Kicking off Christmas in Jerusalem

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This past weekend we were invited to a German Christmas Market held at a church in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem. It was a perfect day and start to our Christmas season, both surreal and totally normal at the same time. Much like expat life.  We drank fantastic cups of steaming gluhwien while the children ate German waffles and the moms eyed the tables covered in crafts and decorations.  All the while, the seemingly unaware market was surrounded by ancient churches, mosques, and temples, stone streets older than anything in the United States, and both old and new marks of a history of tension and religious conflict.

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Living in Israel does have a surreal affect on you, some days you could be anywhere in the world and others you are in THE Holy Land, eek! If I am being honest, the city of Jerusalem is not my favorite place in the country. The tension you feel there is palpable and many warnings about potential unrest make me want to run to the hills surrounding the Sea of Galilee. That said, in the last month I have made the 1.5 hour trip to the holiest place on earth twice, and both times were amazing and fulfilling adventures. I’d say Jru is growing on me, especially when the Christmas spirit is all around you and you’re with some of your favorite people in the country!

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Since it was a rather last minute decision to attend the market, we were unprepared with only a few shekels in hand. Thus, I wasn’t able to splurge on much. However, I did come across a Palestinian artist who was on a mission for peace and unity through her art. My creative heart was inspired by her project and I purchased two sketches, one of Bethlehem and one of Jerusalem, and a painted sketch on a postcard of some of the famous architecture from around Israel.  The whole interaction with the artist made me excited for my own shop this coming weekend.

The kids were less than impressed with the vendors and were waiting patiently for Der Weihnachtsmann, aka Father Christmas, aka Santa, to arrive. They sang Jingle Bells as they waited and finally he appeared ringing a bell and carrying a large sack full of chocolate Santas for each of the children. It was adorable how they sat and listened to him tell his story in German. Even though they couldn’t understand any of it, the heart of the story was clear.

Afterward our party of almost 30 departed and 21 of us attempted to find a place to eat together at 5:00pm on Shabbat (Sabbath) in a highly religious city. Which means the majority of places were closed for another 2 hours. We finally discovered an Irish Pub and it was perfect for our group, including our horde of children hopped up on chocolate.

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It truly was the perfect way to kick off our December –  loosely planned, a bit chaotic, full of joy, and drenched in the Christmas spirit. When you live an expat life, at Christmas time you sacrifice a lot of your traditions, but it can lead to a richer and deeper connection to the season and your family. I hope those of you far from home find your village to celebrate with and make the most of the holiday season as you add new traditions and memories to your collection.

Happy December,

kdg

Mom’s weekend away

Just for perspective, it’s been over 8 years since I travelled anywhere alone, leaving both husband and kids at home. This weekend I took the plunge. It’s natural to feel out of my comfort zone here, but I feel it’s so incredibly necessary to create some space. You see, I have come to realize that as much as my family needs me, I need them too. This may seem obvious, but it’s more than that. I realized that as my kids emotionally depend on me, I in return have become so emotionally dependent on them. I wonder if this is magnified by our expat lifestyle, or the loss of my mom – my first immediate family circle, my safe zone, my green zone, my everything.

I described this weekend to a friend, before flying out, as a neat little present wrapped up with a bow waiting to be opened, and it has been just that.

Where did this weekend take me what am I doing you may ask? I flew to Dubai to watch Ed Sheeran live, of course. Wow! What an amazing concert. He is such an incredibly talented man.


If you ever get the chance to see him live, I’m putting it down as an absolute must!

To add the incredible show, my weekend has been filled with upgrades! Our room at the hotel was upgraded to a suite and our concert tickets upgraded to front pit! Thanksgiving moments for sure.

Yesterday, we attended the brunch at the Maridian Hotel. You buy your ticket ahead of time to secure your table and you just need to make sure you arrive on time and all dressed up. The buffet is waiting, the bar is open and the bill is already paid. Brunch was from 12-3 and then the music got louder and everyone moved outdoors poolside, and danced till 7pm, when we then fittingly went out for dinner. I wonder if this is what people who live in Dubai do on weekends.

