Can’t live without

The house is on fire! Which 5 things do I save? Desperation engulfed me when I first saw this Daily Post challenge. “How awful, our whole lives gone!” was my first thought. And the next. Eventually I sat down to condense my thoughts, and I am surprised to find I can’t actually list 5 things I’d have to take to continue enjoying a meaningful life. For every wonderful object my mind throws at me I can’t help but shrug my shoulders: it can all quite easily be replaced. Photos? They are mostly on the back-up hard-drive, we never get around to printing them. I’ll take the hard-drive, alright then. Although if that failed I’d sigh, be sad for a while, and move on. The memories will always stay with me. I don’t need the photos to remind myself or prove anything. I’d like some of the photos up on the walls because naked walls are a tad stark, but I have got used to that. I would like to keep the photos, but I wouldn’t be lost without them.

Wedding ring? I always wear that, stupid. Unless I’m digging in the dirt or handling something gross. The odds are I would be wearing it. But imagine I weren’t, I had left it in the burning house. Would I risk my life to retrieve it? I might have given you a ringing (ha! see what I did there?) “YES!” until a few days ago, when husband told me he’d lost his. I discovered I wasn’t as upset as I had expected. It was a valuable symbol, but now that it is gone it is reduced to an object. Its disappearance does not confer any meaning onto our relationship. Husband is considering having a new one made in the image of mine so he can wear a visible symbol of our relationship like I do. The fact that it won’t be the ring I put on his finger when we got married is not material. We both know that event happened. The ring represents our dedication to each other rather than a particular moment in history. So again, replaceable.

iPad? I love it, but the insurance would buy me a new one. I’d buy a new cover for it, the same lovely wooden one I so painstakingly selected. Clothes I spent ages picking out? I enjoy browsing and finding things that are that little bit different, so it’d be a wonderful opportunity to buy a whole new wardrobe. My wallet? Now here’s something I’d definitely want to save from the fire. It would be such a hassle to have to replace my identity card, bank and credit cards, driver’s license and such. I hate wasting time on such mundane things.

Don’t get me wrong, I value all of these things; they all add something to my life. But it is a relief to find that my life does not depend on them. The nice things really are the icing and the cherries on the cake. Without them my life would still be intact: I would still have the people in my life that matter, a job, and the same opportunities and challenges. Which would include dealing with an insurance company and living out of a caravan for a while. Which, in turn, breeds a potential risk for those vital relationships to be strained too far, but let’s take one step at a time!

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/daily-prompt-fire/

Liebster Award!

Thank you Trophydaughter for nominating me for the Liebster Award! I can’t deny I am flattered, and I am grateful for the extra publicity for my blog.

Before passing the award on I must tell you 11 random things about myself and answer 11 questions Trophydaughter thought up:

Random facts about me:

1. I am not really a nightingale. I don’t sing particularly well either.

2. I love chocolate. Good, Belgian chocolate. I import it because I can’t live without. Well, I could, but I’d rather not.

3. I also import Belgian beer, preferably a Tripel. Just for my own private consumption, don’t hassle me. Although I could start up a business if you wanted.

4. I like my own company. That is not to say I don’t like others’, but I have no problem being by myself.

5. I meditate. Have done for about 8 months. I always thought mediation was for weird people, let’s call them the mildly untethered. Surprisingly I have found it anchors me more firmly so I actually feel more alive.

6. I once qualified as a diver, and I’d love to revive those skills. I want to be in the thick of the sardine run action at the Cape, when all the dolphins, whales, seagulls and sharks are going for the poor little sardines. Let’s not tell them that if they manage to escape the predators they are likely to end up in a trawler net and on my plate.

7. It saddens me that I don’t fully belong in Belgium anymore, and yet don’t quite belong here in the UK either. On the plus side, that frees me up to move anywhere I fancy once the children grow up.

8. I want to come back as my dog: sleep all day, only interrupted for foodies and walkies. That’s the life.

9. My favourite smell is freshly baked bread, in all its many varieties – the smell of croissants wafting out onto the pavements of Paris in the morning or my very own cardamom-laced currant buns fresh from the oven on a winter’s day… I love them all.

10. My favourite sound is the lazy bubbling sound a full wine bottle produces when you pour the first wine. It never sounds like that again, it must be linked to the bottle neck. It holds so much promise.

