Book Review

Book Review: Grayson’s Vow – Mia Sheridan

This is the second book I’ve read by Romance Author, Mia Sheridan. As much as I’m acquainted with her writing style, I had no idea she’d enchant me again.

I read this book in a weekend! And it speaks volumes to the pulling power she has over readers. Especially when one salivates on romance as much I do and it racks up as one of the best reads, ever!

The setting is Napa Valley, land of vineyards, mountain ranges and timeless living. Kira Dallaire has returned from a sojourn in Africa to heal her soul from a scandal instigated by her father, Mayor Dallaire and an ex-fiancé, Cooper Stratton. Refusing their money, Kira concocts a plan to access funds bequeathed by her Gran on condition of marriage. A chance encounter with Grayson Hawthorn who is bordering financial ruin in a winery, fits the bill for a marriage of convenience.

Kira Dallaire is a vivacious, lovable character. Although raised in wealth, she refused to be sucked into a world of power and greed, instead fighting for the underdogs. Despite the strife those close unveiled upon her, she refused to be embittered, steadfast in the belief that love conquers pain. Grayson Hawthorn had been wronged all his life, never afforded love or worth by his parents. Even the prized winery bestowed by his father with a vow to keep it thriving was set to sabotage his efforts.

From the outset, the relationship between Kira and Grayson was a business arrangement. But living in close quarters, they discover annoyances to dislike and an inescapable magnetism. Rushing into a fake wedding, the prospect of living as a married couple becomes real and enticing.

Mia Sheridan is an extraordinaire! She weaves spell-binding tales. Characters to adore or throttle when they can’t get it together. Endless twists and turns to keep flicking pages at a rapid speed. Mostly, a Mia Sheridan novel is a lesson in love and hope intertwining in a symphony of words.

A must-read five star rating!

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Book Review

Zebra Crossing – Meg Vandermerwe

I have the pleasure of sitting around Meg Vandermerwe’s table once a month learning the art of creative writing. A lecturer at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). The Editor of New Contrast Magazine devoted to the publishing of original stories by South African writers. Her first published work was a collection of short stories “This place I call home”.

Zebra Crossing isn’t a lengthy novel, yet I meandered through it. I wanted to savour every word, every beautiful detail of a remarkable tale. Meg’s writing is unlike anything I’ve encountered. Sentences that stop you in your tracks, taking a moment to reflect on its sheer magnificence. Characters that creep into your heart with every flick of the page. It’s authentic and lyrical style lingers as it hurtles to a close with one wishing it could have turned out differently.

Chipo is a seventeen year old albino, raised in Zimbabwe. She knows only ridicule and shame from many who perceive her to be superstitious, unnatural and an eye sore. Holding on to memories of unconditional love from a mother who passed too soon, she is left in the hands of a brother, George. They flee Zimbabwe, illegally crossing the border in search of a bright future.

The year is 2010, the World Cup has arrived on South African soil and xenophobia is rising. The pair settle in Cape Town with two brothers, David and Peter, fellow Zimbabweans. Chipo maintains her keep by taking care of household chores and assisting Jean-Paul, a dressmaker. David is the beholder of Chipo’s heart. Ignorant to this, he follows his own destiny and love interest. In a desperate plea to win the man of her dreams, Chipo’s path crosses that of Dr Ongani, a self-professed healer of bad fortune. Placing belief in him leads to disastrous consequences not only for herself, but the entire household.

Meg Vandermerwe has encouraged through her teaching to read out of one’s comfort zone and now I know why. South Africa has many talented storytellers who sadly don’t receive the support and appreciation they deserve. The knowledge they possess living in a country as diverse as ours, cultures intertwined, shining the spotlight on hidden struggles, makes for explosive reading.

I have only the highest praise for this book and the Author. I urge you to give it a try. A five star rating.

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Seven years of sobriety…

Many people have the perception that alcoholics are bums living on the street, drinking alcohol from a paper bag, begging for money at robots, aimlessly walking around with no purpose. This is so far off the mark…

Alcoholics thrive in families, working environments, social gatherings, homes, isolated or otherwise. They are normal people; there is nothing bad about them except an obsessive nature to have a drink or thinking of consuming more alcohol. They were once social drinkers; could have fun without getting drunk but due to having perfected the art of drinking, they excelled to a level of compulsive and addictive drinking.

Family genes play a substantial role in addiction. Many vow never to drink like their alcoholic mom or dad, yet they are unable to prevent it from happening as they believe they have it under control or can stop at any point. Willpower does not exist in addiction, it may work for other people, but it certainly doesn’t work for those with addictive personalities and obsessive disorders.

I learnt this the hard way through my own drinking. I wished to be one of those ladies who nursed a glass of wine the entire evening, chatting and looking chic. Sadly, I passed that stage a long time ago, having progressed to a master’s degree in drinking. I would consume the entire bottle and calculate how to get the next. Brendan Behan said, “One drink is too many and a thousand not enough,” is how I summed my addiction.

