The world is on its head…. and I made apple pie

The last 10 days – what is happening?! As a lovely new friend said to me ” the world is on its head”…. I couldn’t agree more and I am not sure my heart can take much more. And I am not even directly affected by what’s been going on! Well, I suppose calling off the May adventure to radio collar elephants in Mozambique based on the catastrophic event that was Cyclone Idai would be a direct effect… more like an inconvenience compared to the level of trauma for those affected by the flooding. But I have been absolutely consumed by what this level of natural disaster has meant for the people in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. The helplessness has set in…

(For those of you following my preparations for May’s Journey with Purpose, I will have more specific detail soon of whether we will postpone our journey till later in the year?)

While people were dying in southern Africa from the worst tropical cyclone on record, people were dying in mosques in Christchurch at the hands of a mad man… and I am sure that other people have died in other places around the world in the last 10 days…. I recently read murder statistics out of South Africa – about 65 people a day? I am not sure where I am going with this as it all seems so overwhelming and hopeless.

But maybe that is what I am trying say here…. there is hope. There is always hope even in the seemingly small actions of individuals…. a wise, old friend just posted something along those lines on Facebook. And I thinks its true…. don’t give in to the despair from the pain you see around you. Just love. Love is an action and we can show it in many, many seemingly insignificant ways. I think even sending love out into the universe will help. Perhaps if you can’t donate money to a relief effort or the stuff of every day means you aren’t able to physically make it a scheduled vigil just send out those loving vibes. Right?! I hope it is so.

One thing I have been hit round the heart with over the last week is the place of gratitude. While I am not able to be a direct help to those in desperate need… waiting in the tops of trees for days to be rescued…. I am able to be very mindful of all that I have been given. I am able to be thankful for waking up in a warm bed in a dry home. To shower with hot water, use a flush toilet in my bathroom before a healthy breakfast, a decent cup of coffee then into the car that takes me to a good job. This job makes me able to pay for the upkeep on the car and that decent cup of coffee. And so on and so on…. I have the luxury of time to read, write and plan my next travel adventure. Yes, some of this came from hard work but really mostly just grace from being born into the place, time and family I was. Maybe if I am grateful, so grateful and know in my heart that the privilege I experience is not my entitlement… maybe that can make a little difference in the world?

And so I made apple pie… to share with my incredible Mom and Dad… another privilege I have is a loving, close family. Dad prepped the apples and whipped the cream. Mom looked over my shoulder while I had a go at Granny Barbara’s pastry recipe (haven’t had enough practice with this one yet). I tried to be in each moment of this process so utterly thankful for each part of this particular Sunday morning in Auckland. Not to make light or gloss over what has happened in the last 10 days but choosing to appreciate each moment of my NOW.

Period poverty – this is going to get a little personal

I remember my first period really clearly.  I was 11 years old and it was awful.  Even though I knew what was coming, understood its reason biologically – my mother is very pragmatic and we had already had “the talk” – it was still awful.  I had fairly scientific leanings even then and while my rational mind could make sense of the biological function of it all, this pretty early blooming, relatively speaking, made me feel quite defective.  As an introvert I was already struggling with how to be more invisible but somehow this experience made me feel like I had a big, scarlet “P” on my forehead – “she’s a woman now!” – which completely freaked me out. Quite bizarre thinking back on it.

Unfortunately getting my period also signaled the beginning of a 30 year struggle with my body and its hormone functions – a legacy of “woman’s issues” in my family.  Every doctor, naturopath, acupuncturist, chiropractor, endocrinologist visit under the sun.  Countless hours reading everything about women’s’ health and I won’t even hazard a guess at the amount of money spent on these visits, procedures, tests and medication.  Who would want to be a woman?

