Friday, May 23, 2014

My weather people

Across our street, there is a red brick building, sitting several stories high on the opposite side of the canal. It was built not that long ago, although thinking now it must be at least ten, even before we left for America. It is social housing and doesn’t look that bad compared to other buildings built for the same purpose, as a consequence of the red brick.
All the inhabitants are way beyond retirement age, bundled together at the edge of the neighborhood they were born in.
The building blocks our horizon, as it sits right in front of our window, just across the canal. This means I cannot just look out of the window to see what kind of weather it is. I have to walk up close and strain my neck looking up at the strip of blue or grey or white cumulus, peeking over the top of the red brick to know if I should wear a jacket or not. 
I have taken to watching my neighbors instead. It looks like they live in little boxes, as that is how the building was designed. They will pop in and out, sliding across their gallery. They seem to hang around the building a lot, enjoying each others company When it is warmish, they will be picking the leaves off their geraniums in the morning, watering them a bit and when that is done they will sit together on the windowsill, with their doors wide open, chatting. There is a bigger lady who talks more than the rest.
On really warm days they will migrate to the tiled strip alongside the water around about 11, pull out their plastic chairs and mill around in their sarongs and swimsuits. The bigger lady, still talking, manages to persuade two men to rub sunscreen into her wrinkled shoulders at the same time, one shoulder each, as another lady who has distanced herself with a lounger, looks on in distaste.
On these days I know no jacket is needed. 
On medium days, I see the elderly gentlemen act with purpose in the storage spaces, down at the waterside, one often wearing a combination of yellow and pink, walking back and forth until their business is done.
Then a light jacket might be needed.
When it is cold, the weather people stay inside. Sometimes visitors come in thick coats and ring the doorbells. I will see the faces of the weather people pop up behind their curtains, cautiously looking out, before they let their visitors in.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Circus pictures and transitioning

Well howdy sisters, 

Eureka, there is life on the other side of the internet! Welcome back S3!
I will be taking your lipstick advice to heart, as I have decided to wear more of it. The thought crystallized recently after being confused with a man on the streets. It went like this. A mother walking with her daughter said “Maybe this gentleman can show us the way” and she walked up to me, looked me in the face and proceeded to ask where the market was.  Gentlewoman” I said back to her and she stared at me with a blank expression, far too long, in my opinion, before she realized her mistake.  Her daughter could not stop laughing. When I came home, a little confused,  and told my children, Rosie tried to comfort me. “But mama you do not look like a man. When you wear makeup you look quite nice. “

So, ruby red lipstick it is.
Otherwise on the western front, Jip is on his way to mastering the basics of puberty. He is already doing really well at sarcasm. “You see where practice gets you”, I compliment him and he nods. “I see now.”  He holds rants on needing more freedom in this phase of his life (he will be 12 in April) and is thereby making an excellent start at tearing himself from the mother skirt, which we all know is a necessary step towards manhood. His main strategy is to pretend I am not talking. Either that or implement above mentioned sarcasm, say no when he means yes, or vice versa, and keep it up for a very long time. Sometimes he slips up, and asks for a random hug in the middle of his puberty practice. I give it to him, but warn him not to do it too often. 

Admittedly I have been dogging him quite a bit lately on various aspects of his behavior (too much screen time, dirty clothes on floor, continually untied shoelaces, sneaking biscuits from the tin before dinner), which does nothing for the general mood in our household. I realize I should be a bit more selective in the fights I pick. My excuse is that I also have to get used to the new situation. I, too, am transitioning. While we were biking to another open day for a secondary school, he told me very seriously I should let him make more of his own decisions, as he is capable. He has developed the habit of buying cans of coca cola with his pocket money, which I do not like, and I keep telling him as such. He is right, I decide as I listen to him, maybe I should let this one go. There are worse things to worry about.
“Yeah and while we are on the subject, if, when I am, say twenty, I should decide to try a cigarette, you should not go crazy either.”
At twenty, or do you mean thirteen? “  He shrugs.
I will be glad when we make it to twenty.
Ciao, ciao,

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Winters Tale about lipsticks

Greetings humble humans,

As I slowly shuffle into the scattered sisters blog,
 brush the cobwebs from my shoulders,
shake the white dust from my hair,
and wipe the croissant crumbs from my lap,
I skip in the air with joy and say :

Greetings !

I have awoken from a long blog sphere sleep
but lets not dwell on that
 and just proceed with a little winters tale.

