Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Lessons:

  • I do need to get out there more. Way out: terrified. Way back: not even a little scared. I feel more confident and clear headed even today.
  • I shouldn't wear my prettiest yet tallest boots to travel. My feet/legs/back/hips/neck are still complaining, two days later. If I do get out there, I need to get out there in flat shoes.
  • There are bookshops out there, many many lovely bookshops.
  • Reunions don't have to be scary. I stuck with the people I used to like, and they were still lovely.
  • Many people had grown into their faces. The awkwardness had gone; their self had come out more. It made me happier about my impending forties, a time to grow into myself.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Out of the house

I'm meant to be on a plane first thing tomorrow morning. All the news seems to be on planes going down. The only other item that spoke to me was one about Schiphol Airport having no planes taking off this afternoon. Guess where I'm meant to be flying from?

As usual, my response to this stressful situation is denial. Have I packed? No. Have I made sure if all my clothes are clean? No. Have I checked in my luggage online? No. Have I checked bus and train times online? No. I've also not cooked dinner and not supervised homework. I think the technical term should be "practical paralysis."

I did go for a run, thinking it might help. I basically ran from my fear of flying for 5 kilometers. Then I stopped, and it caught up with me. Now I'm trying to bamboozle it with words. You can guess how well that's going.

At this point, I'm not even scared of flying. I just can't be bothered with the whole drama: hours of driving, hours in the airport, then the plane, then finding a bus or train, then a taxi or a long walk, then trying to find my friends, trying to rescue the state of my hair (you know it will be in an awful state by then), deciding if my dress has come out of the suitcase too creased to wear and should I just wear my jeans, and then the whole reunion dinner sizing up judgey pants circus still has to start. And then they're planning after parties! Until midnight! Which is one o'clock for me, with the time difference. I think they are mistaking me for an eighteen year old. The next day I will have to go through the whole routine again, with a hangover, in reverse. No, it would be so much easier to stay in bed with a book all weekend.

(Babes reckons I need to get out the house more. I can't see why.)

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Nutella

I was driving home my sister An, may her knitting be always joyful and regular, and I suggested she might activate her heated seat. (Okay, what I actually asked was "if she wanted bum heat." I like to call things by their logical name.) While she and I were intensely enjoying the gentle toasting of our contented behinds, I casually mentioned what heated seats always remind me of:
You know when you have a jar of Nutella, and you've put it in the fridge, and it won't spread on your slice of bread properly? Well, if the Nutella has been sitting in the cupboard instead, it spreads perfectly.
An claims I have ruined heated seats for her forever. She immediately turned hers off - a major overreaction. I picture that jar of Nutella every time I switch on my bum heat. It has never impelled me to suffer a cold bottom.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

MUSU

  1. Babes lost his pyjamas last night. I told him they were in the washing machine, so he'd have them back today. He looked rather skeptical. I promised to put them in the dryer today. Then he said I should make sure to go outside and look for the pigs whizzing by overhead. Someone around here is not rating my household skills very highly. I have put his pyjamas in the dryer, but still no swine in the sky.
  2. I don't know how to convey in the space of a short letter to a prospective literary agent's overworked assistant that my book is brilliant and will appeal to millions of readers, while being edgy and funny and worth the reading time. How do I put that into words without sounding arrogant or desperate or deluded?
  3. I'm reading The Tao of Travel by Paul Theroux. I love this part:
    My romantic dream of being a solitary writer keeps clashing with my basic human need for comfort, love, attention. I am no stranger to MUSU. Some days I want to give up and go back to teaching, which is so obviously and daily worth all the effort put in. Motherhood is the same, but writing is a hard sell, even to myself, as long as I'm unpublished. It is all too painfully obvious to me that my job is washing the pyjamas and making sure the screens are closed so the pigs don't fly in.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

A friend of Jesus

I mistakenly took Charlie to church last Saturday. I only go for funerals, weddings, and christenings these days. I was raised Catholic and then went a bit crazy with that, but then lost faith in the whole shebang, so it would be silly to still do the church thing. However, I send my children to a Catholic school (they do the best education), and I want them to learn all about their cultural history, so I keep bumping into the whole ugly business now and again. More so this year, as Marie is preparing for her First Communion. She is very excited about it, loves all the Jesus stories, but does delight in telling even random school principals of other Catholic schools "that she is doing her Communion, but she doesn't believe in God." It's a winner, that statement. The admiring looks I get! The praise she receives in return!

