Thursday, 30 April 2015

Sunshiny day

I have arrived at the marvellously happy stage at which my fear of failure and my fear of success are exactly in balance. Either way, I'm shitting myself, so I may as well write. Which is what I'm doing - rewriting my first chapter to make it as fabulous as it should have been all along - and it feels exhilarating. I can finally see where the problems are, and have solutions for all but one section, but that one I think I will just cut and start afresh. I need just one more good idea.

I've been thinking about what it is that makes me happy, or sad, or apathetic - and I realised that whenever I come out and admit that I'm not doing very well (like I did the other day), I'm actually on the way up, out, onwards, already. As long as I'm at my worst, I can't admit (even to myself) that things aren't all rosy and as they should be. Then when I'm up, and functioning the way I see some other humans function, I am puzzled at myself for having times when I can't.

Don't you just love Spring?

Tuesday, 28 April 2015


  • My dreams are getting so exciting, I nearly can't contain myself. The other day I dreamt that Babes had bought apples, even though we already had some! Then last night, I dreamt that I had a two euro voucher on tuna, and I was reading it to see how many tins I'd have to buy to get the discount.
  • Jack, my oldest baby, is sick at home today, and that makes me instinctively want to feed him 'good things'. My gut tells me anything meaty is good. Or it could be my culture that is telling me that. Whenever one of my children is sick, an extra pig has to die. It's a shame, but that's the way it is. He's getting soup with meat balls, and later on mashed potatoes with carrot and onion, and sausages on the side. Food my grannies would have made when their children were sick. Nothing else would feel right. Ratatouille or pesto or prawn curry or other foreign follies are fine most days, but as soon as one of my children is poorly, I feel a deep need to cook the food I grew up with and stuff them full of it.
  • My amazing sister An, may she be spared both verrucas and athlete's foot, made me cry in my kitchen earlier because she sent me the most compassionate, wise and kind letter ever. It was in response to that scrapheap post I wrote on Friday. She couldn't be a better sister. In fact, may she be spared all podiatric problems.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Lemming logic

Ridiculousness: on Friday night, folly took hold of this town. Jack's preferred secondary school has never had trouble with enrolment, but the schools in the centre of Antwerp (our nearest city) are all full, and working with waiting lists. There is a nervousness in all the towns around Antwerp, because this problem will necessarily spread, as the Antwerp citizens venture out to find more places.

The school was having an open day / enrolment day on Saturday afternoon. Friday night, people started to 'happen to walk past the school', even though there is nothing around there, apart from an ice cream parlour. All of a sudden, there was a spike in the demand for sundaes.

The one that got the ball rolling was a surgeon: he wasn't going to miss out on a place for his child, and lacking only time, but not money or entrepreneurial spirit, he got in touch with a work placement office, hiring two young job seekers to sit outside the school and queue for him from eight o'clock Friday night, until one thirty on the Saturday. As soon as the first of them was spotted walking up to the school, with his folding chair and his blanket, ready for a long cold night, the rest of the town were in for it. By nine, twenty parents had joined him. By ten, thirty. By midnight, thirty-eight people were waiting outside the school and they weren't going to budge. (I heard there was a struggle of a rather 'meta' nature: some felt it wasn't right to pay a stranger to queue for you - only family members of the future student should be allowed. I'm happy I missed that scuffle.)

By this time, of course, the folly had taken hold of me as well. Frantically, the phone calls went around our little group of worried mothers. One was sitting outside the school already, the rest of us were waiting to see how things unfolded. I never slept a wink. By seven in the morning, I was there, queueing with the rest of them, pointlessly: I was number 56 on the list. There were 129 out of 175 places still to hand out. (The others had gone to siblings of current students already.) There was absolutely no need to stand around and be cold for that long.

As one o'clock approached, and we'd been allowed to thaw out inside the building for a few hours, the list was 'closed' at 120 places. A mother I know came in with her daughter just before that, with only half an hour to go to the opening day, and she got the 119th place. Only at the end of the afternoon, after Jack was happily registered, I heard that all vacancies had been filled, and twenty children were on the waiting list - they may well get a place as some were only registering in case they don't get into a different school with a later enrolment date.

