Thursday, 18 December 2014

On cycling: this one's about me...

A while ago I wrote about cycling in the Haggard family, but this post is about me!

First, this happened on 12 October:

I cried when I crossed the finish line, but out of sheer joy. I started out with this massive 106km journey ahead of me, with mental images of the terrifying hills ahead, and wondering if I was actually going to make it. Or whether I had completely lost the plot.

But. I finished the TsogoSun Amashova Classic. I stopped to rest, to drink (and to eat Bar Ones, obvs), but I didn't once get off to push. I cycled for every one of those 106km, and it felt completely amazing. The route was beautiful, and there were a few completely surreal moments, like zooming onto the highway at Hillcrest, and literally being the only person around. Imagine that - having a whole three-lane highway to yourself and your bicycle? That didn't last for long - I soon saw other cyclists, but it was an amazing moment.

There was also the moment along the route where you come around a bend after climbing and climbing and climbing and climbing (did I mention there was some climbing?), and seeing a glorious vista of green sugar cane fields, as far as the eye can see. Just magical.

It's also amazing how quiet a big group of cyclists fighting their way up a hill can be. Quiet, that is, apart from my beeping heart rate monitor, which I couldn't figure out how to stop beeping...

I was also proud of this ride because I did it by myself. Obviously, you say. You weren't on a tandem! But no - cyclists train together, and often ride in groups or packs (or I think the racing snakes call them 'buses'), and there's aerodynamic stuff that happens that helps you along when you're in a group. While my awesome training buddy checked up on me at the first few water points, he's a racing snake in the making, and headed off after the second stop. It was just me and Paul Oakenfold in my ears riding this race, and we rocked it.

I won't lie, being able to walk over to our most awesome hotel suite at the TsogoSun Suncoast Towers when the race was over was the final cherry on top of this awesome. The social media team hosted Brett and me for the weekend, and it was another reminder of why this hotel group completely understands its guests. Its sponsorship of the Tsogo Sun Amashova Classic and the Cape Town Cycle Tour - and the specialised care it gives to its cycling guests, make sure that I'll have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone taking part in those two races (and anyone who's looking for a great place to stay, even if they're not going to be cycling from A to B or in a very big circle...) 

And then this happened on 16 November:

This was the BHAG, the monster on the hill that nobody knew what to expect - the Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge, on its new route.

It was a long day out there, but the atmosphere was amazing, with crowds cheering cyclists along the route. My mind was more prepared for this, because I figured that I'd already completed a longer route, and that we had trained on many of the hills that were included in the race.

I was particularly proud of making it up Jan Smuts Avenue in Randburg, because every time I drive that section of road I shake my head at it, and the uphill on Witkoppen near the Baron on Witkoppen nearly broke me. But wait... there was more...

The last three hills were brutal, and I was completely unprepared for the Steyn City section. I don't think anybody was, because the mood of the cyclists changed so much on that section. It may have been because there were no spectators cheering us on, but for me, it was the fact that I was anticipating one hill - not two (or was it three?) hills within the estate. And they went on and on and on. I say the mood changed, because I know mine went from exhilaration at being so close to the finish, to actually being angry that the very end was so very difficult. I think you can see my anger in the pic above.

But, I finished. And I will do it again. I will definitely do the Tsogo Sun Amashova Classic again - it's kinda like my first cycling love affair, and there's a sentimentality to that, that surprises me. And I've signed up to the Cape Town Cycle Tour.

So. I've achieved what I set out to do. It's a really great feeling, I won't lie. But now there's the challenge to keep up the fitness, to up the speed, to beat the records (if you can call them that), that I've set for myself. All spiced up with the challenge of finding the balance between my training and my family. I'm taking it a little slower at the moment, but the 5h15 spinning class at the gym is still my regular, although I suspect I'll have to kick things up a bit with cross training - most likely some more intense cardio, and some strength (core) training.

Good lord. Did I just say that?

Who would have thought?

The money stuff: Brett and I were guests of Tsogo Sun at the Suncoast Towers. We paid our own way to get there, and our own race fees.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Bookclub year-end bash - and now for something completely different...