Anyhoo - last Saturday, I had to take her to church so she could receive a small wooden cross to wear around her neck on the day of the actual Communion. They really go in for wearing small representations of instruments of torture in that club. Charlie, being only small, and therefore ignorant of such rituals, demanded to be taken along, and I, being large, and therefore supposedly wiser than he, didn't use my brain and thought this was a fine idea. Because what four year old boys need is visits to church. His insistence that I take him along is no excuse for my stupidity.

It's only once you see the ritual of mass through the eyes of a wise four year old that you see the full Kafkaesque tragedy of what has been inflicted on so many people for so many hundreds of years. It started when we came in and he spotted a statue of a saint with a sword through his neck. (According to Google, it must have been Saint Aquilinus of Milan.) He was quite worried about that. Wanted to know if it was a real dead person hanging there. After I explained that it was most likely wood or plaster, and unlikely to be an actual corpse, I tried to distract him by pointing out the stained glass windows, but he demanded to see pictures of baby Jesus. He knows church is all about that.

When mass started, he was okay for a while, but the priest - an old fuddy-duddy of rather questionable judgement - did nothing to help his anxieties. He kept talking creepily to the children about how they were "a friend of Jesus" and what that was supposed to mean. One of the main things friends of Jesus need, apparently, is to have a tiny imaginary cross drawn on their foreheads by both parents before going to sleep (in his mind every single child in the church had two, precisely two, not more than two, parents, and one only of each sex as well - no exceptions). This cross, apparently, is a sign of love and affection. I thought a kiss and a cuddle were. You know, straight from me to them, cut out the middle man dying a slow death on the cross. We've got it covered.

(I'm not sure that came out right. I'm not mocking Jesus. I'm sure it was horrible dying on a cross, and we should all learn the lessons of religious tolerance and not being too quick to condemn people to death. I just don't think we need to remember the whole history each time we put our kids to bed. They didn't have anything to do with that whole damn mess.)

Charlie was already looking a bit worried. One of his friends from school, also there with his older brother, had already fallen asleep sideways in his chair, but Charlie is one attentive listener when he wants to be, and he was riveted. He was taking the whole thing in in big gulps. Next came - I'm not kidding - the gospel about Nicodemus. Nico who? Exactly. Luckily, the priest went on to explain the story in excruciating detail in his overly long sermon. Nicodemus was another friend of Jesus, you see, and one day Jesus told him that he was about to be betrayed and then die. "Now, children, wouldn't you be upset if one of your friends came around to your house and told you he was about to die? You'd be very sad, wouldn't you? Well, so was Nicodemus." This was to a church full of little kids. He went on for ages about how awful he must have felt and wouldn't they. Charlie was listening with open mouth to all the details of the crucifixion and what exactly was going to happen to Nicodemus's good friend Jesus.

After this sermon finally finished, Charlie was trembling with fear on my lap, and then the priest announced that "we were all now going to do exactly as Jesus did." I thought Charlie was going to have a seizure. He was worried we were all going to be crucified. I'm not joking. He was. I had to explain to him about the bread and the wine, and it's okay, no one is getting crucified or getting a sword put in their necks tonight. My explanation didn't fully reassure him, because this still left the cup full of blood and the bowl full of bits of the body of Jesus.

