Thursday, April 30, 2009


no longer in russia, but having trouble being here: we suddenly thought, the night before flying back, that we might as well stay on in russia for two weeks or more, then swung back and forth in mind, in words, and finally got on the plane anyway, both of us unsettled, a feeling we had missed something, an adventure, a chance to dig deeper into something, not sure what, fear kicking in, insecurity, not sure of what either. a confusing space.

now here again. trying to integrate the uncertainty and the looseness. saturated, saturated and delighted, by the lushness of the green, the freshness of the air.

but unsettled still, feeling new, fragile, uncurled, unfurled. tentative. in awe too. (it has taken me three days to get up to date on the usual blogs and boy, have you girls been busy this week). unsettled (did i mention this?).

Saturday, April 18, 2009


ever since giving it away, i've been sort of missing it, so i thought i'd make myself one. this one is dark purple, also from thrifted turtleneck, with a bit of lovely indian wool tapestry to embellish. the shoulder strap is ridiculously wide, i actually kept the full width of the sleeve/chest/sleeve length (if you know what i mean) and reinforced the back of the strap with twill tape. it's crazy-looking, but i am quite taken with it. here is a bit of unfocused detail.

Friday, April 17, 2009

just on time

i thought i had run out of things to say about time. but no, one more. i don't know whether everybody has this, or whether it's just me, but as a child i collected quotes. poems. stories. lines from movies. bits of text which moved me. i would write them in diaries, between the lines of my schoolbooks, i would memorize them, and recite them to myself at night on the swing in the garden. of course, these bits of thought by philosophers, writers, actors and poets of various kinds bore little relation to my 9-year-old life, and so somewhere along the road (probably in the murky muddy waters of puberty), i forgot them, one by one.

the strange thing is that recently, these texts have been coming back to me, re-membering themselves, in quiet moments, and each time, i realize with a shock that that particular bit of text has now become my life. it is almost as if, all those years ago, i had written a script for life in a language i didn't yet understand, and now i am living it out, bit by bit, as it unfolds within me. Jacques Brel once said that all the dreams a person ('a man', he always said 'a man') will ever dream are dreamt by the age of 10. the rest of life consists of trying, with more or less success, to make these dreams reality.

maybe it's the same with quotes.

anyway. here it is then, the short but perfect chapter from an old/new favourite, the Little Prince, which came back to me this week. just as i was ready for closing time.

"Chapter 23

- Hello, said the little prince.
- Hello, said the salesman.
The salesman sold pills that quenched thirst. You swallowed one a week, and you no longer felt the need to drink.
- Why do you sell these? asked the little prince.
- They are a great economy of time, said the salesman. Experts have calculated that you can save fifty-three minutes a week.

- And what do you do with those fifty-three minutes?
- Anything you like...

'If i had fifty-three minutes, thought the little prince, i would walk very slowly towards a fountain...'"

Thursday, April 16, 2009


a long time ago, i was complaining to Sam about some wonderful blog by some wonderful wonder woman who seemed to be able to do it all (wonderful children, wonderful creativity, wonderful work, etc.) as well as publish gorgeous photographs and amazing inspiring texts daily. you know the type...

'how come she can pull this off????' i bemoaned '... and how come i can't?????'
'she can't either', said Sam, 'it just looks that way, on her blog. Look, sweetie, if i didn't know you and i was reading your blog, i'd think you were friggin' mary poppins!' (she's american, Sam is, one has to make allowances...)


i have taken these words to heart in the course of the many (many) (many) (many) 'friggin' mary poppins' (fmp for short) browsing moments that followed, trying (with various degrees of success) to remind myself that what people show on their blog is only what they choose to show. of course, i never bought the bit about my own blog being picture-perfect. clearly, the mess in my life was of the kind that no amount of selective editing could ever eradicate or even attempt to hide, it would come oozing out of the frame, leaking at the seams and unravelling in the middle. but then today, i was browsing, and in what felt like a sudden attack of schizophrenia, i actually had an fmp moment while looking at my own blog. seriously, the whole spring-green-grass-joy-frolicking-about-children... oh p-l-e-a-s-e! enough already...