For dinner we were recommended this gorgeous little Jamaican lounge called Miss Lily’s. We were early, it was quiet and it was gorgeous.


We escaped Miss Lily’s before the crowds and went back to the roof top of our hotel. We chatted and took in the night time views until we were ready for bed.


It’s now 9:30am and I’m still in bed. I will make my way down for breakfast soon, but right now as I write up this post and reflect on the weekend, I am just so thankful. Thankful for my friend who fetched my kids from school. Thankful for my husband who held down the fort at home and made this trip happen for me. Thankful for friends who did all the amazing weekend planning. Thankful for the blessings of upgrades. And now, most of all thankful to be going home to my beloved little family.

I hope if you are a full-time parent like me, that you take moments like this to make some space for yourself and come back refreshed and full of gratitude!

Cheers,

The Mirror House – Kuwait

1DSC_9140Lets just say, if my husband came home from a business trip abroad and found me on the floor with broken pieces of glass and plastering all over the wall, I think he would have had me committed. Thankfully this was not in the case of the lovely Lady Lidia.

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For what started out as a small mirror mosaic project to cover her daughters writings on the wall, turned into her greatest life long work, her pride and joy, The Mirror House of Kuwait. We were greeted by this tiny, Italian woman, with years of life knowledge and life experience under her belt. Yet somehow she maintained her zest and passion for life and she couldn’t wait to share it with us.

We started with a lesson on mosaics and the story of her beginning, but we were quickly whisked away and literally taken on a once in a lifetime journey through what can only really be explained as living surrealism. 

She met a young Kuwaiti man in the UK and he stole her heart. She then moved to Kuwait in the 50s, settled down, got married, had a family, lived life, survived wars, survived parenting, and found comfort in creating.

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Her story is a cherished love story. Her husband, Khalifa Qattan, was a very well known and respected pioneer in the Arab art world.  Yet, he very rarely called her Lidia, he preferred to call her lady, even up until his last days on this earth. Swoon! She brags that when she arrived in Kuwait, most of the houses were still built of clay. Yes, she has seen Kuwait change over the years there is no doubt of this. I asked her what the biggest change she witnessed was, expecting to hear the standard, “oh we used to be able to drink and now we can’t” or, “we could wear short skirts back then and no one bothered us about it” but no, to my surprise, she said the greatest change came from within the family unit.

The family unit has changed.

When she first moved to Kuwait she testifies how most children were being raised by their parents, both moms and dads were raising their kids. She shares that in today’s times children are being raised by nannies. It’s quantity over quality of children that has become important. There is a whole generation of children being raised by nannies and no longer by their parents. And you see it filter over into the Western culture within Kuwait too. All too often it’s the nannies with the kids at birthday parties or afternoon activities, very often alongside the parents, even then parents take more and more of a back seat.

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Her symbol piece for the family unit.

Anyway, getting back to the tour. What a ride. She took us into every room where different themes are represented, from the earth to outer space. Her birds were my personal favourites. On the top floor we even got to appreciate her husbands works. a dedicated gallery to his finest pieces. I loved this part. He was a visual communicator for sure. The statements he made with his art were honest, bold and unapologetic. He loved being Kuwaiti and was so proud of that, but he was despising what the nation was becoming, the changes that the country was going through and he used his art as his voice. It still speaks volumes today. I definitely learnt a lot about the history of Kuwait on this tour, It was interesting for sure.

In the rooms next to his gallery are works of her own. It was fascinating to see these two worlds showcased on one floor. Two very different minds with similar view points being expressed in two very different ways. It was remarkable.

My favourite piece belonging to Lady Lidia was the piece with the two keys. These represent the keys to a woman’s heart (men, pay attention).

They are:

1 – Respect

2 – Generosity (not as in things or money, but rather time and affection). If you get these two things right her heart will be forever yours.