Alcoholics can go for days without drinking. This was me. I was a binge drinker. I waited the entire week for Friday to roll around for the party to start. Once lit, I continued until Sunday morning when my body was soaked in alcohol, too sick to get out of bed. I sustained many blackouts, unable to piece together the events of the weekend, too afraid to ask others to fill in the blanks for fear of the worse. Shame and remorse, my constant companions. I promised God countless times that if He could just get me through the pain and discomfort, that I’d stop drinking. But these were empty promises because when the weekend arrived, I was cracking open a bottle; and the cycle commenced.

Heavy drinkers know they have a problem, people convey it to them, yet they deny they are alcoholics. I knew my drinking was out of control, yet couldn’t contain it through sheer willpower, cutting back or wishing it away. I tried everything possible to get rid of the addiction, but nothing worked. I researched the AA, called them anonymously, wanting to find out how they managed to keep members sober. The lady replied, “Meetings and living life one day at a time,” and still I wasn’t close to the answer.

They say the most courageous act for an alcoholic is to own up to their addiction. As much as I couldn’t fathom that I was an alcoholic, I couldn’t deny I had a severe drinking problem. I built up the courage to go to my first AA meeting, fearful of what to expect, unsure if I would survive one. Yet the group was friendly, warm and put me at ease. They said “keep coming back” at the end of the meeting and though I had no intention of returning, I found myself going back and haven’t stopped attending meetings.

In addiction one needs to surrender before rehabilitation takes place. I couldn’t admit that I was an alcoholic even when I was sitting in meetings. Only once I was able to take off the mask, learnt to let go of the shame, got down on my knees and asked God to take the obsession of alcohol away, was when the miracle happened. I was able to admit I was an alcoholic for the first time and a mountain lifted off me. No longer was I held captive by alcohol, I felt alive for the first time in my life and there was a glimmer of hope I was going to make it.

AA is not a religious program, but members forge a belief in a power greater than themselves. I was never close to my religion and still don’t feel a connection to it. When I joined the AA, I learnt through fellow members and my sponsor that I needed to put my trust in a Higher Power. I battled with this as I didn’t have a relationship with God. He was only called upon when I was in trouble, so how was I going to befriend Him now? But I had no alternative, only He could quiet the fears and cravings I felt during my first year. The more I asked, the more I received, the more I prayed, the more serenity flowed. I found I was becoming spiritual, that I had a belief that anything was possible because I was staying sober, building confidence and positive changes were transpiring.

A recovered alcoholic prospers in a supportive and loving environment. My husband and children accepted that I needed to attend meetings to maintain sobriety. They afforded me the space to find myself, to make the necessary changes to live a balanced life. They loved me unconditionally and continue to support me every step of the way. My sponsor was instrumental in my recovery. She listened to my fears, freely gave advice, taught me how to place trust in God. I have many AA friends who have turned into an extended family due to the close bond we share. A small circle of friends keep me grounded and make me smile.

One day at a time turned into seven years and I am immensely grateful to have been afforded a second chance to get it right. I no longer live in fear or shame. I’ve blossomed in sobriety, fell in love with exercising, developed an assurance about myself and am passionate about the life I lead. God has become the best friend I always longed for,  opened countless doors, believes in me when I forget to and only wants the best for me.

Impossible doesn’t exist in my vocabulary, for I know I am capable of so much more than I thought possible.

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Family and Friends at my Thanksgiving 🙂

Celebrating 21 years of Marriage…

21 is a significant number. I turned 21 in our first year of marriage. Zhané was born on the 21st. Today Neil and I celebrate 21 years of marriage…

Let me take you back to a time when I was still single, living on my own in a flat in Cape Town. I started my first job at the age of 18, was whisked away to perform parliamentary duty in South Africa’s first democratic government in 1994. I virtually had no friends or family around. During those long lonely days I envisioned the type of partner I wanted to spend forever with. He was beautiful, kind-hearted, a stickler for fairness, a balanced individual and most importantly, a music lover. I dreamed of meeting him, called upon the universe countless times for him to emerge so we could fall into a sea of love.

Despite all my wishing and hoping it took roughly a year and a half for Neil to appear. Of all places in the same hometown as my family, a few houses away from where I’d stayed. I’d seen him before when I was in high school, but he was seeing another and was unavailable. This time around he was single and was friends with my sister.

I’d returned to Cape Town after a short stint in Pretoria, unable to get him off my mind. I begged my sister for his number. She was hesitant, she felt he was a ‘player’ and didn’t want me to get hurt. I, of course would hear nothing of it – I had a strong sense he was the one I was waiting for and had to risk it.

I called him at work, said I was a secret admirer and wanted to get to know him better. He seemed rather taken aback not knowing who I was, but played along. He said to call in the evening when he had more time to talk, so I did. That call was the beginning of our love story. We chatted for hours, sharing likes, views, general outlook on life. What snagged me was he’s vast knowledge of music, especially artists I listened to, Karen White, Michael Bolton, Anita Baker… he spoke my language.

He had no idea I was living in Cape Town, he thought I was a girl from Pretoria and I went along with it. It was exhilarating playing someone else, being led by my heart. We continued to converse over the phone for a few nights, although he was becoming anxious to meet. I kept on making excuses, saying it wasn’t the right time. It seemed too hard to come clean that we lived in different provinces and the chances of us getting together were slim.

