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Archive for November, 2017

31 Years of Learning

30 November, 2017 at 11:34 pm by belgianwaffle

I was out of school 30 years last summer. Mr. Waffle went to a school dinner earlier in the year and it brought this significant milestone to mind. I thought I would record what I have learnt since leaving school.

1986 – After a certain number of exams; nobody cares any more (reflection caused by my entire family going off on holidays, leaving me to sit the matric while staying at home alone). How to talk to boys (college was mixed; school was not).
1987 – Just because contact hours in university are few, this does not mean that all of the time not in lectures should be spent off enjoying yourself. How to speak Italian. How to touch type. Some law.
1988 – Au pairing is quite exhausting (good lesson there for later if only I had really taken it to heart). More Italian. Slightly more law.
1989 – Why you should get a professional photo of your graduation. Peak Italian. More law.
1990 – Just because you can’t get a job, another degree is not necessarily the ideal solution to your problems. Peak law.
1991 – How to use a dictaphone. How to discover that being a solicitor is not for you.
1992 – Rudimentary Dublin geography. Little did I know how useful that would prove to me later.
1993 – How to ride a moped in Rome. How to share a house with people from lots of different countries. How to make yeast bread with milk.
1994 – How to party. Peak party year. Basic EU bureaucracy.
1995 – How to speak and write good French. Peak French year.
1996 – How to live on air. How to share a house with a house proud man. How to speak very basic Serbo-Croat.
1997 – How to live by the seaside.
1998 – Advanced EU bureaucracy. How to live alone. How to finally cast aside the shackles of a legal career.
1999 – How to meet a husband.
2000 – How to move country when you have possessions. Challenging. How to set up a book club (still going, thanks for asking).
2001 – The importance of booking a good wedding photographer (learnt the hard way). How to organise a wedding in three months. How to get a diploma in Art History.
2002 – How to pretend to own a house in Ranelagh when, sadly, you do not. How to buy a house.
2003 – That your friends will all get married at the same time. How to have a baby in Belgium. How to mind a baby and travel to two weddings in Italy, two weddings in Ireland and one in France with a small baby in tow. How to blog.
2004 – How to job hunt in Belgium. Peak job-hunting.
2005 – How to have twins.
2006 – How to work full time with three children under 3.
2007 – How to live without sleeping. How to travel to America with three children under 5.
2008 – How to move country with many possessions and 3 children. Challenging.
2009 – How to survive with one new business, one income, a paycut, creche fees and a childminder and also, the collapse of the economy. Challenging. How to own a cat as a grown-up.
2010 – How to garden. How to have 3 children in primary school.
2011 – How to change jobs unexpectedly. How to use a smartphone.
2012 – How to househunt in a depressed market. How to deal with mortgage brokers.
2013 – How to move house in Dublin. Less challenging than changing country. How to pass time in hospital with an elderly relative.
2014 – How to have a child in secondary school.
2015 – That you have drifted apart from many of the people you invited to your wedding but you are still friends with your bookclub.
2016 – How to do a different job. That the only new friends it appears you will ever make are the parents of your children’s friends. That no matter how much you pray for them to be discriminating in that regard, your children will not be swayed by your concerns.
2017 – How to cope with cancer in the family. How to mildly regret that some 20 years previously you cast aside the shackles of a legal career. How to appreciate what you’ve got.

And we have come to the end of another NaBloPoMo. Thank you and goodnight.

First World Catastrophe

29 November, 2017 at 10:39 pm by belgianwaffle

I spent nearly 5 years choosing a sofa. It was delivered today and it is unutterably hideous. I want to cry. I think we’ll have to get rid of it. It’s much too big. And the smaller one I chose to go with it is disproportionate and ugly. I would show you photos but I haven’t the heart to take any. My affliction is not rendered the easier by being utterly ridiculous.

The Struggle Continues

28 November, 2017 at 8:47 pm by belgianwaffle

I have recently covered how ideologically opposed I am to Kildare Village (outlet shopping) in principle while being strangely attracted to it in practice.

When we went down to the wedding in East Cork a couple of weeks ago, we stopped off for breakfast in the Pain Quotidien in Kildare Village which I loved. Mr. Waffle was distinctly less impressed as he sipped from his bowl of weak tea. “It’s all very well abroad,” said he, “but I am in Kildare and it seems outrageous to be drinking this kind of tea when I know that everywhere around me perfectly good, normal tea is available.” I left him to brood over his tea while I went for a quick run around the shops. I bought some Penhaligon Bluebell perfume which my father used to bring from London to my mother. When I met my sister that evening, I said, “Smell this!” and held up my wrist and she instantly recognised it. I’m wearing it all the time now although I do seem to be mildly allergic to it and it makes me sneeze which I concede is sub-optimal. Like my relationship with Kildare Village.

Did I mention it has a Villeroy and Bosch shop? I love Villeroy and Bosch.

#MeToo

27 November, 2017 at 9:22 pm by belgianwaffle

We had a good old chat about harassment at my all female bookclub recently. We all brought out the usual horror stories for each other’s delectation – things which would appal us now but which we put up with, almost unthinkingly, when we were in our 20s (although I do remember complaining to my friend D about one particular colleague and her advising me to say, “If you touch me again, you pull back a bloody stump”, so I suppose, I wasn’t quite putting up unthinkingly and, no, I didn’t say anything, just stayed out of his way).

As we moved towards the close of the conversation, I said, “It’s really much better now, I think.” My sapient friend, D (she of the “bloody stump” suggestion), observed, “No, it’s not, it just doesn’t happen to us any more because we’re too old and too senior.” Now that is a depressing thought.

Weekend Round Up

26 November, 2017 at 9:13 pm by belgianwaffle

Saturday morning Michael had a storytelling thing at the school. He was quite looking forward to it but it didn’t totally live up to expectations. Daniel’s GAA match was cancelled (oh rejoice!). Michael went to drama in the afternoon – how he loves drama class – and I did some mild Christmas shopping while waiting for him to emerge. I know, I know, it’s only November. Herself, briefly emerged from her room for mealtimes but basically stayed put recovering from the rigours of the week.

This morning we cycled to 10 o’clock mass in Irish (basically realising Dev’s vision for Ireland). I see that they are making the extraordinarily named Solanus Casey blessed. I think that’s step one on the road to canonisation. I was already conscious of this from my contacts within the religious world (hi Mark) but my contact, being American, neglected to mention that Solanus’s parents were Irish. An essential point, you would have thought. Also adding to the mystery of his first name. Was he perhaps Solanus in religion and christened something less exciting? The mystery continues.