Last year our book club (read: wine club with a reading problem) wanted to do something different to mark the end of the year. We wanted to spend time together, but we wanted to do more than just go out for dinner. We’re not the ten pin bowling types, and good lord, we’re certainly not the bungy-jumping types – and then there was the fact that one of our number was due to have a baby during November…

In a fit of giggles (the type of fit that happens about every 15 minutes at book club), one of the girls suggested that we a fun photo shoot, all together. Well, as normally happens when a bunch of women with great ideas get together, the photoshoot idea soon evolved into an opportunity for fun shots, professional portrait shots and… boudoir shots!

We decided to spend a Saturday afternoon doing the photos – and we were lucky enough to come across Gerry, a photographer based at the most fabulous studio in Morningside. He said that he had some props that we could use for our shoots, but we all took some time to pack ballgowns, executive-wear, and some racy items from the drawer that you hope your children never find…

A few of the girls were a little nervous to strip down to their lacy bits for a strange man (we’re all married and love our husbands to bits – sometimes more to bits than others…). We were also a little nervous to put our bumps and wobbles on display in front of someone who clearly has spent a lot of time photographing some of the most perfect, beautiful women.

But Gerry was amazing. Not only did he put us totally at our ease, he made us all feel like supermodels. He gave us great direction on how to pose, when to pout, when to laugh, and when to literally just let our hair down. He managed to capture the most beautiful images of us in the ‘boudoir’ section of our shoot, making each of us feel beautiful, sexy, and in control. And yes, he made each of us believe that we were right up there with the professional subjects that he’s spent years photographing.

The new mommy in our midst took the plunge and did some exquisite maternity shots with her eight-day old daughter. We each did some portrait shots – the kind that you can use on your Twitter handle, Facebook profile or for your mother’s mantelpiece – as well as pics in our evening wear.

Gerry’s studio is spacious enough that it has a lounge and kitchen area in it, so we took snacks and bubbles (not of the bathing kind) and turned the afternoon into a celebration of friendship and how fantastic it is to be a woman.

If you’re looking for something different to do with your girlfriends, give Gerry a call to set up a shoot. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of a group boudoir shoot, I can tell you it’s one of the most empowering things I’ve done in a while – and I (and my husband) loved the results. If you’d prefer just to do fun friendship shots, or even family photos, Gerry’s relaxed and professional manner is sure to put you at ease – and I know from experience that you’ll love the photos he takes.



Thursday, 21 August 2014

On cycling

Cycling became a Haggard thing early last year when Brett bought a mountain bike. Great, I thought to my cynical self. Something else that will collect dust in the Cottage of Dustcollectors. But, to my beloved’s credit, the mountain bike was hauled out every weekend and ridden with great gusto and even a gashed nose or two. And then there was the Infamous Serviette Incident of 2013 when he agreed to ride the Momentum 94.7 for CHOC… and it all went up-and-downhill from there.

Enter the roadbike, and him disappearing to the Cradle of Humankind at least once a weekend, sometimes more, to train ahead of this epic event, leaving me at home with the boys for significant chunks of every weekend.

“Wow, you let Brett go cycling,” people said. “Don’t you feel like you’re left alone to do everything?” they said. “What about your family life?” they said.

Well, here’s the thing.

There’s nothing about me ‘letting’ Brett go cycling. Brett took up a hobby that was 100% in the interests of him losing weight, improving his health, and having a social Thing that saw him spending down-time with people outside of his work environment. This hobby saw him building new friendships with some incredible people, and having a personal goal to work towards.

And that thing about improving his health? It means that he’ll actually be around longer for our family, because he’s healthy, he’s lost a lot of weight, and he’s managing stress so much better by exercising through it.

When he not only rode the 94.7 last year, but did it pulling one of the CHOC ice cream bikes, I couldn’t have been more proud of him, or more inspired. Don’t get me wrong, there was absolutely no FOMO about the ice-cream bike part of it - none at all. But there was a lot of FOMO about the achievement of having set a huge goal, and achieving it – and then some.