I didn’t realise that Neil had somehow figured who I was, where I stayed and I was the one being played! Since everything was out in the open, I gave him my number to call that evening and he promised he would. But he didn’t call, I waited and waited at the phone and it never rang. I was angry, thoughts were racing in my mind he’d disliked what I’d done and didn’t want anything to do with me. Were the feelings I developed misguided, were all those talks we shared in vain? I cried myself to sleep. I called in sick to work the next day, the air of disappointment stifling me, my heart crying in pain.

I had to fly to Pretoria for work purposes over the weekend and knew I’d spot him and didn’t know to survive that. He saw me standing outside my Mom’s house on the Saturday, glanced at me but didn’t wave or stop. Disheartened by what could have been drove me slightly insane.

Then on Sunday evening while watching Carte Blanche, the doorbell rang. My sister answered it, saying it was for me. Not in the mood for company but wondering who it could be, I walked into the front garden. I was taken aback to see Neil. He was breath-taking in real life, warm hazel eyes reflected by the light, a smile as bright as the sun and I lost a few heartbeats.

I forgot why I was angry, enamoured that he had finally found his way to me. I desperately wanted to be alone with him, there was so much to say, yet it was the end of the weekend and we didn’t know how to confront what had happened between us. Nervously I glanced at him, talking about trivial things, yet my head was bursting with thoughts, butterflies threatening to escape.

I struck up the courage and asked if we could go out the next night to talk things through. He agreed and said he’d fetch me after work. I couldn’t sleep that night – I dreamt of him, of all the things I wanted to say, feelings I couldn’t contain, an overwhelming love that couldn’t be denied.

I changed five times that night, finally settling on a skirt, jersey and boots to combat the July weather. Neil arrived in a just showered look, a heady fragrance of cologne curling around me as I was escorted to a baby blue Toyota. It felt surreal to be alone with him, something I’ve craved for so long. Our destination, a restaurant called Lady Chatterley’s.

It was an upmarket establishment, quiet and cosy, soft music setting the tone for romance. I felt like a princess sitting beside him, the flame of the candle dancing seductively at our table. Drinks were ordered and a main meal decided upon. Just when we were getting comfortable in each other’s company, a woman appeared, greeted Neil warmly with a peck on the cheek. I knew who she was… she lived a street away from us and seemed to have some connection to him. The uncertainty of whether they were more than friends entered my mind and I thought the worst.

Our dinner arrived and I’d lost my appetite. Neil enquired whether I was okay… and it all came out! Why didn’t he call when he said he would, how could he have left me hanging without some form of explanation? Was he involved with this woman and if so why did he bother to go out with me?

He said that he’d taken my number and written it on a piece of paper. When he left for home he looked for it but couldn’t find it. He felt bad that he hadn’t called and knew I’d be upset. He was glad I’d come to Pretoria but couldn’t strike the nerve to come sooner to explain. As for the woman, they were just friends. He searched my eyes, confessing sincerely, “You don’t know how much you mean to me,” and I melted.

We wrapped up dinner and headed for a movie. I insisted on paying, much to his surprise. We watched “Blank Man” starring the Wayan Brothers. I don’t recall a thing about it, all I thought was how close I was sitting to him. He appeared bored with the movie. My hand grazed his and he intertwined his fingers between mine. The heat of our touch firing every nerve-ending. I gazed at him in the dark movie house and that’s when it happened, our first kiss – languid, enticing, exploring the depths of our infatuation.

Stepping out of the cinema hand in hand, our relationship had evolved to the next level. I knew I was deeply in love with Neil and could sense the feeling was mutual. He drove us to a park in our hometown where we made out until the wee hours of the morning. We didn’t want to return home, the thought of being separated from someone you’ve waited your entire life for, seemed daunting.

Neil and I met every day in my short stay in Pretoria. The more we got to know each other, it became apparent how compatible we were. He even predicted on one of our dates that “he’d marry me,” something that sounded wonderful to imagine, but in reality didn’t fit my plans of attaining the career I dreamed of.

Having to return to Cape Town tore my heart. We were so new in our relationship, couldn’t bare being apart, yet alone provinces away. But we had no choice, we had to accept our circumstances, counting down the days when we could be together again.

A plan was initiated for Neil to fly to Cape Town for a weekend. I was bubbling with excitement as it was the first time he’d be visiting, sharing my flat. I spring-cleaned, even went so far as to prepare a home-cooked meal. Sadly, I burnt the steak, the potatoes were hard and the mushroom sauce watery! I was running out of time as the lift to the airport arrived and I was frazzled.

Neil looked dashing as ever waiting for me. He gave me the biggest smile and folded me in a warm hug. Cape Town seemed to glow when he arrived. I showed him around the parliamentary village I lived in, making our way to my humble abode consisting of one bedroom, bathroom and a tiny kitchen. He was impressed, especially with the candlelit dinner I had ready for us. He ate the overcooked steak, didn’t let on how awful it was, rather complimenting me on it! After dinner, we slow danced to the sounds of Karen White. We spent the night together… excelling all my expectations, bringing us closer, sealing our love.