But I am not sharing any of this really personal stuff to solicit sympathy. No, I am about to utter words of absolute gratitude.  Never once have I had to wonder how I would afford my next pad or tampon or even pairs of underwear ruined by flooding.  Never once have I had to say I will just live with all this pain and agony around that time of the month – there was always a new doctor to try, a new treatment within reach.  Never once did I have to sit in shame, alone thinking I was dirty or unclean.  Never once did I have to face any of the medical stuff alone or keep all this to myself for fear of shaming my family.  Never once did I have to face as a child making the decision not to go to school because of my period or later in life postpone happy travelling adventures because of my period.

I have just watched “Period. End of Sentence” – a 26 minute Netflix doco that brought me to tears.  One thing I know for sure from talking to all sorts of women over the years is there is nothing straight forward about periods.  The documentary highlights what is going on for women in rural India with regard to their periods.  They can’t even talk about it, don’t understand why its happening, have no access to even basic sanitary products never mind trying to navigate pain, complications, disease, hormone imbalance and all the other complexities that often arise around our monthly bleed.  My heart is broken.  And then all I could think was these are disposable pads they’re making! What about the waste, what about the planet!  These women have only just found some empowerment, access to a basic need.  Just in time for others to probably tell they are clogging up landfills with their waste!  My heart is broken again.

In my little bubble of a world the new conversation is all about waste-free managing-your-period alternatives like moon cups, period underwear or reusable cloth pads.  Most of these options come with a hefty price tag.  You would have to approach this with an investment in the future mentality.  While trying to find an option to suit me I came across a New Zealand start up – I am Eva.  Brilliant!  I invested and I am sold – great product!

But no sooner had I started congratulating myself for another little waste free win than I read something that shocked me.  Period poverty is thing.  Right here.  Right in my backyard.  Young girls in New Zealand are missing chunks of school every month because they cannot afford sanitary products!  Even older women working minimum wage jobs are sometimes missing work for the same reason.  This is insane to me in a country like New Zealand.  Thankfully there are amazing things happening out there to try and solve this.  I am Eva is one example – you can buy period underwear on behalf of women and girls who cannot afford this basic need.  Australia has just taken sales tax off sanitary products… perhaps we should be doing the same?

In May I am adventure bound once more – an elephant conservation project in Mozambique.  Part of our plan is to visit village schools along the way with environmental education materials but also reusable cloth pads for girls.  The importance of girls staying in school cannot be overstated, not to mention a little dignity with a side of empowerment.  I am humbled to be a part of this Journey with Purpose and to help in a small way support the work of armswideopen.org.

If after reading this you feel inspired to give, I am asking for donations in support of my expedition in May – for more info click on the link – https://www.givengain.com/ap/a-bit-of-ubuntu/

In my early 40s now I have finally learned to stop fighting my body.  I have learned to find stillness and listen to the sacred rhythms of womanhood.  This may sound weird or airy fairy but it is truth.  Seriously.  And I wouldn’t even consider myself a feminist.  All I can speak to is what I have learned about life from tapping into the wisdom of what makes me feminine – our periods are so much more than biology.  My wish is for us to find a way to lift taboo and allow all girls to tap into their sacred feminine too. And we can’t even consider that if most girls don’t have access to basic sanitary products.

Candy striped sneakers and turning 42…

Being the geographer I am I know that female life expectancy in NZ is 81.46 years.  That makes me officially middle aged as of Thursday.  I am having a really hard time getting my head around this!

I have always been quite excited about birthdays and finding ways to celebrate.  This was the first one I really just ignored until it arrived.  My darling family were bugging me right up to the last minute about what and how we were going to acknowledge my number day.

This whole situation has resulted in some serious reflection time.  So here are a few of my musings…

What are you supposed to have achieved by middle age?  A happy marriage. Nope.  A kid or two. Nope.  That house with the accompanying mortage. Nope. A successful career.  Hmm, debatable.  I LOVE my work environment but it took me a step backwards and a serious pay cut to get there.

I have also had a very non-linear employment journey.  In my mind I think this means I could give practically anything a go. Unfortunately it has held me back as many prospective employers are not too sure what to do with me. My current team leader would be the exception.  She took a chance on me and her support has been invaluable.  She definitely gives me space to play to my strengths and for that I will be eternally grateful… And there it is, the first blessing to count.