So. 2014 rolled around – and I thought I’d make it the year of “eat less and move more” – so I started spinning three times a week, so that I could actually have fun on the bike that he'd bought me a month or two earlier. Somewhere around the time that Brett rode the Argus, he also signed up for the Tsogo Sun Amashova Classic, and this year’s edition of the 94.7.

And I did too. And I'll sign up for Argus when it opens for next year as well. Because I can’t remember when last I set myself a big goal, and had to put some skin on the line to achieve it, and I figured that this was the time to do it.

And, going back to the people who said “Don’t you feel like you’re left alone to do everything?”… The only time I can find in my day to go spinning is to be at the 5h15 class. Which means that three mornings a week, I’m out of the house by 5h00, and I get back at 6h30. I have a half hour to shower, get dressed, dry my hair, do my make up and eat breakfast, to be out of the door by 7h00. And here’s the thing.

Before I started spinning in the mornings, I really did feel like I did nearly everything around the house, particularly in the mornings. But Brett and I have worked this out together, and he does everything for the boys on the mornings I spin – makes school lunches, gets them up, dressed, breakfasted, and ready for school. And I don’t feel like I do nearly everything any more, because, much as cycling is a solitary sport, we are working more like a team than ever.

I do carry (additional) burdens of mother’s guilt when I’m out on the road over the weekend training, I won’t lie. I won’t go out on the road more than once over a weekend – but I also know that my boys absolutely love spending time with my mom, Brett’s mom and her partner. It’s a treat for them to sleep out, just like the opportunity to get on my bike and cycle early in the morning, is a treat for me.

The result of all of this? I am incredibly, immensely proud of my husband (even more than I was before all this), and I’m inspired by the journey he has cycled over the last year and a half. He's kept on setting himself goals, and achieving them, and in two days' time he leaves on the 700km-in-7-days Altech Autopage Jozi to Kozi "Migration of the Soul" / Madness. This writer has no words - he's just amazing.

I’m proud of myself for getting this far with  my own training goals, and the fact that I’m also raising funds for CHOC.

I am loving how our family has become more active, and much more healthy. We take great pleasure in cycling together – we occasionally do rides with the boys, or take them along on events like the recent Freedom Ride, because cycling really can be a family sport, once your children are a bit older.

And yes, we do have to juggle our diaries a little more than before all this, but I’m comfortable with that. Because we are all healthier, and Brett and I are showing our boys that big goals can be achieved if you put in the time and effort.




Sunday, 17 August 2014

Review: A night at Kievits Kroon

The last while has seen Brett and me kind of living past each other -  mostly to do with his hectic training schedule ahead of next week's Jozi to Kozi (Isn't he a legend?) so when we got the opportunity to spend a night at Kievits Kroon country estate just north of Pretoria (near Roodeplaat Dam), we grabbed it. A friend of mine got married there years ago, and after hearing about how pretty it was then, I was excited to finally go there. 

We had a half-day spa treatment at the on-site spa, which was lovely. The therapists were just the right kind of gentle, right kind of tough, leaving us both feeling like squishy objects of awesome when we were done. For the first time when going for a spa treatment, we both remembered to pack swimming costumes, which meant we could take advantage of the spa bath and swimming pool facilities. We didn't use the sauna or steam room facilities, but there's a ladies ' section of those, and a unisex one for couples. There's also a relaxation lounge, which is a nice touch. 

The spa facilities were well thought out - there were snacks in reception, and the reception staff were friendly and helpful. The change rooms were a bit small, but you don't go to a spa to spend your time in the change room, now do you. A water station at the spa baths would have been fantastic, but that really is the only point I could fault the spa on - it was one of the better ones we have visited. 

We had dinner in the estate's signature Granita restaurant, which was a six course wine pairing menu. We'd let the chef know in advance that Brett is a vegetarian who is allergic to shell fish, and we were blown away by the trouble that they went to, to cater for him. There were times when I was most envious of his plates, even though mine were so tasty. 

