On leaping from Ohio to South Africa. Week 2.

Today is two weeks since we left Ohio (although by the time this gets posted it will probably be Monday and 2 weeks and 2 days but as of this writing let’s go for accuracy).Editor’s note: now 2 weeks and 4 days but who is counting…

Week 2 has felt infinitely easier than week 1. I attribute this to a variety of factors:

1. Ella is not coughing 24/7

2. Ella is not whining 24/7

3. Ella started school and also started eating again.

4. I got completely unpacked and almost completely organized in our living space.

5. I got some sleep **

The week started off rough for Gracie but by Wednesday she was back into the swing of things. Finny has been rolling along as he does. All three kids miss Ohio a lot and would prefer to go back at this juncture but I would not categorize them as unhappy.

Highlights of the week.

Breakfast with my mom after taking Ella to her first day of school. That humble looking pie is a portugese custard tart called Pasteis de Nata along with rooibos tea of course. And it is divine.

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Watching grandpa help Gracie with her Maths homework

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Shopping at a real fruit and vege store again and coming out with a trolley (cart) full of beautiful produce for about $10.

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Babysitting my beautiful little niece on a perfect South African morning.

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Enjoying my mom’s lovely garden.

Mermaid girl at the pool who later picked a flower for me.

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Ella playing with her sweet cousins. My  brother’s cutie pie little boy who is a mini me of him at the same age playing with Finny.

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Face-timing with loved ones

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More South African chocolate.

Ella’s first Kruger Rand. She would not have looked this happy if it was gold instead of chokit.

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Watching Michael school his clueless American cousins who are innocent to the ways of two year olds, keys and security gates.

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A couple of awesome South African thunderstorms, one of which left our backyard here as white as our Ohio backyard:

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Pre-storm, a picture Aaron sent me of our backyard (it gave me a pang of homesickness to see my cozy little house)  and our SA backyard at the same time during hail storm.

Fun conversations and laughs while getting lost driving around Johannesburg with my mom

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Fun at the park with sibs, cousins and awesome auntie and uncles. These photos courtesy Uncle Shaun. Thanks Uncle Shaun

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Not pictured: seeing my brother’s very cute new house. It’s so special to me to be a part of big and small moments in the lives of some of my siblings at last.

You guys I have really been sucking it up in terms of giving you decent pics of South African life but I’m only just starting to come up for air and so please forgive. I will try hard to do better.

I am missing my husband and boys terribly still, but on the positive side, I feel as though I am growing a lot as a parent and person through this experience. Parenting without  my sweet Aaron has not been fun for the most part, but it has been empowering and I have been able to tap into a well of patience that I did not know existed prior to this time (or possibly did not exist before now).   Without my parents supporting us all through the logistics of daily life I am sure it would be a different tale altogether, they have been truly selfless and amazing.  I am in awe of their stamina on a daily basis when I leave them to put the kids down and almost always conk out into oblivion after reading and cuddling time, while my parents who have had as full a day as I have,  clean up after dinner, do a bunch more stuff, watch TV and generally behave like adults who don’t have a 8:30pm bedtime. They are often still awake when I wake up again around midnight and stagger to my own bed.

I have no idea how they do it. 

I also stand in awe and admiration of single parents. You are all superhuman.

I just realized today that it’s November. And this is the first time in several years where I haven’t done my 5 a day gratitude posts!! November feels so different here that I am totally disoriented regarding the time of year.  Anyway, today I am grateful for:

1. The fact that I am here. I do not know the future but a long held dream has been made a reality for today at least and it has changed my life forever. At the beginning of this year I saw the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with my sister Shona  and she posted something on my facebook page this week that reminded me of how inspired I was it.

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I found that movie so…moving. It caught my imagination and inspired me to the core. Something small but profound clicked inside of me when I saw it and made me decide that I was not going to live a small, safe life anymore. That the time break out of my comfort zone had come. I decided that this year I was going to be frightened a lot. That I was going to feel alive. Sometimes feeling alive feels great and sometimes it feels awful but it’s better than feeling nothing. When she reminded me of it I realized that as of November 1st, and perhaps many months before that, I’ve achieved that life changing goal.

