A mishmash blog about bamboo, French, Superman and conversations

October 18, 2016

The bamboo

In my last blog I said I would update you on my quest to get the bamboo cut. I can’t be bothered with the drama and pettiness of it anymore so I won’t go into detail. Whenever I read the news, it is terrifying the way America is on the verge of imploding in its political parallel universe and then people are being blown to smithereens in places like Aleppo. There are bigger things to fret about than out-of-control bamboo at our fence.

In the end, a gardening contractor from the village trimmed the bamboo. When I ran into him in the boulangerie, I said I was fed up he cut so little. I told him I have nothing to show for my ordeal with Cruella. He said I should chill and be happy because he ‘murdered’ most of the bamboo and I will see the results of that later, once it has died a slow death. Apparently when you cut a bamboo stalk, it never grows back. Over time it withers away into nothing. We will see.

French friendships

This month I made a new French friend. One on hand, I love pushing myself to practice my social French and on the other hand, I can’t be bothered with the effort and self-consciousness it involves. After my first playdate with my new friend, I was so mentally and almost physically wiped out that I would have liked to be carried home on a stretcher.

imagesWhen I’m with French-speaking friends, I worry I’m one-dimensional and hard work to be around. I can’t express myself as fluidly as I wish and I tend to choose the most hurdy gurdy way to say things. It would be easier for everyone if I adopted more of a so-what, stuff-it attitude and just bulldozed forth. Pity I’m not wired that way.

One of my English friends married a Swiss guy a few years ago. She said her in-laws are always exclaiming, ‘Really? How interesting! Wow, we didn’t know that about you!’ because they are learning things about her now that she was unable to express when she first met them all those years ago. She’s like the gift that keeps on giving. Maybe I should think of friendships with French people as a pass-the-parcel game at a child’s birthday. We need to unwrap the layers one at a time. I should appreciate the suspense and anticipation of slowly uncovering our personalities. In an English speaking friendship, communication is straightforward so there is less to peel away and discover over time. It’s easier to be ‘Tada! This is me! This is who I am!’ from the very beginning.

Feeling like Superman

Every day I look forward to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. I love Stephen Colbert. He’s one of the most hilarious, intelligent comedians I’ve ever come across. Before his show one day, someone in the audience asked him how he knew his wife was The One. He’s been married for 23 years. I can’t think of many people I know who have been married for that time and whose marriages I particularly want to emulate so I enjoyed Stephen Colbert’s response to this question. I hope Al and I can speak of each other with the same enthusiasm after 23 years.

superman2He said that before he met his wife, he was considering marrying another girl. He wasn’t sure so he took a week off and went back to Charleston where he grew up because that was the best place for him to clear his head and think. He said that was the place where he felt grounded and strong, like ‘Superman under the yellow sun’. I love that! I think everyone needs a special place where they can go to feel like Superman under the yellow sun. For me, it used to be home in Africa but now I’m most clear-headed in the mountains. That’s why we often go on day trips because, for both Al and me, it is sweet bliss to be away from it all in the majesty and beauty of mountains.

cn5u1d6w8aa0qz_Funnily enough, every time I go to the US I also feel like Superman under the yellow sun. In the US, I feel I can conquer the world, like anything is possible. When I was there in August, I thought ‘maybe I should try to write a book’ then soon after I got home, I thought ‘maybe I shouldn’t’.

I find Americans are much more open, warm and upbeat than Europeans. It’s easy to feel like Superman in the US.  This is why my friends who are entrepreneurs here in Switzerland struggle so much. It is a constant uphill battle to try anything new and different in this part of the world. Maybe it’s because Europeans are mostly stiff, private and glass-half-empty. I remember I facilitated a training course in Vienna in 2011. It was horrendous. People were so dour and negative and it brought me down so much that I had to take the following day off to recover. My boss said, ‘Come on Julie, what did you expect? They’re Germans!’

Love and a conversation

Anyway, I’m waffling. Back to my story. Stephen Colbert met his future wife at a party and they chatted for over two hours and he knew, he just knew that he would marry her one day. Oooooo, that gives me goosebumps. So romantic!

Actually, Alastair and I met in a similar way. It was after the same kind of amazing conversation that I felt it in my bones that he was The One.

One day when my girls ask me how to tell if someone is their true love, I will ask them if their relationship started with a great conversation, ‘The Conversation’ I call it. The Conversation is a long, mesmerizing and almost magical chat where you lose track of time and everyone around you fades away. You can remember the date and time and place of it. It burns itself into your memory. Maybe you can’t recall exactly what you spoke about but you remember how you connected so well and how the conversation was easy as can be because it just flowed and flowed and flowed and flowed and as it did you thought, oh my goodness, maybe this is it.

I hope Megan and Jessica experience that one day. I suppose The Conversation is the sign of that beautiful and often elusive click or connection. It’s either there or it isn’t – you can’t create it yourself, although many people desperately try. Maybe it’s just me but I think there is nothing more attractive than a connecting of minds. My theory is that true love always starts with The Conversation.