The other day about a week before all the christmas celebrations
I went to visit sister 1 in Amsterdam on the train from Brussels.
As I was contemplating the misty morning view from the train
i got a little suspicion that maybe I resemble Coco the clown.

Due to my excitement on going on a little trip
I might have overdone it with my new 'liquid golden' eyeliner
and 'trust in red' lipstick
and 'smutty green' eye shadow
but decided to ignore these passing moments of panic
and just looked on at the landscape of fields and trees.

Just then the sun was appearing
it was actually liquid golden
with a big trust in red circle in the middle
and it was shining brightly through the mist
 and over the smutty green fields.

Then i remembered a story a friend from Prague
 had told me many years ago
and this is where our winter tale really begins :

It was a very cold Prague day , the one where the light is bright
yet the air is ice cold and freezes your fingers off to a fright
( I would like to continue this story in rhyming form
but that would be a bit out of my norm)

This friend of mine was visiting a relative in a little town outside of Prague
so she was waiting for the bus on this very icy day
In cold countries one becomes accustomed to owning a transparent lip balm
to ease the dry cold , for the lips at least.
Along came the little czech bus and my friend had the inspired idea,
whilst looking for her lip balm in her bag
to put some on other dry areas of her face.
So a little went in between her nose and upper lip,
a bit under her eyes ,
above her eyebrows
and on her cheeks
in long streaks
seeing as it was an especially cold day.
Now we all know that eskimo's cover themselves in seal fat
to keep away the bitter biting cold
so my friends alternative seems quite logical.

So she sat in the bus for the remaining hour ,
when she got off ,
her friend was waiting for her and yelled : " Jesus  Marie ! " in czech,
" What have you got on your face ?! "
My friend then realised she had mistaken her red lipstick
for her transparent lip balm.
This is a true story.
And a good lesson to all who own a lipstick.

Happy new 2014 !
Sister 3

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Summer in Normandy, or why the dog will not be returning soon


Last week I drove down to Normandy with the children and our dog for a week of country life with the parents and S3.  
To give you a little context, I will mention two e-mail exchanges before we set of.
1.     From mother: an article about a women being trampled to death by cows, whilst walking her dog, followed by a note wondering whether it might be better to leave our dog at home, as the cows were out.
2.     From S2, an e-mail asking my dog not to chase her cat, (who would also be staying while we were there. – S2 would not be there.)
In hindsight, these were signs I did not read. To the first I answered it was too short notice to arrange it,  and I was not worried about the cows. To the second, I answered in lightness that her cat should not chase my dog either.  
All the above does nothing to explain why, on arriving (it must have been the seven hour drive) I let the dog walk free – just across the field, to the house, before we would- I vaguely supposed - gently assimilate dog with cats, in a controlled program, or whatever.
I was not thinking obviously. 
It took less than a minute. We stood and watched as the dog picked up speed like the roadrunner, whizzing into the bushes and before we realized what was happening, there were two cats up two different trees. The ginger tom was eight meters up a tree in the donkey field, which was truly impressive for a flat cat on a diet. And the other cat chose less wisely and ended up on a bendy branch at the back of the house, back paws dangling and the front paws brought together in prayer, as she swayed in the wind. 
(spot the cat)
After the dog had been caught and caged, it became obvious we had a problem. S2’s cat, the tom, Karmel was very high. But still, we thought our biggest problem, if worst came to worse, would be getting the fire truck down into the field.
Firemen don’t rescue cats anymore. Did you know that? We looked it up on internet.
The other cat was soon rescued with a cunning rope operation. 

