Friday, 31 December 2010

Adieu 2010 et Bienvenue 2011

And ye, who have met with Adversity's blast,
And been bow'd to the earth by its fury;
To whom the Twelve Months, that have recently pass'd
Were as harsh as a prejudiced jury -
Still, fill to the Future! and join in our chime,
The regrets of remembrance to cozen,
And having obtained a New Trial of Time,
Shout in hopes of a kindlier dozen.
~Thomas Hood

Yes, these past twelve months have been anything but kind to me. I am sincerely hoping and silently praying that the next stretch of time is better. In all respects.

Drop the last year into the silent limbo of the past.  Let it go, for it was imperfect, and thank God that it can go.  ~Brooks Atkinson

One fortunate thing that we as humans can do, is to change. We are not bound to reacting like animals under the yoke of instinct, destined to relentlessly repeating behaviours in response to given stimuli. Following blindly a set of fixed action patterns that are both unlearned and inherited. We don't have to, we can choose to think and respond differently. And we don't have to wait for Evolution to cause the adaptations, we can just decide, right now, to live, think and act differently.
 So, I guess I'm one up on woodlice.

A happy New Year! Grant that I
May bring no tear to any eye
When this New Year in time shall end
Let it be said I've played the friend,
Have lived and loved and labored here,
And made of it a happy year.
~Edgar Guest

I've decided upon just one New Year's Resolution. Just the one because I want to focus and try my hardest to achieve it.
I resolve to think before I speak. To carefully consider what I am about to say before I open my mouth to speak. To filter my words through kindness, sympathy, consideration and respect. To consider my audience and how they are likely to perceive my expression of self. Thereby, to do no harm to anyone.

Goodbye 2010. You've been happy, deceitful, joyous, frustrating, unkind, wistful, damn difficult and full of regrets, shame, tears and broken promises. You stole from me one of the things which I held most dear and for that I will ever despise you. So I frankly have to admit I don't mind seeing the back of you.

I can only offer to the future and the present that I am a work in progress, that I am honestly trying to become a better person and I hope that forgiveness for past transgressions will one day be found.

All I can now say, all that I can now add to what has been said before is this:
'I'm truly sorry to have hurt you, please accept my apology.'
And now what I must do is to stand back, let go, be patient and hope for the best.

Then like a wave upon the shore, it was gone....

Monday, 27 December 2010

France Telecom: more Orange than Lemon... this time.

Amusing conversation with France Telecom, aka Orange and telephony + internet + TV cable top box provider.

"Hello. Last time we spoke, you said that if I needed to hard boot the Livebox again, it would need to be replaced."

"Yes, I can see that from our last conversation when we reset your box together. I take it the Livebox is still causing troubles?"

"Well, this is the fourth time I have rebooted the Livebox today. Just so I could access the internet and make a phone call."

"Why exactly did you need to reboot the box?"

"Because it doesn't work unless I do."

"The Livebox needs to be replaced, yes, agreed."

"So, tell me why I should stay with France Telecom? The Livebox is buggy and always has been, you charge more a month than SFR and I don't get the same coverage as they offer for less. Convince me I should stay with you as my provider. I'm listening."

"I can suggest switching you over to our 2010 plan. It provides all calls to the places you dial most often, France Metropolitan, the UK and fixed lines plus cell numbers in the USA. This includes your Broadband internet, the TV set top box and all for 42.99€ per month. We'll even include a 3G dongle as part of the package. Plus, as far as I'm aware SFR does not offer the same TV set top box that we provide."

"They have a different one, besides, mine has never worked. I complained about it, but no one could ever figure out why it didn't work, not even the technician who came out to do the initial install."

"Hmmmm..." (sound of tapping and papers shifting...)

"Is your satellite dish working properly? Is it just the set top box that doesn't function?"

"What satellite dish? The set top box plugs into the live box and the TV is also plugged into the antennae on the roof. I don't have a satellite dish, never have."

"Ah... I see where the problem lies. You have a satellite set top box, it doesn't function without a dish."

"Why is that no one picked up on this before?"

"I very sorry this occurred, but perhaps... you never asked the right question?"

...Quite. As so often is the case here in France. People only answer questions posed. You need to know the right questions to ask. If not? Tough titties. No one will willingly offer suggestions or alternatives. Unless you happen to be speaking to a GOOD person from Assistance Sociale (and I have dealt with dreadful fonctionnaires, believe me.) Or, as was the case with France Telecom; you phone the English language help line and speak to someone who shares your mother tongue.