We then cycled into town (freezing) to see Fanny’s Journey as part of the French film festival. It’s about a group of young Jewish children trying to flee into Switzerland from France. I cried from frame 1 and to the end of the film. Then we split forces and the Princess and I after a brief stop for sustenance went to buy her trousers for school. As she points out to me, she has been campaigning for school trousers since third class. I’m not quite sure why I resisted for so long but I did. I think in my oppressive, conservative, internalising the patriarchy way, I quite liked the school skirt. Anyhow, I have now accepted the error of my ways. Really.

When we got home she took herself off upstairs to do homework. Daniel was the only child even slightly willing to go into town to check out the organised Christmas fun at Smithfield. It was freezing. I bought Daniel a migraine inducing coloured light thing which sang a tinny jingle bells as his reward for accompanying me. We queued for 40 minutes (timed on my phone) for crêpes. That was a low point. Post-crêpe it was all mildly appealing, far too few stalls and an arctic east wind but loads of entranced kids running around and people on stilts and local kids singing in a choir. There was also a chance to hold the Sam Maguire Cup which Dublin seems to be consistently winning these days.

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Still we were glad enough to leave and get back home to the fire. Final weekend items – Daniel lost a tooth and my brother was in Dublin for the rugby match and did not visit his loving family, my wrath will be terrible etc. And how was your own weekend?

A Funeral

25 November, 2017 at 6:21 pm by belgianwaffle

My uncle died on Saturday night, October 21. It was his 83rd birthday. He had a constitution of iron but he used it all up. My mother is now the only one of her three siblings still alive. My uncle died after a long illness and my mother has been sick for a long time herself. I think that, although it was a terrible shock, the way their eldest brother died, suddenly at 76, might have been a better way to go.

As is often the case in middle age, the only time I see extended family is at funerals. I really miss having my parents around at these events and I am struck by how many of my cousins still have parents who are hale and hearty. I hope I have inherited these genes. In the coffin, I was surprised how like my mother, my uncle looked in profile. When he was alive, I never saw the similarity. He was so frail by the time he died that his bone structure stood out in a way that it hadn’t when he was alive. My cousins and I reminisced about how, as children, he and my mother had loathed each other. Although they got on fine as grown-ups, they vied for their parents and older brother’s attention as children. My uncle was very ill as a small child. The wisdom of the time was that his parents shouldn’t visit him in hospital. When he went in he was walking and talking and when he was discharged, he couldn’t walk or talk. It must have been terrifying for my grandparents. He was probably a bit spoilt in consequence. My mother was very bitter about the time he threw her china doll’s tea set out the window. I think this was after the return from hospital. He never settled in school and ran away from boarding school a number of times until my grandparents gave up the effort and let him leave early. My mother, on the other hand, loved school and grew up to become an academic. They were very different people but as adults they were loyal and kind to each other.

At the removal, the decade of the rosary in the funeral home (once my uncle’s and now my cousin’s – he was burying his father in a particularly literal way) was led by a priest with a smart English accent. I was astounded, has it come to this in the Catholic church in Ireland that we have to import English priests to work in congregations in small towns in Co. Limerick? As we walked over to the church, I asked my mother’s elderly (but very sprightly) cousin Maurice whether the priest was English. He’s a bit hard of hearing (aren’t we all?) so I had to repeat my question more loudly. Two local men who were walking just in front of us turned around to fill me in. “No, he’s not English, he’s from Limerick. He did spend some time in England alright,” said one. His companion added, “He sounds so posh that I was once there when he was saying mass and the fella beside me asked whether he was a Protestant.” I think you probably need to be Irish to find this hilarious rather than baffling but Maurice and I were both in fits.

I spent a while with Maurice, he’s a farmer and when I was a child he would often turn up at our house with dead pheasants which my mother would hang in the attic before plucking. I think this is not a feature of most urban childhoods. My mother used to put on her white lab coat to pluck them and once my sister’s friend, the vegetarian (at a time when it was unusual), turned up at our house and had the door answered by my mother in her lab coat covered in blood and feathers which, I think, was not a great experience for her. Maurice has been finding out about family history – he’s done a lot of research. Apparently the man who wrote this book is some class of relative. Sadly, I see that “Kiskeam versus The Empire” is no longer in print. I’ve never been to Kiskeam myself but I understand it’s quite small. According to Maurice, when the author was asked about the ultimate fate of tiny Kiskeam he announced, “Well, Kiskeam is still here and there’s no sign of the Empire”. Mildly interested in getting a hold of this and having a read.

I asked the relatives from Ballyhea who were there whether Ballyhea continued to say no. Apparently they had just started back the previous day. News. I discovered (to my mild outrage) that my beloved grandmother was godmother to one of my second cousins as well as me.

The next day, my sister and I drove back up from Cork to the funeral. We picked up a hitch hiker on the way. He was an unemployed painter and we asked for advice on painting. He was a bit monosyllabic but he became really animated when he talked about never using gloss paint outside. I give you this tip for nothing.

I texted Mr. Waffle to see how the morning had gone at home. “Poorly,” he replied. When I rang him it transpired that the children had headed off on their bikes and he noticed that Michael had left his lunch behind. He picked up the lunch and drove after them in the car. He caught up with them about half way in. He was quite annoyed. Not as annoyed as he was when he got home and discovered that Daniel too had forgotten his lunch and he had to get back into the car and drive the whole way into school with it. Suffice it to say, they were missing me.

The funeral mass was in the church where my parents got married. There were many elderly relatives reminiscing fondly. My mother’s cousin’s husband, Pat, recalled her arriving to the church just as the clock was chiming the hour. “It must have been the last time she was on time for anything,” I said. My father subsequently confirmed both parts of this story. A very glamourous cousin of my aunt’s said that she had known my father when he was a junior doctor and she was a trainee nurse. She was an extremely healthy looking 80 odd and she introduced me to her 95 year old aunt, who appeared to be in perfect health, although she did have a stick. Sadly, these are not blood relatives of mine so these genes are not available to me. The cousin was very nice about my mother who she knew when they were both young – “And, Anne,” she confided, “she was so clever, we all thought she was fantastic.” This was a pleasant counterpoint to Pat who was busily listing all of my blood relatives with dementia (he only married in, he’s as sharp as ever). After a while he said gleefully, “Do you think it’s hereditary?” Despite the impression this may give, he is actually a lovely man and married to one of my mother’s favourite cousins; it’s just that as an elderly relative he has dispensed with the need for restraint, I’m quite looking forward to this phase myself. He also did a recording of my parents’ wedding which I have never seen but my sister thinks she might know where it is.

