29 July 2009

I'm not much of a Calvanist...

... What about you?

Find out by taking this test from Norm, who got it from Shuggy (whoever that is).

I got 39%... "not born to be a Calvinist. Catholicism suits you better: slightly hedonistic, loose and emotional" !

28 July 2009

Het book van Wim - The book of Wim

My colleague M. was out of the office yesterday and when I asked him this morning what he'd been up to, the last thing I expected was to hear that he had been at a ceremony for his grandfather, Frans Pakker, who was being recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.

In 1942, in Arnhem, The Netherlands, Frans and his wife Rie took seven-week old baby Bram into their home and cared for him for three years while his mother was in hiding elsewhere. Bram was renamed Wim (a more Dutch name; Wim = William and Bram is a short for Abraham), and Frans's wife kept a journal of his life -- "Het book van Wim," the first page of which is in the image here. The journal was buried in the garden in 1944 near the end of the war, but later recovered. After the war ended Bram was reunited with his mother and today they live in Israel. Bram applied for posthumous recognition for both Frans and Rie, and it was granted recently, hence the ceremony.

I can't help thinking there is more to the story of the book of Wim, but this was all that my colleague was able to tell me.

27 July 2009

Random musings on reading

Lately I can't keep up with my electronic life... Blog posts are piling up in my reader and I only really look at five or six, I know I had a good reason for subscribing to all the others but they haven't held my attention, and I probably would un-subscribe except for a low-lying fear of missing out on something later. Also I am annoyed at the ones that have changed their formatting and don't allow entire posts to be read in a reader. OK, Smitten Kitchen I can understand, she's had lots of problems with people lifting content and explained why she made the change even if I can't remember it now. But other blogs, with about 1/100th of SK's readership? I'm not convinced. You have to be pretty sure of yourself... Plenty of the other "biggies" still let us plebes read all in our readers.

As for another sort of reading....

One thing I've managed to do is finish reading Middlemarch. I consider this an accomplishment, having started it the first time at least five years ago -- maybe longer. I must have read the first part of the book at least 3 times and never got further any than Dorothea marrying Casaubon, largely because I found it hard to make the switch when the narrative turned to focus on other characters. But this time, having finished Bleak House last year, I picked up Middlemarch again. I had to take a couple of breaks but the last 200 pages or so flew by -- it was well worth the early effort.

So now I need a good holiday read.... Any suggestions?

23 July 2009

Cooking and caking and writing and making

The other night a friend, N, and I were talking about cooking. Her theory is that the kitchen used to be one of the few places that women, traditionally, could be creative, and so when we're stuck in our writing or painting or etc, we turn to this sort of primordial place in refuge. I said I felt it had to do with immediate satisfaction; you bake a cake or roast some meat and there, within hours it's done, and your audience eats it up and everyone is happy. (Or, hopefully happy.) We agreed that we needed or wanted the "making" part more than we did the eating.... And that when we're "off" our art we're also off cooking, and baking, and tasting....

This week I've had precious little time for writing, but I've baking up a storm. I made this pie which is so damn good that I made it again because I took the first one to a party. Then I made an adaptation of Nigella's buttermilk birthday cake from How to Be a Domestic Goddess (Mumsnet has the recipe if you're interested), with a chocolate frosting of my own creation because the recipe I had scrawled on a scrap of paper from c. 1980 didn't seem right. However the Birthday Girl tasted it and it got the nod of approval.

I should certainly hope so, I told her, I was up until midnight making it.

image credit: Young woman standing in a kitchen cooking food, 1942, © Underwood Photo Archives / SuperStock

21 July 2009

National Day

Episode of the Belgian Revolution of 1830
, Egide Charles Gustave Wappers (1834), in the Musée d'Art Ancien, Brussels (image via Wikipedia)

It's the Belgian National Day today. Woo-hoo! Or something like that.

19 July 2009

Something to do, a good thing to do

I don't know about you but there have been times in my life where I've felt an instinct to act, to do a certain thing without really knowing why, but just feeling that it was the right thing to do.

Well, someone I know, that I once or twice in "real life" met briefly but otherwise through the Internet, is very sick, and pregnant.

She is so ill that the baby will be delivered by Cesarean 10 weeks early, so that she can have intensive chemotherapy.

Her name is Honey and she has a blog and has been writing about these things. (You can see a bit of her most recent post on my blog roll, to the right and scroll down.)

When I first found out about what she was going through, and read her very first posts, I just felt such a mixture of emotions: that it wasn't fair, that she'd been through enough, that in spite of these tings her posts were filled with lightness, warmth and humour...

I wanted to send her all the Weleda products I could find and call everyone I knew to find some preemie baby clothes.

For the past few weeks there's been a "chip in" on the blog, to raise money for extra care and special treatment.

Twenty-three contributors have raised a little more than $3,000, meeting the initial goal of being able to bring a homeopath from Ireland to Wales, to see her through the birth of her baby. (I understand that a lot of people dismiss this sort of thing but if you are one of them you might consider reading about her experience. Also read more about Gerson therapy, if you like -- including its most famous patient Albert Schweitzer.)

