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Category Archives: Our Travels

A Life Less Ordinary

By | Hikes, Our Travels | No Comments

Last week called for a change in habitat. After our great experiences on Airbnb, Shaun and I decided we would rent out our home to families looking for a more “homely” experience when visiting Cape Town. If people want to stay in our house and the timeframe suits us, we pack our bags and out we go.

So last week we found ourselves residing in the Cederberg. It hardly felt like we’d been booted out our home. The location couldn’t have been more perfect, the views more beautiful and the sounds more peaceful. It was a little piece of heaven. We were overlooking the Clanwilliam dam, and had the Cederberg Mountains against our backs. You could hardly find a better playground.

Running to the water from our cabin

Running to the water from our cabin

beach-spot

Our private beach spot

As is customary in our adventuring, Shaun had to bring the old workbook along; cramming in a good 8-hour day amongst our dam swims, walks, and hikes in the mountains. The fact that the temperatures were reaching the mid thirties worked in his favour because we had to spend midday indoors with the air-con humming on full capacity to escape the heat.

The temperature however, did little to deter us from undertaking the 12.5km Kliphuis hike along the Pakhuis Pass in the Cederberg. Anticipating the heat, we woke at the crack of dawn, poured food down our gullets, applied a full body suit of sunblock, and hit the road.

It was well worth it.

The Cederberg offers views and solitude in a way you can’t refuse it. You breathe it in, you soak in the views and you revel in its stillness. The incredible rock formations can keep you mesmerised for hours. We hadn’t planned on walking the whole route but found ourselves unable to turn down the opportunity of a full morning, alone, in paradise.
The kids were troopers. I say this with the utmost gratitude, and respect for their endurance. They put up with some crazy ideas their parents have. They walked almost the entire way on their own little legs. Running over the flat sandy patches on top of the mountain so we could make up time. Braving a walk head on with baboons because it was the only way past them. Learning to track leopard footprints in the sand despite the sweltering heat, and constantly being schooled on where it is safe to take drinking water from. These kids put up with a lot.
At midday, after 4 hours of hiking, when the mercury was reaching a balmy 35 degrees, we reached the end. If our car didn’t have air-con we would heave melted into a puddle.

 

After returning to our cabin, we decided a swim was in order. In an attempt to entertain the kids while Shaun and I endeavoured to get some work done, we would let them run down to the dam to build their rock castles and throw stones in the water. On this particular afternoon, we were heading down for a swim, so I was with them, well, a few precious minutes behind. The children ran ahead while I packed a picnic, and when I got there I found them standing 5 meters from the dam, waiting rather stoically for me to arrive. In a very matter of fact manner they informed me they had found a puff adder at the water. Now my snake knowledge is minimal, my tendency to overreact is also pretty minimal, so I decided it must be a little mole snake. I patted them calmly while getting them to show me where this ‘puff adder’ was. It was so incredibly camouflaged that it took me a good half a minute to see it! At that point I knew it wasn’t a mole snake, its marking were far too beautiful, but I still couldn’t say what it was. So we called in the naturalist, aka. Dad, who arrived at a rate of knots with eyes sticking out on stalks. It was definitely a ‘puffy’ (Lola’s later affectionate name for it), and as we gawked, while simultaneously marvelling at Lola and Lincoln’s incredible observation skills, the tubby puffy slid into the water and swam away! It came as more than a surprise to us all, but not enough to put us off swimming in that heat, we just did it with our eyes peeled.

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One camouflaged Puffy

puffy-spotting

Puffy spotting!

Saying there is an abundance of wildlife in this corner of the world clearly goes without saying. The area is largely uninhabited, and development hasn’t boomed like other ‘dam’ towns, leaving bird life and wild animals roaming about freely. We had a pair of herons gliding about using our corner of the damn as their runway, and we shared our still mornings with a plethora of bird song. The mongooses, bush rabbits and buck all bound around gleefully, and they were just the obvious ones. It was a really special place to let our children partake in nature. To be somewhere so unspoiled, and have it be in Cape Town’s backyard, is a real treat. To be able to sneak away in the middle of term, and have the good fortune of being able to simply take our work along with us, must make us some of the luckiest people around. Always striving for a life less ordinary, always looking for balance, it’s weeks like this where I think sometimes we do get it right.

