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Category Archives: Musings

Sugar – How Scared Do We Really Need To Be? My Story.

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Sugar is a touchy subject for me. This is because I am without a doubt, unequivocally, dependent on it. When the ‘sugar’ debate is raised I am the first to jump to its defence. We need sugar! It’s essential for cell function. It’s from a plant, it can’t be that bad. I can keep going. My arguments are weak at best, at worst, completely wrong. This has led me to a place where I allow far too much sugar into not only my diet, but my children’s too. When the new World Health Organisation recommendation is 6 teaspoons per day, and a 40gram serving of dried mango has 7, I have some thinking to do.

A few months ago I posted my story on how Lola, my then 5 year old, refused to open her mouth at the dentist. My repercussion was banning sugar of any kind from her diet, until she went. I clearly remember thinking that I would never fight that fight again because it was so incredibly hard, and not just for her. She was moody, grumpy, teary, didn’t sleep well, and I am only now realising why.

She was detoxing from sugar!

For someone who has studied both mental health and alternative health, I feel like a complete halfwit for not realising this sooner. If I’m honest with myself, I actually feel a bit like an addict. I have fooled myself into ignoring what I can see right in front of me. I don’t want to see the effects sugar has on the kids, or me, so I carry on anyway, too chicken to make the change.

When I was a teenager and had bad skin, I mentioned to my dermatologist that I had noticed a correlation in how much sugar I ate and how bad my skin was. He told me categorically, that I was wrong. There is no connection. I knew that I was right, but I wanted to believe him, so I did. A couple of years later I started taking my cycling training more seriously, and recognising that my body was doing strange things when I ate too much sugar, I cut it out. Instead of sucrose (normal table sugar) I ate fructose (fruit sugar), ladled it into my tea, poured honey on my (sugar free) bread, drank ‘diet’ soft drinks and bought sweets that had ‘non-nutritive’ sweetener instead of sugar. I could pour into the details of how those sweets upset my stomach, and played havoc with my moods, but what came next was worse. I got cancer. A malignant melanoma. While this may have absolutely nothing to do with my diet, we will never know. I have liked to argue that it didn’t, but I have always had my niggling doubts. There is now a definite correlation between both sugar and non-nutritive sweetener, and cancer development. My doubt only grows. Your diet is you. It’s what fuels your cells and grows your muscles. How could there possibly be no connection?

A couple of months after I ‘gave up’ sugar, I ‘accidentally’ drank a frulata – a milkshake with fruit in it. As I stood up with my friend to leave the coffee shop I almost fainted. My head was spinning and my vision was going blotchy. I had to lie down in the restroom for half an hour before I could see properly again. I knew then what sugar was capable of. But being the sensible 20 year old that I was, I decided the best thing to do was increase my sugar levels so this kind of thing didn’t happen again. My avoidant self decided cutting sugar out of my diet was obviously not good for me, instead of acknowledging that it was the having it that was the problem.

Fast forward 10 years. I am plagued by the same ‘sugar spots’ I had as a teenager. They appear after a sugar binge. I am also plagued by the feeling of ants on my brain. This too is after a sugar binge. I get sore throats and feel like I’m coming down with something the day after eating a handful of sour worms – this happens without fail. Too much sugar makes me unable to think clearly and my body feels lethargic, but at the same time irritable. This is helped only by the intake of vast amounts of water. A binge can be 1 chocolate bar or the icing on a cake. It doesn’t take a lot, or so I thought.

Two nights ago we watched a movie called That Sugar Film. I’ve been wanting to watch it for a while, not because I really wanted to see it, but because I know my system is fighting what I am putting into it.

I know I need a change, but I have been resisting. I have been resisting my whole life.

Watching this movie was eye opening. It’s an entertaining documentary by Damon Gameau as he records the effects of a perceived ‘healthy’ diet, eating foods that are low fat and made with ‘good’ sugars. What blew me away was how quickly his health deteriorated once he started eating this perceived ‘good’ food, and how easy it was to eat 40 teaspoons of sugar a day without eating any ‘junk’. Trust me, you would be dumbfounded.

My head was in a whirl, and I decided it was about time I worked out how much sugar we were spooning into our diet. What foods was I packing into my kids’ lunch boxes under the guise of it being ‘healthy’? I’ve always encouraged dried fruit of any kind, just keen to keep up their fibre intake. Turns out this isn’t such a good idea. Fruit juice – incredibly high in sugar. Health bars – sugar. Smoothies – sugar! Whether this sugar is fructose or sucrose, it doesn’t really matter. That is something I didn’t know. Both are absorbed as easily as each other, both cause your body to spike insulin production, and both cause crashes once the sugar is carried out of your blood stream. I had always thought fruit sugar was ok, and it is, but in small amounts. Turns out the amount of fruit sugar we consume in our food is far from ok. If you start reading your food labels, you will notice sugar is added to almost everything. I don’t want to regurgitate the movie for you, but I found it incredibly interesting, and it is something I would highly recommend watching. What I do want to say is that I can relate to almost every symptom from excitable highs and moody lows, to a foggy brain and inability to concentrate. I spend my days looking forward to my next ‘high’, a warm cup of tea (1 sugar please), a comforting cookie (3 sugars) or some chocolate after dinner (anything from 3 sugars to 10 sugars in one sitting! – depending on my mood of course). I recognise this in my daughter; her behaviour is as I remember mine being. What I am struggling to grapple with is how to teach your children that although they desperately want sugar, it is not good for them. How, because I as a seasoned 33 year old, am still not able to fully accept it.

I have decided that it is time I made a life change. Just writing that down makes me nervous. It makes me realise what a hold sugar has over me, and that in itself is terrifying. I don’t want to never enjoy a piece of birthday cake or a warm apple pie, but to get to the once off enjoyments, I have to break through the everyday crutches. I can’t appreciate a subtle sweetness because my mouth is desensitised to the awesomeness of natural flavours. I add sugar to everything, and if not sugar then salt. We’ve joked about it for years, but I know it can’t be a joke forever, not if I am to raise healthy, stable, energetic children. I know the next few weeks are going to be ‘less enjoyable’ simply because my body is recalibrating. Finally though, I think this is something I want to work towards. I’m terrified I might give up, cave to my current sugar cravings, but what kind of recovering addict would I be if I gave up on day 2!

