Omigosh – I got my first award!

Dang it, I feel so … so … appreciated! First 100 followers, and now this. This little blog has come of age just in time for Christmas! And yeah, I know that when I’m a real grownup I’ll just smile graciously and say, “Oh how nice!” – or maybe even have a sign up saying, “Thank you, but this is an Award-Free Blog”. But face it, I’m just not that much of a grown-up – or, come to think of it, that much of a snot.

So thank you Tim, aka Battlewagon (I have no idea why but would be fascinated to learn), at Flying Here In The Middle Of Somewhere, for nominating me a “Very Inspiring Blogger” and thereby simultaneously giving my ego a huge boost and providing the topic for this post! Go check out Tim’s blog, guys. He will inspire you in all sorts of unexpected and entertaining ways.

For instance, I am now inspired to tell you about my past award-winning experiences. Like the race I ran in about third grade. I came in FIRST! Yes indeed, I was right at the head of the pack! Okay, so the race I won was the one that started after the race I was actually running in, but what the hey – a win is a win, right?

Sure looks like a winner to me! (Pic from DPC)
Sure looks like a winner to me! (Pic from DPC)

And then there was the eisteddfod I sang in when I was about 12. Oh, wait, I didn’t actually win that. But I bet I would have if I hadn’t accidentally sung the choir piece instead of my solo! Well, half of it, anyway. I stopped with a sort of squawking noise when I noticed the dismayed expressions of my fellow choir members. You’d think eisteddfod judges would be used to overlooking the odd little squawk or two!

Back in those days, we didn't give microphones to kids performing on stage.
Back in those days, we didn’t give microphones to kids performing on stage. (Pic from DPC)

And of course there was the time I got voted onto the Student Representative Council at my university, when I was only a first year student. How’s that for huge political success? Well, yes, there were only five delegates running for five seats on the SRC … and after I got elected they changed the rules so that people had to get some minimum number of votes in order to be elected. But I would almost certainly have got more votes if the buttons of my blouse hadn’t all popped open while I was in the middle of a stirring speech to the largest of the men’s residences. Or … on consideration … maybe fewer votes. Ja, let’s not think too hard about that one. The point is, I was elected, and consequently, in an era when women’s residences were locked at 8PM every night except Saturday, when the curfew was 10PM, I – as a designated Highly Responsible Person – received a back door key.

But enough of past glories; it’s time to focus on the present. Here are the rules of the Very Inspiring Blogger Award.

1. Thank the person who nominated you by linking his/her blog and display the award logo.  – Done, sort of … For the life of me I can’t figure out how to get the image to stick to my widget area. Oh well! Here it is, just in case you don’t believe I actually did in fact manage to inspire someone.

Very Inspiring Blogger Award
Proof that I’m inspiring! You saw it on the internet, so obviously it’s true!

2. Nominate 15 other blogs (more or less). Link their blogs and inform them about the nomination. –  See the list below. These are all blogs I enjoy and recommend.

3.  Mention three things that inspired you the most this week (you can talk about last week’s inspiration too). – Ja, well … I’m taking a different approach to that question. Because I can!

My nominations for the award, in no significant order, are:

1. Jamie the Very Worst Missionary, whose passion for living with integrity, and particularly with regard to her stand against slavery, has forced me to check many of my own values and choices.
2. The Maven of Mayhem, who at present focuses mainly on the challenges and joys of raising a transgender child. She has opened my eyes to a world I had never imagined.
3. The Green Study, which regularly forces me to rethink my own lifestyle choices and priorities, especially with regard to writing.
4. Verbal Dreaming, where Liz shares concise and always insightful thoughts about her writing process. I rarely read one of her posts without feeling challenged.
5. The Monster in your Closet, where Deborah’s discussions about racism – both as it appears on the national stage and within her own small multiracial family – have forced me to rethink many of my assumptions.
6. Notes from the UK, a reliably good read that has reawakened my desire to visit England, plus she’s a published (!!!) author who has just brought out a new book!
7. Raptitude is a live-life-better self-improvement self-awareness blog, a genre I normally avoid … except this one makes sense.
8. Hacker, Ninja, Hooker, Spy is guaranteed to inspire a laugh, plus when I realize how much I enjoy reading about Aussa’s crazy life I can believe others might want to read my own strange stories too.
9. I Am Begging My Mother Not To Read This Blog is funny and smart and always readable, and in between making me laugh Katherine quite often inspires me to think about things and wish, quite seriously, for a do-over so I can make the world – or at least myself – better.
10. Amayzing Graces offers a daily reminder of what it means to follow Christ in the small things of life.
11.  You’re Doing It Wrong is more good reading. Therese O’Neill bounces through life without, apparently, paying too much attention to accepted boundaries, and then she writes about what happens. It’s funny and quite often poignant.
12. Do Not Get Sick In The Sink Please inspires me to have sex in various interesting places and ways. (Note to self: Share with Himself.)
13. Mother Hen Diaries is warm, happy writing by a warm, happy woman, and reading her blog just makes me feel good. Plus it’s quite often funny. And she inspires me to take better care of my chickens.
14. One Cool Site is an invaluable resource for bloggers, with a vast collection of tips and suggestions. It’ll inspire you to do great things with your blog!
15. If all else fails…use a hammer makes me laugh, makes me kick my butt to get back to writing, and sometimes makes me homesick. And, yes, all that is inspiring!

And that is quite enough from me. I don’t have to list “three things that inspired me this week” because at least three of these bloggers posted something – and, as explained above, they all inspire me. That applies even to those who will ignore this award because they are hugely successful and don’t need my piddling endorsement. I’ve listed them because I want to share them with you, my loyal readers!

And, of course, there’s the friend I wrote about in my last post. She has inspired me to be a better person. You could read about her too, if you haven’t already done so.

Holly Jolly Halloween

Halloween was never a big deal for me, growing up in South Africa. Of course I knew about it, as a dedicated reader of both Ray Bradbury and Peanuts, but it wasn’t anything we celebrated. Then, around about the time the Girl Child hit her teens it became a Thing for older kids, who would go out all done up in blood spatters and ghoulishness (but still, of course, unnervingly sexy) and hang out at the local malls, and frankly that was a scary evening for parents. Disney princesses and plastic pumpkins full of treats didn’t feature; it was a dark celebration.

So anyway, I have now lived through 16 Smalltown USA Halloweens, and I feel ready to share a relevant personal experience, and since I didn’t have an actual Halloween experience worth sharing, at first I thought I’d write about a Traumatic Childhood Fancy Dress Memory.

First off, it’s important to stress that my parents are, and were, good people who didn’t torment me more than they absolutely had to. But … they were the kind of parents who thought that if your chubby, introverted, bespectacled kid was taking part in a church youth group fancy dress party, it made more sense to dress her up as a literary-minded garden pest (“Ha ha! You’ll be cute – you’ll see; you’ll make people laugh and everyone will think it’s a clever idea!”) than as, say, a princess or Little Bo Peep like the boring other girls. So they rolled me up in a luridly yellow bedspread, tied it on with string, and shoved a book in my hands.

Like this, but more dorky, and involving a fair amount of string.
Like this, but less tailored, more dorky, and involving a fair amount of string. And very, very yellow.

Each kid paraded in turn across the stage while everyone guessed who they were, and there were prizes but I have no idea how they were awarded. I didn’t get one, and I wasn’t paying that much attention because I was too busy Actively Ignoring the giggling princesses and sniggering boys. Suddenly it was my turn to cross the stage. Unfortunately, in the interests of verisimilitude, my parents had tied the string all the way round my body right down to my ankles. Parading was not an option. I hobbled to the stage, someone heaved me up onto it, and I rolled around and tried to breathe until the youth pastor hauled me to my feet. At that point the uppermost string started coming undone, and the costume threatened to collapse around my (string-secured) ankles. (I forgot to mention that my arms were tied inside the yellow bedspread, with only my hands sticking out to hold the book. Because, you know, worms don’t have arms. So holding myself together was a challenge that made any parading across the stage completely out of the question.) Mercifully someone in the audience shouted, “She’s a bookworm!” before I was even fully vertical, and the pastor rolled me to the edge of the stage and they heaved me back down and let me hobble off into the outer darkness.

