24 October 2008


I learned about Blondi on Harry's Place and had to post it here. I'm going to do it, once I can print out the photo.

Watch the video here:

(is the photo gigantic? I don't know how to re-size it!)

Next week

If I don't post a lot in the next 7 days, it's because we are on half-term holidays next week.

No, you don't have that in America.

I'll do my best but the girlies are good at hogging the PC!

They sent it back!

The ballot I mean. I got it in my mailbox yesterday. 

So I took it to my local PO today. This is the one I go to most of the time, where they kind of know me. I explained to the woman behind the counter what happened. And how it is my absentee ballot. Pour l'election americaine! After inspecting the oversized, over-texted envelope, she came to the conclusion that we had to cover up the two bar-code stickers, with my local address, on the back. I said, "But the front side is stamped. Surely they will see that?" She shrugged. She said they don't look for a stamp. That if they picked it up wrong-side first, they'd see the local address and fling it into the local pile.

I figured I had a 50-50 chance of it ever getting out of the country.

So I let her cover up the stickers. "That should do it," she said.

To the Belgian PO's credit, I did not have to pay again (though I had my receipt ready).

Royal Oak City Clerk's office will just have to cope.

23 October 2008

Expo - Godelieve Vandamme

14/11- 19/12/2008
Maison des Arts, Chaussee de Haecht/Haachtsesteenweg 147, 1030 Brussels

Godelieve has recreated a series of paintings for the Brussels commune of Schaerbeek, based on Delft tiles, and incorporating scenes of contemporary Schaerbeek.

Some further info via the Schaerbeek Culture webpage (in French).

Scenes from the Meerdaalwoud 3

And finally, a leaf-strewn pool...

Scenes from the Meerdaalwoud 2

A spring -- "bron" in Dutch (the Meerdaalwoud is near Leuven). People come with big plastic bottles to fill up so they can drink the water at home.

Scenes from the Meerdaalwoud 1

Sunken path leading away from Zoet Water...

Will somebody please explain to them that they blew the bonus ...

... with our money!

Gotta love these Fortis banker bastards.

22 October 2008

Key word: Serotonin

I've been feeling very dark lately but a couple of things have happened and today is a bit lighter.

First, I talked with a friend who mentioned a very key word, serotonin. A quick review of the on-line literature makes me wonder if my desire, lately, for comfort food is not my body signalling that it needs a boost of this chemical. (Link: a very good serotonin Q&A) Interesting that I do feel better after having had proper meals containing pasta and meat 2 nights out of the past 3. Of course when you are feeling low you don't want to cook a thing, you can barely get to the cornflakes. It's surprising how few people really understand this.

The second thing that happened was I looked back over my writing from the past couple weeks. And I can see that the words are accumulating. So it can't be as bad as I think. Even if I can't tell where it is going, it is going somewhere. And knowing, feeling, it is going somewhere is really all I need.

Creative Moments

Today's Guardian gives us a round-up of what various creative people were doing this past Monday at 10.o4 pm -- this being the time, according to an unidentified survey, that we are at our most creative. (No, not just on Monday.. any day at 10.04 pm)

Frustratingly, there is no link or other reference to the original survey!


Still undecided? Insights into the decision behind the Palin choice to be published over the weekend.

Via Justin Webb/BBC

P.S., I've decided to blog live from Brussels, Belgium as the election results roll out on 4 November

21 October 2008

I voted

It cost me 2,70 and the woman at the post office expressed concern that it wasn't clear who the addressee was, because on the back of the oversize absentee ballot envelope there were two bar code stickers with both my address in the US and my address in Belgium. She had to ask me even which side the stamp went on. Of course, it hadn't helped that she'd put the little blue airplane sticker over the word "TO". I took the envelope back from her and wrote "TO" again in green ink. However, walking back to the office, I wondered whether I should have added "DESTINAIRE" and/or whatever the Dutch word is for who you're sending to. All in all I am not feeling overconfident in the Belgium postal system, so please ye gods of the post and all things letterish, please shine upon my ballot and all of the other oversized and confusing absentee ballots, created in the States by people who seem to have no clue that absentee voters might be living in another country, where English is not an official language, and maybe the return envelope should be as simple as possible. Please let my tiny participation in democracy be counted. I am voting in a swing state after all!