A very interesting side note from the movie:
Despite keeping his calorie intake exactly the same as it was before undertaking this dietary change, Damon gained almost 10kg’s in 2 months. This taught me something else I did not know – all calories are not made equal.

It’s the Little Things

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This afternoon I was reminded that it doesn’t take a lot to make your children happy. Lola, now 6, and Lincoln, 5, are inseparable. When they’re not at school they are together, always together. So much so, that when one of them has a play date, I arrange one for the other as well. I’m always trying to keep things ‘fair’, the less fighting I have to deal with the more likely I am to be a nice person. Even with a 14 month age gap the kids think they are equals, they see no distinction in rank or ability; I consider this an incredibly fortunate thing, most of the time.

When it comes to what they do, they always have to be doing the same thing. It would be grossly unfair for one of them to be at a friend while the other is stuck at home. But being the unfair, negligent mother that I am, this is what I did today. I did not arrange a play date for Lola while Lincoln was at his friend. What was she going to do all afternoon? The extreme iniquity of the situation was unbearable.

Thinking that an afternoon alone with my daughter is a treat I am rarely allowed, I tell her that I will play with her. Unconvinced, she stalks into the house to find something else to moan about. At this point I make a conscious decision to spend the full 2 hours that my son is at his friend, with Lola.
So, we make lunch, and eat in Dad’s office, stifling giggles while he’s on a conference call. We feed him lunch and discuss Lola’s art from the last week. We mix up some icing and scrounge around for Marie biscuits to ice, decorate them with sprinkles and make numerous cups of tea. After distributing cookies to Dad, our cleaning lady and our gardener, we take the rest outside to have a picnic in the garden. Aside from the photo’s I took of her with her cookies, I did not look at my phone or reply to an email.
When 4 o’clock rolled around and I announced it was time to fetch Lincoln, she was horrified.
“This was the best fun ever! Better than all my other play dates. Can’t we have just 5 more minutes?”
And my heart melted.

Such a small thing, 2 hours alone with my daughter, and this is from a mom who is home in the afternoons. You think you are available, in-between running errands, answering calls and organising their lives. Then you stop, and actually give them your full attention, no “I just quickly” or “in a minute”. You stop your world for them, just for 2 hours, and it’s better than any gift you could buy in a store. Something so pure and simple, and you can see the sun shining out of their soul.

cookies

The end product - the new bedroom!

A Family DIY Affair

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Now this is a rare treat, a blog post about the Wuth family at home. While my normal writing covers our adventures outside the home, I thought it about time I let you glimpse the chaos within our walls. Given that the weather has been somewhat frosty of late, we felt the time had come to undertake a project we have been putting off for quite some time… mounting beds to the wall in the kids room, so they could both be ‘on the top bunk’ as the request went.

When they came to us with this idea a few months ago, we immediately put it into the ‘never gonna happen’ box. After a little thought and a lot of research, I found a do-it-yourself guide to building and mounting beds at your chosen height. This meant we could provide them both with the optimal ‘top bunk’ position, without having to fit four beds into one room.

I subsequently spent the next two months perfecting my plan and deciding what we needed to make this work. I thought my plan was pretty solid. The fact that I have no idea about engineering or ‘weight bearing joints’ was irrelevant, I was going to figure it out as I went. If the beds were a little wobbly, well, the kids would just have to be more careful on them.
So the kids and I spent the last week of the holidays painting their new room. Lola wanted black, Lincoln wanted blue. We called a truce with one wall of each. We were ready for the hard labour to begin.

 

Now something I probably should have mentioned earlier is that Shaun is not a fan of DIY. In fact, he rather detests it. Things never go according to plan, it always takes about 5 times longer than you think, and the finished product is never perfect.
So, after convincing Shaun that this was something that had to happen sooner or later, I drafted the plans for him… he was less than pleased with my design…

Shaun: “What happens if 5 children are bouncing on the bed at the same time?”

Mary: “Well they can’t can they? They will bump their heads on the ceiling!”

Shaun: “What happens when we’re all up there together?”

Mary: “Well we’ll have to move slowly.”

Shaun: “What happens if the bed collapses with the children in it?”

Mary: “Well then they’ll land on the mattress and it’ll be a soft fall.”

This carried on for a while. Nowhere in our marriage preparation classes did they cover DIY conflict. This should be rectified.

So, we (Shaun) spent the whole of Saturday morning redesigning my structural work, while I watched 2 months of fruitless preparation disintegrate in front of my eyes. We then spent the whole of Saturday afternoon at the hardware store, followed directly by the toy store where we had to pick up Lincolns birthday present for the next day. These shops are not places you should take your children to!
They literally pretended to be dogs at the hardware store, hiding in the kennels and crawling around on the floor. Have you ever seen the state of a hardware store’s floor at the end of a day? You should have an idea of condition they were in when we got home then.

We began our ‘Saturday morning’ project at 4 o’clock that afternoon. Anything tip you off that we were off to a bad start? By the kids bed time, 7pm, we had built the ladder and measured where the beds were going to go. If nothing else, Shaun and I have stubbornness in common. This meant the kids where going to listen to our drilling long into the night, so long in fact, that they were begging us to go to bed.

By 10 o’clock, we had one wall bolt in the corner of one bed and realised we had drilled the wrong size holes for all the others. We checked out for the night before one of us filed for divorce papers. As it turns out, Shaun and I aren’t that good at DIY’ing together. We don’t see eye to eye, particularly when things start going wrong.

Sunday was a new day; we would tackle the problems when we were fresh. The fact that it was Lincoln’s birthday would just mean that the beds would be a birthday present. The 2 social engagements we had planned for the day would have to be shuffled around. Totally do-able.

After a rocky start with a few ‘poorly drilled’ holes, prematurely dried cement and scraping my fresh paint off the wall, we got the job done at 6 o’clock that evening. Leaving enough time to take Lincoln out for his birthday dinner.

 

They did get to sleep in their new beds that night and the joy of it almost made the effort worthwhile. I know as the hard work fades to a distant memory it will look like a terribly sensible project. It is certainly flavour of the moment and all current play dates happen on the top of the bunk beds, yes, five bouncing children. Maybe Shaun was right all along, but that’s not something I’m going to admit in a hurry.

Rapunzel-the-dentist dress rehearsal in progress.