One part that never seemed to bother him, but that worried me more than any of the gory horror, was the constant emphasis on sin and guilt and forgiveness. They got whole lines of kids coming to read out their faults, their missteps, their omissions, and asking for forgiveness. They had to sing several times "I forgive another's faults 7 times 70 times; the Lord is also patient with me." They had to say "I'm not worthy that You come to me, but speak and I will be healed." It's the craziest thing. To take children and tell them they're not good enough, while they still have to become themselves. Why would you handicap them from the start? Fair enough if they end up criminals, but it seems only fair to give them the benefit of the doubt at the start. They may end up fine. I read an interview with a Flemish and Catholic actor the other day, who was still a church goer. He said they should change it to "I am worthy to come to You. Speak and I will stay healthy." I liked that better.

I'm considering letting Charlie off the church part of Marie's Communion.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Uber-excited with the wonderfulness of it all

Babes stayed home this morning to take me out for a birthday breakfast. (I'm having one of my stress free and self-invented birthdays.) Because he'd promised to help getting the children ready, and it was my birthday after all, I decided to allow myself fifteen more minutes under my warm duvet before getting up and preparing the daily three lunch boxes, three fruit boxes, and three biscuit boxes - and it was lucky I made that decision, because the Universe had got together with The New York Times in the night and come up with my own private birthday surprise:


What an excellent start to the day. I especially love how they helpfully included a picture of Bill and a nameless student, discussing his data. I'm still giggling.

After our breakfast, I got some excellent presents from Babes. (I may have dropped some subtle hints in the last few weeks, but still, he takes direction very well, and I'm such a control freak that I prefer presents that I've asked for. He's totally my champion today.)

Gorgeous CD

Sure to be amazing book

Can you believe it?????

And then tonight, as if I wasn't already amazed and uber-excited with the wonderfulness of it all, he came home from work early and took us all out for dinner, which he normally hates and refuses to do. The children sort of completely behaved, while eating with chopsticks, so it may even happen again.

Best. Birthday. Ever.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Miss Piggy goes for a run

When I'm running, I listen more intently to the lyrics of songs on my playlist. The stories distract me from my breathing, the tension in my shins, the certainty that I am about to rupture a major blood vessel.

This morning, I was listening to "More Than Words" by Extreme. It was one of my favourite songs before I knew any English. After I learned, I must have never listened to the lyrics properly. I always thought it was a love song, but really it's quite creepy:
How easy it would be to show me how you feel
More than words is all you have to do to make it real
Then you wouldn't have to say that you love me
Because I'd already know
Yeah. There's a word for that. I'm sure the girl's fifteen or something; otherwise he'd already have got some "more than words." If you need to ask for it like that, she doesn't want to give it. I had to delete it off the playlist anyway. I still like it, but I need to push myself harder and it's just too slow. (Do tell me what songs I should add - I like them fast, poppy, and entertaining, genre What Does The Fox Say. If you are looking for inspiration for your own song list, but are cooler than me - and it's easy to be cooler than me - check out Maggie May's running butt playlist.)

A song that always motivates me to run a little faster is the opening tune of The Muppets Show. In the middle of this particular version of the song (I can't find it on YouTube), Kermit announces Miss Piggy's entry onto the stage, and calls her "the indescribable, the incompatible, the unendurable Miss Piggy." He really is the pig, not her. She tries so hard to make something of herself and to make him love her as she should, and all he does is put her down. I think we should all embrace the Miss Piggy in ourselves and others, because the Kermits of the world never will.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Seeing people

It's funny: I woke up with my left eye half closed, and now I have a stinker of a headache, but I don't want to curl up and go into a coma any more. I can handle sick eyes and headaches better than losing the will to live. The not-so-secret secret of my miraculous return to relative personhood is so bloody obvious, I don't know why I can never remember it in times of need: I saw some people. Adults. Who spoke to me. And I to them. It was magic. (They were real people. Live ones. Not like "I saw dead people," or hallucinations.)

I spent yesterday shopping with my mother. She got me a lovely dress for my black tie thing, and the fanciest shoes any woman ever had, and I'm not even worried if I can't walk on the small needle-like heels, because I will be the poshest and the most radiant. It's a shame that I will most likely also be leaking pus out of my infected eye onto my brand new dress, but such is life, and the sparkly beauty of my vestments must probably, karmically, be compensated by the vile suppuration of my eye-ball. So be it. I may have to comb my hair over my face. I knew there was a good reason I'd been growing it out. Or I could wear a patch.

