Friday, November 2, 2012

Eco-friendly and people-friendly

Before this fall, I never thought very much about having an eco-friendly, safe home.

Then I started reading more simplify-your-life blogs, which are often written by low-impact on the earth, high-impact in life people. Which I'm a fan of. I've recycled and upcycled for years, but now that I'm a 'grown-up' and have a house (and a husband and some day a family), I feel more responsible for the impact I make - good and bad. The blogs, thankfully, are more inspirational than alarmist. I don't shut my computer thinking, "I am a horrible person who uses plastic containers, occasionally buys new clothes instead of making my own, and ruins the planet by eating meat." Instead, I shut my computer thinking, "Wow, ____ is a great idea! I could totally do that and make my life/the planet slightly better."

Whether it's being a 'weekday vegetarian', making more eco-friendly choices in how I shop, or getting creative with re-purposing clothes, there are a lot of good ideas for me to improve life - for myself and for others. If/when I have children, I don't want them to grow up in raggedy 2ndhand clothes, with fanatic recycling habits, and with judgemental attitudes towards 'people who aren't like me.' I want them to grow up conscious of how their actions affect the economy, their own pocketbooks, and our planet, and with friends with diverse religions, habits, and incomes.

Plus, I don't want them to be in any way 'messed up' because their mum was high on coffee and surrounded by synthetic dyes and toxic cleaning solutions, or stressed out over bills and bad choices. So simplifying and green-ing my house would be a great first step to welcome them and others :)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Small People


Something that is not a full-fledged reality (yet) : children.

The timing has been weighing on my mind, so this is a good moment to wonder through some thoughts. I think I've gotten over the 'Yikes! Three years in one place!' reactions about stability as far as a country is concerned. That was a good building block. Also, God and i have had some really good talks about motivations (right, wrong, and iffy) for having kids.

I am now more aware of why I shouldn't want children: because I'm bored, or because I want more purpose in my life. I shouldn't want them just because they would open doors to making friends in our neighborhood and overseas, or so I instant get an identity that lets me connect with other moms and can 'belong' to a group. Or because I think I'd be a great mom and could produce perfectly-behaved, impressive offspring. Those reasons could be side effects, but not the main purpose, or there could be trouble.

I am more certain of why I do want children. There's the companionship, fun, and love of having kids, for one. I had a great childhood and would love to pass on the same to children of mine - dancing in the kitchen, intelligent conversations about people around the world, and adventures. I also want to see D as a father, because i'm sure he'll be heart-warmingly awesome. I want to start a world-changing family and make a difference wherever we go, just like my family was. I'd love to see D's parents and my parents and grandma delight over my children, to see my toddler take steps into the arms of family. I'd want to raise them loving God, making Him famous, being molded to be more like Him and changing their own worlds as they grow up.

Over the last few months, having kids on my mind (constantly) has made me notice other children. I've seen how precious they are and sighed over the thought of a little one in my own arms or tucked over D's shoulder. But I've also seen the risks of having children. Not risks to our house, or our pocketbook, or to any plans of having white velvet furniture and sparkling glassware (ha!) but risks to our equilibrium and hearts. What would we do if we had a miscarriage? Or a child with Down syndrome? How would we cope if our child had a heart defect, was crippled, or was blind? Practically speaking, there's so much that can go wrong. Speaking from the heart, any child of ours would be cherished no matter how he or she arrived - I know that! But having seen friends deal with issues as challenging as autism, club feet, and severe allergies, I'm not going to blithely assume that children arrive perfectly and remain that way!

While it makes me feel better to be aware of issues, it's impossible to prepare for everything. I know we're given enough grace for each day, so I don't have to try to reach perfect maturity and organisation before we can even think about having children. At the same time, I do want to be aware of what should ideally be in place before children come: emotional stability and financial stability (not necessarily wealth!). As I laughed to d's sister the other day, I'm constantly forgetting cups of tea or half-finished tasks - forgetfulness is not a good thing when babies are involved! So one of my goals is to learn to be more organised in my life while I have reasonable control over it. Through years of experiences as a big sister, a preschool teacher, and a nanny, I've definitely seen how structure can go out the window when there are little people involved. So I'm prepared for noise, chaos, and mess, but I don't want my children's mother to be the cause of it, haha!