Say what you will about Americans, but at least as a whole we try to be helpful!

Oh, and yes, I decided to stay with France Telecom.

The last time I was struggling to explain the difficulties I was facing, (all in French) because the Livebox wasn't working, calling on my pay-as-you-go mobile phone, (which I had to recharge twice during the calls,) they suggested calling the English Language help line. One call to them, they called me back on THEIR dime and everything was sorted in minutes. SFR do not provide an English language help line. So, at least France Telecom are trying to be helpful to the Expat Community. I'll reward that with my business.

So now just to wait for a new Livebox, my dongle and my proper TV set top box. How exciting, we'll have more than just the standard five channels. I'll now get to watch 'Strictly Come Something' and find out what all the fuss is about.

(Or not...)

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Happy Christmas!

May I wish you and yours a very happy, joyful and peaceful Christmas.
Let us raise our glasses and toast absent friends.

I'll always believe that miracles can happen.

I hope and pray that one comes your way, just when you need it.

Joyeux Noël

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Something written in less-than-three

Rain falling down
Cold, turning the snow to wet, grey mush
Freezing in the wind, overnight turning hard
Shattering crisp with a light step
Early, stepping out, key guarding those asleep
Morning darkness turning grey pink tinge

My breath in white clouds
My chest burning
Salty stinging
The pain overwhelming
Walking, waiting, hoping, praying

Every other step a punishment
Pushing forward regardless
Trying not to limp but failing
The pain in my chest mocking me
My body is my harshest critic

Walking, trying to clear my mind, my thoughts
Past failures rush in, crowding any chance of Zen
How do I say I'm so sorry? How do I express regret?
How can I get past this hopelessness
When it's only the echo of my own voice that's heard?

Show me the path to redemption
Allow me the road map to forgiveness
Fulfil the promise that was always there
Give me the chance to laugh again
Warm my soul with your smile

In the between-time, that sacred space that lies between dream and reality
You and I lie tangled again in each other's arms
Breathing the same air
Our hearts occupying the same space
And for a breath, for an instant, we are still we

Monday, 20 December 2010

Merry Christmas from the Budweiser Clydesdale Horses

This had the girls and I giggling...

I know it's from last year, but, I've only just seen it!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Acapella Africa from Toto

I ran across this song by Perpetuum Jazzile on Facebook, linked from one of my friends. (Thanks Twyla!)

It gave me shivers, just a beautiful rendition. Even if you're too young to remember this the first time around, as seemed to be the general consensus on Facebook, it's still well worth listening.

Monday, 13 December 2010

EDF Alerte Orange

I just received this in my inbox:

La Bretagne est placée sous Alerte Orange EcoWatt demain, mardi 14 décembre. Les consommations d'électricité vont connaître une augmentation significative, notamment aux heures de pointe. L'ensemble des partenaires EcoWatt est mobilisé.
Nous vous invitons à modérer vos consommations d'électricité particulièrement demain matin et demain soir entre 18h et 20h.
 What that means is that they are expecting colder-than-normal weather here in our region, and as a consequence EDF, the electricity company is warning there might be brown-outs.

The reason being that people crank up the two-bar fires and oil-filled radiators to cope with this bitter snap cold snap we're experiencing here.

This morning it was 3°C in our living room! That's 37°F! OK, it was colder outside, but not by much.

The building where we live was built sometime mid-1800s. It is granite block construction, however, when it was dry-lined a few years back, they failed to put even a smidgeon of insulation between the granite and the plasterboard. As a result of the mean and centime-pinching economy of materials, it's often cold enough to hang meat in here, and safely at that.

Last winter I spent a mind-boggling 1000€ plus keeping it warm enough for all three of us. This year I'm only warming the girl's room (they've moved into the same room together) and warming the living room first thing in the morning and again after sunset around 5 pm or so, at night. Of course during these 'Alertes', I hold off until after 8pm. I'm so thankful we are no longer under dreaded Tempo, because during Alertes, the cost of electricity sky-rockets.

I've taken to wearing two pairs of socks, sweatpants, a camisole, turtle-neck sweaters, a cardigan, gloves and a hat. Sometimes even to bed. Très sexy. I have placed down duvets on the couch and we snuggle underneath at night together and watch TV. I'm making loads of warming soups, so even though it's parky, our tummies aren't complaining.

