30 March, 2006

Note to self.

It doesn't matter how late you are getting out the door for work! Do not open that bottle of black shoe polish above your creme colored duvet! When are you ever going to learn?! Sheesh!

27 March, 2006

Taffy was a Welshman

The boys have finally reached the age that they can really enjoy chapter books. I've been waiting for this moment for so long, and despite an initial bumpy start we've really started working our way through the bookshelves.

At the moment we're reading an anthology of children's classics that S inherited from a neighbor. I was really enthusiastic when we got it because it includes many stories that I enjoyed as a child.

This book was published back in 1966 and they obviously had different ideas back then about appropriate material for small children. I have been really shocked by the violence, desperation and outright racism in these stories and nursery rhymes!

We read an excerpt from the original Pinocchio yesterday evening and I was completely floored. The guy who sells the wood to Gepetto is a drunk, and they get into a knock-down drag out fight and call each other all sorts of names.

Gepetto carves out Pinocchio and then beats him and gets arrested by the police for disturbing the peace and child endangerment.

Pinocchio is a completely unsympathetic character: kicks people, teases them mercilessly and steals things. And then he squashes Jiminy Cricket with his shoe!

I was surprised that my first reaction was to censor the baser parts of the story. But the rational side of me realizes that kids need to learn at a young age that people are often horrible to each other-- I wouldn't do them any favors by sheltering them.

So now S and B are getting the unedited, unDisney-fied introduction to children's literature; warts and all.

Would be interested to hear other people's experiences and how you've reacted to this issue.

26 March, 2006

Time to install a hidden camera

Saturday is my set day to clean the bathrooms. And now Saturday has also become my set day to be stumped and amazed.

I'm sure there has got to be a completely rational explanation.

Can someone please tell me the story behind those small dark footprints that I keep finding on the toilet seat!?

24 March, 2006

Need to find a 12 step program

I see it in her eyes as soon as I walk in the door. Most people would miss the subtle cues but I sense it immediately because I know her so well. I suspect it even before I find the telltale detritus of her habit hidden carefully in various nooks and crannies.

She's using again. Caught up in that cycle of abuse and withdrawal. the deception. the desperation. the shame. the craving.

My name is Betsy and my dog has an incorrigible kitchen sponge addiction...

22 March, 2006

Not exactly "My First Reader" material

OK, so as usual I am my own paradox. The last post was about meditation and mindfulness, this one is about a gory pulp novel I'm reading. Go figure.

The sun was shining and the kids and I went to hang out in the yard to soak up the warmth and putter around. While they were playing I sat on the front steps and took a few minutes break to read a Patricia Cornwall novel-- I don't usually like detective stories, but have been in the mood for something fast-paced and light.

S still isn't feeling 100% and has been very clingy. At one point he came over and snuggled up in my lap. I was sitting there with my thoughts turned inward, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the weight of his small body when I suddenly became aware of his voice as he started reading without hesitation:

"Blood seeps from the gaping wound on her left knee..."

Mindfulness and concentration

I've been spinning my wheels this last week, completely consumed by bouts of frustration and anxiety over small things which are out of my control. And I realized that I've fallen into a vicious cycle of stress and my negative reaction toward it. The ironic thing is that as a fitness freak I've been compulsively taking care of my physical body but have allowed my psyche to become flabby.

Pre-kids I went through phases when I meditated regularly and really felt a difference in my ability to cope with stressful situations. Obviously I have less free time now, but I've also got more stress. And I've been feeling so out of sorts lately it's really time to get disciplined and try to regain my balance.

I ordered a new Vipassana meditation workbook with CDs and they arrived yesterday. Have done a couple of sessions so far and am amazed at how much more grounded I already feel! Plan to make a concerted effort to keep it up and hope to be back to my old cheerful self very soon...

21 March, 2006

Through the looking glass

Composed a post in my head on the drive home from work today. But it turned out to be unusable because it was such a reflection of my state of mind lately: disjointed and messy. I derived a lot of satisfaction, though, by coming up with great adjectives like "putrid" and "repugnant".

There are three major events going on at work at the moment, and they're bringing out the worst sides of human nature. I've got six days left at the office and on days like today this is a happy realization.

I'm a bit worried about S. He had a virus over the weekend which seems to have wiped him out. He's complaining that his legs hurt and then fell asleep at 4:30 this afternoon and hasn't been up since.

He might just not be fully recovered yet-- he's had gymnastics and swimming with school and soccer practice in the span of two days. Perhaps we've let him do too much too soon? Which in hindsight seems stupid but he usually bounces back so quickly!