 

Snacking on the slopes in Tahoe, California.

How do we keep adventures fun with our kids?

By | Family Travel Tips, Our Travels | No Comments

The short answer is food!

It didn’t take my husband long to learn that when I got hungry, I got grumpy, or ‘hangry’ as he lovingly refers to it. When our kids were younger, I learned very quickly that the fastest way to let a wonderful outing spiral downwards, was to let the ‘hungry’ monster creep up on us. It seems the apples don’t fall far from the tree.

With this in mind, whenever we left the house, it didn’t matter where we were going, I had food in my bag. This may seem like a tedious chore, packing food every time we set foot out the door, but I can assure you, it has kept the lot of us in check on many an occasion.

It would have been remiss of us to not extended this foresight to large outings like: sight seeing, cruising national parks, hiking trips, car drives, days spent skiing on the slopes, and more. The unexpected benefit of doing this, is that it also saves plenty of money. ‘Outings’ in general mean that you have vendors or shops that have seriously hiked prices as they know they are getting the tourists. If you realise this before you go, you can avoid paying premium price for generally sub standard food, by taking your own.

We have always found that regardless of the adventure, the excitement will wain as soon as blood sugar levels drop. We have also found that when we want to do something that the kids don’t particularly want to do, if we take delicious treats we can bribe them into enjoying themselves, at least a bit, by feeding them tasty morsels along the way. If you’ve done a fair amount of adventuring with your children, you will understand my guilt is minimal; we all have to find what works for us.

I try to keep snacks primarily healthy with a few treats thrown in for good measure. Gauge how much you need by what kind of outing you have planned. For example I wouldn’t pack crisps for a hike, they will probably be crushed before you open the bag. The more exercise is involved, the more food you need, don’t underestimate how much your kids can eat when exerting themselves, and try and pack high protein snacks for these occasions.

Some ideas of what snacks to pack:

  • Granola bars
  • Energy bars
  • Fruit (low maintenance like apples)
  • Dried mango or dates
  • Crisps
  • Popcorn
  • Nuts
  • Raisins
  • Boiled eggs (preferably pre-peeled)
  • A bag of sweets to dish out from when sugar levels are in desperate need of raising (ie. When the grump sneaks in!)

Are there any snacks you have found work particularly well for your family? Let me know. Happy adventuring!! 🙂

How do we keep our kids buckled in and *happy* on a long trip?

By | Family Travel Tips, Our Travels | No Comments

Frankly, there is just no option in our car. When it comes to buckling in, there is no wiggle room, no room for negotiation, no complaining about it.

I know I make this sound easy, but it’s been our rule since they were born. They have never known any other way, and I think this is what’s made it easy for us. Now that they are older they understand why they need to be buckled in, but there was a time when we had to stop fairly frequently so they could run around and stretch their legs, tiring themselves out before being strapped to their chair again.

We have always had a large, puffy pillow in the car that we put in-between them on the back seat, so when they need to sleep they can lean over and put their head on the pillow, but remain buckled in. This has been a huge help and possibly the only way to keep them comfy while doing long drives. Travelling around the states when Lola was 4 and Lincoln was 3 meant they slept often on our long drives. This ensured they were comfy, but also helped in keeping them away from each other which, when confined in a small space, was necessary for a little ‘alone’ time.

The minute kids know there is an option to not be buckled in, they will use it, and work it, until they get what they want. It is the same in every scenario the children face. If they see there is an angle they can work, they will. If you erase the angle, they realise continual pushing is futile.