But what about the rest…

Well, for the girl so passionate about her birth place Africa – its red earth in my DNA – I sure have a lot of stamps in passports.  So reluctant to leave.  Yet that first travel experience in 1994 literally opened a world of possibility.

And so I can tell you what it feels like to wander the streets of London, Paris, New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Rome, Florence, Pisa, Nice, Genoa, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Wellington, Melbourne, Bath, Bristol, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Maputo, Harare, Gabarone, Montpellier, Volterra, San Gimignano, Lucca, Windsor, Aylesbury, Waikiki, Hilo and Auckland.

I have watched the countryside roll by from the windows of cars, buses, trains in Pennsylvania, New York, Baltimore, Maryland, England, Scotland, France, Tuscany, the Lake District, the North and South Islands of NZ, Botwana, Zimbabwe, and all around South Africa.

I have had more breathtaking moments than I can count in nature – that is where my soul really sings.  Standing on the edge of Lake Wanaka or catching my breath at the top of Mt Tongariro.  Breathing in the silence in the Kgalagadi red dunes.  Drinking in the view from the top of the Drakensberg escarpment looking over Mpumalanga. Watching the seasonal waters arrive in the heart of the Okavango Delta.  The itchy heat of a summer day in the north of Kruger Park.  The numb on my face of standing in the snow at Glencoe or sailing with the wind in my face on Loch Ness, letting the sand ooze between my toes at Waimea Bay, north shore of Oahu or standing on the edge of the world at Kilauea Crater, Hawaii.. and so so so many more.  What an immense privilege!

I got to call some interesting places “home”.  My two little places in Maun, Botswana come to mind.  Or avoiding the hippos and the sleeping elephants on my walk back to my little house in the heart of the Delta each evening.  My quirky shipping container house in Blikkiesdorp, Twee Rivieren, Kgalagadi.

As I recall these places and times I am also reminded of the incredible people I have met and shared life with even if just for a short time.

Seeing life in this way has so often taken me out of myself.  What I mean is that so much of life today is taken up with just getting through the day for all of us.  It can be quite an insular experience especially for an introvert like me.  Yes, I need the time by myself to reflect, mediate and recharge but too much time alone is never good.  We are wired for connection.  Travelling and moving around has been the best way for me to get out of my comfort zone and connect with people.  Again, what an immense privilege!

And so yes, I am now middle aged.  No, I have not achieved any of the milestones usually associated with life at this point.  But no regrets, only oodles of gratitude for a life rich in experiences.  May I do this richness justice by using what I have learned along the way to live more carefully on this planet and show more compassion for you, my fellow travellers in the second half of my life.

And I think I will continue to wear candy striped sneakers – the ones my amazing sister got me for my birthday because the style name is the same as mine.  I will still love the Harry Potter books and movies and anything by JRR Tolkien and even teen movies from the 80s like The Breakfast Club…. and I will still believe in magic…

With that I am adventure bound once more – leaving for Edinburgh on Thursday.  Some time on a job experience programme at Edinburgh Zoo and then to England for time with special family…. can’t wait!

Ending off with two of my most favourite quotes, more like mantras these days…

“Not all those who wander are lost” JRR Tolkien

“Have courage and be kind” Cinderella

A little reflection on the season just been

The baubles and tinsel have been carefully packed away for another year.  The pantry is clear of all those little indulgences.  Boxing Day sales have been and gone.  Even the fireworks and the countdowns and the resolutions have been ticked off.

Now the balmy days of summer stretch ahead.  This time of year toys with me.  Do I give into moments soaking up the sun, afternoon naps, sipping cool drinks while curled up with a good book and totally relish no responsibilities, deadlines, timetables, etc.?  Or do I allow the New Year’s rejuvenation to reinvigorate and work, plan, list, do for the coming months?  This year I opted for ticking off a to do list and relishing in a sense of productiveness.