11. I am determined to travel more in the coming years. I’ll start with a trip to Budapest to visit the friend who got me into blogging.

My answers to Trophydaughter’s questions:

1) Why did you start writing a blog? A friend of mine convinced me to publish what I was writing for myself anyway. He was right, it did make me polish my craft more. And it is great to know someone reads what you’ve written.

2) What are you currently reading? A work related book. Fascinating if you are into that kind of thing. I’m not sure what novel I’ll pick from my recently downloaded mini-library yet.

3) How would you describe your singing voice? Alto. Not trained at all; who knows what potential it holds?

4) What gives you the giggles? Catching my husband’s eye when I am about to burst into laughter, then lose it together so badly we don’t remember what set us off in the first place.

5) What’s your favorite movie one-liner? I still find the scene in the Raiders of the Lost Ark where Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones pulls a gun on the sword-wielding baddies hilarious. Ok it is non-verbal but allow me to stretch the assignment a little.

6) If you could have one do-over, what would it be? Can you make me funnier?

7) What’s your fav Chinese dish? The stuffed lotus root I had in a fabulous Beijing restaurant. I dreaded touching it because it looked like brain, but it was lovely! And once they had told me what it was the aftertaste was even better. Phew, lotus root.

8) How are you going to change the world? I am going to save a species from extinction by moving it to a new, friendlier environment. I am bound to, with all the moving around I do on this planet and the elephant in a porcelain shop I am to these tiny creatures.

9) When is the last time you sobbed, truly sobbed? About 4 months ago. That is all I will tell you.

10) What do you want to be remembered for? Having raised sensible and responsible children.

11) Who’s a tough act to follow? There are so many people who truly have changed our world, but I’ll pick Nelson Mandela. I can’t think of anyone else as brave, determined, graceful and influential.

Now I would like to pass the award on to the following blogs:

Life Out of the Box

Fish & Bicycles

Crows Dream

Eternal Domnation – who has only just been given the Liebster Award so I’ll just endorse that award without demanding anything in return

Happiness Stan Lives Here

Something Cookin’

Unread Life

Apprentice, Never Master

The Fiction of BP Barwick

ChebandBecky

My questions to you are:

1. What is your favourite smell?
2. Which place you’ve never been to would you like to visit?
3. Which of your qualities are you most proud of?
4. What would you the least like to live without?
5. If you didn’t have to worry about mundane things like access to jobs, where would you live?
6. What is or was the best time of your life?
7. How do you relax?
8. What story is waiting in your head to be written?
9. If you were famous, what would it be for?
10. What was the strongest emotion you can remember feeling?
11. Whose eyes would you like to see the world through for a week?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 If you decide to accept my nomination please keep in mind the Liebster rules – nothing for free!
1. Thank the person who nominated you – that’s me :)
2. Post 11 random facts about yourself
3. Answer the 11 questions asked by the person who nominated you.
4. Pass the award onto 11 other blogs (and notify the bloggers that you nominated them!)
5. Write 11 NEW questions directed toward YOUR nominees.
6. You are not allowed to nominate the blog who nominated your own blog.
7. Paste the award picture into your blog.

Achievement? Me?

When was the last time I worked hard to learn something new? That is what The Daily Post is asking me to remember.  I can only hang my head in shame and admit that I tend to give up quickly when I try something out that I am not good at. I am prepared to refine a skill that seems to have been lying dormant deep within me, waiting to be nurtured and grown. Languages, for example – easy peasy. Give me another one any time. But unless I feel from the outset that there is the potential for me to do reasonably well I lose interest very quickly. I am not sure why that is.  It goes against the mantra I was raised with by the Nuns: that you had to work on something, anything, always. They taught that you couldn’t expect things to be good all by themselves, there had to be effort involved. Which has kept me in an unhappy marriage for longer than was really necessary. In fact I might never have taken the decision to get married then had I had the insights I do now: I now know there are key things you not only can, but should expect feel natural and good without any effort, and relationships with a partner firmly belong in that category. Of course there will be little niggles but if the relationship itself feels like it is work rather than enrichment, ditch it. It drains rather than adds to your life. Nuns, what do they know!