Her art therapy rooms are quite something, too. Darkness, with colour of lights and lights of colour.

Admittedly, I spent an hour on my bed in the afternoon with a warm cup of tea processing the experience. Trying to make sense of it all. I couldn’t. I was most certainly over stimulated for the better part of the afternoon. And wonderfully so. I will never forget this morning at The House of Mirrors. For anyone living in Kuwait, you need to move this to the top of your ‘to do before you leave’ list. This experience has the backing of both Trip Adviser and Lonely Planet.

I left informed and inspired.

If you have a House of Mirrors experience that you would like to share, I’d love to hear from you.

Special note: One thing that makes this experience even more unique is that you become a part of the visual experience. With the mosaics being mirrors, your reflections are integrated. Thus making everyone’s experience unique to them. 

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Cheers,

la

 

Martyrs House – a suburban pocket of war

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As I drove into the neighbourhood, the site of the house took my breath away. I parked the car and made my way inside. This house, this moment in time, has been restored ever so slightly to make it safe for visitors to walk around. And walk around I did.

Al-Qurain Martyrs House is a museum dedicated to those brave Kuwaiti souls who gave their lives for their country. During the invasion of 1991 a group of Kuwaiti men formed a resistance group that fought against Saddam’s army. This house, in an ordinary Kuwaiti neighbourhood, became the hide out and headquarters for the 31 member group known as the Al Messilah (Kuwait Force). At the time of this particular attack on February 24, 1991, their were 19 members present and sadly 12 lost their lives while 7 managed to survive.

After the liberation of Kuwait a few days later, H.H. Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the Amir of Kuwait, ordered that the site be transformed into a historical museum which will commemorate the sacrifice and heroism of these Kuwaitis. It has become a symbol of national pride. It stands tall as a reminder to future Kuwaiti generations of how their forefathers fought against their Iraqi invaders, and the price that they, and many coalition soldiers, had to pay for them to maintain their country.

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What struck me first was the sheer damage that had been done over the 10 hour battle. But what came next is actually what stayed with me. There is a strange unexpected peace within these walls. You see the destruction yet you hear the birds chirping. You imagine the chaos, yet you feel the stillness of the air.

I looked closer at the inside of the house. The tiles in the kitchen were probably thoughtfully and carefully chosen.

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The ceiling fan in a bedroom resembles a wilted flower.

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For me, the detail that still lives within the walls, carries the voices of family gatherings, children laughing, the memories of lives lived, and now the sorrow of lives lost as well.

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The cars outside still parked as they were on that fearful morning.

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If you find the opportunity to explore this fiercely patriotic country, or perhaps you already live here and you have family and friends visiting, then this is a trip that is an absolute must. It was an hour well spent, we were able to walk around freely and if anything, the locals in the area appreciated the fact that we were interested in their history and a place that was clearly very important to them. I got the sense that they respected us for paying our respects. One gentleman took the time to come talk to me in broken English and explain the history, even happily leaving me with English translated booklets with further information. Yes, this trip is a must. It will move you.

Cheers with a humbled heart,

la

Acrobranch – Tree climbing adventures for all ages.

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We are very slowly getting back into our old routine living here in our beloved desert homeland. By slowly, I mean snails pace. I think that may be due to an extended period of humidity which has been challenging, but we’re getting there. What the kids miss most, other than family, are the trees… climbing the trees to be exact. I keep going back to the time when we went to Acrobranch in Centurion, South Africa. If any of our South African readers have not yet been to Acrobranch, please read this post.  It is an aerial tree top adventure that caters to the whole family. All ages from children as young as 3 to adults of all ages.

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I went there with my three minions, plus their cousin and her mom, and we had such a wonderful afternoon. The kids were climbing for over an hour and we then settled in to The Big Red Barn for lunch. It was truly a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Side note: The next time you find yourself there over lunch do yourself a favour and order the house fries. I may or may not have eaten the entire plate #sorrynotsorry.

