Monday, 31 August 2009


Here we are, all deloused and ready for tomorrow's big adventure. My firstborn, my only son, my biggest baby is going to primary school. He has his little uniform, his first proper school bag, his new school shoes.

Today, we took Marie to the creche and spent the day doing exactly what he wanted. I thought he would choose the zoo or the cinema, but he didn't. He wanted to cycle to the swimming pool and then go swimming. Which I find very sweet and I'm happy that of all the things he could choose, he would choose two sports.

Of course, when we got to the swimming pool, all the baths were empty with people in the bottom scrubbing them. I then phoned around, and it would appear that the first week of school is when Belgian swimming pools get cleaned. Eventually, I found a wonderful pool which is only being cleaned from tomorrow. We had a great time. We now smell of eau de chlorine.

This whole day is all anticipation, the breath before you jump. Tomorrow, Belgium is back in business after two full months of summer idleness and we're all back to our normal routine. The difference being that my little boy will be all big and grown up. I'm trying to make this quiet time last. I'm savouring every minute of it.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Ha bloody ha

Fuck! I have lice. This whole monkey mama gag has come back to bite me in the scalp.

Monkey mama

This morning I combed Marie's hair. She wanted me to put some carefully selected (by her) hairclips and hairties in. To be honest, this was the first time in about a month I combed her hair. I just never think to do it. She has very fine hair, which doesn't by itself go into knots. Anyway, enough excuses already - I make a lousy girl's mother. Lousy being the operative word there.

I thought she had a bit much dandruff. On closer inspection, she turned out to be completely infested with lice. Yes, people. We are officially dealing with our first ever head louse infestation. I will be spending the next hour or so treating her and then lovingly combing her hair out to eradicate the nits. Lather, rinse, repeat in three days.

I've checked Babes and he's in the clear. Jack's out but also deemed clear by his friend's mother. I am itching like mad, but I think it may be psychological, as Babes can't find any on me. Just to be sure I may comb my own hair out, too, though.

I'm finding it oddly satisfying to catch lice from my own child's head. I think my baboon ancestry is coming into play here. How odd to find that I'm happy and excited that my child has been colonised by a tribe of insects. It's like some right of passage. I'd been waiting for the first lot, and here it is. As a reward, I get to spend some time up close with my daughter grooming her. My inner monkey mama is content.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Randomness again

  • I was upstairs when a friend of my mother's came to bring a present around. Jack opened the door, took the present, said thank you, and closed the door again. Told me about an hour later.
  • Marie was standing next to the computer not wearing a nappy and she just peed on the floor. When I took her to the kitchen to dry her off/clean her up, she peed there, too. (It was her daddy who took her nappy off, it was not some cry of attention from her because I was on the computer too much.)
  • Countess in New Zealand wrote a whole blog post for me! Too exciting!
  • Next time I say "oh, I'm feeling a bit down" please someone anyone go "and have you had any exercise lately, dear?" Kid got better, finally had some spare time, got to gym, hey presto.
  • Got a doctor to take a look at all my creepy body worries. All seems fine. (That really is my sternum.) I do probably have chronic tendinitis in my hip. Had an echo, will probably go for physiotherapy. It's not so bad, but it bothers me when I do my exercise/yoga.
  • Google OWNS me. It owns my blog, my stats, my mail, some of my toolbar, and now my reader. Scary. They'd better not collapse or something.
  • I'm so behind on my blog reading, it's great. It means I've actually been outside living a regular life and seeing people with bodies and faces and voices, and I have a ton of great stuff to read tonight. Will catch up.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Ode to the dress

Here are five of the reasons I love summer:

I was always a jeans and T-shirt person until An showed me the beauty of the dress. You don't have to combine any tops and bottoms, you can choose one to flatter the hell out of your shape, you don't have to deal with the whole builder's crack phenomenon when you sit on a chair/bend to pick up a kid, and it's cheaper because you have to buy fewer pieces. Marie likes to hide underneath. They're always a bit chic. I'm surprising myself by saying this, but I'm a total fan. Also, I hate shorts (I have issues with my knees, but then who doesn't), and now I never have to wear any ever again. I don't even own a pair any more.

Now, as you can see in the picture, I have chosen my style and I'm sticking to it. V-neck, some waist, knee length, Bob's your uncle. I have to admit to being rather helpless in the fashion department. Luckily An was there for the purchase of four of those five dresses. (Thank you, An, my fashion guru.)

I wear them all the time. I hate it when I save my best pieces of clothing "for a special occasion" and then when one happens, I've grown out of the clothes or I don't like them any more. So - supermarket, park, garden, party - all the time. After all, at a party I'm more likely to feel fabulous anyway. It's in the supermarket I need some help with that.
Little digression: I used to always save the best for last in everything. No more. The best, if I so desired, always comes first. Who knows if you will even get to the last thing? I was fed up eating warm horrible stuff and then cold delicious stuff. I'm grabbing life wherever it lets me grab it, and part of that is having what I want and having it now.

Back to the dresses then. I can't honestly say which is my favourite, but the green one is definitely in the top five. The only problem is the deforestation. When you see me in jeans in summer, you can be pretty sure that I'm all fuzzy underneath.