20 October 2008

The superficial medium

Don't know who Andrew Sullivan is, but it may be of interest to you why he blogs...

A view of Belgium

Pretty good snapshot of Belgium today from the BBC.

For what it is worth, I don't think the country will split up.

An Evening Out

I had the good fortune to meet the poet Jackie Kay this weekend. It was at an informal dinner at a writer-friend's home. She was a wonderfully warm and welcoming person -- quick to laugh and seeming completely at ease, even sitting in a stranger's kitchen surrounded by yet more strangers.

She read us some poems and listened to samples of our writing, and we talked about writing and ate and drank....

She said her work comes out of voices... If she can hear the voice, she can get the poem. For example, The Adoption Papers, for which she is probably best known -- are poems told in different voices.

She told a great story about an early rejection of that book (The Adoption Papers) by a big name publisher. I won't repeat it here, it is a bit blue. Later Bloodaxe wanted to include some of those poems in an anthology. But she knew that if she it happened like that, she would not be able to publish the complete work somewhere else. So she told them she would only approve the anthology poems if they also published the whole book.

Bloodaxe agreed and the book went on to win the Forward Prize.

Moral of the story: poets, stay strong!

Some poems, highly recommended, here. Thanks again, Jackie (and Martin, Godelieve, and Sue) for a wonderful evening!

17 October 2008


I've recently come across 'digging' as a metaphor for writing in two sources now.... Coincidence? Or is there something to it?

First from Stephen King's On Writing, where he likens the act of writing to unearthing a fossil:
Dig for the bones and see what they look like.
(paperback edition p.200)

Then there's Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird

...  I am the designated typist, and I'm also the person whose job it is to hold the lantern while the kid does the digging. What is the kid digging for? The stuff. Details and clues and images, invention and fresh ideas, an intuitive understanding of people. I tell you, the holder of the lantern doesn't even know what the kid is digging for half the time -- but she knows gold when she sees it.
(Anchor Books paperback p.56)

Sound familiar?

Does anyone know of any other references to writerly digging?


Anyone who knows really anything about me knows how much I need to get enough sleep. I'm an 8-hour-a-night girl and always have been. I have fantasies about being able to get by on 3 or 4 hours. I can count on one hand the number of times I've been able to stay up all night. My need for sleep is the stuff of family legend, and soon, no doubt, my children will be tucking me in to bed.... 

I found this lovely sleep-quote in Donna Tartt's The Little Friend:
She was happiest when she was asleep, with her head beneath her pillow; she longed for her bed all day, and flung herself into it as soon as it was decently dark.
(from the Bloomsbury paperback edition p.79)

16 October 2008

Building a better pancake

Ever since I moonlighted at the Café Zola (more than 10 years ago now, when it first opened!), I've loved to make crèpes.

This was before I ever went to France, or lived in Belgium, where cr
èpes, while perhaps not "everyday" are certainly no big deal. The idea of living in Europe wasn't even a gleam in my eye. I needed some extra money and Hediye and Alan, Zola's owners, were kind enough to take me on.

I learned to make cr
èpes on two large hot crèpe-griddles with a wooden flipper, and I've never looked back.

There's still a place in my heart for the thicker-waisted, rib-sticking American pancake. But it's the thinner, European kissing-cousin version I turn to time after time.

All of which to say: I have discovered, accidentally, a way to improve the recipe.

èpe batter is pretty basic: roughly 2:1 milk to flour (about 1 1/2 cups milk to 3/4 cup flour, in American measures), plus one egg and two tablespoons of butter (melted). I've gone through phases of adding pinches of sugar, pinches of salt, and glugs of orange juice. But the other day I was low on milk and did not want to run to the shop so I substituted.... buttermilk. And the result was fantastic. About a week later I made another batch, upping the buttermilk to almost half of the milk allotment. Result: fabulous!

I swear there is nothing better on a wet autumn day.

A sweet crêpe rolled up, ready to be eaten

(Photo credit note: UnfortunatelyI cannot find the camera.... so this is a photo from Wikipedia)

My hometown

I'm thinking of Royal Oak today as I prepare my absentee ballot....

