Thursday, May 30, 2013

We all need a sanctuary...where's yours?

(The farm)

There were a number of places during my youth where I sought sanctuary.  Those were ‘secret’ places where I would retreat when I felt claustrophobic. I would put on my farm hat and ***veldskoens and hastily leave the farmhouse - to head for the mountains. Sometimes the dogs would accompany me on my adventures, sometimes not.  “The bush” was my haven and offered a place to rest and for me to ponder my life.  Nowadays, I relish the treasured images of those young, innocent days.
(Waterfall: Mpumalanga)

There was one, particular spot, deep in the mountains.  It was located on the far boundary and overlooked an old, dried-up waterfall.  Although it was quite a climb, it was worth the effort.  Once there, I’d stand on my tip-toes and stare at the beautiful view across the plains of the **Lowveld . Hundreds of rows of green tomato plants, mealies, peanuts and mangoes lay before me.  It was the epitome of abundance.

Although the **Lowveld is usually dry, a transformation took place when it rained.  The small, dry stream in the ravine would morph into a babbling brook.  Everything would come to life including the mountains’ birdsong. It was beautiful!  
(Above: Debegeni Waterfall, Limpopo province)

Those were innocent times. Although I was well under ten years old, my only real vulnerability was the ever-present threat of snakes.  At times, I would flop down onto the sand-bank, stretch myself out and look deep into the blue infinite sky.  Usually I’d find a tiny shoot of grass and suck on its sweet end. I had endless time to ‘think and ponder’ about the amazing Creator of this beautiful place.   

I remember the sounds of my ‘sanctuary’ so well; the wind as it sashayed down the mountain-side; the cry of the purple-crested lourie in the valley; the timbre of the tambourine dove as it sang out its woes; the tranquility of the stream and the sound of sand and twigs being displaced under my own veldskoens.  

I’d often hold my breath, fearing that it was too loud for this setting.  This was a fragile, beautiful ecosystem and I was its guest.  The odours too were distinctive.  Sometimes there was the invasive smell of a dead animal along the path and sometimes the tangy odour of *khakibos. At those times, I was acutely aware of my own freshly washed skin and how alien it seemed in this environment. 
(Waterfall: Drakensberg)

If I think back, this place offered everything I’d ever need for my soul.  It was the epitome of the musing of the great psalmist – David - in his “Psalm 23”:

 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

(A 3 minute, nostalgic video of my childhood farm - if you are interested)

Nowadays, as an adult living in a totally different world, I still find sanctuary in the most unexpected places – a gathering of people, a book, a garden, a conversation, a kind gesture from a stranger.  Amidst the bustle of the city, there is also beauty and purpose – you just have to look for it.  These places allow me to draw close to my Maker and to resume my life’s-journey.  

Today, I say thank you to the gathering of women who became my sanctuary for a few hours. It was my first visit to this little fellowship group and I was welcomed with gentleness and encouragement.  Like the sanctuary of my childhood, I’ve returned home feeling refreshed and restored – a treasured gift in this modern day world.

What are the images which provide sanctuary for you in this busy world of ours?

Sending lotsaluv to all my readers.

***Veldskoen (or “vellie”, colloquial, veldskoene plural, alternately velskoens or velskoene plural; pronounced "FELL-skoons") are Southern African walking shoes made from tanned leather.

**Lowveld (Low grassland/bush region of South Africa)

* Khakibos (A pungent grass)

Friday, May 24, 2013

The perfect birthday gift ...

I have always believed that one of the most valuable gifts you can give another person is simply 

 In our modern-day, fast-food world, it is easy to pop into a store, select a gift or card and give it to the person. But giving of your time takes an extra-special effort.  It is something that I value immensely and has always been top of my birthday wish-list. Yesterday, I got my wish.

After dropping by the office to ensure everything was in order, 'The Boss' arrived back at home to spend the rest of the day with me. What a lovely gesture.  To celebrate the day, I suggested that we take a short car-trip out to the tranquil mountains of the Magaliesberg (about 45 minutes from Johannesburg) and find a place where we could stop for lunch.  It was a perfect South African winter's day -  clear blue skies, comfortable temperatures and companionable company.  I took along my camera too.