I want to thank you all for the lovely lovely comments yesterday. They made me feel a million times better. This morning, I saw one of the school-gate-mothers, and subtly, yet not so subtly, put it out there that we might be friends. She's one of the seventies lot, but hey I have to work with what is there. I've probably scared her off for ever, but at least I tried.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

This too shall pass

So I'm feeling a bit down. But I still don't think I'm depressed. I'm functioning fine, making the most of the holidays with the kids, making plans, but I'm bored.

I've been obsessing about this blog, and the internet in general. I even (re)joined twitter for twit's sake. Actually, it's very exciting to have a Twitter conversation, so I may not give it up so soon this time. I keep wondering why I'm getting fewer comments yet more readers on my blog. Not interesting enough? Novelty worn off? Not leaving enough comments elsewhere myself? And I realise IT DOESN'T MATTER. I started this thing for me, to get me writing and thinking, and yes, also to interact with others. I wasn't going to write about feeling like this, because I wanted to be only smart and funny and sexy, but that is completely missing the point of why I have this blog in the first place.

I'm thinking of moving to some Christian fundamentalist country like the States, where I wouldn't be the only stay at home mum around. I will go back to work once I'm done with the small-kid-not-in-school business, but for now I'd like to exercise my choice not to. It's just bloody hard with NO places to go to meet other mothers like me, and ALL my friends in full time work. In fact, I don't know a single other mother who stays at home. The rare ones I have seen at the school gates seem to come straight out of some seventies show and they don't talk to me anyway, except about the kids at infinitum.

I can just about smell the neediness on me the last couple of days. I'm not stuck for things to do, people to see (outside of working hours), so it's presumably all in the mind. A mind full of "why doesn't anyone like me" and "why don't they all want to be my best friend in the world?" Which is very productive, and makes me the kind of person people flock to. Oh, yes. Fuck it. I make a good friend, you know. I'm friendly, can be funny, am mostly not hideous-looking. Well, I can be very funny when I'm not this fucking needy. And it's not doing any wonders for my frown-lines either.

You still there? Tell me what you are worried about. And do you want to be friends on Twitter?

So you think you're a rocket scientist

I went to yoga tonight. The teacher didn't turn up. After about ten minutes, one of the students announced she was going to take the class. No one objected. I didn't either, assuming she'd have a good reason to volunteer - like some kind of yoga teaching experience. Apparently not. She put her mat in the middle of the room and started to stretch herself a bit, making it up as she went along, all the while telling us what to do. It was a surreal experience.

Let me just say there is a very big difference between a yoga teacher, and a yoga student doing roughly what she remembers from previous classes and telling you to follow her lead. I left after five minutes, saying I wasn't used to the moves and it was all going too fast for me. Actually I left because it was ridiculous. This woman was like a five year old who decides to play that she's the gym teacher and everyone has to play along. I wonder how much longer they all kept going.

Imagine doing that, next time you're in a class. Surely the reason you are there is because you are not proficient enough to perform the skill you're learning by yourself. We were lucky it was yoga, and not a flying lesson. Or glass blowing. Or neurosurgery.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Random ruminations

Because I'm all thought and no body today.
  • I'm reading C.J. Sansom's Revelation just now. The following quote grabbed me by the metaphorical cojones and would not let me go:
    And if I were to confess, I knew that one of my sins was a long-growing, half-buried doubt whether God existed at all. That was the paradox - the vicious struggle between papists and sacramentaries was driving many away from faith altogether. Christ said, by their fruits shall you know them, and the fruits of the faithful of both sides looked more rotten each year.
    How cool is that? It's exactly the story of when I was eighteen and lapsed straight out of organised religion. I've already subjected three people to an animated reading of that fragment, and now it's your turn.
  • This afternoon, I had one of these moments when I truly got the whole "motherhood is never enough" idea. I was feeling bad about staying in all day, apart from a trip to the supermarket. It was perfectly justified, I realise now, with the temperature outside rather high, and Marie up with a temperature all night due to possible heat stroke.
    All of a sudden, I fully grasped the idea that feeling bad for the past does not help, and all you can do is do better from now on. So we went to the park and had a great time.
  • And since I'm in a literary phase, another quote that struck me last week, this one taken from Pedro Juan GutiĆ©rrez' Dirty Havana Trilogy:
    It seems I'll have to learn to live with these intermittent attacks of melancholy and sadness. It's like living with an old bullet wound that aches whenever the weather's damp. I may have my reasons for grieving. But it shouldn't have to be that way. Life can be a party or a wake. You decide for yourself. Which is why this misery is a blight on my life. And I chase it away. That's what I'm always doing: chasing away the anguish, the grief, and all the rest of it.
    He's writing about far greater anguish than I've ever known, but it still hit home and went around in my head for a couple of days. I'm choosing the party, by the way.
  • And one more for the road:
    At lunch, I realised that the difference between refueling while feeding the kids and treating yourself to a nice lunch is condiments. Mayonnaise made my day.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Got to love my visitors

