Tuesday, 1 September 2015

What does it mean to be a strong woman?

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As a woman, what does being “strong” mean to you? That was the thought that stayed with me all day yesterday after attending the Good Housekeeping Shine Strong high tea, at the invitation of CNA. The answers were so different for each person at my table.

For me, being strong means not allowing myself to fall to pieces in the face of adversity, whether it’s been the challenges I’ve faced in growing my business so that I can provide for my family, or what we went through just a few weeks ago: placing Travis in residential care. Being strong means sometimes putting myself first. Being strong means reaching for my dream – like starting my own agency – even when a small part of me thinks it’s impossible.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you a bit about what an incredibly lavish event the #GHShineStrong high tea was. If you haven’t been to the green oasis in the city that is Shepstone Gardens, just off Louis Botha in Orange Grove, you have to add it to your Things To See In Jozi bucket list. It feels like you tripped down the rabbit hole and landed in Wonderland. Gorgeous spring flowers and bunting everywhere, champagne and fruit juice on arrival. And the sponsors’ stands! Just wow.

Of course, I made my way to the CNA stand immediately to see what they had on display for us.

As someone who makes her living as a writer, I am such a stationery fiend. (Don’t touch my black Pilot Fineliners!) I wasn’t disappointed: there was the bright and cheerful range from Caroline Gardner (plus their cute owl range) and a whole selection of adult colouring books, including the popular Mindfulness Colouring Book that I actually gave one of my cousins as a gift earlier this year.

The biggest delight for me was the range of bakeware from the Little Venice Cake Company. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know how much I love to get my bake on!

The sweetest goodie bag from CNA.
As an extra surprise for all the attendees, CNA had goodie bags for everyone, filled with items from the Gorjuss range.

You could also have your photo taken with the Pantene team, get your make-up done at the Benefit stand, have your hair done at the Braun stand, or grab a cupcake from Lancewood. Sasko was also there with their versatile Sasko Quick Treats range.

Our host, Gail Mabalane was just radiant. And Sally Emery, the editor of Good Housekeeping, spoke from the heart when shared with us what it means for her to be a strong woman.

But the absolute star of the day was the talk by Lucilla Booyzen, who is the founder of SA Fashion Week. She started her talk with pictures of her as a child, telling us that she always has this picture in her mind and it reminds her that inside, she is still that same child and has the same dreams. Then she spoke on how to tap into the unlimited potential we have inside ourselves, and how we, as women, let circumstances hold us back when in fact, those barriers only exist in our minds.

“Everything you want, also wants you,” she said. It rings true, don’t you think?

All in all, it really was one of the loveliest, most beautifully organised events I have attended in a long time. Thanks CNA for the privilege of attending. It was the perfect note to end Women’s Month on.
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Saturday, 29 August 2015

How to talk to kids about the birds and ... about SEX

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I thought a Saturday night would be a good time to go live with this post. After the kids have gone to bed. Because this post is about sex. Specifically – talking to your kids about sex.

Durex approached me to ask if I would do a post on this topic, and at first I was like: “Um, this is a parenting blog” and then I was like… exactly. I have three kids, and I assure you that wind pollination was not at play in their conception ;)

Kids. They are smart.

You know what my 4-year-old asked me the other day?

“Did you chop your willy off, Mom?”

 I am the only woman in an all-boy household. So I am the model for the female anatomy, and my middle son has just realised that I’m a little different in the downstairs region. I was just about to launch in an explanation that boys have a “willy” and girls have a “cookie” when I remembered that you are supposed to use the proper words: penis and vagina.

And then I was imagining my smug 4-year-old bursting into nursery school the next day to tell his teacher, very importantly, that his mom has A VAGINA.

Other questions I have had to deflect in the last few weeks: “Why do you have boobs, Mom?” and “How did the baby get into Irene’s tummy?” Irene is our nanny, and she’s just had a baby boy.

These are all questions about your body and the differences between male and female. For now! But the alarm bells are ringing: I had better start figuring out how to answer these questions intelligently and without going bright red in the face.

I am also determined that my sons learn from the beginning, to be respectful about women’s bodies and female sexuality too. “Be the change you want to see in the world” and all that.

