Where were you when the News Broke on 9/11?

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Late as always, I drove to work on that September morning in 2001, praying while driving as was our little morning tradition.

I ended with “Father, and please show us today as much mercy as possible.” A bit baffled, I looked at our five-year old sitting in his car seat at the back and said: “Mommy prayed a strange prayer this morning, don’t you think?”

Normally I would pray for our safety and for our family and people suffering etc. but that morning those words came out of my mouth as if it wasn’t me uttering them. I found it strange, but quickly forgot about it as the morning’s nursery school drop off and work activities chucked it into the background.

Just after four o’clock that afternoon, I was packing away my things to go home while listening to the hourly news on the radio. Just as I was about to switch the radio off, the news reader interrupted himself with breaking news from the US. I listened without believing, and quickly called my male colleague – the only one who was still left – to come and listen if I heard wrong. His shocked face confirmed that I didn’t.

That night my husband and I lay on our bed and watched the TV coverage until the next morning. The scenes of planes flying into buildings, people running away from the ashes, people jumping from the top floors, political commentators speculating and news presenters bringing the newest information, played over and over on the screen and by morning it was still difficult believing what had happened.

That was the day our world had changed forever. Nothing that we would do afterwards stayed untouched. Air travelling had become a nightmare with new security rules being implemented and a new war raged on the TV news every night. For us it was something to observe when we took the time, but for the people of Afghanistan and the US, UK and the rest who eventually got closely involved, it was much closer and cost a lot more.

And as I am writing this, twenty years later, the world is still reeling. Because in the middle of another life changing event – a pandemic starting a year or so ago and leaving us to deal with so much illness and death caused by a virus which doesn’t discriminate – we also have to get to grips with the latest in the saga of 9/11. The US (and the rest) had abruptly withdrawn from Afghanistan, leaving the country and its fragile people in the Taliban’s hands again – and even ‘arming’ them with all the equipment left behind after the withdrawal.

As a wife, mother, sister, daughter and ex-military employee, I can’t help wondering what the point of the last twenty years’ struggle after 9/11 was? Had all the husbands, wives, sons and daughters on all sides just died for nothing? We even lost a South African friend and his two children (then teens) at the hands of the Taliban in their house in Kabul. The boy was in that very same nursery school class where I dropped our son off that still-innocent September morning…

© 2021 Fielies De Kock

Awesomest wife. Finest mom. Hopefullest writer. Foreverest dreamer. Living in a coastal village in the Overberg, South Africa, with a husband and two dogs in a small heritage house, and an adult, recently-graduated, and now mechanic-in-the-making, job-seeking son in the garden cottage. His CV is available on request. 🙂

Opera in the Sea Breeze

We had ‘n few cold and rainy days, so instead of taking walks, we spend our time indoors in front of the fireplace. Yesterday we went for a late afternoon drive to buy more wood and on the way home I asked my husband spontaneously to drop me off just out of town to walk back home.

Although I believe in the Almighty God of the Bible and believe firmly that He is in control and will bring us through this time of epidemic, riots and so many other things life throws at us, I sometimes do get discouraged and a bit depressed. I’m human after all.

I love cold coastal afternoons, when the cool air touches my cheeks and makes me feel alive. When I’m feeling a bit off, just a half hour walk by the sea makes me a new person again. But, as I was walking down the road – not having reached half an hour yet and still not feeling so renewed, I was thinking about friends having serious problems, issues in the family and just all the changes we had to make and have to live by because of the pandemic. I was wondering if we would ever have a bit of boring normality again and if there will ever be a time when I would become as excited as a child about the future. (I’m not sure if this lack of excitement had come due to circumstances or because of age, but that’s a musing for another breezy afternoon.)

As I was thinking these thoughts, people passed in cars and on bicycles and on foot – all enjoying the fresh air which the wind breathed in from the snowy mountains not too far away. I heard some music over the sound of a car and thought it was coming from a nearby house or one of the hotels. But alas, towards me walked an elderly man with his two leashed dogs and when we got close enough to each other, I heard opera music coming from the cell phone in his pocket.

I walked home smiling, way lighter in spirit and just realised again, that it is the small things in life which causes happiness and which makes pandemics and problems bearable. The God of the Bible does burning-bush miracles, but sometimes He just sings opera in the cool sea breeze.

© 2021 Fielies De Kock

Awesomest wife. Finest mom. Hopefullest writer. Foreverest dreamer. Living in a coastal village in the Overberg, South Africa, with a husband and two dogs in a small heritage house, and an adult, recently-graduated, and now mechanic-in-the-making, job-seeking son in the garden cottage. His CV is available on request. 🙂

The Cat is out of the Hat – History is Repeating Itself

I normally write blog entries about things that I love and find interesting and almost never rant here. I have decided today though, to speak a bit of my mind, because I am worried about where ‘we’ are going with freedom in this world of ours.

By now every reader had probably heard about certain Dr Seuss books being withdrawn from the market. You can find out about it here: https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-56250658

I don’t know why we always have to be seen left or right when we raise an opinion. What happened to be decent, having common sense, choosing the midway? Sometimes things are not just black or white, but actually grey or yellow or purple or blue or orange with green dots. This is after all something liberal thinkers fought for throughout the centuries! Many even died for it!

(Maybe it is because we are mostly exposed to/dependant on American commentary and entertainment and they – the biggest democracy in the world – has only two political choices available – either Democrat or Republican! You guessed it – left or right. The in-between parties are for all practical purposes non-existent. And maybe this – their political choice – had spiralled downwards into every other inch of society. But, that’s just my [in-between] opinion.)

