Christmas, present…

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Image | Copyright Chiromancer 2017

I have always loved Christmas, even though I’m a grown up and don’t quite believe in Santa any more – well, a little bit of me does, so I always leave a carrot out for the reindeer, but that is another story!

I love the sparkly lights, I adore the shiny decorations, I sing along to cheesy Christmas songs. Most of all, I love Christmas dinner.  Well, everything except the Brussels Sprouts! Since I grew up in the Southern Hemisphere, we always had dinner on Christmas Eve –  doing a roast with all the trimmings on the day is a bit hectic when it’s 30 degrees celsius outside and you are dying for a swim instead of turkey with stuffing!

This year, my Christmas will be special.  My mom and middle sister are joining us – me, The Belgian & his 2 reindeer – for a continental Christmas. I feel so grateful we have this chance to connect and spend concentrated time together.  It’s been over a year since we’ve seen each other, and several years since we’ve had a family Christmas.  This brings a whole new set of blended traditions – crackers, trifle, hapjes and kroketten – unfortunately for me, I’m outnumbered by the Anglo-Belgian mini cabbage-lovers! 

One thing I do know – there will be loads of food, laughter and warm memories made. It’s the best present I could hope for. So…here’s my present for you –  wherever and however you choose to celebrate – I wish you peace, I wish you light, I wish you hope. Merry Christmas 2017!

Effing & blinding…

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Image © Bortn66 | Dreamstime

I am so grateful for how I grew up.  I lived in a family where the worse thing you could be called is a ‘besom’ – as in ‘you little besom‘ which, translated from Irish means broom. This – of course  – was only when you had done something naughty. Otherwise you were ‘angel’ or ‘darling’.

Swearing simply did not feature. Even my dad, who was a man’s man in his work – at home, an officer and a gentleman. I can never recall him being profane. Emotional, yes. Ugly in his language towards others. Never.

So…I am somewhat amazed how over the last year or so,  I seem to have morphed into a sailor with Tourettes. This is not a new phenomenon, but after yet another frustrating conversation this evening, I found myself muttering the F-word darkly…even worse, aloud!

Now, there are many women out there who – at this point – will loudly shout that it’s our right as feminists to use language as we please. Yes. It is. We can and should claim our power. However, I spent my youth filling in Readers Digest ‘Improve your Wordpower’ quizzes, and I have a postgrad degree in English Literature, so actually, I have no excuse. I have at least 171,476* words at my disposal, so effing and blinding should not be my ‘go to’ strategy.

  • Note: This is the actual number of words in the Oxford English Dictionary – Google it, if you don’t believe me.

The truth is that I am angry. And I am not being heard. And therefore not understood. Language can connect us, but it can also create barriers – we think we speak in the same way, but actually our words are the bricks we use to construct the walls of silence that bind us unwillingly…or…the brickbats we lob at one another when we feel threatened.

I feel like shouting and swearing. Yes, it will relieve my frustration (temporarily). Yes, it will make me feel like I’m expressing my emotions (temporarily). But it will not and cannot remove the core issue, the seed of this extreme emotion. My anger. My hurt.

Which got me thinking…in this hour, and of this evening…might silence be the better option?

 

 

 

In Flanders fields…

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. – Rupert Brooke, 1914

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Image: Copyright Chiromancer 2017

If you read my earlier post Adventures in Benglish…you will know that I have set myself the task of adventuring across the A-Z of Belgium.  It’s a sort of therapy for me.  A way to kill my inner conflict about living here, by being a tourist and acclimatising simultaneously.

I’m not doing it in any kind of chronological order, the only requirements are:  #1 that I hit all 26 letters, and… #2 that I try to visit places that are a bit off the beaten track.