But right this moment I pause to reflect on yet another festive season gone by.  What does is all mean really?  What is the point?

I pause in gratitude for the safe, beautiful place I live.  A place where a festive season held no loss, no tragedy, no hate, no violence.  For me it held family, belonging, blessings, love and the gift of hope for our futures.

I so appreciate being able to get wrapped up in the Christmas “hype” but still not allowing it to be in a superficial way.  But rather in a way that celebrates the blessings me and my family have been gracefully given.

Here are a couple of blessings – one for Christmas and one for the New Year – that speak to me about the truth of this season:

I thank my sister for sharing the Christmas blessing with me from Lion Book of 1000 Prayers for Children by Lois Rock (I could not find an author for the New Year blessing)
I thank my sister for sharing the Christmas blessing with me from Lion Book of 1000 Prayers for Children by Lois Rock (I could not find an author for the New Year blessing).  The photos in the background are mine – one sunset and one sunrise in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

Even though we are 16 days into 2015, I wish all humanity a blessed year ahead.

Menus and Playlists

Only a few more sleeps until the Big Day.  Time to set the mood. Truth be told I have been setting the mood with my Christmas playlist for the last month or so.

My playlist varies a little year to year but my absolute favourite that always takes centre stage is any Christmas song by Bing Crosby (he reminds me of my Grandad a lot).  Then there is Harry Connick Jr’s What a Night! A Christmas Album and, of course, Michael Bublé’s Christmas – you cannot go wrong!

HCJ

This year’s find is definitely Christmas at Downton Abbey – old school and fabulous!  A highlight being Carson reciting ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Christmas-at-Downton-Abbey

 

Now the music is sorted, you can’t go past a good advent calendar. Jacqui Lawson creates the most spectacular electronic advent calendar each year…. a must have for me.  I love how interactive it is – making snowflakes, decorating the tree, arranging flowers, wrapping gifts for under the tree – all to wonderful Christmas music.  A fabulous replacement gift instead of sending Christmas cards.

And then, of course, there is the menu.  Us girls tend to start talking menus around the time we decorate at the beginning of December. These days our plan is our side of the family at Mom and Dad’s on Christmas Eve and then my sister and her hubbie and the nephews join my brother in law’s family Christmas Day.  So we aim to keep things simple and only do one cook up so the leftovers take us through the next few days.

Kitchen day is therefore Christmas Eve.  Our menu is all about the meat, we are South African after all.  That definitely means one cut of meat needs to be barbecued – that will be the lamb this year.  Mom will have a secret recipe herb rub I could never divulge.  I will have a go at brining turkey breast before adding a herb butter wrapping it in bacon and maple syrup and cooking.  This is our take on a Donna Hay recipe.  And finally we will glaze a gammon with plum and chilli.  The accompaniments will be salads and baby potatoes using all the beautiful fresh produce we are so blessed to have access to here in NZ.  Dessert is my take on an I Quit Sugar For Life recipe – sugar free individual lemon meringue pies in jars.

The lemon meringue pie recipe is in this book
The lemon meringue pie recipe is in this book

We will try and fit in our homemade Christmas Pud and Vanilla Custard for a quiet Christmas Day dinner or perhaps wait till Boxing Day.

I haven’t covered the Christmas mince pies, gingerbread men or the summer fruits sangria we will also indulge in – three days of complete excess really.  Having experienced Christmas times the complete opposite of this – alone and with no means for a feast – I am so incredibly grateful for all we have been given to enjoy.

I wish you happy planning and anticipation – it is half the fun!

Holiday Rituals Part 2

Part 2 of my holiday rituals is all about decorating and surrounding us with all things Christmas.  This process for me starts in about September and settling on a theme for the year.  This could be based around a colour, a set of colours, a piece of art, or really anything that inspires me.

This year’s theme actually occurred to me last Christmas and the idea of using rustic elements – twigs, twine, wood, glass and metal.  It morphed over time into more of a birds/owls and woodland theme based on a pack of paper napkins I found.