Regardless of what happens going forward, we have taken a leap and in the process we have felt lots and lots of feelings. I realized that regardless of how much more time my kids spend here, they are already forever changed. They have seen and experienced a different life. It’s been painful at times, they have cried. I have cried. But they have been enlarged and enlightened.  They have met new people, seen new things, learned new ways of doing things. They are forming real relationships with people they barely knew before.  I have felt stretched to the limit these last few weeks and I’m sure the greatest tests are still ahead but through it all I’ve felt ALIVE. When we were preparing to leave Ohio, I would listen to this song a lot when I was running, it became a kind of anthem for me as I hit obstacles with the move or doubts and indecision overwhelmed me and it is running through my head now that I am reflecting on these things. *When I saw the video I loved it even more. It reminds me of Isaac, an amazing young man I know who lives with CF.  But it’s absolutely the last thing that defines him. He’s funny, quirky, brilliant, creative, thoughtful, gentle, kind, generous. He really, really LIVES. He’s a hero to me.

2-5 ***See the top 5 points of this post.

Here’s to taking a leap, scaring yourself, being stretched and being blessed enough to have a safety net of supportive loving people through it all. Nobody could ask for anything more.

Hello again South Africa! 22 random observations from our first week.

It’s been one week (editors note: 1 week and almost 3 days if you add the time since I started writing this and haven’t had time to post)  since we left our home in Ohio and I have been so touched and buoyed up by all the kind messages on facebook, instagram, email and text, and too busy to barely acknowledge most of them. Forgive me please. It’s been a hell of a week. My thoughts are everywhere and my time is limited so I’m going to throw my observations down in point form as they spring to mind.
Before I start let me say that the flight went a lot faster than I anticipated. I was really tired by the time we got onto our last leg-the mere hop skip and jump of 14+hours and we had already been traveling for a full day.  Unfortunately I did not get much sleep but Ella did sleep a lot. I was puked upon but it was not too gross as it was in the second half of the flight and she had barely eaten.  If I can pass a tip along to other parents flying Delta long distance with a small person it would be that they do not furnish headphones that go over the head and we did not bring our own.  They give you the in the ear ones and they don’t fit inside little ears. I had a big stretchy headband so I rigged that up my iphone ear-buds which worked ok but I spend a large portion of my flight adjusting those so that she could watch shows. Not optimal.
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The dratted earphones                                                Our first glimpse of South Africa
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The sun was setting behind a South African Airways plane when we disembarked.  We didn’t fly SAA, sadly. Love that airline.
OK so here are my random observations regarding the last week:
1.Ella has been sick this week for the first time in almost a year. Impeccable timing. It has sucked. It has meant very little sleep and some isolation. Up until yesterday, the only places I’d gone was the kids’ school and the Dr.’s office.  Not good, not good.
  2. Being with family here is glorious. My little brother Luke even surprised me by flying in from Cape Town for a few days. It has been so cool catching up with everyone.IMG_3425IMG_3424
Gracie and Finny bonding with baby Amelia on their first night in South Africa
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first family pic at the airport.
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Cute cousins Samuel and Michael playing with Finny, Ella and Gracie in the back-yard. 
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Sister in law Christina and my Marmie cuddling adorable Amelia (Thalia’s baby)
3. Being away from family there is terrible. Especially given the time change and my lack of togetherness regarding figuring out my phone, which has made finding times to communicate very difficult. This will improve but I miss my guys terribly.
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Parting is such sweet sorrow….Ella’s “Gaber” saying goodbye to his “Teeny”. *sniff*
4.South African “strangers” in general are warm and kind and will go out of their way to help you. From the moment we got on the plane and heard the accents of the lovely women behind us (one of whom I share a much loved mutual friend with and turned out to be a fellow  blogger with a very cool blog about parenting in South Africa (!) amongst other things  and the other who has a daughter who teaches a my kids’ school) I felt embraced and comforted. It all felt very much like a good omen.
5.Sunshine is not overrated. But here’s the weird thing. Whenever people here complain of feeling hot I am feeling very comfortable or even a bit cool. I’m not sure what that is about at all.  The weather here is a lot better. Bet you are surprised I said that.
6. Restaurants here are much, much better and much, much cheaper. Hospitality service in general is 100% better. This is true Southern hospitality.
7. Anyone who thinks we moved to darkest Africa needs to check out the shopping malls here. In just the little stretch of mall on the the way to the Dr.’s office I saw countless big time stores including Versace and Burberry.
8. This is a big, busy city. Traffic is pretty insane. If we stay here I don’t think I will ever drive again.
9. Going to my kid’s school (the school I went to) was beyond surreal and magical. Beyond. It is almost exactly the same. The smells are the same. The wooden floors are the same. Even one of the teachers there is the same. It’s the most beautiful school with the most gorgeous gardens. I am way more excited about it than my kids are.
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The day before school started, getting a tour and the first day of school. On granny’s patio in their school uniforms which are the exact same as when I was there 30 years ago…ack.
10. Speaking of school and Southern hospitality. I went to my first PTA annual general meeting. There was mood lighting and music, sandwiches, dessert, coffee and tea. I think I want to join the PTA. They serve dinner at their meetings.  South Africa wins when it comes to PTA meetings.
11. This has been a really tough week in many ways.  A few times I would have jumped on a plane to go home if I could have.
12. Sleep is not overrated. I have missed it. Jetlag sucks. Having a sick 3 year old sucks. Having a sick 3 year old and no husband and figuring out a new country for 3 freaked out kids sucks. 