Then off to the graveyard where we buried my uncle beside his son who died last year, his mother (1984), father (1969) and brother (2008). Notwithstanding the fact that he could be a difficult man, my aunt adored him and she was devastated by his death. Burying him and her son within the year is horrendous. I genuinely think she is a candidate for sainthood. I have never met a more-selfless person. She cared for my uncle at home for years when he was suffering from dementia and bedridden. Caring for other people and religion are the twin pillars of her world. Although she has lots of children and grandchildren, I have never seen her as lost as she was at my uncle’s funeral. If you are a praying kind of person, I am sure your prayers would be welcome.

My brother assures me I am paranoid but I remain convinced that my other aunt still has it in for me for not attending her husband’s funeral. It was in 2008 and the day we were moving home from Brussels; he died suddenly in hospital. My other cousin flew home from New York for it. They still talk about that. My other aunt pointed out my other uncle’s newly engraved headstone when we were in the graveyard. My assurance that he was my favourite uncle (he was) I feel sure availed me not at all. Again, to reiterate, my brother thinks I’m completely paranoid.

I’m going to become one of these people who love going to funerals, it’s the next step in my journey through middle age.

More Fun with Logistics

24 November, 2017 at 11:47 pm by belgianwaffle

So, last night I got back from exotic Sligo quite late. This morning, the Princess begged for a lift on the grounds that if she had to cycle she would be late and it was freezing. I acceded on the grounds that I have been away a lot and I still feel guilty about sending them out in the lashing rain when I had the car in Kilkenny earlier in the week. I said to the boys that I would give them a lift home from games club which is on in school after their Friday half day. End times can vary so I asked them to text me when it was over and I would come and get them.

A minor crisis at work meant that I didn’t get out of the office until about 2.30. I rang the boys a couple of times as I cycled home but no answer. Then Daniel called me and as I answered my phone died. I rang Mr. Waffle from my work phone (he got his number so long ago that I know it off by heart unlike any of the children’s numbers) and asked him to ring Daniel and tell him I was on my way. When I finally got home, I tied my bike to the railings in the front and leapt into the car to drive to the school. At the traffic lights, about half way there, there was a banging on my window and there was a tearful Michael who had walked home from school alone, as he thought I had abandoned him. He had seen me in the car but, sadly, I had not seen him and he had had to chase after the car for two streets with his enormous bag on his back. We drove to the school where Michael spotted Daniel who had just begun to trudge home. Daniel was more resigned than tearful, he has lower expectations for me, I suppose. He told me that he had forgotten his school lunch as well but had managed with donations from friends.

When we finally got home, herself was in bed sick and Michael reminded me that I had promised to take them to the Science Gallery again to check out the catastrophe room which had been fully booked when we visited the exhibition a couple of weeks ago. I got a quick bite of lunch and we were back in the car by 3.45. I tried a number of approaches to the Science Gallery but encountered grid locked traffic in all directions. It took us an hour to get there; it’s normally about 10 minutes. We parked some distance away but the walk made a pleasant change from sitting in traffic. The visit was great. The kind, lovely student guides played disaster card games with the boys; we got into the catastrophe room and Michael got to be president of the citizens’ assembly and had a veto on all the suggestions which he enjoyed very much. The scenario was that a tsunami might flood Cork in the next 500 years and to my chagrin he moved everyone out of Cork rather than build a defensive wall. My Dublin child. Daniel was very patient about Michael being president. It was clearly a role he might have liked himself but he refrained from undermining Michael and was actually quite supportive.

It was nearly 6.30 when we left. I got a call from herself asking when we might be home as she was entertaining saintly T, the childminder turned French conversation class, on her own and felt that in her ill state she needed a bit of support. I rang Mr. Waffle to say that there was no way we were going to make Michael’s hockey training at 6.45.

I got home and lit the fire and moved the language party out of the kitchen and in to sit by my lovely fire so I could start dinner. I had decided to have braised lentils which take forever but I was going to be home Friday afternoon so I would have time, I had thought. Sometimes I find that I can be curiously inflexible so even though it was 7.15 when I started dinner, I still made the lentils so we only sat down to eat at 8.30. As dinner was late, the boys were late to bed and a bit cranky and started rowing with each other upstairs which actually hardly ever happens. Parents were required to separate the tired combatants; all is quiet now but it is almost midnight.

If there were no weekends, I think I would die.

I Grow Old*

23 November, 2017 at 9:15 pm by belgianwaffle

I am shortsighted and deaf. The other night I yelled upstairs to herself to come down to dinner (the dinner gong, an idea whose time has come) and, according to her brothers, she said that she was coming. Did I hear her? I did not. “I’m so deaf,” I sighed. “You’re not deaf, mother,” said Michael patting my arm comfortingly, “you’re just hard of hearing.” So I was at the doctor for a check up and asked her to check whether my ears perhaps needed syringing (something that is very effective for my 92 year old father). She peered into my ear and said, “I have never seen a cleaner eardrum.” There’s a humble brag for you. Anyhow, she said I could go to the opticians for a free hearing test. For what it’s worth, she said that she thought my hearing seemed fine. And it is, I suppose, just, like my eyesight, not as good as it once was.

*I already wear the bottom of my trousers rolled. Your point?

Note to File: We are a One Car Family*

22 November, 2017 at 8:05 pm by belgianwaffle

I was away overnight for work. Usually I take the train to meetings if at all possible but due to a combination of difficult times and location, I drove on this occasion. I rang Mr. Waffle from the hotel this morning to see how things had gone in my absence. “Fine,” he said, “but I felt a bit bad sending the kids out on their bikes in the lashing rain.” “Not that bad,” I thought to myself, “or he could have given them a lift.” When I got home this evening, Michael was a little ball of bitterness about his damp school commute. “You should have asked your father for a lift,” I said. “And where, mother, was the car?” “Oh right, yeah, Kilkenny, sorry about that.”