this morning, at 9:45, i attempted to throw our vacuum cleaner from the second floor of our house, down the stairs, onto the head of my husband (which was at the time on the first floor) (together with the rest of my husband). i failed, luckily (we can't really afford a new vacuum cleaner), due to the wash hanging on the railing (said wash has been washed three times already and is coming out smelling more musky every time; something wrong with the washing machine) (we can't afford a new washing machine). since i couldn't break his head with plastic, i decided to go for decibels and fists instead, and with all our windows/doors open, the entire street could enjoy my remarkably wide range of swearing (in no less than three languages).

by this time, both children were crying and i decided to leave home. permanently. but first had to take Isabelle to her accordion lesson, where i sat reading the next chapter from The Myth of Freedom by Chogyan Trungpa (you will appreciate the subtle irony of reading about the importance of staying with one's emotions, and 'the mind as a lake with no ripples' on a morning like this). on the way back from the lesson, and having stopped to spend almost 100 euros that we really did not have on an adorable little desk for Isabelle that we really did not need (i figured, since we didn't have to buy a new vacuum cleaner after all...), i ran into our three-doors-down neighbour, who informed me that it was 'not done' to scream down the entire street, and expressed, in passing, her concern for our children's mental health and general welfare (i tried, to no avail, to subtly draw her attention to the book under my arm, in the hope of making it clear that i was working on it).

came home to find little son cuddled up in big husband's arms with his little hand covered in band-aids and blood. apparently he managed to break a glass and cut himself open with the shards before husband could stop him. cancelled planned play-date. put son to bed. read another chapter. meditated. went to collect little desk. ran into neighbour again. got disapproving look. had evil thoughts involving flying vacuum cleaner and neighbour's head. tried to 'stay with the emotion'. came home with desk. apologized to husband. slept most of the rest of the day.

so, just to make sure we're all clear on this, i ain't no friggin mary poppins!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

toini's new word

he has quite a collection to his name: mama/papa (used in non-discriminatory fashion to indicate any and/or all of his parents); MAMA! (for 'nursing'); baba (for isabelle); bm (for 'boom', clear arabic influence here), teen (for 'teen' and 'steen', might have been confusing but he points as he names, which helps), tok (for 'stok' and 'tak', almost synonymous anyway), br (for 'brood'), mma (for 'oma'), da (for 'daar'), maauw (for 'poes'), ba (for 'bal' and 'maan', i am not sure he knows these are two separate items. come to think of it, i am not sure i know they are two separate items...) and ei (for 'ei').

(not to mention the emphatic pursed-lipped triple-chinned head-shaking, which means 'no')

these words have been dripping in, one by one, on the thread of hours, almost unnoticed, slowly but inexorably eclipsing the days of 'tsss'.

(NOTE for the uninformed reader: from the age of six months until approximately eighteen months, toini's vocabulary consisted of a single morpheme, 'tsss', which indicated 'complete and utter satisfaction with the state of the world').

in fact, now i think of it, there hasn't been any 'tsss'ing around these parts in a long long time, and i had no idea how much i was missing it.

until this past weekend. when toini started saying 'ja'. and it is ridiculous and unspeakable, this insane joy that pierces me through every time he says it (ridiculous and unspeakable but strongly reminiscent of the 'tsss' era). what is that anyway? the need for positive feedback? the sheer life-affirmingnicity of it? the softness in his voice? the gentle lilt? i have no clue, but i do know that it is one of the great little raptures in life, to wake up every morning knowing that soon, very soon, he will say it again.

'Toini, wil je een banaan?' 'ja'; 'Toini, wil je bij mama op schoot?' 'ja'; 'Toini, zullen we een boekje lezen?' 'ja', 'Toini, ga je mee?' 'ja'

i'm telling you, it's almost as good as 'tssss!'.

