Twenty Seventeen

The last day of 2017, a hard year. Sometimes you hear comments along the lines of “the new year can’t come around quickly enough” and that’s okay. We each have our own battles to fight. This time around I don’t share that sentiment though.

Saying good-bye to 2017 is another inescapable line in the sand of the year we had. In August our world got turned on its head when we lost our beloved husband, father and Ironman brutally unexpectedly with no warning while he was doing something he loved so much – a mountain bike race in the forest with a good mate. My strong, healthy, tough and invincible man lived life to the full until life decided otherwise. Four and a half months later it’s hard to move into a new year because it’s symbolic of leaving something behind that can never be left behind.

The hands of time ruthlessly wait for no-one though and neither can we control its passing but a whole new year is daunting, so there remains but one thing: to live this day. To live this day in a way that would have made our Ironman proud, to honour him and because it shows our respect for the man he was, because we love him and are so proud of him and since he’s no longer around to do it himself.

His are big shoes to fill.  He’d touched many lives, as has been evident in the love, care and support shown to us by family and friends near and far. His never-ending zest for life, passion with which he did everything, energy, sense of humour, spontaneity, generosity and love have been lessons to us. His spirit was indomitable, literally meaning “not to tame”, it was impossible to subdue or defeat. Always adventurous and pushing the boundaries, no challenge was insurmountable to him, and the greater the challenge generally the better. His sporting and athletic achievements are too many to list and professionally he was very highly regarded and well respected. The memories we made are rich and plentiful.

He always encouraged myself and the kids to do things we enjoyed as well as try new things. He loved this blog, he was my most loyal reader, biggest fan and editor. The name was his suggestion and no piece of writing was ever published without his input, and I valued and respected that input greatly. I sat down today to write something in his honour and we will keep doing things in his honour, be adventurous and set ourselves some challenges. We will keep his memory alive, do our best to follow his example as our own lighthouse and hope to make many more memories.

Life doesn’t throw us these curve balls when we’re ready or prepared. On the contrary, we never know what lies ahead but we do have this day.



Wadjemup 1

Wadjemup Lighthouse, Rottnest Island, Western Australia, one of our favourite places.

Hellos, Farewells and Airport Emotions

Airports have become a place of emotion for me, a result I suppose, of travelling mainly for leisure or to visit family or to fetch family who are coming for a visit and also of having moved countries and resettling twice. Standing at the check-in counter heading to an unknown world watching the necessities of your family’s life which had been reduced to a few suitcases sliding away on the conveyor belt has the inevitable effect of the reality sinking in of being a bit lost between two worlds. I can’t recall the last time I felt neutral about a trip, such as one probably would with regular travel for work, moving through airports with numbed emotions. It would either be excitement that I’m feeling about going on a long-anticipated holiday or when we’re fetching a family member who’s coming for a visit, or sadness when we farewell someone who is leaving, but hardly ever are there no emotions involved.

Anyone who has family living far away will have experienced this in some way or another. Since our family all live in Southern Africa, when one of them comes for a visit I usually find myself at the airport amidst lots of other fellow South Africans when an SAA (South African Airways) plane is due to land, and as I get older I get all emotional seeing other peoples’ faces light up and hurry forward as they spot their loved one/s – whom they in all likelihood haven’t seen for some time –  walking out into the Arrivals hall, and I can almost feel their excitement and happiness at a long awaited reunion because I know what it is that they’re feeling. Likewise, an emotion-filled farewell moves me just as much since I know the feeling of airport farewell to a loved one too.

When our kids have travelled on their own there were some other emotions mixed in there as well – concern for their safety and wellbeing, trepidation at how they will fare on their own, excitement for their part since they were embarking on an adventure, apprehension at how I will cope without them, all the while reminding myself that the independence gained this way will stand them in good stead. Last year two of them travelled on their own for a month at the same time, making for an emotional mum (13 13 30). Of course the joy, relief and happiness upon their return and having them safely back (under my wing) is unrivalled.

When I’m the one travelling it’s become easier over time not to linger over farewells and to focus on something else instead to distract myself, such as things to do when I reach my destination, but it’s admittedly easier if you’re not the one staying behind. The person travelling does so with a purpose, whether it’s a holiday or maybe returning home after a visit to family and generally has something to look forward to for that reason, whereas those staying behind might feel a void left by the departure of their loved one who had to return to their own home.