Visiting Ypres (Ieper) probably breaks condition #2, but it does cross off the letter ‘Y’ which I thought might be problematic.  As I headed out of Bruges for an appointment I spotted it on the periphery of my satnav… ‘I’ll give it a go’ I thought, as the sombre stanzas of several War Poets began running through my head…

Two things I had certainly not anticipated. #1 As a town, Ypres is a lot bigger than you think, and…#2 there are war graves everywhere. And, I mean e-v-e-r-ywhere. In fields outside of town, in the middle of residential areas, and of course at the emblematic Menin Gate (Menenpoort).   In the 1920s the Commonwealth War Graves Commission built 150 military cemeteries in and around Ypres in the honour of all those who gave their lives during WW1. I must have missed that part of the history lesson…

What I found so moving today was the realisation that it wasn’t just Germans, French, British and Belgians, who made the ultimate sacrifice, but South Africans, Algerians, Senegalese, Chinese, Indians and loads of other nationalities. A conflict to end all others… It’s estimated that half a million people died between 1914 and 1918.

Which got me thinking…it’s time I started my own inner peace talks. Sacrificing the best of who I am to bend my current world to my will isn’t working. It’s not the way forward. George Orwell wrote that ‘happiness can exist only in acceptance’.  I think he was right…

 

Rinse, repeat…rinse, repeat!

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Image: © Picstudio | Dreamstime

Ever get deja vu?  Feeling that you know what happens next because you’ve been here before?  Or as in my case, deja-poo? The point at which you notice it’s the same old crap makings it’s debut – complete with the same old feelings.   Knowing that you’ve hit the exact moment where the stuff you suppress, floats to the surface like a rotting corpse. ‘Out, damned spot…! ‘as Lady MacBeth would say.

Facebook has a nifty (or not so nifty) feature which prompts you with memories of a year…or three…or five ago.  There are days when I can look back on these reminders and smile, and others (like today) where I still remember how I felt and how I actually was when I wrote those posts.  In any event, today’s musings were not prompted by carefully curated social media posts, they were prompted by a paperwork spring clean. Rinse, repeat!  Tidiness is probably next to holiness in my own particular dictionary of karma, but that is the story for another blog.

So back to the past-present-past. In 2009, the wheels fell off for me.  In a serious way.  House, heart, health and work were tanking. My immediate family were far away, and being isolated in thought and location, I was able to hide from most of my close friends just how hideous life had become for me.  Cue more carefully curated social media posts!  As if this wasn’t enough of a ‘growth experience’, my soul was sinking silently into the murk of long and very deep despair. If I could have washed it all away, I would have.  Rinse, repeat! My recovery was just as long, but eventually the bad times became bad memories which faded as the good stuff started coming back.

Fast forward to 2017.  Today.  I’m in a study, where I’m renting space, sorting out (and shredding) paperwork as part of my ‘the girl who finally got her sh*t together’ self-improvement project. And then…it happens… I turn to a file which is full of paperwork from 2009. It’s pretty annoying when the universe bops you upside your head, even more annoying when you suddenly realise that this is going to keep happening unless you let the genie out of the bottle, and deal with the deja vu. Again.

I felt my tears begin as suddenly I was taken right back to the person I was at that time.  I felt my fear rise at the thought that I never want this to happen ever again, even though I’m terrified it might. I felt angry that I hadn’t dealt with it sufficiently to make it go away and that current circumstances were triggering all sorts of renewed negative charges inside me. Rinse, repeat! Rinse, repeat! 

And then…Something curious…

I was reminded that emotions are just that. Emotions.  It’s our feelings about those emotions that give them context and power. Negative or positive. You may not be able to wash them away with soul soap, but you can distance yourself from the feeling by acknowledging the emotion.  So I did.  I sat looking at the papers and just let myself feel the anger, the hurt and the fear.  And then I wiped my cheeks, and shredded the file.

Rinse, do not repeat! I feel lighter and cleaner somehow. So much that I was actually able to hit my blog and write it all down, something which has not happened in a while.  It’s been a day for soul expansion and growth. And for that I’m grateful.

 

 

Garden…

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Image: Alexey Khromushin | Dreamstime.com

I spent love and a fortune on renovating my old house. It was to be my ‘forever’ home. But the universe had other plans...I met The Belgian and life became a trans-continental juggle. The garden, which of course the builders had trashed, lay dormant.