Monday, April 13, 2009


we spent easter weekend visiting our belgian friends, two- and four-footed, with much egging (colouring, searching, eating), sunshine, forest walks, dry leaf fights, great-grandmother's Carol Easter Bunnies (baking, decorating, eating), more eating, barefoot running (grass, leaves, mudpaths), laughing, and a general sense of spring and joy shared.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

slow baking

we finally tried our hand at making sourdough bread from scratch (i know, i know, next thing you know, we'll be making soufflés...). the result was fantastic (although isabelle wouldn't touch it with a barge pole). but the process... the process changed my life. it started last week sunday, when i cooked some potatoes and mashed them into their cooking liquid with a bit of flour. then i put the mush away. on tuesday, i stirred.

(ok, seriously, don't you just want to scream from sheer joy? imagine, that's the actual recipe: 'stir on tuesday'. i love just saying it, 'on tuesday, i stirred'. doesn't that completely rearrange all the thoughts you've ever had about this life? and it gets even better...)

on wednesday, i stirred again. and added a bit of flour and some water.

on friday, i stirred once more and added a bit more flour and water.

on saturday, i added lots of flour, lots of water, some salt and some oil, and then kneaded the (very very wet) dough and put it away to rise.

on monday, we baked.

it lasted three days, we were savouring. the flavour just kept getting better. as did the smell.

(8 days, it took 8 DAYS... that's a day longer than you-know-who needed to make the world!) (and i know i am a weirdo, and a blasphemous one at that, but humour me here, i just really enjoyed making this bread)

(... and of course forgot to save a piece of the friday dough for future bread, which means we have to start from scratch next time...) (oh... can't wait...)

Monday, April 06, 2009

dividing time

in The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, there is a story about Alan (or is it Roy?), a father of young children, who had the most amazing revelation when he stopped dividing his time into categories (time for the children, time for the wife, time for work, time for Alan) and realized that all time was his time. i read this story for the first time a couple of years ago, at the peak of our 'time division' era (more on this below), and i remember feeling that this story was my koan. i could feel that it held the wisdom i needed, but for the life of me, i couldn't crack it. i mean, of course, wouldn't it be wonderful if all time was my time? but where did that leave 'time for the children', 'time for the husband', 'work time', 'cleaning time', 'social time' and all the rest of it?

a year or so after the birth of isabelle, and strangely coinciding with my bout of post-graduate obsession with feminism in all its forms, i introduced the category 'time for myself' into our lives. soon, it turned into a deity. many idols came and went, but 'time for myself' was inviolable, and much was sacrificed to it. marc and i experimented with various systems (half a day for him/half a day for me, splitting weekends, week-nights being divided between the two of us, hiring baby-sitters, etc.) over the years, and although it often felt as if we were somehow missing some point somewhere, neither of us could figure out what or where. and don't get me wrong, it wasn't bad, those were my most productive years here on the blog and in my studio. but somehow, there was a vague unease and disatisfaction about the whole thing (not to mention the incessant bickering involved in defending one's 'time zone').

in the meantime, of course, the koan was doing its work on the inside, steadily and with stealth.

one of the first times i met Mirjam, i happened to mention the 'time to myself' issue, and she said something along the lines of (please feel free to correct misquotes) 'not really wanting time for herself because it seemed to her that if she had any, she would end up wanting more and more of it'. that pissed the hell out of me...