I look at events these days and think that modern liberal thinkers had lost the plot, because one see more and more Nazi-like censorship from liberal (!) sources everywhere. It makes me sad, and frankly, quite scared. Like the SS did in the 1930s, we are being told what to believe, what to discard, what is right, what is wrong etc. and this is all done under the flag of political (and social) correctness. And by doing so, they kill those fighters for freedom of speech all over again!

What happened to common sense? What happened to reading literature in context and then have discussions over it instead of just banning authors. Isn’t that one of the reasons why we read? How will our children learn to think critically if they don’t have access to read (even politically incorrect) literature and ask questions about it? Do ‘we’ want little obedient, non-thinking, political-correct robot people? It seems more and more that it is coming to this.

Are ‘we’ back to burning books again? Yes, ‘we’ are. ‘We’ have just burned Dr Seuss books.

History is repeating itself.

This Dr Seuss-like story is a reply to the sad affair by author Laura Ainsworth: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8N6RiNuMAX8. Quite sharp I thought.

(WARNING: This is not socially or politically correct reading.)

Load Shedding Memories

We all loath load shedding. Of course. But secretly I enjoy it when it is scheduled late in the evenings. We have a few useful lights we use, but in our bathroom we light candles, which transform the room into a place that takes me way back into time. With every flickering of a candle and in every dancing shadow, I am transported back to a simple and innocent time before there was Eskom power on farms.

Way back, every evening offered a candle lit dinner and weekend nights were filled with all the people I loved back then, around a table – either in our kitchen or in a kitchen of my parents’ friends. Those were happy, happy days.

There were no phones intruding in a dinner conversation and no social media to capture an aunt’s embarrassment if she had one glass too many. Children sat with adults around the table, listening to adult conversation, but were mostly only heard when laughing at a joke or an anecdote.

I’m not naïve enough to say “those were the good old days”, because there are many better things available to us nowadays and many bad things were going on in those days, but our parents knew how to live good lives above their circumstances.

Those nights by the candle light were wonderful and memorable and every flickering of every candle I light, will always remind me of those moments and of the people whose faces the shadows gently caressed around those tables – most of which are now gone.

So now load shedding gives us the opportunity to light candles to make new (non-virtual/digital/electronic) memories with our families. I’m almost sure that our children would one day look back and not talk about 2020/21 as ‘simple’ or ‘innocent’ times, but with a bit of living-in-the-moment-on-purpose and less absent-minded time spent on our phones, we just might create memorable nights for our children and grandchildren to remember one day.

#loadsheddingmemories

© 2021 Fielies De Kock

Awesomest wife. Finest mom. Hopefullest writer. Foreverest dreamer. Living in a coastal village in the Overberg, South Africa, with a husband and two dogs in a small heritage house, and an adult, recently-graduated, job-seeking son in the garden cottage. His CV is available on request. 🙂

Family Traditions Creates Unbreakable Bonds and Awesome Memories

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What do the Sunday night movie, playing Monopoly on holidays and eating dinner at the table have in common? They are the glue that bonds a family together.

According to https://www.childhelp.org/ family traditions are handed down from generation to generation and add to the rhythm and seasonality of life.

What are Family Traditions?

They are those things we tend to repeat doing when we are together, like the things mentioned above. Family traditions differ from family to family and are normally just simple things we do that we as a family love, like having rowdy conversations around the dinner table as the Italians and Greeks tend to have. Or it is taking that annual holiday to the same place every year. So many of my husband’s childhood memories derive from their seaside family holidays, so much so that we live in the town they had their holidays in! My family didn’t have seaside holidays, but we had a big mass of water nearby where we lived and we went camping there over the Christmas season when I was little. It was also my birthday this time of year and to me it felt as if I had my birthday every day during those holidays, as different family members arrived daily with gifts for me!

Family Traditions look Different and can Literally be Anything!

Times have changed and so have the activities we do. But we still participate in traditions – even though we don’t even think of them as ‘traditions’. Mom and the girls going to the mall on a Saturday morning, Dad playing cricket with the boys in the garden on Sunday afternoons, visiting the grandparents for Saturday braai or watching the rugby together, are all good examples of South African family traditions.

The Advantages of Family Traditions

Other than helping the family to bond, it also builds children’s confidence, because their parents are spending some real time with them. That makes them feel grounded and safe and help them to be more outgoing and courageous. You can read up more on the advantages of family traditions on your own.

Family Traditions in the Time of the Corona Virus

Yep, we are locked in and can’t even take our dogs for a walk in the streets, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t still do things together. We are after all, cooped up together like never, ever before in our lifetimes! So, this makes it a perfect time to bring back some old family traditions or establish new ones.

If you have stopped or never eaten together at a table as a family, start doing that – even if it is for only one meal a day. Here are a few pointers for this:

  • Ban cell phones from the table and keep a few conversation starters handy to get your family talking to each other again.
  • Research a few good conversation topics which are fitting for your family’s age.
  • Allow difference of opinion, but make sure to establish rules so that it is still done respectfully and things don’t get ugly. If we teach our children to have an opinion and speak their minds at home, educators don’t have to teach them what they want to teach them.
  • Start debates about different topics. Divide everyone present into two groups and let them debate two sides of a topic. When things get heated, change it around. It is fun to see everyone suddenly out of their comfort zones when having to defend the other side! And it normally ends fights immediately.

Play together, whether it is board games or games in the garden. And don’t stop when the lockdown is over.

Create something together, such as cooking, baking and braaiing, making clothes, building puzzles, building lego or whatever your family is into.

Try to teach your children something regularly during the lockdown, but keep doing it hereafter. Teach them to pray and care for others, braai, plant veggies, snoei trees, play chess, build something out of wood, do DIY chores in the house etc. Doing this on a regular basis will not only teach them skills, but give them confidence and the ability to do things for by themselves and for themselves.

