Creating ‘Hygge’ in my South African Home.

8 April 2020

I was chatting via message with Matilda this morning, and sharing my confusion and fears about the state of the world at the moment. She responded by saying she’s minimising how much of the media coverage of our current state of affairs, she’s choosing to take in. I admire that. I wish it was me. I teach others to just ‘be’ and to take a moment at a time, but I truly find it difficult to do for myself. Yesterday, I was listening to a podcast by “The Mustards”, and they were chatting about how to create ‘hygge’ at home, so after chatting with Matilda, I first went for a walk. It was much needed.

So what did I learn about ‘hygge’. It’s a Danish word for all things cosy. The Mustard’s describe it as the prevailing essence of one’s home. It apparently gained notoriety in 2013 or so, as a concept of what most Danish homes ‘feel’ like. Directly translated, it means a hug. It’s associated with all those great aspects of comfort and joy. This got me thinking. I don’t have an ugly home. I love my space. My home is filled with things that bring me peace and comfort, for the most part. The things that does destroy my peace, is an untidy, messy home. So, whilst on my walk, I made a decision to change up how I’ve been maintaining my home since lockdown. Let me explain a bit better.

I find light brings me joy, especially soft light. This little space in my bedroom, conjures up ‘hygge’ for me.

Prior to lockdown, I had a housekeeper that came in four times a week. Because I knew she would come in often, I really didn’t pay attention to what was needed to actually maintain a desired level of cleanliness and tidiness in my home. My housekeeper hasn’t been in since the 3rd March. This is now the seventh week I’m doing my own housework. My daughter who lives with us, helps me with the tasks, but we usually do it every Monday and Friday. I made a decision whilst out walking, that I am going to break the work up, and do a little bit every day and that way, stay on top of things and don’t let anything get out of control. This way, I can be more relaxed and actually enjoy my space. I also realised that I was allowing myself to become anxious and overwhelmed by the tasks.

So today, after getting back from my walk, I put a load of washing in, swept the floors, changed the bin bags upstairs and gave the floors downstairs, a quick mop. All of this, didn’t take me 45 minutes, yet I felt accomplished, peaceful and able to sit down in peace to have my brunch, without thinking about unfinished tasks.

Taking a bath with soft candlelight, brings me joy.

It also occurred to me that there are areas in my home, that bring me a sense of coziness. My bathroom is such a place. I love going in there, lighting candles and having a bubble bath with lovely scents. I enjoy the quiet in there and especially love the sensation of water on my body, washing away the dirt of the day and swirling around my skin in a way that makes me feel most alive. A deep, warm bath, with zero noise besides the soft splashing of the water, is soothing to my senses.

I discovered that there’s a spot in my sitting room where the rays of sunlight in the morning, are muted and gentle, that is cosy to me. I enjoy sitting there, having my morning tea, pondering the day ahead. It’s not a particularly quiet spot, especially with my three year old granddaughter all over the house, but it’s aesthetically pleasing to me. The soft light, is again soothing.

Another favourite space is my bedroom, especially when my bed is made up. It’s something I always tend to do – when I get out of bed in the morning, I immediately make up my bed. This brings me joy. I’m not the type of person that can sleep in an unmade bed, and if I need to go upstairs during the day and enter my bedroom, the sight of it made up for the evening, brings me a sense of satisfaction. I love the smell of fresh linen, so changing the linen each week, is important to me.

Knowing what brings me joy, what creates an atmosphere of coziness in my home, helps me to shift my focus from the outside world, the world I can’t control and the things that conjure up fear in my heart. I simply lay down on my bed in the evening with a book, or put on the telly to watch a favourite series, switch the soft lamp on next to my bed, and bathe in the awareness of the peace that surrounds me there. As Matilda mentioned this morning, I cannot change what’s happening ‘out there’, so I’m making the conscious choice to deliberately center my life around those things that indeed bring me inner peace and joy. And, as we often discover when we take the time to go inward, it’s the little things – and that for me is the light. To be more precise, soft, flickering, creamy, barely-there, downy light.

