Some tips for Insomnia

Hello Computer,

I generally don’t struggle with sleep. However, every once in a while I struggle with insomnia. It is a special kind of torture to not be able to sleep when your husband and child are sleeping peacefully on either side of you.

image credit: Tambako The Jaguar  via Flickr

image credit: Tambako The Jaguar
via Flickr

As such I have learned a few tricks which help me when insomnia strikes. None of them are guaranteed but since they contain no artificial additives I don’t feel bad about trying them.

Probably the most effective trick that I have discovered is the 4-7-8 breathing technique. At it’s simplest you breathe in slowly through your nose for a slow count of 4, hold your breath for a slow count of 7 and breathe out slowly through your nose for a count of 8. I cannot remember it taking more than four cycles of this breathing technique to fall asleep.

The next most important thing that I have learned is that screens and sleep do not mix. It comes down the frequency of the light in the screens.

Surprisingly caffeine does not seem to have a huge impact for me…but then I am a tea drinker.  Sometimes if my thoughts are racing it helps to just get out of bed and dump as many thoughts as possible on paper… I try to avoid using a screen for this because screens and sleep do not mix.

I have also noticed that I cannot game before trying to sleep. The games are just too stimulating. When I go through patches of insomnia it seems having a bit of a wind down routine helps, and sometimes getting out of bed and repeating the routine can work.

Love and sleeplessness,

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The Great Email Purge of 2015

Hello Computer :-)

"I do the work for free. I get paid to deal with all the emails."

image credit: Hugh MacCleod shared under Creative Commons License

I decided that I get too much e-mail and most of it is from mailing lists. Some of the mails are useful but not useful enough to justify my time, others are from mailing lists that I signed up to but that are no longer relevant to me.

So the other day I decided I was going to radically cut back on the email that I received. I decided that I was going to keep 6 subscriptions and everything else was going to go. It was not a trivial task, in my combined in-boxes I had over 5,000 emails across 3 different accounts.

I started with a list of who I was going to stay subscribed to (presented in no particular order):

  • John Carlton
  • Dan Raine
  • Lynn Terry
  • Jeff Walker
  • Gapingvoid
  • Appsumo

I wrote these names on a little piece of paper…I also said that I was going to consolidate those emails into a single account, rather than being signed up across multiple accounts. The biggest inbox contributor in my one account was Facebook notifications. I have now turned off notifications.  (I will probably do a friend purge in the not too distant future as well). This turned out to be a blessing because I use gmail as an email client and was able to use the search and filter functionality to clean out the mails. (HINT: search using * to select all of the mails in one go).

I was pleasantly surprised by how little SPAM has made its way into my inbox… I would say that less than five percent of the mails that I received were not opted into at some stage or another.
In addition to opting out of most newsletters I have created filters to make sure that I only get mails worthy of my time in my inbox…which also means that I am more likely to check the email since I have been known to get overwhelmed and just archive every single message in my inbox without reading it without even declaring email bankruptcy.

I was pleased to see how many South African companies are providing to opt out of mailing lists although there are some people who are still just using “send to all” in their email client…and not even BCCing the emails. Some people need to get into the 21st century. Those emails are simply now being filtered straight into the trash.

This was a challenging exercise and it was partly inspired by Lynn Terry’s rule of Create as much content as you consume. It forced me to truly look at my priorities and there were some people who definitely create worthwhile content who I have broken away from, including Ed Dale.

I am looking forward to seeing how this email strategy pans out.

Love and less mail,

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The power of shitty first drafts

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” – Anne Lamott: Bird by Bird

I first came across the concept of the Shitty First Draft on Copyblogger years ago. But it is something that I have battled with. Ed Dale helped me get over it, when he introduced me to the concept of free writing.  I am not exaggerating when I say that this thirteen and a half minute video has changed my life and I seriously recommend that you watch it.