Read together. Read bedtime stories to your children from day one. (Yes, they need to hear stories in their dads’ and moms’ voices from an early age.) When they are older (and now during lockdown) you can lie around reading for a few hours a day.

Start a thanksgiving tradition, either at the breakfast or dinner table or whenever you are all gathered together and bored during the lockdown. Think about those less privileged during this time and start a ‘Thank You’ jar where you can all contribute with things you are thankful written on a piece of paper and put into the jar. Open in up in a year’s time or so and read it aloud around the table while eating.

These are just a few examples. There are lots more. You know what your family love doing. Dust off a few old ones or start new traditions. Search the Internet for more ideas if you need to.

Keeping it Up

Our young adult son is still with us at home. We continue doing things together as a family on a regular basis, such as eating together every meal, even though he lives outside in the cottage. We go for picnics at the beach and going on Sunday exploring rides etc. My sister-in-law’s two adult children are having dinner with them every Sunday evening. Some dads and their adult sons have weekly squash appointments. You get the point.

So, when this lockdown is over or when the children are all grown up, don’t stop with the traditions. Many South African families are split up and live all over the world, but with the technology available these days, we can still be ‘together’. Make a family group call on a week night/morning (depending on time differences) and kuier together on Skype or WhatsApp video calls.

Do whatever it takes to keep your family traditions going, because they create awesome and precious memories for your children which they will carry over to their children.

 

© 2020 Fielies De Kock 

Awesomest wife. Finest mom. Hopefullest writer. Foreverest dreamer. Living in a coastal village in the Overberg, South Africa, with a husband and two dogs in a small heritage house, and an adult, recently-graduated, job-seeking son in the garden cottage. His CV is available on request. 🙂🙂🙂

 

What Happens Between “Enchanté” and “Auf Wiedersehen”

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A longish note to everyone we met during our almost four and a half years stay in Egypt.

 

When we Afrikaners meet someone for the first time, we like to greet them with the words “Bly te kenne”. These words literally translate to ‘may we keep knowing each other’.

At that point, the person you meet is just another stranger about whom you know nothing, except his or her name – if you manage to catch, pronounce and remember it! But as time goes by and you meet again and again you learn to pronounce their names correctly, meet their families – either in person or by hearing about them. You eventually learn about the person’s passions, talents, joys and heartbreaks. And then suddenly they are unfamiliar no more.

During our five summers in Cairo we met quite a few people, who by sharing similar experiences, challenges, difficulties and fun, had transformed from strangers into dear friends. Fortunately, living in an ever-changing international community for a while, there are plenty of opportunities to say “Bly te kenne” or “Nice to meet you” or “Enchanté”. Unfortunately during this temporary expat life, another phrase is being used way too often too, because coming and going is a given in this type of lifestyle.

Saying goodbye is never easy and when you have to do it that often, it really “sucks”, to quote our American friends. At first there are goodbyes to family and friends when you first leave to go live in a foreign country in a foreign culture between foreign people. And then there are all the in-between goodbyes when you go home on holiday and return – just to leave your loved ones behind again. And again.  And again. And again…

But then, all of a sudden the day arrives when you have to say goodbye to the foreigners – the strangers whom you met at a reception or a coffee morning or a welcoming party or in the street or at work, and who, in a short period of time, became friends. People who made your stay in a foreign place less foreign. Who helped turn uncomfortable into comfortable. Whose unknown faces had become so familiar and loved that you can’t imagine saying goodbye to them to probably never see them ever again! And that thought is just unthinkable!

So, for that purpose we have another wonderful phrase in Afrikaans and in some other languages with which we try to ease the pain of saying goodbye. We say “Tot weersiens”, which means ‘until we see each other’ – much like the Hebrew l’hitra’ot or the French a bientôt or the German ‘auf wiedesehen’.

If we say “Until we meet again”, we all know that – even if the goodbye part is inevitable for the now – we keep the hope afloat to meet again, because who knows? It just might happen! It already happened when we went on holiday to Greece and met up with old Cairo friends there and when some of our American friends visited us at home while on holiday! So, anything is possible!

Saying goodbye is too final. It means it’s over and done with. Finished. It shuts the door on hope. Goodbyes are no good. They are hope killers and killing hope is not good for one’s soul.

So, after this long account, I’ll come to the point. This note is not a hope killer. This is not our goodbye to you. This is just to say thanks to you for all the laughs and cries we shared. For the many, many, many glasses of wine we had together – and for lamenting together over all those almost-full glasses we lost to over-eager Egyptian waiters! And for all the caipirinhas (“por favor” wink-wink) and all the times we danced to C’est La Vie at functions we were supposed to and at functions we were not supposed to!

Thank you for caring for Deon when Michael and I were not here and making him feel less alone in Cairo. Thank you for helping him when he was dean. And thank you for always asking about ‘our Michael’ and conversing with him and treating him as part of our community and giving him the experience of a lifetime! Thank you for every “How are you?” and every smile and every hug and every kiss and every “I will miss you” towards the end.

We will miss every one of you – those to whom we have already said goodbye to four, three and two years ago and last year and this year, and you who we leave behind now. Every one of you and your families had touched our hearts in one way or another. From now on when we hear English in a foreign accent it will be your voices and your accents we hear it and then we will miss you even more. We will miss your smiles. We will miss dancing with you. We will miss laughing will you. We will miss everything about you.

We wish that you and your families will be blessed in whatever you do wherever you go. Our family’s prayer for you comes from the Bible:

God bless you and guard you.

God make His face shine upon you and show favour to you.

God lift up His face upon you and give you peace.

 

We will always remember you, because between “Enchanté” and “Auf wiedersehen” we have made too many memories together to forget each other.

 

Until we meet again, our friends.