Belinda xo

Change

It was my turn to write a blog post yesterday. We usually have our posts ready in advance and neither of us like to rush. I especially need Belinda to read my posts before I publish, because English is my second language and I often make grammar mistakes. But yesterday I felt under the weather and stayed in bed all day. Belinda has an amazing work ethic and that helps me to stay committed. I do like to be dependable and it is important for me to do what I said I would. I also feel guilty to stay in bed with a head cold when there is a pandemic raging.

To find a subject to write about when my sinuses are this pressurised is giving me some difficulty. You know when you bend over and it feels as if your teeth will all fall out and your eyes are going to pop – that’s me at the moment. We live in an industrial city in a province with the highest levels of air pollution in the world, with the nitrogen dioxide levels being the biggest contributor. That’s according to Greenpeace. We live in the midst of South Africa’s so called coal belt. With many coal-fired power stations surrounding our city. Everyone living here suffers from some kind of chronic ailment. My one son uses a chronic nasal spray. For him and for me it is all in the sinuses. I can’t wait to move away from here. Anyway, enough moaning about that.

Change can be really difficult. Sometimes we don’t have a choice – like being in lockdown, but mostly change start with a feeling of dissatisfaction. An overall discontent with something specific, or in my case – life in general. I have a blanket of annoyance over me and I think I am not the only one. With all activities stopped so abruptly we all are re-evaluating what the things are that give our lives meaning.

In all honesty, I don’t think that I am contributing greatly to life. I do understand that I am important to my family and friends. I know they love me, but is that enough? Our lives are flooded with images and ideas and opinions via social media. Anybody can put anything out there. That is very good, but also very bad. It gives almost everybody an opportunity to contribute to the global consciousness, but not everybody should. And a lot of it is just regurgitating what you see. I want to believe that almost everyone has something meaningful to give to the world. I want to be one of those people. I feel it and Belinda feels it – we want to do things differently. We want to give something to life that is good, purposeful and significant.

I look through social media and see the eco-warriors and the human rights activists – people doing good and exposing evil. And of course, we are seeing essential personnel in a new light. They are the heroes of our time. What will the rest of us be?

Matilda xo

Connected Friendship

16th April 2020

I cannot speak for Matilda, although she has shared some of her thoughts regarding her past friendships with me, but for me, I find myself, finally in the space of being completely myself in this friendship. That might sound like an odd start to this post, so lets go back to the beginning.

I met Matilda in 2007, at the end of the year. She was already home schooling her two children and I had just decided to take my son out of school to home school him too. We got to know each other through a mutual friend. In those early days, although I always loved Matilda (what’s not to love? She’s always sweet and kind), I found her quite mousy – not in her appearance, although she didn’t make much effort in that department either (neither did I at that stage of my life), but more in her manner. I felt she had some very different ideas about life, but whenever she tried to share them, she would be cut off, sometimes mid-sentence by some of the friends in our group. This was a group of mothers and children who gathered together on a weekly basis, to participate and initiate activities around our children. Matilda would start to share a new idea or thought, and I can’t ever remember her being able to substantiate her findings, before she would be quieted by another friend or more. Needless to say, we never really bonded over friendship in those early years. I speak under correction, but I think Matilda found me very opinionated at that stage of our relationship, for want of a better word. I think she went as far to say she thought I was confident. I’m like that now, but certainly didn’t feel that way then.

My birthday 2014.

Over the years, even though we never felt a particularly strong connection, we did develop a friendship separate from our initial one which involved the home schooling group. Our sons are similar ages and have always shared a friendship, so even though I had moved cities, we stayed in touch. My pattern was one of visiting the city where Matilda lives every second month. I would let friends know where and what time I’d be at a specific restaurant, and they would pop in and out through the course of the day. That way, I felt I’d get to see more people in one visit, than going to their homes individually. Matilda almost always showed up.

It was during these visits, that we started to form a deeper bond. So much so, that I eventually would visit her home when I went through to that city, and over the years, the friends I saw became less and less, so the few that were still in my life, would visit with me at Matilda’s home. This shift in our friendship dynamic, was so natural and organic. There was no forceful effort made by either of us. It just happened.

Fast forward to my 50th birthday event. I invited six ladies to go away with me to our holiday home in Mozambique, a neighbouring country to South Africa where we reside. Four of those six women, committed to the holiday. We left on a Monday morning, very early, and came back to South Africa on the Friday. Matilda was one of those ladies who pledged to come with. Before this holiday, although our friendship had naturally progressed, we were still more just buddies than deep, heart-to-heart friends.