The countryside is etched in Autumn colours.  The dryness of winter can't distract from the beauty -  a million types of grasses in hues of gold and orange decorated the roadside.  The mountains too have a glow about them.  I love the little roads in the Magaliesberg.
Finally we came to a place called 'The Black Horse' - a small country restaurant with a private brewery. We parked our car under the trees and made our way up to the picturesque main buildings. 

Tall Pecan-nut trees towered above our heads.  

I could feel myself relax immediately amidst the open country atmosphere.  In the distance a horse grazed happily. 

To add to my delight, we were greeted by three very laid-back resident dogs.

We were formally welcomed by a host and offered a table - either outside, under the trees, or inside at the bar.  We chose to enjoy the fresh air outside.

  "The Black horse" is home to a small private brewery - beer - so the boss had to sample the wares: 

I ordered a pot of tea for myself and then went check out the place:

 (Above: the bar area with the brewery in the background.  The manager said that we were welcome to take a closer look)
 It would have been nice to have had a pamphlet to read about what these people do, but unfortunately none was available.  Although they don't offer bottles/tins of beer for purchase, one can order a glass or two to drink on the premises. On the menu is: "Red Irish Ale", "Black Horse golden lager" and "Home-made Ginger Beer".  Their "American Dark Lager" was sold out. 
(BTW, I'm not a beer drinker - preferring my tea - but the brewery did add to the ambience and I imagine that this is a good stop-over point for bikers on their Sunday excursions)
(Below: The bar area, although deserted - it was the middle of the week - looked very hospitable)

I had a good laugh at the sign below: "Never trust a skinny cook".  
 The 'attic' section of the venue is very tastefully decorated:

I then went back to our table to enjoy my tea and order lunch. The meal menu is simple but generous - more than sufficient for an outing such as ours.  "The Boss" ordered a rump steak and I ordered a pizza.
Being the middle of the week there was only one other couple present. Despite the lack of customers, it was obviously 'business-as-usual'.  The setting was comfortable and tranquil and there was pleasant music emanating from the bar area.  The country aromas (from the nearby horse-stable) just added to the ambience.  It's the perfect setting for a mid-week, country outing. The Boss and I really enjoyed the opportunity to relax and chat. I particularly enjoyed the presence of our constant canine companion.    I think she knew that I was a 'dog-person'.  Don't you just love her expressive eyes?

After lunch, we took a stroll through their garden.  I admired this little room, covered in pretty ivy.
We arrived back in the city feeling as if we had been away for a whole weekend. It was such a relaxing outing although the reality was that we'd only spent 3 hours away from home.

If you want a similar outing, I would recommend it.  It's a really nice break from the hustle-bustle of the city.  Be prepared, however, because your meal may take a while.  Rather sit back, relax and enjoy the fresh air and country ambience.

Thank you again to my hubby for a wonderful birthday - especially for taking a whole day off to simply be with me.  You are the best!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

ASTA visits her puppy-playground

(Above: Toby and Asta: 2011)

I am sure that regular readers will not have forgotten a very special canine friend of ours:

ASTA is a Guide dog who spent her puppyhood in the committed care of my equally special friend - Lorraine. 

Asta was Lorraine's first puppy as a 'puppy-walker'. Subsequent to Asta, she has nurtured "Themba" and "Keltex" too.  I am always in awe of puppy-walkers - they give endless hours of their time in order to prepare these pups for a life with someone else.  There is no other way to say this - puppy-walkers are angels on this earth!

Anyway, you may also remember that ASTA and Mr TOBY were very close canine-companions when they were puppies.  Here are some pictures to remind you:

  During ASTA's puppyhood, we organised many 'play sessions' for them.  Asta and Toby were about the same age and adored each others' company.  Sadly, it was inevitable that their time together would end.

In October 2011, we all said 'good-bye' to ASTA when she returned to the Guide-dog centre to begin her formal training.  It was a bitter-sweet and tearful moment.  Lorraine had done a sterling job - nurturing this young dog for her big journey.  Lorraine's patience, dedication and care has shone through all the way and ASTA was ready for the hard work ahead.  

