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?