Parenting 101: The Ultimatum

By | Cape Town, Musings | 4 Comments

For two long weeks I have been waiting for this moment, when I could sit down and pour my heart onto paper, or the keyboard, whatever. The big sticky mess of frustration, anger, sadness and heartbreak has to be released. Who knew sugar could be the cause of something more than fat or diabetes. I have just spent two weeks saying no to my daughter. No, you can’t eat that. No you can’t have that, or that, or that. It was no, no, no. And it was hard!
Let me lay it out for you.

Act 1. I make an appointment for the kids at the dentist (they have never been). I very dramatically act out what happens to teeth if children eat sugar and don’t go to the dentist. I think I am very clever.

Act 2. We take Lola and Lincoln to their appointment. As is customary, Lincoln goes first. He’s generally happy to be the guinea pig. After having his teeth counted, he has some x-rays taken of his fingers, his teeth, and his shoes, and hops off the chair to collect his well-done gift from the dentist.

Act 3. Lola’s turn. After her normal warm up period we were expecting a little hesitation, we were not expecting wide eyes and head shaking. We were certainly not expecting frantic kicking, a blatant refusal to sit in the ‘space-rocket’ chair and then a hasty departure into the waiting room. I took it calmly, sat next to her and reiterated what I had said before, that children who don’t go to the dentist can’t eat sugar because sugar is bad for your teeth. Now at this point I was convinced I was on a winning streak, there is just no way Lola would choose to not eat sugar! Lola loves sugar more than life itself. If you ask her how her day was, she will reply with gushingly positive adjectives relating to the treats she received that day. If she had an incredible adventure but no treats, it will receive mediocre reviews. She lives for her food, for sweet food. To understand her decision you have to understand that.
So back to the scene, Lola asks me if she can still have milk, to which I replied with my first flutter of uncertainty with the direction I was heading, yes. She agrees to the terms and signs up for no sugar. I was paralysed. I knew what she was doing even if she didn’t. All she could think about was how much she didn’t want to sit in the dentists chair. All I could think about was how on earth I was going to stick to my guns.

Lesson 1 in parenting: Don’t make a threat unless you intend to follow through with it. This is vital. Any parent can tell you if you don’t follow through you are as good as a movie in a foreign language with no subtitles. They stop hearing you because what you say doesn’t matter. No follow through, no respect.

With this crushing weight of what I had just begun, I hastily made another appointment for her for that Friday, she had 4 days to rethink her decision. I was sure I would win. No way she could keep it up. I was wrong. She started drinking banana ‘milkshakes’ (consisting of frozen banana, milk and cinnamon) and told me they were the most delicious things she had ever eaten. She turned her head when anything sugary was produced and requested dates and raisins as her treat. That was when I knew she was making a point. She hates raisins.

4 days of pig-headedness, of her sullen, joyless face every time her brother ate anything sweet, and still she refused to go. At this point I insisted she tell me when she was prepared to go, cracks were beginning to form in her resolve and I’d be damned if I let that glimmer of hope slip me by. She agreed to go in a week. With the appointment I could get that would take us to exactly 2 weeks after our first attempt. Let me reiterate, it was a long 2 weeks. This path is not for everybody, there were times I simply couldn’t bare her desolate face any longer and had to wrestle myself away from caving. The only thought that kept me going was the knowledge that if I caved, there was absolutely no way I would get her to open her mouth at the dentist. That much I knew. So I soldiered on. No treats, biscuits or ice-lollies. No chutney with her dinner, no sugar or honey with her tea and no juice of any kind.

There was nagging, sulking, complaints of it not being fair, but at no point did she get sneaky and help herself to treats out the pantry. What I realised through these trying 2 weeks, was how incredibly stubborn, but also how extraordinarily proud my 5 year old could be. She would arrive home from school with her baking wrapped up and hand it over for safekeeping. She froze her slices of birthday cake she received at parties and packed her sweets she was given away in the pantry. I hoped that if I let her hoard all of her treats it would eventually be enough of a temptation to get her into the blasted dentists chair so she could then devour it all. My intention was never to wean her off sugar, I don’t need that kind of misery in my life.

During this time we didn’t make a point of keeping sugar out of sight because the whole objective was to tempt her to go, keep life normal, but in so doing I was forced to keep pointing out what was already a hard decision for her. It was constantly reminding her, rubbing it in, and even though it was hard for me, it was worse for her. It meant that instead of having a fight with your child, going to bed that night and waking up with a fresh start to a new day, we were waking up and fighting the same fight everyday. It was probably annoying and infuriating for her but it was heart breaking for us. No parent enjoys making their child sad, especially when it is purposefully done to try and get them to do something they are refusing to do. I felt like such a terrible mother.

By the end of the 2 weeks I was begging her to go to the dentist. I couldn’t take feeling like such a horrid parent and I couldn’t take her sadness, her hiding away in her room when her brother and his friends were eating lollies, or her waking up at night, every night, being sad. On the day of her final appointment, I arrived at school to fetch her with all the treats she had been amassing. I wanted every little bit of temptation to be there so she didn’t back out at the last moment. She was still hesitant, but she was prepared to lie on the chair, on top of me, as long as I opened my mouth when she did. After our tandem dentist appointment I was ready to go home and pop open a bottle of champagne. Finally, it was over!

I learned that there is nothing I can be so sure of when it comes to my children. I might know them better than anybody else, but they still surprise me, everyday, sometimes in the biggest ways. You learn early as a parent to pick your battles, sometimes you pick them but you just don’t see the size or the strength of the army you are choosing to fight. This couldn’t have been truer of this battle. I had, without a doubt, underestimated the strength of the fight in this one. Luckily, through sheer gritting my teeth, Lola learned that refusing to do something has consequences. This lesson came at a good time as ‘no’s’ have been flowing fast and heavy in this house. I’m hoping that winning ‘the dentist’ battle will set a good precedent for the rest. I’m not sure I’m equipped emotionally to push through another battle like that one.

On arriving the next day at school, I mouthed to her teacher that she had done it. There was a squeal of excitement and the classroom erupted in chatter and applause, Lola even tolerated a few hugs (not common). That evening I got a message from one of her classmates parents saying her son had reported back, with much relief, that Lola had now been to the dentist. All was right in the world… Until the next time.

The first nibbling of sugar after 2 weeks!.. in the car post dentist visit.