Know your visitor by their google query. My visitor is a bored, horse penis ogling, poop obsessed naturist, with slightly dominating tendencies.
I'm going to add some comments and links, that way if anyone searches for the same terms in the future, they will hopefully come to this post and be helped better than they would have been in the past.
  • naturism is my most used search term, after the name of my site. Fine by me. Not all that relevant, perhaps?
  • i gotta get outta here is also popular. I can just see these poor people sitting in a cubicle at their desk, thinking about banging their heads off the wall, but instead they google their deepest desire. Welcome, if that's you. Please think about changing jobs. However, don't just quit this second, because there is a recession on, people. Start looking, though.
    Actually, I suppose it could be a desperate housewife, too. Do stick around. I sympathise. Try beer and blogging.
  • Related to the above, we have "i need to get out of the house" in german. Babelfish may have been a better choice than me, but who am I to judge.
  • "see me naked". Fine, but you didn't send me a picture. (Here's hoping this doesn't open up a can of worms.)
  • exhibitionist blog - poor person must be quite disappointed, unless they were meaning it in a figurative or emotional sense.
  • how not to decorate cast - I'm imagining a broken leg, plastered up. Treating this as a "dear Abby", I would say stay away from Nazi themes as well as pornography. Embarrassing when you visit elderly relatives.
  • i had to go number two toilet embarrassed - what am I, a self-help group? I never even wrote about that one time. I feel bad for you, though. Perhaps you want to leave your story in the comments.
  • - glad I could oblige.
  • planning is looking forward - very philosophical, thank you.
  • safe toilet syndrome - very important phenomenon. I can help.
  • what is naturism like - it's fine people, it's mostly just people who don't like clothes. The sex-obsessed ones are nudists. Chill.
  • what is scottish barbecue - this is.
  • you have nuts now translate - depending on where you put the comma(s) in there, I can see some very different uses for that sentence.
  • when you poop on a plain where does it go? Quite.
  • your hot in belgium translation - Thanks!
Can I just say, for the stupider part of the English-speaking community (none of my regular readers, obviously, but perhaps some of my random visitors): there is more than one language apart from English. So if you're looking for a translation, you need to specify the language you would like to translate to. Just saying.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Cancer fish

Here is our cancer fish. I decided to photograph him (her?) after Scary Mommy showed off her troubled fish.

Here's another picture of our unfortunate pet, in which he or she seems to be admiring the kids' art work, while really of course facing the other way entirely - because it's a reflection, people. Cool trick, yes?

As a result of doing this post, I've had to abandon my dream of one day becoming a marine photographer, because fish really do not pose for pictures.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

And I still have to cook...

This is the kind of day beer and children's TV were invented for. Marie kept me up until after four (!) in the morning, being hot and thirsty every twenty minutes or so. Enough for me to just get back to sleep, but not quite all the way. And then I spent most of the day in traffic jams because there were accidents in two tunnels. And I only have one child here just now, so I can't go "keep each other happy please while I go to the toilet", followed by me hiding in the bathroom for ten minutes. And it's still about thirty degrees outside.

So, while I am really against TV as a babysitter and I was going to have no alcohol for a week, I feel entirely justified on both counts.

Oh, and I gave her a packet with two biscuits in it, just barely open, so it would keep her occupied for about ten minutes just getting the biscuits out. I would call it an educational experience if I was called on it, but it also buys me some time.

You have my permission to object to all of the above.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009


I'm having one of those days - I may as well be Superwoman. I
  • did ALL of Jack's back to school shopping, with both kids there, and without the buggy for Marie. I had cunningly left that at home. (My mother was there for a while, too, but not the whole time.)
  • shopped for food.
  • cleaned the kitchen.
  • did two washes. Would you believe the single socks (some of them) were hiding under the white stuff in the bottom of the basket? And my favourite cardigan of Marie's, which I lost about four months ago and she's nearly grown out of.
  • cooked.
  • managed to both kind of slightly crash into another car (all people and cars came out fine) and burn myself with hot oil, without letting it fase me.
Now I'm secretly waiting for the dramatic mood crash. However, it shall not come, because tonight I'm replenishing my batteries in my new yoga class. Hooray!

Monday, 17 August 2009

My ten step plan

So here's my ten step plan, in response to my blip, which I'm still convinced is just a blip. I'm giving it a month. Or a month and a bit, depending. I'm hardly going to evaluate my progress during my next bout of PMT. Obviously.
  1. EXERCISE. I went to the gym yesterday morning and it made the hughest difference. I always forget how much it affects me. I'm sure half my problem is the lack of exercise I get during the holidays. Also, alone time. Duh.
    On the topic of exercise (or not so much - whatever), I seem to have it GOING ON on the first day of my period. There's something about the whole pale, anaemic, just-stopped-being-bloated look. It even counteracts the effects of my bad hair year. Either that or it was my T-shirt.