 

With love from Deon, Fielies & Michael De Kock

June 2018 – Cairo, Egypt

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On Doing Something Really Well

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At my Cairo Hair Salon

As always I am tempted to read on my phone to kill the time, but I decide against it. I‘m trying to be more in the moment and to enjoy the ‘now’. So, I sit and watch as Issam, one of my hair dressers at a Lebanese salon in Cairo, is creating art in my hair for the night’s ball. He is working focussed and with precision, but most of all, with confidence. This is what he does, one can clearly see. His hands are moving easily – combing, straightening, curling, calling for pins from his young helper with two other trainees standing behind, looking on eagerly. One day they will be the Issams of the salon, doing the women’s hair for their balls.

The salon is functioning like a little ‘factory’. On arrival, one is greeted by one or more women at the reception, who might be the actual receptionist or one of the beauty consultants (I know they have a smarter title, but I can’t remember it now) who also operate from the premises. But from there on it is a manly affair. First, your hair will be washed and your scalp massaged by one of the eager young apprentices. They all look still fresh out of school – as if they had just made the trip from their home country. This is the part I always enjoy most – the head massaging. I sit back, close my eyes and relax. Very in the moment.

After this the young one leads you to your chair, clothe you in a white coat – not made of plastic, but of fabric – offers you something to drink, and vanishes to get the drink. Then one of the specialists arrives to do the cutting. My haircutting specialist is Charlie. When I first met him he had long hair, a few tattoos and a bit of a boepie (although he is a thinnish man), but he now fashions short hair, a slimmer waist and has a new tattoo of an ECG image in his neck. I like coming to this salon and I like Charlie, because the whole setup reminds me of my childhood. We lived in the small town of Delareyville where oom Peter Diab, also Lebanese, was our hairdresser. He later moved to the neighbour town, Sannieshof, where he bought the wholesaler, but he kept on doing hair, so when I went to high school there, I still got my hair cut by him. These are fond memories. I wonder what had become of the Diab family and all the other Lebanese families I grew up with?

After the cut, Charlie goes on to his next customer and the blow drying expert takes over. Most of the time the same or another washer will come to assist, holding hair, handing over brushes, plugging in the straightener or just standing, watching. Within an hour of arriving, one leaves the salon again. Hair serviced. They run a smooth operation here.

On Being an Expert

I am what people call a bit of “a Jack of all trades and master of nothing”. I can write a little. I can draw and paint a little. I can do mosaic and pewter and decoupage a little. I can do a little crocheting, knitting and needlework. I can make things and build things (like when my husband returned home from work one afternoon and my son, the gardener and I built a braai). I can teach someone to use a computer. I can take photographs and I can make slide shows and short movies with them. I can garden. When my health still allowed it, I could play volleyball, tennis, squash, golf and almost anything else with a ball.  I cycled, ran half marathons, hiked in the mountains and walked (only if I couldn’t do something faster). On top of these things I continually learn to do or make something new. But, my frustration in life, is that I’m not an expert at anything. I really want to be an expert at writing, but that’s another story for another day.

I always look at people who do something really, really well and I wonder how it feels. How does it feel to be a heart surgeon who can remove a piece of someone’s 3mm-in-diameter aorta and replace it with something man-made, pull the even smaller veins through and make it work again? At least I know how it feels to have that done to me and I’m humbled by the precision of someone else’s expertise. How does it feel to be a violinist in a classical orchestra, playing a masterpiece to perfection? How does it feel to be a steno typist in court, recording what is said by everyone with absolute precision and at the speed of real speech day by day?

These people are really professionals. They do this one thing so perfect that they are in demand in their specific field. They are good at it, because they do what they do for hours and hours almost every day of their life. They are not like me scrambling around the house, doing a bit of writing, then fixing trousers, then decide to make a bag, then try to paint something and then get the urge to make ‘art pictures’ on my camera and then get bored. And at the end of the day, none of those things I made are masterpieces. They might look nice or be useful, or they might be a flop, but they definitely aren’t perfect or even really good. I quite enjoy doing so many different things, because I get bored easily – except when I’m writing. I can do that for hours every day. I just wish I did. Maybe I would have been a better writer then and maybe I would be able to write a masterpiece.

I’m not belittling my efforts at all. I like being able to do so many things – even if I don’t do it all that well. It’s just that I really, really admire that excellent Grade 1 teacher who teaches children to read and write within two months from starting school, or the Djokovich or Federer or Murray who can hit a tennis ball precisely where they want to or the neighbour who’s cake is always a success. I think it must be an awesome feeling to do something so good that you know it will almost never fail, that it would almost always be hugely successful. Because later on, even if you do what you do slightly ‘worse’ your good reputation will pull you through. (Not that it works so well for our country’s rugby players.) Because even if the latest John Grisham novel wasn’t as good as all his previous ones, you will keep reading them, because you know that the next one will be on par again. Excellence breeds excellence. I read another version of the saying “Practice makes perfect” somewhere. It goes something like “Practice until you know you can’t fail anymore”.  I want to do just one thing that well!

It is not only heart surgeons and tennis players who impress me though. People doing everyday jobs, like making burgers or sewing socks or putting products in their packaging amazes me. There are a few of these video clips doing the rounds on the net. I always watch them in astonishment, taking off the proverbial hat to them virtually by liking or sharing the clips. (Some of the footage is duplicated in the clips and the resolution isn’t always good, but I’m sure you will be impressed too.) https://youtu.be/vZK5mzj62Pk, https://youtu.be/494dUevcqJM, https://youtu.be/RsnTNCKMaR4, https://youtu.be/wo7qvyqQ_xE

And if you are one of those people who have the ability to do something perfectly well – enjoy it. I salute you!

© 2016  – I, Fielies (also Riëtte) De Kock is trying hard to be an awesomest wife and greatest lover, finest mom and to write some masterpiece – all at the same time. I share my current living space in Cairo, Egypt with my husband, young-adult son, the building’s two cats and the space in my head with more ideas and story characters than I can handle.

