Friday, 30 January 2015

Amanda Fucking Palmer

So tonight we took Goran to his first punk gig: Amanda Palmer aka Mrs Neil Gaiman - live and loud at 1Fox (an amazing downtown venue which we visited for the first time last month).

For those of you not yet familiar with Amanda's work, below are two video clips which I hope will give you an inkling of her creative genius and charisma. And below that is a selection of personal pics taken at the gig. Enjoy!


Below: Her brilliant TED talk has reached more than 6.4 million viewers to date, and is one of the most inspiring things you'll watch all year, guaranteed...

Below: Playing her 'Ukulele Anthem' on CliffCentral this morning. [I cannot get this song out of my head, aaaaargh!!]

Below: In November 2014 she launched her memoir, The Art of Asking - an expansion of her TED talk. I bought myself a copy this evening and cannot wait to sink my teeth into it...

Below: Personal pics...

Below: As we were leaving 1Fox, the Critical Mass peeps were arriving for their food and drinks pitstop...

A great evening all round!

[UPDATE: Little did Miss Amanda know she was carrying Neil's baby at this stage. She made the discovery and public announcement not long after returning home from this SA tour. Their son Anthony was born in September.]

Monday, 26 January 2015

I wandered lonely as a cloud

Yesterday I got to tick off one of the items on my bucket list - a trip up the totally refurbished and modernised Hartbeespoort Aerial Cableway - and I'm chuffed to say it actually exceeded my expectations.

Unlike Cape Town's Table Mountain Aerial Cableway, which has two large cable cars, accommodating 65 passengers each, the Harties one has 14 small cable cars, accommodating six passengers each, which makes for a much better viewing experience for all the passengers during the ascent and descent.

With tickets for a return cable car trip costing R175 per adult / R95 per child age 4 - 14 / R100 per pensioner, and a 'no food or drinks on the cableway' policy - meaning you're supposed to buy everything at one of their (several) restaurants at the top or bottom - this is by no means a 'cheap 'n cheerful' family day out. That said, the place is spotless and all the facilities are immaculately maintained, so you know your money is being well utilised.

Although the 1km Dassie Loop, with its 360º views of Hartbeespoort Dam on the one side and platinum mines on the other, is reminiscent of the circular trail atop Northcliff Ridge, it is far superior in three respects: it is completely wheelchair friendly (lovely smooth cement path with no potholes or collapsed sections); it has a low stone wall on the steep slope side to keep visitors on the path; and there are engraved granite signposts directing one's gaze to landmarks like PelindabaThe Dome and Sun City, amongst others, which I think is a great feature for visitors who may not be as familiar with the surrounding terrain as us locals. [Following the fatal fall of 21-year-old Cheynne Holloway off Northcliff Ridge last weekend, I sincerely hope that the municipal powers that be use this opportunity to fast-track the allocation of funds so desperately needed to upgrade the safety aspects of our Northcliff trail to a similar standard as the Harties one before another tragedy strikes.]

For those of you who haven't yet been to Harties Cableway and are thinking of going, bear in mind that operating hours do fluctuate according to season and weather conditions. During winter (May to August), the ticket office closes at 4pm, outlets at the top close at 4:30pm, and the last ride down for the public is at 4:45pm. During 'season', however, ie, the remainder of the year, they do extend their operating hours during school holidays and over long weekends. It is advisable to phone ahead on the day to confirm closing times.

Such a great little daytrip. I love the Magaliesberg, and want to make the effort to do more daytrips this year, now that Goran is at an age to really appreciate all that the area has to offer.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Stand By Me

As the mom of a pre-schooler, it may seem a little premature for me to be reading a book about parenting teenagers. But if there is one thing that motherhood has taught me so far, it's the impermanence of it all, the fleeting passage of time. And judging by how quickly the first four years of Goran's life have sped past, I have no doubt that adolescence will be upon us in the blink of an eye.

Written in the first person, including frank conversations with parents of teens, professionals who work with teens, and teens themselves, South African born-and-raised, now Australia-based author Joanne Fedler (daughter of well-known political cartoonist Dov Fedler*), takes us on a rollicking journey of parenthood during the tumultuous teen years. Rich with carefully curated vignettes of everyday life, interspersed with reassuring nuggets of factual information, and some poignantly zen pearls of wisdom, Fedler's unique insights and well-researched ideas for successfully navigating the myriad challenges faced by parents of teens in the 21st century are delivered in an exquisitely articulate and refreshingly irreverent style.

As an teenager who suffered with (unacknowledged) Adopted Child Syndrome and (undiagnosed) early onset Bipolar Disorder, I was particularly intrigued by Chapter 8: The Brain Behind the Mouth. "There’s a shitload going on biologically - and we’re not just talking boobs and pubes and hormones..." explains Fedler. "The human brain goes through two major growth spikes - the first is in utero, the second in adolescence… The thickening of grey matter… peaks when girls are 11 and boys 12-and-a-half. Then, come adolescence, there is a massive thinning out or pruning as the old structures of the brain get discarded and new connections are forged to make the brain function more specialised and sophisticated. The white matter becomes denser, which makes nerve transmissions faster and more efficient. The purpose of brain development in adolescence is to increase integration, which allows different areas of the brain to connect… The last part of our teenager’s brain to be chiselled and shaped is the prefrontal cortex. This lobe helps to plan, prioritise and measure the consequences of our actions and suppress our impulses. It is the centre for decision-making and inhibiting antisocial behaviour. It actually only fully develops at the age of 24… We need to remember that what we call 'irresponsible behaviour' is often just a brain operating without a prefrontal cortex. When they are oppositional and defiant of our authority, we can temper our reactions by reminding ourselves that their brains are still under manufacture and, to the extent that we can, we have to be their prefrontal cortex. [But], it is vital that we keep this information to ourselves. There's no benefit in our kids knowing any of this so they can justify their laziness, carelessness and recklessness by blaming it on their half-arsed brain… What's going on biologically may be the fault of nature, but it interacts with nurture, and that's the part we control… All this brain-changing can be destabilising. The onset of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder typically occurs in adolescence and contributes to high rates of teenage suicide. As parents, we need to be vigilant and monitor our teens' behaviour so we can intervene if it seems called for."