The first nibbling of sugar after 2 weeks!.. in the car post dentist visit.

“Are we there yet?” The Broader Picture

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We have just conquered the Easter Holidays. I don’t say that with either contempt or exhaustion, I love holidays, and I love spending quality time with my kids. I say it with the despondency of a mother who didn’t take her kids away on an exciting holiday. When asking them at the beginning of the holidays what they wanted to do, I was met with answers of North America, skiing and Mexico! – hardly destinations we were able to attain. Now I realise we may have set the bar pretty high, when in the first 4 years of their lives they spent 5 months doing exactly those things, I’m not sure what answers I was expecting. I guess I was hoping for answers of, the science centre, the beach or the movies, something more on our radar.

We ended up doing my prized suggestion of things, and a few more, like the park, a grocery shopping trip or two, and cleaning out their cupboards, obviously all things that spark elation. I sat each night mulling over the idea that I had failed them. Then one night, half way through my second slab of chocolate, it dawned on me that the person I was actually failing was myself. I wanted to go on those North-America-skiing-Mexico holidays even more than they did. They were more than content to stay home and mess about with what ever happened to cross their path, I on the other hand, was not.

Now in a brazenly honest statement, there is just no way we could afford to go on any of those wonderful holidays right now unless we did something drastic, like sell our house, for example. It was in one of those mulling moments that I realised I was willing to sell my house! I was willing to let go of the things I love and feel attached to, to head off on another adventure. That is in my braver moments. In my more level headed state, when I’m not looking at friends travel pictures or researching where we should jet off to next, in other words, when I’m behaving like all other ‘normal’ 32 year olds with 2 children and a mortgage, I realise that what I have is magnificent, and all I ever wanted when I was growing up. Selling my house would be terrifying in the, ‘now we’re homeless and 32 and not in my life plan’ kind of way.  Why can I not be more like my children? Simply, more content.

I’d like to take all the credit for their incredibleness, I mean I have raised them, so obviously their wonderful behaviour is of my (ok to be fair, and my husbands) doing, and of course I made them in my womb, so from start to finish I have just done one hell of a good job. This is discounting all other input from grandparents, family and friends, but sometimes taking the credit is just better for morale. I am willing to attribute all character faults to the aforementioned, thereby not neglecting their efforts entirely (you know I love you guys).
So, my easy going, happy children, content with staying home and sorting recycling, would not begrudge us selling our house. They would not care if we told them to choose their favourite things and pack the rest to give away. I mean they may protest and dislike the idea initially, but they’d be over any upset quickly enough. Why is it that they are so easy going? When did I become so ‘attached’ to my everyday life, to stuff? I have reached the point in my life where I have everything I ever dreamed of, I have a wonderful husband, 2 magnificent children, a house, 2 cars, we have travelled the world (well part of it), and I live in arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I have attained that most desirable point in life where I have everything I need and wanted, so now it’s time to start wanting more, right? More stuff, more things I don’t use, gadgets to make my life easier and toys my children don’t play with. The media tells me what I should want, they suggest things to me everyday, and by God they’re right, I do want those things! Why hadn’t I thought of them before? Lounge cushions that define me, with words like ‘L.O.V.E’ printed on them in an earthy washed out tone. Bright lamp shades with metal birds on the stand, contrasting the rustic earthiness of the material with the starkness of the metal. Bowls in a different shape from our two current sets because the shapes we have aren’t quite right as desert bowls, they are too big, meaning we end up eating too much desert. When did I lose my self control? When did I stop thinking about what I actually wanted and let the media tell me what I should be spending my money on? I mean, if I weigh up cushions, lamp shades and dinner sets against an experience as treasured as exploring our world, travelling through other countries or summiting new mountains, when did I let myself get bullied into wanting ‘things’?

My children don’t want things. They would much rather spend time with us, doing anything! Having a picnic in the garden, riding their bikes on the promenade, climbing a mountain. Skiing is obviously high on their list but only because it was simply one of the best things we have taken them to do. Obviously not owning a house would mean we would have to rent one, so one could argue that it’s wiser to keep our own, but my sentiment remains – why are things and stuff more valuable than places and experiences? In my moments of self reflection over these holidays I began to realise that maybe I’m ready to start behaving more like my children, being less attached to stuff and more concerned with experiences. Maybe I’m ready to give the media the finger and write my own list of wants. Scatter cushions be damned, maybe I want to climb the Matterhorn or watch Alpaca’s graze on the slopes of the Andes. Where exactly are we trying to get to? What am I aiming for with all my stuff? My answer to the question: Are we there yet? Is: Are we where yet? It’s high time I started charting a course that set a value and a direction on doing more things, not getting more things. If we can’t have it all, I’d put my eggs in the basket that valued life experience, not a life full of stuff. Shouldn’t we all, for our children’s sake. What are we teaching them?

It Needs to Burn, But It’s Still Unbearable to Watch

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The Raging Inferno, formerly know as the Southern Cape. Day 4. The fire has consumed those of us living in its ever-present shadow. I struggle to think of much else. The degree of destruction is beginning to feel like natural disasters we hear about in the rest of the world but rarely experience in our beautiful country. We are no longer exempt. Close on 5000 hectares of Cape Fynbos has now burned. It is devastating.

The fact that no one has been seriously injured shows the incredible people we have managing this fire and looking after the communities that are being circled in flames. The tragedy lies in the houses that have burned to the ground, the destruction of our neatly tarred roads, the ‘humanisation’ of this beautiful, natural environment. The heartache however, lies in the devastation to the animal and plant kingdom, the thousands of traumatised and lifeless animals engulfed in smoke and flames. I have felt overwhelmed on numerous occasions in the last few days when looking at my surroundings and seeing the extent of the damage. I think a large part of that came from the realisation that this is possible. That from a tiny flame can come so much destruction. It’s almost unbelievable. If I am honest though, a lot of that sadness comes from the knowledge that my countryside isn’t as beautiful as it is expected to be, as it ordinarily is.With parents who are avid nature lovers, I grew up in the knowledge that fynbos is a plant type that thrives after fire. The Cape Floral Kingdom is a uniquely adapted environment, which actually needs burning. The burning is a purification of the plants and a redistribution of nutrients to the soil. Seeds and bulbs lying long dormant in the ground are given sunlight and room to grow while larger bushes are prevented from taking over and growing too abundantly in an area. This is the reality of the incredible vegetation that surrounds us. What we are witnessing is a ‘resetting’ of the biome. All this knowledge doesn’t make the destruction any less severe however.

