart

… I played with some candles for a bit of fun with perspective (perhaps I was motivated by an Eskom black-out at the time?)

Three candles

 

… and then I created something new – the Working Girls Stiletto pieces. These were inspired by a friend at work who loves her high heels. So I worked on Gladiator Stiletto and Ballet Dancer Stiletto. I think I might need to pursue this one further again; they are fun and interesting to do, and quite pretty I think.

Ballet dancer stiletto

 

Gladiator stiletto (a lethal weapon in its own right)

And so the end of the year and the next festive season rolled around once more. Christmas 2016 was very happy. We were Joburg-based and it was a peaceful holiday season in a quieter-than-usual city. I always think Johannesburg in late December is a good place to be.

Matthew (9) was still under the firm impression that Santa is real (we still hadn’t broken the news to him); Sisha the cat claimed her usual place under the Christmas tree; the boys and mom went to the zoo after Christmas to see the Amazon section for our first time, and we all (including dad) went to eat at Moyo so that dad could introduce Liam to mopane worms.

 

Spot the cat

 

Mom’s happy Christmas…

 

…Children who read!

 

Liam and his 3D doodler

 

Matthew and his Lego

 

Posing in the Amazon section at the zoo

 

Tiny blue frog

 

Liam getting to know a fish

 

Matthew also with fishes (not to be outdone, or anything)

 

Dad, Liam and mopane worms (the rest declined)

As 2016 ended and 2017 arrived, Matthew was 9 and Liam was 11, and they were about to enter grades four and six respectively.

 

To be continued into 2017…/more in my next blog entry

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