His highlight was the mushroom and feta won-tons on a lentil curry, although his main course of salmon was divine. My favourite was the lamb cutlets, although the entree of chicken and quail with bacon popcorn was a close contender too. The food was spectacular, the wine perfect, and the service exceptional. 
Our room, in a wing built for FIFA 2010 World Cup referees, was very comfortable, complete with a king size bed and huge shower. There was lots of cupboard space, and a nicely stocked coffee station. 

The breakfast buffet the next morning was the stuff of which hotel buffet breakfast legends are made. I haven't seen smoked salmon in a breakfast buffet since I OD'd on the stuff on honeymoon at Spier ten years ago (maybe that's why?!) but this buffet had smoked salmon in abundance... and oysters and Cap Classique! There was a wide selection of continental breakfast goodies, as well as a hot buffet and a chef to cook your eggs on order. 

The estate itself is beautiful, and just emerging from winter. The Cape Dutch theme is whimsical without being cheesy, and the swimming pool area looks like it would be a fabulous location for a summer afternoon of cocktails with a group of friends. 

Kievits Kroon welcomes children over 14, so if you've got babysitters at the ready, it makes for a perfect night out for couples who need some grown up time and to wake up after sunrise instead of before - and although we didn't pay for our night, I believe it offers great value for money. 

They regularly have special offers for overnight stays, or day/half-day spa treatments with associated meals, advertised on their website or Twitter handle. Look out for extra-specials too - for Women's Day, the estate offered a pay for one, get one free deal. 

The money stuff: We were guests of the hotel, invited by its public relations agency to experience what the estate has to offer. My opinions are my own, and this post was not scripted in any way by anyone else. 

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Riding my bike for kids with cancer

If I’ve been a little haggard (!) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, it’s because I’m up at 4h45 on those mornings to go to spinning classes, as part of my preparations to ride the 106km Amashova Classsic on 12 October, and the Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge on 16 November. This is in addition to weekend rides that also involve being up long before sunrise, and long before the temperate goes over 5 degrees!

Apart from this craziness being part of a goal I set for myself for this year, I’m riding these two events for the CHOC Cows, which will, if I raise more than R7000, see me riding the races in cow-print cycling kit.

Originally a group of eight cyclists who rode the 94.7 in cow suits, the group is now more than 300 in size, and has raised more than R18 million to support CHOC, which plays a key role in providing care for children diagnosed with Cancer across South Africa. It is a country wide organization that provides the highest level of care required to treat childhood cancer in keeping with the latest developments worldwide. The funds raised by CHOC are provided directly to support the children diagnosed with cancer as well as their families. Furthermore, the Paediatric Oncology Units in major hospitals are supported by funds raised by CHOC to enable the Doctors and Nurses to provide quality treatment to children diagnosed with cancer.

Here’s the hat-in-hand part: If you would  like to pledge funds to support me in this fundraising effort, please would you go here:  The money goes straight from you to The Cows.

Then – if you are a person who manages a relationship with a corporate (or you ARE a corporate!), and think that they might interested in supporting me/The Cows/CHOC, please let me know who to contact? If they’re really gung-ho on sponsoring things, they could sponsor a branded ice-cream bicycle for the 94.7 for R30 000…

CHOC will provide any necessary Section 18A tax certifications through its PBO registration, as required. Formal proposal letters from the organisations are easily obtained.

No obligation, at all, in any way, on either count. But, if you don’t ask…

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Failing at @WritersBootcamp

I should know better by now, than to hop on a post-a-day initiative - I barely manage my Month of Gratitude in November each year - and only pull that off because it's on Facebook, and doesn't require too much writing.

That's rich, coming from a writer, no?

But one of the reasons that this is not an exactly frequently-posted-on blog, is that I write for a living, and by the time I'm done at the end of the day, I've frequently run out of words.

And time - and my precious family takes priority for the free time that I do have.

I also firmly believe that unless I have something specific of value to say, I'm not going to put it out there on the Internet, where it will remain for ever and ever.