    Stop that - it's an ironic T-shirt. But I love it. As do some of the weightlifting men, apparently. I wonder if it was the eagle or the truck they were ogling.
  2. Meditate more. I did a lovely hour on Saturday. Worth the time invested times a hundred. Thinking of doing another hour tonight.
  3. See An more. My lovely sister is a bit like air or water to me. Or alcohol, if you like.
  4. See other friends more. No more "but they won't have time," or "they won't want to see me." They tend to say "yes" when I ring them, so I need to just go and enjoy. Also, say yes to more invitations. Especially with Babes back at work as of today.
  5. Take up yoga. I've found a class at the gym. I'm not sure how good it will be, but it comes free with my membership, so it's worth a try at least. I'm a bit worried about my lack of flexibility - physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually as Dr Phil would say. (I'm thinking I need to work on my crappy TV exposure apres-start-of-blog. All my pop culture references are getting old because I hardly watch the idiot box any more.)
  6. More... (furiously bashful blushing.) Yes, Babes, I'm looking at you.
  7. Find out if my stomach ache could be caused by my new-found love of mixed nuts. (More likely culprit being my new-found love of white wine.) If not, keep up the nut munching.
  8. Drink less alcohol and more water. A lot more water. I haven't made a good start today. (With apologies for any mispelings.)
  9. Sleep more, get up earlier. I love having a morning. I always get lots of stuff done when I have a morning. I shall wake the children up. Which also makes for a longer evening.
  10. Get hair coloured. Actually, I did that this morning, but it did me so much good, I thought I would add it. It takes about ten years off me, and about ten kilos off my shoulders as well. I was also told by the colourist to "embrace my curls" rather than work against them. I am sitting here trying to embrace my curls.
Do feel free to add your own points to the plan. I'm happy to make it a fourteen step plan.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Not working

I'm having some issues with my blog. The main one being that my lovingly crafted new posts are not showing up in other people's feeds/lists of things they read. Or not until much later anyway. This is bugging me rather a lot. Because, you know, there was loving and crafting and posting.

Another is that I really need a more appealing layout. Urgently. But I'm all about the words. And not so much about the images.

Any thoughts? Especially about the reason you're all not receiving my posts? My lovingly crafted new posts? (Yeah I see the irony.)

Friday, 14 August 2009

Just a blip

So Babes goes "You're depressed." Not as an answer to any question of mine, not in some deep discussion. Just boom, like that. I forget the exact context because of the shock. Maybe I was discussing how tired I am or something. I didn't think I was depressed. Now I'm wondering if I am.
(Babes says it was an answer to the question "What's the matter with us the last couple of days?")

I'm always quite distant from myself. I can be sick and not know it. I can have a horrible hair day and only notice when I'm brushing my teeth for bed. Can I also be depressed and oblivious about that?

Perhaps I'm on the verge, but I'm sure I'm not there. I think he has maybe confused a little PMT with depression. Why such a little throwaway comment about something like that?

I have been up at all hours - always a bad sign. I have been lacking a certain oomph. But then again maybe I'm just adjusting. May has left. This has left a gaping hole in my life, a best friend size hole. Also, it's the holidays, and I've had NO alone time in more than a month. I'm not counting that one time at the gym, and that other time at the supermarket. And then there's my white elephants, which I can't discuss but which I'm sure we all have. So, you know, maybe I'm just dealing with some stuff.

I'm pretty sure I'm not depressed. Just perhaps not functioning optimally. I shall make a ten step plan.

Thursday, 13 August 2009


I'm always thinking of improving my diet. Thinking being the operative word. As in "While loading her shopping barrow with crisps and double cream, Mwa contemplated making some healthier choices next time she came to the shop."

I now buy "baked" crisps instead of normal ones, because they are advertised as having fewer calories. This is probably a cynical marketing ploy, but it's working on me, so I'm not complaining. Maybe it's a bit like that time I switched to low fat yoghurts because they were advertised as a diet option because of the reduced fat content, and then I found out that they're basically all sugar instead.

Actually I have to go and look up the calorie content of those crisps now. For your very own edification, dear internet. You will thank me afterwards. Be right back.

Shoot - of course I went and put them in a bowl. Couldn't just check the calorie content. Bugger. Nevermind. Please disregard the crunchy background noises.

Anyway - the pack says 101 calories per 25 gram serving. Who do they think they make these for? Squirrels? Fuck that. So. 405 calories per 100 grams. (Their maths, not mine.) They claim to contain 70% less fat than other crisps, so I'm curious how that would translate into calorie content. Of course, potatoes aren't exactly calorie-light things. (Who's anal enough to keep reading the next paragraph? I would be. D'oh!)

Aha! 552 calories per 100 grams in the non-baked variety, versus 405 for the baked variety. See? Marginally more virtuous. Maybe not entirely warranting my devil-may-care attitude when greedily scoffing them. At least now I'm eating my "just in case snack around the house" (you never know when you will have an unexpected visitor) and I won't be able to eat it tomorrow. I'm really doing tomorrow's me a huge favour.

Okay. Now I'm slightly in trouble, because the main point of this post was going to be my new-found virtue in the matter of snacking. I shall have to phrase it slightly differently now.

Here goes. Whenever I read about healthy eating, I get discouraged by the nuts part. I've never particularly liked nuts. Or dried fruits. Anything dried and healthy, really. I often buy nuts in an attempt to get a healthier diet, and then they either get eaten by Babes, or I throw them out after a couple of months because they're just not for me.

