24 December 2008

Good-bye Camera

There will be no photo, of Christmas tree or otherwise. Girl 1 has broken the camera. Or, it might have broken whether or not she had been using it, whether (or not) she had just been using it to film her sister putting her socks on, whether or not I had been yelling at her (or not) to 'put that thing away and stop filming your sister, we're late'. It may have broken in any case. We shall never know. We shall never know more than 'Lens Error 122,1,0,0', which flashes so very helpfully across the screen before it shuts itself once more into digital lockdown. Life is full of mystery, and this is no exception. Good-bye Camera. You will be missed. But perhaps we can replace you in the sales without too much agony.

20 December 2008

O Tannenbaum

We bought a tree at the local supermarché and carried it home. I told the girls this was as close as we were going to get to going to the woods, chopping one dow, and lugging it home. They said, 'Mummy*, people are looking at us', more to inform me than out of mortification (because they're used to that by now). I told them if they caught anyone's eye they should smile and say MERRY CHRISTMAS! as loud as they could. It's never too late to build happy family holiday memories.

The tree is now decorated and I shall display it for you forthwith.


*OK, I don't actually know whether they call me Mummy, Mommy, Maman, etc. I have heard the term, whatever it is, so often that I don't recognize it any more. They could whine any word that starts with M and I would think they were addressing me.

18 December 2008

5 minutes

Just in. Did a bout of spontaneous Xmas shopping. Ordered the ham and -- wait for it -- my persistence with the turkey waiting list paid off. I have now agreed to buy the most expensive turkey in Brussels. No pressure there! It's no wonder you have to order in advance, it would take a month to save for it.

I have bought a new meat thermometer for the occasion. 

By the way, the things at this butcher are incredible. (and happily, edible).

Now I have officially 5 minutes, before I have to leave again to meet Girl 1 with a cake to take for her solfège party. God I love having a french keyboard. Accents? Bring 'em on!

This is what I've accomplished in 5 minutes:
  • warmed up and ate leftover rice with vegetables
  • put David Sedaris on my amazon wish list
  • emailed the babysitter
  • emailed Jaywalker, who I hope to meet for lunch tomorrow
  • hid the freshly purchased xmas prezzies
  • ate one miniature apple pie from the butcher (see link above)
  • posted this 

All Hail. I am officially the Queen of Rock N Roll.

17 December 2008

Waiting lists, etc

I can't blame everything on Christmas, but the first sign was hearing this morning that it is probably too late to order a turkey from the Irish butcher. I'm on a waiting list for any extras. The day has not improved.

I burned the lunch and under-baked a cake. The BF left for Englland. Or I presume he left for England. He didn't call to tell me.

OK, so we said good-bye this morning. STILL. I'm stressed out and he should know it.

The last response for Girl 1's secondary school applications came in the mail. Waiting list again. Very far down. I won't go into the details of the secondary school inscription chaos here in Belgium, or at least French-speaking Belgium, but suffice to say, I asked to be enrolled at 5 local schools and am on the waiting list at all 5. Has any other family fared this badly? I shall be going into the primary school tomorrow to beg for help. Somebody pray for me, will you? I'll believe in any god that gets my daughter into a decent school.

16 December 2008


I shouldn't be doing this. I should be processing invoices. I should be writing performance goals for 2009. It's a good thing that today is my last day in the office until January. I have a lot more important things on my mind.

Mooses, for example. Ever since a friend (Leila Rasheed, if you must know), read out the Ted Hughes poem at a "soirée " a few weeks ago, I've been looking at poems again with a refreshed eye. It's exhilarating. I recommend it. Simple, strong, honest and unaffected... these are Hughes's stock in trade and I'm sure some major league poet has said it far, far better than I will but too bad, this is my blog, so there.

Thank you Ted and Leila for restoring my faith in poems.

Btw, Mooses was origninally printed in Under the North Star by Ted Hughes

12 December 2008


Help! BF and I are stuck on the following rebus:


There is a space between the 'SLAP' and the 'L'

We can get these but not that one:




Please send help. Or at leasr a clue. We can't stop thinking about it!

10 December 2008

You must play to win

Nathan is running a "first paragraph" contest. Deadline: Thursday 4 pm Pacific Time. Win a critique from a bona fide literary agent!


I was suddenly worried that my use of "BF" would be interpreted as "Best Friend" instead of "Boy Friend". Happily I discovered that BF is listed as Boy Friend for the first three entries on the Urban Dictionary, which is like the OED only way less up itself. Interestingly, one commentator suggested that BF in caps is preferred for Best Friend, and bf, lower case, for boy friend. Hm. I'm not convinced, but it does save me from having to come up with a clever euphemism.

