Birthdays – when do we stop having them?

On Monday morning I woke up to pinging noises from my cellphone informing me of incoming messages. It was early, but I’m an early bird. And so is my sister. We are the only people I know of who can have a full conversation on WhatsApp before 5 o’clock in the morning.

My sister was the first one to wish me happy birthday, and her message was followed in quick succession by a number of other early bird friends I have. Needless to say, I had a lovely Monday without any trace of blueness…

I often hear people say that they dread having birthdays because it reminds them that they are growing older. Decades ago I was warned that a wave of depression would hit me on my 30th birthday. Nothing happened. I’m still waiting. My age matter very little to me. I’m lucky to be strong, fit and healthy, because I have a modest lifestyle filled with love and support from all the people in my life who are important to me.

It was funny that on my birthday, as I was listening to the radio while getting ready for work, the topic under discussion was ‘when did you realise that you are growing old’? Listeners called in with the most amusing anecdotes. One lady said it was the day she fell and people rushed over to help her up. She added that when she was younger, instead of helping her up they would just burst out laughing.

I enjoy celebrating my birthday, however low key it may be. This is after all the one day in the year that I can truly call my own. No-one is going to take that away from me!

Do you still celebrate your special day? I hope so. We should never stop having them, however many candles there are on the cake.


Bad knees and blue eyes…

A friend said to me the other day: ‘Growing old, my dear, is not for sissies…’

Let me explain. We were comparing our aches and pains, as one does when one gets to the wrong side of fifty, and comparing the medication prescribed by our doctors to keep us going for another decade or so.

I have learned recently from a doctor specialising in hips and knees, that my knees have no cartilage left. But there is good news too! I’m too young and active for a knee replacement. Well, I guess everything’s not lost yet.

Sometimes I amuse myself with one of those videos on YouTube where a young woman takes her audience through the routine of applying makeup. It has always intrigued me how much makeup can go onto a face. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been wearing makeup since I was eighteen years old and won’t go out without brightening up the old face.

Now, a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to be really creative with my own makeup routine. You see gentle reader, I had to cover my blue eye. Which produced, over the three weeks that it took to heal, a marvelous array of blue, purple and cerise pink.

The reason for my unfortunate injury can be attributed to my beautiful Belgian shepherd. The two of us have a special game we play and this time she got a fright from one of the other dogs and she head butted me.

I saw a variety of stars and other heavenly bodies, accompanied by a cute little bird. By the time I got my spinning head under control and got to the bathroom mirror, a bright red bump was already visible under my eye.

By the time my husband arrived home that night, I had a beautiful blue eye.

And hence the need for serious makeup. I didn’t know it would take so much of it to cover the blue and purple, but I managed to hide most of it. People still looked at me funny for the next two weeks though.

Below, the culprit…


My sister said to me over a cup of coffee the other day, “So why so quiet? No blog posts, no Instagram pictures, nothing…”

Well, she touched on a bit of a sore point there. You see, we are in the middle of winter down here in southern Africa and this year it seemed to have really hit me hard. It’s dark until almost seven in the morning and the sun disappears already at half past five. The 21st of June is my favourite day of the year, and not just because it is the birthday of one of my dearest friends.

The 21st of June is the winter solstice and after that day the sun starts it slow journey back to us. Something to celebrate indeed.

My hybernation during the winter should not be long though, since the winter in my neck of the woods is barely three months long. I live in the interior of the coutry and our winters are from June to August, with temperatures ranging from around 3 degrees Celcius at night to 24 degrees during the day. No clouds, no rain.

Perfect winter I hear you say. However, dear reader, it gets very dry and dusty here. If your hair is prone to picking up static electricity, you’re in for some electrifying experiences…

But soon summer will be here, with the sun up just after five in the morning and temperatures going in to the thirties during the day.

Because the winters are dry, our summers are filled with glorious thunderstorms which bring the rain. It is one of life’s great preasures to hear the storm coming from far away, rolling closer with thunder and lighting, and then the rain comes lashing down.

Then it slowly moves on and the sun comes out again. Everything is left clean and refreshed.