When it comes to keeping them happy, this is something every parent has to think on for their own kids. You know what makes your child tick, and what keeps them entertained, and it is usually not the same for each child in a family. When they are young, let them choose toys (under your supervision) that they can play with in the car. Do not let them choose toys that make noises, it will drive you mad! I have always found toys that can be used for make believe games (plastic animals or stuffed toys) to be the best, it gives them diversity to entertain themselves for hours. But that said, no toys have ever entertained my kids as long as a movie. Having an iPad or laptop handy has been hands down the best entertainment on long journeys. Have a couple of movies saved on the device so there is some option, it will amaze you how quickly they can tire of a movie and get bored if they’re in the wrong mood for it.

Another firm favourite when my kids were younger was colouring or work books. These kept them entertained for hours while in the back of the car. As they have gotten older they prefer drawing books, so they each have a bound, blank page drawing book which is theirs to draw in wherever we are. These work incredibly well in restaurants too. No two days are the same in a car, so if you are doing a long road trip make sure you have enough for them to do.

One standard I did everyday for our long drives in the States, and still do when taking a long trip, is pack the kids a lunchbox. I put a selection of healthy foods like nuts, dried fruit, biltong, crackers and cheese, and then a couple of treats too. I give them free reign to eat what they want when they want with the strict instructions that when the treats are finished there are no more. I encourage them to decide for themselves how much to eat and when, and giving them this freedom makes for a far more enjoyable car journey than listening to them whine about being hungry every ten minutes.

I consider us pretty seasoned travellers, having driven in excess of 30 000 km’s with them and flown between several countries. These tips are the tricks I have learned along the way. I hope at least some of them work for you. It’s not actually as hard as you imagine. Good luck!

Lincoln age 3, in North America

Lincoln age 3, in North America

Lola age 4, in North America

Lola age 4, in North America

Finding the Magic – Our ‘North America’ Story for Child Magazine – South Africa’s Best Guide for Parents

By | Family Travel Tips, Our Travels | No Comments

For a brief overview of our families 5 month trip to North America, you can read the published article here.

It shares the highs and sometimes low’s, of our family of 4, myself, my husband Shaun, our then 4 year old daughter Lola and 3 year old son Lincoln, as we explored our way through a foreign continent. You can read more on each destination in my travel section.

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.

My Reintegration – Like Caging a Deer

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That’s right, I’ve just likened myself to a deer. If you know me well, you would know I am almost nothing like a deer. I certainly cannot jump, my pelt is rather more white than brown, and my hooves lack a distinct lightness of step. I do however enjoy the freedom of an open plane, grasslands where you can roam uninhibited, streams with crystal cool water to frolic in, winding your way through an indigenous forest, nothing but nature around you for miles in every direction. I realise how this sounds, and yes I have a four year old daughter, and yes I’ve watched Bambi more times than I can count, but I have also just had six months of freedom, six months of running in which ever direction I chose.

Being home, and engrossed in daily life, has highlighted my confinement. The adjustment period needed to integrate me back into ‘normal’ life is overwhelmingly more complex than I anticipated. As doe-eyed as you might think I am, I didn’t foresee this complication, a feeling of hovering above life, but not quite in it. Everyday I wake up in the same house, and face much the same day as the one before. The routine I so longed for while we were travelling is now here and has taken hold of me like the teeth of a snare. As unpleasant as that sounds, I don’t dislike my life or my routine. What I dislike is that I don’t have the option to head into the hills with my family and hike until we all fall over, that we can’t all climb into a car and drive hundreds of kilometres talking nonsense and laughing, reading each other novels while the children sleep, and trying to formulate the strangest noises we can while passing the tedious hours strapped to a chair. Heading to a new ‘home’ every few days was exhausting, but it also gave us the opportunity to live like locals in a foreign city and visit sights I had only seen in movies and National Geographic magazines. As tiring as living like that was, I felt like we were living, really experiencing life.