Financial cushioning is also important to me, as I mentioned. It's been good to look at different Web sites and get an idea of how much money is ideal to save up ahead of time (as much as possible, in general, but I saw one suggestion of *minimum* an extra $1000 just for the first baby.) I wouldn't expect to move into a big house around the arrival of a baby- an apartment would be fine for starters, and maybe for afterwards too. I don't really hear myself saying, "Honey, we have to have a fully dedicated nursery for the baby! And an extra room for their clothes and toys!" I'd also expect to make, borrow, or buy second-hand most of the baby and child clothes, toys, and furniture. (Picturing my talented husband D building a little cradle makes me smile already.) However, even going the simplest, least-fuss route of feeding and clothing and raising a little one (and its siblings, hopefully!) will add up. Not to mention birth complications, accidents, or insurance issues, and all the other things that could pop up along the way. I want to have enough money in the bank not to be stressing about finances while dealing with short nights, long days, and all the other joys and challenges of a baby.

So, timing? Some time in the next few years. From our side, there's stability- emotional and financial- to think about. D and I have been married not quite a year and a half, so technically we're still young and technically there's still plenty of time :P  D's work and school are definitely factors - as I pointed out to my sister, 'How would you like to studying for your Master's, working, and putting up with an emotional me?' '... I see your point,' she said. Another definite factor is God's timing. As my mum reminded me, there are plenty of people who are absolutely certain they're not having kids and then TADAAAA a little surprise. Or vise versa - people who are certain they can have kids when they want, and then they can't, or they can't for several years. I try not to underestimate what God can very do, no matter how we humans think we have everything under control :) We will have kids if/when God lets us, and they will be a gift and a loan and a challenge and a delight!

I am so looking forward to that day, and in the meantime, I'm preparing to be a balanced, godly (plus fun and crazy!) mum. Whoooohoooo for little people!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

all that stuff



spending an hour on pinterest/stickies planning storage solutions in our new home. looking at several pretty houses and realising suddenly how distasteful i find all that *stuff*. no matter how beautiful or well stored. i'm definitely becoming more minimal - these months of moving, cleaning, and traveling worked well together.
this last move went pretty well, all in all, but there was definitely stress. besides finding and renting a house, and getting all the utilities and paperwork figured out, there was stress to get all our stuff packed.

i do not want to do that again. 

at least not the 'all our stuff' bit. there will always be some stress related to moving. it's pretty much unavoidable. what is avoidable is having 'all our stuff' to pack. when i moved usa- poland, poland-usa, and usa-netherlands, i took two duffels, a backpack with me, and shipped two boxes of books/notebooks. all my necessary stuff - clothes, toiletries, books + notebooks, computer, and camera - fit in a very small space. and i was very content with that. 
of course, i wasn't taking dishes or furniture with me! practically speaking, most house to house moves will be much messier than my international moves. that's ok. it's very practical to keep dishes and couches, etc., when just moving between cities. but having to make so many trips with the car to bring stuff that fell in between 'necessary' and 'practical' was unnecessary and impractical. i'm not really interested in doing that again. i'd much rather not deal with the excess stuff in our next move. and i'd much rather not deal with the excess stuff in our new house!
so, although i already dejunked a lot of things - mostly good stuff that i'd gotten for free - i know there are plenty more to be gotten rid of. farther up and further in.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Week#1 - 52 Weeks to Simplify Your Life


Week #1 Challenge: Create a list of everything that went “right” in 2011

What energised you?
    Photography! The warmth and photo ops in Spain, a family getaway in the Dutch woods and misty light, a kids' camp in Rotterdam and lots of happy multicultural faces. Dutch festivals in our region  - orange flags and boats with banners and yummy treats!
What made you feel at peace?
   Quiet evenings at home with D or taking walks through the woods with him and enjoying being married. Beautiful music at church and time to reflect. A good friend from PL visiting in December and helping us decorate our house for Christmas in between good talks. The moments of calm and hugs after times of crying about culture shock and isolation.
What positive people lifted you up?
    My family-in-law, with cheek kisses (though they eventually hugged me back :) ) and encouragement that my language learning was coming along and that D's and my house was a comfortable place to visit. Friends at taekwondo, challenging me to keep working hard and improving.
What filled your “tank”?
   Lots of random fun times - getting a Happy Meal at McDonalds during one long bike ride. Having a friend over for coffee, overseas talks, and decorating cupcakes. Walks and talks with D on the sandy dike in the sunshine. Library visits - enjoying Harry Potter and Garfield in Dutch.
What worked to bring your family together?
    Comfortable Sunday afternoons drinking coffee together, a weekend away and Sinterklaas cadeautjes, sharing frustrations and good times. 
What are you grateful for?
     A beautiful wedding, surrounded by people who we care about and who care about us. A lovely apartment with a big sunny balcony, recently downsized into a tiny, cheaper and cosier apartment closer to work and friends. A lot of challenges and learning to appreciate how family sticks with you even when friends are busy or far away. 