In an interesting conversation last night with a friend, we were discussing the obliteration of our landscape. I was sharing the weight of what I felt was a huge knock to Cape Town. She shared what she thought was a cleansing and a rebirth not only to the vegetation, but people’s spirits too. This fire, she said, may not be what we as people want to see, but it is what the vegetation needs. As difficult as it is to admit, our pain in what we are witnessing may be substantially more selfish than we would like to admit. We as a civilisation have positioned ourselves slap-bang in the middle of an area, which evolved over millennia, around the need to ignite, not regularly, but every 10 – 15 years. This is however, far more often than we would like. Part of the reason so many of us live here is because of the beauty, how could it not sadden us to look around and see a post-apocalyptic wasteland in front of us, we would not be human if we did not feel some sadness at the loss. And I think that’s precisely what was meant by cleansing people’s spirits. A large portion of the Cape Town population has rallied around the fire fighters, pilots and rescue crews. There has been more support shown for these brave men and women than I think I have ever witnessed in our country. We have looked, as a people, beyond our own selves and seen a greater need. There is nothing more cleansing to the soul than that. It has breathed new life into us all.

It is impossible to ignore the heartache the natural world has experienced, nor should we try. What I am suggesting is that we look at this ‘tragedy’ with fresh eyes. Eyes that can see forward to the new growth of plants, to bulbs already stirring under the soil from the heat and smoke from the flames, getting ready to sprout flowers not that different in colour to the flames themselves. The rebirth of vegetation along with new life currently burrowed under the soil, will stir our hearts when we see it. Our mountain may not be much to behold right now, but in time, it will be what it once was. Let’s look forward with anticipation to those first precious buds pushing through the burnt crust of earth.

My hope is that along with the beauty of our floral kingdom, will come a beauty of the human spirit, a burst of new life into the community in ways we have not done before. Let’s keep looking beyond ourselves, there are Fire Lillies among us.

For further reading on fynbos’ need for fire, see Out of the ashes: Notes on the March 2015 Cape Town Wildfire.

Human Spirit vs Natural Disaster?

By | Cape Town, Musings | No Comments

As I sit and write, our mountain burns. It burns a blaze that has been going for over 48 hours. It has been fanned by winds over 60km’s an hour while brave men and women simultaneously beat the flames, pitting the strength of nature against the strength of human spirit and tenacity. We don’t yet have a winner. The fire continues to burn at an astonishing rate, leaving the area of devastation at around 3000ha and counting, almost all of which is protected National Park. Five houses, one of Cape Town’s most prestigious hotels and now Tokai forest, burn.

As someone living in the heat of the devastation I have been overcome by the community around me. Not always a group that supports each other, Hout Bay is often chastised for its stark contrast in class and living conditions. There is community violence, xenophobia and theft. People don’t always put their best foot forward. Yet throw something as terrifying as a fire into the mix and you have the ‘Hout Bay hustle’, the uniting of the people. Something I am proud to bare witness to.There was a plea put out this morning to help the fire fighters with food and water. A simple plea, it didn’t ask for much. In amidst my morning I thought, I wonder how many people will read this and assume everyone else will do it? How often do we all sit back and assume someone else will step forward? I venture to say most of us, all of the time. So I pulled myself away from my desk, got in my car and headed down to Hout Bay Neighbourhood Watch headquarters, to see how I could assist.I was blown away, not by the blustery wind as thankfully that had stopped, but by what I found there. A lovely old man was standing by, guiding people to deposit their contributions in trolleys already laden with goods; bottles of water, energy drinks and crates of fruit. Fresh croissants, homemade sandwiches and cartons of eye drops for the poor fire fighters smoke filled eyes. He told me they had already moved 20 trolley loads of groceries to where it was needed on the mountain, and it was only just midday. I was overcome with gratitude. Gratitude for my fellow countrymen who jump when they are needed and pledge what they can to help in the immense task of saving their land and their homes, of helping the brave fire fighting men and women in a task that can only be described as painfully hot and back breaking work. More people than I could ever have hoped for answered a cry for help, it sparked a love for my community and my countrymen such that I haven’t experienced in quite some time. I know it wasn’t only me that felt this outpouring of love today. I heard it spoken of in the shops, saw it on countless social media posts and saw evidence of the appreciation at Neighbourhood Watch Headquarters. Hout Bay I salute you, as I salute the brave men and woman fighting on the mountain tonight. The fire might have wrecked devastation, but it cannot beat down the human spirit.

Your Riding Partner, For Better or Worse

By | Musings | No Comments

When you take the leap and decide to get married, you are choosing to ride tandem through life with this one special person, through the up hills and down, through the cold, the wind and the rain, you are in it together. But for some reason, actually riding tandem together is a wholly different set of wheels, or so I initially thought.A couple of weeks back, Shaun and I found ourselves mulling over the awesomeness of a three hour Argus time. The Argus, for those of you who don’t know, is the most beautiful cycling race in the world, 110km’s of picturesque mountains and incredible ocean views, cycling along roads carved into the side of the mountain with sheer rock faces plummeting down into the Atlantic ocean.

Three hours is an incredibly good time.

For some reason, I can only assume we were drinking wine at the time, we decided we should give it a bash on a tandem. (What makes this of notable importance is that we tried this once, many years ago, we got half way around the block before I got off and stormed home)! Anyway, there was some, though limited, logic behind this new idea; tandems go faster down hill with the collective weight of two people on one bike, and they are capable of going faster on the flats (provided that the people on the bike have quads of steel and run diesel engines), but, and there is a but here, going up hill feels a bit like riding your bike in a swimming pool. The effort it takes to get yourself up a hill is hard enough without the combined problem of having someone else throw you off your groove, you have to be completely in sync, and standing together is harder than you might think, individually – it’s impossible. Of course we only found this out after procuring a tandem and entering an incredibly gruelling 109km cycling race in Knysna.

Giving ourselves a grace period of half an hour (because we’re not as fit as we should be and we’ve only climbed on the tandem together about four times), we made the ‘realistic’ goal of completing the race in three and a half hours.

Oh how ambitious we were.