On a lighter note, my husband travels a fair bit for work and though I don’t usually have to drop him off at the airport I once had to do the 80 minute round trip to take him his passport which he’d forgotten at home! On another occasion he was so convinced that he’d told me about his upcoming trip to Dubai (from Perth) that by the time he started packing his bag out of the blue and I asked him where he was going he looked at me in utter surprise and said: “Dubai, I told you!”, but I had absolutely no idea. The first I’d heard of it was when he started packing to go overseas for about a week. He was so sure that he’d told me but after a while of watching the sheer blank expression on my face he realised that I wasn’t teasing him and it was then that the penny dropped, a bit sheepishly I might add. He’d practiced a conversation with me about it in his mind because he thought this was going to be one trip too many and even practiced what my anticipated response was going to be, and then promptly forgot to actually tell me in person!

This time around we are fortunate enough to have a time of major excitement in our house again though, as my mum is on her way from Cape Town for a visit and in a few days’ time I’ll find myself at the airport again in the midst of some intense emotions waiting for SA280 to land. Ouma is coming!

SA280 just after landing in Perth

SA280 just after landing in Perth

An Island, some Quokkas, Bagpipes and a Marathon

Picture a little island off the coast of Western Australia only about 19km from Perth. Far enough away to feel like you’ve escaped the hustle and bustle of life’s everyday responsibilities but close enough for it to be easily accessible by ferry, boat or plane and for the mainland still to be visible from the island. It has everything one can possibly need for an island holiday with a range of accommodation choices, a bakery, some cafés, shops, a pub, bike hire shop, mini golf course and some more, without it being over-developed. One can do as little or as much as you like, hang out around “The Settlement”  where the shops are, go to the beach for a swim or a snorkel or take yourself for a bike ride to one (or more) of the many spectacular bays around the island or visit some of the historic spots. With no private vehicles on the island, cycling and walking are the two main modes of transport which greatly adds to the laid-back relaxed vibe and the kids absolutely love the freedom that this safety allows them.

The island was initially named “Rotte nest” (meaning rat’s nest) by the Dutchman de Vlamingh in 1696 because they didn’t know how else to describe the Quokkas, but the name was later adapted to “Rottnest”. These cute little marsupials are still probably the most well-known animals on the island quietly going about their business, sometimes cheekily trying to get into accommodation units after food and often suddenly hopping in front of a cyclist which gives cause for quick evasive action. Cycling back to our accommodation on the northern side of the island after a meal at the pub at night with very few lights and no moonlight to guide you, negotiating our way around the unpredictable Quokkas always makes for some interesting encounters, especially when you’ve forgotten to take a torch or light of some sorts.

Quokka mum and baby

Quokka mum and baby

I’ve had another interesting experience of a different kind whilst cycling to our accommodation at night on our second visit but our first overnight stay on the island. My husband was only able to join us on the island the next morning so the kids and I went across on the ferry late afternoon and by the time we’d checked in and were ready to head out to our unit some 2km away, it was dusk and getting dark rapidly. I realised very quickly that my sense of direction on the island which relied upon the cycling around we did on our first trip some 3 ½ years prior, was established in broad daylight and limited to certain parts of the island, and that it all looked very different in the dark. After setting off in the right direction but taking a wrong turn we ended up in what felt like a maze of little streets and cottages where one looked just the same as the other in the darkness. The map wasn’t much use because I couldn’t discern one street from another, it was pre-smartphones (and therefor Google Maps and a little blue GPS dot), I asked people for directions twice, ended up phoning my husband in exasperation because he’s so good at directions (but frustratingly wasn’t much help over from the mainland this time) at which point the kids started getting worried. Eventually I gave up on the maze and we made our way back to the main “Settlement” area where I knew my way around and we tackled the (even darker) road that runs between the lakes out through the middle of the island. This didn’t inspire much confidence in the kids either as it was pitch dark by this time, there was no moon, no street lights, and we didn’t have a torch and neither was I really exuding an air of bravado (falsely or otherwise). We stopped every couple of hundred metres and I used the light from my phone’s screen to check that we were still on the road and not about to cycle straight into one of the lakes and we finally made it to our unit, only to be teased about it by my husband to this day.

Last weekend we packed our bags and set off for our annual trip to the island again and I was persuaded (mostly by Child No 3) to leave on the first ferry of the day at 7:30am which meant having to get up at bright and early 5am to be there on time. Our family does seem to have the knack for getting up early when we have to travel, sometimes getting up at 3am, so it’s probably just as well my husband (as the main early bird in the house) is not in charge of the ferry timetable because then we’d probably have been on a 5am ferry. That said, arriving on the island at 8:15am gave us the entire day to explore and enjoy and we cycled along the southern side of the island stopping at most of the breathtaking little bays so the girls could swim and snorkel and I found plenty of photo opportunities along the way – it truly is a very photogenic place – and we had the best time.