*I have spent more time trying to decide how to capitalise this title than writing the blog post; advice welcome my lovely readers.

Still more of it

21 November, 2017 at 7:32 pm by belgianwaffle

I had a thing at work on understanding how our brains work so that we can all be better employees. So, the nice Ukrainian psychologist sat down with me and showed me a map of my brain and started talking about the importance of hydration. “You know how you feel when you have a hangover?” she asked. “Actually, no, I’ve never had a hangover,” I said. She started to laugh, “Twenty years I’ve been talking about this in Ireland and you’re the first person ever to say this.”

I have commented before on the perverse relationship we enjoy with alcohol in Ireland. Yeah, it’s funny, but you know what, it’s really not.

Hockey v Hurling

20 November, 2017 at 7:24 pm by belgianwaffle

Michael is now doing hockey every Sunday morning and he is enjoying it; they want him to do Friday night training as well and my heart slightly sinks at the prospect of adding more items to our after-school activity list. Also, the hockey club are keen that Daniel come along also having seen him in action once but he is unenthused.

As he and I were walking up to mass yesterday morning, I asked him again whether he would consider hockey. He looked at me seriously and said, “But Mum, I play hurling and hurling is the anti thesis of hockey.” There was a pause while I digested this and then I said, “You know it’s pronounced an-tit-hesis.” Poor Daniel, honestly the English language is a series of traps, even for the wary.

Saturday Night at the Movies

19 November, 2017 at 7:18 pm by belgianwaffle

Mr. Waffle, the boys and I went to see Paddington last night. In the cinema, we met a) Daniel and Michael’s friend and his family who had just seen Paddington – they recommended it b) a friend of the Princess’s (she remained unmoved when I told her that her friend was there and thought that Paddington – which the Princess had refused to see with us – was a worthy film) c) a boy from Daniel and Michael’s year in school and two second years from their school and d) a neighbour from the bottom of the road and her two sons. I used to think that Dublin was an anonymous big city; I think I was misled.

Anyhow we all quite enjoyed Paddington in a mild way. The Princess joined us afterwards in Milano’s (funded by my brother’s Tesco vouchers, thanks Dan) and we explained the plot to her though we had some difficulties (what did happen to the treasure? and the book?) she surveyed us in mild contempt and said that if we were having plot problems with Paddington then she despaired of us all. No change there then.

In unrelated news, Daniel won the hamper raffle at school. It was in aid of the student council where herself is a leading light. There’s a hilarious picture on the school’s twitter feed of her handing the hamper over to her brother with a forced smile while he is receiving it with unalloyed delight.

Wedding Bells

18 November, 2017 at 10:18 pm by belgianwaffle

Yesterday we drove down to East Cork where two of my oldest friends got married. We stayed in the Castlemartyr resort and, as always when there is a hotel with a character-filled older bit and an underwhelming modern extension, we ended up in the extension. It was nice all the same though and boasted the largest bed I have ever slept in. We left the children largely to their own devices for about 10 of the 30 or so hours we were gone but we did have a childminder stay overnight. I can confirm they are all still alive.

So, the happy couple are 60ish and have been together for 31 years and I have known them for 27. Most older people who get married have smaller weddings but they had a massive one (as they are a gay couple, they have been waiting for a while); there were about 250 people and aside from M and R’s nephews and nieces we were all pretty middle aged which I rather liked. It was funny to see the nephews and nieces, some of whom I haven’t seen since they were children, all turned into young adults.

I first met M when he was the youngest partner in the law firm where I did my apprenticeship. He was interested in the arts and far more entertaining than any of the other partners (a low enough bar, I concede). When we both left that law firm we stayed in contact. He’s been buying me lunch for more than a quarter of a century now. He and R make a great couple and they’re one of the few couples where I am equally friendly with both partners. Over the years, they have been wonderful to me and, as I acquired husband and children, to them also. M sang at my wedding, they have bought me food and given me food (M is a great jam maker), put me up innumerable times (we still stay in their house in East Cork), given me lifts (I travelled to Cork with M every Christmas for years, they’ve brought herself up and down to Cork) advice and kindness. They are the only people who ever visit us unannounced and I love to see them, every time. I must say as I looked at the enormous crowd of delighted friends and family at their wedding, I thought that they have truly reaped what they have sown.

Born Performer

17 November, 2017 at 10:19 pm by belgianwaffle

Very attentive readers may recall that Michael won a golden banana for a stage performance some years ago. He was really good and he has been going to drama classes, which he loves, for years. He is an absolute natural on stage. He combines his father’s lack of nerves with his mother’s desire to entertain and a carrying voice all of his own; it is a winning combination.

They had an Irish language band into the school last week and after a couple of numbers they asked whether anyone in the audience would like to get up and sing. Michael hopped up. His siblings said they weren’t entirely mortified but these things can be hard to gauge. He was up on the school’s twitter account singing away and looking like he was having a great time. One of the other mothers texted me to say that her son had come home and said that Michael was terrific which was very kind of her. And then at the Princess’s parent-teacher meetings earlier this week, teacher after teacher asked me whether I had heard about Michael’s performance and wasn’t he brave and brilliant, the youngest and almost the smallest child in the school? I was very proud. Michael took it in his stride though, he’s preparing for when he is a global celebrity, I suppose.

Child of Our Time

16 November, 2017 at 10:19 pm by belgianwaffle

Me (perusing entire supplement to the Irish Times on the joy of skiing) : Michael would you like to go skiing again?
Him (who last went skiing when he was 3 and retains no very firm memories): Yes, I think I would.
Me: Maybe we’ll go then, not next year but perhaps the year after.
Him: Remember the bust is coming.

Who has spent a lifetime absorbing the lessons of the 2008 crash and its aftermath, then?

Reflection on Brexit

15 November, 2017 at 8:06 pm by belgianwaffle

Mr. Waffle was chatting to an English colleague about Brexit. “I can’t understand,” said Mr. Waffle, “why the political parties aren’t going after the 48% remain vote, it seems odd not to capitalise on it.” There was a long pause and then the English man said, “As treasurer of my local branch of the Lib Dems in North London, I share your bafflement.” Poor old Lib Dems.

As Gaeilge

14 November, 2017 at 8:05 pm by belgianwaffle

Me: It’s nice to see you wearing your Fáinne
Her: Mmm.
Me: Have I scuppered it? Are you never going to wear it again?
Her: I’m just unsure about the cultural elitism surrounding a language that can’t really afford it.