The essence of a shitty first draft is that it is okay to suck. It is okay not to be perfect. And

The word perfect.

image credit: Bruce Berrien via Flickr

that is what gives permission to start. Without starting it will never become worth while. Some people argue against the Shitty First Draft, likening it to a builder rocking up on site and just willy-nilly throwing a house together, but for me it is more akin to sketching the ideas for the architect on the back of a napkin.

Before yesterday I had never created an online portfolio…not because I am not confident in my work but because I have been afraid. Yesterday when I began I was literally frozen in fear, until I typed the words:

This is a shitty first draft of a portfolio…it doesn’t matter if it sucks because no one is going to see it in this form anyway and so I am just going to start.

Having those words sit at the top of the page allowed me to acknowledge my fear but move any way. Fear is a very human emotion and I think it is something that we learn…to avoid mistakes, and from there it is easy to convince ourselves to stay small to avoid risks to not show up.

The power of a shitty first draft is that it allows me to show up. It may not be perfect but it is something and something that can be improved upon.

Love and shitty first drafts,

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“No” is not a dirty word

Hello computer,

No painted on a road

image credit: Henry Burrows via Flickr

I have a confession to make. Once upon a time I was an unthinking “yes” girl. It did not matter what the personal cost of saying yes was. It was an unthinking reflex…if someone asked for something and I could do it, I would say “yes” regardless. And I would demure on tangible offers for help. I would battle to say “no” to any thing.

The first person who unwittingly changed that for me was a high-school friend’s mom, when one night I mentioned that I battle to say no to something as trivial as turning down an offer for a sorbet, she said: “There is always ‘no, thank you’ “. I am truly grateful to her for making that comment because it kindled a tiny ember in my soul, and as time has marched on I have become better at setting boundaries and moving away from co-dependent enabling.

The next biggest teaching about saying no in my life came from none other than John Carlton. He is a world-class copywriter who pulls no punches with the advice that he offers. In 2011 during our Costa Rican sojourn, I discovered his blog. And one day he challenged his readers to answer the question:
What is this magic word that can work such wonders for your productivity?

And while I was curious and in the comfort of our cabin I thought about the answer, I did not have the courage to answer in public.  But I did pay attention to John’s post the next week where he revealed:

So, the answer to the quiz is about the foundation of your attitude, when it’s time to BE productive.

The Magic Word is…


Learning to use this word the right way is how youset yourself up for success.  This word will allow you to finally use all the other words — focus, motivation, discipline, work, gallons of coffee — to dig into your goal-oriented projects…

protected from all the evil crap out there that yearns to destroy your productivity.

Why “no”?

Because few people recognize the power of the word, or the best way to use it.  Humans tend to be either spineless about it, or raving sociopaths.

We’ll discuss the sicko’s at some other point (and you DO need to be aware of them, and know how to deal with them, if you’re gonna be successful in biz).

Right now, however, I’m concerned with entrepreneurs and business owners who have a dysfunctional relationship with the word “no”.

Here’s the thing with “no”:  You do not have to be an asshole to use it.

In fact, especially in business (and affairs of the heart), you are an asshole if you DON’T use it.

And this blew on the embers of the fire that was started nearly ten years before, but I still battled. Finally, after a couple of years of therapy I have started getting better at saying no.

Along the way I have realised that yes, no, “I don’t know”, and “I will think about it” are all equally acceptable answers to questions. And you can say no without offering an explanation or offense, and having boundaries is a very healthy thing.

Love and saying no,

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What makes a good friend?

Hello computer,

image credit: Raj via Flickr

image credit: Raj via Flickr

I had a spur of the moment visit from a friend earlier today. (I love it when things just happen and come together and feed the soul).

And at some point we started talking about what makes a good friend. And for me I think the answer is that I know you are a good friend when I can be vulnerable around you…when I can admit that I don’t know all the answers and I might even be struggling with the question. When I can be my imperfect self around you.

For me you are a good friend if I will phone you in the middle of the night when I am in trouble.

You are a good friend when we can say to each other, “I am upset about … but I forgive you”.

For me the biggest sign that someone is a good friend is that you feel refreshed and energised after spending time with them.

Life is short and relationships take work, but in the case of a good friendship, in my experience, the work feels effortless.

