Monthly Archives: March 2014

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the nether… regions

It’s been quite a week. That seems to happen a lot.

Luuk got back from Japan, and then three days later we went to the Netherlands for the weekend. How’s that for a succinct summary?

But wait, there’s more. There were other nether-lands. The nether-regions of my adolescence reared their heads (too many metaphors? too bad) – I went to a Backstreet Boys concert. Yes, ’tis true.

And ’twas awesome. I haven’t been to nearly enough concerts in my nearly 30 years.

backstreet boys, dancingThey did their wonderful dances, all in time and basically actions to match the lyrics. Corny? Yes, a tad. But awesomely so.

If you know and love ’em, you know what I mean. You’re smiling. You’re probably doing a quick youtube search to refresh your memory… If you don’t know what I mean then don’t look it up. It’s probably important to be introduced to this stuff when you’re going through puberty – to develop a taste at an early age. Like with marmite.

Anyway, Erin and I had a wonderful time dancing and singing along, occasionally screaming, and repeatedly saying, “I can’t believe I’m actually here!” They sang many of their old hits and a few of their new releases. Catchy tunes and sentimental lyrics, but I like one of their new ones a lot. They wrote it for their kids. They’re all grown up (the boys, not their kids).

The next couple of days, wow, I felt old. Luuk was recovering from jet lag and off work, so we took it easy. Thursday, Louis’ school had a special day – all the kids were to come dressed up for the ‘bal de la mer’ – an ocean-themed dance. They did a little parade, all in their costumes, for the parents.

dress ups at school


Louis (in civvies), parading with his teacher and classmates…

Unfortunately, Louis would not wear the awesome shark costume we borrowed from his friend. He wore it before and after school, but would not let us put it on him for the actual period in which all the kids were together and dressed-up.

shark in the car!

Shark in the car!

Luuk and I took advantage of both children being at school/nursery, and went to see The Grand Budapest Hotel at the movies. We were the only people in the theatre! Middle of the afternoon, at an english language showing, and we had the place to ourselves. And then we went for coffee. We called it our anniversary.

Next day, Louis skipped school, and we all bunked off to the Netherlands. We had bought Louis a new bike and it was much cheaper to have it shipped to a dutch address, so we were headed for Luuk’s aunt and uncle’s place near Nijmegen. But we had all day to get there so we drove via Reims.

cathedral at reimsThe Reims Cathedral

We had lunch and then wandered a bit around the town, but mostly looked at the Cathedral. The stained glass is incredible! So many different styles within one structure. And I found one by a favourite artist –

chagall window, reims cathedral

A window by Chagall.

We had to get a move-on, to be in the Netherlands in time for dinner.

The drive is over 5 hours, from home to Nijmegen. The shorter route is getting old now (we’ve done it a few times) so this other way was more interesting. Parts of it have dramatic scenery, but lots of northern france/belgium have a similar look about them… from the main highways, anyway.

driving north, in france


Driving north, from Paris to the Netherlands.

We stayed with Luuk’s uncle and aunt for the weekend, which was mostly very restful. Louis loved his new bike and Elena, not quite ready for his old one, enjoyed a little ride-on toy they had on-hand. They also had a swing (they have grandchildren of their own…) and lots of toys for the kids to spread around the house…the swing!

On Saturday we visited Nijmegen, a beautiful and OLD city.

de brocante, nijmegen

De Brocanterie, in Nijmegen – a great place to hide from the rain.

Luuk’s cousin came to visit and after a fortifying afternoon tea…

elena and oom pieter

… we went for a walk on the dijk. That’s right, they live on a dike. I’d never seen one till we visited them a few years back, so I’m going to show you around…

walking on the dijk

This is the road along the top. To the right is an area which floods. You can see the river in the distance. When the river is low, cattle graze this bit.

the house by the dijk

This is the left hand side, looking down toward the houses and farms which are lower than sea-level but, thanks to the dijks, don’t flood.

We walked down to the river, which is sort of part of the Rhine.

on the river waal

It was cold, but the rain held off and we threw a few stones in the water (this is one of the kids’ favourite pass-times). Unfortunately, some of these stones were horse poop. Probably. River-water-treated-stone-like-poop. Yum.

