Looking back

By Michelle Dennison

Nine years ago I almost died.

Nine years ago, I was in hospital attached to one of those machines that went “bleep bleep bleep”.

But it wasn’t my heart that the machine was keeping track of, but the tiny human inside me. I had pregnancy-induced pre-eclampsia; a strange condition where ones blood pressure shoots up, feet get bigger and ones body loses the ability to keep proteins.

So to save me from dying from whatever high blood pressure does, I had to have my baby 5 weeks before time.

All went well. A healthy, strong, miniscule girl was born at about 12pm. I continued to have high blood pressure for the next two weeks, and got to know the hospital staff and menu very well.

My daughter stayed for a month, and I got to know the hospital staff and Gateway Mall even better.Michellde

I had to have a high protein diet which involved lots of sausages, protein shakes and egg. I had all kinds of medication, displayed for me in one of those many-tiered trolleys, rather like I was buying sweets.

It was a strange month of my life, but at least as a first time mom, I had the benefit of a month of trained nurses training me to look after my baby.

And now it’s nine years later, and the tiny baby is now a tiny young lady, full of life and joy. Sometimes, the worst times in our life can give us the greatest rewards.

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Contemplations from the Womb of imagination

by Gracey

I recently took time out. Hidden from the world, sheltered from rain, wind and freezing temperatures, I found solace to contemplate my life. I stepped back into the womb of my imagination in readiness for re-birth to the next phase. I expect to be surprised and am excited to begin.
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I have collected friends, colleagues, acquaintances, supporters on my journey to now.

Isn’t it amazing how some people think they’ve got you all worked out? We walk around wearing labels; the fanatic, the wimp, the bitch at the office. Even worse, ex-wife of …, step-mother of …, member of…

We are defined by the place, family, area, country, skin we emerged from, the school we went to, the university we did or did not attend, the job we do or didn’t do. We are chained to the ‘should and shouldn’t haves’.

By the time we reach our so-called freedom years, we are coated in labels; plenty of reading material for the critics. It is said that there is at least one book in everybody; is this what that means? Lord, I hope not. Some of us limp through life under clouds of judgement, prescriptions and predictions actually believing that other people were right!

I think I dumped my coating of tags on several occasions. No sooner were they dumped than I started collecting again.

Today I am ready to make a fresh start on my slate. The good things can come with me, but the bad must be left with the afterbirth. I will choose to surround myself with believers; those who think I can, even when I don’t.

There are two kinds of criticism, constructive and destructive. Constructive critics identify the good and counsel to improve it. It usually starts with selfless praise. I will continue not to criticise the person, for this is blame, but to comment on the behaviour only if change seems possible.

If I am sure that you love me (without personal goals), then I welcome your opinion. If you are sitting in the boat of unbelief+, don’t be surprised if I don’t join you. I’m ‘walking on water now’ and can’t afford your company.

I am positive that I’m not the only one ready to shed my coat. How about you? Let’s do it together and get our toes wet!

Highly Flavoured

By Jac Dowling

Ruthie sat tweedily four-square at the organ, muttering into her scarlet neck wattles and presenting a portcullis of ancient dentistry as she pumped furiously with both feet to fire up the ancient pipes.

Despite the summer heat, she wore her trade mark winter weight tweeds which, over the years, had grown ever more accommodating to the changing seasons of her Pickwickian form.

Inured to most slings and arrows of whatever fortune threw at her, by years of army life, she faced the world with the pugnacity of a bulldog. Chin, lower lip and jaw out-thrust and half-moon glasses on the end of her nose, a bundle of cherries on the crown of her felt hat wobbled in a syncopated and most aggressive fashion as she raised her left hand and brought it crashing down onto the lower keys.

Churchill would have been proud of her at this moment she thought as a rusty breath escaped the pipes, gathered momentum until it grew to a mighty ooooOOOhhhW and ‘Once In Royal David’s City’ swelled in sweet treble from the choir boys processing with candles down the aisle.   It was the annual Nativity Play, and Everyone was there.