Guest Post -- Leila Rasheed on Character


One of my least favourite writing exercises asks the author to make a list of everything their character carries in his or her pockets. This is supposed to help you get to know your character better. But what if your character is a Bronze Age boy, with no pockets? Or an alien with no concept of pocket? Or someone who carries a bag instead? Okay, you could get around it by saying 'make a list of your character's favourite portable belongings.' But it's only in books that people are forever poring over old photos or lockets left them by their grandma. I doubt I could learn much about any of you by going through your pockets. What do people carry, anyway? Bank cards, keys, semi-used tissues, spare change, a phone.

I don't much like the exercise because it limits you to contemporary settings, and adults, and it all ends up feeling like a Sherlock Holmes short story, where the band on a cigar (anyone carry cigars with them?) tells you everything from the murderer's blood type to his relationship with his estranged dog.

Character is supposedly the holy grail of writing. Plot should develop through character, books are supposed to be about the development of character. A character-driven book is supposedly a Good Book, as opposed to a plot driven book, which is Dan Brown. For children's books, though, I think character is over-rated. Sure, there are lots of excellent children's books that star unforgettably original characters – Jack Gantos' Joey Pigza, the ADHD human pin-ball with a sad story behind him, or anarchic Pippi Longstocking. But for every crazy, plot driving character, you find another, just as unforgettable, about whom you know nothing.

Lucy, from the Narnia books, for example. What does she carry in her pockets when she's at school? Who's her best friend? Does she get on better with her mother or her father? What's her favourite book? You don't know and it doesn't matter.

She is a cipher, a character designed to step back so that the reader can take her place. Lucy comes alive purely through the reader identifying with her wonder and excitement at the world of Narnia. In adult books identifying with the main character is seen as rather an immature thing to want to do – you're not meant to identify with the character, you're meant to sit back, stroke your chin and go "Ah, a fascinating analysis of society as seen through the tragic yet incisive eyes of Olaf the one-legged Lithuanian plumber, such well drawn characters, didn't you think?" What fun. Pass the Tintin.

But children's books are often about identifying with the main character, and if that main character is too strongly drawn, too 'loud', they get in the way of the story. Of the four main Narnia children, Susan is grown-up, Peter is brave and Edmund is sly. They have characters, but Lucy, the main character, has little or none. If she had, it would limit the number of children who could identify with her. Harry Potter, too, is quite average – he isn't a swot like Hermione or an ogre like Hagrid. He's simple and open and easy to identify with, and that's why he's the hero. That's why boring Luke Skywalker is the hero. Sexy Han Solo would overpower the story.

Someone recently said to me that books could be divided into two categories: character driven and plot driven. It's not that simple, the interplay of character and plot is subtle, and sometimes it means consciously greying out your main character to allow the reader to be the most important person in the story.

09 December 2008


'Browse' is such a good word. It has a floppy feel. It has a throw-yourself-on-the-grass-and-roll-down-the-hill feel. Also there's a hint of 'blowsy' and 'lousy' (as in, 'lousy with ___') and 'lazy'. All of which is an excellent run-up to describe my main activity this afternoon, snuck in between emails and tasks of a most mind-numbing kind, in other words, I browsed through the links list at fiction bitch looking for interesting blogs. I'm pleased to report I added four to my reader. A most satisfying achievement for the afternoon.

Check them out....
Confessions of an author
Sarah's writing journal
Salt office life
The Cerebral Mum

If they pass the test of time I will add them to my links list, right.

Life and other minor inconveniences

Left for work this morning at last possible moment, having gone back to bed with hot water bottle. Ooo it felt good.

Was further delayed due to traffic backed up all the way from Place Flagey and extending out in every direction. When bus finally arrived, soon discovered cause of blockage likely was due to some fool having closed down Avenue de la Couronne.

Local place name definitions:

Place Flagey. Please remember to say "Plahce" not "Playce". In English this would be Flagey Square. Doesn't sound half as good does it? Place Flagey is famous for being the site of building works for approximately 8 years. The square is the site of what once was a pond, drained by King Leopold and used as a parking lot most of the time. The neighborhood was prone to floods so finally the square was dug up to install a new improved storm basin drainage thingy. An underground garage was built on top of this piece of cutting edge drain technology, although by the 7th year we'd already learned where to find parking in the area. And luckily, too, as it turns out, because the new improved storm basin drainage thingy leaks and there are concerns that the garage will flood, so the underground parking is unuseable for the time being.

Avenue de la Couronne. Crown Avenue. Not half as nice as its name. A dreary excuse of a road that connects other dreary, dirty, traffic-clogged roads. Personally, I avoid it.

Bus. Same as in English. Coming soon to an American city near you! (or would be, if local US governments had any foresight.) Wait 20 minutes, then look for them in groups of 3s.