2016 was one of those horrid years, where the bad news kept coming and the good stuff got lost in the haze. My garden got lost in the weeds, along with my good intentions for landscaping the plot. And yes, the universe had other plans…

Periodically, I made futile attempts to weed and plant, but to be honest my heart was not in it. Which is strange, because I love gardening. The plans of the universe?…Not so much. The task ahead seemed too daunting, too much just another thing on the ‘to do’ list of my life.

Each time I looked out of the French doors, all I saw was failure. All the things that hadn’t happened in the way I’d planned. All the things that were stuck. ‘You never realise anything’ went the negative refrain in my head as Summer, Autumn and then Winter rain pelted the house and watered the weeds.

I was determined that 2017 would be different. After what seemed like a long wait for January’s ice and frost to clear, I’m pleased to say that the garden is finished.  My contractors came and went in a whirlwind – laying a footpath and shingle, creating raised beds for planting. Ready for a new beginning.  Now when I look out of the French doors, the vista – and my mood – are transformed. Thanks, universe!  I learned a valuable lesson or two…

With the right tools, you can do anything!  One of the worst rows I’ve had with The Belgian came after we’d made a half-baked attempt to lay railway sleepers ourselves.  My garden guys had whacker plates and a digger. Voila! In half a day, they did twice as much as we did on several tiring weekends. And they did it beautifully!

When you are stuck, get help! I’d spent months planning to landscape the garden myself, against a punishing work schedule and planning a wedding to aforementioned Belgian. Crazy!  Asking someone else to carry that load was ultimately the road to sanity, not self-flagellation.

sometimes you have to start over, in order to start right. 

 

Every time we say goodbye…

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I hate goodbye… Whether it’s wishing my far flung family farewell, or saying ‘sayonara’ to someone special…I’m a real wuss when it comes to goodbye.

For the last two and a half years, The Belgian (a.k.a. my lovely husband) and I conducted our courtship across the English Channel. Every other weekend was spent in another country, and since we both work as consultants, our weeks were spent apart.  Long working days, long distance love, and lonely nights… It meant we crammed as much into our weekends as possible, before that dreaded Sunday moment, when – having repacked our respective suitcases – we hugged and hoped that the week would pass quickly so we could see each other again.

This Sunday, The Belgian and I hugged, and said goodbye. As he drove away, I stood in the driveway of our cottage, feeling familiarly sad, but somehow different. As I walked back to the house, I was deep in thought.  Perhaps saying goodbye is not so bad, when you know that you will see each other again. There is fondness in farewell when you realise that time apart brings the opportunity to share your adventures over a glass of wine at the weekend. Next weekend, darling! As that wise philosopher, Pooh Bear once said: ‘how lucky I am to have someone that makes saying goodbye so hard’.

The Year of the Cat…

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Image: Copyright Chiromancer

The cat – as with so many things this year – arrived in an unexpected way. The Belgian and I were enjoying a late-evening aperitif and some ‘hapjes’ (a.k.a. bar snacks) – when a skinny creature made it’s approach, miaowing plaintively.

Since we were living in two places and I was working in a third, pets were not on the agenda.  We had only just had a funeral for the gerbil so I really didn’t need another crash course in  pet care for step-parents!  

 ‘Do not feed the cat!’ I was instructed. Which of course, I was compelled to ignore. Surely a small and surreptitious snack would not do any harm? ‘He won’t leave’ The Belgian muttered. And he was right…the next night the cat arrived for another late night bite.  Clearly the cat was domesticated, so he must be someone’s pet. ‘If he is here again, I’m going to take him to the animal shelter’ said my husband, darkly.

Instead, he took the cat to the vet, got him micro-chipped, vaccinated and issued with a pet passport so he could travel.  The Belgian is nothing if not kind-hearted, and that is why I married him!  We named the cat Watson. He purrs louder than a tractor, and since his batteries must have been removed in one of his previous 9 lives, sleeps 18 hours per day. He is of course, totally perfect for us.