High Above the Clouds / Hoog bo die wolke

English version

This will be recorded as one of my most beautiful memories ever. We are on an Egypt Air flight from Amsterdam to Cairo.

Deon and I always listen to Paul Wilbur’s ‘Shema’ together on shared earphones when they play the Islamic prayers on the small screen – something that is done before every flight. Normally I switch my phone off after this, because I want to keep it charged should I need to make a call after we have landed. But today I keep listening. The time between sitting on the tarmac and take off can be a bit boring sometimes.

It is a majestic feeling when a plane jets into the air with the forceful sounds of Verdi’s ‘Nabucco’ in your ears. Outside the lush green landscape of Amsterdam is left on the ground as the plane swoops through the thick clouds to glide above them. This is one of the most beautiful pictures my eyes ever had the privilege of seeing! The cotton wool-like clouds are bundled onto each other with no earth to see down below. The music is still playing while I hear my spirit whisper in my heart: “Thanks for beautiful things, Father!” and “Thanks for all the undeserved treats. Thanks for all the places we see that I’ve never thought I would see and thanks for seeing some more than once!”

And then I heard the Halleluja choir with ‘Ode to Joy’ and Susan Boyle sings ‘Then sings my soul’, while mine sings with. I ‘halleluYAH’ on with Leonard Cohen and Delaney en Bonnie’s ‘Never Ending Song of Live’ follows passionately. Then André Rieu’s orchestra played “Auld Lang Syne’ and I long to be with my family and I wonder what they are all doing on this spring Sunday afternoon in South Africa. While I’m still wondering Neil Diamond makes a ‘Beautiful Noise’ and on the note of ‘Hava Nagila’ I have to close the plane window a bit, because the son reflects quite sharply from the Alps down below.

My finger chooses Josh Grobin’s ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desire’ almost automatically, because one always tends to feel closer to heaven so high up in the air.

In the aisle seat Michael sat cramped-in and reads his new book and in the middle, next to me Deon rests on his forehead against the front seat, trying to sleep. I trust on his cell phone today should we need to make calls on the other side. For now my phone’s battery will help Josh fly high above the clouds over Europe.

Afrikaans

Hierdie sal in my onthou opgeteken word as een van die mooiste memoeries ooit! Ons is op ‘n Egypt Air-vlug oppad terug van Amsterdam na Kaïro.

Ek en Deon luister altyd na die ‘Shema’ van Paul Wilbur oor gedeelde oorfone as hulle die Islamitese gebede op die klein skerm wys – iets wat voor elke vlug gedoen word. Normaalweg skakel ek my foon hierna af, omdat ek nie die battery wil pap maak nie vir ingeval ek dit nodig sou kry nadat ons geland het. Maar vandag hou ek aan luister. Die tyd tussen in die vliegtuig sit op die aanloopbaan en opstyg kan nogal vervelig wees.

Dis ‘n majestieuse gevoel as ‘n straler opstyg met Verdi se ‘Nabucco’ se klanke in jou ore. Buite het ons die lowergroen landskap van Amsterdam op die grond gelos en die vliegtuig het die dik wolke ingeswiep – na waar ons bokant hulle sweef. Dit is een van die mooiste, mooiste prentjies wat my oë ooit die voorreg gehad het om te sien! Die wolke is soos watte-berge op mekaar gestapel, met niks aarde onder ons te sien nie. Die musiek hou aan speel, terwyl ek my gees in my hart hoor fluister: “Dankie vir mooi dinge, Vader!” en “Dankie vir al die onverdiende voorregte. Dankie dat ons plekke kan sien wat ek nooit gedink het moontlik is nie en party wéér kan sien.”

En toe hoor ek die Halleluja-koor en ‘Ode to Joy’ en Susan Boyle sing ‘Then sings my soul’, terwyl myne saam sing. En ek ‘halleluYAH’ verder saam met Leonard Cohen. En Delaney en Bonnie se ‘Never Ending Song of Live kom tussen-in en toe ek weer hoor, speel André Rieu se orkes “Auld Lang Syne’ en ek verlang na my familie en wonder wat doen hulle op dié lente Sondagmiddag in Suid-Afrika. Terwyl ek nog wonder, maak Neil Diamond ‘n ‘Beautiful Noise’ en op die nota van ‘Hava Nagila’ moet ek eers die vliegtuigvenstertjie ‘n bietjie toetrek, want die sonnetjie skyn nogal skerp so hoop bo in die lug waar dit van die Alpe af reflekteer. My vinger kies so half outomaties Josh Grobin se ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desire’, want ‘n mens voel mos maar altyd ‘n bietjie nader aan die hemel so hoog bo in die lug.

In die gangsitplek sit Michael ingeprop en lees sy nuwe boek en langs my in die middel, sit-lê Deon op sy voorkop teen die sitplek voor hom en probeer slaap. Ek vertrou maar vandag op sy selfoon, sou daar ‘n ‘vir ingeval’ anderkant die landing wees. Vir nou help my foon se battery eers vir Josh om hoog te vlieg bo die wolke bokant Europa.

© 2016 – I, Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock tries hard to be a Proverbs 31-woman – excellentest wife, finest mom, greatest lover and successful ‘wordpreneur’ all at the same time. I share my current living space in Cairo, Egypt, with my husband, young adult son, the building’s ginger cat, her friend and two kittens (so far) – and the space in my head with way too many ideas and multitudes of story characters to function normally .