Four of us on a rustic fishing boat at the Limpopo River mouth, Mozambique.

I do feel that our friendship reached a new depth on this trip. As a group of women, we shared heartfelt issues and stories with each other. We allowed ourselves to be very vulnerable with one another during this time. We all found out deep secrets about one another, and experienced the power of sharing with no fear of judgement. It was a powerful week. Matilda allowed herself to share her truths, which are different to mine, but I found myself in admiration of her. For the first time, I saw her authentic self. She allowed all the masks to slip, and I was impressed, amazed and surprised by who emerged! This was a woman I wanted to more deeply connect with. I saw for the first time, a strong woman, with strong beliefs and weird and wonderful ideas. I knew she was someone I needed in my life. She added something, and I couldn’t yet put my finger on it.

About 18 months after that trip, I asked Matilda to come into “MSJ” with me. She brought a far more sustainable approach to the business, because of how she lives her life. Our friendship has reached such depths of trust and vulnerability. There is really no one else I trust more with the stories of my heart. I could finally put my finger on what she brings to my life. She brings balance. She is more fun than my serious self. She laughs more. She finds lightness in dark situations. She allows me to be my bossy and very organised self, without taking offense. She doesn’t get upset when I disagree with her. She allows me to speak my mind, even if it’s difficult to hear. To date, there’s nothing I’ve shared with her, that has shocked her or made her want to run away. She is a rock! For that, I am truly, endlessly grateful. She sees me! She hears me! And who doesn’t want that?

Belinda xo

How Experiences can lead to Truth

9 April 2020


 

On Tuesday I wrote about creating memories through experiences and that post stayed with me until now. We want to paint our walls during the lockdown, because we now have time. I am washing the walls with sugar soap before we can paint them. The rest of my family try to stay as far away as possible from me, because I am known to ask for coffee if I catch someone’s eye. So I had a lot of time to think. Is it possible to find our truth through experiences, or parts of our truth at least?

We discover our likes and dislikes by trying out things. For example, theme parks. I hate them. Through experiencing theme parks, I realised a few things about myself. I have no problem whirling around on the spinning ride. I don’t get nauseous and I find it quite exhilarating. The one and only thought I can muster through a very high anxiety haze on any of the other rides is: “I am definitely going to die!!!” And then I don’t, but it feels as if I went to hell. One other big thing that I learned about myself is that I don’t do good in crowds. All the movement and noise drains my energy and after two hours I can hardly speak coherently. Likes and dislikes are easy to identify. We usually know instinctively that feelings of high anxiety is bad and and that we don’t like it. Except for adrenaline junkies and I cannot relate to their experiences – at all. What if we go deeper?

When I visited theme parks (never again), the thing that triggered a big reaction in me, was people trying to persuade me to go on a ride. They start off by asking nicely, then they want you to believe how much fun it is – how much you will enjoy it. Even if you had tried it already and hated it. The next step is trying to guilt you into it by making you feel like a spoil sport and lastly, if that doesn’t work, they say you have no courage and they treat you like an outsider. All in the hope that you might want to go to hell again. People pushing me to do something that I really don’t want to, infuriates me. What does this say about me?

Growing up in the 80’s, we were always anti-establisment. South Africa was very conservative in those days and we were heavily censored by the government. They decided what we saw, what we listened to and what we should think. They controlled our lives and we were always pushing back. I realise now that we didn’t have any real power to take responsibility for our lives. The government, the church and our parents made decisions that affected us deeply. Okay, now I’m going deeper still. I lived a double life for very long. I could disagree with you ardently, but you would never know it. I would just keep it all inside and submit to your energy. That is how I felt all my life. Going along with whatever plans were being made and suppressing my truth.

Not anymore! I gained a lot of perspective by going to theme parks. I will not give up who I am to fit into anyone else’s plans or life. If we can’t find a compromise, I won’t submit just to get things moving or to keep the peace. Experiences will most certainly reveal truth, if you are open to it. So, when I visit a theme park again (never), I will whirl on the spinning ride and then go sit somewhere and be grateful that a part of my truth was revealed to me while I thought I was going to die.