As a mathematician, I'm ashamed that I was there so early, joining in with the other deluded lemmings. Logically, there was no reason to join the queue before even half the places had been filled. I had spies on the inside. I could have - should have - waited until they neared the 100 mark. As a mother, I could think of nothing but getting Jack into the school he wants. I wasn't going to relax being anywhere else. It's times like this that make me slightly less judgemental of stupid stuff other people get up to. Logic isn't all there is to life.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Report from the scrapheap

My thyroid is fine. It's a happy, functional, active thyroid. I wondered about my doctor. She's lovely to visit, and always does what I ask, but shouldn't she be a little more proactive, take charge, manage my health? She has been my doctor for ten years now, and she has never once suggested a breast exam. No tetanus jab. Aren't there some body parts she should occasionally prod? Some tests she should run? Some questions she should ask? Maybe I'm being unfair. I'm an educated adult. I should probably take charge of my own health. What do you think? Does your doctor take the initiative sometimes or do you have to ask for everything you want done?

After I got the blood test results and had my little rant (inside my head) about how she's not taking care of me enough (maybe I want a mother and not a doctor), I read the end of My Year Off, by Robert McCrum - an account of his stroke and revalidation. I found it fascinating. In one of the last chapters, he describes the depressions he's been battling ever since. How he loved to sleep, at all hours of the day. How he got addicted to his TV. How he got scared of going out, worried about dealing with anything practical. At one point, he says 'After sleeping for hours at a stretch, I never knew, when I woke, how my mood might vary, or how much energy I might have. I seasawed between listlessness and little bursts of effort.' That sounds too close to home for comfort. I know this sounds awful, comparing myself to someone who went through such an awful thing as a debilitating stroke, but (since I'm being awful anyway) here's another: 'I can only add in hindsight that the worst of stroke is the aftermath, when you feel like you are on the scrapheap. For me, the lifeline in all this was the thought that I could one day write down my experience, as a reporter from that foreign country, the world of stroke.' Replace 'stroke' with 'motherhood' and that's how I'm feeling this week. I feel on the scrapheap, when it comes to the world outside, the world of work, the world of money, the world of recognition - and my wish is to fight my way out of it through writing, and reporting what it's like on this particular scrapheap.

After this flash of recognition, I wondered at my doctor again. I went to her to have my thyroid checked. I listed my symptoms, including tiredness, sluggishness, stomach pains. She never asked if I felt like I'm on the scrapheap. I don't think people want to know. It's why I'm still not sure if I will hit 'post' on this one. It's just not something you're meant to admit, is it? I should just pull myself together, not complain about my luxury problem of never having to go into the office, paint on my happy face. I feel bad, because I know a lot of readers (you, out there) are struggling with jobs that they'd be only too happy to leave if they could. Still, there it is. It's what I feel. Today. Tomorrow will hopefully be better. This, too, will pass.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Obi Wan Kenobi

The photobooth at the town hall rejected my face five times today. Only when I held my head sideways did it finally accept that my eyes lined up in a way resembling a human face. There was quite a queue outside my curtained cubicle, and the machine doesn't just have a fail screen - that would not be humiliating enough: it loudly told me each time "Your photo has been rejected. Try again. Don't wear a hat and make your face look normal." I'm choosing to look at it as a bargain: six euros, and I'm richer another life experience and some self-knowledge. I never realised that my eyes were quite so wonky. The children looked worried when I finally came out, but they sided with the machine.

Ach, who cares? I had a good run this morning. 4.5k in the best temperature possible (about 9 degrees C). I saw a deer for the first time in months - I know deer don't hibernate (they don't, do they?), but I do wonder where they've been hiding all Winter. I went and had my blood drawn and it didn't hurt a bit. The Japanese cherry trees are in bloom. They are my absolutely favourite tree in the whole world, because they announce that Spring is here to stay, but even more because they are so unapologetically unironically in-your-face over-the-top ultra-fabulous in dazzling pink, darling.

Japanese cherry in school playground,
building site and ugly flats removed

On the topic of pink, here's Charlie's latest independent fashion choice:

It's the way Obi Wan Kenobi has his hair before he's really old or something. He says. I don't think I saw that one, but surely he didn't have a pink elastic in his hair? Sometimes it's tough sticking to my firm conviction that children are allowed to express their personalities in their hair and clothes however they see fit. I am proud of him for sticking to his guns, when the hair dresser asked him about twenty times if he was sure, and gave us all very funny looks. So far, no one has recognised the Star Wars reference. They just think I've inflicted an eighties abomination on my child. It be as it be.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Totally thrashed

I went and got absolutely totally thrashed by my osteopath earlier. Utterly fundamentally. She's lovely, and very good at what she does, which is precisely why I regularly hurl abusive terms into her table. She has a way to poke a finger into my hip, and make pain shoot both ways, all the way to the end of my pinky toe and the top of my brain. She did that to just about every muscle between my neck and my feet. Ever since I came home, I've been randomly falling asleep everywhere.