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“Acrobranch is Kid Heaven! Swinging through trees, dangling from branches, balancing in the air. But wait, Acrobranch also takes care of every parent’s fear and tucks those kids safely into snug harnesses, hooked into secure lines all through the course. It’s all with adult supervision, but the children are encouraged to go at their own pace and move their own clips themselves.

All courses are designed with specific ages in mind to keep your kids entertained…and safe. Check out your desired park for more info on our kids course age and height requirements.” – via Acrobranch website.

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Now what I appreciate the most about this concept is the benefit to a child’s physical development.  A child is constantly thinking about which hand they need to put where, which foot they need to move first, and which clip goes where. They work on balance, how the brain interprets where the body is in the environment it is in, they need to orientate their whole being to work as one to navigate the course safely, they build core strength, and improve flexibility and reach.

The next time I go, I promise to take more grownups with me, which should leave me hands free to carry my ‘big’ camera and get proper photos, but hey, they say the best camera is the one you have with you, so thank you iPhone.

Acrobranch – super affordable rates and fantastic for kids parties, I can only imagine how much fun it would be for team building too. You can contact them on +27 86 999 0369 or visit their website for more information. I highly recommend it.

If anyone has tried them out and would like to share your experience with our readers, we would love to read your comments below.

Cheers.

la

Fall in Israel – Rosh Hashanah

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The weather, the holidays, and the spirit of Fall in Israel are all definitely different from our beloved Virginia, but we are enjoying the adventure. This was a big weekend for us and the country as we celebrated the New Year, also known as Rosh Hashanah. Until last year, I used to be unfamiliar with the Jewish/Israeli holidays, aside from their dates pre-labeled in my calendar over the years. For all of you like me, living in Israel means three days off of school, celebrations and toasts, religious observances, lots of new traditions, and it is a great time to travel or explore for us non-observant expats.

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Since we have missed our Fall traditions from back home, we took the long week and went camping at Horshat Tal in the Golan Heights with a few of our favorite outdoorsy friends.  We also toasted the new year at our favorite Israeli winery, Pelter Winery and one of our favorite Israeli craft breweries, Galil Brewery (they have pumpkin ale!). It was a wonderful time to be removed from the pressures of school and work and just be together and laugh a lot. Plus, I checked a few things off our Fall bucket list!

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I know I say it all the time, but experiencing the cultures of the country we live in (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and those of the people we befriend is truly one of my favorite things about living abroad. It makes me so happy to listen to the boys sing holiday songs, share the salutations in the language, and try traditional eats and treats. Their favorite Rosh Hashanah treat is apples dipped in honey, eaten to symbolize a sweet new year.

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It is especially fun to experience each of the holidays through our youngest at a local Hebrew gan (pre-school). On the Friday before the holiday the parents were invited to join a toast to the new year. The littles all wore white, the traditional color worn on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and for holy days. There was a rabbi who talked (in Hebrew of course) about the holiday and blew the shofar for us. We sat and watched the children sing and clap to songs they had clearly been learning leading up to it. I couldn’t help but smile at the tiny hands holding up glasses of tirosh (children’s wine) toasting and shouting “Shana Tova”!

Our big kid had his own Rosh Hashanah celebration at the international school and learned about the holiday in Israeli Culture class, which is one of his favorite classes. He just loves the teacher too! She has them singing fun songs, speaking in Hebrew, and excited to share it all at home with us. Let me tell you, we have learned a lot because of it! Fun fact, similar to our beloved Greeks, the Israelis see the pomegranate as a symbol of prosperity, health, fertility and happiness and they are particularly important and given as gifts at Rosh Hashanah.

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To learn more about the holiday check out this fun video. I can really get behind the heart of starting fresh and walking into the new year on a sweet note!

Here’s to a sweet (and intentional) new year!

Shana Tova!

kdg

Origami birds courtesy of fellow gan mom, Noa, check out her blog post: I’m on Leave

Reflection: 2 months on

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It’s been two months. Our South African holiday is coming to an end. It has been a very special time for the kids and I, perhaps a little less so for my dear husband who held the fort in the desert for most of that time. While time flew by for us, I can only imagine how it must have dragged for him.