13. The kids were very warmly embraced in their new school. One kid even arrived at school on Friday with a spare PE kit including swimsuit and towel for Finny in case he didn’t have one.  They are impressed by his soccer skills.  Gracie came home on the first day saying she had made lots of friends. The second day crying, the third day happy.  Finny came home the first day proclaiming he hated it, the second day was ok, the third day was good.  It’s a rough road for the poor little lambs but they are troopers.  I anticipate a lot more crying and it makes my heart hurt.  There is a lot more homework and they are stressed about learning a new language. Gracie’s Afrikaans accent is already quite good though. Finny is studying Zulu.
14. Ella misses school the most. (Sorry dad and bros although she was crying for them too this morning). We both can’t wait for her to start her new school on Monday. * Editors note. She started and had a great time. She is feeling better and acting a lot less needy too. Hooray for school.
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Ella’s first day of preschool with her darling little friend Nicole. Heather has been sending Ella videos from Nicole, her classmates and even her teacher for months so that it would all seem more familiar when she arrived.
15. I have not felt unsafe at all. Not even once. I hope that lasts. *Editors note: I did feel quite tense when my dad was driving us home from my sister’s house on Sunday night. We paused at a red light but did not stop for long.
16. The food here is good.  So very good. I am so very fat and getting fatter. Oh well. Although, the South African version of cheerios are the grossest thing ever, they now seem to have most American favourites and all of their own far superior chocolate etc too.  I can’t stop eating.IMG_3450IMG_3481IMG_3463
My cousin’s babyshower at my aunt’s lovely home. I should have taken a close up of the spread. Yum. I ate at least 10 mini melk terts and finally got to sample my mom’s legendary meringues. The yummiest part though was finally being at a family event! So much fun.
17. The jacaranda trees are still in bloom. We saw them as we were landing. Gracie was delighted by the purple trees and asked if they were spray painted. This is a beautiful country.
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18. Having people (the sweetest ladies named Gladys and Frieda) who will cheerfully and beautifully iron my clothes does not suck.  Also? My incredibly kind sister in law Christina meticulously organized our insanely full closet all the way down to hanger colours. So basically all my most cherished housekeeping related dreams have come true.
19. I miss my Ohio friends so much. They are such great people and I get teary just thinking about them and I am so grateful to know that my guys are in their good hands over there. I am so grateful for my friend Heather over here. I’ve said it before. Everyone who is to embark upon a move like this needs a Heather in their life.   She has done so much for us to ease us in and make the logistics easier. It’s been a true blessing. My kids have been missing their friends terribly too but I remind them that before we came to Ohio we were heart broken about leaving our California friends. We are really lucky to have so many people in so many places worth missing so much..
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Our send off committee. They ran last minute errands loaded up our car, played soccer in the street, lay on top of the car,  and Griff even staged a protest by lying on the ground behind the wheels for about 15 minutes while Thompson stowed away inside the van so that we could not leave, but in the end they cried lots of tears along with us, hugged us hard and wished us well. I can’t imagine leaving these faces and all the other faces I love in BG forever, so whenever I think of them I tell myself that I will see them all after the holidays. Then Amy, the first person to befriend us in BG,  drove with us to the airport and was the last to wave us goodbye. **sniff**
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Our welcoming committee.  Heather and her husband and kids helping my family –mom, dad, brother Seth, brother in law Shaun with baby Amelia and little sister Thalia -to hold the signs and corral our millions of bags.  Once again we were blessed with South African friendliness and hospitality. A woman came up to me and asked me how many bags I was pulling off the luggage carousel. When I told her 8 (in addition our 4 rolling carry on bags, 4 backpacks and stroller she summoned assistance and three ladies had us all loaded up in a trice. Then, just like when we visited 9 years ago she rushed us through and told us to go and find our family while they wheeled out our luggage and stood guard over it.  Now tell me how that scenario would pan out for you at JFK airport. (Hint: not the same way).
20. I miss my simple, cozy Bowling Green life already.  I even miss driving myself around and being a normal independently functioning adult. I don’t miss the grey ugliness of BG that sets in at this time of year though.
21. Speaking of independently functioning. That for now, for me, is a thing of the past. There is no way I could do this if it weren’t for my family here who have been driving me around, taking my kids to school and picking them up, guiding my every move, making us food, babysitting, organizing our stuff, helping us to figure out cell phones and connecting our stuff to WIFI, washing our clothes, cleaning up after us, entertaining and counseling my kids through their freak outs, counseling me through my freak outs.  I am so extremely grateful, but I also  feel really guilty and sorry for them because we have pretty much taken over their entire lives. It’s been an incredibly stressful week for all involved, but now that we have fully unpacked and organized our mountain of stuff and are starting to establish routines, figure out how to charge our devices and getting jet lag behind us, I feel less on the verge all the time and hopefully life is a little more serene for them too.
22. I always anticipated that this would be rough. Some things have been much harder for me than I imagined they would be and I have been pleasantly surprised by my coping skills in other ways. I can feel the prayers that surround me. I’m hopeful that the trend will keep getting easier. I love it here. Despite the fact that we arrived home to a candlelit house because of rolling power outages and were without electricity for 20 hours this weekend, and the fact that on the first night in a week that my kid slept through the night I was up for 3 hours with the stupid alarm going off every 10 seconds due to said electricity loss, I love it.  I know I’m still in the honeymoon period but there is a magic here that cannot be denied. My bones are home. Despite the intense emotional stress and fatigue  of the last week, nothing that I have looked forward to has been disappointing or anticlimactic. I mean come on…we’re in SOUF (as Ella would say) Africa!

