Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Great Christmas Surprise!

You know the song, "I'll be home for Christmas"? Pretty song, but it's never had much meaning to me. This year, however, it's never meant more.

It all started a few weeks ago…

(Ok, so I have to be honest: I tried so hard to make a poem based on "T'was the Night Before Christmas", to relay this great, Christmas surprise. But alas, I don't think poetry is one of my gifts. Ok, I don't think, I know. So I'll just stick to non-rhyming words.)

I kind of always miss my family. The feelings of distance and missing out on things never really goes away; it either wains or gets stronger depending on holidays, events, etc.

So, a few weeks before Christmas, the feelings of missing home were in full swing. But I let myself cry them out a little bit and then try to move on, like always. But my ever so sweet husband was extremely intuitive and made the most wonderful suggestion.

"What if you go home for a few days over the holidays?"

The idea was nice but totally not plausible, I thought.

"Let's just look at ticket prices."

So, we did. At first, they were shocking. I mean, an arm and a leg and 10-years of servitude shocking. But we tried a travel agent to see if she could find anything better, and lo and behold, she did! God bless her. I was still on the fence about it for various reasons, but next thing I knew, hubby had booked the ticket! This whole thing - the discussion of getting ticket and then actually booking one - happened in a matter of two days. Since no one knew that any of this happened, we thought, "What if we can keep it a surprise from my family and I just rock up on Christmas Day?!"

And that is what I have done!

It's the evening of Christmas Day and I am at home in Florida with my family! :) We actually ended up telling my dad but kept it a secret from my mom, my brother, and some family friends from SA who are actually here as well. To say they were beyond surprised is an understatement. This is definitely the happiest and most exciting Christmas I think I've ever had. Although I would totally have given my other arm, leg, and another 10 years of servitude for hubby to be here also, I am inexpressibly grateful for this gift of extra time with my family. I am so aware that I am far beyond blessed to have such a sacrificial, generous, and thoughtful husband! (Thank you, lovie!! :) And, I think it is another step of gumption for me. My husband is full of it, but once again, it rubbed off on me and I flew through Christmas Eve and Christmas Day all the way home! It things like this that make life memorable and invigorating.

I hope your Christmas Day has been filled with family, hope, and joy; wherever you are in the world. :)

Merry Christmas,

PS - I have to add another point for gumption! I flew with Virgin Atlantic and when I boarded the plane on Christmas Eve, everyone was given the option to sing a Christmas song in front of everyone and possibly win a free upgrade to first class. So I mustered as much courage as I could fine, sang my best version of Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas is You" and enjoyed 10 hours on a full size twin bed with a duvet in first class! Merry Christmas. :)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays! Wherever you find yourself this holiday season, here's to your days being filled with hope, joy, and contentment and a new year filled with excitement and growth! 

Lots of love from South Africa,
G&E and Rolo

Monday, December 16, 2013

True Tales of Gumption - Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Madiba of South Africa

Yesterday, the late president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was laid to rest. I thought it only fitting to feature him as this week's true tale of gumption.

There is so much that I could try to say; so much that has already been said, about this incredible man who is one of the truest examples of gumption in history. Living in South Africa for three years makes his passing far more meaningful and emotional for me, than it probably ever would have been otherwise. He is an inspiring man who I still need to learn so much more about and from.

Rather than try to write something profound, I want to share a few things that, to me, display Mandela's triumphant gumption and that inspire me to live a courageous life. The below clip is from 1999. The artist is Johnny Clegg, who I have seen in concert a couple of times - which is a true South African experience. I love this video. I feel like I know Mandela a little more after watching it - his spirit, his joy, his contentment. I hope you enjoy it and feel that too.

Almost a week ago, on Tuesday, 10 December, the entire country of South Africa held a memorial service for Madiba. (Madiba means "father"; Mandela is the father of South Africa.) There was one main location, FNB Stadium in Soweto, which I am sure you either watched or saw clips or pictures from. Almost 100 dignitaries came from all over the world to honor Madiba. But many other stadiums around the country, from Johannesburg to Cape Town to Durban, participated as well by watching the memorial being held in Soweto and having there own tributes with song, dance, and words of remembrance.