S3 showed extreme patience and sang to Karmel, the tomcat, shaking the food tin and calling his name at the bottom of the tree. This got him – we cheered at this news - to slide down about five meters, backside first, gripping onto the trunk with his claws; another amazing feat for an interior cat. He halted on a branch two meters from the ground, stopped in his sliding track by the donkeys, by this time grouped together under the tree.
We left Karmel where he was to have dinner, all elated by his ability to get down by himself, convinced our cat/dog adventure was over.
But the tomcat got out of the tree and disappeared into the dusk.
He did not return in the morning.
Or the next.
Bali was now no longer our pet dog, he was “the cat-chaser-beast” and was expected to keep himself very quiet. Spontaneously, I drank large glasses of red wine, but it did not stop the restless tossing at night. In the morning we stalked the fields calling Karmel’s name, but there was no movement in the bushes.
We kept the spirits up, telling each other stories about cats that stayed away for days and returned, as if nothing had happened.The weather was good, conditions were optimal.
But then someone would just slip in a comment like:
 “Karmel is like S2’s baby.”
“I am sure it will be alright, but it would be really awful if he did not return.”
Someone would mutter “oh God” under their breath. And sigh audibly.
“Have we lost all cat’s now?”  a cry would suddenly come from upstairs. 
I am glad I am not you".
We went to the annual brocante, we ate crepes in Dieppe, but it was not a normal week in Normandy.
The tension was tight, and getting tighter and I, as the owner of the cat-chaser-beast, felt particularly bad about the situation. 
When do you tell someone their beloved pet has gone?
We waited until after S2’s job interview, fervently hoping we would not have to, but after four days, S2 had to be told.
“Why didn’t you keep him on a leash” she asked. This was good question.
S2 dropped everything and came down. She was cheerful, but said she would be very (I heard: very, very) upset if Karmel did not return.
And then cat-chaser beast decided to make matters worse by barking at the owner of the missing cat. He did it twice. It was no accident. I think this was when he was upgraded to cat-chaser-freak-beast. 
I decided take the cat-chaser-freak-beast out of the equation and drive to Brussels for a few days, leaving the children behind. Maybe the cat would return. I was not hopeful, but wanted to give it every possible opportunity.
And yes, miracles do happen, at 1.30 am of the night I left with the cat-chaser-freak-beast, the cat did in fact return, scratching at the door, as if he had not been gone for five days, making us all look like fools calling out his name, as he hid in the undergrowth near the house.  

He is doing fine,  thank you.

The next day, to celebrate, I booked the extra long Jari Mari east-meets-west massage,  to knuckle and thumb all tension out of me, in the knowledge that a family rift had been avoided.  
Happy summer to you all! 

With love, 


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Life lessons

Dear sisters,
My recent mini-skiing trip to the Swiss Alps gave me some important insights into myself.
The first insight is that I am probably not the best to have around in acute, time-sensitive, crisis situations. This can be demonstrated by the following example.
On our way back from Switzerland, I stepped out of the train at Amsterdam Central Station and left my suitcase on the train. It  was stored in the handy opening between the seats, asking to be forgotten. Chatting merrily, halfway down the escalator, I realized my mistake. Adrenaline rushing and hyper-ventilating, my first reaction was to shout “my suitcase!,” throw my arms in the air and like a crazy woman start running up the escalator in the wrong direction.

My travel partner gracefully followed me (with her suitcase in hand).
The escalator was crowded, so we received insults like “you f&**ing lunatics”, but the train was about to leave the station at any moment, so I didn’t care.  However, I could not get past the people shouting at us, as they did not care to budge, so I soon had to admit defeat and let myself slide down to the station floor, before I could run up the other side. By this time, a wave of sniggers followed in my trail.
Once on the platform again, I darted into the train but could not find my suitcase. I rushed out and into the next compartment, and into the next; no suitcase. Bored passengers appreciated the action I was providing, but time was running out. I was considering whether I should let myself be transported to Amersfoort or jump out and leave the suitcase in the train.
The burgundy-haired-conductor strolled up in her regulation pants and said; “Relax, Mrs”. She even smirked, if I recall correctly. She said she would wait until we had found the suitcase, (thereby deflating all previous action on my part).
Only then could I take a deep breath and remember that the doors of our compartment had a picture of a wheelchair on them. I found the compartment, walked in and there the suitcase was, between the chairs, waiting patiently for retrieval. Easy-peasy.

My second insight, which is a little more reassuring, is that I have  developed the ability to control old fears merely by deciding to.
Two years ago when my husband and I decided to go back to skiing, I made a conscious decision to accept being no more than a moderate, fine-weather skier, thereby relinquishing any pressure to 1), go out when it snows, 2) attempt black slopes for fun, 3) go faster than I go.
On our second day on the slopes my dear friend (skiing since she could walk) - took us on an alternative route home. “A basic red with a few moguls, no problem” she said, waving away our concerns.  I found myself disagreeing with her, when I stood at the top of a precipice looking down onto a bumpy wall.  
Skiers similar to me were already stranded on the outer rim of the slope, their ski’s buried in deep snow, distorted faces staring into the depth and their bottoms stuck out behind them, as they tried to push themselves back into position. Others lay on the mountain halfway down, looking up, trying to locate that pole lost during their fall. It was a battlefield.
And when I took the plunge over the edge, bouncing at high speed along the top of the moguls, wondering just where to make that turn, a familiar feeling of cold sweat and wild panic came over me. And I, too, finally, came to an uncontrolled halt somewhere on the edge.
But now I was twenty years older than the last time I found myself in this situation, I  have two children who still think I am fearless, and the idea I might have to be talked down the mountain was too much to bear.
So,  I decided, once I moved again (deep breath),  to just keep going, no stopping, no hesitating at the turns, knowing this too would pass (that is life experience for you). It worked. No prizes to be won, I held myself in rigid discomfort all the way down, but it did feel like a small victory when I got to the schuss run within minutes, with no stopping or falling. Mind control, baby!
It is now just a question of applying this power to more relevant areas of my life.