The weekend was unforgettable. We shared it with mutual friends, clubbing, driving along the peninsula, taking long walks on the beach. We wanted it to last forever, yet couldn’t stop the hands of time before he had to return to Pretoria. I was left distraught, reliving the blissful moments spent together.

Our courtship ran for three months when I fell pregnant with Zhané in Pretoria. Neil didn’t disappear when he heard the news; in fact he didn’t leave my side. I may not have been ready for motherhood, for the responsibility it held, not to mention how we were going to break the news to our families. But he encouraged me every step of the way, said a child was a blessing, that he was ready for marriage and had faith that God would provide. He was wise beyond 25, owned a heart of a saint and I was blessed to have found a gold mine.

On the 13th of December 1995, on a hot summer’s afternoon, in a pink and lilac sari, I said “I do” to Neil in a small wedding at my Mom’s house.  It was one of the happiest moments I’ve lived, the commencement of a commitment to love, honour and cherish each other for the rest of our lives.

As Neil forecasted, God took care of us. He was transferred to Cape Town where we settled to married life in my flat. He was a wonderful partner – kind, caring, sharing all the household responsibilities, never voicing a complaint. When Zhané came along, he got up in the middle of the night to change and feed her despite having to go to work in the morning. Since we had no support structure in Cape Town, we had to learn to depend on ourselves even when things became tough.

When Lakeisha came along, we were better established to welcome her into the world. Through it all, Neil was the foundation of our home, guiding and protecting us. He was an incredible father, treating the girls like princesses, affording unlimited patience and an ocean of love. They looked up to him and still hold the most respect for him.

Like many married couples we went through highs and immense lows. I was battling my own demons and fell into the clutches of alcohol addiction. Not only did Neil step in and take care of the girls, he had to take care of me too. Not once did he berate me for not being a good mother and wife, instead loved me even more. When I eventually reached my rock-bottom and sort help through a support group, he continued to hold my hand, wiped away tears, listened to my fears, believed in me when I didn’t.

Our story isn’t a fairy tale. We aren’t a perfect couple. We curse, argue, feel like throttling each other when we don’t agree. But through it all, we find middle ground to sort our differences. We’ve never given up on each other, never stopped believing in our love, never stopped building a better relationship to armour us against the stresses of life.

I can’t discredit the hand of God in bringing us together. He steered me to Neil, knew he was the one destined to walk this path with me. God provided when we had a child on the way, gave us the strength to raise two children on our own, aided us when we moved into our first home, through the turmoil of addiction, into the light of changing our lifestyle through spirituality and exercise.

Each year we’re blessed together I reminisce how far we’ve come, how much we’ve conquered, the depths of our love, the beauty of our marriage. We go out of way to make it extraordinary, to celebrate in style, renewing our commitment to one another. May our story continue to be written in paragraphs of hope, pages of memories, chapters of love, reaching a promise of reuniting on the other side ❤

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Sweetheart, you will always be my forever <

Book Review

The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron

A good friend of mine,  Alison Smith  recommended this book on creative writing. I believe we pick up a book meant for us when we need it most. I was wading through a particularly dry writing spell when it came my way. Absorbing the content felt like I was waiting for it all my life!

Julia Cameron is a writer, filmmaker and teacher of creative unblocking. She was married for a short stint to Martin Scorsese, an accomplished filmmaker and director of ground-breaking movies such as Taxi and the Godfather. Their union produced a daughter.

Alcohol consumed Julia’s existence, reaching a tipping point where she desperately needed to sober up or her career could end abruptly. Her greatest fear was losing the gift of creativity whilst breaking the addiction. Courageously she handed over the reins of insecurity to the God of her understanding, becoming unblocked in the process.

The spiritual awakening she encountered led to a journey of teaching artists to discover and recover their creative selves. One of the reasons this book gripped me was the similarities conveyed to the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step program. Ironically it contains 12 chapters, each steering the reader into opening their minds to a power greater than themselves to achieve creative success.

The writing is impeccable, sung in an angelic voice, warming one’s soul. It’s a workbook, with tasks to perform after each chapter, tuning yourself in as an artist. She introduces morning pages, a three page must-do to be fulfilled on a daily basis. The beauty of self-examination is pouring your worries on paper granting you freedom to navigate the day without baggage.

The reader is encouraged to go on artist dates. She refers to the artist within as a child, requiring nurturing, fun times and most significantly, treated like a precious object. Each week one is tasked to date yourself, undertaking activities that bring joy to your spirit. This doesn’t mean expensive treats – a walk on the beach, indulging in a slice of cake at a quaint coffee shop or placing colourful flowers at strategic spots where creativity can bloom. These special moments reinforce the value and faith you carry as an artist.

She speaks of synchronisation – the belief of asking and you shall receive. Nothing happens by chance, opportunities manifest as a direct result of praying for them and being true to our dreams. These acts present themselves tactically and it’s our duty to recognise them, embrace the blessings, offering gratitude to the grace of God.