On that day, my husband and I went to the Nelson Mandela Square which is just a few minutes from where we live. We had planned to watch the memorial there but the rain was relentless that day, so we watched some from home. The weather was extremely unusual for this time of year, but as the rain only got heavier and heavier as the day went on, it seemed quite appropriate as the whole nation mourned.

Have you read Mandela's book, Long Walk to Freedom? Or seen the new film, "Mandela", based on A Long Walk to Freedom? I have to confess: I have never finished Long Walk to Freedom. I feel a bit embarrassed now that I haven't, but more motivated to, after learning so much more about this incredible man in the past couple weeks. Husband and I went and saw the film yesterday - go see it. It is moving, inspiring, and challenging. I always knew Mandela advocated a peaceful and equal end to apartheid, but I had no idea how much that went against what so many people - especially black South Africans - wanted. Madiba is truly one of the greatest examples of gumption in my life.

And one last bit of wisdom from Madiba that sums up what I hope you often find, gumption and a full life, by coming back here to read:


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

On our first anniversary

One year ago, on the seventh of December, that guy and I said, “I do”. We got all dressed up, signed some papers, took lots of pictures, danced, ate cake, and started a new life – our life. It was magical, it was a little scary, it was so exciting, and so fun. I actually say all the time that I wish we could do it all over again! Even after all the planning and preparation, it really was one of the most fun days ever. 

This past weekend, we went away to celebrate one year of being married. I still can't decide if it feels like we've been married for a year or if it feels like we just got married a few weeks ago. Either way, we have had a full and rich year, and I have never felt more content with my/our life and filled with hope and anticipation for the future. My husband is the best. I seriously don't know how I got so lucky. He has his flaws, like everyone (including myself), but he has been the leader this year in our little family of being selfless and forgiving. He truly sees and clings to what is good. He makes everything so fun! He loves God passionately and then loves me - so much. I love him so much more than I did a year ago and can't even imagine how our life will be filled with more love and joy, as it will over the next 10, 20, 50 years. 

After one year, I think I can say that I'm starting to find my feet in marriage. This first year married has been so happy, exciting, filled with so many firsts...really, a great, big adventure. We've done so many things in our first year: lots of movie nights (we really love movies), road trips, hikes, never-ending UNO games, intense air-hockey battles, afternoon walks holding hands, cross-continent flights, two [of our own] wedding receptions, concerts, musicals, picnics, random nights away (thanks to winning two radio contests!), dinners at home, dinners out, dinner with friends, walks with our son (Rolo - the basset hound...I really need to feature him more here), impromptu dance parties at home, hide-and-seek with Rolo in our little home, watching thunderstorms, snuggling on the couch while watching The Middle, Saturday morning strolls through local markets, holiday parties in our home, home made pizza nights, etc., etc., and etc. We also have had our share of bumps, miscommunications, and disagreements (often the latter two result in the first one). We have had to learn to calmly and fairly resolve conflict. We have had to learn to truly forgive and let go. When I think of themes to describe our year, I think of: deep love, grace, forgiveness, fun (having fun, as well as, making things light), holding onto the good, and learning. 

Marriage is not for the faint of heart. It is wonderful and amazing and magical, but it is also challenging and pushes you to grow in your character. I made a discovery in this first year about my thinking/beliefs (and I have a feeling I'm not the only one), that I think is the reason why marriage can seem startling. We are fed a lie our entire lives about what marriage should be: a fairytale, a super fun sleepover with your best friend every single day, full of red roses and romance, long walks on the beach holding hands, and dying together, old, in each others' arms. We are told that if the two of you are really meant for each other, everything will align and you will agree on everything and like the same things and travel the world together in complete and utter bliss. He will know what you are thinking and what you want without you saying anything. I think I also even fell into a bit of a romanticized version of conflict. You know in the movies...let's take The Notebook (which I love!), for example...the scene where Noah and Allie finally meet each other again, all grown up and with lots of life experience behind them? The tension has been building between the two of them and Noah takes Allie out on a romantic canoe ride. As they arrive back at the dock and the rain is pouring down on them, Allie finally yells out, "Why didn't you write me?!" She waited to hear from him for many years after their breakup (but her mom had been secretly kidnapping and hiding every letter) and was now angry that she was engaged to someone else as she realizes she still has feelings for Noah. (Don't worry, nothing even remotely similar to this has happened to us. ;) They yell at each other, chase each other down the dock in the pouring rain, and then passionately kiss and all is well again. I think this all occurs within approximately five minutes. 