Lets start by exploring the reasons why Shaun and I would make good tandem partners (on a bike, not in life. No wait, it probably applies to both):

1.     We both think we are awesome.
2.     We are both very competitive.

Although I’m listing this as a positive (because I needed to have more than just one), it’s not entirely a good thing. Let me explain; Shaun is so competitive he will dive into a race and give everything, and I mean everything, until he blows, until he has absolutely nothing left. I am so competitive I talk myself out of wanting to compete before I even start the race because I’m scared I might not achieve my desired time, I tell myself I don’t care and I must ‘just enjoy it’ – whatever that means. This is clearly not a good thing. Together, these are completely incompatible.

Now let’s explore the reasons Shaun and I don’t make good tandem partners:

1.     Shaun is chronically on time. I am almost incapable of getting to the start of a race on time. (I’m too busy convincing myself I don’t care and I don’t want to win anyway.)
2.     I am a lefty (leg), Shaun is a righty. This means nothing to you until your feet are clipped into your pedals and you unclip opposite legs when you stop the bike! (A tandem cannot lean to the left and the right at the same time.)
3.     I start the bike with my pedal raised and ready to push down with brute force. Shaun starts by pushing off his standing leg, then lifting his clipped in leg, then pushing down with brute force! Not only does this spell confusion, bruised shins and bad language, but there is a large chance you will stay in one place until you can fuse your techniques.
4.     I swing the handle bars from side to side when in standing position (this is not good form but I’d rather fall off the bike than admit that to him, I’m a grown up like that). Shaun has the most incredibly stationary upper body – damn him for his awesome core muscles!
5.     The clincher … We both like to be in control.

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With this overwhelmingly positive overview, you can see exactly why we launched into riding tandem together. Unlike in a marriage, where the idea opposites attract is a good thing, when riding a tandem, the more similar you are the easier it is. We clearly have a lot to work through, although when I say we, what I mean is I. I know I sound like a martyr here, but the guy on the back really has no control over anything. We don’t steer, or break, or change gears, we don’t choose the route or the side of the bike we unclip on. We keep the pace to the gears that are chosen for us, and are then asked with all audacity whether we are pushing! We listen, and we do as we’re told. We stand when the person in front stands, because we can’t not…But then in a rarely found moment of contemplation, something happened. I realised how similar riding together on a bike is to being married. Let me enlighten you.

1. Sometimes it’s about blind faith.

In the beginning we were both trying to control things, I wanted to hold the reigns and kept trying to peek over Shaun’s shoulder to make sure he was keeping a good line, steering us on the best path. Every time I did this it knocked the tandem off balance and we had a noticeable wobble. My need to monitor if we were close enough to the rider in front of us, or too close, was constantly undermining Shaun’s ability to handle the bike. It was a real exercise in faith and trust to make myself hold my own line, keep my position on the bike steady, so Shaun could do his job of steering it the right way.
Now I’m not saying it’s a man’s position to steer a marriage, what I am saying is that you have to believe your partner is going to fulfil their roll, whatever it is, without you peering over their shoulder second-guessing them.

2. You learn it’s about communication.

Sometimes a gear is too hard for me to push, or I need to crank it up a notch because spinning can hurt a ladies undercarriage (really it’s impossible for a guy to understand this), those are the times I need to speak up. Try as woman have over many centuries, men just have not mastered mind reading. The problem with speaking up when you’re so exhausted is that sometimes it comes out as more of a yell than a speak. Your normal climate and pressure controlled voice becomes raw and direct. Which brings me to point three.

3. Understanding.

When you know where your partner is, mentally or physically, you can quite easily determine what is worth fighting about. If one of us has a particularly terse note to our voice, realising it’s because we’re in a race and beyond exhausted, will prevent a needless feud over a trivial tonal matter. Not everything is worth fighting about, understanding can carry your marriage a long way.

4. Support.

Going it alone is a heavy burden. Obviously it is impossible to actually go it alone on a tandem, but you can most certainly feel like you are. You can ride side by side yet feel depleted and abandoned. There is something incredibly uplifting in hearing your spouse acknowledge your efforts and offer words of encouragement. You don’t have to be on a bike and completely exhausted to have that kind of encouragement bring tears to your eyes. Knowing someone’s got your back and can see your efforts, does everything in helping you trudge that last mile of uphill. In short; support fosters trust, which is invaluable in assisting blind faith. It’s synergy folks.While I can calmly sit here and muse over the similarities of marriage and tandem riding, being in the race allowed for less contemplation. With Shaun’s competitive spirit we catapulted off the start line at a pace I strongly feel is reserved for cars. The lead tandems set a gruelling speed which we managed, until we hit the first big climb – that’s where the wheels began to come off, figuratively speaking of course. We realised that in our excellent attempts to service our bike the night before we had screwed up the gears enough that we couldn’t change down to allow us to climb up hill. Every change into our smaller chain ring required my unclipping my right foot and timing a perfect kick to the de-railer (whilst peddling of course) while Shaun changed the gears. It sounds easy enough, and probably is when you’re not riding up a hill that looks like you’ve reached base camp at Mount Everest. The day was freezing and the hills got progressively steeper as the race went on, this did nothing to help our inexperienced arses reach the end of the race. In fact, up one particularly steep hill I managed a whopper of a kick and succeeded in hoofing the chain right off, requiring us to stop and fix it. This too sounds easier than it was. Our poorly matched cycling technique and lack of fire-drills came into play rather heavily as it took us the better part of five minutes, lots of bad language, Shaun loosing his temper (which has only happened about twice in the eleven years we’ve been together) and a bruised undercarriage, for us to get the bike going again. As our collective profanity echoed its way down the mountain, we managed to summit Everest, whilst simultaneously stomaching the humiliation of all the riders who had passed us and seen our attempts at starting on that camber climb.

This was not the last mountain we had to climb either.

I’m pretty sure that holds true for our marriage as well. No matter how prepared you think you are, sometimes you just don’t have it. Sometimes the mountains are bigger than you expected, or your gears wont change. Sometimes the temperature (or your partner) is freezing and there is nothing you can do to warm yourself (or them) up. But persevering through our less than ideal race gave us something to laugh about afterwards, and left us with such a feeling of accomplishment about something we did together. And although in the moments of utter physical, mental and emotional depletion in the race I wondered whether I would voluntarily put myself through that again, I know I would. I also know that when it comes to our marriage, practicing the same faith, communication, understanding and support that is essential when riding tandem together, will lead us to a place of deeper respect and love at home.