You want to go home and rethink your life

The rethinking life part is right on. At the moment, I'm actually on vacation, in someone else's home. It's easier to rethink my life with some distance from daily habits and plans, I find. Normally, I make plans and think of new ideas... then promptly get distracted by work, plans, and people. Here, I help tidy up, and have good conversations, and have so much more mental space to wonder about who I want to be and what I want my life to look like. I've also thoroughly enjoyed spending hours cleaning out my photo collection (three years of travelling and living in Europe = more than 20,000 high-resolution photos) and reading blogs (especially zenhabits and lovingsimpleliving.) The last few months have been full of travelling, work (at multiple part time jobs) and then moving house, so the peace here is fantastic.

Along with all the inspiration to simplify life, I found a cool challenge on homelifesimplified - 52 Weeks To Simplify Your Life. The challenge is supposed to cover inner/mental clutter, relationships, and possessions (among others), with a healthy dose of reflection. Looking forward to seeing what answers and ideas burble up through that....


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Free from Baggage

October 2012

1 Cor 7:29-32a
   What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. I would like you to be free from concern....

 i like this. and it makes sense in an underlying way, dovetailing with what i've been reading about minimalism while dejunking and packing to move. it's not about throwing all your stuff in the dumpster - it's about being as free as possible to serve God and others. i'm loving the chance to re-evaluate my life and priorities along with choosing a new house. i like change in general, and really like moving, and then the (semi)forced thinking is a favourite as well. this house is big enough for me to keep *everything* i buy or find downstairs - furniture, clothes, plants, dishes.... our new house probably won't be. in fact, the favourite house so far is literally half the size of this one! so there's been a lot of sorting, packing, and putting things in a give-away pile. i've been reading in 1 corinthians lately, and it's been really good for this time.

 "For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive?(M) And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" - 1 Cor. 4:7

exactly. i have no *right* to a nice house, in a safe neighborhood, with plenty to eat and to wear. i have no *right* to a great family, a delightful husband, and a life here in the Netherlands. not to mention so many more things. they're all gifts. and since they were all free (like half the things in our house) what right do i have to cling to them, while demanding even more? good reminder, God, good reminder :) makes it easier to reduce, say, the 18 plants i have scattered around our house, among other things, and to be open and ready for whatever comes instead of tied down by what i own.

another, interesting note - i've had less nightmares about hurried packing since i've been making our house travel friendly. some people dream about running or falling - i dream that i have to be on an airplane or escaping from the house in a hurry, and i'm not packed. talk about recurring nightmares that are uncomfortably related to your life.... but those have been less, lately. and at the moment, i do have a getaway bag with water, snack bars, and matches. and i know where my passport is. sounds a little paranoid, but when you spend most of your life 'overseas', it helps to be prepared for sudden events - political, work related, or family.

 the free from 'baggage' life, in process....

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"It's a new day, it's a new life..."

Happy Meal, Michael Buble on the radio- "...and I'm feelin' good." I'm currently perched up in the second floor of Macdo's, watching the world go by.

A few blocks away is the humanitarian office where I start work today. Tomorrow, starting at the refugee office. Even if both are volunteer jobs, they sound overwhelmingly my style. PR and communication work, carrying my camera and notepad around, and making a difference. "Op mijn lijf geschreven" as they say here. Obviously no high salary, just volunteers' recompense, but cool work, I think. And maybe next year I'll find a paying job that is just as cool.

I'm curious about all the different things I'll be learning; refugee events, anti-poverty meetings, community videos. Fascinating to be able to make a difference in this region, in ways I couldn't have seen a year ago. My experience and portfolio are def going to grow along the way. The fact that I can bike to work here is also a big plus.

Today D and I biked in together, before he split off one way and me another. A fun start to our workdays, even if it means hurrying over breakfast and making sure both sets of sandwiches are made and packed. For the record, today's lunch is a special treat, and not a new habit :P Then again, occasionally getting to work early and having a mini cappucino while reading through notes... not a bad idea. So very grateful to finally have something to use my days for. Language study helpes, and I loved 'my' preschool kids, but I'm excited about having a job, and one that I like!

Lunch over (including some of the yummiest fries I've ever had at a Macdo's). Time to start brainstorming.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Why the NT2 Exam?

Today was the day I chose for the first half of the NT2 exam. Partly because it fit conveniently in an agenda full of other events like job interviews, weekends, and a friend's wedding. Partly because it was my own anniversary! It seemed fitting to celebrate my (Dutch) marriage with a Dutch exam that would bring me one step closer to belonging here.