Julia dispels many doubts artists battle daily. The notion we need to be literary talents to touch success in the writing world. We barricade ourselves by not trusting God to receive rewards we rightly deserve. There is more than enough for everybody, yet we become cheapskates thinking God wants us to stay in jobs that don’t make us happy, crushing dreams and purpose year after miserable year. We wait for better days, time to do the things we love, validation from others that we’re good enough, when all the tools are at our disposal, yet we’re afraid to leap for fear of failure!

I gained an ocean of insight from this book. Morning pages became habitual. Artist dates were scheduled, allowing the child within to feel special and loved. Synchronisation occurred when I opened my mind to possibility. The creativity I craved trickled out, revealing a rose garden, butterflies and a path of sweet discovery.

If you’re looking for a book to awaken your purpose, pulls you out of the sinking sands of “I can’t”, steers you in the direction of your dreams, I recommend you read the Artist’s Way. A phenomenal five star rating from me!

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A missing blogger…

Have you encountered days when you feel as if the universe is conspiring against you? When everything that could possibly go wrong storms into your life, leaving you befuddled, questioning … why me?

Well that’s what happened to me over the past few months…

It all started when I decided to make some alterations to the house. Having planted roots for over 10 years, it was desperately in need of revamping. First on the list was the tatty kitchen followed by the children’s outdated bathroom. After much consultation, twisting of arms and legs, I finally got the go-ahead from Neil, my financial manager/husband.

I was ecstatic to set the wheels in motion on ‘operation beautify’. Pinterest became my new best friend as I hunted for kitchen ideas. I couldn’t wait for it all to commence… not to worry about cooking every night, washing dishes, fantasising how it would turn out.

Once the carpenter and plumber were contracted, the groundwork began. Everything had to be packed up with only the bare necessities around. Sadly, one is never prepared for what happens next. An arch had to be removed between the kitchen and dining area and as much as I tried to protect the furniture in the house, dust permeated the air, seeping into every cavity. It didn’t matter how many times I cleaned, it refused to be intimidated, each day leaving layer upon layer of grey matter in its wake. At first it unsettled me, but as the days progressed I stopped caring, trying to limit my time at home.

The process was harrowing, not only for me but everyone in the household. Our home had become a building site and since we had to live through it, were confined to our rooms, feeling displaced. It took a toll on Neil and I, we bickered on delays experienced; lost days and the inaccurate estimation when it would be finished.

As this upheaval was unfolding, I also found out I was injured … again. For the past three years, during the month of September, I’ve been side-lined from running. Prior to this, I was doing so well, worked with a running coach for months, was at my peak, running times I never thought possible. The only thing I did differently was change my running shoes from Asics to New Balance (a light, cushioned, neon number) I fell in love with. I was also increasing my distance steadily as I was aiming to run the 21km Gun Run in October.

Unfortunately, the shoe didn’t agree with me and I started to feel pain in the knees especially running downhill. I iced them regularly, lathered on creams, popped anti-inflammatories, hoping it would miraculously clear up. Then one day as I was walking my dogs I felt the joint in one of my knees grind together, emitting a searing pain and I knew I was in trouble.

I went to see a podiatrist to examine my knees and advise on the shoes. He enquired whether there was any knee problems in my family. “Yes,” I replied, “my Mother has osteoarthritis and suffers in constant pain”. I was advised to have x-rays done to determine whether the injury could be picked up on a scan.

Subsequently he called delivering the news that I was indeed injured. The diagnosis being “runner’s knee” which normally occurs when the patellar runs off track due to overuse, weak muscles around the knee or problems stemming from flat feet. He went on to say I have signs of early osteoarthritis! I was advised to curtail long distance running as this would lead to early knee replacements as the cartilage was steadily wearing away.

I already suspected I was injured but hearing I have the same diagnosis as my Mom set my anxiety off. Knowing how much pain and suffering she endures offered no comfort. Having to accept the fate that I will never be able to fulfil a dream of running a marathon or even comrades, hurt immensely.

It all became too much, the renovations, the injury, osteoarthritis … I couldn’t handle it. I shut down … didn’t exercise, write or want to be at home. I couldn’t make sense of it. Being a passionate runner who works incredibly hard to achieve her goals, why did I encounter so many setbacks? Is my body sending warning signs I’m overtraining and need to back down?

As much I’ve tried to come to terms with what this means to my running, I still cannot accept it. It’s hard to imagine I won’t be able to run a half marathon, something I’ve been able to do a few times and wished to repeat. It felt like everything I’ve worked so hard towards had fallen apart and I didn’t know how to fix it.

The silver lining is that I can still run, albeit only 10km distances and not overstress my knees. Exercise plays a vital role in the maintenance of osteoarthritis and I need to explore other fitness areas to ensure I preserve my joints to take care of me for the rest of my life.

For a few weeks, I ambled around aimlessly. Not having the luxury of losing myself in exercise any longer, I threw myself into fiction writing. I was tasked to write a short story by a creative writing group I belong to and had less than a month to get it done! Since I had no idea what I was going to write about, I prayed on it and asked God to help me.