It was also Freddie’s big night, her magnum opus, her star turn. Tonight she was the Angel Gabriel complete with white crepe paper wings on a large wire frame and a long white satin dress. The wings had to be attached by crossing ribbons on her breasts and tying them at the back. Except she, at age nine, did not have breasts across which to tie the ribbon securely, so the wings, aerodynamically, were slightly less than perfect. But she was a staunch little girl and decided that a statuesque and noble interpretation of Gabriel would probably do the trick. She would glide to centre altar, brilliant in Mr van Wyk’s spotlight, say her piece as Mum had painstakingly taught her, clearly elocuted

‘Hail Mary, thou art highly favoured …’ right to the end, and then glide off.

Perhaps she would smile shyly and ripple her waist-long hair as she moved- it was certainly an option. But what if her mouth dried up and she couldn’t speak because her tongue got stuck? It would really have been much better if she could have been the Golden Angel who just stood (centre altar, but one step up) and glowed, and didn’t speak. Oh well, worry about that later and make a plan.

It actually wasn’t fair, she thought. Carol was always the Golden Angel because her dad was mayor. Freddie had spent years and years working her way up the ranks from being a donkey in a mask, through the hugely boring job of A Woman In A Crowd to an Angel In Waiting, with nothing to say or do except stand still with one arm in the air, pointing at a star which wasn’t there. And sing carols. Not even a solo part, and she had a lovely voice, everyone said so.

All the actors from Port Albert primary school were waiting nervously in the vestries and on the lawn. Oom Dolf had brought his well behaved donkey Smedley, who always played the same part and sent in his account for appearance money very promptly after the play. No-one knew how he came by his extraordinary name, least of all Oom Dolf, but rumour was that there was a bank account in the name of D Smedley where all his modelling fees were deposited. The D they thought, stood for donkey, but they weren’t one hundred percent sure. Not totally. It’s just what they had heard.   Annamarie Louw’s pet hanslammetjie Lulu was also there. She looked very clean and fat, probably because she was about to have twins, but not that night, not in church.   The sheep, not Annamarie.

Anxious mothers put finishing touches to stripey towels around close shaven heads (in case of nits), adjusted dressing gowns and gave final orders .

‘If I catch you doing that in the church Arnold, you know what comes next my boy, so don’t even think of it – OK?’ and, even worse ‘Koosie, as djy daai vinger weer in djou neus steek…jy ken mos my klap!’ Well, they were only shepherds and extras after all, and life got a bit boring just hanging around on the fringes. But at least they could stay barefoot and not worry about wearing clean takkies and things.

In vestry #2, in an atmosphere ripe with hairspray and cosmetics, the girls donned their silken robes and veils, batting heavily tarred eyelashes at each other, and worked themselves up into a frenzy of first night nerves. Even though they didn’t have to do anything except be women in the crowd.

Mary sat quietly in a corner contemplating her sanctimonious blue self and feeling quite pleased that she just had to sit on a stool and look beautiful and calm and not have to speak, just smile at the baby and Joseph, when she remembered. She practised a few secret smiles, just in case and hoped that she wouldn’t fall off Smedley while riding down the aisle. What if her robe got caught on the saddle and showed her knickers when Joseph helped her down? What if Smedley Eeyored in church or did something even worse? She would feel so embarrassed.

The church filled rapidly with excited parents. The ladies’ tea committee had prepared refreshments in advance and the hall’s trestle tables groaned under piles of koeksusters, sandwiches, flapjacks, Fanta and teacups. Smedley and Lulu were taken for one last walk around the field, just in case…(can’t have that happening in church) and Reverend Kevin gathered his multicoloured flock and led them in. Wise Men and Kings’ turbans, crowns and gifts checked out correctly and shepherds minded their flocks from various distribution points around the chancel. A gentle baa-ing issued from the wings, for effect.