So that’s my Halloween horror story (even though it didn’t technically happen at Halloween, as far as I know), and I thought it would be the best I could come up with for this post. But then this afternoon I was sitting in the Barnes & Noble coffee shop with a friend, and I got THIS post from Himself:

Supper tonite !!!
Supper tonite !!!

At first I thought one of the hens had kicked the bucket and he was being funny, but no, a cock pheasant had foolishly planted itself in a tree out back and stayed there while Himself scurried off to fetch a shotgun.

Here’s another picture:

Looks almost medieval!
Looks almost medieval!

Is it just me, or is it just a tad gruesome to have a dead bird lying next to the kitchen sink on Halloween? Whatever … we went out for Chinese instead, and tomorrow is the NaNo kick-off party, but I expect we’ll be doing fabulous things involving wine and a crockpot and my first wild pheasant on Sunday.

In the meantime, I couldn’t waste such a fabulous opportunity to dress up. THIS Halloween, I’m Minnehaha.

Fine feathers
Fine feathers

And now it’s your turn! Do you torture your children by using them to demonstrate your creative sense of humor? What kind of text messages do your loved ones usually send you? Do you have any good pheasant recipes? Talk to me!

“It’s positive,” he said…

… and my life changed direction.

Dr Gough was a kind man with a rumpled face and baggy clothes, and everyone in that small university town knew he would give you an abortion if you needed one. I already knew I was pregnant – I felt the winning spermatozoon drive into my ovum like a comet plunging into the sun, and soon after that the morning sickness began. I’d roamed Grahamstown’s quiet streets by night, breathing fog into the chilly air, cuddling my tender breasts beneath my baggy sweater and thinking through my options. So although his announcement was a shock, it was no surprise. I had made my decision.

“When am I due?” I asked, and watched as the pools of sad expectation evaporated from his eyes and a smile spread across his face. I loved him for being happy for me, for not thinking I should kill my baby.

* * *

I’d had no idea the heart would beat so fast. It was like holding a tiny bird in my belly. Every time I visited Dr Gough, he turned on a speaker so that I could listen to it with him. Later, after I moved away to the unmarried mother’s home in Cape Town and started going to a big state teaching maternity hospital for checkups, the doctors were discouraged from doing anything that would help us bond with our babies. The pressure to give them up for adoption was huge, and relentless.

Nowadays expectant parents always share their ultrasound pictures, and every time I see one I’m a little sad that no one ever showed me ours. But then I remember the eager hummingbird beat of her new-formed heart, I remember the quivering excitement of the moment I felt her begin to dance, and I know my memories are complete.

I have pictures to illustrate this post ... in a large green plastic tub, waiting to be sorted. The tub might be in the spare bedroom, but if so it's buried.
I have pictures to illustrate this post … in a large green plastic tub, waiting to be sorted. The tub might be in the spare bedroom, but if so it’s buried under all the other stuff waiting to be sorted.

* * *

I’d had a bit of a meltdown the year before I got pregnant. Someone I loved, in a complicated sort of way, died unexpectedly, and I had a car accident, and various other things happened and, to cut a long story short, I’d always been a bit of a basket case but all this shit pretty much filled up the basket that I lived in, suspended above reality by my beautiful balloon, and I fell out and plummeted to earth. So I was seeing a shrink, who liked me to tell him my dreams. I had been reading Freud, so my dreams were pretty interesting, until I found out he was a Jungian. I didn’t know anything about Jung so after that I didn’t know what to dream any more and our sessions became rather dull.

Anyway. When I told him I was pregnant, he said I had done it to get back at my father. I was pretty sure my father hadn’t crossed my mind at the time the getting pregnant was happening, but I didn’t argue. (I was a student, he was head of the Department of Psychology. Arguing about what was happening inside my head wasn’t an option.) Then he offered to put together the paperwork to get me a legal abortion. (Back then in South Africa, if a sufficient number of specialists concurred that you were sufficiently a nutcase, you didn’t have to give birth.)