I never really understood the idea of being bitten by the travel bug. I couldn’t understand a person’s desire to sit for hours on a plane, travel in sticky public transport and sleep in uncomfortable beds. Being in a breath-taking place, I totally get, but I never thought the route getting there was worth it. I’ve only recently come to realise that being bitten by the travel bug means you are entirely willing to tweak (read ‘unhinge’) your comfort levels, that seeing new things everyday, things that change your frame of reference and adjust your previous ideas about a place, a group of people, or a whole nation, is worth its weight in sweaty public transportation.When we arrived back from the States I was happy to give travelling the old boot for at least the next ten years. After a week, I had changed my mind enough to be planning an epic trip for the end of the year. I now find myself chomping at the bit, spurring my iron horse on so we can rake in more colourful notes that will procure our passage to ever more far off lands.

If mind reading was possible in a blog, you would all know I say the above with my heels dug firmly into Capetonian soil. I have never felt more at home and more in love with my city. The bug that has bitten me seems to be one most profoundly addicted to spending quality time with my family, in a place where time has less of a hold on us. In many ways I feel torn. Pandora’s box that was cracked open on our travels has without a doubt left me feeling wanting. My only consolation is that wanting time with my family in a place we can all learn and grow, are both great things to want. I also know that the minute we have left Cape Town behind us, my heart will feel wrenched from my chest, securely chained to the mountain and white sandy beaches we’re leaving behind. How have these complexities of life and adulthood crept up on me? I could have sworn I knew it all when I was eighteen, and it was far simpler than this.

Sometimes growing up blows. Sometimes the more you realise about yourself the harder life becomes. But sometimes, just sometimes, realisation can be beautiful. Knowing where you belong in the world is a precious gift far too few people have experienced. Knowing that place will always be there, no matter how far you stray from it, however painful it may be, gives you a foundation of strength and a centre of love to radiate from. Exploring the world and all its magnificence is extreme! It offers you everything: a view inside your soul, a view inside the others travelling with you, a glimpse into the past and the future, an appreciation or an abhorrence, a perspective where previously there was only narrow mindedness. It offers understanding, while at the same time shrouding you in confusion and doubt. It broadens every facet of thought you have ever had, offering so much more to your life and your soul than you thought possible while cuddled in cotton-wool at home sipping expensive local wines complaining about your lack of promotion and the increase in the fuel price. Life is so much bigger, so much more.

I love my home, I love my routine, God knows I love my bed, but some comforts are worth sacrificing for edification and an epic family adventure. Maybe the lesson is that I don’t need to reintegrate. Maybe I can continue to feel like Bambi caged up in a zoo. Maybe that niggling feeling will be what helps us grab every day, make the most of our time at home, while dreaming of the ambitious adventures that lie ahead… may there be many. Bring on the niggles! Xx

My little family :)

My little family 🙂

The Subtle Art of Gaping

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After spending five months travelling the States in temperatures as low as negative forty degrees – two 31 year old children, two pre-school children, ten bags, two bikes, two scooters, an office-in-a-laptop-bag, mounds of ski gear and an SUV later; packing us up to travel east along the South African coast line was a breeze. Okay, packing is never a breeze, but it was lying on a tropical beach sipping margaritas in comparison.

South Africa’s ‘Garden Route’ has always been praised as one of the most beautiful areas of South Africa. I have never debated it, not for a moment, because the lush green hills and mulchy fern covered forests are beautiful, no, magnificent! You cannot help but breath the peace into your lungs and soak the earth in through your skin. Simply driving along the highway can fill you with a sense of clam like no other road I’ve been on, and I’ve been on a lot of road. Surrounded by indigenous trees green enough to still the busiest mind, you find your eyes constantly gazing off to the hills in the distance, or this is what I’ve found myself doing in the past, on the countless times I’ve been privileged enough to travel that road. On this most recent occasion, I found myself gaping in wonder. What I had always looked at with appreciation and fondness; the lovely hills that accompany you along a large section of the road, were now seen through new eyes, eyes that could see more, appreciate more.
The ‘hills’ of the Eastern Cape are in fact big mountains! I know this because after travelling the States and being less than adequately compensated on many occasions with views which had been raved about, only to find that the “Incredible mountains” in many regions were no more than masses of rolling hills dotted by the occasional larger hill, has left me with a true appreciation for what lies in my own back yard. The mountains that bend and curve alongside the highway, gliding upwards into delicate peaks as they meander their way along the coastline with the grace of a thousand swans, are now seen in the light they should be; truly superb!