A few days ago, I decided to have one last go. I bought myself a whole pot of mixed nuts with raisins and put it on the kitchen counter, where it was strategically placed to snap me into health on a regular basis. The pot is sitting right underneath the snacks cupboard, so every time I open that, I have a healthier choice staring at me, daring me to be good. ... and it worked! I must be getting old, because I love the stuff just now.

How ridiculously healthy is that looking? I'm refusing to think of the calories in there. I know it's a lot. But it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for the sake of my health.
(Tinman, I swear I was planning to write this post before you invited me to show you my nuts.)

My palate is doing weird things the last couple of years. I have learned to eat pickles, raw onions, goat's cheese (so far, only the mild stuff), and now nuts. Freaky.

So, for a whole day I ate my three meals, and in between I snacked only on the odd nut. This was going to be my ONLY SNACK FOREVER AND EVER AMEN. And then today I bought this:

(Yes, food comes in plastic. It grows like that these days. It makes picking chocolate cake a far speedier and more hygienic process for the farmer.)
Luckily most of that cake will be eaten by the rest of the family. I'm a savoury girl, me. If you lick me, you can tell. Not so sweet, all savoury.

But I also bought this:

And now I'm eating a bowl of crisps. Babysteps. Babysteps. At least I like nuts now.

Goin' down to lonesome town

At the weekend, we joined some friends on a trip to Doel, a little Flemish town only about half an hour's drive from our house. It now lies in the middle of the rapidly expanding port of Antwerp. Of course, it didn't always. After 700 years, it is being closed and demolished by the government, who have decided that the harbour needs more space.

The people of Doel did not take this lying down. Most of them seem to have gone by now, though. A lot of artists have moved in, and some squatters. Apparently gypsies have been and gone. A lot of houses have been bulldozed. Others have been stripped for parts. People have come in and even taken doors and windows. The houses that are lived in have signs saying "Please don't take anything, people live here." All around, you can see the harbour with its industry and its nuclear power plant. It really is the most peculiar place.

To get there, we drove to Lillo, a village the other side of the Scheldt river. It is allowed to stay. There is a free ferry going from Lillo to Doel. Apparently, both towns are normally very quiet and so is the ferry ride. We happened to go while a book fair was on in Lillo, so it was actually very lively.

I took some pictures, to show you just how interesting, weird and beautifully artistic this town is. They were taken on my phone because I forgot my camera. (I know, I was scandalously not thinking of my blog every single second of every single day. I'm slacking.)

Just for contrast, I'm showing you idyllic Lillo first, which is just across the river, yet also completely enclosed by the port.

Next, the ferry ride. On the left is the village, on the right the nuclear power plant. Reminds me of The Simpsons' hometown of Springfield.

View to the left of the village:

View to the right of the village:

A lot of plots in the centre of the village look like this:

but then some houses are obviously lived in:

Many, many buildings have art on display in the doors and windows. They seem unoccupied, but you can't be sure, which makes the town feel quite eery at times. The picture below is of "the whores of capitalism":

The next building stands in the centre of the town. It was probably built by Rubens' father-in-law, in 1613.

It may well be that the dock this town is being destroyed for will never be built due to planning and financing issues.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

I'm not a monk or anything

The lovely screamish asked me in the comments yesterday how I keep going with meditation on my own, and how I find the time and space. It's a lovely question, and I can see that the whole meditation thing might seem quite daunting from the point of view of someone considering taking a mindfulness course.

The very simple answer is that I don't. In an ideal world, I would spend an hour a day in complete solitude practising my meditation. I have two kids, a husband, a life. Are you kidding me? I know it's perfectly possible, but I'm not a morning person and so I'm not (yet) willing to get up an hour earlier for this.

During the course, you are asked told to meditate for about fifty minutes a day. This is very daunting, but in a way also quite liberating. For a lot of the students this is the first time they have ever taken an hour a day for themselves. To lie down and do nothing at that! You get CDs to guide you through. They keep the time for you, and walk you through every exercise. (Most people fall asleep the first few times.)

After the course, you are encouraged to keep up the meditation, but you can choose to do without. You are given so many techniques and different ways to look at things that your life changes beyond recognition anyway, even without meditating a lot.

I still meditate for an hour occasionally, but hardly ever. I will, however, take a minute whenever I need it. When I was teaching, I would take just ten seconds at the start of a lesson to sit at the desk very briefly and focus on my thoughts and feelings. This really calmed me down, and it had the surprising result of making the class much calmer as well.

I used to have the TV on while I ironed. Now I meditate. I also do "gym meditation", "gardening meditation", "cooking meditation", and so on. Most long, repetitive and physical jobs are suitable. You try to be in the moment, completely with the job. At the same time, you look at the emotions and thoughts which are passing in your mind. That's how I get my longer meditation sessions. I've been told that Buddhist monks also do work meditation for hours on end every day. Maybe I'm cheating, but it's working for me just now.