She gave me two commands: to strengthen my core (minute long planking required!), and to go check out my thyroid function. According to her, dry skin plus falling out hair plus stress plus tiredness plus sore muscles plus weight that won't come off might mean lazy thyroid. The rest of me is lazy as fuck, so that sounds plausible. I'm planning to go have some blood tapped tomorrow.

I hope she's wrong, because I can handle my flaky skin and tiredness, but the idea of taking hormone pills scares the crap out of me. If she is right, on the bright side, I might get well skinny while having all the beer and cheese sandwiches.

Friday, 17 April 2015

When I am rich and famous, I want a Room of my Own

I'm reading Motherhood and Creativity, a book recommended to me by the utterly creative Tailorbird. She rightly thought I needed it. It's about successful artists who are also mothers, and how they find the space to make things, to be themselves, to think, after they had children. I need to put my creative desires first more often. For my sanity, for my general functioning, for my children even, because that way I won't end up resenting them. It's not about getting my book published, or being successful myself (although that would be kinda awesome) - it's about having a voice, and giving myself permission to use it.

Step one was to make a workspace for myself in the living room. I've had a small corner of the bedroom for a while, but if I wanted to work around the children, I had to wait until the table was cleared of their food and their art projects before I could start. I've been moaning about this for a while, but the book pushed me to stop waiting for a fairy army to come and sort out my life. I carried my table and chair downstairs from the bedroom - endangering my very own life in the process(!) (how do men make moving furniture look so easy(?) ) - and now I can leave my computer on, even if the children are at the table! What a breakthrough. And so elementary. I no longer have to shut down my laptop when I go to make food. I can just leave something half done, and come back to it later. I tell you: it's a miracle.

Step two is to get more honest. With myself, and with you. My last post pretended to show you the real mess that life can be at times, but I deleted the crucial parts. I don't care if my knickers are inside out, and I'm considering desandboxing the sand box, and fully pondifying it. Babes has been wanting a water feature, and our local park has a huge sandpit for the children to play in if they feel so inclined. The thing is seashellshape, so it all makes sense. (I just can't decide if I can cope with even more frogs in the garden. They have a tendency to hop out of the bushes at me when I'm weeding, and even though I've now learned to scream in a ladylike way - instead of my old "You motherfucking bastard!" (Babes is not a fan of teaching the children how to swear) - my uncontrollable wimpiness is not the best example to set the children.)

What I should have left in my previous post, was that I had to apologise to all three of my children that day for being a bitch to them (they forgave me), and that I can now see major issues with the opening chapters of my book, so I am mortified that I sent the bad version to four of my dream agents.

I'm such an old-fashioned Catholic at heart. Now that I have confessed, I can move on. I need to forget about being mortified, and making my book's opening better for its own sake, for my private joy. I think a simple pair of kitchen tongs will be sufficient to desandboxify the frog nursery. Then I just have to decide what to do with the plant that had to move for my writing corner, because "the middle of the living room" might not be the ideal place for it.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

My glamorous life

  • Our former sandpit is now an overcrowded frog nursery.

  • Four balls of frog spawn

    Tadpoles on a bucket

  • I'm choosing to starve myself instead of going for a run today because I can't be arsed with the whole "movement" thing.
  • I just discovered I'm wearing my underpants inside out.
  • Again.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Knitting meditation

I'm completely obsessed with this cushion cover I'm making right now. I've knitted the "squares," and now I'm crocheting them together. There's a reason for those quotation marks around the word "square." The whole project is turning decidedly "rustic."

But - and I'm completely serious - knitting this cushion cover is teaching me about life. About how nothing is perfect, but it's perfectly possible to work around most problems. About how this thing will cover a cushion, even if the angles don't work. Most things in life don't have perfect angles. Most people don't make perfect angles. It's all good. I should stop demanding perfect angles from myself. I would dare to tackle more if I trusted that I could work around problems, making wonky angles sometimes, but getting there in the end.

