As you may know, I am writing a novel (in English), by the preliminary and rather misleading title of “The Potboiler”. I gave up my PhD studies in Philosophy – I had only the dissertation to go – and started writing an adventure novel! Sounds crazy, what? But (fiction) writing was something I had wanted to do since I was 14. With the support of DH, it became possible!

I wrote a novel (in Dutch) some years ago, during a long hot summer in between academic years. I had heard it said that you have to write a novel, as if you really mean it, then put it in the drawer, and then write a second one, and that one will succeed. I didn’t believe it back then, but now I do.

And now I also understand the phrase “the story writes itself”. This one does, I am not kidding. And the more I write, the easier it gets. The occasional writer’s block has more to do with life outside the story.

It’s not just me. Friends have read it, some of them professional readers, readers of the genre (adventure thriller), professional writers and journalists. They all love it and believe it should and can be published.

I want to send it off to an agent soon, but I fear they will want the whole thing. I’m on Chapter 8 now – a good 250 pages into the book – and estimate there will be 5 more chapters.

In any case, I just wanted to let you know. In case I seem to have fallen off the face of the earth: I’m writing!

It feels so good to be doing what I always dreamt of doing! So good!

Amie drawing at her new easel, september 2007 (c) katrien Vander Straeten

I’ve uploaded a new video to YouTube, this one of Amie (at now 25 months) connecting the dots her Baba made on paper, unwittingly writing the letters A and M (guess why those). I was quite skeptical when I saw what Baba was up to: I didn’t think she could do it. But she did it without hesitation! And now she loves the game, especially when using her new easel (above: still the old airplanes!).

Amie connects the dots

This connect-the-dots game was part of a larger drawing experiment, in which she also completed a face and a house. Her placement of eyes and mouth and windows and chimneys was surprisingly accurate! I’m working on a videoclip of that and a new article in the context of the Drawing as it Develops series. It’s quite relevant to the issue of how toddlers see human bodies: whether they really see them as they draw them…

black and white photograph of baby thrown up in air (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

 A little update to my Simon Says Peter Says entry.

When Amie wants to play the game now, she says: “I want to do Peter Says”. Then she does what Peter says, yells “No!” and undoes it.

“I want to do Peter Says” is a strange way of asking for the game, isn’t it, because she knows it is really called “Simon Says,” and that is how she used to ask for it.

We figured it out quickly. What she really means is: “I want to do what Peter says.” That’s the game: doing what Peter says – the forbidden! – laughing real hard when we react accordingly shocked, and undoing it.

Sigh. Her love for Peter was stronger than we thought. Already she is choosing the boys who we say are bad for her. Already she is laughing at our protests!


 Jean-Pierre, who has commented extensively on the green diaper issue, put me on to the website of Richer Consulting Services, a source for information about the disposable diaper industry.

It is quite an extensive website, where you can find information about the history, economy, manufacturing process, and ingredients of disposable diapers.

I plan at some point to have a closer look there and will report back on it, along with an update about several unanswered questions about Green Diapers in particular.

Thanks Jean-Pierre!

Amie’s painting of Walden Pond

I asked Amie to paint Walden Pond and this is the result. Again, Im not sure if this is a painting of the thing or a spelling of the word (she seems to conflate the two), but it sure is a nice work of art!

Check out Rebecca’s kids’ artworks at Irish Sally Garden!

Oh, and I’ve ordered:

  1. Teach Your Own: the John Holt Book of Homeschooling. I’m very curious!
  2. The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections, by Amanda Soule and her family, from SouleMama (it’s not out yet; I preordered).
  3. Henry Climbs a Mountain, by D.B. Johnson: we love the Henry books, and I plan to write a review about them soon.

black and white photograph of baby thrown up in air (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

  • A couple of weeks ago 

We had a long wait at the pizza place and Mama had forgotten to bring her bag of tricks – a folder with coloring sheets, crayons, puzzles, a couple of thin books, and a Manush (playmobil man).