I realise now that The Talk is not going to be a once-off. It will be a process. And I will probably have to repeat it, with more and more details. And I don’t want my boys to “find out” from another source. I want to be in control of the conversation. Which is lofty talk from someone who is nervous to teach my boys to say “penis”, but it’s a start.

I want to know: what worries you the most when it comes to your child’s sexual education? What are your questions when it comes to:
  • Talking to your children about sex
  • Questions you are scared to ask your children when it comes to sex;
  • Details of about their sexual activity; and
  • Communicating your concerns around sex, etc. 

Send me your thoughts and questions in the comments section below. 

Durex will have CONNECT-ED Buddy answer all your questions. CONNECT-ED Buddy is part of Durex’s CONNECT-ED programme, a high school initiative, run in association with the Gauteng Department of Education. It aims to give high-schoolers the knowledge they need to make smart choices around sex.

It doesn’t matter if you think your child is too young or that your questions are quite specific to your situation, just go ahead and ask them – because there is probably a mom and dad wondering the exact same thing. The questions you ask here, and the advice from CONNECT-ED Buddy, might even make it into newspapers and radio.

I will go first. Some of my questions:
  • Must I wait for my kids to ask me about sex first?
  • How do I talk about topics like masturbation? *face goes bright red again*
  • Do we seriously have to make them use the words penis and vagina?

You have until the 7th of September to send me your thoughts and questions. The first person to send their comments will win a ‘Birds and the bees toolkit’ worth R 1000. And I might just throw in some sexy goodies from Durex for mom and dad to enjoy ;)

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

In which I rant about the pointlessness of boobs after you've had babies

I hate my boobs. Not in the way that a large-breasted girl hates having big boobs because they hurt her back and she can’t find any bras that fit – although, I do have pretty giant boobs – but in the way that a woman, who has had three babies, no longer has any use for her breasts.

I mean, think about it. With other mammals, the female only gets breasts when she’s pregnant, and after she’d done suckling her young, she’s flat chested again. Because there is no longer any need for them. Mother Nature, ever practical…

Humans? Oh no, no, no… We have to sprout knockers in our teens, and then even after there is no longer any natural use for them, we get to lug these chest puppies around until the day we die. Optimistically, I’m looking at another 40 to 50 years of carting these increasingly pendulous sacks of tissue and dried up mammary glands with me. Two big handfuls of useless anatomy!

For what, I ask you?

I am this close to duck-taping my boobs flat against my ribs and dressing in the most androgynous manner possible. Less focus on bosoms; more focus on brains! Bring back the Roman togas; or let us all dress in Star Trek one-piece uniforms.

And while I am ranting about clothing, I can't seem to find anything that my boobs fit into. It’s just flat-out annoying. They are either straining against buttons or lurking under the billowing material of a T-shirt that I had to buy two sizes too big to fit them into, because "clingy" is the new black.

Post-motherhood boobs; it just seems like far too much bother. Who’s with me?

Monday, 24 August 2015

Here they are, the entries for the Sasko Quick Treats competition

It is the moment you have been waiting for... Sasko has announced their winner...


For her terribly original muffin burgers and cookie fries made with Sasko Quick Treats!

Congrats, Carryn. Send me an email to stacey@contentcandy.co.za and I will arrange delivery for your prize.

The brief was to buy any packet of Sasko Quick Treats premix, and add your twist to it! The winner gets a cherry red Kenwood KMix Stand Mixer. (This is one of those competitions that I wish I would win the prize for myself. I have always wanted a Kenwood.)

This week the Sasko team will go through the gallery of entries and decide who put the cleverest twist on their Sasko Quick Treats. The winner will be announced on 26 August.

PS: I spent all weekend going through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for #SaskoQuickTreats recipes tagged with @LivingLionheart. You were allowed to eneter as many times as you like, and some of you really went for it!

(If you entered and I somehow missed your entry, let me know and I will add it to the gallery. I also decided that if you had entered the competition on another blog, I would allow you a second chance to enter here, too.)

Adel Klusener: I made this tart with the Sasko Quick Treats Cookie Mix. I made one giant cookie as the base (in a springform baking tin) and added a filling of instant pudding and cream, topped off with a runny chocolate topping. It was so quick and easy to make, and tasted delicious! I love that the mixes are so versatile.