Love and friendships,

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Why I love and recommend WordPress

Hello Computer :),

As I said yesterday I came into web design via the backdoor. When we left for Costa Rica I started a little blog on this domain. (I deleted it before we came back which is something that I regret but it is not something that I can change).

A closeup of a WordPress button pinned to a jacket.

image credit: Titanas via Flickr

My first website was WordPress and I have been a huge fan from my first site. I am not alone in loving WordPress, according to W3techs over a quarter of the world’s internet is powered by WordPress.

The main thing that I love about WordPress is that it is so easy to use. I am comfortable setting up a WordPress site for a family member or friend and letting them go explore, telling them that the chances are that they will not be able to break something that I cannot fix. (I have not been wrong YET!)

I love how easy it is to customize and the huge amount of resources available. WordPress websites are beautiful and have some truly significant users. (CNN runs on WordPress, so does Forbes).  There are over two thousand themes available through WordPress and over 40,000 plugins.

WordPress sites are also well coded. You will never find a WordPress site nested inside a table (unlike some other sites, including ones offering web design in South Africa). In a 2012 Official Google Webmaster blog post about the importance of using semantic markup, clarifying that doing so means using markup according to its meaning and purpose. In 2015 there really is no excuse to be using a table for layout..HTML for structure, CSS for presentation. (Here ends my little rant).

The fact that WordPress sites are well coded means that they are search engine friendly, and plugins like Yoast SEO make them even more so. (Search Engine Optimisation is not evil when it is done right, at its essence it is about connecting people with what they are interested in).

I love the WordPress community. The people who are involved in making WordPress are generally friendly and helpful and kind. They are so friendly in fact that after my first WordPress Joburg meetup I have volunteered to talk at the next one (eeek!).

Because WordPress has such a large community, it is a secure and robust platform. When vulnerabilities are discovered they are quickly fixed and deployed.

WordPress as a platform is free…which means that there are not exorbitant licensing fees that act as a barrier to entry. If you put in the time and effort you can have a beautiful site that you create yourself, if you don’t want to there are plenty of people who you can pay to help you out with the site.

WordPress is a wonderful platform because it has embraced the philosophy of an open web…it is easy to use and has a fantastic community. These days if you are getting started on the web there really is not a better place to start.

Love and motivations,

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From LLB to web designer

Hello computer,

People are always surprised when they hear that I moved away from law and into web design. Personally, I didn’t find it to be such a shift.

Two chocolate labradors sitting in front of a fence with a view of Ciudad Colon in the background.

Echo and Fudge in Costa Rica

I suppose I should back up a bit. Once upon a time I enrolled at the Rand Afrikaans University for a B Com Law degree and then an LLB when it became the University of Johannesburg. I spent a year working in the commercial property sector auditing leases of large companies and researching things related to that before I started my articles with a small litigation firm. In June of that year my husband got an offer to move to Costa Rica with his company for a while. We basically said “If not, why not” and 4 months later packed up our lives into what could fit into 4 suitcases and shipped our labradors over. (The vet basically told us that there would be kinder ways to kill our particular cat then flying him across with us).

Costa Rican National FlagNow, I could not legally work in Costa Rica and so to keep out of mischief I started learning about web design. I found some striking similarities between the law and design. At the essence of both is solving problems. And before you can solve the problem you need to identify what it is. Once you have solved the problem there are a number of principles that can be applied in implementing the solution.

Both fields are structured but creative. In the preface to Amler’s Precedents of Pleadings there is a caution about using a precedent in litigation likening it to using a precedent for a love letter…that while it may work you need to be very mindful of the particular circumstances. The same is true for design work.

In design, like the law, there are best practices. (I am horrified when I view the source of websites and see that the entire site is nested in a table! A large number of South African sites are sadly guilty of this).

Another legal textbook, Morris: Techniques in Litigation, argues that in preparing for a case a lawyer needs to learn about their client’s business I have found the same to be true with design…you need to understand where everything fits together. Probably the biggest advantage of having a B Com LLB and being a self-taught designer is that I am able to see the big picture incredibly well.