The kids were grizzly and miserable walking back… being carried, in fact. And they’re fat hobbits – yeesh! We worked up an appetite and boy, did we fill it. We did raclette for dinner!

Sunday morning, we headed off early, so as to avoid the eight pm crawl into Paris. But we had enough time to stop and see a bit of Antwerp. We went to a (Belgian – duh) waffle house for lunch and then walked around, stretched the legs, and stumbled upon the Rubenhuis – the house of Peter Paul Rubens. He was an artist, and he designed the building himself. The signs said it was noteworthy, so we went for a nosy.

rubens' house in antwerp

View from the garden, showing one wing of the Rubenshuis.
(The other wing is quite different.)

The kids were being rat-baggy, so there was no dilly-dallying, admiring paintings for lengthy periods. But, I’d recommend the place to anyone passing through Antwerp. Lots of art, but not enough to overload, and combined with interesting stories, cool architecture, and a garden… very well-balanced.

There is also a chocolate factory/shop just across the way, so if you need to recharge…



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decision making ability, zero

We’ve (almost) made it. Luuk will be back by this time tomorrow. And I… I will be at a Backstreet Boys concert!

I had great aspirations to write a post about the week’s highs and lows but – gotta be honest – it’s not going to be thorough.

so many cheese/bread based meals

There’s been quite a lot of cheese-focused food. And bread.

There were two days in a row in which plastic melted on the stove top. The bread twisty tie was reduced to two wires and a white smudge before I noticed. Elena’s dummy (that’s a pacifier, or a tétine to the frenchies) carked it after we finished making popcorn. That’ll teach me to do a second lot of melted butter… hah. Yeah right. The element was off and I noticed the smell pretty fast. Holy cow, the stink. Stable plastic… to a point.

The popcorn was for a Purim party – it’s a Jewish festival. It’s to celebrate not getting killed, in this particular instance, thanks to Esther. She has her own book in the bible, if you want to look it up.

Elena, a new dummy, and I picked up Louis from school and walked a couple of kilometers to our friends’ place.

The kids got face-painted and ate a lot of junk food, including triangular pastries called ‘Haman’s purses’. I liked the more traditional fig versions but the kids scoffed the nutella ones. And all the popcorn. A cake box-full was not enough.

going home in the smog

Going home in the smog.

On the way home, walking those two kilometers again after 7pm with two pre-schoolers, we were all pleasantly surprised to find the carousel still going. So they each took a ride on a helicopter. Then home for sandwiches for dinner and a late night.Shame that doesn’t equate to anything like a sleep-in the next morning.

And then it was Saturday. I had no plans at all. I had a headache. I had lost all decision making ability. I’m a little food obsessive, most of the time, but I’d lost the ability to decide what to eat. I ate the other half of Louis’ pain au chocolat. I had a coffee (because NOT having coffee is the hard call) but failed to decide to eat anything else.

I text messaged a friend who suggested the ludotheque, so we did that. The kids played. We tried to keep up a conversation but she was about as shattered as me

Louis, at the ludothequeA marvelous man with a flying machine.

Come eleven I was starving. She suggested a crêperie, so we did that. Louis threw my sunglasses across the, thankfully empty, restaurant and cracked them (though I’m still using them – they’re my favourite). But the food was delicious and the cider was an apple and pear, sweet and dry deal. So good. My dear friend made all the decisions, basically, and saved the day.

Then we went home and napped and I felt better.

Sunday was lovely. Took the kids to writers’ group – a first. Husband of the host took Louis down to the river. They threw pinecones and sticks in the water for over an hour. That’s a good husband my friend has… doing that for over an hour so his wife’s writers’ group is not interrupted by a three year old.

eating well at writers group

Ah, writers group. The writing is good too.

Elena slept. Angel. Then the hosts shouted us Chinese food for dinner. Me and the kids were so well looked-after. I only hope the table cloth cleans up…

I’m probably missing something cute or noteworthy. Oh! Elena has started saying ‘à moi’ (french for ‘mine’) ALL THE TIME. She speaks more french than english, at this point. If it’s not ‘la’ or ‘la bas’, it’s ‘doudou’.*

Have I got any writing done? Ah, a little. I wrote a short story and entered it in a competition… within a week. I thought about it a bit before hand and left several days between revisions. I got writers group to check it over. Still… a week? Chances are good, it’s bad. And I paid money to enter the competition.

