start anew

The Cancer was really all consuming.  It took over everything in our lives.  There was almost no space left for anything else. It sometimes really felt if it was suffocating me, us.

And now with our daughter being given the all clear it is as if more space arrives.  Suddenly I can think beyond hospitals, beyond tests, scans, waiting.  Check-ups are the only reminder.

Also she has just finished her final school exams and will soon head out into the world beyond schools, beyond relative safety. Being extremely thankful is a very mild way of putting how I felt when we heard that the cancer was gone.   I know that God is still and ultimately in control.  I hold on to that.

Sometimes it actually feels weird doing ‘normal’ stuff again.  Things I did more than a year ago.  It feels if I haven’t done certain things for a very very long time.  Not only a year ago.  I need to gather new confidence to start anew, to believe in myself again.  And that is where I am at.

New beginnings.

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Our daughter has Cancer : 1. THE START

Have you ever noticed when the sound around you stops? When the hum disappears? When it becomes really quiet?

It is usually when you are faced with something terrible. I think you’re focusing so hard to digest the bad news that there is no space left for any of the other senses to do their work properly.

When they told us that our then 16-year-old-daughter had cancer the sound was gone. I had to focus on the face of the specialist telling us this news. On his lips moving, on his hair, on the window behind him, on anything but what he was saying, to keep my emotions in the distance.

I was clinging onto the positives – Hodgkin Lymphoma, a cancer that is one hundred per cent curable – if they find it early enough. The doctor said something to the effect that if you had a choice in cancer, this was the one to choose.

Lymphoma. I rolled it around my tongue. Hodgkin Lymphoma. A cancer of the lymphatic system. A rare cancer. The exact cause unknown. It has abnormal cells called Reed-Sternberg cells.

I looked at my daughter and could see the questions in her eyes. I saw the trembling of her chin. I saw her maturing in front of my eyes. Was it only a few weeks ago that we were excited about going to France for the summer holidays?

I was angry with God. Why? Why? Why? Why didn’t I rather get it or someone much older? Someone who had lived their life? Why now with her going into her final secondary school year when she needs all the time and energy she has to study, to concentrate, not to be tired, not to be sick. In my human mind it was just not fair. This made my faith wobble dangerously.

Then the tests and scans and X-rays and endless blood tests started – PET (positron emission tomography) scan, CT scan, ultrasound scan, bone marrow tests, chest X-rays. In everything she went through there was a calmness about her, a stillness, never complaining, just an acceptance to get through this, to fight this, to get it over with. She of all people was allowed to complain. Just a little tiny something. Even with them taking a sample of her bone marrow (that is actually a piece of the bone) made her grit her teeth and carry on.

We had funny times between all these tests and waiting around, having read a few books each by the end of it, making up games and stories to pass the time. I asked her once during one of our endless waiting periods what had been the worst so far, which test was the most awful, which pain was the nastiest. A fair enough question because she had been through dreadful things so far, things people double her age might never experience, so she was allowed to complain a little.

This was her answer: “Let’s focus on the positive. I love that we get to spend so much time together.”

Poet’s Corner

It was a cool autumn day when we went out for a walk with our dog.

We live in the countryside on the outskirts of a small village.  Usually we would walk into the village and pass the church before taking a right to walk along the river Maigue.  We did exactly that.  The path next to the river is beautiful and peaceful with an old stone wall and big trees along the way.    Long ago this was the main road to Cork, but now it is a well-known walking space.  Before you get there though, you have to pass the old water mill on your left and an old pub on your right.

This old pub is called Poet’s Corner and I always imagine that hundreds of years ago writers and poets would get together at this pub where they would read out their latest poems or written offerings and get some divine inspiration from similar thinking souls.  The smoke from the open fire would be heavy in the air, maybe also from them smoking pipes, and the place would be all cosy and pleasant.  They would have a pint maybe and sing a song, laugh a good bit, maybe cry, but they would all have been kindred spirits.