My vision board for this year
My vision board for this year

So November is prep month – checking what I already have in the Christmas boxes, a list of what I might need to buy and, of course, how I can get my craft on.

I bought a number of birds of different kinds from all sorts of different stores.  Some to hang on the tree, some to place about the place with a bird house and a lovely candle holder to use as a centre piece.

For the crafty bits, I bought some unbleached calico and hessian as well as iron on sheets for fabric.  I made a couple of cushions, place mats and some wall art using these bits and pieces.

Decorating day is always the first weekend in December.  Although this year the 1st of December was a Monday so I went with Sunday, 30 November.  This seems a good time to start our Advent.

And this is a taste of what I came up with this year.

A little snapshot of Christmas 2014
A little snapshot of Christmas 2014

It’s all about trees, owls, other woodland creatures, reds, greens, gold, silver and white…. paying homage to European winters and woodlands, berries and snow.

Happy Holidays!

Holiday Rituals Part 1

Wow! A crazy three or so weeks has flown by wrapping up all things work related for 2014.  And now a lady of leisure, I can concentrate on why this is my favourite time of the year.  I do have some silly rituals, but they are dear to me.

The first is all about the wacky genius of Tim Burton.  This is the time of the year when I get out all my favourite Tim Burton classics and rewatch.  It all starts at Halloween with The Nightmare Before Christmas.  Jack Skellington’s need to infect Halloween Town with the Christmas spirit is just a wonderful tale.

The_nightmare_before_christmas_poster

Now I have to mention here that when it comes to trick or treating and kids wandering the neighbourhood door knocking and begging for candy, I morph into the Halloween Grinch.  So some parts of Halloween I can certainly do without.  But Tim Burton’s imagery captures my imagination at this mystical time of year.

So The Nightmare Before Christmas is quickly chased by Corpse Bride, Beetlejuice and Dark Shadows.  I also love Coraline which has a Tim Burtonish flavour but is actually a movie from the director of Nightmare.

CoralineDVDcorpse-bride-desktop-wallpaper

All this revisiting movies I love puts me in the mood for the holiday season to come.

At tree decorating time, I celebrate a day of hard out Christmas-ifying of the house by watching Holiday Inn.  You know, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and that famous little song White Christmas?

HolidayInn_GBmusicwhitechristmas

Then Christmas Eve means it must be time for White Christmas the movie – Bing Crosby and Rosemarie Clooney and a whole lot of Irving Berlin classics…. Magical!  And finally, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – the Disney version with Jim Carey.  Some say scary, I say classic Dickens (one of my most favourite authors).

christmas-carol-poszter

And that about rounds up Holiday Rituals Part 1 – watching old movies.  This about sums it up for me:

tim-burton-tim-burton-10332376-1280-800

Remembering Granny Sybil

It is my favourite time of year.  Spring time in the Southern Hemisphere.  It is the time when I miss Africa most.  For me nothing quite compares to the sights, smells and sounds of spring on the Highveld of South Africa or in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.  Beautiful lilac Jacaranda blossom, the call of the Woodland Kingfishers returning south for the season and the sweet, wobbly newborn antelope, zebra and wildebeest….. pure magic!

Still my favourite time of here too as we take time for preparations for the coming festivities.  It is a time of remembrance for me and keeping time honoured family traditions and rituals.

So Labour weekend this year once again saw the kitchen abuzz at Mom and Dad’s place.  Out come all Granny Sybil’s recipes and the mixing, mincing and endless stirring begins.  On the to do list the lemon curd, the Christmas fruit mince and, of course, the brandy laced Christmas pudding.  All exceptionally delicious!  And need I say that the no sugar way of life has no place at this time…. hmmm.

Granny Sybil was my paternal grandmother.  A single mother bringing up her two sons on the outskirts of central Johannesburg in the 50s, 60s and 70s.  My earliest memories of her all revolve around the kitchen – baking, preserving and the best Sunday roasts ever.  Christmas was always a veritable feast at Granny Sybil’s house.   But also the garage.  There always seemed to be some car or bike engine in various pieces strewn around the house and in the garage thanks to my dad and his brother.