And so, while at the moment more of the time is spent momming then creating websites this is starting to shift towards more design work and I am thrilled about that.

Love and autobiographical details,

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A guide to section 51 of the Promotion of Access to Information Act

A photo of steel brushed letters spelling out "The Law"

image credit: via Flickr

Hello computer,

I am a member of a work at home mom’s group on Facebook and someone asked about the requirement for a Promotion of Access to Information manual, so I did some quick reading to answer the question (since once upon a time in another life I was a lawyer and am now slowly building up a business).

So the first question that needs to be answered is who needs to create a PAIA manual. The answer appears to be everyone who has any kind of a business no matter how small. Section 51 of the Act stipulates that a private body must create a PAIA manual, which means that we need to look at who is a private body.

The Act defines a private body as:

(a) a natural person who carries or has carried on any trade, business or profession, but only in such capacity;
(b) a partnership which carries on or has carried on any trade, business or profession; or
(c) any former or existing juristic person but excludes a public body;

I am going to ignore public bodies for the purpose of this blog post.  So what this section in essence says if you do anything for money (no matter how small and insignificant you are) you need to create a manual.

The contents of the manual are regulated by section 51 of the Act which says that:

(1) Within six months after the commencement of this section or the coming into existence of the private body concerned the head of a private body must compile a manual containing-
(a) the postal and street address, phone and fax number and, if available, electronic mail address of the head of the body;
(b) a description of the guide referred to in section 10, if available, and how to obtain access to it;
(c) the latest notice in terms of section 52 (2), if any, regarding the categories of record of the body which are available without a person having to request access in terms of this Act;
(d) a description of the records of the body which are available in accordance with any other legislation;
(e) sufficient detail to facilitate a request for access to a record of the body, a description of the subjects on which the body holds records and the categories of records held on each subject; and
(f) such other information as may be prescribed.
(2) The head of a private body must on a regular basis update the manual referred to in subsection (1).
(3) Each manual must be made available as prescribed.
(4) For security, administrative or financial reasons, the Minister may, on request or of his or her own accord. by notice in the Gazette, exempt any private body or category of private bodies from any provision of this section for such period as the Minister thinks fit.

The head of a private body is defined as:

(a) in the case of a natural person, that natural person or any person duly authorised by that natural person;
(b) in the case of a partnership, any partner of the partnership or any person duly authorised by the partnership;
(c) in the case of a juristic person-
(i) the chief executive officer or equivalent officer of the juristic person or any, person duly authorised by that officer; or
(ii) the person who is acting as such or any person duly authorised by such acting person;

So in simple terms the head of a private body is the boss…whether you are a corporation or a little one man show.

The prescribed manner for making the manual available is by:
(1) submitting a copy of the manual to the PAIA unit of the Human Rights Commission and
(2) publishing the manual on the private body’s website.

The a copy of the manual can be submitted via email to but a hard copy must be sent to the commission as well.  The postal address is:

PAIA unit
South African Human Rights Commission
Private Bag X2700

An exemption was extended to the majority of private bodies until 31 December 2015. At present it does not appear that another exemption is going to be granted.

The approach that I am following is creating my manual from the template provided by the South African Human Rights Commission, submit it and forget about it unless I get any requests for information.


In terms of PAIA every private body must compile an information manual. This manual must be submitted to the PAIA unit of the Human Rights Commission and published on the private body’s website (if they have one).


This information is provided as a guideline only and does not constitute legal advice…if you need legal advice get an attorney.

For more information consult the South African Human Rights Commissions guidelines on Compliance with Section 51.

Love and boring legal bits,

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How you give birth doesn’t matter: Loving your child does.

Mother cat and her kitten.

image credit: Marina del Castell

Hello computer,

My view on birthing choices is that parents need to make informed decisions and be able to trust their birthing professionals to honour those choices as far as it is safe to do so. I had planned on a natural birth at Genesis clinic, my midwife has a very low caesar rate, and to this day seems to be more distressed about having made the call than I am. (She does not however doubt that it was the right one…when we were discussing it at a later stage she says that in all of the caesars that she has called she has only ever doubted the call once).