In related news, we had parent/teacher meetings for herself earlier this evening – all well. At least, I think so, most of the talking was done in the first national language – although I draw the line at the teacher from Donegal who I find completely unintelligible – so my comprehension was at about 80% but the signs seemed positive. I missed the presentation on the new Junior Cycle because I was still queuing to see her year head but she tells me that she was called upon to list her extra-curricular activities to give the parents an idea of what children could include in the new Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement. Good call because there cannot be a child in Ireland with more extra-curricular activities. She was there this evening because she was doing registration of parents and selling raffle tickets in aid of the student council. Of course she was.

Any Given Monday

13 November, 2017 at 11:45 pm by belgianwaffle

So, today, I cycled home from work in the rain. I got home about 7 to my latch key children and decided not to take Daniel to GAA training as Mr. Waffle would have done, had he been here (he is, sadly, away for work). I then gave the boys pizza for dinner (yes, they had pizza for dinner last night as well for their birthday party; our house is a temple to healthy eating at the moment). I burnt Michael’s because I am truly on top of my game. Herself and myself had Thai take-out. €36 for two on a school-night Monday. I can feel you judging me. I’m judging me.

I signed homework notebooks for the boys. Michael forgot to bring in his art materials today and Daniel forgot his home economics ingredients (“Did you not get to make anything then?” I asked. “Yes, I got ingredients from the cupboard and made scones, they’re in the bottom of my schoolbag,” he said. For all I know, they’re there still becoming ever more appealing as they are crushed by the weight of school books). Daniel also forgot to do his history homework and spent much of the evening frantically writing his history essay now due tomorrow on pain of death. This despite the fact that last night they faithfully promised me that they had in their school bags everything they needed for today. Signed a form allowing herself to go on a school retreat. Revised Michael’s months of the year in German for a test on Thursday. Refused to help herself with prep for her German test on the grounds that at this point I am more likely to put her off than assist. As she corrected my dates in German for Michael’s benefit, she was forced to concede that I was correct.

While the children cleared up after dinner (more a throwing out of cartons than a real clean up), I went to do some work on the computer. Herself went back upstairs to do more homework after cleaning up and, once the boys had packed their bags for tomorrow (Did I double check? I did not. Is this wise? I think we all know the answer to that.), the boys and I watched an episode of the “Big Bang Theory” and then they went to bed. I turned back to my labours for the office (big all day meeting tomorrow) and at 9.45 herself sidled in. “The blueberries didn’t come with the shopping and I need them for home economics tomorrow.” Was there any point between last Thursday when the shopping came and 9.45 the night before they were needed when this might have been mentioned? “I don’t need them until after 11.30,” said she. Usually her father can be relied on to perform these awkward errands but he is away and I am not at liberty to leave my meeting in the morning for blueberry hunting. This is why I found myself in Tesco at 9.55 this evening looking for blueberries, insert your own joke about late stage capitalism and the Americanisation of everything here (it’s far from blueberries we were reared etc.).

OK, I have updated my blog and finished my work for this evening; I’m going to bed now to reread Harry Potter and nobody can stop me. Judge away, it’s all I’m fit for.

Updated to add: The cat can stop me. She’s supposed to be put in the utility room for the night, otherwise she travels around the house mewing in people’s ears. Mr. Waffle normally stows her away. He did not stow her away tonight. Possibly my husband should go away more often so that I can fully appreciate all the things he does around the house. Mental note: why is laundry basket overflowing?

Weekend Round-Up

12 November, 2017 at 10:50 pm by belgianwaffle

On Friday night, herself went to stay at friend’s house. I dropped her off on the way to a table quiz with former colleagues including the person who always wins pub quizzes. We won. On Saturday it was absolutely lashing. Once collected from her friend’s house in the morning and having had an hour or so to re-group at home, herself disappeared off with friends for the day. Daniel had no match (mirabile dictu). While Michael was at drama in the afternoon, Daniel, Mr. Waffle and I did some boring but necessary tasks (new football boots, wedding present, new jumpers) and then when Michael finished drama we all went to the science gallery exhibition on catastrophes which was not as thrilling as the boys had hoped. Last night Mr. Waffle and I went out to dinner and a film (Death of Stalin) which wasn’t bad but wasn’t as amazing as everyone said it was either.

This morning was mass and hockey followed by (drum roll, please) the boys’ birthday party only a month and a bit after their actual birthday on September 27. We had six 12 and 13 year old boys around (which, including our own pair, is eight boys, that’s a lot of boys). We took them down to the park where they played capture the flag and football. The weather was beautiful. When they came back to the house, they had cake and settled down to play board games until we gave them pizza about 6.30. We then fell back on charades until their parents came to collect them between 7 and 7.30. It felt a bit like 8 o’clock on Christmas night when everyone is exhausted but the mood is reasonably good. I’ve had worse birthday parties, I can tell you. Herself came back from another day in the company of friends to cast an imperious eye over the first years and eat pizza with them.

I sometimes wonder what exactly I filled my weekends with in my 20s. Possibly, shopping for a more extensive wardrobe. This is what Mr. Waffle and I wore yesterday:

Untitled

Reading etc.

11 November, 2017 at 8:20 pm by belgianwaffle

“Catholic Mass For Dummies” by John Trigilio, Kenneth Brighenti, Monsignor James Cafone

I was lent this by a friend. A bit dull but I can tell you it’s a miracle the Orthodox and Syno Malabar rite people manage to keep anyone at all. They require extra hours of devotion.

“Outlander”Diana Gabaldon

This is a very popular series of books about a woman who finds herself transported from the 1940s to the 1740s. I thought it was only alright and wouldn’t be rushing back to read the rest of the series. And I quite like time travel but the balance of historical romance to time travel wasn’t quite right for me.

“Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout

A brilliant writer tells a poignant story (more like a series of short stories really) where this difficult woman with a heart of gold (Olive Kitteridge) features. It’s very good at getting inside someone’s head.

“Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan” by Ruth Gilligan

This is a rather gloomy story about Lithuanian Jews who pitched up in Ireland and their lives and a modern day Dublin girl thinking of converting to Judaism for her English Jewish boyfriend. Didn’t really do it for me; too gloomy.