Soccer practice was held indoors yesterday evening. B and I sat in the pub with a couple of other parents and watched the boys go through their drills. At one point the burly coach comes in with one of the seven-year-olds and dumps him off: he's fallen, says his arm is hurt, take care of him, will you?

It becomes pretty obvious that the boy is not faking. He's pale and quiet and withdrawn-- luckily he knew his dad's GSM number. I got some ice from the bar and we kept talking to him, trying to distract him.

Dad arrives, and the coach magically reappears. There were several testosterone-laden statements exchanged. A couple of proud comments about the fact that the kid hadn't cried. And then the father took him home.

I am absolutely convinced his arm was broken.

The image of his small pale face haunted me all night long...

20 March, 2006

Dr. Jekyll back to set the record straight

Obviously I realize that at four B has no clue how offensive he was being. He was just mimicking something he's heard at school and in the big picture this is no worse than his thug impersonation a few months ago.

I sent him upstairs, took away dessert and somehow managed to stay sane enough to explain that his behavior was unacceptable.

It was so difficult to remain calm, especially after having such a crappy day-- I'm still adjusting to life without M around to act as relief pitcher when I need to step back and take a break.

I'm sure I'll probably laugh about the whole incident later but have to admit that the old head explosion scenario seemed like the most natural reaction at the time. I'm doing my best to keep the hot lava eruptions to a minimum, but it's not always easy...

Update from Ms. Hyde

My mood hasn't improved. And, in fact, it didn't exactly ratchet up a notch on the happy-meter when I asked B to put his shoes away and he responded with a "What are you, stupid? I'm busy right now." (!!!???)

There are still scorch marks on the wall from where my head exploded...

Looking for trouble!

I suppose I should start off this post with a small warning: I am evil this morning, people, EVIL!

This could be partly due to brain damage sustained after breathing in the chemicals we used to refinish our kitchen floor this weekend. Or the possible permanent disfigurement sustained during a facial waxing incident yesterday. Maybe I have eaten too little and my blood sugar is plummeting. Whatever the reason my patience is thin and my tolerance is zero.

And of course, as luck will have it I was late getting my brood out the door. I could pretend that this was due to outside influences, but in reality I was just slow and spacey, which only made me more irritable. S and B were walking out the door, jackets and backpacks on when they both realized they had to poop. It's been that kind of morning.

Got caught behind a diabolically slow horse trailer in my mad rush to school. What the heck is the point of driving horses from point A to point B at a pace slower than a mild canter???!!!

So I finally dragged my sorry self in to work. Made a cup of tea and set to the task of deleting the hundreds of spam mails that pollute my inbox every day.

Was just starting to feel half human when our office manager ran up to me with a concerned look on her face: You aren't drinking tea, are you? Because I was just using some chemicals to clean the lime deposits out of the teapot and someone has put the top back on and boiled it up like normal water!

I was already halfway through my mug.

So this might be the last post you see from me for a while. At least if I have to have my stomach pumped I won't have to sift through any more spam...

17 March, 2006

Signs of spring

Spring is definitely on its way. I know this not by a rise in temperature or increased daylight hours. No, I've got a much more reliable barometer: the men with the wheelbarrows are starting to crawl out of the woodwork.

I stopped not once, but twice yesterday on my way home to let them trundle past carrying manure or whatever it is they are using on their farming plots. (On one occasion last year I peeked into a particularly noisy wheelbarrow to find it was filled with crates of live chicks!)

Some days I feel claustrophobic in our picturesque little village but on sunny days like this I love it!

15 March, 2006

News bulletin

Earthshatteringly important occurrences today in rural Flanders:
  1. the 100 year old guy who does landscaping for the village is actually still alive despite his corpse-like demeanor and recent disappearance
  2. The legal consultant down the street has hung a new "let your dog poop in front of your own door" sign since neighbors have obviously ignored previous warnings
  3. the health food store has somehow managed to run out of fish oil capsules. (???!!!)
  4. they've spread fresh mulch out in front of the retirement home next to the school; it looks and smells suspiciously like grape nuts
  5. Yet another french fry trailer has opened up on the only main road. This brings the total to 5 within a 3 km radius. Interestingly enough this also happens to be the number of strip bars within the same area. I am convinced there is a connection somewhere!


Just picked the kids up from school. B came running out with a filthy Bob the Builder bandaid stuck to his lips.

it wasn't his...

14 March, 2006

Worrying about our little "global nomads"

AfricaKid posted today about a book she's just bought which describes the trials and tribulations of Third Culture Kids (TCK's). According to Wikipedia, TCK is a term for children who have lived a significant portion of their lives in a country that is not their passport country, usually because of parents' work obligations. A synonym for this is "global nomad."