So I stopped seeing him. Which was a bummer for him, because it turns out that pregnancy hormones give you the most extraordinary dreams.

* * *

When various well-meaning people finally quit trying to get me to give up the baby, they started in on my dog. “If you must have this baby, then for goodness sake get rid of the dog!” they said.

I told them not to be ridiculous. “She’s my first kid. I just hope I can love this new one as much as I love her,” I told them.

I really, really did love my dog. But it turned out I had vastly underestimated my capacity for loving.

I have a watercolor the Girl Child made of Shebie, our dog, but I can't find it in the spare bedroom. It must be in my ivory tower - a room that we inserted under the roof while building this house. We haven't yet figured out where the stairs should go, and I'm scared of ladders, so this picture is as close as I can get, for now.
I have a watercolor the Girl Child made of Shebie, our dog, but I can’t find it in the spare bedroom. It must be in my ivory tower – a room that we inserted under the roof as an afterthought while building this house. We haven’t yet figured out where the stairs should go, and I’m scared of ladders, so this picture is as close as I can get to it, for now.

* * *

I had a teeny little crush on Dr Alperstein. He was in his final year of med school, or maybe it was his first year after qualifying, but he was a little older than the other students in his year. He was stocky and pale with a beaming round face, and the head of obstetrics was tall and sallow with a long, serious face. The girls from the unmarried mothers home were all state patients, so they used us as teaching aids for the med students.

I lay on one of the examination couches behind flimsy curtains until the professor and his gaggle of students pushed them aside and clustered around me. “Open wide,” the professor always said, and as I let my knees flop apart I’d look for Dr Alperstein. He always focused on my eyes, with a nod and a smile and a “Good girl.” I felt as though he thought I was good because, of all the girls who were due when I was, I was the only one planning to keep my baby.

* * *

I glared at the med student. “I don’t know why you have to induce me. I’m not overdue,” I groused.

“There’s a big golf tournament starting tomorrow. Nobody wants to miss their game because you come into labor,” he said.

“Well can’t you wait a couple hours before starting? I really wanted a leap year baby.”

He snickered. “Don’t worry. You’ll have your leap year baby.” It was 6.00PM on February 28th.

He waited while the nurse strapped my feet into the stirrups, then leaned forward between my legs with a look of cold disinterest. Something bright flashed in his hand, there was a moment of invasion and not-quite-pain and a gush of fluid, then he stepped back and watched the nurse adjust the flow of medication through my drip. He glanced at me. “So how come a nice girl like you is so fat?” he asked.

I had no idea how to answer him, but it didn’t matter because at that moment the pain roared through me like a locomotive and carried me away. He chuckled, nodded to the nurse to undo the stirrups, and slapped my butt. “I’ll check on you in time for leap year,” he said, and strolled out through the swing doors. He was in a good mood. There were four of us there from the home, and he needed to catch just four more babies to be done with his obstetrics rotation.

I had gone from wondering what the fuss was about to hard labor in the space of a few minutes. I couldn’t remember how to breathe. It was too bright, the fabric of my gown was too coarse, and everything stank of antiseptic. The nurse turned out the lights, but would not open the window or let me remove my clothes. And then, after an endless time that took no time at all, a great hand took hold of me and squeezed. I opened my eyes and I was alone. “Nurse!” I called. “Nurse!” It was dark, and I had no idea where the call switch was.

“NURSE!” as the swing doors parted and she wandered through with a cup of tea. “The baby’s coming!” I yelled.

Her teacup smashed to the floor. “No! No! You mustn’t! It’s too soon!” she shouted, and scurried off to get help. (I think she must have been a student too.)

She came back with a midwife, and 20 minutes later we were done. It was 10.20PM on February 28th, not yet leap year day, and I didn’t mind at all. By the time the med student came back from his supper break he was too late even to catch the afterbirth. I smiled sweetly at him. “I guess you might just have to miss your golf game,” I said.