Anyway the fundraising ends this week, on July 25, and I just think, if anyone feels like they could help, even just a little.... This is one of those times where just a little could make a big difference to someone, to a friend of a friend.

I can't help thinking, it could be me, it could be my family, it could be any of us.

17 July 2009

Amazon has nothing on real-life browsing

I struck gold in the second-hand bookshop this week, emerging with a catch of three fine books.

The first was Skye, A Traveller's Guide, by Christine Wiener (that's an image of island to the left): full of history, insider details, descriptions, and a selection of traditional recipes. I haven't been able to find out anything much about the author, except she seems to have been obsessed with the Hebrides Islands, writing books about Mull, Arran and Bute, and Kintyre as well as Skye.

Next I discovered a copy of Kilvert's Diary 1870-1879. This is the diary of the Reverend Francis Kilvert, who lived in Wiltshire, England, near the Welsh border. I am fascinated by diaries and in this instance even more fascinated by the history of the published version: when Kilvert died just days after returning from his honeymoon, his widow destroyed all entries that referred to either her or Kilvert's previous girlfriend, leaving just 22 notebooks. A typescript was made from these notebooks but the originals entrusted to family; later one of them destroyed, neglected, or simply threw away most of them. More about Kilvert and his diary in a Guardian piece here.

Finally, there is Love and War in the Apeninnes by Eric Newby. Warning, don't read the wikipedia entry to this book ... it's a complete spoiler! (I'm not even going to give you the link.) The book is Newby's account of his wartime experiences, evading the advancing Germans via a network of Italian peasants.

All 3 books, in one way or another, touch upon the themes of my Shiny New Project, so if I can't write as much as I want to right now, then at least I can give myself some inspiration.

16 July 2009

Brussels/Belgium at large

For those of you who are curious about this strange city/country where I live... "A Terrible Lesson from a Terrible Painter" is in this week's Economist.

P.S. The "terrible painter" is Antoine Wiertz. A monument to Wiertz is in Place Blyckaerts, and I walked past it this morning on my way to the office!

Lit Envy/Lit Encouragement

I am trying hard not to read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. Its subject matter -- an occupied island -- is just too close to the home of my vulnerable yet shiny New Project. I am envious and encouraged.... Envious because somebody else fell in love with a Channel Island and set a story during its occupation before I did. And encouraged because the book's success shows that there is interest in little-known islands occupied by Nazis. Who would have thought? (Yet cf, another example: Captain Corelli's Mandolin.)

My Project is not exactly like either of those books; nor is it exactly like Owen Sheers' Resistance which is set in an isolated Welsh valley with the premise that the Normandy landings failed and the Germans invaded Britain. Could it be this is some kind of sub genre of historical fiction?

It's unnerving when a something is published with a theme, setting, or subject matter that is similar to one's own. For a moment you feel very on top of the zeitgeist. Then you just feel like crap because your work will look derivative now. I have sighed over sightings of poems about buttons.... None of them exactly like mine, of course, but to the world at large such things become over-used very quickly. I've imagined poetry editors pulling their hair out: "Not another poem about goddamn buttons!" And throwing mine in the bin.

I am somewhat heartened, however, in knowing that I won't finish a sensible first draft for at least one year. There's been ages between Captain Correlli and Guernsey Potato.... Who knows, in five year's time, I might have better news for you all.

More about death and facebook

I have had a few (private) responses to yesterday's IAQ. Two people told me that they had facebook friends who had died, both several months ago, and their profiles are still up as though nothing as happened. I don't mean to be morbid. But it strikes me as a little weird.

It also occurred to me when I went away for a few days, that I could be in a car accident and incapacitated or something, yet my pre-scheduled blog posts would keep on posting as though absolutely nothing had happened.

I think I will write to facebook's admin team and see what they have to say.

Coffee collection III

15 July 2009

Drawing a line

If I read one more blog post about "how to get more readers to your blog" I will scream. Not that it isn't useful, of course. I just feel like lately, I'm inundated with this sort of information. Also, I am urged, constantly, to join Twitter. I'm sorry, but I am not going to join Twitter. I am not interested in twits, tweets, twots, or whatever you call them. I have enough to do without converting the pithy, the mundane, the banal or the exotic bits of my life into 140-character lines of detail, then trying to convince total strangers to read them. Why does anyone think this is fun? Is everyone really so bored? Have we not got much better things to do? Besides which... I have 3 email accounts, a facebook profile, this blog, a mobile telephone and a landline. Additionally, I also actually speak to people, face to face, in real life. I mean no disrespect. Your line may be elsewhere. But hey, this is where I am drawing mine.

14 July 2009

Largely unedited journal excerpt: 14 July (morning)

I am missing my morning hour of writing. My solution (I thought) was to get up early, 5.30, and do yoga and write. This I managed yesterday but today I snoozed well past 6, which leaves me here at 6.45 with about 30 minutes to write. Write! My head is full of figuring out how best to get another half an hour. What if I come back home after taking the girls to their stage*? What about that and then work 11-4 instead of 10-3?

That would work if I bring a lunch and maybe only sneak out around the corner for a cappuccino.