To the folks at Writer's Bootcamp, and to the legendary bloggers (many of whom also write for a living - you're far more prolific than I) - congratulations on an awesome initiative, it has so much value in unblocking creativity, and getting people to think, and to put fingertips to keyboard.

I will read all the entries with much interest and pleasure, but for now, I won't be participating :-(

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Writer's Bootcamp - catching up on the first three days...

I've seen a few posts from friends taking part in the Writer's Bootcamp - and thought it might be a good way to get my own creative juices flowing again... the ones that get a little neglected by my writing day job.
So... here goes.

Day 1: Even if you know me well, you don't know this
I dated a boy (well, a man) for 14 months, just to prove that everybody deserved somebody. It didn't matter that he was completely wrong for me, that our backgrounds were as different as they could possibly be, or that everyone who loved me thought I was mad. I had a point to prove. Being 21 and all... I'm glad to say that the moment he raised his hand to me was the moment I realised that making the point was stupid. I'm also glad to say that even though he raised his hand, I took that decision before he let it fall to hit me.

Day 2: My five favourite words in English
They would have to be...
  • Serendipity - just because it trips so delightfully off the tongue
  • Malevolence - because it really does sound that bad
  • Mom - because it's something I'm most proud of being, and a person (my mom) I'm most honoured to know.
  • Angel - because it's my term of endearment for my husband, and because I'm lucky enough to have had guardian angels watching over me, pretty much all my life.
  • Jurisprudence, delightful, thunderous, magnificent, troll, excitement - all because of how they sound, and very little to do with what they mean.
Day 3: My biggest fear
My biggest fear is that my boys will be taken from me, or that I will be taken from them when they are too young. I suppose you're never old enough to lose a parent, but I want to be with them for as long as possible - I want to see them grow up and grow old, I want to share in the magical moments that I'm so very sure are in their future.

I could not imagine anything worse than losing a child. It's one of the most striking things for me, that in the English language there is no word for a parent who has lost a child. You can be a widow/er or an orphan, but what are you if you lose a child? There are no words. Just none. And my heart breaks for those parents who have lost children.

Here's hoping I can keep up with the daily challenge for the rest of July!

Thursday, 15 May 2014

An ode to the old (and destroyed) buildings of Sandton

I’ve written before about how I believe that buildings have souls, and it’s struck me a lot recently, driving as I do along the length of Rivonia Road every morning.

One of the first to go, that I noticed anyway, was the old Alexander Forbes (previously Price Waterhouse Coopers) building, opposite Sandton City. When it was built, I remember it looking all shiny and new, and giving that stretch of Rivonia Road a whole different personality.

At the moment, the Village Walk is being systematically destroyed, with massive demolition equipment ripping it apart, piece by piece. I was never particularly fond of the centre – it always struck me as awkwardly designed, with a weird ambience and a mostly peculiar smell – but it was a Sandton landmark. And more importantly, it was home to probably tens, if not hundreds, of businesses, who have no doubt either had to find a new home or close down.

There’s also the set of buildings opposite (kind of) the Gautrain Radisson Hotel. I’m not sure whether they were apartments or offices (maybe that’s part of the problem), but that complex, with its faux Tudor styling did provide a bit of personality to that stretch of Sandton. Every day when I drive past, the pile of rubble changes shape, the buildings all gone but for one, which is standing looking forlornly over the graveyard of its former companions. No doubt, its days are numbered.

There was a massive complex over the road from that, that was demolished last year sometime – townhouse-type buildings – and just one was left standing too, I have no idea why. There are blocks of offices that have been clearly earmarked for destruction – left to be overrun with plants (which will grow anywhere, given the chance – yay nature) or covered with even more advertising messages to be added to the gazillions that bombard us every day.

It’s funny, sometimes you only notice a building has gone when workers are building a new one. For me, this happened with all the new buildings over the road from Sandton City, on Alice Lane. I remember going to the Virgin Money launch on one of those sites, when it was being built – and that was less than eight years ago. It’s been removed, to make way for a new precinct.  But I can’t remember any of the other buildings that have been flattened on that block, to make way for new ones.