 

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How It Came To Be

By | Musings, Our Travels | One Comment

This post is for those of you who, like me, just want to know more, who want the small details, the in between, the how. I’ve often read travel stories and when I’m saturated with the beauty and adventure of the lands they’ve discovered, I am left wanting to know more about the people. I want to know why they did it, why they chose that place. I want their whole story, well at least the good bits. So I’m going to try and give you our good bits here. This is our story.

August 2008, at a time that for good reason I cannot be more specific, a round and happy little egg, met its match. Shaun and I had been married for two years, and this kind of thing is to be expected, but we were blindsided. We had moved from Johannesburg to Cape Town the year before and we were very happily living it up in our beautiful new city. Wine tasting on weekends, days spent lying in peaceful oblivion on the white sandy beaches, and evenings out with friends enjoying one of the world’s most charming cities. Then rather abruptly, we were faced with the news of a new little life. It was unexpected, but we were delighted. And then we were overwhelmed by our desire to travel!

In all the years we had been together (six by this stage) we had never had the desire to spend months or years in other countries, either trying to stretch our Rands (South African currency) or earning what ever we could in what ever minimum wage job was allowed for foreigners. Suddenly we felt the need to stretch our legs and gain a little perspective on our lives, and suddenly that was exactly what we couldn’t do.

Shaun and I are not people who take no for an answer very easily, in fact, we are the type of people who will make a plan, we will make it work, we will do what we must. But at this particular juncture in our lives, we knew what the right choice was, and we were in a whole other ball game; should I go natural or C-section, should I bottle or breastfeed, disposable diapers or cloth ones? Life had turned in a very different direction. With this adult like decision on staying put while having our little girl, we made a firm decision to embark on our round the world trip when she turned one!

May 2009 – Lola was born.
July 2010 – Proposed date for travelling the world…
July 2010 – Lincoln was born.

Uh, yes. That happened. As it does in life, particularly ours, our plans were discarded like a used diaper. Out with the old and in with the new, a beautiful bouncing baby boy and a fourteen month old big sister. We had gone from travelling the world to creating our own world in which we were wrung out, sleep deprived, messes of human beings, just trying to make it to another day. Not exactly what we had envisaged, but our cards had been dealt and we played the hand as best we could, always looking forwards and upwards, (when we weren’t crying with our heads in our hands that is) waiting for a time we knew we could drag an active, accident prone little boy and his calm and accommodating big sister on an adventure of a life time.

14 month old Lola meeting her baby brother for the first time.

14 month old Lola meeting her baby brother for the first time.

The truth of it is that for the first two years of having two kids, it was just about survival. Not only had we doubled the size of our family within fourteen months, we also threw buying a new house and starting our own business into the mix. Not something I would ever recommend to anybody, ever. The earth continued to turn however, despite my being stuck in a deluge of diapers and tantrums, and finally we started to see the light. Lola turned four and as Lincoln neared three he became rather more manageable than he had been as a feisty toddler. His tantrums became less and we suddenly thought; this child is capable of sitting in an aeroplane for twelve hours without trying to pull the emergency exit lever because it’s red and shiny and hell, why am I saying that, he never needs a reason to do outrageous things! He tripped over everything, including his own feet, fell backwards down stairs he always knew were there, took nose dives, managed to cut his face open on anything that wasn’t wrapped in cotton wool, but that’s no reason to keep us all home. Why don’t we let him do that somewhere we’ve never been. So the epic planning commenced.

We started by looking at our calendar and finding the only time between big events when we could be away. We had a six-month window, which happened to fall between October and March. What started out as a round the world trip, was quickly modified into something more plausible in the time we had. We decided to pick a continent, or more specifically, we thought about places we would love to go given the weather at that time of year. We didn’t pick the place we wanted to go to the most, or I would have ended up sightseeing Europe in the snow and freezing cold with three less than happy travel companions, and Shaun would have ended up backpacking myself and two kids through South American jungle at its hottest. Thus there were a number of reasons why we chose North America:

1.     It was the only place Shaun and I could agree on.
2.     We could see incredible cities and awe-inspiring national parks.
3.     Depending on how we angled it; both challenging for the kids, but also very kid friendly.
4.     I could have a hot beach holiday and Shaun could ski – two essential elements, one continent.
5.     It was the only place Shaun and I could agree on!

All the decision making happened in July 2013. With a trip two months away, we launched into the frantic planning. Thanks to Google Maps, Yelp and Trip Advisor, no maps or guide books were necessary, literally folks, my unwavering gratitude! Planning travel in the twenty-first century must be a gentle scotch mist in comparison to our predecessors’ torrential downpour of an event. We literally had to book our flights, and the rest we could have done on the fly, I mean, we kind of did. We booked our only large blocks of accommodation before we left; New York, Mexico and skiing over Christmas, and the rest of the time we played it by ear, staying slightly longer in some places and dodging other places all together in lieu of some wonderful off the beaten track place we heard of from fellow travellers or Americans who have made a habit of exploring their country. I mean we had a plan, we chose our route based on the cities and national parks we wanted to see, but we let ourselves drift off course because this was an adventure after all. Nothing like a bit of deviation to spell “I’m on holiday and I can do what I want to”!

What our final route looked like. 5 months. 24 000km's.

What our final route looked like. 5 months. 24 000km’s.

To fill you in on the hows, I’m going to have to correct that last sentence, it wasn’t exactly a ‘holiday’, ‘adventure’ would be the more accurate word. The background info you need here is that Shaun is an electrical engineer turned software developer. He is a coding genius. With all that genius-ness floating around his head coupled with his greatest desire – to spend more time with his family and actually participate in his children’s everyday lives, he decided he needed to untangle himself from the irritable bowels of money clogged corporates. This was one of the best things we ever did. With less than ideal timing, we managed to pull it off, successfully creating Customised Applications, a company designing and constructing apps for phones and tablets. This is the sole reason we were able to travel for 6 months.

By our working, we would either have had to save up for years in order to afford a trip of this kind, or we would have to take our working on the road with us. Being far less saving savvy than we should be, we knew our only option was to work, so that is exactly what we did.