Well apparently in the mid-18th century this village was a meeting place for Gaelic poets.   The story has it that this School of Gaelic Poetry was actually just a convivial gathering in a pub owned by  one of the poets.  They were known as the Poets of Maigue, the Maigue Poets or Fili na Maighe where the poets always wrote in their native Irish tongue.  They wrote songs, elegies, drinking songs, songs of a patriotic nature and songs of farewell.   I’m unsure if Poet’s Corner was the pub they used for their writings, but it is an inspiring thought.

These days Poet’s Corner houses a Chinese Restaurant where many people from the village and beyond come to get a take-away or eat in.  So as we were walking towards the river we suddenly realised there was something very wrong with the place.  The indoor chairs were outside, a gas bottle was lying outside, there was a lot of glass and it dawned on us that the place had been broken into and was vandalised.  Really badly vandalised.  All the windows were broken.  With no regard or respect for another’s property the furniture and everything inside had just been demolished and destroyed.  We were shocked that this could happen in our sleepy little village.

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Because the restaurant only opens a bit later in the day those poor people who own the restaurant definitely didn’t know about this when we walked past.  Horrible.  Soon and as is custom when living in a small village everyone knew about it.

Although the incident was shocking the outcome was amazing.  According to a local newspaper the whole community were behind this Chinese family and appalled by what had happened.  Everyone was in favour of supporting  the Chinese restaurant proprietors to get back on their feet as soon as possible. The community took action.  Events took place in all the local pubs with raffles and spot prizes and was hugely successful with the funds to be used to get the restaurant restored and in working condition again.  So within days the windows were gleaming again and there was the usual ‘OPEN’ sign on the door.

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I just love it when a story ends well….

Slán

miss- and love-lists…..

The weather in Ireland has been very disappointing this year …. yes it is the middle of May and temperatures are not where they are supposed to be.  We are in spring, some say it is already summer….and we are still wearing winter clothes!   It can be very depressing indeed.

I have lived in Ireland now for more than 12 years and the weather is definitely not a reason why one would move here.

Recently I made two lists.  One list of what I miss about the country I left behind,  South Africa, and another one what I love about living in my adopted country Ireland.

Miss-list

–       No surprises what tops my list – the weather, the climate.  Winter is just toooooo long here and I can never wait to get outside.  The sad thing is, sometimes it looks wonderfully sunny outside, but unfortunately it is never as warm outside as I anticipated.

–       Walking bare feet, it is just too cold and I might do it for a few weeks in July or August, but that’s about it.

–       To confront and talk honestly is hard to do here.  I think the Irish in general are wired differently and prefer to keep quiet or sidestep an issue rather than to talk about it.  Maybe it is the Dutch blood running in my veins, but they don’t like it if you speak your mind.

–       White and not grey sand on the beaches and big frothy waves to swim in.

–       The vibrant creative mood you find in many parts of South Africa.

–       A South African magazine for women – Die Sarie.  I haven’t found an equal.

–       Most of all my mom, sisters and brother, you just sometimes yearn for a good old natter with those who have known you from the start,  in your own language, and just to be totally yourself, like only they know you.

 

Love-List

–          Beautiful Eire filled with character and steeped in history.  Look at the amazing cathedrals and castles, ruins and stone walls all over the place, it takes your breath away.

–          The peaceful way of life in rural Ireland.

–          The new green leaves on the trees in April/May and coming from a country where the grass is often yellow and brown the greenness of the country is beautiful.

–          The love for children Irish people generally have and are not afraid to show.  It is a great country to bring up children.

–          The trustworthiness of people.  It has happened a few times that I forgot to lock my front door going away for the morning (even a weekend once) and everything was still in order coming back.

–          To be able to travel relatively cheaply to other interesting European countries, what a privilege.

–          To make Elderflower cordial with my son at the end of May (hopefully it will happen this year, because the sun has been really shy so far….).

–          That it stays light for so long during the summer days – absolutely love that!

–          Indoor heating and to have the stove burning, even in the summer.

 

I can continue for a while, but it might get a bit tedious.

I read a book some years ago about an Australian journalist who moved to France and her toils and troubles of being so non-French, no matter what she did or how she tried to become more French, she was always the outsider.  In the book she tells how she was constantly surprised about the differences between the two cultures which she sometimes just couldn’t figure out, even though she had been living in France for about ten years.