In Chapter 25: A Permanent Solution to a Temporary Problem, Fedler talks about how she and Kate Shand became friends through Shand’s 2013 memoir, Boy: The Story of My Teenage Son’s Suicide (see my personal review here), and how Boy has become one of the most powerful teaching tools in her parenting journey (as it has mine). She also makes mention of a Sydney-based refuge for teens called The Caretakers Cottage where kids and young people who are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless, can find crisis accommodation. I found the whole concept incredibly inspiring, and I do believe there is a genuine need for this kind of service in every city, in every country, around the world. Lord knows I could've done with a similar sanctuary for support and guidance during my own darkest hours, when I felt my parents were unable to understand, or unwilling to help me, and all I wanted to do was run away, or die. While I was waging an internal battle against some deep-seated abandonment issues, and the first few dangerous and debilitating episodes of an as-yet-undiagnosed mood disorder, they apparently saw my acting out - the manifestation of these psychological and psychiatric issues - as behaviour typical of a regular angst-ridden teen going through a bit of an identity crisis, and dismissed it as a rite of passage, a passing phase. If they only knew how fragile my state of mind was at times, and how often I thought about taking my life, they may have done things differently. Then again, that was the late 80s, early 90s, when stuff like sending your kids for professional counselling and putting them on meds wasn’t the norm. It would've reflected badly on their parenting 'abilities', shown them up for 'failing' at their job, and for an adoptive parent especially, under the watchful eye of social services, I can imagine that would've made the prospect even more daunting. Thank God times are changing and there's far more dialogue around and less of a stigma attached to issues of mental health. That, and the growing trend of modern families choosing open or semi-private adoptions over the strictly closed or private adoptions of the past, which - in my experience - just served to magnify the silence, secrecy, and shame. These days there is no shortage of online literature and real-world resources for families grappling with some of these more serious issues during the crucial identity-forming teen years.

In closing, Fedler reminds us of just how precious the parenting journey is, and how we need to cherish the here and now with our children. "Appreciation is the afterbirth of insight, and insight is the slow accretion of maturity steeped in loss and all its attendant stripping-away… The babies we loved and toddlers we adored have disappeared into the arc of our children’s self-acquisition. The ghosts of their many smaller incarnations haunt our hearts."

This is a book I cannot recommend highly enough. Not just for parents, but anyone who deals with pre-teens and teens in their line of work, especially senior primary and high school teachers. Like the adage 'forewarned is forearmed' suggests, you will feel far more confident and better equipped to deal with whatever is thrown your way.

As part of an Early Adopters campaign, I was sent a copy of this book to read earlier this month, although the official launch date is only 1st February 2015. For those of you keen to get your hands on a copy - I promise you won't be disappointed! - the paperback is available for pre-order in Australia, and the Kindle edition is available for pre-order in the UK, and the US.

If you would like to be a part of Fedler's campaign to connect a million parents with their teens through this book, go and 'like' the Facebook page. Conversation is bound to start hotting up once it hits the shelves.

*UPDATE: Dov Fedler's memoir Out of Line was released in February 2015. 

Friday, 9 January 2015

Exit through the gift shop

I am always on the lookout for somewhere new to take my small human. Somewhere with a shaded table and coffee for me, a playground (and preferably a couple of other kids) for Goran. Lee only goes back to work on Monday, so yesterday he joined us on our recce to the GardenShop Bryanston.

It's a very similar concept to the offering at Lifestyle Home Garden in Randpark Ridge (where we've been going regularly for years), but on a much smaller scale. There are currently six GardenShop branches across Gauteng, most of which were part of the original Keith Kirsten's Nurseries and Garden Centres chain, before it underwent a management buyout in 2001.

Besides the standard nursery and retail store, at this particular branch there is a coffee shop called munch Café, with small adjoining playground (the main drawcard for me), a separate play area called munch Kids, a nail spa, and a pet store called Reptilians which, as its name suggests, focuses on reptiles, but also stocks fish and a few mammalian critters (some of which you can feed; there are packets of food for purchase at the till).

The food and service at munch Café was great, but the playground was a little sad, to be honest. Right in the far corner of the property is munch Kids, and although the size of the play area is great (to host kids' birthday parties, perhaps), it is in dire need of an upgrade and some TLC. There are no childminders, and it's just too removed from the restaurant section for it to be safe to let your littlies run free.

But it was the gift shop, through which we left, that made the biggest impression on me. Stocking a wide variety of gardening accessories (for grown-ups and kids) plus a lovely selection of imported pots and home decor items, it has the most phenomenal selection of funky bird feeders and cute bird houses I have seen anywhere (an entire room dedicated to them, in fact). Well worth checking out if you fancy attracting more wild birds to your garden.

Below is a collection of pics I snapped on my iPhone. A sweet, unpretentious little spot if you want a tasty bite to eat in a relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere, with a bit of flora and fauna eye candy thrown in for good measure. Next time I want to check out GardenShop Parktown North, which is the branch closest to home for me.