Matilda xo

Sisters… Different Flowers from the Same Garden.

2nd April 2020

On holiday in Mozambique back in 2010

There is a saying that goes, “Sisters are different flowers from the same garden.” For anyone who has a sister or more, you will know this to be true.

Growing up, my sister and I didn’t share many things in common. Unfortunately, we were born into a rather dysfunctional family and we were exposed to unhealthy patterns of dealing with strife. In fact, strife was a constant in our home, and obviously, that filtered into all the relationships within our family. We were never really friends growing up. There was more rivalry than peace between us.

The two of us with our mother, in 2015.

We both got married to men, who in varying ways, represented aspects of our father. My sister married a man who was absent from her and her children’s life. My father was absent due to the war in our country while we were growing up, but he wasn’t a ‘present’ father when he was at home either. My sister, very much like my Mom, managed her family on her own.

My situation was a little different. My father was quite the overt abuser. Yes, I know that abusers usually come from abused homes themselves, but this post is not about my father. I married a man who was more a covert manipulator. So, although there were resemblances between him and my father, I didn’t see them until many years into my marriage, and more so, after I left that marriage.

When two sisters are not in good marriages, and they themselves don’t have a great relationship, they can’t really be there for each other. Growing up, we learned to pretend! We had a public ‘face’ that was far different from the truth of what we were going through at home. In our own unique ways, my sister and I, perpetuated the same behaviour in our own marriages. I suspected it wasn’t good for my sister, but whenever I asked her about it, she’d say this is what works for them. I was so deep in denial about any issues in my own marriage, that I never felt safe to talk to anyone about my pain. My sister was the last person I’d ever share anything with. We had mastered the art of wearing our masks well. Each of us presented as flowers that hid their beauty, afraid to shine in the light. We became content with sheltering in the darkness.

On another Mozambique holiday in 2013.

I left my first marriage in 2010. My sister was initially shocked, but I do believe that moving on, was a brave step which gave her the strength to come clean about her own dissatisfaction. At this stage, her husband had been living away from home, mostly in other countries, for almost ten years, with no plans of returning to South Africa. Talk about being different flowers. In both our cases, we felt that we wouldn’t be able to handle the other’s husband. We could see clearly what the other was going through, even though there was no communication of any sort between us. It didn’t surprise either of us, when we left our first marriages. I often wondered how my sister could’ve stayed so long.

Sisters and our Mom xo

Fast forward to today. We have come a long way, but it has taken immense inner work on both our parts. We have desired for many years, to have a bond that was naturally there. It isn’t always easy. We don’t always agree. Our perspectives on life vary greatly, but we know that this garden of life, deserves for both of us to shine. We can see more clearly now, the gifts the other brings to this dynamic. Both of us chose to bring our own daughters up differently. Our daughters share deeper bonds than we shared at their ages. That’s because of all the work we ourselves have done.

Neither of us apportion blame to our parents. They did the best they could with what they had. We too, made many mistakes with our own children and they have wounds to heal because of our parenting styles and choices. We’re not oblivious to the fact that our wounds have hurt them. But we do have better relationships with our own children. We choose to talk openly and allow our children the freedom to speak their mind about the hurts in their childhoods.

My heart is filled with gratitude, with love and with the deepest sense of satisfaction that my sister and I have chosen to walk a path to healing. We don’t always get it right. The physical distance has also helped, rather than be a hindrance. We’re passionate about building new and precious memories that are far different from those of our childhood. We are aware that this is a gift. I see my sister as a deep, red rose, with such intensity and insight, and I hope she can see the lily I am, with the fragrance and strength I bring to life.

We are indeed different flowers that are growing in this beautiful garden called family.

Belinda xo

Lockdown Isolation

Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

What do you write about when the world is grinding to a halt? Do you write about other things to bring distraction or do you focus on what is happening now? There is an outpour of tips on how to handle life in lockdown. How to keep the kids busy, how to stay healthy and fit, how to cope with the mental strain. And we are feeling the strain.

Yesterday I had my last almost normal outing before we go into lockdown tomorrow at midnight. My daughter and I went to the mall to get moisturiser and conditioner. It was more quiet than usual and at the checkout, markers taped to the floor, showed us where we should stand. Not too close.