Foreign Food Discoveries

Canola oil = rapeseed oil = huile de colza.

It's important to get these things straight.

08 December 2008

Bond meets Seuss by Jeremy Duns

Most successful member of our writers workshop discusses seminal texts in the thriller genre: The Cat In The Hat, Green Eggs And Ham and Fox in Socks.

What Belgium gets

From today's Guardian...

Food Standards Agency tells UK customers to avoid Irish pork amid fears of contamination with cancer-causing dioxins.

Last night Ireland's chief veterinary officer said "certainly less than 30" countries could be affected. France and the Netherlands have notified Dublin that they received contaminated shipments of meat or processed foods which turned out to have originated in Ireland. Belgium received contaminated by-products, officials said.

05 December 2008

Friday morning

I had coffee in bed. After taking the girls to the bus stop, of course. It is my secret revenge/score settler.

I've worked hard to get to this point.

I'm supposed to read a poem or two at Martin's music thingy tomorrow evening -- so I worked on that in bed, a bit. Haven't really been too engaged with poetry lately, but I don't want to bore myself with the same old stuff I've read before. I'm also equally bothered by what in the world I'm going to wear, because if I don't think about this now there won't be time to deal with it tomorrow. Did I mention the stacks of laundry? 

No, I probably didn't.

In the meantime I must also begin the financial juggle (jungle?) that is December. First there's Saint Nicholas, our adopted holiday: basically the girls get chocolate in their shoes tomorrow morning. It's been made clear to them that all their little Belgian friends don't get Father Christmas* (*aka Santa), so St Nick and Pere Noel have sorted us hybrids out between them.

In other words, don't expect presents tomorrow.... 

Then there's the run-up to Christmas. It will be, as usual, a check-kite. Except we don't have checks here, we have overdrafts. What excitement! Would Xmas be nearly as thrilling for us parents if we weren't skidding along on the seat of our financial pants*? (*aka trousers) No, I don't think so either! Ho ho ho -- I'm off to buy chocolate.

04 December 2008

Bookstore therapy

I sneaked to the bookstore this afternoon. By my estimates, I deserved it. I had been up at the crack of dawn to make apple pancakes for the office Xmas breakfast. Why did I say I would do that? I don't know. Somebody shoot me.

So instead of collecting Girl2 on the early side, I went for bookstore therapy. I had seen two books on the weekend, and had been thinking about them ever since. I say three days is sufficient delay of purchase to rule out mindless impulse. And when was the last time I bought myself a nice cozy first-hand account of the 2d World War? I got Vassily Grossman's journals translated by Antony Beevor, and a book called 'Five Germanys I Have Known' by I-can't-remember who.

Now it is revealed: I am addicted to WWII memoirs.

And I wish I had stayed in the bookstore, because the Girls are both trying to talk to me, at the same time, as I'm writing this, and it is only marginally more bearable than when they were quarelling while I was trying to write this.

But PS, those pancakes were awesome. Even if they got a little soggy and had to be re-heated in the microwave. Nigella's apple latkes RULE! (the recipe is in Feast)

Tree by my window - South Carolina

Patti has sent her lemon tree. It looks wonderfully lush, doesn't it? Wouldn't it be great to just... pick a lemon. Thanks, Patti!

02 December 2008

Progress Report

It's cold, rainy, and yesterday I felt like crap, but it was World Aids Day (sorry, you'll just have to google your own links for once) and I had to go hand out red ribbons in the Parliament -- the European Parliament. Fortunately the bf phoned as I was looking for a suitable sweater and I happened to look down and see that there was a hole underneath the zipper of my trousers... my good, fail safe, "look like a professional" trousers. So the good news was: hole discovered; the bad news: must re-dress. Add 15 minutes to already-lateness. But the bus was later, so it came out about even.

It's fun to do WAD in the EP. We pass out condoms, both male and female, along with the ribbons. You know, for protection. Most people have never seen a female condom -- they are much bigger, and come with instructions printed on the back of the package. So that can be interesting. (If I was less lame I would find you an image of one, see previous parenthetical, above.) Most of the staffers are enthusiastic and inquisitive and overall prepared to wear a ribbon to raise awareness... I wish I could say the same of most MEPs.

After that it was back to the office, and then it was off to get Girls. Girl 2 had a flute lesson. It is only for 30 minutes. I usually sit there pretending to read. This time I did not fall asleep.

When I got home I had to go out again to forage for food, but after that, I put on my pyjamas. The Girls did their homework, and I made brownies. With a glass of wine I mused on the fact that the things I am best at doing have no market value...

But at least I am able to do them in my pyjamas. It's of some comfort, I've decided.