I suspect that laziness and competitiveness both play a role in my tendency to give up quickly. There just isn’t much spare time in my life, and even less energy. It serves me well to direct the energy I do have effectively: it helps get through the challenges of every day life. However effectiveness  is not conducive to trying out new things just for the heck of it. Testing potential requires a certain abundance of energy I can’t always muster. Which is a shame really: I must be missing out on tons of experiences.

In my defense I took a leap of faith just last week and attended a yoga class for the first time in my life. I had always believed yoga was not for me, but I enjoyed it and I am going back next week. You guessed it, I did allright. I managed to stretch and contort myself as instructed, and nobody knows every muscle in my body ached the next day. Did you know you can overstretch your foot soles?

ok, I am not that good yet, but I will get there!

The yoga class was not competitive. It is simply impossible to stare at other people while you’re straining to keep your balance and holding your gaze at the ceiling or over your shoulder or some other uncomfortable place. That may have helped. I don’t like being really bad at something other people clearly find easy to do. It makes me feel inadequate. It makes sense to leave the stars to it and find something I can be good at, doesn’t it? Why torture yourself? Find your niche!

I find I feel less guilty admitting this to you all than I had expected. A feeling of loss actually pervades instead: I realize I miss out on the sense of achievement that comes with accomplishment. I mostly pursue interests and activities that seem achievable, and when I get good at them it merely feels as if I’ve completed a set track. I don’t excel or beat the odds. Catch-22 really: I would love a sense of real accomplishment, but I can only get it by getting good at something I have lost interest in, and what is the point of that? I’ll have to work on feeling more proud of the things I can do, regardless of the effort that was involved. Stuff the Nuns’ teachings.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/01/19/daily-prompt-apply-yourself/

Let’s move to the movies

That’s it: I want to move to the movies. People are emigrating to Australia and other laid-back, sunny destinations for a better life, but I want to move to the movies. No matter what ugly turns life throws at me there, I’ll always come out a winner. I might not win the way I had expected – in fact the best stories hold a surprising finale – but I’ll end up happier in the end. And the sun always shines. Except when I’m threatening someone, then the thunder and rain gods will oblige and act out my wrath much more effectively than I ever could.

The most extraordinary things happen in the movies: one-in-a-million chance encounters, fluke strokes of luck, unexpected inheritances, and the like. And when they don’t, I’ll just skip the dull bits and fast-forward to the next exciting event. I can always rely on the writers engineering drama, and I know they love me so I’ll be fine. They also give me someone to blame when things go wrong.

When something terrible upends my whole life, I’ll sit tight and ride out the course. I will be taken through some unexpected turns that turn out to be golden opportunities: might I finally discover what I really want with my life? I might still die in the end, but I’ll die happy thanks to the amazing experiences my life story has given me. And through it all I know I’m entertaining millions of people. I’d better not take myself too seriously.

I am moving today. My life is going to be “My Life – The Movie”. I’ll go with the flow because I know something interesting is bound to come my way, and I’ll be prepared when it does. I’ll zip through the boring and nasty bits ’till I come across the good part, and enjoy the sun. Ooh, I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me!

Hacked

Help, I’ve been hacked! I received a notification that the password on my Yahoo email account has just been reset. Not by me it wasn’t. 10 minutes of online form-filling later Yahoo responded by sending me these nonsensical instructions:

On 12 January 2013, at 18:19, your account activity shows that you tried to recover your account password for Yahoo! ID [ha! I’m not telling you]. You may reset your password on 13 January 2013, after 18:19 by answering the secret questions you chose for your account.

If you believe your account has been compromised, please change your password now.Choose a strong password.

More than 2 hours have lapsed since, without any further contact from Yahoo. Thanks guys!

England was a foreign land

My mind wanders when attempting to present interesting stories about my life in 2012. Instead it came up with the memories of arriving in England 20 years ago. I had managed to get a scholarship under the Erasmus programme to study at Warwick University for a year. In return a student from Warwick would spend one year at Leuven university, my base. I was 20 and craving a break from the path I had been laying out for myself. I had no idea how much that would change me, and I am so glad I took that leap.

At Warwick I found myself falling into a crowd of foreign students, who were all trying to get to grips with the specifics of living and working in England and relishing being different, in equal measure. We wanted to get under the skin of Englishness, but we would not be mistaken for being English, oh no! We would do things that we wouldn’t have back home so we would stand out as Norwegian / Israeli / American / Dutch / Greek / Flemish or whatever we all were. The key was that we all expected to go back home again after our English adventure; we weren’t really trying to integrate, merely understand to better utilise for our own purpose. We learnt that:

There are squirrels everywhere. Funny at first, then you see them for what they really are: furry rats.