Another good place to get in a bit of meditation is in bed. A few minutes before or after sleeping, or if you can't sleep in the middle of the night. I always feel very naughty for doing this, as I know it will most likely send me back to sleep. If not, also fine because at least I'm not watching a repeat of Big Medicine (which is what I do when I'm not meditating).

To anyone interested in meditation or mindfulness, I would highly recommend taking a course. You are immersed in the practice for eight weeks, after which you have the tools to continue on the path. You will not have to go in a convent or give up anything you like.

(I seem to have done it again. I don't meditate every time I iron, garden, go to sleep etc. These are just potential meditating times. I just don't want to lie, even by giving the wrong impression. I want to convey that it's become part of my life, but it's not all I do, all the time. I will have weeks where I don't meditate at all, and then weeks where I'm completely going for it.)

Monday, 10 August 2009

Mindfulness rocks!

About three years ago, I did an eight week course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). It completely changed my life. Truly, madly, deeply. Today I went to a repeater session which showed me how far along I've come. It has left me so happy and excited, I have to write about it.

Originally, I took this course because I had been struggling with some physical problems - hyperventilation, intestinal infections - which had an obvious psychological cause. They used to always get worse in times of stress or anxiety, and I couldn't see a way out. I had tried physiotherapy, breathing exercises, a special diet. All these things treated the symptoms rather than the cause. Then I read about mindfulness in my local newspaper. It sounded just right for me.

The course was based on the practice of Jon Kabat-Zinn. It was led by my own personal Flemish guru, whom I shall call Mr Nobel. This man is the nearest you can come to a saint. (In my opinion anyway.) He is a psychiatrist and a practicer of Zen, and the most amazingly patient and wise man. He trained with Kabat-Zinn himself, and seems to teach only out of a desire to pass on the wonderful ideas he has learned from others.

Mindfulness, as explained by Wikipedia, is "calm awareness of one's body functions, feelings, content of consciousness, or consciousness itself". You learn to meditate, and to look at your feelings and thoughts, so that they are not so overwhelming any more. Or something like that. It's not easy to explain, but boy oh boy is it beautiful. You also (crucially) learn to be more kind to yourself.

A typical session, like today's, must look quite strange from the outside. We were in a busy hospital, with the doors and windows open to let out a bit of the stifling heat, and for the first forty-five minutes, all we did was lie perfectly still, followed by twenty-five minutes of sitting perfectly still. Mr Nobel did speak a little (calmly, beautifully), suggesting what we should focus our attention on - mainly on our breathing, our bodies, our thoughts and our feelings.

Three years ago, I used to find this kind of meditation incredibly difficult. I could not sit still. I was overwhelmed with frustration and negative thoughts. Today, I did so much better. I still changed positions a few times, but there was none of the frustration and I managed to deal so much better with my negative thoughts.

After the meditation we all got into a circle and we got to ask Mr Nobel questions. A regular session would have some teaching first, also followed by questions.

It was interesting seeing a lot of people there today who had only just finished their MBSR training. They seemed so lost, and so unsure. It will open up a can of worms, if you happen to have a can of worms around. It's great to see how much more comfortable I am with it already. The "new ones" were asking how the course would finally make all their problems go away. They were not wanting to hear yet that the problems do not go away, you just learn to deal with them better.

In my case, I still feel anxiety about a lot of things, and I'm not really sleeping much better than I was. It's the way I look at these things that has changed. I will not get stressed any more when I can't sleep. I'll do something else, or I'll relax and fall asleep again. It doesn't make my mind go into crazy loops any more. I don't spend a lot of the next day bemoaning my terrible fate. My fears as well - they're still there. I just recognise them, see that they are there without judging myself, and then I go on and live some more. Sigh - it's hard to explain. Mr Nobel is SO GOOD - he always puts it into such beautiful words.

My physical symptoms have also all but disappeared. I used to hyperventilate every day. Now it happens occasionally, but I deal with it much better. I don't get panicky for a start. I see it and it helps that I don't get cross with myself as well. Also, no more random infections. Which makes for a far happier girl.

During the break today, I finally got to thank Mr Nobel for changing my life. I've been waiting for that moment for a long time now. I found it hard to put it into words, but he obviously understood. I told him I took his book into the delivery room when I had my little girl. I cried a little. He seemed to genuinely appreciate what I said. We had a moment there.

At the very end of the session, I did not go to say goodbye (after all, I will be back). I just looked over, and I think the look between Mr Nobel and me encompassed anything we could have said and more.

This was a very, very, very good day.

How about yours?

Friday, 7 August 2009

Say "Duh!"

I was always a bit tomboy-ish. I don't know how much this had to do with the fact that my mother wanted only boys (poor thing had to try four times to get it right), or the fact that she liked to dress me in trousers and cut ALL my hair off ALL the time. Perhaps it was more of a case of me being the studious kind. I always had my nose in a book. I didn't like dolls so much, but I didn't play football either.

At university, I took all the feminism courses. I was offended if anyone suggested that men and women were fundamentally different. I was planning a big career and a lot of sowing my wild oats and no one was going to tell me what women were supposed to do instead. Umm, and then I met Babes at seventeen and then one day, fifteen years later, I'm a housewife with two kids. And I have absolutely no regrets. I'm still a feminist, it's just that my definition has widened a bit, to include personal choice and silly things like that.

