Florence waits

Dear self,

How long is it you’ve been wanting to return to Florence? Ten years at least, I’d say! And you still haven’t been back. Why is that? I know, there was always something else that needed to be done. There were years when a trip home to see family was more important. You were always thinking, “This may be the last time. Who knows when/if I’ll see them again. Florence will always be there.”
Yes, Florence will always be there, but we don’t know what tomorrow may bring. Take the time to wander those ancient streets, to marvel at the cathedral, at the art, statues and exhibits in its museums and galleries. Eat gelato in the piazza and enjoy a morning coffee at one of the many bars around the square.
Stroll across the Arno on the ponte vecchio. Buy yourself a souvenir from the gold artisans. Watch the sun set from the Boboli gardens.

Don’t wait any longer. Do it NOW.

Happy Unbirthday!

What? What’s that you say? No more birthday celebrations? Banned, you say? Waste of time and resources? No birthday cards? No presents? Well! I’ve never heard such nonsense in all my life! I’m disappointed; no, devastated!

Let’s think about this for a moment. What are birthday celebrations for? It’s a time when your loved ones celebrate you. To show you that no one is youer than you (with apologies). It’s a celebration of the day you arrived on this earth and blessed them with your specialness. How can you not celebrate that? And what about all the children in the world waking up on their special day, looking at the bottom of the bed, or in the living room and seeing…nothing. Can you see the disappointment in their eyes?

Right. I see. Well, if that’s the way things are to be, I’m sure you’ll understand how I must play this. Fine! We’ll give up our birthday celebrations. After all, we only have one birthday a year, but we have three hundred and sixty-four unbirthdays. So if I can’t celebrate my loved ones’ birthdays, I’ll just celebrate their unbirthdays instead. I can choose any day to surprise them with my love. Or even better, have four special unbirthdays – one in each season. I could arrange the celebration around the season: a snow party or skiing in winter, swimming or sailing in summer, mushroom hunting or leaf gathering in autumn, and flower picking in spring. These are just ideas of course, each person could choose their own celebration. Yes. I’m beginning to like this idea. You can keep your boring old birthday celebrations. Unbirthdays will soon become all the rage. Thank you for starting it all with your ban on birthday celebrations.

Oh! And happy unbirthday!


Moving to another country, especially one far from home and with a different language and culture, is never easy. There are so many things that change together with the change of address.  One of the first things I lost was my self confidence. I’ve always been an erudite person, ready to  chat and eager to get to know new people. At first, in my new home, I couldn’t converse comfortably. One on one conversations were challenging, but not too bad. Group conversations, however, were a nightmare. By the time I had formulated a response to a comment, the conversations had already moved on. If I did try to talk, people looked at me with a patient,  pitying look while waiting for me to finish stumbling along in my third grade style Italian. (Actually, third grade Italian would have been welcome at that stage!) I hated it! Fortunately, a local Italian course and many years later, I still make mistakes, but I no longer care as much. As a result, my confidence has increased again.

Some losses can become gains. Having grown up in South Africa, my sense of decorum and negative body image were far too well developed. I had never worn a bikini and would probably not have been seen dead in one. Two things happened when I got here – I lost weight and I saw my neighbours coping with the summer heat of 2003 (which was by all accounts an extremely hot summer) by walking around in their houses, on their balconies, and for some, even in their gardens, wearing only their bras and a pair of shorts or a skirt. I was quite shocked at first, but I began to realise that attitudes to nakedness are also cultural. I began to lose my shyness and fear of showing my body. I even started wearing a bikini. Somehow, I gained a healthier body image along the way.

There are losses that I feel deeply, however, and mourn within my heart. The loss of closeness to friends and family cuts deep into the heart, and relationships require more effort to bridge the distance. Some people keep in touch regularly, but others seem to forget to phone or write and it’s hard to be the one who always makes contact and asks questions. Some conversations turn into a “twenty questions session” and I’m left feeling sad and weary at the end of the call.

Perhaps the deepest loss for me has been the loss of opportunity to be a large part of my grand children’s lives. I made the choice to move here, so I have no real right to complain, but Oh! How I miss being able to cuddle them, read to them, babysit them, and just BE there while they grow! A short period together once every two years or so just isn’t enough to develop a relationship, and I’m afraid they will never really know us and love us with that special child-grandparent connection. It’s a huge loss for us, but also for them.

To a partner who smokes

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Fear lurks in the furtherest corners of my mind, in the darkest hours of the night and in the deepest heaves of your ragged breath. Most of the time I can push the fears back, hold their heads under water until they stop struggling to manifest themselves in my over-active brain. With a final whimper, they surrender. But they aren’t gone; they merely retreat to gather strength until they can torment me again, and again, and again.

Some say that to overcome your fears, you must face them head on. So here I am, trying to verbalise something which, until now, has been a visceral reaction to your inability or refusal to change your destructive habit. Every year you have another bout of bronchitis and I wonder what kind of toll each winter is taking on your lungs and your ability to breathe. You’ve been told to stop smoking, but never seem to be able to get beyond a few days without your pacifiers. I’m not afraid of you getting sick every year. I can cope with nursing you for a few days. I’m afraid of winters and summers trapped at home because you can’t breathe enough to go out and walk about. I’m afraid of being forced to live life at your pace and not mine, and of resenting you more for it with each passing day.

I’m not afraid of you dying and leaving me before the appointed time, I’m afraid of you getting cancer. I’m afraid of having to watch you die a slow and painful death because of something you chose to do to yourself. I’m afraid of you not dying, but living on in limbo after a stroke or a heart attack. And I’m afraid of hating you for making me go through that experience.

I’m not a weak person. I’m strong. I’ve lived a lifetime with you and weathered many tears and fears. But this, this is my secret fear. And I’m afraid of the strength of my anger and resentment towards you for not taking care of yourself, for not caring that every little puff you take on those cigarettes is impacting on my life and my future as well as yours. I pray every day that I will never have to face these fears in reality, but I wait with a trembling heart.


Tell us about the home where you lived when you were twelve. Which town, city, or country? Was it a house or an apartment? A boarding school or foster home? An airstream or an RV? Who lived there with you?

Today’s twist: pay attention to your sentence lengths and use short, medium, and long sentences as you compose your response about the home you lived in when you were twelve.

4 Hudson Avenue

It wasn’t a very big house to start with – just two bedrooms, kitchen, one bathroom, living room and lounge. And a tiny little verandah. But it grew over the years. Granny and Grampa’s flat was added to one side, a connecting door into our house giving them access to the only bathroom in the house. I can still see Grampa’s walking stick advertising his presence in the bathroom. My brother and I shared a bedroom for many years until the last set of additions were done and the tiny verandah became his room with a door into the new dining room and the original front door hidden behind his cupboard. Bizarrely, that door opened into what was to be my parent’s room. I’ve often wondered how he felt about that. (Making mental note to ask him next time I see him).

Probably the best part of the additions was the new lounge. It wasn’t big, it was HUGE!  So too, was the fireplace they had built. The fireplace had to be knocked down and reduced when Mom found she and her whole cub pack could fit into it and the builders had forgotten to build a flue. And how big was that lounge? Big enough for Dad to bring in a motor bike and work on it there after Mom moved out. Big enough for band practice with our friends and my brother’s drum kit. Big enough to have movie evenings with hired reel films watched on a sheet hung from the window. It was home.