Archive | January 2019

Getting Back on the Treadmill – Figuratively Speaking

The last few years haven’t been easy, but my life has recently started settling into a vaguely normal pattern again. For a few years when I first arrived in Australia I felt like I was treading water, trying to stay afloat and hoping that something more permanent would come along.

2018 was a great year of changes for me.

Those of you who have been following my blog for some time will be familiar with this, but for those who haven’t been in the loop, here’s the quick version: the door of the veggie shop where I was doing casual work closed, but the door of the hardware store where I was also a casual opened even wider. Within a few weeks I was on a permanent contract in the hardware store, working part-time for 30 hours a week.

Moving into a cute little cottage, unpacking all my treasured bits and pieces and buying a car followed in quick succession. Soon I was up and running my own life again, but feeling rather exhausted by it all. Towards the end of last year I began to spend time looking back on my life, trying to take stock of where I was and how far I had come in the last four years. A close friend who lives far away told me to slow down and stop trying to do everything at once.

She’s right. The start of a new year is always a good time to look forwards, rather than backwards. The view from here is good. I’m happy and getting my life back on track, slowing down to a sedate pace and managing to do most of the things I set out to do.

There is, however, one area of my life that I’ve been neglecting. I’ve never been a fast food junkie, but I have come to rely too much on convenience foods. It’s easier to open a bag or box and microwave the contents rather than get out the cooking pots and make a mess that I’m too tired to clean up afterwards. Apart from fresh fruit in my breakfast smoothie, all the vegetables I eat have been prepared by someone else in a factory somewhere. Unfortunately this has had an adverse effect on my energy levels – and that’s a mistake that is entirely my own doing.

My excuse up till now is that I’m getting older, but in reality that’s no excuse. I have on my computer a 20-page file I began making more than twenty years ago. It has the very dry title of “Measurement and Weight Statistics” and I originally started it because I was trying to get in shape for my twenty-year high school reunion. I managed that in about four weeks. Over the years since then, every time I’ve fallen off the fitness wagon I’ve started a new page with a new number, listed my weight statistics and measurements, and outlined my fitness and eating programme to get me back in shape. For the next few weeks or months, there have been updates and comparisons with what’s been gained or lost. As the years have gone by, I have clocked up an impressive fourteen fitness or eating successes. Each time it’s been a little harder to get back into shape, of course.

Yesterday I added number fifteen to that file. I measured and weighed, and was surprised at how little my current shape differs from the last time I did this – nine years ago.

I know that my weight fluctuated more in 2015 than ever before. When I was packing to leave South Africa four years ago I dropped about eight kilograms in five months. I was too scared to weigh myself then, and it took another eight months and a road trip through New South Wales with my best friend Jackie to put six or seven of those kilograms back on.

I’ve added another few since then, but now it’s time to get rid of them. I’ve already started growing (and harvesting) my own tomatoes, strawberries and beetroot. It will take more effort to prepare a salad than a sandwich for my work lunches, but I anticipate that it will be well worth it in the end. This time the main objective is not to lose weight, but to gain more energy so that I can manage my time, my job and my writing from a healthier place.

I’ll let you know how it goes…

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My Endless Quest to Recapture the Magic of Christmas

Last week a work colleague and I discussed how we had spent our respective Christmases this year. She has three sons and she said that they had really enjoyed it, which was the main thing.

It got me thinking about how magical Christmas had been when I was a child, and how we try every year to recapture that feeling, whether for our children or for ourselves. We frantically decorate trees and cakes, bake mince pies, play appropriate music, shop till we drop, overspending and pushing our credit cards beyond their normal elasticity. Working in retail, I’ve witnessed at first hand the frenzy of spending in the days leading to Christmas, but no matter how much effort we put into it, Christmas for adults never quite matches up to the magic it held for us as children.

The cynic in me knows now that the original Christian meaning of Christmas has been warped beyond all recognition, but as a child the juxtaposition of the fables and traditions surrounding this yearly event fell happily into place alongside each other. The birth of Jesus Christ, the story of generous Saint Nicholas, the pagan tree and Yuletide log – all of them snuggled up together, were added to by our parents, and are now coated in the rosy afterglow of our own fondly-remembered nostalgia. I’ve written elsewhere about my own family’s Christmas traditions.

Somehow, the long ago story of the Christ child born in a stable sat comfortably with the notion of a man in a red suit arriving on the roof in a sleigh drawn by eight reindeer. This strange man from the North Pole who dropped down our chimney with a sack full of toys was perfectly logical at the time, despite the fact that our chimney wasn’t very wide. It was magic, of course.

Once we realised who was masquerading as Father Christmas, things were still great, because we were children, we still got presents, and Christmas was fun. Even through high school, and during my three years at university when I still lived at home, we all loved the season and had a good time each Christmas.

In my early years of working, I enjoyed my first few Christmases, especially a spectacular one in the northern hemisphere, skiing in the Swiss alps with my boyfriend and his family. A magical Christmas-card Christmas that one was, surrounded by snow and log fires in our cosy wood-lined cabin, joined by various family and friends from around the world.

The following year that same boyfriend and I hosted the big family Christmas at our newly-bought house in Johannesburg. It was enormous fun and I knew that this was the pattern for the rest of my life: we would continue to host big family Christmas meals, enjoying lots of company and laughter, creating magical Christmases for the children we would one day have too…

Not so the next year. My wonderful boyfriend dumped me in August and by December I was barely back on my emotional feet. I think that was when Christmas started to become a little tarnished.

The next year was even worse. My father died in July and my sister got divorced in November. It was a sad, straggly family of survivors who got together on the 25th of December at my mother’s house and tried to pretend that all was merry and bright. It just wasn’t. My mother kept disappearing into the kitchen to “check the chicken” but once there she dissolved into tears, unable to cope with the first Christmas in twenty-eight years without her husband. My sister had reluctantly invited her ex-husband along for the day so that their children could have as normal a Christmas as possible. It was anything but normal and we were all relieved when the 26th dawned and it was finally over.

During the years when I lived in Cape Town, there followed three Christmases of utter loneliness that I still can’t bear to think about. I became a bit of a nomad after that, wandering around South Africa, wherever I could find work – mainly on touring big musicals. Career-wise it was a good move. Christmas-wise it was quite awful.

Things improved vastly when I settled in Durban, able to spend time with my mother and sister again. After my mother died, my sister filled the empty space and we had wonderful Christmases together until she and her second husband and their youngest child left for Australia. The following Christmas I spent with the remaining three of their grown up children, but by the next Christmas two more of them had moved overseas as well.

We still had a good Christmas, my oldest niece and I. For the first time in years we substituted the traditional Christmas pudding with a chocolate fondue instead. We still talk about it to this day. She’s been here on holiday for a few weeks now with her two sons, and we’ve had another big family Christmas in Australia.

So how was my Christmas this year? In the last few years I have come close to actually recapturing the magic of my childhood Christmases. Since I arrived in Australia, my Christmases have been fun-filled and family-filled. This year I moved into a cottage on my own and in December I unpacked my aged, beloved Christmas tree once more, and filled my new home with old memories, new decorations and magical hopes for the future.

I wish all my readers a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2019. May all your wishes magically come true!