There was more excitement last night. Babes and I went out for proper adult dinner, and then a concert of Czech music. I was surprised at myself how much I actively loved the romantic symphonies. The first, the Moldau by Smetana, is such a classic that I must have heard it twenty times already, so I thought I would find it trite, but it swept me along and I felt all the appropriate feelings in the appropriate places. (That's unusual for me.) Then they played Dvorák's New World Symphony, and then Janácek's Sinphonietta. I was happy to finally hear that last piece, because I only finished Murakami's 1Q84 a couple of weeks ago, and he never stopped writing about the Sinfonietta. The music fitted the book very well in spirit. It was quite dramatic at times, then subtle, and sensitive, and then right back to high drama. I recently had another, sadder, literary coincidence: I had just finished and thoroughly enjoyed Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, when I heard that Terry Pratchett had died. I never realised until now the wry irony in that title.

This morning I turned up to music school, even though my eye looked, according to my teacher, "Like I'd been in a fight." Tomorrow I will go to choir, and Monday again to music school. I will go if I feel good, and I will go if I feel bad, because not seeing people has never made me feel better.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

I need a battle plan

So today didn't happen. I think my nail polish must have run out of power. I keep trying to write about it and then deleting the whole thing. It would probably help me battle my lethargy if I didn't feel so bloody ashamed of myself when I feel it. I never judge anyone else for feeling the way they feel.

I rallied when the children came home. It is my favourite part of the day. We have a snack together, I cook, they play music, they do homework, they play games. It's a shame that I need a shitty day like this to realise that that's my favourite part of the day. I shouldn't take it for granted when I'm having a good day.

Tomorrow, I am shopping for a dress and shoes. At least I'm not shopping for trousers. I have a black tie thing to go to next week, and I haven't been to one of those in - forever. Definitely not since I started having babies. The event is in England, so I will get on a plane and catch a plane back the next day, for a reunion with people I haven't seen in - forever. Some of them seventeen years. This makes the shopping tomorrow a rather high pressure event. My mother is coming along. I hope she knows what kind of stress she's signing up for.

I have two questions for you, my visitors.
  1. What do you do when the lethargy takes you? Do you have a battle plan? I need a battle plan.
  2. Can you recommend any blogs by other parents who are at home? Expat blogs? "I'm not sure I'm an alien or everyone else" blogs? Or just anything brilliant I should be reading? Do feel free to recommend yourself. The blog world has changed rather since I was last in it. Most of my regular reads have stopped writing or have drawn up some scary privacy walls I can't see beyond.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The answer to life, the universe and everything


42?

No. Nail polish.

I told you it would work. I noticed some of you being a little incredulous, in some cases almost sarcastic. I forgive you, but there was no need for all that. Here is the proof (as if it was needed) that nail polish is the way to productivity, serenity and general well-being.


Here's my nail polish
preparing extra healthy snacks
for my childrens' break time
this morning

Here's my nail polish
taking me for a brisk walk

Here's my nail polish
taking my to see
my lovely friend Tailorbird

Here's my nail polish
tuning Jack's guitar

Here's my nail polish
helping me navigate
that tricky Bach passage

(No, you read that wrong. That's an "h", not a "k": "navigate that tricky BacH passage." We all make mistakes. Yours are just dirtier than most. Let's move on.)


And here's my nail polish
taking pictures of itself
for this blog post


Now - you may think "This is excellent nail polish. She should keep it. It will be the making of her." And I see why you may think that, after all these marvellous pictures my nail polish provided especially to make you think that.

However, there is a darker side to this nail polish that it doesn't want you to know about. Luckily I have collected the evidence:


Here's my nail polish
finally returning
a DVD box and a book
I should have returned
ages ago

(I know that seems friendly enough, but I find it a bit pushy and sanctimonious on a first day.)