... which is usually a sign. of truth and wisdom (nothing pisses me off quite as much as truth and wisdom...). i went home and thought. and came to the painful realization that this was true for me too. that the problem with 'time for myself' was that i never ever EVER seemed to have enough of it. and the more of it i had, the more i wanted. i also realized that there were so many things i wanted to do in that time for myself that it was seriously vying for the position of 'most stressful time'. finally, i was forced to conclude that far from making me happy, my 'time for myself' usually resulted in me feeling disconnected, from myself and everyone else, grumpy, impatient and mad.

but it sounded so right, this 'i need time for myself'. so what was wrong with it?

and then, unanounced, Alan's (or Roy's?) story made its reappearance (when i accidentally borrowed The Miracle of Mindfulness from the library, having confused it with another book and having forgotten that i actually own it). reading it again, the koan cracked over my head like a ripe egg. and i got it. just like that, i knew what was wrong with 'i need time for myself'. the answer is: time and myself.

consider the latter first, since that's the one Thich Nhat Hanh illustrates so well: if i divide time into categories, and one (only one) of these categories is 'time for myself', that implicitly means that all other time categories are not mine. and that in turn means that the more categories there are, the more areas of my life, and hours in my day, are not mine. no wonder my to-do list for those few hours was insane: i was trying to cram an entire life into a few hours per week! no wonder i felt unhappy and unfulfilled 'the rest of the time', since all my needs always had to be postponed until i had 'time for myself'. no wonder this made me feel depressed and gave me the feeling that 'my life was not my own'. it wasn't. i had given it away. with one little well-meaning sentence: 'i need time for myself'.

deep down (and close to the surface too), i wanted all of life to be 'time for myself'. of course i did. and the irony is that it was, and had been all along. the time i spend with my children, with my work, with my husband, with my meditation cushion, with my paint-brush and my toilet brush, with my friends and family, all of it is time for myself. it is all, in the most real sense, my time.

and then there is the 'time' thing (i did warn you, didn't i, that i am obsessed with this...). 'i need time'. what does that mean? time is always here. in abundance. if i want it, here it is. it never goes away (if it is there at all), every second follows and announces another second, every hour, every week, every year brings more and more of itself. what is there to need? saying 'i need time' is like standing on a beach and saying 'i need air'. ok. done.

but by saying 'i need time', i am creating the illusion of scarcity. and if i create the illusion of scarcity for something that is so intangible, so all-pervasive, and in the end so utterly inexistant as time, i am in for quite a ride, aren't i! suddenly, that which is all around me has to be carved, shaped, measured and divided. using the image of air on the beach once again, i can see how utterly pointless this is. i can also see that it is more than pointless, it is toxic, because it succesfully disguises the real need underlying the utterance 'i need time', which then goes unnoticed and unmet.

so what do i mean then, when i say 'i need time for myself'? any and/or all of the following:

i need solitude, i need to work, i need to read, i need to do yoga, i need to connect, i need to disconnect, i need to day-dream, i need to crawl under the blanket, i need to sleep, i need to meditate, i need to stare at a blank wall, i need to think, i need to rest, i need quiet, i need music, i need to dance, i need to love myself, i need a bath, i need to draw, i need to write, i need to take a photograph, i need to listen to the birds, i need to lie in a hammock, i need to walk, i need to do absolutely nothing, i need the beach, i need the forest, i need a snack, i need to plan a meal, i need to play, etc.

(note that of these, only the need for solitude actually strictly requires, in and of itself, the absence of other creatures. which is not to say that many of these things are not gorgeous lovely when experienced in solitude. but how do they feel in the company of two adorable under-six year-olds? in view of my life's circumstances, it's certainly worth finding out...)

if i let 'time' off the hook, i can begin to experience its sheer endlessness. if i learn to formulate and express my real need, i need not postpone its fulfillment. instead, i can concentrate on creative ways to meet my needs right now. right here. in this time of mine.

gardening dilemma

(Little Weed, snugled between Bill and Ben)
it's clearly time to start planting now. the original, humble, plan for this year's harvest (strawberries (mara), strawberries (wild), strawberries (gariguette)) has oozed and spread somewhat (a herb garden, tomatoes, bell peppers, salads (only because came free with strawberries (wild)), and gerkhins (because can't be bought fresh anywhere)). (not to mention the sunflower house project) (not really edible) (but oh so lovely)