She was a strong woman who had given up much of her life to earn a living and look after ailing parents.  She married late and finally found a few years wedded bliss before her husband became ill and passed away leaving her with her two boys to bring up.  I have always felt  a sense of awe about Granny Sybil – her sense of family, her duty and obligation to her husband’s family, her love for her boys and then us later on.  It was a practical love and always involved making or preparing something for us.  Her knitting was also legendary in our family.  I remember she also always took the time to wear a pretty house dress, apply her lippy and get her hair set in curls.

And so, Granny, it is that time of year again where we hope to honour your memory and all that you were and still are to us.

The fruits of our Labour weekend - Granny Sybil's Lemon Curd, Christmas Mince and Christmas Pudding
The fruits of our Labour weekend – Granny Sybil’s Lemon Curd, Christmas Mince and Christmas Pudding

Week 8: Refining and Moving Forward

Here we are at the end of IQS Week 8 and the end of our little experiment.  In an effort to think about moving forward this week I decided on a further cleanse – internal spring clean if you will.  This took the form of a homeopathic based liver elixir and drops of a habit relief formula.

The first 2 days of this process was just awful – headaches, nausea and very low energy (in bed by 8pm those nights).  I also cut back on coffee to coincide with the cleanse so I am not sure if the two days of awful was actually just caffeine withdrawal?  However, by the third day I was feeling fine again.

I did experience a few odd cravings this week so I am not convinced those habit relief drops were actually that useful?  Spicy fruit toast and deep fried chicken were the cravings, although not simultaneously.  I am most certainly not pregnant!

With cutting back on the coffee I am trying to instigate new rituals around drinking tea morning and evening.  In the morning a cup of organic rooibos or green tea in a pretty cup is most rejuvenating.  And a chai infused milk in the evening makes a great dessert replacement.

Luxurious and fragrant  chai ritual
Luxurious and fragrant chai ritual

So in conclusion:

  • Was sugar controlling my mind and messing with my body?  YES
  • Has this 8 week IQS process recalibrated my system? YES
  • Do I feel more in control of my cravings? Definitely
  • Has the past 8 weeks been worth it? Absolutely
  • Do I feel substantially better in my health? I do
  • More than anything else I have tried previously? Yes, again
  • And the question everyone is asking – did I lose weight?  Well, I have not gone anywhere near a scale or tape measure but I venture a yes here too based on my clothes fitting more comfortably, especially round the middle.

So moving forward once more:

Yes, I do think I will be incorporating the IQS principles “for life” and minimising sugar intake as much as possible without becoming an anti-sugar bore.  Mostly I will strive to be gentle with myself always.

I have a more balanced relationship with food and I want to keep it that way.  Food is fuel for every day.  I need to pay attention to the cues of my body (a different sensation from cravings).  I have the idea of no sugar more the 3 – 6g/100g at the back of my mind most of the time and certainly minimising processed foods as much as possible.

But I will also enjoy every moment of times of celebration with friends and family that invariably involve food and indulgence.

No more “cold” comfort on my own after a hard day at work.  I will look to new forms of comfort such as making tea, lighting a candle and meditating, walking on the beach, sitting in the garden, fresh linen on the bed, splashing out on a manicure, buying and arranging fresh cut flowers, etc.

So I congratulate myself for all the times during the past 8 weeks I did not give in to the cravings or temptations.  But also for all the times I bounced back from a small lapse.  I will not berate myself for the fried chicken or that bag of potato chips.

Ultimately I now think our relationship with food and getting a balance between mind and body is not ever a one-off process or stumbling luckily across one cure-it-all.  Rather it is a journey (like life is).  A journey of reflection, growth, refinement and finding your flow.

I am also looking forward to checking out Dr Libby’s new book – Sweet Food Story.

Good luck with your wellness journey!