On Having too Many Ideas and the Pure Evils of Multitasking

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Just keep reading. The advice part comes at the middle of the article…

Struggling to Focus

I really struggle to focus when it comes to my writing. To focus – not to concentrate. I can sit and do the same thing for hours. Unless I’m on my phone. Then I have the intention span of a two year-old and I can forget what picture I want to open only half a second after I’ve made the decision. I don’t have a search for the reason for my problem, because I know what the cause is. Ideas. I have too many of them. While I am busy researching links for  my Writing Club Facebook page, I think of a new short story that I want to write and then I think of a great idea for my next blog entry and while still busy with that I’m struggling with the plot problem of my decade-old novel.

Multitasking towards Scatter Brain Syndrome

Every weekend I think of what to do the next week and plan it in my head, but come Sunday (when the work week starts where we currently live) I sleep too late, spend too much time on my phone checking Facebook, play Words with Friends or find something interesting that I have to do Bible study on. So by 10:30 I realise that our bedroom needs tiding, the building cats want food, our son wants to sound his view points on his latest university essay with me and while I’m listening to him, my mind wanders to have yet another few writing ideas on another few projects.

Am I too scatter-brained or do I have too many ideas? I can’t always determine, but I know that whichever it is – or maybe it’s both – it makes me unproductive. Having ideas as a (would-be) writer can only be good, can it not? I rarely have had problems with writer’s block in my life. That must be a good thing, mustn’t it?  Having lots of ideas is good. But it doesn’t help if any of those ideas ever get finished. Oh, I have finished manuscripts in my cyber Dropbox drawer. It’s not if I can’t finish anything. I can sit down and work on a long project to finish it. It’s just that I can’t finish everything that I want to, because I don’t know what to work on and what to leave.

I do something and then I leave it and then I do something else and then I leave it when a new idea pops into my head. I know I have this problem. And I have tried to overcome it many times. I am currently in one of those phases. I have decided to finish my Writing Club business idea. I have started well. Then I got sick. And now, a week later, I am writing a blog while still editing a short story whilst I should be busy with that instead.

The problem I find with my writing – as also in other areas of life – is that I try to multitask, in spite of being a hater of multitasking. Because I multitask in life too. I start tiding the bedroom, and when putting away some stuff in the bathroom, I see that the toilet need urgent cleaning and when I go to the kitchenette to fetch the cleaning products, I wash the morning coffee mugs and then remembered that my son didn’t have breakfast yet and when I take his breakfast to the TV room where we normally have it together, we watch the breaking news and I quickly do some research on some of the facts the reporter gave and then I see some interesting article that I have to share to my Writing Club Facebook page and while on the computer I see that there are some messages from my family group on WhatsApp Web and then I get involved in a who-looked-more-like-whom baby pictures debate and when it cools down I see more interesting articles on writing and read a few, and get new ideas for blogging and then my husband called to hear if I have started doing research for our trip and then I get into the mood to finish my short story and I write for an hour. And when I finally come to my senses again, the bedroom is still untidy, the toilet is still not cleaned, the coffee mugs are dirty again after having breakfast though, the breakfast plates had to be cleaned, there is new breaking news on TV, the family had decided that the baby looks like herself, my Facebook page have more notifications, my short story is still not finished, I haven’t done the research for our upcoming trip and I realise that I haven’t thought about what we’ll have for dinner. Then I leave everything I’ve been busy with and rush to the kitchen…

That’s my life. It’s not perfect. I frustrate myself. Days and weeks and months and even years fly by and I’m not getting done what I want to get done. In a few years’ time I will probably look back and ask my husband and son: “What have I done with my time?!” And they will probably remind me to read this blog entry to answer myself.

Having many ideas is a good thing. For creative people it is a wonderful thing. But if you can’t channel those ideas into some productiveness, they will always be just… ideas. Ideas means nothing if they sit in your head. They have to be acted upon – just like dreams. Ideas also have a tendency to get ‘stolen’. If you don’t do something with an idea, someone else, who is more focussed will and before you know it, another opportunity will be lost.

A Few Tips

Multitasking must be killed. We must live in the moment and concentrate on the task at hand – one at a time. Here are a few ways to try to do it. Let’s try it!

Focus

With the Olympics on, I couldn’t help to recognise again the athletes’ commitment to their respective codes. The archer’s focus on the target is a good example of how we as writers or other artists or people of any other career should learn to focus on one thing at a time. The archer can only hit one target with one shot. If his focus is on anything other than only his target, he surely will miss. Focussing on one writing piece at a time will eventually means that one project will be finished. And if that one is finished a next one will get finished and a next and a next.

Do Something Productive with those too Many Ideas – Make a List

Write down all the writing projects ideas you have in your head. By getting them out of your head and onto paper, you can start focussing on getting them done. Keep this list close and update it as you get new ideas.

Then Make a ‘To Do’ list

Now make a ‘To Do’ list. Decide what it is you want to achieve with your writing. Be very, very honest with yourself and focus on your strong points. Identify the projects that will be the most probably to get published and/or bring in some money. Prioritise you list. Then start and finish the first priority project on your list.

Don’t Move on Before a Task isn’t Finished

Don’t move to number two on your list unless number one is finished. In the case of number one being writing your novel, you can do blogging or other smaller projects in between, but always finish the allotted daily writing time for your priority project first, before going on to doing the smaller ones.

Plan your day – Have a Routine

You know the saying, ‘Fail to plan, plan to fail.’

If that archer didn’t practice for hours every day, he wouldn’t have made his country’s Olympic team and he wouldn’t have been able to win the gold medal. If he failed to aim at his target, he would have failed to hit it. If you want to go on holiday in Greece, you need to plan to take leave, buy plane tickets and book accommodation. Otherwise you will remain where you are. If you don’t plan anything, you won’t get anything done. It is as simple as that.

‘Go to work’

My husband gets up at the same time every morning, showers, clothes himself, takes his bag and goes to work. And he remains there for eight hours of every five week days – working. For that he is rewarded with a salary at the end of every month. Input equals output.