I seem to be running across a lot of articles on TCKs lately, and they all stress the negative impact that mobility has on children. Effects cover a full range of problems including fear of commitment, restlessness, loneliness and burgeoning "unresolved grief". One of the authors in AfricaKid's book even refers to TCKs as the "privileged homeless". Although pros such as flexibility and tolerance are mentioned, they are usually overshadowed by the cons in the articles I've read.

I am very aware of the enormous implications this move has for our children. We returned to Belgium in 2004 with plans to set down some roots after 10+ years on the move. We bought a house and have done our best to integrate ourselves into Flemish society. S and B are still young enough that they have blended in seamlessly-- they are very flemish in some aspects. Of course they have already earned TCK status, but if we had been able to stay here they would at least have enjoyed some stability in their formative years.

This move worries me-- we will probably stay in Germany for 3 to 5 years, and it wouldn't surprise me if M gets another international assignment after that. S is only 6 and next year he will be attending his third school in a third country in a third language. At some point we are going to have to seriously work on building some consistency in schooling, etc.

At the moment I'm stressed and worrying, so it's easy to dwell on the negative aspects of these moves. Obviously there are positives as well: I love the fact that my kids are so keenly aware of different cultures; I'm amazed at how effortlessly they switch back and forth between English, Dutch and Flemish dialect. They are bright, interested and compassionate. And at this point they seem very happy and well-adjusted.

And as someone who spent the first 22 years of her life in the same state I'm remarkably restless. 4 international moves have really left their mark-- I find that I don't get attached to houses or neighborhoods like I used to. I love them while I'm there, but do not really miss them when we leave. I guess the moral of this part of the story is that even a stable upbringing in one spot does not guarantee that one will feel rooted to a single location in any way or will be able to relate closely to people from "home".

I'd be interested in hearing about experiences with moves and cultural assimilation! (both positive and negative!) Advice is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or drop me an email!

12 March, 2006

Martha Stewart would have had a coronary...

I love going on these trips for work because my colleague and I have a knack for ending up in surreal situations, and this trip was no exception.

We arrived in Amsterdam on tuesday evening- dumped our bags at the hotel and, not wanting to stay out too late, went out searching for a local pub. The neighborhood wasn't exactly hopping, so we picked the first place that was open and which wasn't filled with Mickey Rourke types.

We walked in and our jaws dropped-- despite being smack-dab in the middle of a Protestant neighborhood this place was still decorated for carnaval. And I use the term loosely because it looked like it had been done by rogue style consultants for an elementary school lunchroom.

Orange plastic garbage bags had been flattened out and pasted on the walls; tinfoil on the ceiling; and a strange assortment of stuffed animals were suspended by wires: Teletubbies, gorrillas, mangy looking bears that looked like carnival rejects. A tattered old poster of Frank Sinatra hung at a dubious angle next to one of the prince with the queen's hair superimposed on his head.

The whole atmosphere was so overwhelming it was only possible to take it in in small increments.

The bartender was friendly and chatty, but along with the beer and nuts she also dispensed stories about her evil, dead ex-husband. She was pushing 60 but sported pink cotton candy hair and I was impressed by her savvy in handling a couple of the customers who had had a few beers too many.

At one point I was chatting with my colleague and happened to look up-- and there it was. Suspended and swinging slightly above his head hung a three foot long inflatable penis.

11 March, 2006

I'm back!

I'm back, and boy do I ever love Amsterdam! Most of the cities I have visited for this job have been exciting for their mystery and strangeness. Amsterdam was the equivalent of a fleece sweater and a big pair of fuzzy slippers!

I can't say I know the city well, but have probably been a few dozen times over the last decade. Many street corners held such nice memories: concerts, festivals, sumptuous meals. I love the architecture and the cobblestone streets! And I just love the Dutch! They are so straightforward and I really recognize a lot of myself mirrored back at me--it's a culture that really speaks to me!

Arrived home and the kids were full of enthusiasm and anecdotes. S was brandishing a black eye sustained in some sort of stunt and I swear B grew 5 centimeters just in the week I was gone!

This evening B broke a rule and punishment was swift and merciless: no dessert. When we finished dinner S got three pieces of candy, one of which he immediately passed to B! M and I smiled at each other and I actually got tears in my eyes!

We try so hard to instill a sense of compassion in our boys and every now and then we catch a small glimpse of it, like the silver flash of a fish as it flits past in sun dappled waters.

07 March, 2006

Top speed

Overheard the boys boasting to each other about different things that can go very fast and B trumped them all when he held up his pinky and shouted: This finger can go 6,000 km / hour!

Am off to Amsterdam for a conference through the end of the week so I probably won't get a chance to post again until this weekend. See you then!