Well, I’ve managed to pop my head out from under the winter gloom. As the weather gets warmer, things can only get better. There is a long, hot summer lying ahead!

PS: the picture below is of a protea bloom. Just to get in the mood for spring and that glorious summer…



People I admire

It is easy to admire someone you do not know. You watch them from afar and, if it’s someone famous, you see them in films, on television or read about them in newspapaers. Even biographies, if you’re like me.

You often only get to see the best side of the person, or that side which his or her agent would like the public to see, if it’s a famous star. The shock of seeing one’s idol stumble and fall can feel very real and perhaps even personal.

Admiring someone who you know well and intimately, like siblings, spouses or close friends, on the other hand, is not so easy. We know all their faults. As a matter of fact, we may even have pointed a few out to them. We see them at their best, and also at their worst.

So who do I admire?

I prefer not to admire famous people. They are not real to me. My family, both blood and in-law, my close friends, even some colleagues. I know they are not perfect and I also know that they don’t try to pretend to be. It’s the simple fact that even though I know them and their issues personally, that makes me admire them all the more.

Take my sister. She is a career woman who also manages to raise her son most beautifully. Her daily work life is sometimes a circus, if I have to judge from the interesting Whatsapp messages I receive from her during the endless meetings she must endure. And then there is the traffic she has to face every day going to work and back home. Yet she does this with poise and without turning it into a grudge. Working woman, wife, mother.

My sister-in-law is another one of those women who seems to make raising children while working, so easy. She has three children, all of them in the teenage years now and she does not seem to age appropriately while going through it all, looking too young for her biological age. She just ran another marathon! Besides that, she also looks after her elderly mother who lives next door to her. In short, keeping the whole family together around her.

My husband. Where do I start? He left his country as a young man and settled on another continent. Far from family, friends and support networks. Then he built a business from nothing and when that was standing on its own legs, he started another one. The entrepeneurial spirit runs deep within his veins. I think what I most admire is his creative mind and how he can take a concept, which is but a theoretical construct, and turn it into a solid, working product.

The three people I mentioned are just a few I admire, each one for different reasons. There are more, but as I can see for myself today, it seems that I admire the small daily conquests that people close to me make every day, more than the grand heroism that the great and the mighty strive to put on social media and other platforms. I’m sure they do good things, but I’ll stick with my local heroes any time.

Rewinding the past?


Would that we could rewind the past! Or an incident from the past that still haunts us years later.

Many years ago, when I got my first position in management, I was of course very excited and proud of the achievement. I had the opportunity to contribute to the organisation on a different level while learning new skills. At this time I had already been working for the company for 18 years.

During the years I worked in a few positions, from junior entrant into the company, to supervisory positions, to instructor in the training department. In short, I had accumulated a wealth of experience about the company, the industry that we were working in, and the people who populated the various departments that made up the organisation.

To top up the good news that I was successful in my application for promotion to management, I was also informed that I would be in charge of a group of employees who were themselves in supervisory positions. It was, in my opinion, a great day when I heard the news.

The rest of the management team were also mainly new appointees and we were looking forward to working together.

A few days later I was called into the office of a senior manager. He informed me that he had decided to swop me and another manager around so that I would now manage a different, and more junior group of employees, while another new appointee in our management team would manage the people I was originally appointed to manage. He asked me if I had a problem with this and I said no, I did not.

But I did have a problem with it. A very big one.

In hindsight I now wish that I had answered differently and that I had stood my ground and insisted that I stay in the position that I was allocated to at first. At the time I was the one with the most experience and as time passed, I demonstrated that my skills were more advanced than my colleague who was now installed in the position originally given to me.

I decided to make the most of the position I received and two years later I left with much more experience and newly aquired skills. Even though I did not work in the position that I would have preferred, I still had a good time working there and tried to maintain a good relationship with my colleagues and team members.

Why do I still think about this incident after so many years? What is it about that day that keeps coming back to me?

It is the age old problem of not wanting to appear aggressive in the workplace. Of wanting to fit in and not rocking the boat. To be a good girl.