But that was not what I was going to write about. This is: I think I just had another one of my gender-related opinions smashed.

Before I had children, I was full of talk of how I was not going to let their gender influence the way I treated them, and the way they played. I bought Jack dolls as well as blocks, and pink frilly stuff as well as trains. Babes said I was "trying to make him into a girl". I said "I was just not letting his penis dictate what he could do."

Jack didn't really care - he played with the dolls occasionally, loved dressing up as a girl (not so much now), but mostly he played with cars and blocks.

...and now I have a girl. I was still convinced there would not be so much of a difference. I mean, Jack would play with the dolls, he loved pink stuff, chose his own clothes - all so-called "girly" stuff, right?


Seeing Marie play with dolls - she "gets" it. She will talk to them, chide them, feed them a bottle, change their nappies (try to anyway). She just gets it. In a way Jack never did. And she's twenty months old.

So, yesterday, I bought her this:

It's a bag full of things for her dolls, with bibs and toys and plates and spoons and even a potty. And she will know just what to do with it. And for Jack we got a car transporter. The gender stereotyping! The awfulness!

Cute, though, right?

(By the way I am still by no means saying that ALL boys or ALL girls are alike. It's just that, on average, probably more girls might like dolls and more boys might like cars. I feel like I just reinvented the wheel and the whole of the internet is going "Duh!"

I'm also still giving Marie cars to play with, and Jack still gets to be the mother when we play families. Just in case you thought I'd gone all creepy and right-wing fascist on you.)

Thursday, 6 August 2009

All's well that ends well

Thank you all for your lovely comments. I'm feeling much better now. Also, this morning my lovely husband made me breakfast in bed. Now I know how to get him to do things. Maybe if I blog about how wet clothes should not go in the washing basket... (Just kidding. Kind of. Actually not.)

In any case, all is right with the world again. We went to the recycling park this morning and got rid of a whole carful of junk. This made us both feel much lighter. The upstairs room is now actually a study, rather than a junk room. We also had a lovely lunch of tapas and sangria in the garden, and in a little while we are having a barbecue and some more sangria. Perhaps a lot more sangria.

Maybe it's the heat clouding my brain, but that's all for today folks.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Love in the time of swine flu

As part of our home improvement plan, we're clearing out stuff that we don't need. We have a few bags of clothes to go out, and now we're onto the paperwork. So we sat for a few hours and sorted bills from letters and admin from course notes. We're throwing out whole boxfuls. (I desperately want to write boxesful.) Most of the course notes, most of the bills.

We are keeping all letters. I used to be quite the letter writer. Never like Babes, though. For three years when we were at university doing the long distance thing, he used to write me a letter every single day he couldn't be with me. That's a lot of letters.

Going through some of those letters, and mine to him, I felt again how much we couldn't stand to be without each other. We used to feel sick when we had to leave each other. (Yeah, I'm sure you feel sick reading that. Moving swiftly on.) Compare this to today: for the first time in a couple of years, we have shipped the children off to my mother's for three full nights, and we are spending the time clearing out the house. We have plans to go to the rubbish tip, we are going to browse for a better filing system for our administration, and we are buying a new internet thingamabob to have internet upstairs. (That too is a technical term.)

OK, we also went out for dinner last night and we're probably going for both a romantic walk and a cycle ride, but still. We should be spending three straight days in bed.

Now I'm wondering have we lost that loving feeling, or is it just at a more manageable level just now? We still go on a date each week, we still want to spend time together, we just have to be more practical. With two children, it wouldn't be very practical now to be depressed each time Babes goes off to work. (I secretly am a bit.) I suppose I miss the feeling of being taken care of and thought about all the time, but I don't miss the feeling of being miserable so much. Maybe it would be nice to find the odd love note again, or bring each other surprises sometimes. (Yes, yes, work at it, effort, blah blah blah.)


This post is really hard to write. I'm too tired to hold a thought for longer than a second, let alone string two thoughts together. I suppose it's because I hardly slept. We had a killer mosquito in the bedroom last night. At four o'clock, it was still zooming around my head and I think it bit both of us. I finally found it on the curtains and Babes killed it (we make a killer team). The bedroom is dark red, with dark brown velvet curtains, which makes it too hard to find and kill a mosquito.