As I was driving into town, dropping my daughter at varsity, a song by Adele came on, titled “All I ask”. The song captures the notion of what it would be like for two friends to be lovers for one night, because for whatever reason they may never be together again. The lyrics was laced in emotion, conveying a deep sadness. It sparked my interest and became the inspiration I needed.

I have never felt so exhilarated writing a story before! Since I wasn’t exercising, cooking or cleaning, I committed to the process 100%. Everything locked into place; the characters, plot and setting. I gave myself a deadline to have it written in two weeks to send off the first draft to a group of writers I trusted for honest feedback. I worked day and night on it, not giving myself time off until it was completed.

Something profound happened when I wrote that story. The characters came to life, they became people I knew a lot about and they were communicating how they wanted the story to go. Even though I had a plot in place, they didn’t like the ending I had in mind. I became engrossed in them, their story, their message. I was not the writer, merely the scribe. As I edged closer to the denouement, I cried as I didn’t think it would turn out that way.

I’ve questioned for a long time why fiction writing was so hard to break into. I always put it down to my limited experience and not having sufficient time to commit to it fully. Now I know differently, I was writing things that was forced, that didn’t appeal to me. When something stirs my soul, when it makes me care, when it forces me to take a stand, a voice appears that guides me to write my best work.

This story diminished the doubts and fears I’ve harboured for far too long. The belief that I wasn’t good enough to be a fiction writer, that I didn’t have what it takes to make a mark for myself in this world. The journey that unfolded before my fingertips is one I’ll always cherish. It was a time when I had nothing to lose, when inspiration coursed through my veins, when my purpose was illuminated.

During my discovery, the kitchen took shape, transforming into something spectacular. My injury cleared up and the knees were smiling. I was sitting with a short story that hadn’t been reviewed by my creative writing group, yet I was immensely proud of my effort, no matter the outcome.

So perhaps when things don’t work out as anticipated, when we stop feeling sorry for ourselves, we get to see the rainbow glowing in the distance. A blessing from God declaring the storm is over, we’ve made it… wiser and stronger than before.

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Thank you God for everything ❤

Book Review

The girl on the train – Paula Hawkins

This book has been floating around the West Coast Writers’ Circle for a while and each time I wished to borrow it – it vanished! I eventually got around to buying my own copy only to have it sit on the “to be read” pile.

One evening I was searching for great opening lines amongst my library when I read the first paragraph, only to continue reading two to three pages. I had to curb myself from delving further for fear of forgetting my task at hand! This is a natural inclination when one sneaks a peek into this book.

The novel comprises of three perspectives. The main narrator is Rachel, an alcoholic lonely soul who commutes the same route daily by train. Her life has crumbled since her divorce from a man she still pines for. She lives with a friend who feels sorry for her, yet is exasperated by her unchanging behaviour. Rachel loves trains, feels comforted by them, soaking up the views at every stop. With an overactive imagination, she concocts her own reality prying into the homes of strangers.

Anna is the woman Rachel’s ex-husband left her for. She has everything – the man she stole and a daughter to cement their marriage. She lives on Blenheim Road in the same house Rachel had lived, close to the trains, which she abhors. She sees Rachel as a threat with her drunken calls and unexpected visits unsettling their perfect world.

Megan also lives on Blenheim Road. She is blond, beautiful and has a husband who adores her. Far from being happy, she initiates flings with men, searching for an escape from secrets that are tormenting her. She goes missing one night – the last person to have seen her was her husband after they’d had a massive row. Her body is found two weeks later washed up by torrential rains, any evidence at the crime scene lost. The police are desperate to find the killer and make an arrest.

The lives of these women become intertwined on that fateful night of Megan’s disappearance. Rachel was on a drinking spree finding herself on Blenheim Road. She recalls seeing Anna and her ex-husband but cannot piece together the events of the evening leading to her being bloodied and bruised. She’d blacked out, the memories out of her grasp. Although she’d never met Megan personally, she’d watched her from the train, believed she had the perfect marriage only to witness her kissing a stranger, crushing her illusion. She has a desperate desire to unravel the mystery of the murder, not realising the more she digs, the danger it spells for her.

The Author is spot on in her depiction of Rachel as an alcoholic. Her loss of dignity, self-loathing and loneliness is told in sobering clarity. The characters flaws, insecurities and unhappiness are painted in bold strokes. The story moves at an incredible pace, with twists and turns keeping the reader on tenterhooks. I thought I knew who the killer was only to be led down the wrong track. The denouement is chilling to say the least.

I found this book hard to put down. The authentic characters crept into my mind, the description of something as mundane as a train ride was brought to life through the Author’s vision and exceptional writing talent. The suspense, drama, hopelessness and tragedy unfolding kept me spellbound. A must-read five star rating from me 🙂

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Social Anxiety…

For the longest time I always thought I was painfully shy. I had no idea I had a mental illness called social anxiety. I recall watching a lifestyle program on TV a few years ago where the topic was discussed. The more they delved into the condition it became apparent they were describing me in all my layers.