06 March, 2006

Brand new theory of evolution

S is fascinated with numbers lately. He is nonstop busy adding, subtracting, multiplying and even figuring out square roots. This afternoon he brought me the calculator and asked me to help him figure out how many seconds his great grandmother has been alive. (2,995,920,000!)

Then he said that St. Nikolaas is 298 years old and asked me how many seconds he's lived. (9,397,728,000)

He was genuinely impressed and then informed me that the good Saint started off life as a monkey. ???

Why? Because he's so old, and don't I remember what I'd said about people being descendants of apes?

Somewhere Darwin is rolling over in his grave to beat his head against the inside of the coffin...

05 March, 2006

Forgetting the big picture...

Long and strange weekend. We are all in the advanced stages of cabin fever-- every now and then you'd look out the window and it was snowing buckets. Huge, surreal snowflakes coming down thick and fast. And then the next time you looked the sun would be shining. Would drop everything, pull on my coat and grab D's leash, but would be greeted by blizzard-like conditions as soon as we stepped out the door.

M threw his back out this weekend. He was playing with the kids and made a wrong move and felt something shift. It's really hurting him-- and he's no wimp, so if he actually admits that it hurts it must be pretty bad.

Yesterday he couldn't even get off the couch normally; he had to roll off and stay on his hands an knees and then climb his way up me to even stand up! It's a bit better today, but is still worrying-- and of course the timing stinks since he's supposed to drive to Stuttgart on tuesday.

So I was sitting here worrying about M, stressing about a trip I'm making for work next week and feeling just generally tense, and a piece came on the news about all the people who are starving to death due to droughts in Kenya and surrounding countries. Kind of puts everything into perspective, doesn't it?

03 March, 2006

Living life on the edge

Synapses aren't all firing together this morning-- CH and I went out to the movies last night and I got to bed well past my normal 10pm curfew. It's pretty pathetic that I'm feeling this tired-- I am not aging gracefully, people!

Had fun last night, though. M is out of town and the kids are visiting their grandparents so I actually had an evening to myself! An evening in which I eschewed laundry, strength training, dishes and pointless surfing to actually go out for a night on the town! (Or at least dinner and a movie, anyway.)

We saw Brokeback Mountain, and I can't stop thinking about it, which is ironic since I initially dismissed it as an enjoyable but unsubstantial movie. I actually lay awake for about an hour after going to bed last night. My mind was restless and I just couldn't shake the overwhelming sadness of their situation; thinking about how hopeless Ennis' existence had become-- "if ya don't got nothin' ya don't need nothin'". It really got to me.

So I'm wiped out today and I've just dragged my red-headed cartoon version of myself into the office. And judging by the frightened expressions on my colleagues faces I've come to the conclusion that this is not a good look for me. Depending on how motivated I am feeling later I might go back and ask that the colorist add an auburn rinse or something to make my hair look more hair-like...

02 March, 2006

Sunshine and other unnatural phenomena

The sun is out! No, no, really, I'm not joking, the sun really is shining! According to a prominent Belgian newspaper February was officially the gloomiest month in the history of recorded weather in Belgium. (And that's really saying something!)

Median amount of hours of sunshine experienced during a typical February in Belgium: 72. How many did we get last month? 29! If this continues we will probably evolve into moles with sightless eyes and develop bat-like radar in order to help us get around...

So they've apparently found a replacement for me for when I leave my job. She has no webmastering background and is not even a native-English speaker. And for some reason I've suddenly started feeling proprietary about one of my projects. I doubt she'll even be able to start before I leave but I'm feeling evil about the whole thing anyway.

Isn't there a golden rule about not doing anything extreme with your hair during times of upheaval?! Why oh why haven't I heeded common sense?

Went back to get my hair cut this afternoon-- the cut is less extreme but the stylist convinced me that I should add a dash of color. And I was fine with it-- we agreed upon a color that was pretty close to the one I had last time. Which was, shall we say, unconventional, but wouldn't have stopped people in the streets or made small children cry. This one renders people speechless.

I don't know if he was just bored or if he has a secret grudge against me, but I'm now left wondering which I resemble more closely: Ronald McDonald or a red-headed Superhero.

It's certainly not mousy. OK, we could call this striking. (if we're hedging about calling it a big-ass mistake) We could call it bold. And at least it looks "done" since it's shiny. but, um, I'm starting to run out of positive aspects here. And I guess I'm just punchy because all I can do is laugh about it-- it's that bad.

Have not hit the embarrassment phase yet, but that's sure to come..... Maybe the lack of sunshine really has affected my brain. At this moment I might actually be grateful if I and everyone around me really did developed sightless mole eyes. At least until I can get back to looking like a mortal again...