Oh, and I had garlic last night. I love that stuff, but these days I cannot sleep for a full night after eating it. And Babes says it makes me smell funny the next day. Even when he's had it, too. I hope it's not an allergy or something, because I would not like to give up garlic.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

I'm learning... slowly

Some things I'm glad to know now:
  • I learned this week that you can turn that blasted word verification thing off! (Thanks, Debbie.) And I haven't had any funny messages. Turns out I was annoying you all for no reason. Sorry! I've stopped now.
  • Other people have knobbly sternums, too.
Some things I wish I hadn't found out:
  • The ending of the West Wing.
    I got the whole series on DVD (best birthday present ever, not counting my lovely laptop), and I'm at the start of series seven now, but I know how it ends because I like reading the New York Times and they kept mentioning the parallels between that and Obama's election. Thanks guys!
  • The whole "orange juice has more calories than coke" thing.
    Now I can't even have healthy drinks? I'm so bored - for about a year now, all I've drunk is water and tea with skimmed milk. And alcoholic stuff, of course, but that doesn't count.
  • The beauty of the iPhone.
  • After going to the gym, I don't only look like I've been running in the rain, it also looks like I've peed myself. What's that about? I don't pee myself in the gym. I think my butt cheeks must be channelling the sweat or something. NOT a good look.
  • Every instance of something that will definitely without a doubt tomorrow give me cancer. (Mobile phones - anything electronic, really - most foods, most drinks, most outdoor activities, ... life, basically.)
Some things I wish I'd known earlier so I wouldn't have made such a fool of myself:
  • I used to be convinced that fireworks were fired in a two step process. First, the explosive is sent into the air. Then a guy on the ground has to take a rifle and shoot the thing, clay pigeon style, or it won't go off. I believed this for many years because my father told me.
  • My father-in-law managed to convince me very (very very) briefly of the existence of leprechauns. He made it sound so convincing. Small island off the coast of Ireland, little people. If pygmees exist, why not a tribe of little Irishmen? I figured they were, say 1m20 or so.
  • (I'm not adding the gym trouser thing. I wish I didn't know that. I've been blissfully unaware for a long time. I do not want to buy new trousers. I can handle embarrassment in front of total strangers as long as I'm not aware of it.)

Monday, 3 August 2009

Foreigner in my own country

I got a lovely comment yesterday calling me a "fellow expat". It took me a second, but with a slight sigh I realised I am not (any more). I feel like one, though.

I lived in Belgium until I was fifteen, when my whole family upped and left to Edinburgh, in Scotland. I finished my school there. After those two years, the rest of my family moved to Belgium, but I went to study in Cambridge, England for three years. After that, I stuck around for a year studying in Dundee, Scotland, until Babes was done studying and we both moved back to Belgium.

Of course I only lived there for six and a half years, but I do feel like an honorary Brit. It helps being married to one, and raising our children bilingually. We have the BBC as channels one and two on the TV. We import Irn Bru (only for Babes, but still). I make a mean chicken chowder.

Now I'm living in my native Flanders. It's good. The food is great, I "get" the people, we have a lot of governments to make fun of. I'm close to my family. In fact, it's not a bad place at all. But I can't quite come home. Once you leave, it's as if all the deep connections to a place are lost somehow, and you can still love it and know it but you can never be truly at home again. Anywhere, for that matter. Or that's what I believe just now anyway. I'm hoping this will change as I see my children growing up here.

The Flemish are lovely. They are funny and, once you get to know them, loyal and warm friends. However, sometimes I wouldn't mind if they could be a little more shallow or whatever you would call it and just SAY HELLO, even if you haven't known each other for fifteen years. If it's this hard for me to move back here and make new friends, I don't even want to think about how hard it must be for a real expat to settle here.

I have some friends who have never moved further than a few miles from their birthplace. They have friends they have known since nursery school. They do family stuff several times a week. They have more than ten places to drop their children if they need a night out. I envy them quite a bit.

Then again, I have friends all over the world, have travelled to weddings in many countries and I feel as at home in English as I do in Dutch. I have opened my mind to so many ideas and different ways of life that I can now question a lot of the ideas my fellow Flemish people take for granted. And then there's the internet of course, where a bit of an anglophilia never hurt anyone.

I don't think I would swap with them if I had the chance. Maybe I would, actually. Just think of all the free babysitters.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

OMG these were meant to be my fat pants

There's nothing quite like sorting out your wardrobe after a short stay in the UK to make you realise that you need to get your butt to the gym.

Why is it that Brits make it seem acceptable to smother everything in butter? Especially slices of toast, made from that doughy processed bread that comes in bags? I LOVE that stuff. And baked potatoes. And curries. It's no wonder I first put on weight when I was living in the UK.

It started on the boat over - we had chicken curry with mango chutney. I did take it with rice, while most people were eating it with chips. Then my lovely in-laws got take-out Chinese when we got there. So that was a curry and Chinese in one day. It was all downhill from there.

Breakfast tended to be a croissant with bacon. All the tea had full fat milk. (Yes, that does make a difference. Even after bacon croissants.) Lunch: french toast. Dinner: pizza. Add some alcohol after five in the evening.

The day we left was a nice echo of the day we arrived. Macaroni cheese (too gorgeous, hence three helpings) for lunch, and again chicken curry on the boat later. This time, there were poppadums.

Looking at all that written down, it's no wonder I put some weight on. I'm surprised it was so little, really. Considering my exercise existed of shopping for more food and lying on the bed reading blogs.

So - from tomorrow I'm on my best behaviour. I have planned a breakfast of a banana and a low fat yoghurt. Then a visit to the gym. Lunch - I'm thinking two slices of bread, some mackerel. I'll be fine. This is a minor relapse. Shit happens. I blame it on England.

(Hi lovely English readers, I don't blame it on you.)