Lola and Lincoln running on Main beach in Plett, with the Cape Fold Mountains in the distance.

Lola and Lincoln running on Main beach in Plett, with the Cape Fold Mountains in the distance.

I struggle to digest my previous nonchalant attitude towards countryside that should be revered. Africa can capture your soul and hold you in its grasp in a way I didn’t know was possible, even though I have often heard tourists comment on it during their frequently recurring trips to our country. South Africa is revered, but I think only truly appreciated by those who have seen more. I feel like perspective should somehow be incorporated into schooling, not just to show us what we have in this country, but to open our eyes to everything we have. I have learned that perspective is the only way to sincerely appreciate anything, but this has taken me a good 30 years and traversing the entire United States to learn.

The abundance of beauty in South Africa is beyond words, there is little you could want and not find in our country, and I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t appreciate this the way I should have as a privileged child growing up, and holidaying, in exquisite areas of South Africa. A large portion of our country, appreciated by some, but simply ignored as a tourist destination by so many of its own people, has more splendour to offer than some of the most talked about National Parks in the US. Maybe we need to get promoting our own country to our own people, or maybe like me, it will take seeing another ‘better’ place, before a grey filter is lifted from their eyes, as their plane touches back down on seemingly unsophisticated, yet deeply rich, African soil.

To Homeschool… or Not to Homeschool

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What I didn’t expect when I took the kids out of school last year to travel the US for six months, was that I wouldn’t want to send them back when we got home. I find myself in a strange position of late, a monologue debate if you will, fighting both sides of the issue.

When we left last year I was in a wonderful space. The kids were both in nursery school in the morning. This afforded me the time to tackle my list of things to do, get work done, exercise, have coffee with a friend, do the grocery shopping, any number of things that it is easier to do without children, particularly a three and four year old hell bent on turning my previously youthful self into someone looking more like a middle aged mother with each passing day. And then we decided to pack it up and jet the four of us off to the States. Looking back, this was the best thing we have ever done.

I was in no doubt when we left South Africa that having the children with us all day, and all night, every day for six months was going to be a challenge, especially when Shaun and I had got into the very good habit of having a date night once a week, and making time for each other as much as we could in amongst our busy lives. Suddenly faced with no date nights and no nursery school was a daunting image. I write this knowing how ridiculous it must sound to people who don’t have children. I mean why wouldn’t we want to spend all day and all night with our spawn, right? I also write this with the knowledge that parents with grown children often long for the days when the kids were young and innocent, little sponges walking around absorbing details about the world that grown-ups take completely for granted.
Well, what I realised during our travels is that it needn’t have been as daunting as we, or maybe I, had thought. Our little sponges walked around with us doing exactly that, absorbing the world. They were energetic, happy, bouncy, sometimes tired and grumpy, but usually incredible three and four year olds. There is nothing more we could have asked of them, and I know with every fibre of my being how much they loved spending every day and every night with us. We were theirs entirely.

I will freely admit that I didn’t fully appreciate before we left, just how much I would come to treasure this time as a family, possibly, no, definitely more so than actually travelling the States. We have been asked so many times, “What was your favourite part?” and my honest answer, is having that incredible time with my family. Seeing all the things we saw, and being in some of the most epic places definitely gave our trip a sense of purpose and wonderment, but I think the true beauty of those five months for me was watching my children grow and learn, taking in their world, and being able to shape each day the way we wanted to. We had no nursery school we had to be at, no after school activities and no meetings (this isn’t entirely true of Shaun and Skype, but the kids and I escaped it). Sure we had daily survival basics, grocery shopping, and other mundane life tasks, budgeting, finding accommodation, many of which were stressful make no mistake, but each day was ours to throw ourselves into, either with barrels of laughter and energy, or with pyjamas and a mug of hot chocolate. I can’t imagine not having had this time with them, it is such an important age, an age when their reasoning is shaped, their logic formed and ideas of who they are and how they fit into the world expanded. It is an incredible blessing to have been given this time with them, so completely and without reserve. I really do know how lucky I am.