Adel Klusener: I used the Sasko Quick Treats biscuit mix and decided to add my own mix of ingredients. I added chopped Bar Ones and pecan nuts. The Bar Ones melted, and the toffee made them nice and chewy. I am definitely making these again.

Carryn P. I made these muffin hamburgers using the Sasko Quick Treats chocolate and vanilla muffin mixes. The fries are made of the cookie mix.

Claire Van Apeldoorn: I used the Sasko Quick Treats scone mix and made a mini scone cake. Perfect for an after-supper treat. I layered the strawberry jam, cream and strawberries on the inside and on top. It was absolutely delicious. It was my first time making scones and thanks to Sasko, it was incredibly easy to do. I really liked that the scones worked well with the sweetness of the strawberry jam and strawberries.

Claire Van Apeldoorn: I wanted to take a couple cupcakes over to the neighbours as a thank you gift and my mother was stopping by for a visit so luckily I had Sasko Quick Treats chocolate muffin mix in the cupboard. I quickly made them and whipped up some icing to decorate. I got 18 cupcakes out of one batch so there were plenty to go around.

Claire Van Apeldoorn: It was my little girl’s 4th birthday today. We had decided that this year, we were going to keep it low key and just have family around and not throw a party. We still wanted to make it special for her though so I made her a cake and cupcakes to enjoy on her special day. She decided she wanted rainbow-coloured cupcakes and cake. I used Sasko Quick Treats vanilla muffin mix to make the cupcakes.

Claire Van Apeldoorn 4: My daughter's 4th birthday cake made with Sasko Quick Treats muffin mix. I made one giant muffin cake and decorated it with rainbow-coloured icing because she wanted a rainbow-coloured cake this year. She was really happy with it and I was incredibly proud too. Sasko really saved me so much time this year.

Corrine Morris: The Sasko Quick Treats chocolate muffins can be decorated into lovely party cupcakes. Sasko makes it so easy.

Gresham Madhan: Personalised Pizza Pops. I love savoury muffins. The kids love pizza. So I decided to combine the both with my unique Sasko Quick Treats recipe. Mouthwatering, tantalising and versatile, these pops can be personalised for any occasion to add that special touch.

Julie Kynaston: Summer berries ice cream sandwich, dipped in dark choc!

Kate Kennedy: Making scones without a Kenwood mixer is hard work, but with Sasko Quick Treats the results are worth the effort. Especially when you add a handful of cheddar cheese and some finely chopped red onion into the mix, and serve with streaky bacon!

Kate Kennedy: Nutella scones made with Sasko Quick Treats scone mix.

Lee Ann Pillay: With a flop-proof batter, the world is your playground.

Mrs FF: Decorating with 100s and 1000s instead of icing, and having the kids gobble it all up!

Nimisha Dya: Pizza!
Nimisha Dya: Home-made Cinnabon delight!
Nimisha Dya: Crispy Chicken!
Nimisha Dya: Crunchy delight!
Nimisha Dya: Red velvet flapjacks with cream cheese icing.

Rehana Seedat: Savoury muffins. I added chicken, cheese, capsicum, onion, sweetcorn, chilli, and pepper.

Rehana Seedat: I used the Vanilla-Flavoured Muffin mix with Sasko Quick Treats. I added pecans and walnuts to it.

Sandy Solomons: The cheese and chive muffin mix was used as a coating for the chicken and I added some grated cheese to make some savoury waffles and breakfast muffins.

Sandy Solomons: I added rainbow sprinkles and coffee granules to the cookie mix and made a delicious giant Sasko cookie man.

Sandy Solomons: My twins wanted something "else" for breakfast and fortunately I had Sasko Quick Treats Flapjack Mix in the cupboard, so I made some man shaped flapjacks topped with syrup and rainbow sprinkles.

Sandy Solomons: With friends coming to visit in an hour I had to bake something quick. I added flaked almonds, cherries and fruit cake mix to the Sasko Quick Treats Cookie Mix and made some delicious fruit and nut bars.