“The Star Dream” by Marshall Fredericks (June, 1997).
It is in the Hallman Memorial Plaza next to the public library…

15 October 2008

NaNoWriMo, more details

National Novel Writing Month takes place 1-30 November. The idea is to write a novel of 50,000 words during the month. Participants have until 23.59 on 30 November to log in their word-count. Nobody reads the entries, there's no cash prize.... But if you make it over the 50,000 word mark, you win.

It's a pretty tempting idea. This NaNoWriMo thing has been happening for several years, from 1999: 21 participants and six winners the first year, to 101,510 participants and 15,333 winners in 2007. When you get a look at those numbers, you get an idea of how difficult the goal is. I did the math: 50,000 words in 30 days is 1,667 words a day.... 30 days in a row. At the moment I write about 300 words a day. Another writer friend of mine -- who is writing full-time -- aims for 1,000. So that's a lot of writing. The NaNoWriMo people don't skirt the issue: the website comes right out and says it is a challenge, and that what you write is probably going to be less than perfect. But the idea is a good one: to hell with how "good" it is, just get it out. Create. Generate.
There are pep talks, forums and a sponsorship program, like with marathons.

Like I said, isn't it tempting?

Just In

Have any plans for November? I've just heard about this: National Novel Writing Month. Don't know the details, or if it is only for November, but am going to check it out.

Coffee Machine Crisis....

The coffee machine, my faithful little Krups espresso maker, stopped working this morning. The pump, it seemed, no longer was able to pump. I added more water. I jiggled the lid. I fiddled with knobs, and turned it on and off. No water. At least it had squeezed out one last coffee, so I said "to hell with it" and drank it.... And stated planning how I could get to a shop to buy a new machine.

Can I get this one please? They may even make it in pink!

Francis Francis X5 Espresso Machine Kit

I am totally inspired by...

this guy.

In a nutshell, this young man, Joseph Devon, set himself to write, and publish on his website, a short story every two weeks for a year. As an added boost, he blogs about the process.

PS, I found him via Scott Pack, who had picked up on Devon's competition to name his forthcoming book. If your entry is chosen, you win your choice of a Sony e-reader or an Amazon Kindle....

14 October 2008

Me and a Baby

It's high time we had a photo, eh? Well, here's Ben, the cutest baby to frequent El Vergel on the rue du Trone. Ben's about 6 months old, the son of my friends Rebekah and Dave. Ironically, later the day this was taken, I ran into a friend whose daughter had just started university. As my two are 8 and 11, I felt squarely in the middle.... As far from nappies and night feeds as I am from ... well, I don't know what yet. But 8 and 11 are pretty good times, I must admit; being a mother of an 8 and an 11 is pretty fine indeed.

Announcing Martin Westlake

My friend Martin, who I know through writing, recently mentioned he was going to start a blog. I was surprised, because he already has a full time job, a wife, 2 kids, a dog, is writing a novel, and probably a whole bunch of other stuff to boot, but on the other hand he is truly one of those people who can do it all (he can do everything but waste time, woo-hoo, I've got him beat in that department!). Anyway, he told me, part of his motivation for the blog was to make his work in the EU more transparent, and for that I truly salute him. I haven't dared to write about my own observations of a certain sector of civil society in Brussels. But I suspect that Martin's blog will encompass much more than workday matters, so I encourage you all to check him out and keep with him.
You can find him at martinwestlake
... Happy blogging, Martin!

09 October 2008

What I wish someone would tell me

I wish someone would explain to me, in clear and simple terms and with no agenda, what it means that most of the banks of the world are now supported by governments.

Does this mean that governments own the banks?

How does this work, exactly?

And who is profiting from this, now? Or will do, in the near future?

I understand that everyone was having far too good a time to care for the past 10 years. But now, I think we'd all better pay more attention.

07 October 2008

Chit chat

One of my favorite blogs is Shrinktalk, where Dr Rob sheds light on the therapeutic life both on and off the couch.

There's a particularly good post today discussing pointlessness, money-making, and the reason a lot of people end up in law school (and probably shouldn't!).

That's 2 out of 3 things I can totally relate to.....

06 October 2008

Je fait mes lectures.....

Quelle surprise! No one commented on my post asking for recommendations for good reads in French. However, I have found some all on my very ownsome.