I found that that is a problem with most women at work. We are too scared to be assertive and to insist in getting what we deserve just in case people will consider us to be aggressive, abrasive, not a team player. As a result, our careers suffer years of setbacks.

Forward a number of years into the future and there I was sitting again in the office of the managing director of the company I was working for. This time I was informed that someone had been appointed in the position I had occupied for some years in the company and that I was now downgraded to a more junior position, essentially from management to team leader.

Deja vu. I had been here before. What they were doing was illegal in our country, but they assumed, correctly, that I would put the wellbeing of the company ahead of my own feelings.

It took me less than a year to make my way out of the organisation.

Would I have changed the course of my career if I had given a different answer to my manager in the first incident? Maybe not, but I am sure that it would have given me more confidence in my own abilities and that would have had a more positive outcome on the rest of my career.

Would you go back and rewind or redo someting in your past?


Cherished memories

Today I’m thinking of all the cherished memories that I have. We accumulate many memories during our lives, some good, some bad. But some memories stand out because of the impact they made on us, while others just populate the background.

When I moved into my first ever flat, I shared it with a friend. We had just both started working at a new job, far away from family and all that was familiar to us. Like most young people starting out in life, we had only the most essential items in our flat. In short, we lived rather plainly.

We were young and poor, but immensely proud of the fact that we were independent, earning our own money and that we did not have to rely on our parents for support. Today both of us own the houses we live in and we can honestly say that our achievements were due to our determination to succeed.

Why are the memories of that time so important? Well, they still influence how I approach new projects or new phases in my life today. Surely, if I could make things work for me then, I can make them work now too?

A few weeks ago I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a whole weekend with my sister. We stayed on a farm surrounded by mountains. One morning we decided to take an early walk. Everything was fresh after the rain of the day before, the air only slightly warmed by the rising sun.

As we walked along a dirt road, we started sharing memories from our past when we were children growing up. The thing that struck me most was how different we viewed some of the things that happened to both of us and how those memories are still with us and influencing much of our lives today.

I felt very honoured that my sister shared her innermost thoughts with me and I realised afterwards that as the years progressed, we have grown closer to each other. In fact, I consider my sister to be my best friend today, and I hope that in the years to come, we can share many more memories of great adventures that we had together.

Why do we cherish some memories above all others? I think some has to do with the people we share them with and others with the inspiration that they gave us at the time to try new things.

Here’s to making many more memories to remember in the future!


The Best Advice I ever Received

When asked recently, ‘What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?’, I got stuck.

It is an odd sensation to look back down the decades of one’s life and decide which piece of advice was the best of all time. After a few decades we have accumulated so much advice, where does one start to choose which piece was the best ever?

If I have to be honest, I most confess that I probably discarded or ignored most of the advice I received when I was young. That is what young people do best, isn’t it? However, if I twist this around and ask the question slightly differently, I might get an answer that is more illuninating. Here goes: ‘What is the piece of advice that you ignored that turned out to be the best thing you ever did?’

After I left high school and college, I decided to also leave the city in which I grew up. At that time I wanted to persue a career that demanded that I moved to a city 1400 km north of my birthplace. A city that was considered rather risky for a young woman on her own without the protection of family and friends.

I was warned, and cautioned, about the dangers of going out into the world all by myself. I was advised not to do it, to wait until I was older, or to find another career that would keep me at home. The advice that I got was that it was a stupid decision, and that I would regret it, sometime in the future.

How brave I was though! I ignored the advice, moved to the other city and started a career that gave me tremendous joy. A career that allowed me to travel, learn, experience new people and ideas, and that turned me into a confident young woman in no time.

Discarding the advice I got at the time was, in hindsight, the best thing I ever did.

I did receive very good advice from someone I trust and admire about two weeks ago. He told me that in order to succeed at what I wanted to do I needed to focus on my product better. To give my clients better solutions. Indeed, to have a product that inspires a desire in them to own the experience. In short, I should demolish the castles in the air that I have been constructing, and build on solid ground.