And I have to admit I also have that.  Just when I think I understand  the Irish, the culture and society, then I have it totally wrong.  I will never be Irish.  Not only do you have to be born here, but you also need to be educated here and know this nation’s history, have the culture and background to be so Irish, which is probably correct for every nation.  Although I would dare to say that exposure to many cultures from a young age will definitely help in accepting and understanding other cultures.

Luckily (I am sure opinions differ here)  this island has seen an amazing influx of non-Irish people settling here which really helps making it more cosmopolitan and acceptable of others.  And with this I am not saying that it is not important for a country to have an identity and in this case to be Irish and to hold on to that, but it is the inclusiveness that is elusive for non-Irish.  And it works both ways, respect the culture of your adoptive country, but stay true to your own roots.

For outsiders it’s a bit like being a woman in a man’s world – as a non-Irish you have to work twice as hard in an Irish society, or non-Dutch in a Dutch society.

And I am not complaining, not looking for sympathy votes, it is just how it is.

Slán

the Beautiful city of Derry

The problem with blogging is that as soon as you haven’t touched it for weeks, everyone thinks you’ve done a runner.

Also when I haven’t done some serious writing for a few weeks I struggle to string a few words together to form a sentence…..

but,

let’s try…

End of 2004 we went for a holiday to the north of Ireland.  Amongst other interesting places we also visited Londonderry or Derry where we walked the old city walls (built between 1613 and 1618).  Derry is the second largest city in Northern Ireland and the fourth largest in the whole of Ireland.

End of 2012 we took another trip to Derry.  And again, we went for a walk on the old city walls – a fabulous way to see many sights including some of the beautiful churches, the four original gates and also some of the murals.

Back then (in 2004) there was still a British Army presence on the walls, it was tense although the peace process had by then be signed and everyone promised to be good….  Still there were some stations on the walls cordoned off by high wire gates and all sort of ugly looking contraptions.  This time around there were no soldiers, no army presence.  Here and there still left-over splodges of paint that couldn’t be washed off anymore.  But otherwise only a beautiful city relaxing in its knowledge that the old city walls will tell its tale and spin its magic on people.

There are a few places on the walls telling the history of the City of Derry including some memories about the Siege of Derry and the recent Troubles.

Reading these lyrics by Phil Coulter, written when he grew up in the town, really struck me:

The town I loved so well 

But when I returned, how my eyes have burned

To see how a town could be brought to it’s knees

By the armoured cars and the bombed-out bars

And the gas that hangs on to every breeze

Now the army’s installed by that old gas yard wall

And the damned barbed wire gets higher and higher

With the tanks and their guns,

Oh my God, what have they done

To the town I loved so well

It breaks your heart to read this and although this is hopefully something of the past, it is good to remember the hardships.  The murals also tells the story.

These murals – almost 2000 have been documented in Northern Ireland since the 1970’s – have become symbols of Northern Ireland depicting the region’s past and present political and religious divisions.

From the walls you can actually see some of the murals. One famous mural called ‘Bernadette – Battle of the Bogside’ depicts some scenes from this named battle that took place in August 1969.  This riot which sparked widespread violence elsewhere in Northern Ireland, is commonly seen as one of the first major confrontations in the conflict – the Troubles.  Bernadette is addressing the crowds on the streets of the Bogside.  She later received a prison sentence for taking part in, and inciting, a riot.

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The painting uses a number of triangular themes echoing the ‘Free Derry Corner’ gable wall which is a focal point of the painting. The bin lid in the foreground was used by women and children in Catholic areas throughout Northern Ireland to alert people of an impending raid by the British Army. The mural was painted in 1996.

Although most of the murals reflect events of the past, one mural looks to the future with the idealist image of a Dove.

A year or so ago the Peace Bridge was also built across the river Foyle and just in that action people can now easily reach both parts of Derry where in the past the river acted as a dividing line. Now both Catholics and Protestants live on both sides of the river.  This according to one of the locals also had to do with house prices, it being more affordable on the one side was a good enough reason for people to go and live on the other side, despite differences.