See? Decision making ability, zero.

I should go to bed now. This is also a decision I’ve struggled to make in a timely fashion. I’m reading several books. And I had a tv show to catch up on. And ironing. But mostly, I played Myst V (a horribly addictive – don’t look it up – computer game). I’ve finished now – as you can tell. I’m doing something other than playing Myst. I’m writing a blog post. Ta-dah!

Yep, so, to bed. Forgive typos, please (Luuk).


* La = there. La bas = over there or down there, like when you give directions. Doudou = cuddly toy that children get overly attached to.


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think fast

There was this game I hated at intermediate school. Some mean kid would say, ‘think fast’ and on the ‘think’ they’d toss a basketball, hard, straight at your nose.

Good for your reflexes.

Or bad for your face.

I wouldn’t give this mild form of bullying much credit for my ability to adapt. But I do adapt pretty fast. Or I fake it well.

I had grand illusions that this week would be back-on-schedule and über productive. My health is almost in the clear, my kids are back in school/nursery and there’s french class and writer’s group for motivation… plus spring weather (ie. outside play, less stir-crazy kids, and happy me…

spring at rambouilletEnjoying the spring weather – at Rambouillet Forest yesterday.

I hadn’t decided which writing project I’d be working on for my two or four writing hours each day (while the kids nap/go to school), but I was determined this week would be productive.

And then Luuk got word that he’s off to Japan for a week. Yep, he leaves tomorrow. And maybe, as far as the day-time schedule goes it won’t make much difference to my week. He’s usually at work during my two or four hours of writing-time anyway.

It’s possible I will be more productive. I might spend another couple of hours in the evenings, pounding away at the keyboard, instead of watching television or playing a board game.

Or I might collapse on the couch and fall asleep with my ipad on my face, inadvertently turning pages of an e-book with each snorty breath.

The mornings will be rough. The kids are used to getting up with their dad anytime from 6am. I get another hour’s doze. I’m hopeful, of course, naive optimist that I am. I will try to wrangle it – sleeping in a kid’s bed perhaps. Or just plonking them in front of early-morning television. But no food till 7.30.

chilling in bedOne way to buy a little extra sleep.

There’s always the dream that this one week of pre-7am neglect will break them out of their pre-7am habit. About bloody time.

The evenings might be rough. At my antenatal class, they called it the witching hour. But it’s more like two hours. From 5 till 7pm, the kids might be in the tired sweet-spot: cool and calm and lazy. They might happily vegetate on the sofa while I make dinner.

witching hour, best case scenario

Happily vegetating, with the kids, on the sofa

want mumNot the tired sweet-spot.

But slightly more or less tired than that, and they want me, constantly, actively, and competitively. In which case, dinner burns or comes late (and possibly on a motorbike, in a box).

Luuk and I will be doing our wedding anniversary apart (a first – for our 7th) but he’ll be back in time to babysit… so that I can go to a Backstreet Boys concert (you read that right. Yep.)

Timing can’t be helped. He is the layer 3 support guy for a particular flavour of networking software, and when networks go down they need him ASAP. So he’s on a plane tomorrow.

Think fast!

reading, together, sort of


Y’never know, it might all be very civilized and easy.
It could happen.

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where books meet girl power – London!

I spent last weekend in another land. Not a magical land, though I’m rather fond of all the magical stories to come out of it (finished reading Neil Gaiman’s latest one on the train, in fact). I went to England, for the second time in my life, and this time managed to get out of London.

Friday: The London Author Fair

It went fantastically, but it’ll make a dull tale and I took ZERO photos because I was so busy at workshops and seminars and chatting to a bunch of writers. But also a literary agent. I was a-buzz all through February, preparing my two manuscripts and pitch material for this weekend.

I did my pitch just after lunch. Hopefully I didn’t huff chicken curry all over the poor lady, but she was eating her own and it wasn’t exactly steamy. In fact, she wasn’t sure if it was the chicken or the vegetable… nope, not a good sign. Anyway, we got on well and the pitch was fine – not exactly as I rehearsed, but perhaps that’s inevitable when talking to a real person. She wanted to read my manuscripts, the contemporary one first, so I emailed it off between seminars in the afternoon. And that’s really all one can hope for from a pitch. Decisions come later, after reading whole manuscripts… as they should.