At this time, in this place where my career has taken me, this is the best advice that I could get.

So, the question ‘What is the best piece of advice that you ever received?’, don’t necessarily have to be a specific piece of advice that holds true across many years, but it could be advice that is needed right now to inspire you for the challenges that you face in the present.

That is my truth today.

Road to the beach

This will be a long read, but if you stay with me I will tell you a tale of great adventure and show you pictures of exquisite beauty.

We arrived in Plettenberg Bay late in the afternoon. The wind was howling and the rain hit the windows in waves, driven sideways by the wind. There was no sign of the famous white sand of Plettenberg Beach.

The history bit…

During the fifteenth century, Portugal embarked upon a conquest of the trade route to India, via the fabled passage around the southern tip of Africa. So, in 1488 Bartolomeus Diaz and his two ships came flying around the Cabo das Tormentas, aka the Cape of Storms, in another howling gale. By the time the storm cleared thirteen days after it started, the sailors realised that they were on the other side of Africa. They have found the passage and the trade route was open for business.

What does this have to do with Plettenberg Bay, you ask? Well, the Portuguese used this route for many years, stopping at a number of the bays around this coastline and leaving ample evidence of their visits. A group was even shipwrecked nearby in 1630 and they stayed around the bay, calling it Bahia Formosa, Beautiful Bay. However, they never colonised it. They left that to the Dutch who, a few decades later, settled in the Cape with the intention of providing fresh produce and water to their own ships making the passage to India.

In the 1700s, the then Dutch governor visited Bahia Formosa and found it to be a most pleasant place. He promptly renamed it. His name: Baron Joachim van Plettenberg.

In the 1800s a beacon was erected on a small island in the bay, which became known as Beacon Island and gave the hotel on the island its famous name. By the way, the man who built the first hotel there also had an interesting name, Hugh Grant…

We settled at our inn and the women immediately started doing what women always do, take care of the family. Yes, it was laundry day. But even laundry get done and we went off looking for something to eat and to scout the environment for things to do the next day.

Plettenberg bay has a most remarkable 5km long peninsula jutting out into the ocean. The Robberg National Park is situated on the rocky hills on this piece of land and that’s where we headed the next morning.

A trail winds around the rocky hill, giving walkers a jolly good workout. The water was brilliant turquoise and the early morning light reflected a thousand stars on the surface, which was now calm under a nice clear blue sky.

And we were off! On the way walkers can take side trails leading down to the water’s edge and beautiful sandy beaches. This is a national park, so no-one is allowed to camp there or use the beaches for any other purpose than walking and admiring.

We eventually found ourselves on a track leading around a rather steep rocky hill that demanded caution and paying attention to where to place the next step. That led us to another beautiful sandy beach. I fear the word beautiful is going to be worn out in this blog…

Once we had passed this rocky part of the trail, we arrived at the big challenge of the day. I will call it the dune of doom here. Going straight up and filled with loose sand, this dune nearly did me in. But being the oldest in the group and from a generation that doesn’t give up, I decided that I will show everyone that there is still life in me.

Halfway up the dune of doom I wondered by myself whose brilliant idea this was and why I got myself talked into conquering this massive pile of sand. Some way further up I started to hear voices in my head. By the time I reached the top of the dune, I had changed my blood type. This is also where we found out that we were walking the trail the wrong way around…

What a view once you get to the top though! It is worth every step, every moment you think your heart is going to stop with the effort. Because when you see the expanse of the ocean before you, your heart will leap within your chest and you know that you will come back here again. Here where sea meets land.

Elephants on the road

It was Wednesday, our third day on the road. Michal suggested that we visit the elephant sanctuary on our way to Plettenberg Bay.

A bit of history…

The coastal forests between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay had for centuries sheltered the African forest elephant and it is estimated that up to a thousand elephants lived in the forests in the past. The indigenous San people, who are nomads, did not hunt any animal in the forest to extinction. They left that for the European settlers who arrived with their elephant guns, and their desire for hunting and for ivory. Deforestation for timber and agriculture further depleted the herds of animals that once roamed these forests. By the late twentieth century, only a small number of elephants, guessed at about 5, remained.