I think the early years with my children left me a little scared, a little scarred even. Having two kids fourteen months apart and no family around to help left its mark. Shaun and I were worn flat for many months, it took more than a lot out of us, as any parent of a baby can attest. Each day was a survival to get to the next… but now here we are! An incredible age of wonder and joy, from not just one child but two. I can say without hesitation that children bring joy, and loads of it! Sure the first few years can be backbreaking work, but the rewards when you can start enjoying the world with your children, seeing things through their fresh, untainted eyes, and feeding off the endless joy and giggles that seem to spill from every corner of the house, answering questions you haven’t thought about possibly since you were their age, and being challenged on your ‘truths’ … it is magnificent!

The brilliance of the past six months is going to be hard to let go of, giving my children over to a school system I don’t control, and being ruled by a time that I cannot mold, carries weight over me. Had I not just experienced my last six months, I would know no different, but I feel like a secret box of wonder has been shown to me. While I have never been against homeschooling, I have also never felt I had what it takes to see it through. Maybe at this age I am allowed to embrace every moment with them and not feel like I am depriving them of the schooling system, there is time for all that. I find myself revisiting my capabilities as a mother and shaper of my children’s world. I don’t known yet what the next while holds for us, and maybe our path will be more or less dictated for us, but it is great to be able to see my children’s education in a different light. These last six months have truly opened my eyes, and filled my heart to overflowing.

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Cape Town skyline at dusk.

5 Months of Perspective

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Although it took a little more than closing my eyes, tapping the heels of my red shoes together and repeating “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home”, I feel rather like Dorothy returning home after her adventures in the Land of Oz. What an incredible story, but man is it good to be home!! Waking up in sunny South Africa, in our beautiful city that looks even better than it did when we left, makes it hard to believe that what we did for the past 5 months actually happened. The ending to this story could very easily be, ‘and they woke up and it was all a dream’… except for our all-consuming jetlag, lily-white complexions and lack of a house. Yes, our homelessness knows no bounds.

In planning for our trip we decided to rent our house out for 6 months in order to help cover the costs. Obviously our returning early means little to the munchkins living in our home, so until they move on, we have made camp in what can only be described as truly exceptional friends homes. We arrived at Melissa and Austin’s house on Friday morning, and positively exploded. To be clearer, I should say our luggage exploded and we collapsed. Bar the light fittings, we’ve had clothing hanging from almost every available surface. These last few days have looked like someone has begun a laundry service from the Fagan’s normally beautifully ordered home. With the utmost grace and warmth though, we have been absorbed into the home and the now 4 adult 4 child home is pulsing with life at all hours of the day and night, it is wonderful! Chaotic, yes, but after missing our friends like we have, coming back to this is exciting and replenishing.

In fact, since we arrived home on Friday, we have had no lack of excitement. We barely had time to unpack (actually we didn’t at all, we decided to sleep Friday away instead) before heading off to a 35th birthday party on Friday night, where Lincoln and Lola managed to convince their best little friend Owen, to stay awake with them until almost 2am when he passed out, only half an hour before they themselves were herded to the sleeping chambers. Eastern Standard Time seems somewhat tricky to get out of the system!

The following days consisted of beautiful sunny beach visits, 30th birthday’s and lunch’s with dearly missed friends and family, all of which exciting, none of which we were fully awake for. We reserved fully awake status for 2am when we should have been getting our extensively desired beauty rest. One week on however, and we seem to be finding our feet again.

In my sleep-deprived state during our migration from Wyoming… to New York… to London… to Cape Town, I neglected to fully illuminate the motives behind our final demise. After much interrogation from friends and family (and questioning into whether I was pregnant again – I mean really! It’s been almost 4 years since our winning streak and we’ve gleaned a thing or two on how babies are made since then), I thought it best to fill the rest of you in.