* * *

Lynn was a writer known for her acerbic wit. She was not the maternal type, so it was quite a surprise when she appeared abruptly at the foot of my hospital bed. In retrospect, she had probably taken me under her wing – one of several people to do so. In their different ways they fussed over me and fed me and wondered what on earth I was thinking, to insist on raising a child on my own, with no savings and no job.

The girl child was two days old, and I was surrounded by three or four women, all cooing and oohing and aahing, and passing her around between them. Lynn looked at them with a worried expression, sighed, and fetched herself a chair. She leaned forward to peer into the baby’s face.

“Would you like to hold her?” one of the ladies offered.

“Good God, no!” Lynn exclaimed, rearing back. They stared at her disapprovingly, and she looked embarrassed. “So. Um. What have you called it?” she asked me.

I told her, and one of the ladies gushed, “Isn’t it pretty? She’s named after the Greek goddess of joy!”

Lynn, however, roared with laughter. “Larissa?” she guffawed. “That’s the name of a dirty little railway junction in the middle of Greece. I’ve been there.” She never did get a foothold in the conversation after that. Moving as one, the ladies turned their backs and froze her out, and she left after a few more minutes. I was sorry to see her go … I was feeling a little scared, and she always made me laugh.

We have YouTube now so I checked it out online. Looks like they’ve cleaned it up since Lynn was there.

Your turn! Have you ever stood by a decision, and been glad that you resisted well-intentioned efforts to change your mind? Do you thing being pregnant is a reason to give up your dog? Have you ever been to Greece?

The snake in my suitcase

It was around midday on a hot Sunday, and I had spent a deeply satisfying morning tiling the wall around the bath in our new home. The Girl Child, then aged about three, was off making friends with other kids who lived on the property. I decided to take a relaxing bath before calling the munchkin in for lunch.

I started the hot water running. My glasses steamed up, so I put them on the back of the loo. I peeled off my disgusting, sweaty, grout-smeared clothes, and, naked and short-sightedly peering, I ambled through my new home to the living room, which is where all the boxes and suitcases were piled up waiting for attention.

The front door, which opened into the living room, was one of those old fashioned ones that you occasionally see in South Africa – a solid wood door with a panel of ripple glass set into the top half, and a little railing above it from which one could hang a curtain. My clothes were hanging from the railing, so that’s where I was headed, squinting slightly to focus in order to make my selection … paying no attention at all to where my feet were going … until a loud HISSSSSS caused me to change gear instantaneously from first to reverse. I might have levitated a little.

On the black-painted concrete floor, just inside the door, was a hissing, writhing mass of … something blurry that hissed and writhed.

A bit like this, but blurry.
A bit like this, but blurry. (Pic from SA Reptiles)

Full speed ahead, I scurried to the bathroom, snatched up my glasses, crammed them onto my face, kicked the dog outside, screamed “STAY OUT” at the Girl Child as she and her startled new friends ambled up the garden path toward the back door, remembered that I was naked, ducked out of sight, and skidded into the living room …

… Just in time to see the tail-end of a snake vanishing into a suitcase.

I slammed the suitcase shut, scurried back to the bathroom, turned off the bath tap, yanked my damp and grouty clothes back on, and ran to ask the neighbor mommy to watch the Girl Child while I dealt with the snake. (Well, no, I didn’t know her … but she seemed nice enough and I was planning to know her. And I knew where she lived. Hey, this was more than thirty years ago. People were trusting then.)

Around about then I probably remembered to breathe. It’s not that I’m scared of snakes, exactly – I’ll happily handle them and quite enjoy the way they feel.

Don't believe me? Here's proof.
Don’t believe me? Here’s proof.

But nearly stepping on one when you’re all naked and sweaty and thinking of a leisurely bath followed by a tasty lunch … aikona. Nuh-uh.

So anyway, to get back to the story. I marched boldly into the living room, picked up the suitcase, heaved it into the back of my car, and headed for the Snake Park.