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He will never really understand how thankful I am to him for this time at home. We went on road trips, remember Moolmanshoek and Kiara Lodge? I got to catch up with life-long friends and make new special memories with family. We started building our home here and were there on the day they broke ground. I got to fetch my nephews from school, we went for all our necessary health tests that were long over due, (YAY, I was cleared of lymphoma). I got to be present when my brother launched his very own high-end security company. What a Blessing….all of it!

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The hardest part of living an expat life is living away from family, my husband and I are both very close to our families and they add such richness and quality to life.

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Two days ago I was there to pay my love and respect to my dearest grandfather who passed away in his bed at home at the ripe old age of almost 89. He was the head of our clan! The patriarch! Strong, wise, funny, a family man, confidant, and kind. These are the qualities I will hold onto when I think of him. A good man who is finally at peace.

We have packed up our big cargo box full of family favorites that you can only get in SA and it should arrive in Kuwait the same day as us. And this weekend will be a weekend of warm wishes and fond farewells.

It’s bittersweet going home. We are looking forward to seeing our international friends again, to getting back to having our own space again, and above all else seeing our beloved little dog again.

This was literally me yesterday trying to go to the toilet by myself:

YES – I NEED MY SPACE!

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While my head is getting back in the game and preparing for our long journey home, I’m also trying to silence the heart that has started missing my South African home, family, and friends. I’m so thankful once again for our families who have welcomed us into their homes for weeks at a time, it’s not easy adding 5 extra human beings into any given household, yet you did so graciously.

I have many more stories out of Africa to share with you all and I can’t wait. But for now, I need to get back to packing. We are at the end of our laundry, the kids have zero matching socks and I’m pretty sure they’ve grown a dress size in the last two months as well. We are all looking a little wrinkly and mismatched, but we are happy and content and full of love and life.

As the Northern hemisphere welcomes fall, I come to you from Sunny SA and wish you all:

Happy Spring Day.

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xoxo

la

Fall {Event} Planning

If you caught my post a couple weeks ago about my love of Fall and planning, it will come as no surprise that I have a knack for booking my friends and families weekends up with fun, Fall specific outings. Our friends back home in Virginia tell me they miss having me around to schedule get-togethers, especially our annual Fall ones. In the spirit of being intentional and spending quality time with your people, here is my Fall Outings Bucket List. Special bonus for those of you in Virginia: I added our favorite spots for you to check out. 

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Apple Picking  – A fun, and healthy, outing for all ages.

Virginia Recommendation: Stribling Apple Orchard – family owned and operated, it hosts a great orchard to pick your own and a shop to purchase all the yummy apple things and more. I’m particularly loyal to them because I also went to high school with a couple of Striblings, and they are some of the nicest and kindest people.

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Pumpkin Patch – This Fall tradition is one of my particular favorites. A day spent on the farm where you can find the perfect pumpkin for carving into a Jack o’ Latern.

Virginia Recommendation: my favorite is Belvedere Plantation. They have a hay barn with swings, a corn maze, and games, in addition to a tractor ride to the pumpkin patch. Cox Farms is a staple in NoVa, and Great Country Farms also has fun slides and rides, too.

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Camping & Hiking If you’re outdoorsy, this is the perfect time to be in the wild, with cooler weather and gorgeous scenery.

Virginia Recommendation: Shenandoah National Park and beach camping at Chincoteague National Park.

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Wine Tasting Wherever you are, this a great annual tradition to start in any season. We just happen to do it while the leaves were turning. Also, for a fun, cool, cozy evening, I recommend you try mulled wine.

Virginia Recommendation: Did you know Loudon Wine Country is booming!

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Brew Tasting Again, any season is a great opportunity to start a tradition of brew tasting with friends! I encourage you to enjoy all the seasonal brews, especially all Pumpkin and Oktoberfest ales! The hubby is already planning for our annual pumpkin homebrew and I can’t wait!