“The Village” by Marghanita Laski

I enjoyed this paean to the socialist utopia set in a village where class structures are crumbling after the end of World War II.

“My Name is Lucy Barton” by Elizabeth Strout

Another beautifully written book by Elizabeth Strout.

“Open” by Andre Agassi

God, who knew it was so absolutely grim being a professional tennis player? And does your father have to be insane? Interesting insights here.

“Every Good Deed”
by Dorothy Whipple

A book of short stories by the ever-reliable Dorothy Whipple. Great read.

“The Humans” by Matt Haig

I quite enjoyed this book which uses an alien’s perspective to look at human relationships.

“The Possession of Mr Cave” by Matt Haig

I liked “The Humans” so much that I tried more of Mr. Haig. This is, I think, a better book but hair-raising in its description of descent into insanity.

“The Last Family in England” by Matt Haig

A slightly less successful offering by Matt Haig. Maybe better, if you are a big Labrador dog fan.

“The Radleys” by Matt Haig

A family of vampires on the dry- it starts off really well but it spirals out of control a bit at the end.

“Eligible”by Curtis Sittenfeld

A re-imagining of “Pride and Prejudice” by a wonderful contemporary author. One of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in ages.

“The Forever Court” by Dave Rudden

I am, as you know, not at all above children’s literature and I really enjoyed part one of this children’s series. For my money, this volume is not quite as good but enjoyable enough all the same and very well written.

“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card

A bookseller in Dubray books recommended this for Michael and he absolutely loved it as did Daniel. I didn’t think it was bad but I did not go for it to the same extent as they did. It’s a science fiction novel starring a very tough 6 year old.

“H is for Hawk” by Helen Macdonald

This is a story about a woman training a hawk after her father died. It got amazing reviews and I see how it is a wonderfully written book on the theme of loss but I just didn’t particularly enjoy it. Maybe I needed something cheerier.

“The Luckiest Girl in the School” by Angela Brazil
“The Jolliest School of all” by Angela Brazil

I needed something to read. They were free on the Kindle. I don’t think these school stories have really stood the test of time but maybe it is just too late for me to appreciate them.

“Lola Offline” by Nicola Doherty

Great read for teenagers on the perils of social media and finding new friends, Daniel really enjoyed it and was not at all put off by the pink cover.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay” by J. K. Rowling

A bit meh to be honest but I am now committed to reading all of the Harry Potter related works by Rowling. Why? “I dunno” as Ron Weasley would say.

“When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi

This is an absolutely beautiful book written by a brain surgeon who died of cancer in his thirties. Surprisingly uplifting given the theme.

“Le Crime du Comte Neville” by Amélie Nothomb

A recent offering by the extremely prolific Belgian. Extended meditation on the Belgian aristocracy with suicide. More entertaining than it sounds.

“Do No Harm” by Henry Marsh

Series of fascinating almost painfully honest essays by a cranky neurosurgeon. Very enjoyable.

“Commonwealth” by Ann Patchett

A book about the damage authors can do to families and families can do to themselves. I’m a big fan of this kind of family saga and this is very well done.

“The Dry”
by Jane Harper

A detective story set in Australia. Very popular, but not for me.

“The Chalk Artist” by Allegra Goodman

Allegra Goodman is a good writer. Her theme here is electronic games are bad and she doesn’t quite carry it off successfully. Only alright, I thought.

“Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine”
by Gail Honeyman

This is a book about the mental health impact of abuse. It is a great deal funnier and more positive than that makes it sound but it’s also quite creepy and disturbing. It’s probably a bit more optimistic than the reality. Well worth a read.

101 Small Pleasures

10 November, 2017 at 11:02 pm by belgianwaffle

A hot water bottle on a cold night;
Drinking tea from a china cup;
Seeing things which you planted grow;
Cycling over the Liffey on a fine day;
Making a cat purr;
Finishing a tube of a cosmetic;
Listening to a podcast;
Finding lost keys;
A thank you letter;
Freewheeling on a bike;

Finishing a worthy book;
Finding a new good book;
Rereading a favourite book;
An empty inbox;
Being up when everyone else is asleep;
Being asleep when everyone else is up;
Finding out a new thing;
Turning to the next month on a calendar;
Taking a good photograph;
Finishing Saturday’s paper on Saturday;

Looking at old family pictures;
Giving away old clothes;
Staying in bed for an extra half an hour;
Sleeping through the night undisturbed;
Reading in bed;
A stretch in the evenings;
Spring in the air;
The smell of freshly mown grass;
Being at home alone;
Successfully ushering a fly out the window;

Getting a seat near the fire;
Getting into dry clothes when you have been wet;
Holding hands with the children;
Making the children laugh;
An evening in when all your recent evenings have been out;
An evening out when all your recent evenings have been in;
Walking on a crisp winter’s day;
Seeing snow on the mountains from the centre of Dublin;
Snow falling;
Snow sticking;

Snowdrops in January;
Daffodils in March;
Tulips in April;
Cherry blossom in May;
The colours of leaves in autumn;
The smell of lilies;
Flowers from the garden in the house;
Lit candles;
Brass polishing;
Shining silver;
Polished floorboards;

Fresh bread and butter;
Making jam;
Eating biscuits you have made;
Pulling a working pen from the jar first time;
Finding the scissors where it is supposed to be;
A tidy desk;
A comment on your blog;
Ticking off items on a list;
Singing;
Birdsong;

The smell of clean clothes that have dried on the line;
Folded clothes;
Clean sheets;
Listening to the sound of wet car wheels on wet tarmac while lying in bed;
Finding exact change;
Getting a postcard;
Writing on heavy writing paper with a fountain pen;
Being well after you have been ill;
Waking up without a headache when you have gone to bed with one;
Poetry;

Finding something good on the television;
Compost (seriously, isn’t it miraculous?);
Watching a family film with the family;
The smell of coffee;
The smell of warm bread;
The smell of turf on the fire;
Winter sunshine;
A breeze from a window in summer;
Someone shutting the door from which a draft had been emanating;
Playing cards with the children;

Walking to school with the children;
Timing the walk to school so that all of the traffic lights are green;
A hard frost with frost on the roofs and crunchy, frosty grass underfoot;
Arriving at the bus stop, just as the bus does;
Being near water: lakes, rivers, canals and the sea;
Reading snippets from the paper to my husband;
Finishing work for the day;
Being greeted by family like a superhero on getting home from work;
The turning of the seasons;
Straightening a crooked picture frame on the wall;

Brushing my hair;
Playing with magnets;
Popping bubble wrap;
Coming to the dishwasher and finding someone else has emptied it;
A Friday evening and a Saturday in every week;
Successfully supergluing something back together;
Wearing a favourite piece of jewellery;
Observing the effect of polish on shoes;
Knowing your neighbours;
Getting in just before the rain starts;

Finishing things.
101

Happy Birthday

9 November, 2017 at 11:06 pm by belgianwaffle

Today is my sister’s birthday. I love having a sister. I wish that I had been slightly more organised and there was the remotest chance that her present might arrive on time. Still, we have a lifetime left for me to surprise her by actually getting her present to her on time. What a delightful thought that is.