Highlights: Adele Parks took a workshop in the afternoon, and she’s lovely. And now I’ve read one of her novels, so I can confirm she’s also brilliant. The panels were fun: watching everyone try not to offend anyone on the other side of the whole traditional/indie publishing battle-in-denial thang. Hi-larious. But lots of people had interesting things to say. A guy from goodreads was there, and a bunch of literary agents, and a bunch of others on the indie side of things.

I wore out my voice at the evening drinks thing. Put a whole lot of writers on a time-limit in a small room together with booze… it was loud. So I escaped to the foyer at the end, and then Hannah showed up – my school friend who put me up for the weekend.

Next day, we headed off to the country… to Jane Austen’s home! Hannah is great at fangirling, so I didn’t feel like a total dweeb.

fangirling persuasion

 Me, fangirling. That is all you need to know.

Austen's Chawton home

That’s the house.

Austen's bedroom

The lady herself’s bedroom! (Bed is just a replica.)

ink and lavender

Making lavender pouches and practicing our penmanship, in the kitchen.

Cassandra tea rooms

We had Lunch at Cassandra’s Tea Rooms (named for Jane’s sister)

british foodCheck out the British vegetables.

We had a few hiccups, what with the train stopping a few stations too early, in another town, and something was wrong with the tracks, so we had to find an alternative… a pricey wee taxi. But we made it to Chawton, and on the way back the train was running. Whew.

We found some dinner in London’s something-like-china-town…

chinatown, londonand then rushed off to the Spice World sing-along at the Prince Charles cinema. If you live in London, or even just visit, this is definitely worth looking up. They put on loads of old titles and do marathons, quote-alongs, sing-alongs, even dance-alongs! I didn’t have any voice for singing or quoting, though I did try once or twice.

“The little gucci dress, the little gucci dress, or… the little gucci dress!”

A couple of Hannah’s friends joined us for the movie and then we went for pudding and cocktails. And then Hannah and I flaked out (yeah, it was mainly me) and took the train, home to bed.

taking the overgroundBig Ben in the eye.

Sunday morning, we took the train again…

perks of public transport

Perks of public transport: views!

off to the portrait gallery

We popped up in the middle of London – the actual middle, I’m told, and then made our way to the National Portrait Gallery. We visited a temporary exhibition of war portraits, watching particularly for some pastels a friend recommended – documenting some of the early cosmetic surgeries done on soldiers who’d suffered horrific shrapnel injuries. Visit the link for Fran’s photo. I didn’t dare snap one.

Hannah and I looked around a few rooms of the rest of the National Portrait Gallery. We found William Wilberforce (trade slave abolitionist) and loads of Tudors and Stuarts, the Brontes, a tiny Jane Austen and a giant Michael Kane. A recent Dame Maggie Smith and a very young Sir Ian McKellen.

And then Hannah whisked me over to the National Gallery. She’d seen it before and I was pretty tired, so I picked out a few favourites and, hunting them down, walked through nearly the entire thing.

After lunch we gave up on sight-seeing and went to a movie. I’ll get to the Tower of London next time.

off to the movies

This might sound like a waste of precious London time, but I so rarely see movies. There’s the babysitting to organize, sure, but it’s mostly because all the mainstream films are dubbed in French and the Version Originale screenings are few and far between. The non-mainstream films just don’t often get on my radar till it’s too late for a cinema viewing.

So Hannah and I agreed on ‘The Book Thief’ over the Slave film because we wanted something a little lighter… oops. But for all the sad bits, it was great. Weird thing with the narration (by death) – a bit jarring, but otherwise, loved it.

Last stop before departure, St Pancras station. Well, duh, but I didn’t just check-in early. I met up with a friend from school – from when I went to school in Hong Kong for seven months when I was twelve. Sixteen years ago! We reconnected on Facebook and she lives in London, so we caught up. It was seriously uncanny.

tea and scones at fortnum and masonShoko introduced me to Fortnum and Mason.
We had tea and scones with clotted cream.

The perfect wrap-up to a very British, and also rather internationally book-ended, weekend. My first trip away on my own, since Louis’ birth over three years ago – a roaring success!

Except it left me voice-less and exhausted. This week has been a wash. And not in the laundry sense. I’m just starting to catch up today. Still, totally worth it.