Now, before you think I'm a total cynic and Debbie-downer, I promise: I'm not. Marriage, to the right person (or if you work hard at), is all of those wonderful things and far more, often times. In all honesty, I have had more moments in this one year of my life than any other, where I wondered how it was possible to feel so happy and loved and in love, and that it could keep growing. But growing individually and as a couple can be challenging. Conflict is not romantic. It's not pretty, it's not fun, it hurts. Making changes in yourself (especially for someone else) is hard and often involves fighting every selfish fiber in your body that is pulling you the other direction. And when some of these things started to happen after the day we said, "I do", I panicked. I wondered what was wrong with me, or us. This is why you need great friends in your life, even after finding "the one".

There was not and is not anything wrong with us. We are completely normal. We did make the right decision - every day that we don't have a conflict (which is actually like 90% of the time) affirms this for me. I am so grateful for family and friends who reminded us (ok, well, more me) and almost taught me for the first time, that: every couple has conflict. It's getting better and faster at resolving it that makes your relationship better. As I have learned to understand that and embrace it, it has made every day (including the few days that irk me a bit more than others), far more wonderful. We are doing great. We have grown so much this first year, individually and as the Fultons; I am so eager to see what we will be, 50 years down the road. 

So, as we embark on the second year of our marriage, I suppose the lesson I've learned, that I hope can encourage you (whatever stage of relationship you are in - including not being in one) is that: you are normal. There is no recipe for success or a "happy" life; you make that for yourself. Conflict and challenges are normal. As the late Nelson Mandela said, "After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb." (More on Mandela to come.) Welcome the hills, embrace them, and learn from them. Life is far brighter when you do. 


One year getaway. :)


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Christmas cheer!

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend! Despite the fact that South Africa does not celebrate Thanksgiving, I was able to participate in turkey-laden festivities for three, blessed reasons:

1)      My husband appreciates and goes along with all my holiday activities (I’m a lucky girl),
2)      I have friends here – both American and South African – who wanted to create a full-fledged Thanksgiving meal,
3)      And I work at an American institution, so I got the whole Thanksgiving weekend off! Hooray!

Now that Thanksgiving is over, the Christmas season has officially begun! I have always been one of those “no-Christmas-music-before-Thanksgiving” people…although the longer I live abroad, the earlier and earlier that rule bends. But especially with living in a country that is in summer during Christmas, I try to work extra hard to make the season feel festive.

Christmas music (as previously mentioned) is a must. 

Especially George Winston and Frank Sinatra (among many others).

And embarrassingly, the Chipmunks are also a must. As a kid, my mom and I would bake and dance around the house to this album (can I even call it that?), so it's just kind of stuck with me. 

Snickerdoodles. And they must have red and green sprinkles. Must. (Sorry the picture isn't great...I made these for Thanksgiving and only took a picture on my phone to send to my mom. Please ignore the plastic wrap.)

Christmas movies. Where do I even begin?

I’m trying to do more crafty things this holiday season, a) because it’s cute and b) it saves money. I’ve already started putting this garland together (above) and it’s so fun!

Also necessary: Snuggling with family on the couch, reflecting on the year passing, praying for the year to come. 

What makes it feel like the holiday season for you? And if the holiday season is not a particularly festive time for you, or you are far away from family, how do you cope? I'd really love to hear.

Hoping you are filled with lots of joy and love,