Virginia Recommendation: check out my post on VA craft brews.

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Fall Shindigs Local festivals, parties, and Oktoberfests are great ways to get involved in your community and enjoy the season. Of course, you can always throw your own themed celebration – with or without the kiddos. {Cookies by Festoon Baking Company}

Israel doesn’t really celebrate Halloween or Fall, however we will definitely be crossing a few of these items off our list this year.  I will report back for all you interested in doing Fall right in Israel. That’s one of the best things about being expat; we get to share our traditions with others as we learn about theirs. On that note stay tuned for a post recapping the Israeli Fall holidays and traditions later in October.

Hope this list helps you be intentional with your Fall weekends. If you do try any of these outings or recommendations, let us know what you think.

Happy Fallin’ –

kdg

Vintage Rose

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This past weekend we had the joy of spending an afternoon celebrating a special little girl at this gorgeous venue, Vintage Rose.

What a beautiful venue! In the heart of Pretoria, South Africa, the older homes boast larger grounds and vintage architecture. This old Pretoria home has been converted into a venue which hosts receptions for weddings, birthdays and pretty much anything your heart may want to celebrate. It has beautiful large trees and plenty of grass for high energy children. This child friendly, charming place has an incredible eye for detail. Anyone who knows me knows I have a vintage heart and this heart was not disappointed.

I was in my element. So many pretty things for my eyes to feast on. A self catering venue allows themselves the opportunity to focus on design and detail while the client focuses on food and family. A beautiful afternoon was had by all and love became the true hero of the day. Love for this special child, love for each other, and for me, love for good design.

So if you are in the Pretoria, Centurion Johannesburg areas and you are looking for a beautiful venue full with love and details. I highly recommend this little treasure. After all, art really is in the detail.

Shout out goes to my assistant photographers, Jarod, Dylan and Mia.

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Much love from this vintage girl,

la

 

 

Happy Women’s Day from South Africa.

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On the August 9th, 1956, over 20,000 women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, to protest the ‘Pass Laws‘ during the Apartheid era. The women stood there in absolute silence for 30 minutes and then started singing the protest song, Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo! (Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.)

An adaptation of this phrase…

“You strike a woman, you strike a rock”

…has since come to represent a South African woman’s strength and courage.

National Women’s day has been celebrated every year on August 9th, since 2004.

It was then even more special that I had the privilege of photographing Deolandre: a strong, confidant young lady, on the eve of National Women’s Day as she prepared for her Matric Farewell.

(For our international readers, a Matric Farewell is South Africa’s version of an American Senior Prom.)

It marks the end of her high school career, the ceremonial coming age, the growth of an independent woman, the flourishing of hopes and dreams, the world in the palm of her hands. In South Africa it is a gift longed for by many, yet awarded to only a few. The moment I was tasked with, to freeze in frames for a lifetime. A blessing and a privilege indeed.

Camera: Nikon D4S

Lens: 50mm

Location: Clients home, Centurion

Time: 3 – 4:45pm

Lighting Conditions: A few indoor photos with good natural light, althogh most of the photos were taken outdoors with good natural light but before sunset. No flash.

Kids in tow, but I’m super thankful for the client’s little brother who did a superb job of keeping my 3 minions entertained and out of harms way.

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It’s a delight for me to be able to share a few of these photos with you. To celebrate this strong, confident woman and shine a light on many like her who are going through life changing moments. As women we need to lift each other up. We need to be each other’s biggest fans. We need to appreciate our differences, while at the same time enjoying our similarities.

This is one of the greatest parts of the friendship I share with Katie. She is always the first one to offer advice, guidance, and a prayer. She encouraged me even though we were in the same industry, she never once saw a competitor, she saw a friend and ultimately – a partner.

So, if you have a woman on your heart who has played a significant role in shaping the person you are today. Give them a call, give them your words, give them your love. It goes a long way.

Happy Women’s Day, wherever you are.

la