See below for the video if you’re interested:


A few random thoughts

October 1, 2016

I stumbled across this note on the internet that the great writer Stephen King wrote to an editor when he was 14 years old. The part about the obituary department is delightful. I laughed out loud.

This reminded me of the letters I wrote to every member of the royal family when I was the same age. I started my letter to the Duchess of Kent like this: ‘My name is Julie and I am 14 years old. I’m very interested in the royal family, particularly the less significant members like you.’ In spite of that, I still got a reply from her secretary.


A thought on naps

The other day I felt queasy after lunch and needed a lie down. It’s difficult to nap with toddlers in the house but I was desperate. I sprawled on the bed while Megan and Jessica stood beside me.  ‘Girls,’ I said with my serious face. ‘Mom needs a rest. Can you give me half an hour?’ They appeared to understand. They walked away. Hallelujah, I thought, they are finally at the age where they can play by themselves. I was wrong. They weren’t walking away – they were simply giving themselves enough space for a decent run up as they high-jumped on to the bed to join me. ‘This is not a trampoline!’ I croaked.

They climbed on me and repeatedly dived under the covers, over the covers, rolled themselves up around the covers and squealed themselves up into a hot, sweaty frenzy of fun and excitement. At one point Jessica grabbed a book and sat on my face while she read it.

They eventually left me and stampeded downstairs for 30 minutes but in that time I got up to investigate running water and a rustling in my hand bag followed by coins clinking on the floor. I also responded to shouts of ‘Please wipe my bum!’, ‘Jessica’s done a poo and is taking off her nappy!’ and ‘Juice on the floor!’ A lie down, what a joke.

A thought on sharing

I wonder how one should teach a child to share. It’s a really important skill that my girls must master soon so that when we are invited to playdates, people invite us back again.

Children don’t share by instinct. It’s definitely a learned skill. Megan and I recently made home-made play dough (supermom!) and I asked her to divide it and share with Jessica. They then made ‘cakes’ and we used real candles and simulated a birthday party. Jessica’s cake is on the left and Megan’s is on the right:


A thought on toys

When we were in America, I stockpiled cool toys for Megan and Jessica’s upcoming birthdays and also for Christmas. Toys are expensive in Switzerland and there is not as much variety. They’re not fussed about the stuff I bought. They play with their Vtech kiddies camera or plastic kettle for 5 minutes and then they drift to the most engrossing ‘toys’ of all … my things.

Children (or maybe it’s just mine) are compulsive fiddlers. Megan would be thrilled with a box of paper clips or a sheet of bubble wrap for Christmas. Megan and Jessica like to pass the time by opening drawers and inspecting the contents. They are drawn to toiletries – squeezing tubes of cream or toothpaste, unravelling the dental floss, sticking plasters on their bodies or shaking pill bottles. They like taps. If I leave them alone for 5 minutes upstairs, I am sure to hear water running.

They adore electronics. They would be in their element if I gave them free reign over the tv remote, my laptop or the iPad. They love digging in my handbag, especially the coin section of my wallet. Keys are great fun. They like opening kitchen drawers and taking my crockery and cutlery. They enjoy rifling through my grocery cupboard to stir their grubby fingers around in the flour or pasta or rice or sugar. They climb up on chairs to fiddle with things in high places.

Alastair’s study is a place of joy and excitement, mostly because it is out-of-bounds to them and forbidden fruit is sweeter. There are all sorts of things to tinker with such as paper clips, pens, filing drawers, the hole punch, the stapler and the rotating office chair. I find that most of Megan and Jessica’s playing involves wandering around the house, fiddling and that is why the place is such a tip by the end of the day.


An arrangement of cutting boards, pots, crockery and cutlery on the floor

Megan’s new favourite toy is a pack of miniature paper muffin liners. Every time we go to the shops, she pops more in the trolley. She’s taken them to school, in the car on various excursions and she’s held them as she fell asleep at night. She unpacks them and makes shapes on the floor or she practises her cutting and chops them into confetti.


With the muffin cups next to the lake and in bed

Even though these playing habits are strange, I support the creativity. That’s why I let my children dress themselves too. Megan’s outfits for school make her look as if she’s been dipped in glue and dragged through a flea market. I’m sure Megan’s teacher thinks that, based on the way she dresses, we must be either a highly eccentric family or in financial difficulty.

Off to school wearing two dresses, a skirt, leggings and mismatched socks

Off to school wearing two dresses, a skirt, leggings and mismatched socks

A thought on cars

My final thought for today. While we were in the States, Al cleaned the car. It was a cesspit. He sent me a photo of what was under Jessica’s carseat – a pine cone, wrappers, pretzels, crumbs, stones and half eaten biscuits. I find it’s impossible to keep the car clean.

If a child is agitated or weepy or bellowing in the back seat, I throw them some food and it calms them. Al believes it is only us that has this issue, just as he thinks we are the only people in the world who have kids who don’t listen or obey. Afterwards he said, ‘From now on, can you please keep your car clean?’ Yeah yeah, whatever.


The scene underneath Jessica’s carseat

For next time … the plot thickens with my neighbour.  Yesterday the bell rang and when I opened the door, she greeted me with a face like thunder.  Oh boy, what drama.