To put it simply, we were just tired. Tired of packing, tired of moving, tired of trying to fit in more than is humanly possible into 24 hours, tired of lots more besides, but more important than what we were tired of, is what we were looking forward to! We wanted friends, family, summer, stability, not living out of a suitcase, picnics on our beach, good food, date nights, our bicycles, our own beds, abundant kitchen utensils, homes with gardens, homes with more than one bedroom, homes without neighbours below us!.. a warm sun, South African accents, a currency that’s worth something in its own land, a nation of colour, a nation of diversity, a population that allows their children to run free… we longed for home.

Our arrival back in Cape Town looked rather epic.

Our arrival back in Cape Town looked rather epic.

What we learned in our 5 months in the States, is that the grass isn’t always greener. The grass may be a different shade of green, longer in some places, denser in others, but as with everything in life, there is no ‘one size fits all’ in the world’s diverse network of grasses. While I personally prefer grass that is allowed to grow on it’s own, with guidance and corrections, but ultimately forging its own path, others may enjoy the constant fussing and supervision given to the particular cultivars grown in the States. This was one of my biggest struggles while over there.

I believe I am a good parent, worrying when I should but also giving my children enough rope to explore and enjoy without constantly hovering and shielding them from every possible eventuality. Maintaining the belief that I am a responsible parent was challenged with every trip I made to the shops with the kids, and every walk we took down a sidewalk in a big city. There was always someone there to comment on how dangerous ‘insert chosen activity’ was; hiding under clothing racks in the shops, helping mum choose items off a shelf, jumping in the snow on the sidewalk, scooting down a hill, being further than 3 meters from me at any given time – it was exhausting, but the list was endless. Shop attendants fussed and passersby in the street commented. I can’t imagine what they would have done had they seen our kids climbing mountains or bouldering in the scary outdoors. There is most certainly a balance and obviously children can’t be left to their own devices entirely, but I felt like things were often a bit screwy with American parents, pandering and protecting younger children but letting high school age kids run amok, with teens telling parents when they are going out instead of asking, and fostering a culture of ‘what we want when we want it’ regardless of the consequences. I’m not saying South African teens are exempt from this, but it just feels amplified and mostly condoned there.

I am also certainly not saying this about everyone in or from the States, this is a general feel, more prominent in some areas than others, but what I can say is that when my South African friend introduced me to an American mum who let her 3 year old drink water from a fountain out of another child’s shoe, I immediately warmed to her. So there definitely are parents in the States who parent like I do, but they seem to be few and far between. I often felt judged, criticised, and as a result completely stressed out and on edge when I was out with the kids. I freaked out more, I reprimanded more, and behaved a bit like a Mum I would ordinarily feel sympathy for. This played no small part in our wanting our relaxed and happy Cape Town.

There are most certainly things about the States that we will miss, like not having to glue your handbag to your hip or having at least 7 shop attendants on hand making sure you can find what you need, but as far as we are concerned, good customer service and reduced crime just doesn’t beat a country with as much to offer as ours, despite the incredible things we saw in our 5 months there. Growing up in a third world country, the impressions most of us have about first world countries is hugely inaccurate, we believe there are no problems, that they have it all sorted. We give our country too little credit and always imagine everywhere else to be better. While the crime and poverty are definitely less, they have been replaced with other problems, it seems people are incapable of living without them. Visiting a ‘promised land’ like America offers a perspective on our own that is both inspiring and heartwarming. We have many issues in our country and it certainly isn’t all easy sailing, but no one chooses to live in Africa because it’s easy, you choose to live in Africa because of what it has to offer. To impart some of our newfound perspective, we are truly lucky to be able to call Africa our home. This land is something special, I hope everyone gets a chance to see that.