Amie became restless – no patience whatsoever. “I want pizza! I want pizza!” and then

Baba suggested: “Let’s play a game. If Simon says it, you do it. If Peter says it, you don’t! Simon says, touch your nose.”

Amie touched her nose.

Baba: “Peter says, put your hand on your head.”

Amie put her hand on your head. Baba gave her a look.

“No-oo!” she yelled, and pulled her hand back.

And so on, until for the so-manieth time Baba indicated that she had done something that Peter had requested.

Amie: “But I love Peter!”

Baba: “You love Peter?”

Amie: “I love him!”

She gave herself a big hug.

Baba, a bit at a loss: “Okay, that might be so, but you still can’t listen to anything he says!”

  • Peter says, Simon says today

We’ve played the game on and off, usually at how request. She still immediately does what Peter says (after all, she loves him), but most of the time she realizes her mistake without the need for a look or word from us, and then retracts her action, yelling “No-oo!”

We’re teaching her to think before she acts. But I fear we are also dooming her love for Peter…

Mama and Amie reading a bedtime story

  • The Sam and Stella Books

We love Marie-Louise Gay’s Sam and Stella books. Amie loves the repeated “Stellaaaaaaa!” or “Saaaaaam!” exclamations, Stella’s red hair, and Sam’s funny dog, Fred.

And, o yes, the stories – always surprising, uplifting and subtly wise – and the illustrations – delightful watercolors and pencil works of art (colorful, but easy on the eye) of adorable characters and settings.

Oh, and those settings! Stella and Sam venture mostly outside, into nature. There Sam asks and Stella answers, to the best of her capabilities, which are extensive, especially in the area of imagination.

– “Stella, can dogs read?” asked Sam

– “Yes,” said Stella. “But they need glasses.”

Even when they’re inside, they are getting ready to go out, or the outside is subtly present.

cover of What Are You Doing, Sam? by Marie-Louise Gay

  • What are you doing, Sam?

In “What are you doing, Sam?”, Stella keeps an eye on her little brother’s increasingly alarming indoor activities – that is, alarming for us, reading parents: the kids don’t worry, since there are no parents, not even a hint of them, in the Sam and Stella books.

Stella is more occupied with studying leaves and trees. My favorite illustration shows her sitting at a desk strewn with paints, tape, brushes and inks, leaves taped onto paper, and a jar with a ladybug. She is painting a tree on the right page in abook – on the left page there are notes.

Stella is my kind of girl! And the place where she lives – the rooms, the house, the natural worLd outside – is my kind of place!

The window behind her reveals that it is raining. Brown leaves are falling to the ground. It is Fall and the feeling that has been growing throughout the book – of homeliness, warmth and safety – magisterially comes together.

In the next illustration, Sam is also painting (on the wall!): in his painting the sun shines brightly, and the grass and trees are green.

In fact, I am so enamored with these books that I went ahead and wrote them up in an article on Suite1o1! Be sure to have a read!

Summer has drawn to an end. Fall is suddenly upon us. So, time for a new banner: a suitably melancholy, darker one. I lay the old one – the fresh splash in the pool – to rest here:

new header Mamastories

Amie walking (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

  • Thoreau’s gift to me 

Walking around “Walrus Pond” the other day, I had that great feeling of belonging. I haven’t gone there often (this was my third or fourth visit in the ten years that I live here), and perhaps that is why it is each time so special.

I’ve read Thoreau, of course, lots of it. He was the one who gave me a way to feel at home in this country, especially in this part of the country. I used to feel so homesick for the medieval cathedrals and the old Roman antiquity of Europe, but Thoreau gave me a wonderful alternative: nature, wildness. Walden Pond now exemplifies an America where I feel welcome, at home, wholesome.

  • Amie investigates belonging

I noticed that Amie, at the beginning of two, is looking into “belonging” as well. When building towers with her blocks ( a relatively new development: she discovered the blocks box a couple of days ago and spontaneously started building)  she will ask, of a block: “Where does it live?”