Sometimes in life, you get what you need, but it’s not necessarily what you thought you wanted.  Thanks Watson, for being one of the good things in 2016.

Adventures in Benglish…

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Image: Copyright Chiromancer 2016

So, I’d be lying if I said the adjustment to living in a new country where I don’t (yet) speak the language properly and recovering from severe shingles was going swimmingly.  It’s not. After another hospital appointment where the doctor barked at me in Dutch (yes, that is actually what passes for good bedside manner here, despite the excellent healthcare),  I got in my car and drove away in tears. Enough was enough and I was ready to pack my passport and hot-foot it back across the Channel to sanity…and my own GP!

As I drove back to the house, I began to wonder about why and how I was feeling like this. Of course, The Belgian (a.k.a my gorgeous husband) will tell you that I am impatient – and that feeling rubbish for such a prolonged period has brought out the very worst in this patient.  He is, of course, factually correct!  Patience is not my super-power…neither is being ill.

But there is a bit more going on here. As I drove back to the house, I reflected on what I could do to feel more at home in a role (wife, stepmom) and country (new house, new ways) which, in essence is unfamiliar to someone who has been a committed single-career-girl- about-town for so long.  So, instead of turning left, I carried on driving and took myself to the beach for a few hours. After all – I have time on my hands, so why not?

I parked up in a new place, and discovered the most amazing building. As I walked on the sand, enjoying the pale Northern sun and the emptiness of the beach, I found my antidote…to uncertainty, unfamiliarity and unhappiness. I made a decision. After all, action is the cure for despair.

What did I decide?  Well, I am going on a quest…and this being me, and the country in question being Belgium (and therefore small enough to criss-cross in a day), I am going to visit the A-Z of places in my new abode. This is entirely possible, since Belgium is half-Flemish and half-French so the likelihood of every letter of the alphabet being represented in place names is high. This being me, I am also going to pick destinations that are off the beaten track. I might be impatient, but I am certainly not conventional! I hope to document this in my blog, and while I’m doing it – rediscover my new self, and a whole lot more about this small, but interesting nation!  Perhaps you will enjoy reading my adventures, too.

P.S. The picture was taken yesterday at the Thermae Palace in O-for Oostende. I’ve crossed that letter off the list, then!

 

Up-side…down?

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IMAGE: DREAMSTIME

So it’s been a huge year so far, but that is the subject of another blog. Mostly it’s been a bit mixed. As in…Up-side! I finally got to marry The Belgian – on a crisp November day, we tied the knot in front of a select coterie of friends and family who’d travelled from across the globe. Such a happy day.

A week later…downside. I went back to work to discover my contract had been terminated because they’d restructured the project. Major bummer? Erm..no. Up-side! This meant that I could put my affairs in order and bring forward a move to Belgium to be with my husband, who has been extremely patient with his workaholic, long-distance wife.  Trust me when I say that planning a wedding when you are holding down a hectic job and living in three locations is challenging!

A day later…the lump at the back of my ear had turned into a raging case of Shingles. A.K.A. Chickenpox for grown-ups.  On my face. Definitely no up-side!  Well, apart from the fact that I was channelling a look that was the cross between Shrek and the Elephant Woman.  Oh..and the disinfectant powder and red, terminator eye made me look like some sort of crazed Halloween raccoon. Up-side?  That seemed a bit hard to find last week. And yet…

My immune system crashed and burned and the vision in my right eye is impaired. The up-side…well, the upside is that this cosmic siren call is calling time on my hectic lifestyle.  It signals a shift my priorities as much as my perspective – as in ‘work less, play more’. Life is short and we are a long time dead. Lying in a darkened room for 10 days has given me plenty of time to reflect. It’s a bit like the Hanged Man card in the Tarot – a card which in some cultures is thought to represent the Norse god Odin who suspended himself from a tree to gain wisdom. My learning? You see the world differently when your own is upside down.