Possibly because we are forcing our bodies to adapt to the cold, none of us have had so much as a sniffle for months. Last illness was this horrid 'gastro' that caused severe cramping for weeks, literally. I had it quite bad, but luckily the oldest just had a touch, and youngest went completely unaffected.

Well, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? I'm certainly hoping that's true. About a lot of things...

Wednesday, 8 December 2010


 "Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it's less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you've lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that's good."  - Elizabeth Edwards

I found this quote posted elsewhere, and I thought I needed to write it down to remind myself of a few hard facts. I can never go home, not really. 'Home' will have changed, and 'I' will have changed, and not in the same ways, not at the same rate and many changes will be subtle and unseen and unacknowledged. So trying to fit back into that old mould of myself will cause everyone concerned to feel awkward and probably pretty embarrassed. My old mates, my childhood friends, the people who knew me 'back then' are reacting to the old version of myself, and I am no longer that person. And do I really want to BE that undeveloped, immature and inchoate rendition? As I look back, I find that I was more a rough draft, a sketch, a conception with potential for realisation.

Who wants to live life as a pencilled cartoon? I don't. I much prefer these multi-layers of colour, of form, of texture. It shows I've lived. My face may be lined, but the lines come from laughter, from experiencing , the continuance and struggles and joy everyone experiences when they explore what it actually means to be human on this planet and at this time period.

My hair is greying, because each day I get older, I can't stop the march of time. Last night I actually paused for many long minutes and looked at the hair colouring products on the shelves. I thought, "If I appear younger, will that help me function better? Will I feel better about myself? Will I at least look more attractive?" I picked up the various boxes from the huge array on offer, seriously, it comprises almost an entire aisle in Intermarché. Maybe bleach my hair blonde? Men prefer blondes, I've heard. Or maybe that's just what the blonde bimbos want us to believe. I once had to dye my hair dark brownish-black for a role in theatre, that would certainly be a change! But no, I'd no longer look like the mother of my two very blonde daughters and rather blond son. I tried matching my hair colour to something from a bottle, but nothing really came close. And I really hate to look fake. Plus, I never want the phrase, "Mutton dressed as Lamb" ever whispered about me. So in the end I decided against it. The one and only time I spent the cash to have my hair coloured, not ONE person noticed any difference whatsoever. And frankly, neither could I myself. So seriously, why bother? I guess it helps having naturally Titian hair; more subtle than Red, not as brassy as Strawberry Blonde and more interesting than Ginger. I can see how women (and men) who have dark hair might choose to colour it, but, nah, not for me. Not at this point in my life.

So, since it doesn't matter, why worry over it?

Yeah, I'd like to have back that hot little bod which was me before three caesarian sections and three stints breastfeeding. I wish the car accident hadn't occurred which caused my deformed right leg and constant pain when I walk, if I think about it, that is. I've trained myself to ignore a certain threshold of pain, which is possibly why I never realise I've burned myself in the kitchen, until later, when blisters form. I simply don't feel it. However, no one will ever see the hot little bod since I abhor wearing revealing clothes, I'm extremely modest in my dress. Plus you'll not get ME in a swimming cozzie unless I'm suitably bribed and forced and I must do it to take the girls to the swimming baths or the beach. As it's December, I'm safe for now.

We exchange one thing for another. Life commerce. I traded my youth for my three wonderful children. There's not a chance you'd ever find me wish for different. I'd go back immediately and make the same choices that placed me here where I am right now.

OK, honestly? I'd not make a few mistakes I've made if given the chance. But we live. And we learn.

We cannot live in the past, we cannot go back and *fix* the past, we have to live in the present. If we can learn from our mistakes then perhaps, with time, we'll stop making the same ones over and over. We have to first love ourselves and accept ourselves, as we are. *I* especially need to do that. I need to apologise to those I've harmed with unkindness, whether it was meant or not. Then I need to forgive myself, stop ranting about how life has changed and try to make something good out of what I have right now.

So, I guess that's what I need to focus on.

No one said life would be a cake walk...

Monday, 6 December 2010

Melancholy Monday

Grey day. Seems like nothing is going right day.

I'm hurting...

But... crying helps.
A bit.

Sometimes... I just need to allow myself to feel pain, anger, bitterness, regret, remorse and know that the Sun will still be shining tomorrow, even if it is behind the clouds. I'm still this side of the flowerbed. Life is bleak but it's better than the alternative. Clichés all of them, but they work.

Depression, this overwhelming sucking blackness that wants to consume me, is something that just wicks every bit of joy and hope from me. But I refuse to succumb to the awful drugs from before, the drugs that wrapped me in cotton wool and prevented me from feeling. From living. From being in the moment. From truly interacting with reality and life.