Electric candles lit the interior, Ruthie fired up the organ, her cherries making like maraccas and the Holy Family established themselves around the crib.
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Hennie had his ox mask on upside down, but that was soon sorted so he could see what he was doing. He was a bit put-out because Blooutjie Theron’s pet Dexter calf had to share his space. Everyone murmured ‘Ohhh sweet’ when little iStation was led on by his proud owner. Yes, it was a strange name but, given the circumstances of his conception, an appropriate one. His mother took a stroll down to the local train station late one night, as a Dexter bull was being offloaded. The rest was history.

The glorious assembly of biblical persons in the crowd followed the choir down the aisle singing in many sharps and flats and feeling so proud.

Freddie, aka Gabriel, meantime, was getting well and truly steamed up.   She knew her words off by heart, and her wings were staying put,   Mum had wound pearls in her hair, and her make-up was fine, so she looked ok. But it was sooooo hot and, even though she’d drunk two bottles of Fanta grape, her mouth was still dry.   And it was beginning to thunder and she was scared of thunder.

Time to put her emergency plan into action.   Reaching under her robe, she sneaked a small packet of Wrigley’s bubble gum, from the pocket in her school knickers, black glazed cotton with pocket and elastic, and popped three bits into her mouth, crunched the sugar coating and began ever so slowly, to chew and release the glorious fruity syrupy flavour.

That took care of the dry mouth.   Problem solved, and no-one would ever know.

Her moment had arrived, so had the gathering storm.   She glided gracefully into position, mid-altar, Mr van Wyk turned his spotlight on her, everyone drew in their collective breath and murmured ‘Aaaaah’. Gabriel raised her right arm, mindful of the right wing’s precarious position, and, throwing her voice to the back of the church cried ‘Hail Mary, thou art highly F….’ at which moment three things happened; a massive bubble emerged on the aspirate F and popped all over the angel’s face, an apocalyptic thunderclap rocked the church and…all the lights went out.

Picture from MS clipart.

Tiny stories

By Sue Trollip

There is a quote doing the FB rounds that says, ‘The universe is not made up of atoms. It’s made of tiny stories,’ and I like it. Fortunately I have no scientific type friends to argue the point.

Two stories ended my year, two breath-taking moments, two blows to the gut, one horrid and the other exciting. It made me decide to concentrate on living in the moment, which was an easy decision because I’m writing this while sitting on a white powdery beach leaning against a rock and watching the sun dip into the ocean. My notebook is balanced on my knees but I’m watching a beagle-basset named Biscuit exploring the rocks next to me. His nose is down and his tail up as he scrambles over the rocks that rasp at his Christmas belly. He remains steadfast chasing the scent of who knows what. He scrambles, he tracks, he rambles, and hunts (mostly bait from the fishermen’s tackle) then he falls into a heap, to sleep, he’s a pup that knows how to make the most of his days.

I’m on holiday in a rustic hut on the Wild Coast. There is an outdoor shower and a kettle that is slow to boil. There are no satellite links here (the GPS screen in the car is white, with us a marooned blue dot moving forward), electricity comes via a generator and the water is pumped up from a stream. So that puts paid to computers, cell phones, and TVs. Our neighbours listen to cricket on their car radio.

It’s like stepping back in time.

This is a holiday about sunshine, long walks, jumping through the waves and conversations.

Without people the stories that make up my life would be non-existent or dull. Without family to share the Christmas chocolates or friends to share cappuccinos and laughter my stories would be less amusing and I’d be a few kgs heavier. It’s friendship that makes the world a kinder place, a funnier place, a homely place. And I think it’s time to say thank you to modern technology and those indefatigable satellites because when you say goodbye  in the 21st century it’s more hasta la vista than adios!

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A Jar of Blessings

By Susan Roberts

I saw an interesting suggestion on Facebook: take an empty jar at the beginning of a new year and every time something good happens during the year, write it on a piece of paper and put it in the jar. At the end of the year, take the papers out and read them, and see how many good things happened to you during the year. In other words, count your blessings.