In writing a recent article for the Mail & Guardian, I interviewed a property management company, where the spokesperson said that so many buildings in Sandton are being demolished because property owners want the higher incomes that can be achieved with higher rise buildings. There’s also the fact that many of the older buildings were not energy efficient, or even particularly pleasant to be in. Working space design has changed, with a greater focus on open plan and less focus on ego offices.

This all makes sense.

But I’m sad for the buildings that are gone (and sadder for the last ones to go, that get to watch the destruction around them). They’re just buildings, I know. Bricks, metal and mortar. And some glass and plastic, probably. They’re not people, with feelings and memories.

But those buildings have been home to dreams, ambitions, soaring careers, falling fortunes, budding friendships, unresolvable feuds and the simple day to day drudgery of all the people who spent more time there than in their own homes, probably.

And it just feels sad to relegate them to the dump without honouring all the life, love, drama and beautiful ordinariness that they were home to, for so long. It’s these that give buildings their souls, I believe. Maybe it’s not so much mourning the buildings that are gone, but tipping our hats to all that happened in them – and the realisation that, in a world where so much is transient, intangible, fleeting, that not even buildings are permanent, no matter how iconic (or not) they may be.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

How to win at (not) riding the Argus

We went to Cape Town this weekend just past - mainly for Brett to ride the Argus Cycle Race, but also to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. (10 years of being married to the love of my life, how lucky am I!)

Brett had booked at the Tsogo Sun The Cullinan hotel, using their Argus special offer of R1350 for the room. When the hotel found out that it was our anniversary, they upgraded us to a suite for the duration of our stay - how lucky were we! 

Now, apart from the awesomeness of the suite (which was about twice the size of my first apartment, and included a bar, a lounge, a dining room, and the biggest bedroom in the history of ever, with the most comfy bed and dreamy pillows, and a veritable palace of a bathroom), here's what blew me away about our four nights in the hotel:

  • The staff were super, super friendly and helpful - nothing was too much trouble, and any requests were met with a smile and quick delivery. Zuko in the breakfast room deserves a special mention - he was particularly awesome with my boys, and brought kiddie-temperature hot chocolate, rathe than the scalding stuff that they would have to wait for it to cool down. 
  • Ah, yes. Breakfast. The magnificent buffets that have always been synonymous with Tsogo Sun were on finest form, including a whole grana padano cheese, honey on the comb, pastries, charcuterie, sushi, and a full range of hot dishes. 
  • And, getting its own line of special mention: that wonderful breakfast was free for the boys (as was their accommodation - this is true at all Tsogo Sun hotels, I think). Which, considering that Matthew insisted on only eating Pronutro on Monday morning, was a significant win. 
  • We were spoiled with pink bubbles and chocolates in our room, to celebrate our anniversary - along with some sweetie bits for the boys.
  • The hotel goes out of its way for cyclists, from installing a bike mechanic in reception for the whole weekend, to having special storage facilities in the basement for bikes and trailers, and offering condemned linen to help with cleaning the bikes. 
  • On race day, the hotel's reception was filled with energy snacks for the cyclists, with everything from trail mix and fruit to potatoes and energy drinks/and sachets - all there for the taking. 
  • Tsogo Sun has a hospitality suite at the end of the race which we were lucky enough to be invited to. Several hotels in the group each had a food stand, so we got to sample their finest dishes - and drinks, snacks and desserts (SINNFUL!!!) were on tap. 
We're not hotel regulars - we tend to holiday in self-catering accommodation - but we will definitely return to The Cullinan. It offers great value for money, exceptional service from wonderful staff, and they go out of their way for the Argus - and it seems like that race is going to be a regular in the Haggard calendar going forward. 

Thanks so much to Garry, Sheena and Tsogo Sun for making this a memorable weekend, for all the right reasons. 

The money stuff: We paid the standard room rate offered by the hotel for the Argus weekend, and paid our own way with room service, drinks etc. We were very grateful for the extra spoilage for our anniversary etc - that was a special treat.