Knitting is teaching me about how it's okay to stop and be quiet, without constant reading or watching or listening or generally taking in information all the time. It's okay to just sit, be, knit.

Knitting is not rocket science. Not many things are, apart from rocket science. It looks complicated from the outside, but really all you do is keep the thread moving. Keep the needles ticking. As long as you do that, you will have a result at the end of it, which will vaguely look the way you intended it to look. And that is the way much of life works. I just need to start, do one thing, keep doing one more thing, until all the things I want to do are done. It's pretty simple, really.

Who needs meditation if you have wool and a house full of furnishings that would look better, or at least more rustic, if they were covered in it?

Friday, 10 April 2015

Your secrets are safe with Google (dammit)

So, no, it turns out that none of you are excited by anything at all. Which, I suppose, is fair enough, and makes me silently proud of my readers. Not one of you out there is skipping around like a lunatic, numbering her favourite things. Not one of you is inanely happy. Maybe a couple of you vaguely liked a thing you once saw, perhaps. I appreciate your coolness, your cynical distance from the world, your failure to be impressed. Go you!

Which made me return to: what are you like? (I admit it is an old obsession of mine.) Blog stats have got a lot more boring since I last blogged, sometime in the dark ages. Now, Google is all coy about traffic and search terms in order to protect people's privacy. Your privacy. Nothing is recorded if it can lead me back to the person who visited. Which I find a shame, because it used to provide me with hours of merriment. Now only one in every hundred search terms gets passed on to me.

Still, there is some interesting information I do get, and the main one is that it basically doesn't matter if I blog or not. The majority of my visitors are only interested in one thing: why won't their tights stay up, and can they do something about it? The good news is: they can! The bad news is: there is no bad news. Tights no longer coming down. Hurray! 557 sufferers rescued this month.

The second most visited post this month? Now that I'm blogging again? Surely something recent? NO! I am still the Queen of Dutch Toilets. Yes. Anyone wondering about why the hell do Dutch toilets have a shelf to exhibit one's every production, is sent to me. I like that. There is a beauty and a cosmic justice to me being the go-to girl for 185 people who are fascinated with poo, toilets, and the Dutch - in this month alone. It makes sense to me on a very deep level.

One thing I can't figure out is the following graph, of my all time pageviews:

In December 2014, when I hadn't blogged in three years, I had my most visitors ever. Was there a worldwide epidemic of terrible tights? Did Dutch toilets conquer the world? What happened? I don't seem to be computer-savvy enough to find out. (Also: notice the marked drop-off in the number of visitors since I took up blogging again. Worth a tiny giggle, I think. A tiny giggle, and a tiny tear.)

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Easter holidays, on some freaky happy hormones

School holidays should always be like this. Charlie made a breakthrough in his swimming lesson: he can swim some way without any floating attachments on his body. The sun was out, we spent time in a newly discovered playground. Later, at the children's farm, the lambs were chasing each other.

Not the best photo technically;
still conveys lamb-related joy.

I bought some giant balls of wool, to satisfy my still urgent creative itch. I'm polishing up my knitting technique - making squares, practising casting on and binding off. Next, I will vary the stitches. The squares will make a soft cushion cover, crocheted together for extra excitement. I may even use a third colour for the in-between bits.

I love school holidays. And Spring. And knitting. And lambs.

(I'm rather bouncing about. I'm hoping not to come down too hard tomorrow.)

What has you excited today?

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Making things

I feel an overwhelming urge to create today. To create something of value, something that matters. To make it with my own hands. To have it be used by those I love. It's making me restless because I have no projects on the go. I won't be lulled into sleepy contentment this time by playing someone else's music on the piano, or reading someone else's words. I want to make something that will be useful, or beautiful, or even necessary. Something I made all by myself.

I had a good night yesterday, making these:

I obviously can't make it be Easter every day, so I will need to think of something else.

Years ago, we bought a sewing machine, intending to make our own curtains, cushion covers, pillow cases. Babes made some curtains once. I never used it at all, or any other sewing machine. I know how to sew by hand - we were forced to make aprons and embroider pencil cases at school - but I feel that I'm ready to enter the middle of the twentieth century now. A shop has opened up in the main street of our town, with beautiful fabrics, coffee, sewing machines. I've been worried to go in. I'm okay with the words, reasonable with the music, but I've never been good with the hands. I don't have an easy eye for fashion, for art, for interiors, the way others seem to (by others I mean my sister, may her house be forever funky). They do sewing courses. It would be so exciting to make a skirt for Marie, take in these dresses I bought when I was still breastfeeding.