The symptoms of social anxiety are low self-esteem, speaking in public, interacting in social situations, being the centre of attention, having people watch you while on the phone, communicating with authority figures, eating in public, even performing simple tasks in view of others. Most disturbing was that such persons are highly likely to abuse alcohol.

Looking back, I hated school. Dreaded the times I was called to make a speech in front of the class. Even though my strength lay in rehearsing essays and study material, standing before my peers felt like I was being tortured to a slow death. I would race through the oral, flustered and shaking, thinking I was an imbecile and everybody could see it. Even when teachers asked questions in class and I knew the answers, I refused to raise my hand for fear of my voice cracking, children mocking me and the embarrassment I’d be engulfed in.

I’ve always lacked confidence, an introvert by nature. You’d rather find me curled up with a book, lost in thought than out and about. When I got married things changed drastically. I was rearing children in my 20’s and so too had my escalation into alcoholism begun. I found that when I drank, I was less nervous interacting with others. Alcohol found a way of soothing my nerves, giving me the assurance I longed for. Friends were drawn to me saying I rocked a party and was hilarious, something I lacked when stone sober.

When I finally connected the dots that I may have social anxiety and went in search of answers, I was astounded at how little the medical fraternity knew of this illness. I eventually consulted a doctor who had some know-how of the condition, confirming the diagnosis. I was then referred to a psychiatrist who placed me on anti-depressants.

I’d never taken such medication before and had no idea of the side effects involved. I was told not to take the pills and drink at the same time, but continued to do so. I eventually gave up on it reassuring myself that as long as I had alcohol I didn’t have to feel shy. Little did I know that I was already in the grips of alcoholism and my drinking demon wouldn’t let go.

One of the hardest decisions I’ve made in my life was admitting I was an alcoholic. The second was having the courage to step into an AA meeting and ask for help. Such groups form a circle and each person has an opportunity to speak and convey what’s on their mind. I recall being asked what my name was and froze, wanting to flee and never return. Yet out of nowhere came a small voice, “My name is Sumi and I have a desire to stop drinking.” The members in the group didn’t laugh, instead welcomed me and said I was in the right place and proceeded with the meeting.

That meeting, the warmth of members and God working his magic changed the trajectory of my life. I continued to attend meetings, placing myself in the uncomfortable position of sitting in the circle. For six months, I’d say my name and speak very little. As much as I was abstaining from alcohol and building a routine in attending meetings, I was battling to fight the cravings at the same time.

I worked tirelessly with my Sponsor on the 12 step program, revealing my social anxiety and how I felt it was holding me back from being the person I knew was fighting to emerge. There were so many times when I wished I’d opened up in meetings, but due to my illness, couldn’t convey my thoughts.

After a year of sobriety, the time had arrived to seek help. I found a psychologist who specialised in the field. He introduced me to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which entails carrying out exercises to disprove my irrational thoughts that caused the debilitating fear and distress.

I used the AA meetings as a testing site, forcing myself to speak more, not preparing in my mind what I wanted to say, listening to the shares of members without anticipating how my words were going to come out. It wasn’t easy, as much as I had attended countless meetings and should have been more at ease, each time I spoke was excruciating and there were so many moments where I felt I’d messed up, berating myself. My psychologist pointed out that I was far too hard on myself. That people around me don’t want me to fail, would easily look pass flaws and definitely not condemn me for it.

I probably will never love public speaking and it wasn’t my intention to shine in that sphere. What I’ve learnt through my journey is that everybody gets jittery in the spotlight, even Oprah who has conversed with millions of people. The only difference between me and her is that she’s practiced more. I’d like to think she still get nervous, but embraces it and accepts fear can’t grow if you face it head on.

God plays a phenomenal role in my life. He saved me from myself, led me into AA, blessed me with sobriety and never left my side. In the midst of all my doubts and insecurities he gave me the fortitude to arrest my illness and break the fear.

I still have many elements of social anxiety swimming around, however I’ve learnt to live with them and not feel overwhelmed. I cannot muzzle the negative thoughts saying I will fail and people thinking I am an idiot – but they are only thoughts and not my reality. I’ve grown to love myself with all my flaws, I’m proud of the person I’ve become and believe I can soar to heights I never thought possible :-).

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‘The beautiful thing about fear is, when you run to it, it runs away’ – Robin Sharma ❤

 

My top 10 inspirational songs…

Music speaks to me. It’s my vice to block out negativity, frustrations and stresses that creep into my everyday life. It’s gotten me through broken relationships, the loss of loved ones and days I’d given up on myself.

Here are my saviours:

  1. My life is in your hands – When Kirk Franklin sings he commands your attention. And yes it’s a gospel song and I have no qualms about that. The message is clear… no matter what comes your way; the God of your understanding will comfort you and give you the courage to carry on. My favourite line: “Don’t you give up”.

2. Something inside so strong – Labi Siffre was inspired to write this song during the apartheid era and the lyrics stir my soul. It’s the song I play when people think I’m a pushover and don’t believe I’ll succeed in living my dream. It reinforces my purpose and drives my ambition.