Sandy Solomons: Sasko Quick Treats Fruit Cocktail Tart - I added a tin of canned fruit cocktail (minus the syrup) to the vanilla muffin mix before baking. For the syrup, I boiled a tin of ideal milk with some sugar and poured this over the hot pudding. Delicious and easy.

Zasha de Lange: My son's school let me know he was baker man only the day before, so you can imagine, as a working mum, what state I was in, luckily Sasko Quick Treats were on promotion. I had a sort of idea of what I wanted to make, but when I got home I realised I forgot to get all the ingredients. Luckily with Sasko Quick Treats in my bag, I had more then enough, so I make Emergency Corn Dogs for my sons baker man at school! Thanks to Sasko Quick Treats they were a lifesaver and everyone loved them! I will definitely be making these again and again! (Also, note the little whisk I had to use).

Thursday, 20 August 2015

And, the results are in!

The beginning of August marked 5 years since I started writing this here little blog. Remember when it used to be called "There's a Lionheart in my bathtub?" I thought nobody would read anything with a name like that, but it turns out, I was wrong.

A lot has changed since then. I'm not nearly as funny as I used to be. I mean, look at this post about the time I accidentally made a birthday cake shaped like a toilet - that was some funny shit. I'm about 10kgs heavier and the mayoress of Frumpville. I ended up having three boys and I feel like my life is a rerun of Malcolm In The Middle (the mom in that show is my spirit animal). I started an agency. 

But we still live in the same house and I still drive the same car and I hardly ever buy new clothes.

It was time to shake things up! So I asked my dear readers "Where to from here?" and these are the results:

I'm not suprised at the top four results; in fact - I made a small grunt of relief when I read them because that's more or less the direction I want to take Living Lionheart. 

What, no vlog?
The "don't bother with a vlog" result made my eyebrows shoot up. When you work in content, like I do, you know that video is the future - it's not even up for debate. So I am not sure what to do with that information. I was 100% convinced that I needed to start vlogging for you guys. I even had a line-up of ideas ready on what I was going to talk about, like: 50 shades of lipstick, and this is what my frumpy underwear drawer looks like.

The "love and marriage" result was also surprising. I kind of just threw it in there to see if anyone had noticed that I never write about either topic, at the request of my significant other, who is kind of old-fashioned about things. I think he's shown up on my Instagram feed, like, twice this whole year. He's an intensely private person.

Then right at the bottom, with only 2% of my readership voting "yes", is fashion and beauty. What's funny is that this blog actually made the long list of the South African Beauty Blogger Awards (whose didn't, am I right?). I have partnered with Beauty Bulletin and we share each other's posts on our social feeds - I feel like, because I don't write about beauty in this space, it's nice to offer my followers who are interested some beauty content I have handpicked on my FB and Twitter pages - because I know I will never devote entire posts to it here. Something for everyone, neh?

So, clarity - I am having it! Thanks for taking part in this poll, and helping me shape the Living Lionheart of the future. I'm glad to see you don't mind me talking about running a business and #MomBoss stuff on this blog. I was feeling a bit weird about it - like I had to keep Lionheart Stacey and Content Candy Stacey two separate people, and it was making me miserable.

Which makes me wonder: should I switch over to my www.staceyvee.co.za domain and just load everything in one place? Hmmm.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

My dirty little sci-fi habit, and what you should be reading

On the outside, I’m all soccer mom and suburban wife and vanilla Jane. But my bookshelf is crammed, nay, BUCKLING UNDER THE WEIGHT of obscure sci-fi and fantasy novels. I read a fairly wide range of genres, but for sheer escapism, my heart belongs to richly imagined universes and post-apocalyptic futures. I don’t want to read about everyday dramas, I have enough of that shit in real life, thank you.

I mentioned in my last post that Dune is permanently on my bedside table. It’s my literary Prozac. It keeps me on an even keel when my life catches a speed wobble. I like to repeat the book’s infamous Litany Against Fear, and imagine living among the Fremen under the sands of the planet Arrakis, wearing a stillsuit, and… okay, let me reign myself in before I alienate my entire readership.

I’m a bit shy about this post, but I’m determined to share more sides of myself other than “Stacey: mother to Travis the Lionheart”. This is: “Stacey: who loves to read and watch and most recently, listen, to sci-fi. Audiobooks, and all.”