Shaun. Headphones. Computer. (Mexico)

Shaun. Headphones. Computer. (Mexico)

With careful planning, an uncanny ability to block out the world, and time management skills that I yearn for, Shaun was able to pop on his headphones no matter where we were and disappear into his own world of coding and design. While this worked very well when everything was running smoothly, when the company hit speed bumps and corners (which it was bound to do while we were away), it caused ripples that had serious repercussions on our side. We would be in a new city, with hundreds of things we wanted to see and Shaun would have to put out fires, sometimes not leaving our apartment or hotel for two or three days at a time. Sometimes conducting business calls in the middle of the night, in the bathroom, because we were in a one room hotel and it was below freezing outside. Things certainly weren’t always ideal, and we had days, in fact weeks, where juggling it all was almost too much for us to handle. But somehow we always pulled through, made it through the tough days and onto brighter ones where skiing, sightseeing or exploring America’s extreme backyard made the trip worthwhile again. We were fully aware that without Shaun’s ability to work abroad, a trip of this kind would never have been possible. So we endured the tumultuous waters, and focussed on the days when the sun shone down and the waters were smooth.

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With the gift of hindsight, there are many things we could have, should have perhaps, done differently. But half the beauty of our trip was the way in which we did it. We never took no for an answer (well almost never), we pushed ahead when seemingly everything was against us and we learned through sleepless nights and days of tears how sticking to your guns and doing what you yearn to do is possible, not always easy, but worth every glistening tear you shed. Until you realise that it isn’t, and then you know the time has come for you to go home.

Life doesn’t always go the way you planned, there are undoubtedly more obstacles than you anticipate, but there are also joys you don’t anticipate too. Travelling with our children forced us to do things slightly differently, not much, but there were obviously a few things. But by doubling the size of our family, we also doubled the size of our joy; there is nothing as amazing as seeing the world through your children’s innocent, enthusiastic eyes! They pushed us to experience more, as we pushed them as far as their little legs would go. We grew as a family in a way that we could never have at home. Persevering with our travel plans through not just one but two children, didn’t just give us the satisfaction of showing the naysayers we could, it showed us how strong we are, (maybe obstinate is the more appropriate word) and forged roots that can only build our family stronger.

Sharing Is Detrimental To Your Sanity – But They’re Playing Us

By | Musings | No Comments

As I was driving home yesterday with my preschool age kids, the silence couldn’t escape my notice. Maybe not complete silence, Lola had requested I put up the volume on Katy Perry’s most recent musical genius, but other than the bitter sweet sounds of a 4 year old singing ‘…are you ready for, ready for a perfect storm…’ there was decidedly a lack of child created noise. After a long day of working, home schooling, swimming lessons and the daily grind, some peace in the car was nothing short of heaven. I know that sounds confusing, but when I say ‘peace’ what I mean is no fighting, loud playing or name calling (we’re into the hilarity of toilet humour so ‘poo-face’ makes a frequent occurrence).What made this particular event unusual however, was that after swimming there is always a scuffle and a huff over who gets to hold whatever post swimming treat I have brought. These morsels are usually in the form of a packet of crackers, flavoured rice cakes, or chips. By this time of day they have usually eaten their weight in sugar and there are more peaceful things I prefer doing in my evenings than pinning my sugar-high children to their beds and threatening a night without their favourite cuddly toy.

Having two children so close together has been an education in many ways, it’s like having twins, but sometimes harder. Lincoln wants to do everything Lola does, eat everything Lola does and stay awake when Lola does. Those of you who have kids know that the difference between a two and three year old is big, sleep schedules are still in full swing and there are some things that a two year old really shouldn’t be eating yet (refer to earlier comment on sugar mass). Now that they are three and four it is easier, but the fact that Lincoln is fourteen months younger is still something I need to consider.One of the things I am thankful for in their close age gap is that neither of them can remember life without the other one, well obviously in Lincoln’s case, but Lola certainly can’t remember being an only child either. So there have been some life essentials I have tried to put in place from early on; tolerance of each other and their differences (of which there are many), kindness as well as open displays of affection and love, particularly after events like socking your sister in the eye or tripping your brother when he spends most of the day tripping himself anyway, helpfulness – because the sooner they can start cooking me meals and cleaning up the better, and then the obvious gem at hand – sharing.

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Mention ‘sharing’ to any mother and she will probably hang her head and weep a silent tear for that which cannot be. It is hard to fully understand the extent to which a young child will not share until you have seen it for yourself. It can be extreme! I won’t go into the logistics of it, kids can be freaky and down right inhumane, but don’t let me put you off*. I must be an open book here and confess that my children are actually rather sweet with each other and are incredibly good at sharing, I think a by-product of being forced into it, but when it comes to food, they behave like half starved children you would think have just escaped a concentration camp. There has been more than one occasion when a fist has been flung in order for another morsel to reach their mouths. It baffles me. This behaviour isn’t limited to things like sweets and cakes either, they are just as willing to squabble over who gets to hold a packet of dry crackers.

This brings me back to the relative silence in the car. For a change, I had brought two packets of crackers, the ingeniousness right? I feel this needs an explanation, not because I’m up for most thoughtful mom of the year, but because I don’t regularly perform this action with regards to bettering my mental state and injecting calm into my frazzled veins. Generally swimming is a late finisher; therefore hunger needs to be kept at a seventy to eighty percent in order for the kids to eat their dinner. More crackers equal less dinner. That, and I mercilessly soldier on with forcing the sharing.

The calm of my drive home highlighted my potential stupidity with forcing something that should come to them one day without all of my incessant  ‘life lesson’ planning. But then something else occurred to me; day in and day out we mothers tirelessly try and teach our children to become masters of the universe (maybe without the oversized sword) and then the day comes when their training begins to pay off, and in mastering their universe, they master you. In fact, we’re probably the easiest targets on their list. They begin with us. With almost 9 collective years of training in the art of mum manipulation, my two are getting very good. So good in fact, that it has taken me a while to realise how well they play me. But I’m seeing the golden lining, if they can outsmart me, even for only one car ride at a time, they are well on their way to conquering their universe. In a completely backwards way, I should be pleased with my handiwork. Let the lessons recommence, and let me find the strength to persevere with two sharp whited preschoolers who can both outmanoeuvre and outplay me!

*Kids are also scrumptious little puddings who giggle and give big hugs.

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