While ASTA was interned at the GUIDE DOGS FOR THE BLIND we relied on random snippets of information about her progress. She did go 'home' to Lorraine on one or two brief occasions, but that was all. Lorraine waited patiently for news about her impending graduation. 

All went well and  ASTA finally graduated in September 2012.  She had spent nearly a year at Guide dogs before she was handed over to her new companion - Tracy Smith.  Tracy has been blind from birth and had been waiting for a while for a new Guide dog.  Asta and her formed an immediate bond during their orientation week and they finally went home to start their new life together.
(Above: Tracy with Guide-dog 'ASTA')

Quite coincidentally,  I received an email from a young woman who had read my book "MAXDOG".  Besides telling me about how my book had affected her, she also mentioned that she had a friend, called Tracy, who was blind and has a dog named Asta too.  It was the same person and the same dog. To cut a long story short, Lorraine decided to organise a tea so that we could all meet one another.  It would also give ASTA the opportunity to see and play with Mr TOBY again.  It has been approximately 18 months since the two dogs last saw one another. We wondered how they'd respond when they met up again.

At 3pm on Sunday, TOBY and I made our way to Lorraine's house. Soon ASTA arrived with Tracy and Lee-Ann.  They had hardly parked their car when ASTA bolted out of the passenger door.  She knew immediately where she was and entertained us all with a dance of absolute delight.  She bolted from one end of the property to the other in a celebration of familiarity.  Then she roped up TOBY into a vigorous romp. TOBY was equally delighted to see his old friend again.  After running around in circles for a while the two dogs ran straight through Lorraine's house to the back, where the swimming pool is located.  Like old times, they swam and chased one another in jubilation.  Amidst all this, I was also finally able to meet Tracy and Lee-Ann and we sat down to have a cup of tea and watch the dogs.

Here are some photos:
 (Above: Asta - all grown up)
 (Above: Asta and Mr Toby)

 (Above: Mr Toby - finally calmed down)
 (Above & Below: 'Asta' in the background and new puppy-in-training, 'Keltex' closest to the camera)

It was a lovely afternoon.  We munched on an array of delicious nibbles as we took in the spectacle.  Lorraine's new guide-dog puppy - KELTEX - was also present at the party.  It was so uplifting to watch ASTA in her "old" home; she hadn't forgotten the place at all and seemed to be rekindling the connection with her puppy days and her old canine friend.  

Having said this, I must also say that the working bond between ASTA and Tracy is incredibly strong - ASTA's attention is never far from her owner.  Their relationship is tender, happy and loving.  My heart went out to Lorraine too and I asked her how she felt about seeing ASTA again. 

"It is so wonderful to see how she has grown and the bond she has formed with Tracy.  She looks happy and beautiful.  Seeing them together simply reinforces my feelings that, in the end, it is all worth it!" Lorraine said.

In addition, I imagine that Toby's take on the afternoon would be something like this:

"When are you coming to visit again, Asta?"

(Above: Mr Toby, Lorraine, LeeAnne, Tracy and Asta)

Thank you again to Lorraine, Tracy and LeeAnn for making our meeting possible.

Once again, I commend the amazing work of puppy-walkers in general.  Their commitment to this cause is, quite frankly, amazing!  To bring a puppy into your home, train it up and spend so much time nurturing it and then to give it back, is a heroic deed indeed!

The relationship that ASTA has with TRACY is testimony to the selflessness of these incredible people.  I wish you all strength and encouragement as you go about your amazing work.

My thanks, too, goes to LeeAnn, who drove Tracy and Asta all the way across the city to come and visit us.  She is an awesome friend to Tracy.  You guys are a real team!

Sending lotsaluv and wishing Tacy and Asta many happy years together,

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Happy Golden morning tea-time. (Bumper photos)

It's a chilly day here in Johannesburg.  
The kettle is boiled and the tea is made.
 I take the tray into the bedroom.
The dog's think I made the tea & muffins especially for them.

 Check it out (above)...Toby is drooling, lol!

 "P-L-E-A-S-E  Boss ?"

 Muffins finished - time to cuddle.

As they say;
"A Golden Retriever is not a dog...'s a way of life!"

Sending lotsaluv and wishing all my readers a happy weekend.