Don’t box me in with the geek squad though; I’m not nearly cool enough to warrant the label. I’m just a mom who loves sci-fi. And steampunk. And old Victorian lockets. And gargoyles. And octopi. And black-and-white Joey Hi-Fi style illustrations. Last year I was obsessed with Isaac Asimov, and devoured everything he’d ever written. He’s the genius who conceptualised the Three Laws of Robotics.

Audiobooks are my thing now. Listening to a talented narrator read a book – voicing different characters, with pacing and inflections in the right places – just adds an extra something that I don’t get when I (speed)read a book myself.

These days, as our agency grows, I spend most of my days in meetings or attending events. The extra time in the car means extra time to listen to my audiobooks. Bonus. I even look forward to Jozi’s awful traffic now. At night, I plug in a single earphone and listen to about 30 mins before drifting off to sleep. Or I listen to Rainfor.me.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a handful of sci-fi books that are currently in my Audible library that I have really enjoyed this year. These are all pretty mainstream; I’ll hold back recommendations on more obscure reads for the SF fanboys and fangirls. And fanmoms. Holler at me, will ya?

Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood
This should have been MaddAdamm, the third and final book that was released in August last year in Margaret Atwood’s fascinating dystopian trilogy. But I was living under a rock (thanks to Georgina Guedes for bringing this book to my attention). Oryx And Crake is the first novel, out since 2003.

It is narrated by Snowman, whose best friend, the brilliant geneticist Crake, triggers the apocalypse. Now all that’s left is a race of bioengineered sorta-kinda-humans whose bums glow blue when it's mating season and think Snowman is a prophet.

Imagine a world run by large corporates who keep the best minds holed up in luxury compounds; a world where chickens destined for fast food outlets are grown without heads… not so hard to, eh? That’s what makes this darkly funny and but sometimes clinical book such a masterpiece.

Fun fact: Margaret Atwood was the first author to contribute a novel to the Future Library Project. It is called Scribbler Moon and will only be published in 100 years from now (so 2114).

The Girl With All The Gifts, by M.R. Carey
It’s hard to write about this book without giving everything away, but you’ll probably guess what the plot twist is within the first chapter. This main premise of this book isn’t exactly original, but what makes it fresh is whose eyes we watch it unfold through: Melanie, a smart little girl who loves Greek mythology and is crushing on her teacher, Miss Justineau.

Except Melanie is kept locked in a cell for most of the day. And her classmates are being dissected. DISSECTED! Yup.

Fun fact: the author M.R. Carey is a pseudonym of comic book writer Mike Carey.

The Martian, by Andy Weir
Now a major motion picture! (Am I the only one who detests it when a novel is turned into a Hollywood blockbuster, and then the publishers re-release the book, but with the poster of the movie as the cover art?)

My buddy Gord Laws asked me to summarise the book in three sentences. I wrote: “Mark the astronaut is abandoned on Mars when his crew assumes his ass is toast after a freak accident. He must use his superpowers of Botany and Mechanical Engineering to stay alive for 900 days until the next Mars mission can swing by and pick him up. This is his journal, and his first entry is: ‘I am so fucked.’”

Gord said: “Sold!”

This is a very geeky novel. You might zone out during Mark’s step-by-step walkthroughs of the maths and science involved in keeping him alive on Big Red. He’s so compelling funny in the face of his hopeless situation, though. At one point, he gets to send his old crew a message, and he’s like: “Hey, how’s it going? You left me on Mars, you assholes.”

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
If you are going to pick any of these to listen to in audiobook form, let it be this one. It’s narrated by Wil Wheaton, giving the best damn performance of his life! Yes, I know he was in Star Trek.

I’m 1100 words in and getting tired out writing plot synopsis now, so this is the publisher’s summary: “It’s the year 2044. Like most of humanity, Wade Watts spends his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia. Wade dreams of being the one to discover OASIS creator and 80s-obsessed James Halliday’s easter egg hidden inside the virtual world that will win him Haliday’s billion dollar fortune.”

Part cyber quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.”

Intriguing, neh? I decided to give this Ernest Cline book a listen after he popped up on George R.R. Martin’s recommended reads, alongside our very own Lauren Beukes.