We were buying normal items at our usual store, but it felt so surreal. Everything was almost the same. The hand sanitiser before you enter the store and one or two people wearing masks were the only obvious signs that normal was about to change. All around us people were talking more hushed than I’ve ever heard in our vibrant South African culture. When you walked by someone, you made sure that you gave them a wide berth and didn’t touch by accident. It felt toned down.

We need time to adjust and that is what we don’t have. This change was thrust upon us, not by government or war or recession, but by something invisible. We cannot come together and protest our dissatisfaction. Waving banners and demanding change has no power. We have to be apart to try and get a handle on this situation.

Photo by BRUNO CERVERA on Unsplash

Isolation is going to be difficult. Three weeks isn’t a long time, but when you don’t have choice and freedom, it will feel longer. As social beings we will miss interaction with some and miss not interacting with others. We are very fortunate that we can encourage each other via Whatsapp, Instagram and all the other online forums.

Social media seems to be the salvation, but I find that nothing captures my attention. Self-isolation isn’t always physical. To get myself out of my own mind, I am going to practice to be present. No hiding from reality, wishing that this was over already. Living through it as bravely as I can.

Matilda xo

When our Children become our Friends

18th March 2020

When we become mothers for the first time, our priority is to be the caregiver and the nurturer. We are primarily focused on keeping our children from harm, creating safe environments for them to flourish in and being their safe place – literally. Our time is spent on feeding, changing nappies, burping and shushing them to sleep in those first few months. Thereafter, we move on to keeping them out of harm’s way as they become more mobile.

As they grow, we become more concerned with their emotional health and being a support to them during trying times, abating sibling rivalry and mending broken hearts, which is inevitable. During all these seasons, there’s no way of knowing if we will one day become friends. Very often, that’s not even the focus at the time. They consume our lives, that we don’t give so much thought to what the future might hold.

With my only son, Conlan.

It is with much joy that I can now say, that with each one of my five children of which three, I gave birth to, I have a great relationship. It is completely different with each one. Each of my children, who are all now young adults, are so uniquely diverse. They each bring a particular flavour to my life. No two relationships are even remotely similar.

If you had asked me eleven years ago if I thought I’d ever have a good relationship, one that remotely resembled friendship with either of my stepdaughters, I would have answered with a swift “No”, but we have come such a long way. The two of them, have added such depth to my life. Being a stepmom is nothing like being a mother. There’s a completely different set of rules. If you have an argument with one of your own children, you might over-think the situation, but you never doubt they love you. With step-children, the dynamic is quite disparate. The nights I laid awake, going over and over the words I’d used, how I could have expressed myself differently, how I could have rather perhaps kept quiet or spoken up… The list goes on and on. We have the added complication in our household of having different first languages. My step-children are Afrikaans speaking, so at times, there have been misunderstandings around meanings of words, that just would not have been there if we all spoke the same first language. But we have learned to make allowances for each other. Often, I’ll say I need to express myself in English, and then I give them the opportunity to check with me that they understand what it is I’ve said. This helped us tremendously, after many setbacks, to navigate our complicated communications, with understanding and grace.

Where my own birth children are concerned, I have made many mistakes. I grew up being seen and not heard. In the beginning of my parenting years, I duplicated some of those negative patterns, but my children did not react as I did as a child. They have always been more open about discussing how they feel, and they have, for the most part, been far more communicative than I was at their varying ages. Because I wasn’t allowed an opinion, especially as a teen, I would rebel. My eldest did this more than the others, but then, she was my first, and unfortunately, I made more mistakes with her. Thank goodness, she’s a gracious forgiver and we have come to a deeper understanding and have managed to build a beautiful, strong and genuinely meaningful relationship. I feel my son had it the easiest. He got me as his Mom, after I had sorted out so many of my own inner demons, and being eleven years younger than my daughter, he benefited from me having learned so much from parenting all the other four first!

I am so grateful for the blessing now of having a friendship with each of my children. They have become incredible young adults who contribute positively toward the environment in which they live. They are well-adjusted despite going through their parents’ respective divorces and remarriages. The five of them, have great friendships even with each other. Some bonds are stronger than others, but that is the nature of siblings. This mother’s heart is happy with her brood and ever grateful for second chances.

Belinda xo