What – you thought I’d just kill it? Why would I do such a thing? Listen, I’ll kill stuff if I must. I once spent a profitable morning with a neighbor, learning how to kill chickens. (This is a skill I have never actually used since that day, but I did acquire it.) I smack flies and mosquitoes. But there was no earthly reason to kill a perfectly good snake when the Snake Park was a mere ten-or-so miles away.

If you clicked on the link, you will have noticed that the Snake Park, today, is quite the tourist destination. In fact the snakes hardly get a mention. It is now all about crocodiles, and they have other animals as well, and you can buy pizza and beer, and if you are adventurous (i.e., completely insane, or an adolescent male with girls to impress) you can fly over the crocodile pond on a sort of foofy slide. Back then, it was a bit different.

Thirty years ago, the Snake Park on a Sunday afternoon was a place that nice people from Pretoria and Johannesburg (which were separate cities in those days) would take their nice kiddies, still nicely dressed in their pretty church clothes, for a nice educational experience, followed by tea and scones with jam and cream.

Dressed like this. Tog te mooi! (Image from http://www.mylearning.org/)
Dressed like this. Tog te mooi! (Image from My Learning)

So when I came puffing up the hill from the parking lot, dressed as previously described and with my hair (did I mention that I had grout in my hair?) sort of bundled together in a pony tail, I didn’t really fit in. And when I barged into the front of the line of Sunday afternooners, I have to tell you, There Were Mutterings.

You couldn’t get inside unless the woman in the ticket booth clicked you through the gate, so I pushed my face up to the grille over her window and said, “I have a snake in my car. I need someone to come get it.”

Well, there was no conning this cookie. She had heard every imaginable scheme for getting into the Snake Park for free. “Two Rand,” she said. (Back then, R2 was worth US$4. Now the cost of entry is R50, which translates to around US$5. No, this makes no sense to me either.) It hadn’t occurred to me, during my preparations for this outing, that I would need any money, so I didn’t have my purse.

“No, you don’t understand. I’m not here to look at snakes – I am here to donate a snake. It is in my car. I just need someone to come get it.”

“Two Rand!” she replied, very firmly.

“I don’t have two rand! I don’t have any money! All I have is a snake!”

By this time the crimplened masses were getting restive and their muttering had reached an ominous level. I was greatly relieved to see a young man in a khaki uniform with a Snake Park logo on the pocket headed our way. I stepped hastily out of the line and explained my predicament.

“You have a snake in your car? Where is it? In the engine?” he asked.

Not like this. (Picture from The Bugle)
Yes, that can happen. (Picture from The Bugle)

“No, no – it’s in a suitcase. But the suitcase is heavy and I’d just appreciate some help getting it up here,” I explained. So he followed me down to the car and heaved the suitcase off the back seat.

“Wow – it is heavy,” he commented. “How did you get the snake to go in?”

“It just crawled in on its own. The suitcase was on the floor – I’ve just moved house and am busy unpacking.”

So back we walked up the hill, past the line and through the gate, with him lugging my suitcase all the way. I followed him as far as the doorway of a tiny room which was lined, floor to ceiling, with class cases full of – you guessed it – snakes. I was happy to watch him unpack my snake from afar, and not have to stand with my back to them. (Yeah, okay, maybe they do creep me out just a little.)

Cautiously, he unlatched the suitcase and raised the lid. At that moment, I realized that this sweet young man was expecting a Rider Haggardesque python, something like this …

This is what he hoped for. (Pic from Dollar Photo)
This is what he hoped for. (Pic from Dollar Photo)

… because I had completely forgotten to mention that, in addition to the snake, my suitcase was full of books. What he in fact got was more like this…

This is what he got.
This is what he got. (Pic from Dollar Photo)

… only a bit more crumpled. And not pink.

To his credit, he didn’t say a word. He just lifted it out and put it in a glass box, then shut my suitcase and handed it to me.

He didn’t even offer to carry it back to my car.

Thanks to Steph at We Don’t Chew Glass for the snake story that triggered this memory!

Your turn! Do you have any interesting snake stories to tell? How do you like to spend Sunday afternoon? Have you ever worn crimplene?