Marmite is vile. English people put it on toast and eat it. It tastes pasty, salty, and of undetermined other stuff you’d rather not be educated on. But I did try it. Marmite

English humour is very dry indeed. It suits me.

The word “interesting” is often used to mean the opposite: when people say it in a trailing-off tone, their attention clearly wandering, you know you’ve been boring your audience witless.

English people really do queue in a disciplined line and stand on one side of the escalators. Everyone does it, so you join them.

English people are not really more polite than the rest of us, they only say “sorry” as they bump their way through and use polished words with sharp meanings you only understand once your English skills reach a certain level.

You could not find decent coffee anywhere near Warwick in those days. I had to go all the way to Stratford-upon-Avon, which caters for Shakespeare tourists, to get coffee. Of course one could drink a perfectly good tea, but tea just doesn’t always cut it does it.

I also learnt that I did not miss my boyfriend and told him so during a visit back home.

In hindsight I have never felt as free and rich in options as I did then. Even if I went back to Belgium I know that my year in England has been decisive for my later choices in life. Up until then I had completed school and gone to university as expected and dated a decent but uninspiring boyfriend for years whom I might have ended up marrying because there wasn’t anything wrong with him. Except that, when pulled out of my comfort zone, I unearthed more selves who all wanted things he could not have provided. Unfortunately for me the process of finding more layers to myself continued, so I still ended up making a decision that did not work out on the long term.

Eventually I ended up back here in England less than 10 years later. Another decade on and my children have gone native, and I found myself struggling to find the right words in my own language. I’m not even sure what language I dream in.

You can get good coffee in the shops now, just not in offices – you still get nescafe when you ask for a coffee.

I feel much more a part of England now, I have a stake in it. Not sure which, but I live here so I am entitled to an opinion. I no longer consider myself a passing visitor. I am settled. Man, did I just hear myself say that? It may be time to move on. Where shall I go? Let me think; definitely somewhere the sun shines…

Word Scramble

Some of you may know that I am an exiled Fleming / Belgian (pick which ever means anything to you) in England. This is not usually very relevant, I have learnt the language as any immigrant has an obligation to do and I pay my taxes. My children barely speak Dutch anymore. Now the holidays have finally arrived I am simultaneously exchanging emails with my family about Christmas preparations (they will be coming over here) in Dutch and trying to write a blog post. My brain is doing strange things to me, mixing both languages and coming out with creations that would probably appear absurd to you good readers. To me it makes sense though, I understand it all. That lovely Ciney Blonde I’ve drunk to ease me into the holidays will not have done much to unscramble the language area in my brain, I suppose. It seems to free-associate better though. More connections than clarity.

Now might be a good time to play multi-language scrabble with my kids: any language goes, as long as a dictionary can prove the word exists. Or with anyone else who cares to join. Husband hates it: he pretty much only masters English. But, we all have stuff to get done. I shall have to leave you with a picture of my lovely Belgian beer paraphernalia instead:

Ciney Blonde

And here’s some Belgian humour for you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OIJRMqYAA0

Before the End

Let’s pretend the world is actually about to end, at 12.52 pm GMT on December 21st – the Mayan Apocalypse. How would you spend the final days of your life?

Husband’s vote is to open our Christmas presents – those that are already in the house, giving up on those that have yet to wing their way here with family – now so we can get some joy out of them before we snuff it. Not a very inspired choice perhaps, but one I put down to his positive nature. He can’t even fake-believe that the end is neigh. That, and the fact he can’t pass up a chance to snort at the extreme naivety of some people. And, if we are brutally honest, because he knows there is a man-toy waiting for him under the tree and he is a child at heart.

The kids are sold on opening presents early, obviously. My son demonstrated his growing maturity and cunning by adding swiftly that he’d like to see his girlfriend one more time. Ah, to be 16 again!