In the meantime, back home, the dog is taking me to places I otherwise would not venture. I provide you with  images in this post.

Sisters, I know you are out there! Talk to me.

With love S1

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

New Year and all it will bring


Happy New Year sisters,
My year has really only just started, after an extended period of feasting with friendly guests and the necessary recovery.
I thought I would give you an update, the annual e-mail to friends and family as it were; where do we stand and where are we going in 2013?
Jip’s teachers have indicated he is cheerful and a joy to have around, but they could not beat around the bush – he is lazy.
“Oh, you mean like a lot of boys are lazy?’ we smiled expecting them to “ho, ho, those kids” (slap on thigh) with us.  But they said: “No, like one of the “very few in a year” kind of lazy.”And they did not smile when they spoke.
So, for 2013, we have the daunting task of instilling work ethic and self-discipline in our son. His musical ambitions are a good starting point. Jip has decided he wants a career in music and has requested singing lessons besides his guitar lessons, thereby giving up fencing and hockey.
We, as concerned parents have said “Great honey, but maybe you should take a typing course, as back up. “ 
Not really. We have no wish to curb his enthusiasm. Not that it can be curbed by anything we say.  He hangs around dreaming of filled concert halls and recording deals, lounging, looking up Youtube music videos on his new self-bought laptop, but above all singing loudly everywhere. Even guitar practice is picking up. 

On the other hand, Jip’s band still has the same four songs in its repertoire as last summer. Jip explained he has been suffering from writers block. “Like you, mom.”
I found a rehearsal space for the Bad Bunnies. It is a cheap, airless room with graffiti on the walls, an old drum set and ancient amplifiers, which pick up the interference of trains passing overhead. The band members are hugely excited (especially by the size of the amplifiers) and we will be making a two weekly thing of it. Surely the repertoire will expand by summer. Watch this space. 

At Rosie’s parent-teacher conference we were warned she was keeping bad company. She and two other girls were constantly fighting; cattiness was the default mode. The teacher strongly advised us to put our daughter first and limit the playtime together.
Rosie has since found a new friend in our building; a happy spunky girl, which makes all the difference. You see Rosie look up in surprise when her friend does not react with a nasty sneer. The new friendship brings new parental challenges for us, however, as they are curious.
For example, we found out they typed “sexing” in Google and were confronted with unsavory images of a lady entertaining herself. When I asked , she broke down crying, exclaiming she had no intention of ever doing such a thing, ever! I hadn’t seen it coming, expecting the eldest to be the first to monitor. A new horizon in parental guidance has dawned. 
Rosie is saving her pocket money for nail varnish.
Hers ambition for the future in this phase of her life (seven going on eight) is to work in a restaurant. When we suggested she could aim to own a restaurant, she looked at us warily and said:
“Can I wait the tables in my own restaurant? Alright, then I want my own restaurant.”
Allard and I have the modest ambition to go to bed earlier and do more yoga. Both are hard, especially as we have a newly acquired  HBO subscription, presently watching Girls, limiting ourselves to one episode a night. Season 3 has just been announced. It does not look good for us.
I looked at the resolutions I made last year and it seems like only yesterday I wrote them down. Has a year passed? (Please, don’t mention the book.) At least the house is finished and I trained for the marathon that was never run. Maybe it is time to look for a job this year that involves me leaving the house and results in payment at the end of the month. Maybe the idea of giving up will spark a defiant cord, and get me writing through all diversions.
And the dog?
At the moment his little black book lists two brand new cables - chewed, one Nintendo ds cartridge - chewed, a new lamp cord - partially chewed, (all in one week) and two emergency visits due to poisonous chocolate gorging. And we will not count the pens that have been reduced to shards of plastic or the ripped garbage bags, spilling a weeks worth of decaying leftovers. Nor shall we mention the times I have washed bath mats, rugs, children’s clothes or duvet covers due to accidents of a canine nature.
However, nowadays, generally the dog does his business outside, although he still likes to tipple over to Rosie’s room for a tinkle now and then, when we are not watching, which frustrates me no end, and if he really wants to say f*%ck you, he knows to make his way, prying open the bathroom door to get in the back way, (there is a doors closed policy in our house) of our room, to do his business. But that is just a spiteful pre-meditated act for not getting attention. He has done it twice. He returns and sits, staring silently at us, (probably thinking  na-na-nana- na), waiting for us to cotton on and blow.
But we can’t help but love the beast, and I will surely find my way in “the long dog walking and what about the rest of my day” kind of feeling I am having. I was warned, I know. 