Currently I am in the middle of Mes Amis, Mes Amours by Marc Levy. As a budding reader-of-French-fiction, I thought that Levy might make a good bridge. He's French but lives in London, so I can read him in the original but in a context that is familiar. But to be frank I'm not enjoying the book that much. It is rather cinematic, told in rather too distant scene-like fashion, and I don't feel attached to any of the main characters.

However I will finish it out, being half-way in I won't give it up.

Next on the list however is L'Histoire de l'Amour by Nicole Krauss, in translation from the the English. I know, I know, a translation, but what can I say? It looked good and I could understand the first few pages.

None of the other French-French books looked compelling. None had a good enough 'hook' for me to want to buy them. With a few of them, I couldn't tell what they were about. I am tempted to try that one about the hedgehog, L'élégance du hérisson by Muriel Barbery, but it is 20 euros in the bookstore, so, um, no... I will have to wait until it comes out in poche.

In the meantime I am still open for recommendations!

Grève grief

Grève is the French word for strike. The ‘è’ is pronounced like ‘eh’, and the closest linguistic equivalent for me is grief. As in, these unions are giving us grief. Because they are, you know. All of the public transport in Brussels, and the national trains, and Thayls, the international train, are not operating. The post office closed, other government offices are closed. Some schools asked children to be kept at home – thankfully, not mine; the big stores including the supermarkets are closed. The streets of Brussels, frankly, are very quiet.

The strike is not about the fact that Belgium doesn’t yet have a working government. Nor are the strikers concerned with the recent failing of Belgium’s biggest bank. No, this is the annual strike of inconvenience to all and sundry. It takes place every October. This year the slogan is diminishing purchase power….

Somebody cry me a river.

I don’t get the day off – and I don’t want to take the day off. I have work to do, which I want to do, and because my bike is in the shop I had to (1) walk the girls to school and then (2) walk myself to the office. I was worried that if I drove there would be gridlock and nowhere to park. (However I needn't have worried and in fact will drive later on when I usually don't -- a great result, eh?)

Don’t get me wrong. I support action where action is warranted – strikes over health and safety, for example. I supported the tram drivers’ strike last year, when drivers were being regularly threatened by passengers with knives or other weapons. But this?

As far as I can see this annual exercise achieves only (1) irritation among those who have work to do and (2) forces people to drive who usually wouldn't. Good grief, can someone please spare us?

03 October 2008

Can't cope, won't cope

God but I am depressed. I haven't felt this low in ages - and there really is no good reason for it, which is the worst I suppose. Nothing to point to, nothing to fix, no way to say 'do this, do that', no magic trick to snap right out of it. I'm invited to a friend's tonight and she expects that I am going to read some poetry... I think I can manage to bring a cake, but poetry, I'm sorry, it won't happen. I think I can just about get to the shop, buy groceries, make a cake and something for the girls' dinner. Smitten Kitchen has by some miracle just posted what looks like the easiest soup in the world so I'll be doing that. Girl 2 will probably not like it, even though I will play up the fact that it has meat, but she can make herself grilled cheese if she really can't stand it.... Maybe being out and about this evening will be beneficial, but it's hard when the only thing that sounds good is to take to my bed. 

I'm laundering the sheets right now in fact to prevent myself from crawling into bed already!

01 October 2008


As a reprieve from all the politics may I present you with ramekins. "Ramekin" is one of the all-time greatest culinary words. I used to work with a group of women, all of us were in our 20s and we all liked cooking. We liked the "New Basics" cookbook (at that time, yes, then it was new); we liked Calphalon and Crate & Barrell but we loved ramekins. All it took was for one of us, in the middle of a workday, to utter the word and we would all go into collective ecstasy. Eventually one of us got married, and she registered at Williams Sonoma, and for her bridal shower we bought, among other things, half a dozen delft blue ramekins. I suspect this is the real reason I live in Europe: it's the ramekin capital of the world. You can buy Emile Henry in the grocery store here -- need I say more! (although EH call them souffle dishes for some reason ... go figure.) What brought on this bout of ramekin-reminiscing? I used dark blue ones for chicken pot pie (individual ones) on Monday night. Then I wrote about them -- this, basically -- for my writers workshop writing exercise. Then I thought, why not share my love of the ramekin with all of you?