Answers never will be found in a bottle, regardless of the substance the bottle contains. Answers can only be found inside yourself. You simply have to look. Then look some more.

It took me many long difficult months to wean myself from the antidepressant drugs and their lulling effects, months spent feeling these painful 'electrical zaps' in my head, dizziness, vertigo and an altered sense of reality as the Doctor-prescribed addiction was wrenched from my body, my mind. From my brain.

(And those long months are enough for their own special Blog post.)

It's just... drugs are such an easy option, you see? Do I really want to feel this pain in my life? This gnawing ache and agony that appears whenever I still my mind to sleep? It's unbearable at times.

But I need to function at full capacity. I have my children, they need their Mummy to be here for them. Because the 'sperm donor' that was their father so obviously is not. That's their term for him, not mine, by the way. Tragic and rather sad, maybe, but he will never again be 'Daddy' to them. Even when he forces them to call him that on his infrequent, irregular and unplanned visits. They mock him when they are safely home and away from 'him'. That's the basis of my daughters' bitterness: his lies, his broken promises, the fact he won't help them. The damage caused has all been from his own hand.

I have another Court date in March to face him for Child Support, a legal and moral obligation which he has always refused. This is not my doing, but the French Goverment, absent parents are obliged to pay 'Pension Alimentaire' it's the law of the land. As my lawyer has stated, it's being sent to Saint Brieuc, to the Tribunal de Grand Instance, the main high courts for our département. He won't get away with feigning he doesn't speak French this time, or has no fixed abode, or claiming he hasn't a job - the French view 'travaille noir' as work. With the new legislation between EU countries, the French can now hunt him down in the UK. And they will, they take a very dim view of parents who financially abandon their children. Plus, it's so stupid, if he'd just go down to Social Security and fill out paperwork, the UK would pay FOR him. But, that's too much effort.

Yeah... a lot of anger there. However it was my choice to take my daughters away from a dysfunctional family and bring them to a place where they are happy, they feel safe and they thrive. My children are my focus and always will be. They HAVE to be.

So I listen to Snow Patrol and Kate Nash and The Beatles and I cry until there is nothing left but numbness and emptiness. And I remember that even if this is where I am now, I still have choices. I still have a future, uncertain as it may be. I still have my children and my skills. I still have my smile, my Choctaw cheekbones, my artistic flair and my enviable je ne sais quoi. As long as I have those things and pair them with my sense of humour and ability to laugh at myself and all my silly foibles, life isn't so bad after all. And after musing on this and writing about it, I begin to feel better...

A bit.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

SNOW!! And Winter Soup

Today the Transports Scolaire were unable to safely take to the roads here in Côtes d'Armor, so, a day off school for both girls. Plus tomorrow is the same. We have had just about constant snowfall now for days. The snow ranges from very tiny icy particles to big feathery flakes. I reminds me of a Currier & Ives Christmas Card.

Both girls insist upon going out in it, carrying black plastic rubbish bags so they can slide down the snowy slopes. Then come in with very cold bums and huddle under feather duvets on the couch, sipping hot cocoa (the kind you make on the stove.)

It's fun to be a kid.


I'm making soup every other day since it's a great winter warmer and the girls love it. Add in inexpensive and it's a winner!

Winter soup

200g smoked lardons of bacon
2 onions, peeled and chopped
2-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 Tbl Olive oil
3 Tbl Barley
1 kg bag frozen soup vegetables (leek, swede, carrot, cauliflower, etc.)
4-6 medium potatoes, scrubbed well and chunked into bite-size pieces
Vegetable or Chicken stock (homemade or use stock cubes and hot water)

Sauté the bacon and the onion in the olive oil until the onion is soft but not browned. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant and soft. Add in the barley, soup veg and potatoes and cover with the stock. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
That's the basic recipe. 
To make it a bit different: instead of the potatoes, I add in a handful of pasta at the end or a cup of brown rice (but then I allow 45 minutes simmering to cook the brown rice.)
I add in a couple handfuls of finely sliced kale.
I add in a tin of chopped tomatoes, a tin of white beans and several tablespoons of pesto to make a kind of Minestrone.
Sometimes I'll add in leftover chopped ham or sliced chipolatas or blobs of ground turkey or a couple broken-up steak hachée instead of the lardons.
It's a very versatile base recipe.

Try it soon, just the thing for a winter warmer.