Interestingly, and absolutely coincidently, I am about to head out for the evening with 3 great girl friends, all of whom are American! I hope I don’t get a beating for my only half glowing account of their beautiful country 🙂

Ps. If you have somehow read this post in isolation, please read all my tales of how incredible American soil is! It truly is amazing. This is a post on how happy we are to be home… we certainly gushed about the States while we were there though! Xxx

The Grand Culmination

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After almost 5 months of life, love, growth, fun, homesickness, sucking it up, freedom and adventures in the States…. we have put on our big girl panties, and made the decision to come home (uh.. and the masculine equivalent). That’s right folks, as I type we are spending our last night in the States. This decision came to us with as much spontaneity as it is coming to you, so I apologise for the blunt delivery and absence of frivolity.

It feels, for one of the first times in our lives (bar perhaps buying our house), that we have had to really make an adult decision. We have had to sit back and think about why we did this trip, what we wanted out of it, and whether we got it. Whether carrying on and ‘pushing through’ the last month constituted what it was about, or whether reading our family’s moods and making a decision based on our happiness and coping levels was more important. I won’t lie, it was a tough decision to make. But in Wuth fashion, we didn’t dilly-dally. So here we are.

We have spent our last week in the States in a town called Jackson, in Wyoming. It is quaint and beautiful and covered in snow. We were lucky enough to secure ourselves a gorgeous little log cabin for the week (we were upgraded – people below us complained about the noise our kids made running around our hotel room – what a win!) and we spent our time enjoying watching the snow fall, and soaking up the peaceful atmosphere of the friendly holiday town. We did nothing extreme, except try and eat as many homemade choc-chip cookies as possible, oh, and go skiing in a blizzard, which totally didn’t work! Apart from having ridiculously bad visibility, it was the steepest resort in America and the children didn’t appreciate the camber of the slopes. I didn’t appreciate the camber of the slopes when Shaun came down all nonsensical and complaining of a possible concussion after landing on his head. So we chucked in our now well chucked towel, and called that a day too. What a week of culminations.

It was also a week of new beginnings though. We began an almost 3500km drive from Wyoming to New York, by far the longest straight drive we have ever done, and the clincher… we were being chased by a winter storm. We managed to drive 9 hours and then stop off for the night in Mount Rushmore, but then had to drive 36 hours straight in order to beat the storm to New York. For all our wonderful friends and family in balmy South Africa, a winter storm warning leaves you driving through, if you can imagine it, a -10 degree ball of candy-floss. It’s like beautiful spun sugar swirling around you, kissing the windscreen and bouncing off in all directions, leaving rather drastically reduced visibility and a road that looks like a freshly iced cake. It is most certainly less than ideal as far as safety goes, but rather beautiful if you are out to enjoy the display. Needless to say we hurried ahead, laying our tracks before the approaching tempest. We beat it to New York by about 4 hours. All I can say is how did we get so lucky that we have children who will endure that kind of crazy driving length without stripping a nut?! Blessed Blessed Blessed is the only thing that comes close to describing it!

 

Now while I might have been in New York when I started explaining our current situation, I am now in Heathrow airport, mid way through our return voyage to Cape Town. We had a whirlwind 2 days in New York wrapping up everything, working (in Shaun’s case) and trying to fit 5 months into 4 bags (my wonderful responsibility). It was as easy as it sounds… IMPOSSIBLE!! We have about 7 bags. After dissecting the British Airways memo on ‘baggage allowance’ we managed to create a way to bring it all without having to pay in extra. This was a true feat! Couple that with a truly magnificent example of a woman who checked us in, and we got it, and us, on board, and into our surprisingly upgraded seats in Business Class on time! I wanted to run back and kiss her. We were 4 children grinning in the back row almost the whole way to London! I cannot say enough about the small gestures of kindness that take an almost depleted family to the point of excitement at the end of a long and tiring adventure. These amazing people are out there and will find you just when you think you are at your last. We are exhausted, but happy. It is a strange mix of emotions returning home. It will be interesting to see how the next couple of days pan out… we will keep you posted. Thank you all for following us on our incredible journey. It has been an honour! Love and blessings to you all! Xxx