Parker Point

Parker Point

Jeannie's Lookout

Jeannie’s Lookout

Bathurst Point Lighthouse

Bathurst Point Lighthouse

Then on Sunday morning it was time for the (21st) Rottnest Marathon and Fun Runs. A unique race in a very unique setting with the marathon start heralded by the wail of bagpipes at 6am and the bagpipes, having become a traditional part of the marathon, being played throughout the race at Armstrong Hill. The atmosphere on the day is always lively and cheerful with lots of runners and their families and friends having descended on the island for the weekend and even more people going over to spend the day on the island and run a fun run while they’re there. Never an easy race contending with hills, quokkas, snakes and almost always the wind, but the spirit is always that of camaraderie and appreciating the privilege of having all of this on our doorstep.

Early morning before the start of the marathon

Early morning before the start of the marathon

Bagpiper at the start of the marathon

Bagpiper at the start of the marathon

Heading back home after an amazing weekend in such a magical place is always a touch melancholy and makes me dream of a simple life but reality beckons and so we’ll recount great memories and look forward to our next visit to this little paradise island with its quokkas, beautiful scenery, great vibe, individual character and very unique charm.


Four weeks without two of our children who both went overseas on separate trips meant that several things were different for us at home. Firstly it was the longest stretch of time (by about three weeks) that any of our kids had been away from home on their own before and that idea took a bit of getting used to, and then the fact that the two of them were away at the same time added another dimension to it altogether. Suddenly we went from a family of five to a family of three for a month. Saying good-bye was fairly emotional but life demands that things be done and keeping busy meant that I didn’t have too much time to dwell on the fact that they were away.

Our house, which is usually filled with life’s noises, silliness, teasing, laughter and some days just the general mayhem of the daily routine, went strangely quieter for four weeks. It was an interesting change because one sometimes longs for a bit of peace and quiet but this was a different, almost subdued quiet at times and I prefer the quiet where they are still at home or close to home but just not noisy all the time. With child No 1 away, I would say child No 3 got teased about 75% less than what she usually gets teased, which made for a major quiet change. Poor child No 3 also felt her siblings’ absence as she was stuck with only her two parents and had to rely on our boring company for the month.

Another big change was with regards to cooking. On their first night away as I started cooking dinner I suddenly realised that I had no idea how to cook for less than five people. After a bit of an episode I started catering for just the three of us at home and simplified meals so that it could work in my favour but there still ended up being leftovers most nights!

Then there are the dogs, who always go jumping crazy when child No 1 picks up his car keys and puts on his shoes as they always assume that means a trip to the park where they can run free for a while with him and child No 3, who also felt the change very keenly. They focused all their attention on child No 3 very quickly but it didn’t take them very long to start watching me for signs of picking up car keys to go to the park. The cat on the other hand, only showed signs of confusion when we had Skype chats with child No 2 and she (the cat) could see and hear child No 2 but there was no actual child No 2 behind the computer screen!

A further difference was with regards to music. Child No 2 loves playing music or playing on the piano or her guitar, and we had none of that while she was away and I really missed the music. My husband also commented that the music had gone quiet since I don’t sit down and play the piano enough.

And then there was the general daily concern over their safety and wellbeing for 29 days. In this age where we rely so heavily on technology it was great to be able to communicate with them regularly and easily but it also meant that we worried straight away if we hadn’t heard from them. Child No 1 was especially good at replying when child No 3 messaged him, but not always as good when mom or dad did! With child No 2 getting back yesterday and child No 1 today I was much more emotional than I’d thought I’d be. I expected to feel happiness but instead felt happiness plus an unexpected flood of very emotional relief. My heart breaks for the families who have lost loved ones in recent air travel disasters and the unimaginable pain they are going through, and all I can say is “Thank you” that mine are safely back where they belong. The ABBA song “Thank you for the music” popped into my head out of the blue this morning and I thought: “Thank you for the music – it’s back. In more than one sense.”