Ordinarily I stay away from the natural versus caeserean birth debates, but the other day someone on Facebook posted a link to a “article” (which in my view seemed to largely be a copy-paste of a press release) with the statement:

The kind of birth experience you have GREATLY affects your confidence as a new mother and may have long-term consequences for your children, the choices you make for them with respect to feeding, schooling and more. A physiological birth sets a woman up to be an EMPOWERED mother. Sorry gals, but a Caesar robs you and your baby of so much and should only be considered when a life is at risk.

My immediate posted response was: I think that the parents need to be comfortable with whatever decision and that it should not be based on what the doctor finds convenient. Having said that I had an unplanned caesar at around 1 o clock in the morning because baby was showing signs of going into distress. Empowering can mean choosing to caesar as well.

The original poster (we’ll call her X) caught some flak from people, including myself. X’s husband later responded to some of the comments saying that:

I think that X is being misunderstood here. Giving birth naturally is an empowering experience in itself. If you CHOOSE a Caesar you are robbing yourself of that empowering experience that comes with giving birth naturally. I am sure as those of you that have gone through Caesar will agree that it is not a great experience and I am sure that you will agree it didn’t leave you feeling great after. Is it possible if you think about it that this could have effected you mothering to a small degree for a short period after, some more than others as we don’t all experience thing the same? (sic)

I generally don’t move things from one forum from another, but I need to get this out of my system. I believe that we need to have better information around birthing choices, and some doctor’s behaviour borders on the unethical when it comes to how heavily they promote caesars (I know of someone who having previously had an uncomplicated normal vaginal delivery was told that her cervix was too short to be able to give birth naturally and when she went for a second opinion was misdiagnosed with a placenta previa and told that maybe she will be able to carry the baby to the end of the second trimester…she had an uncomplicated natural birth at 38 weeks).

Personally I had a beautiful caesar and I don’t for a moment think that it affected how I mothered Lucas. And I don’t think that any mother needs to hear that they are not empowered to mother their children. Becoming a mother (whether it is through pregnancy and a natural birth or cesarean or adoption) is what empowers you. Loving your children empowers you, not how they came into your world.

We need to stop doubting that how someone becomes a mother makes a difference to what matters: their love and commitment to their children. Every mother does the best that they can. Their best will be influenced by a myriad of factors, including, but not being limited to, the circumstances around giving birth, the circumstances around their pregnancy, their support system.

Hormones do play a role in mothering and bonding but they are not the be all and end all. At the end of the day we need to support mothers…it is a tough enough gig without implying that one way of becoming a mom is superior to another.

And so I conclude with a reminder of three truths about c-section mamas.

Love and birthing-wars,

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Now is the time for compassion, not anger


Two nights ago terrible things happened. Some terrorists took lives in Paris. My heart goes out to every one who is hurting. I have seen people on Facebook say that now is the time to get angry and to blame people…I disagree. Now is the time for us to get compassionate. Compassionate for those who have lost lives and not just in Paris, but also those who have lost lives in Iraq and Pakistan and Syria and Kenya and Lebanon and Burundi  and Japan everywhere else in the world.

This is not an attack by Muslims. This is an attack by terrorists. It is good to see that this distinction is being widely recognized.  It is good that people are recognizing that people are seeing that this is a small minority which is not widely supported by other Muslims (less than 0.3% of the world’s Muslim population make up the combined forces of  Isis and Boko Haram and Al Qaeda).

I read a beautiful post by a dear friend, where she says:

We all just need a little kindness. I know I am being an idealist, but perhaps small things can change the world.

And perhaps, I too am and idealist, but I do believe that we can change the world by acting with compassion and kindness. Outrage and anger are easy. Compassion is difficult. And so our challenge is to make sure that we are kind. Now is the time for us to have the courage to believe that our small actions can make a big difference.

Love and compassion,

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