Some writers have a day job and write for an hour or so every evening and some more over weekends. Well-known writers had got published for the first time this way – by writing only for a short time every day. Every day.

Some writers have the privilege of staying home and have more time than others to write. If you are one of those and still struggle to fill at least a few hours every day writing, you have to become more creative with managing your time and the way you work.

  • Identify your favourite writing place in your house/garden.
  • Decide on what part of the day your writing hours will be.
  • When the time arrives, literally pack your writing tools (laptop, notebooks etc.) in a bag and walk out of the house, through the garden (if you have one), back into the house and to your working place.
  • If possible, leave your phone ‘at home’ or switch to silent.
  • Stay at your working space for the time you have allocated.
  • If you have a whole study or office as working space, close the door after you have finished and open it again at the beginning of your writing period. This way you know that you can shut down and have time to do things with your family without feeling guilty, because you have already done your writing for the day.
  • Be jealous about your writing hours. Allow no disturbances, other than real Don’t make unnecessary appointments for those hours and say no to appointments that can be made for another time.

These tips may seem like common sense and they actually are, but we certainly tend to lose our common sense when we get distracted. Keeping to a regular routine and staying disciplined helps to divide between your living and working spaces and may help you to get into the right mind for doing more productive work.

Keep a writing log

I’ve started doing  this years ago, stopped and started again. I make a simple monthly spreadsheet and write down what writing related work I do every day, including reading. (I also keep a separate yearly reading list.) My columns include, Writing, Editing, Reading, Blogs and Other (like time spent updating my Facebook Writing Club page or journal writing). I blot out days that we travel and on which it isn’t possible to write, although some travels can offer wonderful writing time.

Keeping a writing log shows you how many hours per day you effectively spend on your writing projects and it serves as a motivational tool to better your productivity from month to month. It also helps with planning your writing schedule, because you can see how much time you need to spend on certain projects.

Take Stock Every Week, Month and Year

At the end of every week, month and year, evaluate your writing effort. Check your ‘To Do’ list and see what you have achieved. Go through your monthly writing logs and see where you can improve your productivity. Make changes and stay focussed – one task at a time.

Keep a Personal Journal

If you don’t keep a journal I have a question for you: Why on earth not?! Apart from being a therapeutic tool to write down your emotions, problems goals, dreams and feelings, your journal can be a treasure chest of ideas. Many of my journal entries have become blog entries. It also serves as a reminder of the dreams and goals you have and is a place to blow off some steam – as you are the only one who reads it.

You don’t have to write in your journal every day or even every week. Write when you want to, but keep writing, even if there are two-month gaps.

On days that you really can’t get other writing done (for whatever reason) – just journal. At least it will help you to stay in routine and not get rusty. I write in both languages I speak, depending on the reason, subject or mood I am in.

Learn more about journal writing at https://fieliesdekock.com/2014/03/17/article-on-writing-journal-writing/ 

Go forward one letter, word, sentence, paragraph, chapter, book at a time!

(OK, the bedroom is not going to tidy itself. Off I go…)

 

© 2016 – I, Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock tries hard to be a Proverbs 31-woman – excellentest wife, finest mom, greatest lover and successful ‘wordpreneur’ all at the same time. I share my current living space in Cairo, Egypt, with my husband, young-adult son, the building’s ginger cat, her friend and two kittens (so far) – and the space in my head with way too many ideas and multitudes of story characters to function as a normal human being.

Those Big Small Things in between Facebook Status Updates

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Life is speeding so fast that it can overtake us very easily, leaving us clinging onto whatever we can to survive. And when we are in survival mode, we tend to focus on just that – survival. Sometimes we need to get off the runaway train, stay on the ground and just enjoy the moments of experiences added together that is called ‘life’. So many of us live for our “one day” – that day or days near or farther in the future when all our dreams will be realised into the utopian existences we spend all our free time imagining.

But sometimes we need real life to give us a slap through the face or shower us with the proverbial bucket of ice water to slow us down from our busyness or even to bring us to a halt in order for us to stop and be alive within the actual moment we find ourselves in.

It can happen through the shock of sudden death, the scare of illness, being faced with dangerous situations or just recuperating from something less serious – but as disruptive.

Shock or trauma or failure can sometimes be good for us. It can help us clean our systems, re-organise our priorities and re-evaluate the impossible goals we set for ourselves into obtainable ones and making us pause for a while. Very few things in life can be so good to us than coming to a complete standstill. And I really mean to stop doing what you’re doing and to live in the moment, with no looking forward to the tomorrow that may never be born.e always dreamt of living abroad for a period of time. Due to circumstances that dream got lost for a while, but after some time it found its way back into becoming a possibility and our lives were frozen in their tracks. Everything we did or didn’t do, planned or didn’t plan and decided had to be weighed first against the probability of going away for a few years. It changes one’s whole focus, lookout and pretty much everything you do.

The realisation of a dream can be a horribly, scary affair and takes courage to pursue. (Read my previous blog on this at https://fieliesdekock.com/2015/11/10/the-process-of-realising-a-dream-can-be-a-nightmare/)

We only heard six months later that we were going to live abroad. In Egypt. I cried for a day and then my previous positive-self reappeared and I made a pro’s and con’s list and, surprise-surprise, the pro’s list convinced me – not that it was the longest! (How is it that when your prayers are being answered and you get what you ask for that you get confused?)  But the crying subsided and the excitement and frightfulness kicked in. We had a lot to do – easier stuff and more difficult stuff. All the easier stuff had to do with the ‘whats’ in our lives. The more difficult ones had to do with the ‘whos’. My mother lived with us for 17 years and she had to be relocated. And we had to find houses for our four dogs. It wasn’t easy.

Fast forward…

…to living in Cairo, Egypt, for two years.