I might try that for 2014 because it’s a bit late to do that for 2013. Or is it? If I were to figuratively do that, what would I find in my imaginary jar for the year that has just passed?

It’s been a year of interruptions for me because I moved house. Twice! It’s surprising how much time that takes up. What a mixed blessing moving was. I did manage to redistribute some of my junk via the SPCA and Hospice, which made me feel good about myself, but what more important blessings did I get out of those two moves?

Well, two of my very best friends came to help me move from my termite-ridden cottage into the upstairs flat on the same property and, as if that wasn’t enough, the same two came back nine months later to help me move back into my newly renovated cottage. True friends. Thank you, Jackie and Michelle – I am eternally grateful for your help and kindness. You are blessings indeed!

I could get all frivolous here (Who, me? Frivolous? Never!) and talk about the upstairs flat having enough space to stretch out a bit and that glorious bath that I loved so much. I could also wax lyrical about how nice it was to have a second bedroom when my friends or family came to stay, as well as my own huge bedroom being surrounded by trees and exotic birds, but you’ve heard it all on these blogs before. Blessings that I truly appreciated at the time, but for now I want to concentrate on some things I haven’t yet shared.

Like how I had so much fun working backstage on “The Insanity League” with Aaron McIlroy, Ben Voss and John van de Ruit. What a hoot it was to be there! Five weeks of running around backstage got me fitter than any gym could have done. A few weeks later I was lucky enough to stage manage the excellent KickstArt production called “The Ladykillers” for four weeks in May and June. I not only had a great time on that production but renewed my friendship with my old friend Tina, who I’ve missed in recent years.

This year I waved goodbye to a niece and a colleague, both of whom emigrated Down Under, but that also inspired me to plan my holiday in Australia and New Zealand early in 2014. In January I will see my sister whom I haven’t hugged for two years, and in February I will do the same to my niece whom I haven’t seen in more than a year, apart from on Skype.

A more sobering blessing in disguise was how I got to think about old age and frailty, when my 89 year old uncle died at the end of last year, leaving my 87 year old semi-senile aunt with no one to care for her. I ran myself ragged trying to find an old age home that took in Alzheimer’s sufferers, and I also managed to track down her other relatives. Blessings stepped out of the woodwork to make my task easier. I know now that I didn’t do it all on my own but was guided every step of the way.

My aunt went from frail to feisty in that wonderful home where she was well-looked after, well-fed, and reasonably happy in each moment in her fractured mind. In that safe place she had nothing to worry about and could spend her waking hours lost in her long-ago memories of family and loved ones who had gone before her.

Sadly, my aunt passed away a few months ago, but her passing was peaceful in that home where so much love and care reverberated daily through those cheerful, laughter-filled halls. Elize and her staff are angels in disguise. The attorney dealing with my uncle’s estate said after his first visit to my aunt: “The people who work there go straight to Heaven when they die.”

My stepfather also died this year, after five lonely years without my mother. Hopefully they are both in a better place now, perhaps sharing nostalgic moments with my uncle and aunt?

A reflection on blessings for 2013 wouldn’t be complete without mention of that other great man who passed this year: Nelson Mandela. What an incredible blessing he was, taking our beleaguered country from uncertainty to freedom, with no ill-will to those who incarcerated him for so long. He made the most of the years left to him after his release from prison, and spread his special Madiba Magic wherever he went, endearing him to millions across the globe, but especially here at home.

In September this year I took my friend Tina to see the monument outside Howick and we both shed tears on seeing the many Get Well messages scrawled onto pieces of bark and stones, each carefully placed along with flowers, now dried and wilted, during Mandela’s illness a few months before.

Mandela was a man truly loved by all, and a blessing whose legacy I hope will endure forever. There is so much I want to say about him but can’t right now. Maybe in a future blog or novel…

So what are your blessings for the year that has just ended? Like me, do you look forward to counting those pieces of paper in a year’s time?

Happy 2014 to you all!Picture