It’s the final count down…Goodbye Ohio

T-1.5 days ‘til the first batch of us depart on our grand South African adventure m’peeps. It’s actually, finally happening.

So many thoughts and feelings abound! I am most grateful for my daily runs through the woods that have enabled me to connect with myself and my thoughts every day during this unsettled and emotional time. The more I do that the more I realise how imperative it is…to have some time with  yourself, your thoughts, your higher power and nature every day to stay in balance, I can’t believe how many days I have existed on this earth without doing that.

Warning: plethora of rubbish quality randomly selected iphone photos ahead. Also, not sure why but Blogger has gone back to the old way of doing things where it compresses everything to tininess so that makes it even worse. Let’s give this blog post an E for Effort under duress, even if it doesn’t earn an A for Artistry shall we? Bygones…

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Here are some of the thoughts I’ve been having during my meetings with my mind in the woods. (The rest of the time I am packing and unpacking suitcases in my mind and occasionally in real life too..) 

After 38 years (or close to it) of using worry as form of insurance against calamity I’m finally ready to abandon that ridiculous notion. In the immortal words of Jason Mraz, I won’t worry (any more) of my life away.  Of course when you have been doing just that for 38 odd years its a pretty ingrained habit, one which I am apt to return several times a day, but the emotional attachment to doing so has been broken and I’m ready to cut it loose so when I remind myself that I’m not going to do this anymore, my self listens and that is so awesome.  I don’t have control over anything really and that’s ok.

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I gauge Fall’s progress by this tree. I have no control over it, but I enjoy watching it.

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  The future for us is a big unknown. We don’t know how long we’ll be in South Africa, Aaron still doesn’t have a job and we are unwilling to be separated indefinitely so it may just be a few months.  As I’ve mentioned before, this is making the leaving part a whole lot less traumatic and dramatic than if we were certain of permanency.  I have determined that I will take each day in South Africa for what it is and enjoy it as much as possible, live in the moment rather than dissolving it by obsessing about the future and needing to know with a surety what that will look like.  This is a huge shift in mindset for me. Like…pretty much the antithesis of the way I generally function.

We’ve had various farewell gatherings and ceremonies over the last few weeks and the recognition of how good we have it here, in terms of a supportive and loving community and a generally idyllic white picket lifestyle has really been reinforced.  Our kids lead pretty charmed lives here, and whenever I start spiraling into a panic about taking them away from the familiar and comfortable, Aaron reminds me of what a blessing it can be to get out of one’s comfort zone, of how lucky they are to be able to experience another culture, how their frame of reference and point of view will forever be broadened and most importantly how they will finally be able to experience having extended family in a day to day setting.   Not to mention skipping at least one brutal Ohioan winter.  That Aaron is a rock and a gem, I tell you. Wait a gem is a rock isn’t it? Moving along..