It takes time to settle into a new environment. And it took me one year an nine months to get so used to the new place to fall into a little bit of a rut – in spite of (or maybe because of) busyness.

Precisely one year and nine months after arriving here, I fell into a not-so-slightly ‘down’. (Don’t worry – it was caused by stupid pains, and although they remained, the depression flew out of the window after a few doctor’s visits. ((And I realised that my ‘depressions’ are always health related.)) And it is a fact that everything seems worse if you are far away from ‘home.’)

Now that the background history is told, I will get to the point. Since that day, three years and three months ago when we first heard that we may be moving, I have learnt to live in the moment. Because of the uncertainty of our situation, we stopped buying unnecessary things, didn’t make decisions with long-term consequences and just started taking every day as it came.

Due to the fact that we came to live in a country where the security situation can be volatile, our circumstances can change at any time and our stay can end unplanned and abruptly. So, I decided to keep living here the way we lived back home for those uncertain fifteen months before we left – in the moment. And I already decided to keep doing that when we get back home one day. But, as I am writing this – even that isn’t a certainty, because that is a tomorrow that is still to come. I pray though that it will happen for us all.

But back again (!) to the reason for this writing. During all these experiences the last few years, I have learnt to enjoy the ‘little’ things in life. Don’t get me wrong. With our current, temporary lifestyle come lots of privileges, which we enjoy and appreciate enormously! I mean, without this experience, my dream to see at least something of Europe would probably always have stayed only in the dream phase. We have cruised the Nile and we are scheduled to go again soon. We have snorkelled in the Red Sea (and fell in love with it)! On a French mountain I have played in the snow for the first time in my life! I attended my first (second, third and shortly my fourth) ball! I have stood in a chamber in The Valley of the Kings outside Luxor containing the petite mummy of king Tut. Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera. These are memories I will cherish for as long as my mind allow me.

But as it is in life – privileges don’t come free or cheap. And in between these very wonderful experiences are those that don’t reach Facebook status. And they take up way more time than those very wonderful ones. They are the ones that can make or break us. The in-between times when the heat, dust, cultural differences, strange religion, terrible traffic, the thin, sick, hungry street dogs, the stray cats, the tummy bugs, the illiteracy (mine!), the overwhelming crowdedness, the ‘ununderstandable’ customs, the poverty, the dirtiness, the interestingness, the bland food, the overripe tomatoes and all the things you miss from home, make you wonder how on earth did you make it so far and how on earth will you make the rest of the time?

I remember back home when we had some challenges, we would go for a walk in the afternoons and with my hand in my husband’s and with our son and our dogs tagging along, I felt like the richest person alive! And this, I personally believe, is where the secret of happiness lies: to find blessings and joy and thankfulness in even the littlest things in mundane life.

I have listed just a few of these things that make me happy. Some of them are not so little at all.

  • Reading Bible and praying whenever I want to, because the Living God of the Bible is always everywhere.
  • Mild weather.
  • Walking to the shops.
  • Walking to the shops on my own legs.
  • Walking to the shops on my own legs in mild weather.
  • Having good Egyptian people in our lives.
  • Eating the last piece of biltong someone thoughtfully brought when visiting.
  • Sitting (in the still mild weather) in our garden, listening to the birds chirping without the competition of the air conditioner sounds (because the weather is still mild and the aircons are still off).
  • Aircons in summer!!!
  • Drinking rooibos tea with my husband and son on a Saturday morning outside in the garden (when the weather is mild) or in the TV room or swimming pool (in summer, when the weather is not so mild).
  • Sleeping through the night without fear of violent house-breaks.
  • Waking up in the morning. (What a privilege!)
  • Having an Afrikaans (my native language) speaking buurvrou (neighbour) in the building across ours!
  • Having even more friends from home nearby and being able to lunch with some of them every week!
  • Feeding at least two of the many hungry cats in this huge city.
  • Watching ‘our’ two cats doing all their cat-things in our garden on top of the parking garage.
  • Taking pictures. Lots and lots and lots of them.
  • Being thankful for every ‘big’ or ‘little’ thing that works out.
  • Being safe after there had been uncertainties.
  • Aircons droning out the muezzin calls.
  • Power coming back on after cuts. (These days they aren’t as frequent and as long as in during the first year. Something to be thankful for – especially in summer!)
  • Experiencing everything with my husband and son!
  • Kissing my husband good night.
  • Kissing my son good night. (That’s probably not something he would like people to read on the Internet ((but he likes it – I can tell)).)
  • Seeing my husband happy because he can watch South African rugby and cricket matches on the satellite TV channels.
  • Paging through the teabags at my Japanese friend’s dinner to find a rooibos tea bag!
  • Having lots of friends from around the world to hang out with, visit new places with and to learn from.
  • Being able to buy the medicine I need and don’t get from home.
  • Being healthy (I hope).
  • Coming home to a haven of safety and tranquility.
  • Having a good landlady.
  • …the list can go on…

These are just a few things and when writing them down, I realise that they are not so little. They are pretty big and important. They are the glue that holds life together. To be in awe when seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time or feeling small against the largest of the Giza pyramids is splendid, but one can survive life without it. Of course travelling enriches our lives and I am a big supporter thereof (even if it is just exploring outside of you immediate comfort zone) and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on these experiences! But it really is the ‘small’ things that we can’t live without, which makes the mundane extraordinary – which is the difference between letting life get away from you and living in the moment. It is the ‘small’ things in life which brings sustainable happiness.

 

© 2016  – I, Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock is trying hard to be an awesomest wife and greatest lover, finest mom and to write something all at the same time. I share my current living space in Cairo, Egypt with my husband, young-adult son, the building’s two cats and the space in my head with way too many ideas and multitudes of story characters to function as a normal human being.