I am currently listening to Armada, Ernest Cline’s second book. It’s actually not a good idea to listen to his two novels back to back; it kind of dilutes the experience. You don’t appreciate the details and clever pop culture references as much.

After I finish Armada, I am planning to gorge myself on some good old South African sci-fi and dark fantasy (Sarah Lotz’s The Three and the sequel Day Four, and Charlie Human’s Apocalypse Now Now and Kill Baxter) followed by everything Chuck Wendig has ever written. Did you know he’s writing a trilogy of Star Wars novels that fills in all the gaps before The Force Awakens hits the cinemas? Legend. The first one is called Aftermath and it is out in early September.

PS: Have you noticed how all these books have orange cover art? I loathe the colour orange.

Monday, 17 August 2015

How we tackled Dettol's one-week hand-washing challenge

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Growing up with my grandparents, I spent a large part of my childhood building mud cakes decorated with petals plucked from their hydrangea, or hanging upside down from the top branches of the giant loquat tree in the backyard. So there was dirt under my fingernails and I was licked in the face by our pooch Lucky and all that good stuff that happy childhoods are made of. Worry less and love more! 

Old school rules meant I had to scrub my hands before lunch and dinnertime, guaranteed to make me grumble. My boys are the same. Dettol challenged the Lionhearts to a one-week hand-washing challenge, and I had to come up with a way to make hand-washing cool.

Moms, you know the rules: we teach our kids to wash their hands before meals, after they use the toilet, after messy play, and after they sneeze – especially at this time of year when seasons are changing. It feels like the whole family has a runny nose at the moment!

It’s not difficult for me to get my boys to wash their hands; their nursery school has done an excellent job of making this a good habit. The challenge is getting them to scrub their hands properly, for at least 40 seconds to a minute.

Then I found this bright pink timer in a R5 store while I was out shopping. It seemed to do the trick! The falling, sparkling grains fascinate the boys and now washing hands for a full minute has become a bit of a game in our household (as you can see below). Goodbye germs!

I’m also going to print out this poster from Dettol that shows six steps to wash your hands thoroughly. You can too – and then we can all worry less about what lurks under those fingernails, and love more.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

I will have the house red, please

You know what really grates my boobs, when the answer to life the universe and everything, is not 42, but: wine.

I’ll be moaning on social media or on a WhatsApp group, like: “I had a shitty, shitty day” – (but not so shitty that I threw a cake out of a moving car on the N1 like Reluctant Mom, although this is a new #lifegoal) – and then someone will helpfully post a meme about wine or a wine emoji, like that fixes everything, like it’s some kind of Band-Aid.

I’m just not that into wine.

It’s not for lack of trying. Sometime in my mid-20s my friends stopped drinking box wine and began drinking chardonnay. I own a house, have three kids and run my own company, and I still can’t define exactly what a chardonnay is. Or a cabernet sauvignon. Or a sauvignon blanc. I just had to Google those names because I wasn’t sure if I got them right.

Oh, I’ve been dutifully taking notes for the last decade, like a good little wannabe connoisseur.

Once I had lunch at Brown’s in Sandton, and there was a bottle of Rupert & Rothschild Classique on the table. It’s not that I loved it, more like I found it easy to drink without those muscles at the corner of my eyes involuntary scrunching up. So from then onwards that’s what I ordered. Bonus points, because it’s fun to say “Rothschild”. Rothschild. Rothschild.

For our first Christmas after Travis was born (and we were still blissfully unaware that our baby had a brain malformation), the Husband gave me a gorgeous dark wood wine rack, prodded by heavy hints from my side. I was determined to Adult, you see. And having a wine collection is terribly Adult.

We went to Cape Town and stayed in my Sister-in-law To Be’s flat, and one of our daily excursions took us to a gorgeous wine merchant. You know the type, where the floorboards smell like old vintage and corks. We asked for recommendations, and one of the bottles we left with that day was The Chocolate Block. We paid R180 for that bottle seven years ago, and I see that the price hasn’t changed much since then. Still, it’s the most I’d every paid for a bottle of anything except the odd pricey bottle of Mo√ęt & Chandon.