50 Years

8 November, 2017 at 10:39 pm by belgianwaffle

My parents were 50 years married on September 27. My father is 92 and mentally very well; he is exactly the same man I have always known, he hasn’t grown old and vague, he hasn’t failed to keep up with things, he still reads two papers cover to cover every day. He is certainly physically more frail but he is, in his conversation, in his views, in his pretty encyclopaediac knowledge of everything from literature to engineering, entirely the same man I have always know. Sadly, the same is not true of my mother who has been ill for a number of years with Parkinson’s disease and related dementia. Although she has good days and bad days, it is getting steadily worse. A friend of mine says that it is like seeing someone get further and further away which I think is a pretty good description. So we didn’t really do anything to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. I sent my father a card. It’s hard for all of us, for my father, of course, and for my brother and sister in Cork who between them visit my mother every day and, whisk her home at the weekend, if she shows any sign of being well which, increasingly, she does not.

My parents had a very happy marriage. I only saw my mother annoyed with my father twice, once when he trimmed her hair (with great reluctance on his part, rightly it turned out) and she had to go to the hairdresser and basically get it all chopped off to fix his work and once when she had finished packing for the family camping holiday in France and he wanted to get his wash bag from the bottom of the boot and she had to unpack loads of stuff. I don’t ever remember him being annoyed with her. My mother’s best friend from college, a lovely woman with whom I am still very friendly, said that my parents had the best marriage of anyone she ever knew. They were certainly very happy. Each of them thought the other was amazing. They were both right.

My mother was 31 when she got married and in 1967 that was very old and, I think, my grandparents had given up hope that their career woman daughter would ever marry anyone. My father was 42 and his family had definitely written off his chances (a guy I knew in college said that it was assumed in Cork that my father had abandoned his confirmed bachelorhood because my mother was heiress to a huge fortune; sadly, I can confirm, there was no fortune). My parents met in March, got engaged in June and were married in September. My father broke the news to my long-suffering grandmother as he was dropping her into the Imperial on the South Mall for her regular Saturday afternoon tea with my aunt Cecilia. As she stepped out of the car he said, “And by the way, I’m getting married.” He then took off on a four week sailing holiday leaving my grandmother who had never even met my mother to cope with this information as best she might.

I wish my mother were well and I miss her every single day but I know I am very lucky to have grown up in a family where my parents were so happy together so swings and roundabouts, I suppose.

Parents

Confusing

7 November, 2017 at 10:55 pm by belgianwaffle

Our faithful former childminder, T, is coming round on Friday nights to play games with the boys and talk to them in French. They are moderately open to this and are still very fond of T who is a lovely man. Usually I leave them to it but last Friday they had a game that needed a fourth so I played too. In fairness to the boys, their comprehension is still pretty good and they both made a reasonable effort to speak some French as well. However, I noticed that Michael is getting a bit of interference from Irish. For him, it’s all about communicating and where his brother and sister would rather be silent than be wrong, he will always give it a lash and is usually broadly comprehensible. So he would say a sentence in French and often the noun would come to him in Irish so, for example, speaking about the other side of a card, instead of saying “l’autre côté” he said “l’autre taobh”. It took me a while to work out what he was getting at as he gave “taobh” the full welly in terms of French pronunciation. Poor T was, of course, utterly baffled. I trust it may all work itself out.

Mild Success

6 November, 2017 at 6:15 pm by belgianwaffle

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple of weeks on trains and I am very susceptible to advertising. “Murder on the Orient Express” has been plugged pretty relentlessly on the big screen in Heuston station. It was, therefore, perhaps inevitable then that we should go en famille on Sunday.

There was some negotiation on the timing of this. This weekend herself was out with a friend Friday morning, out with other friends Friday afternoon, at a party next door Friday night – about 70 teenagers, I applaud my neighbours – over to a friend in Kildare for a sleepover on Saturday and back Sunday lunchtime; Daniel had a play off for second place in his division of the league, they won could well be looking at promotion to division 9, and choir on Sunday morning; Michael had drama on Saturday afternoon and hockey on Sunday morning, so finding an agreed time at all was difficult. I decided we would push on even when I saw a stinker of a review in the Irish Times. We cycled in and out very successfully (back in the dark as well) and the film itself was actually ideal Sunday afternoon family fare. None of the children had read the book so the dénouement was a surprise to them. The cinematography was truly beautiful (my sister says that this is always the kiss of death for a film) and it was all enjoyable in a mild way. Herself got great entertainment from Kenneth Branagh’s Belgian accent (poor, he pronounced the f in ouefs apparently, I didn’t notice) and it was all good stuff and it prepared us psychologically for the much-regretted end of mid-term.

Bad News – Good News

5 November, 2017 at 9:57 pm by belgianwaffle

So, my sister got diagnosed with cancer in April. It was all a bit sudden. She went into hospital for a routine procedure and they said, “Do you know what; we found a tumour.”

It was stage 1 and that is the best stage; the prognosis was really good but, oh the shock and the fear. Work were very good and let me take unpaid leave to go down to Cork and sit in while she was doing some of the chemotherapy. The world of cancer was pretty much a closed book to me in advance. I knew that the chemo drugs made you lose your hair but I hadn’t realised that this meant the hairs in your inner ear that help balance, the hairs up your nose that stop stuff getting up your nose and your eyebrows and eyelashes which mean that you have to wear sunglasses a lot to keep everything out of your eyes and you look otherworldly. I knew fatigue was a side effect but not that your limbs would go numb and your sense of taste would go. Your immune system is compromised so she got shingles as well. So, all in all, chemotherapy is pretty brutal. When you see someone fully clad in plastic carefully insert a needle into your sister’s hand to give her intravenously drugs that burn, if splashed on the skin, it is quite unnerving. She was cheerful all things considered. For the first session, she wore a thing called a cold cap that is supposed to keep the chemicals away from your head and preserve your hair. It sometimes works. It didn’t work for her. All she got was icicles in her hair and then it fell out and she bought a wig. Seriously, the cost of wigs! Who knew? Happily her insurance covered it. In fact she has made a profit on her medical insurance this year. Not as satisfying as you might have thought.