And me, I ask myself – what would I do?

paradise

I would splash out on the credit card and take my family to an idyllic tropical paradise, the gentle lapping of the sea lulling us into pure relaxation in our hammocks under waving palm trees. We’d be tired from exploring the unbelievable riches of life above and below the waterline, having followed fishes, admired corals and anemones, and stalked elephants, lions and leopards. Shush, all these creatures live in my paradise; they all deserve a loving farewell. We’d have a few great last meals and talk under the stars.

Perhaps you were expecting a loftier target for my last days on earth. But it is too late for that, I shall have to face whatever reckoning there may be on the merits of my life lived so far. I have strived to live a good life, and I am actually pretty proud of most of it. The things that didn’t pan out were well-intended none the less. You have to take a risk sometimes. On the whole I don’t regret much of it. Now all I want is to pay tribute to the marvels of this Earth, and exit happy.

My Hero

Sunday afternoon. I find myself with some time on my hands. I’ve done the Christmas shopping (don’t you love the interweb? I have family with obscure wishlists you just can’t fulfill by going to the local shops) and most of my chores around the house. What next? Spurred on by Fish of Gold and Rarasaur I had a look at the Daily Post, just in case I could come up with some scribble for the day. And what do you know? I got 2 in 1 – today’s prompt and yesterday’s all wrapped in one:

In my memory the beach looked much like this picture

My Hero

I must have been about 5 years old. It was a balmy July day, and my mum had decided to take us to the seaside. Yay us! We couldn’t wait to get into our swimsuits, fumbling inside a bathing towel mum held up around us. Slap on some sunscreen – or did we not even bother with that in those days? I can’t remember – and we sped into the surf. Mum stayed with the cooler bag and the towels on the beach. Reading, probably, although I wasn’t following that at the time. She must have been, because otherwise there would have been no place for the Hero in my story.

We rolled around in the waves until we were cold and hungry. Well I was. I left the waves to roll on without me, turning to the beach. What a vast expanse of sand. I started walking in the general direction of where I knew my mum must be. How could I have drifted off so far? I plodded on through the wet sand, the broken bits of shell hurting my feet. And then I stopped.  Right in front of me was a colony of jellyfish run aground in the sand, waiting for high tide to take them back to sea. They were the nasty stingy ones, and they were everywhere. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t dare cross the jelly field, and I couldn’t see a way around it. Why wasn’t my mum here to help me? Where was she anyway? I must have started crying, for suddenly a man appeared next to me out of nowhere, asking if I wanted help getting across the jellies? “Yeyeyeyessss please…” I must have stuttered. All I can remember is being scooped up and carried around or across the nasties and delivered safely on my own two feet in dry sand. My Hero! Whom I will never know. And then my mum came running.

Straight talking

Words are fierce creatures. They have to be, I guess, to be in with a chance of surviving into the next generation. There is such an array of words to choose from, and if they don’t get picked often enough they’re out of the dictionary. Begin to form a thought in your mind, and it gets inundated with words offering themselves as just what you were looking for. Some people cut through the onslaught so swiftly you’d never guess any thought process had taken place. They present compelling arguments crisply, then sit back to read your response as it is forming in your head. Their expectation freezes you like a rabbit in headlights. All the words are scuttling away into the curtains of your mind. What do you do?

a) You spew those words that didn’t get away fast enough, improvising some form of structure as you go along. You’re working so hard you don’t notice you’re not actually making much sense. At least you keep talking. Nothing worse than silence.

b) You take on a relaxed, pensive air, pulling away from the gaze just long enough to summon sensible words and arrange them carefully, but not so long it looks like you are clueless. Then you make your point and project your expectation onto your opponent. Score.

c) You return their gaze with a highly interested expression. Soon the well-spoken people will feel compelled to elaborate. Clearly you enjoyed their expose so much you want more. While you half-listen (you got their point the first time) you prepare your response and you win points for being a star audience.

Other people seem to enjoy trying out various ways of making their point out loud, never quite settling on one. It could be they are incapable of deciding which words best describe their intent. Or maybe they don’t bother understanding their audience, so they simply see what works.

Then there are those people who have a clear point in mind, but feel compelled to make endless detours on the way. I’ve often wondered whether they do this so that when their point isn’t well received they can tell themselves it doesn’t matter because at least they’ve had a nice conversation, or whether they are actually scared to make their point.

meandering conversation

I detest having to sit through the clutter in other people’s minds. Give it to me straight, so we know where we stand. And if you have nothing to say, don’t say it.

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