Then in 1986, South African author Daleen Matthee, wrote a book called ‘Circles in a forest’, and the plight of the Knysna elephants were brought to the attention of the public. Sadly all attempts at restocking the forest with elephants have been unsuccessful, for a number of reasons; too many to talk about today.

The idea of elephant sanctuaries hail from the United States where one was established in the early nineties to assist with the rehabilitation of circus elephants. This concept came to South Africa and now we have a number of sanctuaries across the country that endeavour to provide a safe habitat for elephants. The elephants that we visited were orphaned and the three that we met cannot be returned to the wild due to problems that each one has with her tusks.

Below is a picture of Thandi and her handler. You will notice that she has no tusks. She was born that way and will not survive in the wild. This is her safe place. Her forever home.

We met three beautiful ladies, Thandi, Jabulani and Maroela. Jabulani and Maroela have shortened tusks which is also not ideal for elephants in the wild. The handlers take visitors to a space where they can meet the elephants and where they get a lesson on elephant anatomy. Michal, Raz and I had a wonderful time getting to know all about elephants. This is Jabulani, notice her tusks? Jabulani means ‘happiness’ in Zulu.

The three of us are now official elephant protectors.

Once the lesson is completed, visitors have the opportunity to walk with an elephant. You can also ride one, but I’m against that. If you want to ride something, ride your bicycle. (Queen has a wonderful song for the occasion, ‘Bicycle Race’. See, I even sorted out your soundtrack…)

My companions decided not to take the risk to have a few tons of elephant walking on their heels, so it came down to me to represent our party. I was only too happy to oblige.

When you walk with the elephant, she stays behind you and ‘holds’ your hand with her tusk. What an incredible feeling! It’s much softer than I imagined and she breaths lightly into your hand. Very elegantly. It’s also impossible to hear her walking behind you. Elephants have a way of making no noise when they walk. Unbelievable if you think how big and heavy this animal is. I walked with Maroela, the biggest one of the three.

It cannot be over emphasised that we are the custodians of these wonderful animals and that it is our responsibility to take care of them so that our children and our grandchildren can see a real elephant, not just a picture in National Geographic magazine.

I know that I will never forget this amazing adventure that I was so privileged to experience! It was an honour to have met these elephants.

Sunset on the road

After our early dinner at Storms River Mouth, we started looking for a place to stay overnight. One of the pleasures of travelling is the feeling of going where the wind takes you and staying where you like for as long as you wish.

We were very lucky that all the places that we booked online on our smart phones while on the road, were excellent. I would recommend each one in a New York minute.

By now the sun had disappeared behind the mountains and darkness was gathering fast around us. Out came the smart phones, and while the driver kept the car on the road with torrents of rain lashing down, Michal and I got down to the business of finding accommodation. We stopped in the village of Nature’s Valley and although the village looked charming even through the curtains of rain, there was no room at the inn. Any inn in town… But the people were very nice turning us away, even recommending we check with their competitors.

Finally we found space available on a farm not far away from the village and still in Nature’s Valley. The hostess was warm and friendly and came out to escort us personally to our accommodation. By this time night had fallen and everything was pitch black dark outside. The usually sophisticated young teenagers who don’t really need anyone’s help, suddenly regressed to toddler status. Mom and dad had to talk soothingly to allay any fears about the potential dangers of sleeping under dark African skies. Thankfully no lullabies were necessary…

When I opened my curtains the next morning, I was momentarily speechless with the view that I could not see the night before. The farm is surrounded by green hills and mountains which were lightly shrouded in mist this early in the morning. Everything was green and lush and beautiful.

The clouds were still around from the day before, but they didn’t seem too threatening.

Our hostess recommended a farm stall restaurant just out the gate from the farm and down the road, for breakfast. There we sat down for farm fresh food while having a great view of the cattle being taken to pasture for the day.

With some good food in our bellies we were ready for the road again. We were about to have a heart warming meeting with some very special individuals at our next stop…