So the pattern was week 1 chemo (the longest protocol, a whole day in hospital getting drugs intravenously) and steroids to get her through it. Week 2 she felt really terrible and week 3, she began to recover and then she started the cycle all over again. Being a person of extraordinary energy and fortitude, she spent much of her recovery time sorting out administration and medical visits and all sorts of other things for my elderly parents and aunt. If you do not have elderly infirm relatives, you have absolutely no idea how much time this takes. And she’s done all sorts of big logistical things too like reorganising my father’s office and filing cabinet (not for the faint-hearted) and arranging for many of his payments to come by EFT rather than cheques which have to be cashed. She is very kind-hearted and obliging and she did all of the weird and random tasks (I need india ink for my pen, I need to renew parking permits etc) efficiently and speedily. My father, in particular, was delighted. So was I, but I was guilt ridden as well (after her first session of chemo, she came to Dublin and took the boys to Taytopark, no really). She was amazing

Anyhow, she had her last chemotherapy session three weeks ago. She is still, of course, hairless and sick as a dog and she fell and sprained her ankle last weekend which didn’t add to her happiness. I am just delighted though. She has to go back for a check up in three months but the doctors have declared the treatment a success and her treatment is over. The relief. Although she is seven years younger than me, which is a big difference when you are children, we have become very close as grown-ups. I speak to her almost every day. There is no one else who understands me in quite the same way. I am so glad that soon she will be well again. I feel we were so lucky because, if she hadn’t had that routine procedure, that tumour would have quietly gone about its work and killed her. It feels like a miracle.

Hallowe’en

4 November, 2017 at 8:18 pm by belgianwaffle

This year for Halloween, herself went to a friend’s house. At the last minute, Michael decided he was too old and sophisticated for trick or treating. Daniel, however, was still keen to go out and hadn’t arranged to meet friends because one of the advantages of being a twin is you always have someone to do things with. It turns out that one of the disadvantages of being a twin is that your brother will have no compunction about leaving you high and dry. So Daniel and I went out together. I felt we were a bit foolish as a mother and child group where the child was 12 and alone whereas all the other trick or treaters seemed to be tiny kids but thankfully Daniel didn’t seem to care. Then we caught up with a group of older children with whom he trotted around happily. I suppose it’s the end of an era though. Next year, he and Michael will go with their friends, if they go at all and certainly not with a parent in tow.

Untitled

Antibiotics – One Lifetime

3 November, 2017 at 7:21 pm by belgianwaffle

When my father was a medical student in Cork in the 1940s he saw the first antibiotics brought to Cork and he was suitably impressed by their miraculous qualities. He didn’t stop giving the odd lecture to students himself until he was 75 and by then he was able to tell his students that he had seen the whole arc of antibiotics from their first use to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant super bugs. To be frank, things haven’t improved in the 17 years since. In 2008, my uncle died of MRSA acquired when in hospital for another (successful) procedure. My father kept our family religiously away from antibiotics and no matter how ill we were, we never had them. I used to bitterly watch my classmates popping them like smarties. It looks like our sacrifice may have, however, been insufficient and the days of antibiotics are numbered. Isn’t that a rather depressing thought? Is everything going backwards at the moment?

Small World

2 November, 2017 at 10:13 pm by belgianwaffle

Now that I have embraced middle age I listen a lot to radio 4. The fact that I tend to do it on headphones from a podcast does not, sadly make me down with the young people when what I am listening to is Desert Island Discs.

Anyhow, a couple of weeks ago, they had on the Scottish composer James McMillan. Unlike almost every other Irish person you will ever meet, I am not particularly interested in music. It is a shameful thing and one that causes me some difficulty when I try to select my own desert island discs, but there it is. The only composers I really know are the ones who are regularly answers on University Challenge – you start to recognise the style and Benjamin Britten is usually a pretty safe bet for one of the answers, as they are quite patriotic. Normally when I listen to Desert Island Discs, I am fascinated by the people but rather bored by the music which, happily “for copyright reasons” is shorter on the podcast but, for some reason, this time, I loved the music. McMillan chose a piece by Thomas Tallis (occasional UC answer and, also, the name of one of the cats living upstairs in Brussels, the other one was Byrd, of course he was – so not a completely unknown quantity) which was arranged for 40 (!) voice parts, it was so beautiful that it made me cry (low enough bar actually, I cry easily, but still). And then McMillan turned out to be a devout Catholic and quite sane which, sadly, seems to be an increasingly rare combination. It was a really beautiful programme.

For his last disc, McMillan chose a contemporary composer. I was pretty sure that I knew no contemporary composers so I was ready to fast forward. As he described how this composer’s music divided people and that he once had a French orchestra in revolt when he tried to get them to play it, I was pretty sure that I was likely to be on the side of the French orchestra. His choice turned out to be an Irish composer called Gerard Barry. Ladies and gentlemen, where is that composer from? Yes, he is from Cork. Who about 20 years ago shared a house with his partner? Yes, me, that’s who. I have to say we have lost touch over the years and it is a long time since I have met the eminent composer and longer still since I have had dinner in his house. Still, though, what are the odds? I suppose quite short, given that he is from Cork. I have to say, I listened to the piece and notwithstanding my tenuous link to greatness, I probably would side with the French orchestra.

NaBloPoMo

1 November, 2017 at 9:50 pm by belgianwaffle

So, as you will recall, November is National Blog Posting Month where I post on my blog every day for a month. I see from my archives that I started this in November 2006. I am not going to stop now but I note that, sadly, the American organisers seem to have thrown in the towel and I am now an unofficial, guerilla, NaBloPoMo participant. Internet, I have a long list of things I am going to tell you. This is just as well because, if memory serves one year by November 30, I was telling you how my online shopping went. This year will be different. Possibly.

Tune in tomorrow for more.


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