Maybe it is also time that heals and people have moved on.

The recent clashes between loyalists and police in the capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast, is definitely not a good beginning for 2013, but lets hope Northern Ireland can hang on to the peace it has enjoyed over the past 15 years.

Slán

And So They Do And Speak….

Ireland can be a bewildering place for newcomers with their customs and quirky ways of talking.  I read in the Daily Edge that their is a set of total outdated rules of Irish etiquette for Irish Diplomats.

And so they had come up with new  modern etiquette  rules.

The etiquette rules that I (being a ‘blow in’ myself) can understand and agree with in the sense that Irish people do that, although not necessarily practising it myself, are:

–   Discuss the weather at the beginning of every conversation.

–   The repetition of the word ‘bye’ up to seven (maybe more?)times when exiting a phone conversation is commonplace.

–   When giving you a cup of tea, Irish people will often say ‘now’ for no immediately apparent reason.

–   Someone who has moved in to an area 20 years ago is still a ‘blow in’.

–   It is perfectly acceptable to begin a conversation with ‘did you hear who died?’

–   If someone is a complete asshole, you are to refer to him/her as ‘a bit of a character’.

I would like to add to this the use of certain words and phrases used daily by the Irish.  I have to admit that I am also starting to use some of them by now:

–   ‘c’mere – meaning ‘come here’ when they want to tell you something, so not literally coming closer.

–   Finishing their sentences with ‘so’. Reason is beyond me, but stay long enough and you are also finishing your sentences like that!

–   ‘Y’re man’ when talking about a specific person without using that person’s name.  Do they not know the name and is it necessarily a man?

–   ‘grand’  if something is fine and all right.

Enjoy your day so!

Slán

the cello

Cello : A cello isolated on a black background

When my two daughters were both taking music classes at a Music School here, I always had to wait in the car for an hour or so.  So I would rush to do some necessary shopping, or sit and read in the car, or just waste time.  One day I just had enough with the waiting around and decide to ask if they also teach adults – any kind of instrument…. (should have done that a bit sooner).  Yes we have many adult learners, was the enthusiastic answer.   I think it is because adults do their homework.  They know they don’t have the rest of their lives to learn an instrument or music theory.  And they want to do it!  Most importantly they do it for themselves.  There is no rivalry….

Somehow I decided on the cello.  Until today I am not sure why.  I just heard different pieces played – yea ok by Yo Yo Ma, by Jacqueline de Pree, by…. but still.  The sound.  The sound.  So I asked about cello lessons.  No problem there was a time slot available in the exact time when my daughters were busy with their lessons.  Wow this was falling in my lap.

Slight problem though.  I have no cello.  And they are expensive. No problem.  They can provide me with a cello because the School has a few cellos.  And until I really want to carry on playing – in other words if I can figure how to play it – then I can use that cello.  Well this was meant to be….

So I started.  And I fell head over heels in love with my cello, with the music, with the sound.  Not really the sound that I was making on the cello, but the sound in my head of what it should sound like!!  And maybe the sound which I might make on the cello one day.

A few facts about the cello:

–          The word cello derives from violoncello.

–          It  is the second largest instrument in the violin family.

–          The cello has been described as sounding the closest to the human voice.

–          The cello evolved from the bass violin and by 1700 the cello phased out the bass violin in Italy.

–          Cellos are usually made from wood such as spruce or poplar willow and are hand carved.

–          The front and back of cellos have a carved out design called a purfling which helps prevent cracks in the body of the cello.

–          You play the cello sitting down – lazy….

–          Cello music is written in the bass clef.

–          It is an octave lower than a viola and an octave and a fifth lower than a violin.

Cello : scroll on music sheetCello : Playing the celloCello : part of an antique violinCello : an image of a Violin in violin case Stock Photo

 

After playing for about two years hubby gave me a cello for my birthday!  What can I say?  He believes in me!    The best thing is, the more you play, the better the sound.  I also joined the school’s Cello-orchestra – Cellissimo – and we play wonderful music;  classical, contemporary, funky… everything!

And I am still playing.

Slán