3. You raise me up – When instrumental direction and Josh Groban intertwine you get a composition that lights a fire within. Another one for my creator whose lifted me up countless times, dried my tears and gave me hope to face another day. My favourite line: “I am strong when I am on your shoulders, you raise me up to more than I can be”.

4. Hero – Mariah Carey has to feature on this list, not because I’m biased and she is my number one singer… I consider this to be one of the greatest songs of all time. It helped me through my first break-up and gave me the strength to carry on. I came out wiser, determined to establish myself and not depend on a man to take care of me.

5. The greatest love of all – A song originally sung by George Benson and resurrected by Whitney Houston. It comforts my inner child, affirming my strongpoints, teaching me to love myself despite my shortcomings.

6. The climb – A Miley Cyrus track that captures the unpredictability of life in the form of a mountain that plants itself in your path. No matter how hard you wish it away it refuses to budge and you’re forced to claw all the way to the top. The journey reveals a great lesson… that I can’t always win and need to be patient to get to the other side like a soldier.

7. Somewhere over the rainbow – This is a magical song… not only for the fine voices that have sung it through the years but for the beautiful message it encapsulates… that anything is possible if you just believe. I love this rendition by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, he has a voice that is both soothing and refreshing 🙂

8. Skyscraper – Demi Lovato is a powerhouse. Her songs are laced with emotion and I lose myself in the lyrics. This song tears down my defences and makes me want to conquer the world.

9. It’s my life – A little bit of rock ‘n roll makes me feel like a champion and Bon Jovi does it brilliantly. The lyrics are the motto to my existence… I only have one life and I do what makes me happy. My favourite line “My heart is like an open highway, like Frankie said I did it my way, I just wanna live when I’m alive.” Couldn’t have said it better guys!

10. Music of my heart (‘N Sync and Gloria Estefan) – A song of gratitude to all those precious souls who helped me through it all. My circle of love… the one’s who never gave up on me, who held my hand, wiped away tears and continued to support me in every way. A massive thank you, I love you all tremendously and appreciate you  unconditionally ❤

 

Cape Town 12 One Run…

I haven’t written much about my running for a while. As many of you know I’m an avid runner with a passion for the sport. However, I’ve fallen prey to a number of injuries along the way and had to practice patience, downscale my goals and build my form from scratch.

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Cape Town 12 One Run pic: Off we go 🙂

Speak to any injured runner and they can attest to how devastating it is to let go of your racing dreams or even accept one might not attain their former glory. As much as I love running and feel I’m flying high as a kite at times, it’s always short-lived and easily forgotten after a terrible run.

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Cape Town 12 One Run pic: Carnival performers 🙂

And non-runners would ask – why do it, why bother, why waste your time pursuing a sport that breaks you down (literally), drags you out of a warm bed at unholy hours , makes you all sweaty and miserable when you can’t run? For me, it’s simple – running is my escape, joy and nemesis whirled into one!

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Cape Town 12 One Run pic: Mermaids cheering us on 🙂

This year has seen me take on a number of 10km races. It took many setbacks to finally accept my body works best with consistency and improving my time rather than increasing the mileage. Neil and I have been spoilt for choice, running a race almost every weekend in Cape Town. Having a partner who shares my love of running is priceless ❤

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Cape Town 12 One Run pic: Sophia Town dancers 🙂

A race that stood out for me was the Cape Town 12 One Run. It launched its inaugural event in May last year to mass participation and was voted the best race of 2015. I missed it and had serious fomo! When I saw it being advertised early in 2016, I knew I had to take part. I immediately entered Neil and I to run the 12km distance. Up to this point we’d only run 10km races, so the additional 2km’s seemed rather daunting!

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Cape Town 12 One run pic: drum majorettes 🙂

Setting off to collect our race numbers a day before the race, I was already hyped up. The Green Point athletics stadium was abuzz with runners waiting in line. We kept each other company sharing who’d run it before and what to expect. Some were even saying they were aiming for personal bests as it was a relatively flat race. All this talk of running and racing was music to my ears and I couldn’t wait to line up.

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Cape Town 12 One Run pic: Carnival Performers 🙂

From the moment I opened my eyes on race day, I was awoken by a lovely sms from the organisers saying it was time to rise and shine and I needed to catch a bus to the start. As the race commenced only at nine, we had sufficient time to get to town, seek parking and make our way to the Grand Parade to catch a Mi-city bus to Milnerton. I’d never travelled on the vamped up busses before and Neil and I were like two school children giggling in our seats.

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Cape Town 12 One Run pic

Everything about the race spelt fun and fabulous. From the carnival performers in their colourful ensembles, the marimba bands, the minstrels, drum majorettes, DJ’s, African dancers, firefighters and so much more. Each kilometre marked a different group performing and cheering the runners on. I didn’t feel the distance whizz by as I was loving every moment, taking in the sights and sounds.

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Yay we did it 🙂

Races like these remind me why I love the sport. It’s never about beating the next person, rather challenging yourself to do better, to soak in your surroundings and appreciate the countless people who give up their weekends to ensure your safety and cheer you on.

Congratulations CT 12, you’ve outdone yourselves 🙂