Amie’s first tower of blocks (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

She knows where she lives: “I live in Boston” or “I live in Brookline library”. And where some of her friends live, “in New York”, “in Washington DC” (all names she can pronounce without a problem), “and that is far away”.

In November we are getting on a plane to travel to exactly the other side of the globe to visit grandparents. I am so curious to see how much she will understand of distance, and family.

  • A different kind of belonging

She is also working on a different sense of belonging  – though I would like to think about just how different they are.

When I was about to drink from DH’s glass – we share a glass during dinner; question of less dishes, and less loading and unloading dishes – she stopped me and said: “No, Mama! That’s Baba’s!” It was a great opportunity for a Spiel about sharing and “thank you” and “you’re welcome”.

She will also hold out a piece of food from her plate to me and say: “You want it, Mama? I’ll share it with you, I’ll give it to you.”

  • Amie at Home

It is a great privilege to witness her forging a sense of place, finding words for home, and physical spaces, trying out different relationships, figuring out which people belong there, with her.

It is my job to make her feel at home and to show her that she can be at home in other places as well: to give her not one particular physical place, but an anchor.

A mobile anchor. 

This anchor is herself and her nearest family, and a feeling of home that she can take with her wherever we go.

Practically, I’m thinking of a feeling of safety. Routines are a key part of that now that she is a two-year-old with a growing sense of entitlement, expectation and time (it strikes me now that so much of place is really time).  We have sound bedtime and potty routines, we always have breakfast and dinner together, and we each have “jobs” that we do no matter what (Baba drop her off at daycare, she plays and has fun, and I pick her up).

Most of these routines we can take with us, wherever we go.

  • A Family on the Move

When (and where) I grew up it wasn’t necessary for parents to take this issue under such conscious consideration. Home and place were unproblematic and often taken for granted. I moved once, as a child, and then only two kilometers from our old house.

But we are not that kind of family. We will always be traveling, if only to see our families scattered across the globe. Our jobs are not as secure as my parents’ jobs were. And who knows how much we’ll be on the move, given what the future will bring…

amie at walden pond, September 2007 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

We were all set for a relaxed weekend, when at 10 in the morning our place was suddenly bombarded by a deafening noise: our upstairs neighbor was having her floors sanded – without warning to us. Well… It was still going on when time Amie’s naptime came around, so we had to flee, and after trying to get her to nap in the stroller – that’s not going to happen anymore! – we got in the car and drove to Walden Pond.

We spent two wonderful hours there. Amie loved it, picking up stones and sand and throwing them into the water, and before I knew it, getting in up to her ankles, shoes and socks and sleeves and all! 

I stripped us of socks and shoes, rolled up the trouser legs, and we made sand clouds by wiggling our toes, stomping our feet. Threw rocks of course, and stuck twigs into the loose sand. Admired little stone houses built by previous visitors to the small beach. We admired the sunshine on the waves, got dizzy looking at them – Amie kept saying: “I’m going! I’m going now!” – and once or twice nearly fell in.  And made waves.

The weather was  glorious and the water warm from an entire summer. There were maybe thirty other visitors – a stark contrast to our last visit over a year ago, when we had to fight to find some towel space on the beach.

I picked up Amie and carried her on my hip almost halfway around the pond, telling her about Thoreau – we didn’t make it to the site of his cabin.  She may have understood something of it. It doesn’t matter. She came home and told her Baba: “I went to Walrus Pond!”

amie at walden pond, September 2007 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Yes, she is wearing her PJs. Baggy, flowery ones.

I felt pretty bad about the car drive. The question of whether a nap was worth it became useless as soon as it was clear that Amie wouldn’t even go to sleep in the car (she didn’t: she was a wild child by the time we got home!). Next time we’re taking more people along, and/or we’re getting there by alternative means.