13 13 30

Get a taxi. The first time I was told this was in 2012 when child No 2 went on her first overseas trip without the family on a school music tour to New Zealand for 10 days. She was only 15 at the time and naturally very excited about the trip, but my mum-heartstrings struggled and saying good-bye at the airport was an emotional affair. There was going to be quite a wait after the group had checked in but before they said their good-byes and the rest of my family were keen to get home but I wasn’t planning to leave before the group was due to go through to immigration, so child No 3 (who was 11 at the time), was very quick to suggest that they all go home and I could stay as long as I liked and then get a taxi home. In her mind that was the perfect solution and everyone would be happy, except I didn’t take to the suggestion very kindly in my sad-mum-saying-farewell-to-one-of-her-babies state of mind. My sense of humour failure being quite obvious, the idea was abandoned as quickly as it came up and we all waited together for the group to depart.

13 13 30

13 13 30

The following time I got quoted 13 13 30 was when the kids and I went out for dinner one Friday night while Ironman was away for work. It was a lovely summer’s eve to be out and I decided to have a cider with my meal. This worried child No 3 very much as she wasn’t used to me having a cider and she was very quick to quote me the phone number to get a taxi as she checked the alcohol content of the cider (which was well within the legal limit but not the limit she had in mind for me).   Since then 13 13 30 has become a bit of a family joke whenever someone had to be dropped off or picked up from somewhere, especially if it was somewhere they didn’t usually go or where more than a quick, casual kiss good-bye was appropriate, and when child No 3 went on her first solo trip away from the family to visit her friend in Queensland for a week just after she’d turned 13, we said that she can get a cab to the airport. 13 13 30; which was received by an equal sense of humour failure as my own a year and a half prior, so we backtracked quickly and reminded her that it was only a joke.

With child No 2’s month-long student exchange trip to Reunion Island coming up we were discussing who would take her to the airport some weeks before the trip and if the whole family went, whether we’d again stay until the group departed (which I’d do of course), and again I was quoted 13 13 30. Three weeks out from her departure date I already felt I was coming apart at the thought of her going to be away from home in a foreign country for a month, living with a family she’ll only meet when she gets there, speaking a foreign language, having little contact with us plus having her 17th birthday while she’s away. As the departure date got closer she got more and more excited and I got more and more apprehensive. She’s an independent girl and with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I’m sure she will have the time of her life, but I still battled to get used to the idea. A month is a long time and although I know on a rational level that she can take care of herself there is probably some subconscious part of my mind that seems to think she’ll only be ok if she’s in my care. Close to me where I can see that she’s safe and hug her when I want to. How does a parent not worry about their offspring anyway? That’s just not possible. And then I received an e-mail from the mum of the girl she’ll be staying with, saying that she will take care of my daughter just as if she’s her own. That undid me again. Her suitcase was packed a few weeks before she was due to go though – life is exciting when you’re young, carefree and travelling.

Adding to our parental woes, child No 1 is going on a month-long holiday in Europe with two friends at the same time. He leaves the day after child No 2. We have been fortunate to still have him living at home and all of a sudden we’ll go from a full house of five to only three of us for a month. The house will be very quiet and I’ll miss them! My only consolation is that at least he’s three years older than child No 2 and will be with two friends, so he’s not likely to be lonely, and he’ll also be visiting so many places and seeing so many sights that he won’t have any time to miss home. Being a boy though, the packing has been left to the last minute. The planning, however, was an intricate business with the three travellers having got together a number of times and sitting side by side each of them with a laptop checking out train timetables, hotel prices, places to visit, sights and shows to be seen and making bookings as they went along.

As it turns out I’m not the only one who is apprehensive about two of the kids being away for a month – child No 3 is not looking forward to spending a whole month “with only the two of you” (ie mum & dad). The prospects of being the only child for a month is clearly not very appealing and the possibility of getting spoilt as a result is being outweighed by the boredom factor. I suspect it will be an interesting month for all of us, not least because of child No 2 being away for her birthday, but with us not being used to our kids going off on their own for extended periods of time (10 days is the longest any of them has been away from home on their own before) and all of a sudden two of them will be away at the same time to far-flung corners of the earth (or that’s what it feels like) for a month.   I’m really not sure how I’ll hold up saying our farewells, but we brave these things for our kids’ sakes. A blubbering mum is not the way they’d want to set off on an exciting trip! We want them to be independent and then when they are, I feel like saying: “Not yet! I’m not ready!” Either way, I’ll not be calling 13 13 30 and I won’t be tolerating any such suggestions either, with my sense of humour being tested to its limit as it is…

Bon voyage. I wish you safe travels, my children.