of course, all this is so far in the head (or in the seed). seedlings still have to be started, it will take weeks, and then and only then will the dilemma (which i have still failed to mention) make itself felt. still, one likes to stay ahead of the game (especially where dilemma's are concerned) (being a theorist despite all and sundry and all that). anyway, yes, the dilemma: where should i plant these wonders? on my balcony in town A or in my garden in town B? wherever it will be, i'll need to take care of it all, and at this point, i can't figure out where i will be this summer, because if the little summer house turns out to be wonderful i'll spend most of my time there, but really, my kitchen in town is much better equipped, and if i don't end up liking the summer house, i'll have to drive up and down 50 km to go and water the wonders in the garden of town B. On the other hand, if i do love it at the garden house, and my whole vegetable garden is on my hot very very hot south-facing no-wind-at-all balcony in town, i'll have to drive 50 km up and down EVERY DAY to water the wonders on the balcony in town A.

you can see why my ever helpful son is looking so puzzled (having been given this particular rant at 8 in the morning, while he was trying to enjoy the morning sunshine)...

please to advise.

Saturday, April 04, 2009


(self-portrait with new head-kerchief)
things have been rather sad and subdued around here this week since we heard that my grand-father has suddenly been taken ill, which at the age of 90 is no good news (although knowing my grand-father, he might surprise us and go on to live for another 30 years). we immediately started organizing ourselves (passports/visums/etc.) and we are leaving on the 21st.

since hearing the news, i've been phoning him every day, but he tires easily, and i realize in only have about 5 minutes a day. for a story. so i collect for him little nuggets from our life, i embellish them just a little (the way one sometimes adds a few drops of balsamic vinegar to a bowl of fresh strawberries), and i hope he will laugh.

(yesterday's nugget involved hand-made head-kerchiefs, today's was all about isabelle walking around the house with her hand-held microscope discovering the wonders of the micro-world)

this morning i was standing in the kitchen and it struck me that almost 30 years ago, my grand-father was the one who had 5 minutes a day. as a child, i used to stay with my grand-parents in moscow and the days were filled with rituals, one of which was the bedtime stories my grand-father told me every night. these were tales of his childhood in ukraine, some funny, some sad, some wild and scary, all of them, i found out quite recently, fictional. they have formed me, stayed with me, and i can still remember most of them. in 5 minutes a day, he created a world for me.
now the roles are reversed as i try to create a world for him, entertaining him with stories of my children's childhood.

tonight, as we lay in bed, all four of us under the big white mosquito net, marc was reading from Het Sleutelkruid and it suddenly dawned on me that for weeks now, we have been listening every night to the story of a very old dying king whose life is being stretched out, one day at a time, through the stories that the animals of his kingdom come to tell him.
it will be many many nights before we know how the story ends.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

music lesson

we fell collectively and instantaneously in love with Lisa Hannigan and her song 'Lille'. there is still a debate on whether we prefer this live version (i want to see her face while she sings, mama!) or the official video with 'the amazing pop-up book' (or is there?) (mama, i don't have to choose, i like them both!). we play these videos a number of times every day, and all four of us (including the local long-haired two-foot-tall head-banger) go completely quiet each and every time. it's magic.

i have been finding myself humming the song on the bicycle, in the kitchen, and in a number of other places. on one of these occasions (bicycle), isabelle said she wanted to learn to sing the song. 'aha!', said my big fat teacher's brain 'an opportunity for learning!'. i proceeded with a long lecture on the advantages ('oh, what a wonderful idea! you can learn some english, and some poetry, and some singing, and maybe we can take singing lessons together...') followed by a lecture on the various pedagogical approaches we might try ('so do you want to learn the lyrics first, or just hum the melody? or do both at once?' 'should i first translate the lyrics for you, so you know what she is singing, and THEN we learn them in english, or do you think we should learn them in english first and THEN translate?' etc. etc.).

she interupted me, this daughter of mine, a while into the lecture, and said: 'mama, we don't need to do all that. let's just listen to the song a lot and then one day we'll know it...'

(i bow to thee, oh great live-in teacher of mine!)