Here's my nail polish
getting more cash out
than I wanted

Here's my nail polish
NOT sending an email
of apology to a friend
I insulted last week

(I would have sent it if it hadn't refused.)

My nail polish is the worst when it comes to food.


My nail polish
insisted I have only
an apple for breakfast

My nail polish
would only let me
drink decaf

My nail polish
said NO to juice
at the swimming pool

My nail polish
won't let me have wine

I'm not sure. Is my new nail polish imposed combination of a Spartan lifestyle, rudeness to friends, and lack of financial restraint worth my nail polish driven increase in productivity, music practice, and common sense?

My nail polish is typing this, so I suppose the answer must be yes.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Spam, life update, summer plan

Okay, so maybe I will be a bit like clockwork. I was never one for half measures. I'm either back completely, or not at all.

I've been reading through my old posts. (Mainly to remove all that bloody spam that had accumulated while I was away. It feels wrong somehow to ask my old readers back while I don't have my house in order. (And I generally don't leave porn and pay day loan adverts hanging about when I have visitors. (Dammit - will I attract even more of them now I've used those phrases? So far, it seems the fuckers are interested mainly in toilets, penises, and breasts. (I seem to have now covered all their bases. (I hope to deter them with my new safety measures. Apologies to my human visitors.))))) It made me realise things have changed a bit around here, but luckily not that much. So I thought I'd do...

... a little update:

  • I am still playing the piano, reading books compulsively, and I took up running a couple of years ago. 
  • The children have been growing like cabbages. 
  • Tonight, I'm taking Jack on a visit to a secondary school for next year. He plays the guitar now - beautifully. 
  • Marie is learning her times tables and has started the violin. 
  • Charlie has been in school for two years already and is all grown up. He's learning to swim and he learned to ski as well this year.

It's interesting that I don't have much news about myself. I have my writing, books, music, exercise, but apart from that I seem to be living rather through my children. I used to bake and garden, and I loved it. I wonder why I stopped. Maybe it was just a way to stay busy while looking after my babies all day. Maybe I stopped when Charlie went to school. I should start again.

I'm off to buy nail polish now. I can't decide if I should get pink or dark blue. Maybe I will buy both. And a shocking red. I've decided that this summer will be a hundred kinds of exciting, and my new nail polish will be the symbol of that. My garden will look funky, my children will see me flourish, my writing will happen magically, and my social diary will fill up in an appropriate and non-exhausting manner.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Back

So... I think I'm back.

No, I'm definitely back. And it feels great. I wasn't sure it was a good idea, so I asked my lovely sister An, may bunnies sing her happy songs, and she was all "YAY!," and then I asked Babes, and he was lukewarm, so that clinched it.

It feels a bit funny sending this out into the world. I will have to go and see what all my lovely blog friends are up to. If you're all still around. I have missed you all terribly.

I did need to stop. I needed to start writing seriously and that was never going to happen if I put all my creative energy into this blog. So I stopped, and I wrote, and I wrote, and I took too much time off, and then I rewrote, and I rewrote, and now I have an actual novel. A novel size novel. A novel style novel. Which I'm happy with. And I'm so happy I stopped this blog and did that other thing. (Now I have to find an agent and whatnot, but even if I never find one - I wrote a novel, dammit! And just that makes me happy.) (I have already started on my second one. How's that for loving the process?)

And now I'm back. I was looking through my old blog posts today (I needed to write a CV, and I thought I might mention blogging), and what I realised was that I was so happy to blog. I loved the writing, the friends, the comments, the silly stories I wrote - but most of all: it made my life better. It made me look at life differently. It made me seek out the funny, the quirky, the annoying - it made my life a better story. And it made it something to share. Which, frankly, is a huge gift for someone (like me) who spends most of her day alone.

I may not be on here like clockwork every weekday the way I used to be. I hope my style will come back to me. (I feel rusty - it's a different kind of writing from the slow, slow, careful writing I've been doing.) I am sorry I abandoned you all for such a long time. Do let me know if you're still out there, and if you're wanting to be friends again. Because I will still love me a comment as always.