I could knit that sweater I've been promising Babes as well. Crochet myself a blanket for when I'm watching TV. I should catch up on my gardening, finally wallpaper the cupboard doors like I've been planning to, bake a carrot cake. Summer is nearly here. The children will all need shorts. I have a new nephew coming. He will need socks, and a hat, and perhaps a sleeping bag. I would be useful, and making all our lives more beautiful. I'd stop needing to go out and get a job quite so much, because there would be more of a point to me right here.

I bet Babes is happy the shops only reopen on Tuesday. I could do with a cooling off period before I go anywhere with a cash register.

Friday, 3 April 2015

The hardest part

I used to think the hardest thing was wiping up the vomit and the poo. Then I thought the hardest thing was holding them after they fell down and hurt themselves. Then I thought the hardest thing was hearing about what went wrong at school, but letting them fight their own battles.

Now I think the hardest thing is not doing anything. Letting Jack walk to music school on his own. Trusting he knows how to cross roads, not go with strangers. Letting Marie hide in the park where I can't see her, because she wants to be alone with her friends. Letting Charlie stay upstairs when he wants to play quietly on his own.

The hardest part is not doing anything at all.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Not helpful at all

Out on our weekly date last night, we were late for our reservation at the Italian's around the corner from the concert hall. Babes had just spent quite a lot of time in the car, coming to pick me up. He was getting frustrated at the traffic, and the expected lack of parking spaces once we finally arrived. I was relaxed about getting parked - I always find a space around there, and even if we didn't, why get stressed? I helpfully pointed out that his stress wouldn't change anything - we could be starting our date, having a lovely conversation, and the parking situation would or would not sort itself out, but getting stressed out wasn't going to help. He should decide to find his Zen and let it go, instead of ruining our date for both of us. I can be very annoying that way. My comments did not resolve the situation in any way. Of course we got there, and we found a spot very nearby, which I could pay for on my mobile. We were in the restaurant only twenty minutes late, which around here counts as on time. All was well.

After our scampi and asparagus risottos, we walked over to the concert hall for a beautiful performance of the St John Passion by Bach, actually directed by the same guy who's in the picture on that YouTube version of it I've linked to. The music was amazing. I grew up with my parents arguing every Easter over which was the more beautiful - the Passion of Matthew or John, so we had to listen to each the appropriate number of times each year. I have the St John playing in the background right now. It's gorgeous. I don't want to take sides, so I will have to play the Matthew later as well. The hardship. (The link to the Matthew has a video. It's the same conductor we saw last night, and even a couple of the singers are the same.) Ah. Gorgeousness. I settled in to enjoy the night immensely, even though we had the silliest seats in the theatre - row 1, seats 1 and 2. I took a photo while the orchestra were tuning their instruments, before the singers and the conductor came in:

We were behind all the action. We couldn't even hear the wind instruments or the lute because they were hidden behind all the violins. That's what you get for buying the cheap music school tickets. (I'm not actually complaining - we wouldn't be going to so many concerts if we didn't have those reduced prices.) It was still gorgeous.

However - HOWEVER - the audience was the WORST I have ever been a part of. Half of them had bronchitis, or maybe ebola. A few blew their noses extensively and repeatedly. The other half thought silences were the perfect time to have a little chat. Some of them had brought along the text, to read along and RUSTLE with constantly. I know a clever trick to follow the text: LISTEN to the bloody singers. Who sang so beautifully. It's not even like the printed version was in translation. They were following along in German. Which the singers were singing. Which they could have LISTENED to.

After twenty minutes, there was the briefest four minute break for the orchestra to tune their instruments and for the conductor to sneak off to the side of the stage, to complain to the concert hall manager about the abominable quality of the audience. I whispered to Babes about wanting to punch the little grannies next to me in the face - they had been discussing where exactly in their booklet we had gotten to, and coughing, and giggling - and he said I was spoiling my own concert. I should just stay zen and let it go. Stressing about the noise wasn't going to help anyone. I should decide to enjoy the concert and make that happen. I did not find him helpful at all.

(Bonus: officially the most beautiful piece of music ever, a clip taken from the St Matthew Passion above:

In case you need it for your soul. That male alto is a balm to any sadness, as is that violin.)