I do get outside though; every day, without fail, weather or no weather. I can see why people live longer when they have a dog. The side effect is that my personal style has plummeted to an all time low, and may include rain ponchos. 
And you silent sisters? What will this year bring?


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Stockholm syndrome

Dear sisters, 

Last week there were invariably six to eight men in our house, welding, painting or hanging around, picking up their tools, because it seems we are coming to the end of a long chapter; the chapter of the "house in progress". Unfortunately, we will have to stop a little sooner than completion, as the money tap drips and sputters, but we are just about where we want to be. Things work, generally.

Due to a major leakage in the washing room a few weeks back, (that was a little set-back in living comfort), we have been carrying boxes piled high in the storage; boxes you might put away for years without touching, to the living room, to make room for the drying, carrying them back in, to host a birthday lunch, and carrying them all back out again, for the laying of the new floor. Each session motivated us a little more to look into the boxes we were carrying to and fro. Eighteen boxes of books, kept in storage for seven years,  were put out on the street for pick-up, amongst others.
It feels so wrong to do that, but, really, nobody wanted them. It also feels so good to be lighter, although we  still cannot be called minimalists.

This Monday there are only five men; two electricians, two painting men and Franklin, our cleaning man who sings while he works, trying to clean the house with the power turned off. He has not been singing for a while, due to all the commotion. This is the last spasm of activity, before it will fall silent, just in time for Christmas.
Is there an equivalent of the Stockholm syndrome for renovation situations? I may just suffer from it. What will I do when nobody turns up to drink my coffee and ask me for the sugar? I won’t have to move from room to room to make place for the next job or make decisions about heights of planks (“am I sure?”) in relation to ceilings, taps and cupboards, or whether I want the square or rounded doorsteps. I will not have to keep the dog out of the paint pots or from chewing the cord of the sanding machine. The beloved animal might just find peace and stop peeing on the carpet. I will not have to keep smiling in my own house.
Days of silence,  solitude and concentration, I can’t wait for them, but there is some dread, too. From the moment they leave, the household will officially be open for everyday living and therefore need to run smoothly and efficiently, as we had intended before we started.
Yes, my wildest fantasies involve efficiency.
Has everything got its own permanent, dedicated spot yet? To which it can easily return? That, we (-my husband and I -) believe, is the secret to sustained success in tidy living, to which we aspire. For now, it is merely pillow talk, yet to be tested.
(And what other aspirations did I have with my life again?  I can’t recall just now. )

Luckily, the festive season has snuck upon us. The windows glow and flicker, as I pull the reluctant dog through whipping winds or mucky snow. Sinterklaas came and left for Spain again. It is the year the last believer in the family was robbed of her illusions; she now demands to know all our other secrets, but we are not telling.

The Christmas tree is up. So, there is something to fill the looming crater, until January at least.
Due to necessary cost cutting, the Christmas gifts could very well be handmade this year, probably from recycled building materials, but I am sure you won’t mind. I know you want “the two-screws-on-a-found-wooden-background brooch” or what about a “linoleum-cut-out-hanging ornament”? All will be revealed on Christmas day.

Another good thing about the removal of boxes, is that I now have a sleeping place for you all. If all goes to plan, but that is still a dangerous contention, S3’s room will have doors by the time you all get here.
And now, for something completely different:

In my ongoing series on potatoes in and around the house: a photograph of a potato found at the bottom of my vegetable bin.
And sisters, we have one loyal reader who has been complaining about our updating frequency. Two months  since the last post?! Well. 

So S2, and S3, what’s going on in Antwerp and Prague?

Love, S1