At our wedding a few months later, my father – who in Matric famously won the prize for best something-something for his comprehensive speech on the art of wine-making – ordered a bottle of Springfield as a treat for the bridal table. So I filed the name “Springfield” under my mental list of wines to order to look like I know a helluva lot about fermented grapes.

My partner, the eternally elegant Brendah, orders Haute Cabriere by the glass when we have meetings over lunch.

I know you should never cook with cheap wine. And that you are only allowed to call sparkling wine champagne if it actually comes from the Champagne wine region in France; and so we drink method cap classique in South Africa. So I know Things About Wine, just not enough to fake an entire relationship with it.

If I had to choose between having a 5 dollar milkshake at Jack Rabbit Slims old-school diner, Pulp Fiction style, or tasting a rare, $500 000 bottle of wine that had been discovered at the bottom of the ocean inside a 16th Century Spanish shipwreck, I’d choose the milkshake. No brainer.

When my kids are driving me bat-shit crazy, or I have had a tough day at work, my antidote is to eat something yum, and disappear into a bubble bath with a book. I just don’t feel that yearning, that tugging inside for a glass of white or red.

I can imagine what it feels like: that longing, like you can taste that swirl of velvety deliciousness inside your mouth. Sweet anticipation. I get it. (I’m a writer; it’s my job to be able to vividly imagine things that I don’t have an abundance of experience in.)

I wonder sometimes how authentic this love for wine is. Do you share wine memes and wine emojis and wine gifs and collect wine and drink wine and talk about wine because, well, that’s just what we do in polite society in this era? A (ahem) social lubricant?

God, I feel so left out. Like the schoolgirl whose mum won’t let her roll up her skirt so that it’s as short as the other girls’. Sidenote: I was only allowed to shave my legs when I was 14.

When I’m having a shitty day, I like to read Dune. Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi classic. “Fear is the mind-killer” and all that. In fact, it’s been on my bedside table since Travis moved into Oakhaven in the beginning of July. When my heart is feeling the pinch, I lose myself in those pages. I also obsessively search for old lockets with inscriptions on eBay.

Can we have an emoji for Dune, please?

“Boo-hoo, I’m having a shitty day…” Dune.
“My kids are acting like orcs…” Dune.

If you are a wine-lover, please tell me about that moment that you began enjoying it. 

When I turned 13, my father would pour me a small glass to have with Sunday lunch. You would think this early tutoring would mark the beginning of a life-long love affair with wine.

But alas, it appears I have the sophisticated palate of a mountain yak.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Why the world needs B students

I originally published this on Medium
Something a little different to my usual parenting-centric posts.

I’m that kid whose school marks would blip into A student territory just often enough that my parents would be gutted when my name wasn’t called for academic half-colours at prizegiving.

When my marks saw me dip my toes into the pool of C students, my teachers would scrawl “Needs more focus!” and “Try harder!” on my report cards.
Either way, when you’re a B student, you’re disappointing somebody.

Which is bullshit, of course, because getting a B is a rock-solid result. You should be proud — your performance is in the top percentile — but you’re usually left with a gnawing sense that you’re not living up to your potential.

That’s okay, because with the exception of a sprinkling of professions like architects and pilots, and people who need to know how to draw parallelograms, your future employer doesn’t give a fuck what you scored in Life Sciences.

Still, this B student mentality follows you like a shadow into your career. Haunting you. No matter how you end up making a living, in your mind you’re still on the B list, the B team, the reserve squad.

Not *quite* good enough.

You find you are a smidge smarter/faster/more accurate than your co-workers at some tasks — just enough to put you on the radar of the powers that be (but not the powers who “B”, hah) — but you’re no Steve Jobs and you know it.

But sometimes, just sometimes, you’re Wozniak.

That’s because Bs are capable of coming up with inspired ideas. They’re just not always on the same grand scale as the A’s. We’re what you call ‘reliable’ and hard-working. We usually end up in middle management.
Bs neither move nor shake, we just vibrate with the ferocity of our perceived inertia.

We’re basically corner-office-wannabes.

Wanna-Bs, geddit? Oh, what puns we shall have.