And yet it’s still so hard.  We have some beautiful friendships and we are leaving at my most favourite time of year. All the kids are happy and successful in all of their current endeavours. Nobody is dealing with any major issues right now.  Ohio has pulled all the stops this Fall and it has been spectacularly beautiful and gorgeously temperate for the most part.  Last weekend was particularly glorious as friends from near and far gathered to wish us well on both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday night we walked across the alley and the park as we have so many other times… laden with bowls to share an evening at the beautiful Blacks house. My children’s literal home away from home.  Site of endless “late overs,” sleep overs and frantic mini-van pick ups and drop offs.  So many hours spent standing watching kids playing in the park, listening to kids playing various instruments, laughing, eating, solving problems of the world..

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Boyz of the hood…and some girls. Sigh me and my big mouth….

On Sunday my friend Sandy put on an epic spread of South African and Ohioan cuisine for 7o people, hung South African flags and even created South African jeopardy. Friends contributed photos for a slide show and we laughed and got verklempt as captured moments from the last decade reminded us of how lucky we have been.

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It was so amazing to see so many of my favourite people in one place. If I could gather all the wisdom, grace, generosity, talent and kindness of the people in that house on that day, I think I could power the world on sheer positive energy for at least a week. And that was just from those who could make it.  There are so many more people I love and appreciate, who have altered my life forever in a positive way,  who sadly could not attend..but that’s ok because I have them in my heart.

Monday night we stayed out in the weirdly wonderful balmy weather until long after dark in shirt sleeves on the soccer field as Finny’s team played one last scrimmage and presented him with not one but two MAN U jerseys (one of them personalized with “FINNY” on the back)  and various rowdy tributes and pep talks. 

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Tuesday was  Gracie’s last game with a team that has been a sisterhood to her for many years before she had a sister by blood.

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Benj and Gabe’s soccer team reached the district finals this year and both of them had the season of their lives and have developed heartwarming friendships with their teammates and a coach who came to the farewell (pictured with his daughter who has been Finny’s friend for all the years) bearing a beautiful bound copy of The Odyssey. 

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I found the above pic of Benj on google looking for something else entirely. Isn’t that cool? He’s famous! That’s him with his decade long bro Keller. They call themselves the “Stormin Mormons”.

This week Ella went to the pumpkin patch with her preschool, just as Gabe, Gracie and Finny before her did.  Tomorrow she will say goodbye to “Muss Cindi”  and empty out her little cubby and happy school routine to which she is already so attached and that is unfathomable.  Do you see why the impermanence of this scheme is a huge key to my coping strategy?!

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Last night we had Trunk or Treating at our church where 2 of our babies were blessed and four were baptised.  I watched as my kids danced with friends, primary teachers and bishops and said goodbye to people who have brought casseroles and planted gardens, who have laughed and cried with us and watched our children grow from babies into young adults.

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Tomorrow night will gather at the Richardsons for our traditional pre-Trick or Treating pizza party, the glittering event which kicks off the Holiday Season At the Richardsons series which I love so much.  We will traipse with cold noses and freezing hands through crunchy leaves around the Norman Rockwell-esque neighbourhood with our cute little girl reminding her to say “thank you”, smiling at other exhausted and proud parents, waving at Finny’s posse occasionally as they streak by shrieking at each other to “wait for me” . 

And on Saturday we will drive away from Bowling Green….for a few months or possibly forever. But I just can’t go there in my mind. It won’t compute right now.  Maybe if I was leaving with the whole family it would be easier to imagine but even then. We have created a family here and we have lived here for longer than we have lived anywhere.  This house has been the longest home base I’ve ever had.

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Our house…in the middle of our street.

When we moved to Bowling Green on November 1st 2003, I swore to Aaron that I would be out before the next Winter. On November 1st, 2014, I will make good on that promise and but it won’t be with the “so long suckers” glee I imagined 11 years ago.  When we moved in here from beautiful Napa Valley 11 years ago, I remember waving goodbye to my children from the ice encrusted front door, my soul shrinking in despair. My neighbour at the time yelled over to me in cheerful commiseration “isn’t this awful? Why do we live here?!” I smiled grimly but I remember thinking, “Well some of us didn’t know better and will be out of here VERY SOON unlike you, clearly crazy person”.

And then 11 years of memories and friendships and kindness and support and traditions and glorious Autumns and pretty Springs, and long firefly studded Summer evenings and chaotic hot chocolate laced snow days happened and I understood. 

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Thank you for having us, Bowling Green Ohio.  You suck at Winter but you are home to some of the world’s best people and a big piece of our hearts.

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