I don't have to go to the Delhaize tonight; last night I was clever and bought something to cook for this evening. So perhaps there's a bit of time when we get home this evening. I have decided against allowing (asking?) the girls to come home from the stage on their own. It's downtown, not around the corner. They'll be on their own in the big loose world soon enough.

Next week is going to be even tougher, because my parents will be here and the girls will sleep upstairs with me. Our upstairs is one big open space used for a variety of functions, most relevant my bedroom and my office. Usually not a problem. But while the p's are here I will have to get up quietly and then type even more quietly. Also, no morning yoga.

Thank god I am getting better about asking, or telling, the BF to allow me some space.... instead of contorting myself to fit his (and everyone else's) schedule. And then being really frustrated when something changes, when I was relying on all the contortions to stay in place. I don't know why it has been such a struggle to acknowledge this bottom line. Everyone has their own challenges, this is one of mine.... Anyway I am patting myself on the back: the other day I confessed that I would be insane and/or very very cranky unless I had at least the mornings to myself, completely and utterly. Again, I don't know why I struggle to acknowledge my need for solitude. Perhaps a fear of that the solitude will veer off into loneliness? But I am lucky lucky lucky. The BF was completely understanding.


Got the girls to stage by 8.45. Now it is 9.35 and I am back at desk, having: (1) stopped at bakery for couque aux raisins; (2) made a hummus, avocado and tomato on flatbread sandwich to take to work; (3) tidied the kitchen; (4) made a coffee. Let's see what can be accomplished in 35 minutes.


Did 327 words. New total is 5572. I think my target this week is 7000. Amazing! I might even be on schedule!

*stage = Brussels word for day camp

Button - text

As requested. This is to go with the YouTube version....

by Jeann
ette Cook

You lost me. You don't know where you put me.
You set me down somewhere along the way,
wanting to get home to the needle and thread
so you could sew me back on properly, so I'd be
where you want me to be: holding your coat together,
or crucially joining a cuff. You're certain that you had me once
and put me somewhere safe, somewhere so safe,
you rack your brain for the location. You're aware,
there's a world full of buttons. The problem isn't
that you can't get another one instead. Asleep,
you make a closed cup with your hands,
as though around an object. Your thumbs, all knuckle, latch.

09 July 2009

June Stats

I'm really excited about June's stats, even though I am only counting the New Project. It's the only thing I want to work on at the moment, even though I spent most of the early part of the month working on poems. It's a question of where your true north is at any given time, and for me, at the moment, it is with this prosey thing, that I am writing in bits and pieces but consistently, to the tune of 3000 words so far and these are not notes, this is story. Rough rough draft and unformed mass to be sure. But story, slowly taking shape.

Even more coffee collection

Now I know what I should have called this blog....

Coffee Quotes

08 July 2009

Dunkerque to Dover

I finally took the ferry across the Channel. Warning: self-indulgent travel photos follow.

The sea was so calm....

Full steam ahead (the Norfolk line) .....

Yours truly with the sun in her eyes....

Wow, the white cliffs of Dover are really white!


I've been away for about a week and came back to the rain and showers that constitutes summer in Brussels. You wear a trench coat and your sandals and hope for the best, one way or another. I have a zillion photos to download and children to collect, and there is no food in the house apart from coffee. I feel in a bit of a time warp, to be perfectly honest. Like I'm not completely here.... but not anywhere else, either. And not sure I want to be here. I'm feeling lost in my own home. I don't want to be away, though. Maybe I just need a coffee.

03 July 2009

Something has clicked

Or cracked. Or something. I'm not sure what or how it happened but for the past week, suddenly, I'm just writing. It had something to do with reading a book called Resistance by Owen Sheers, which reminded me of a story I started writing but stopped; it also had something to do with a blog post on Strictly Writing about the dangers of too much planning. I think that's what I'd been doing with the one thing I had been working on: just planning myself into a corner, and telling the story in the plan instead of in the ... well... story. Anyway I'd forgotten about the other story, which is set in the second world war and is about sisters, men & women, a murder, occupation, dogs.... all the good stuff, eh? I finished Resistance and as I went to bed I made a note about this other story, which I guess for clarity's sake I'll call the dog island story. When I woke up the next morning I was full of ideas about it. Even better I had a voice which I somehow didn't have before, and I finally understood that the story could be told with that voice. It was like I found an "in", a break, a crack in the code, an opening. I've written nearly 3000 words in the past six days. This is the feeling I've been waiting for. So please words, please please please, please don't dry up!

01 July 2009

We have a school !

I can't believe it. Got a phone call yesterday morning, completely unexpected, on my mobile/cell (here they are known as a "gsm", pronounced jay-ess-em, but I don't expect anyone who doesn't live here to know that). The number was withheld which always makes me a little suspicious, so I answered warily.... To my utter surprise it was Athenée Charles Janssens, Eldest's first choice (after Notre Dame des Champs, which she was unfairly robbed of). To tell you the truth my gut feeling has always been ACJ too. I thought we might have a shot, perhaps hear something by end of summer. But hooray, this morning I stopped by the school and completed the inscription.

Relief is palpable.

Eldest is so happy.