We’re the middle child, being tugged in all directions while simultaneously being ignored. We want to make mom and pops proud, we just wish the other kids would stop bog-washing us and taking our lunch money. You’ve got the wrong nerds!

So how do you get the most out of your Bs?

Scroll up for a clue. It’s in paragraph four. Where I wrote about rock-solid results.

Once you have identified the Bs on your team (and it’s harder than you think, because a CV isn’t a great indicator of these silent heroes), you plug them into the part of your business where you need consistent, quality performance.

In our agency, my “A team” is made entirely of Bs, and I consider us lucky to have them. An entire team of Wozniaks!

I set the stage so that everyone on the team gets a chance to shine: a tripwire for excellence. Whether it’s a tricky project that I know will get a lot of positive airtime once it goes live, or a chance to see their byline in a publication I know they’ll make photocopies of to send to mom.

I make sure my Bs have opportunities to #humblebrag. The knock-on effect is that at any given moment, I have at least one A on the team, sometimes two. This is the real-life equivalent of catching the star in Super Mario Bros.

In fact, you might say my entire agency is the B squad. We are the small agency that other agencies call when they need consistent, quality performance while they’re brainstorming how to win Cannes Lions for their clients. I’m okay with that.

Shout out to my fellow B students. Stop trying to be the start-up founder that sells out for a trillion bucks, or the keynote speaker at the next creative/digital/social media/tech conference — there are way too many of these anyway.

Rock solid performance — that is your superpower. Be yourself. B yourself.*

*I couldn’t resist one last pun.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Review: online shopping at Melissa's Food Shop

Is there anything nicer than signing for a delivery, and when you open the package it is just layer on layer of pretty wrapping and gorgeous tissue paper?

And bacon jam?

But wait, I am getting ahead of myself.

A few weeks ago Melissa’s asked me to take their online store for a test drive, and I said ‘yes, yes, yes’ like I was starring in When Harry Met Sally. I know all about Melissa’s, but I’m never in the neighbourhood to sample their goodies.

Melissa’s online store does a good job of showcasing its range of home-style goods with a modern twist on the site.

The images on the homepage are suitably scrumptious-looking, and I found it fairly simple to navigate through, although the search functionality didn’t always turn up what I was looking for (and man, I really wanted that bacon jam; I found it easily enough by scrolling through the categories through). A "view all" button in each category would be nice.

The checkout process went without a hiccup, always important. As I was paying I thought I saw a mention of eBucks somewhere and nearly fell off my office chair in surprise, as I bank with FNB, but on closer inspection, I was mistaken.

Here’s what I tucked into my shopping cart:

Next up: delivery, which was super fast, within 48 hours of me placing my order.

What Melissa’s really does well is the packaging. There is always a “disconnect” when you’re shopping online and you can’t touch the product until it arrives. A smart brand makes sure that when it delivers, it reinforces that tactile brand experience.

I thoroughly enjoyed unwrapping my box of Melissa’s goodies. They are so generous with their tissue paper! (Mom, if you are reading this, I neatly folded it up and put it with my other recycled wrapping paper, because you never know!)

Spot the little ribbons tied in a bow around some of the glass bottle items. Attention to detail is everything.

One of the products I had ordered, the Orange Blossom Honey, wasn’t in stock, and Melissa’s replaced with another variety that was actually a bit more expensive, at no extra cost. Very (ahem) sweet of them. These human touches are what can set a brand apart.

Of course, once that box of treats was opened, it was a free-for-all with The Husband, who gobbled all my rusks without me dunking a single one in my coffee, and my kids, who ate my entire Pear and Toasted Nut Nougat, quick as a blink! 

But everyone knew not to so much as look at those Salted Caramel Crowns! That was my favourite Melissa's product I ordered. My least fave was the lime and ginger white chocolate bar - but, you have to try these things, neh? Adventure is out there!

For me, Melissa’s e-store is the perfect port of call online if you want to spoil someone with a hamper of classic homemade goods like muesli rusks, with some exotic spoils, like Whiskey Marmalade (I’m going to try that next).

Disclosure: Melissa’s gave me a R250 voucher to take their online store for a whirl. I ended up spending double that, because NO ONE should be made to choose between Salted Caramel Crowns and Lemon Sherbert Bon Bons.