Back in the winter I decided for sure I wanted to take this big exam. The NT2 is short for Nederlands als tweede taal, meaning Dutch as a second language (not that it was my second - I think it was my fourth or fifth.) I was already at a decent level of Dutch, but it was time to go for something more. Choosing the NT2 was practical - I have to pass some language or inburgering exam with 3.5 years of moving here, if I intend to stay. At 90 euros for the exam itself, it was also surprisingly inexpensive (at least, compared to the hundreds we have to pay for my residency permit.) Last but definitely not least, I knew studying for an exam would give me something to work towards. In the very long, very cold Dutch winters, that was a big deal.

In December I started looking for study books on second-hand web sites (tweedehands.nl and marktplaats.nl are two good ones). D and I ended up biking down toward the harbor and paying 60 euros for the Code 3 package: a theory book, a workbook, and a CD. The CD didn't work on my Macintosh, but both books were excellent.

Apparently there are different NT2 books that can be used, depending on the learning method and the level of NT2 you're going to take. I decided to go for NT2, Programma 2 - the harder one (for people planning to go into higher education or business). Other options are the NT2 Programma 1 (for a middle level of language proficiency) and the korte vrijstellingtoets (a short, middle level test that lets you "opt out" of more intensive tests.) There's also an inburgering exam that involves more hands-on work, like making a portfolio. Having lived in the Netherlands before, the korte vrijstellingtoets could have been a good option, but the NT2 (especially Programma 2) was more of a challenge for me. Plus it should look better on my CV.

One other thing. After foreigners are given (temporary) residence, they talk with an advisor about language requirements. In my case, I received a letter last year, requesting me to appear at the municipal office. Once there, a nice lady asked about my language level and explained the above language options to me. Within three and a half years of arrival in the Netherlands, I needed to fulfill one of them. The government would pay (!) Given my existing level of Dutch, she recommended the NT2. If I wanted to follow a study course, in Delft, for example, the cost of the course (and exam, I think) would be covered.

I'm not personally a huge fan of group learning. An example: the two months I spent in a cross-cultural course were torture. I was homeschooled, I get bored with inaction, I'm too much of a high achiever to sit in a class and not be challenged.... Take your pick of reasons, but please don't put me in a class.
Thankfully, the lady had another option. "You can study on your own, if that's what you prefer. When you pass the NT2 exam and show us the diplomas, you'll have completed the language requirements! ... And you'll get a few hundred euros back from the government."

That's why I'm at the test center today, ready to take on the NT2. Kaboom.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Seasonal Jobhunting

If you have to be unemployed, try to make sure it's during the summer.

For one (major) thing, you can leisurely soak up the sun while reading "How To Find A Job" articles. If you're jobless in the winter, you can hunch over a library table and glare at the same articles with rain pouring down outside. In the summer, you can waltz around your house in a Tshirt and shorts while vacuuming and musing over job opportunities, instead of stamping from bedroom to kitchen to living room in search of a warm den, conducive to pondering. 
At the end of the day, though, you're still jobless. So I'd advise a compromise: get a job at least before the winter. In the summer, don't wallow in boredom or laziness. Search for jobs, take fun courses and helpful quizzes. In other words, enjoy being on the lookout from your deck chair, if you can.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I.D. Photos

<p>Today was photo day. I never had a cute collection of yearly school photos, and I think the last adorable-child-smiling-against-a-vague-studio-background was when I was 7.</p>
<p>Over the last few years, though, I have more than made up for this tragedy. Bus passes, drivers' licenses, residency permits and passports in various countries. Nearly all of them with that oh-so-restrictive rule, "Please do not smile." Hmph. Thanks to America's Next Top Model, I know how to "smile with eyes only," which means that, A, my photos turn out acceptably rule-following to be put in official documents, and, B, I don't look emo. Or "Oh oh you just took my photo when I was absent-mindedly thinking of something else,"which happens pretty often.

In any case, the photos today turned out nice. I walked out of the store, checked again in surprise, and then attached the photo to the four pages of residency paperwork I had with me. Then sealed in the envelope and popped it in the postbox with a wish for safe travels. A sympathetic bureaucrat on the other side who drank good coffee this morning would also be very nice.

The question is, will I be allowed a new I.D. card that declares I am legal to live here? If I am allowed, will they let me know in four months, like last time? The only thing worse than not getting residency again would be if I do, but only if I pick up the I.D. card within a week... while I'm in the USA on vacation. Not cool. At this point, though, I still have about two months, so let's hope I hear sooner, or later, but not in the middle. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Residency Paperwork

Last year I waited anxiously to hear if I would get a residence permit. The backup plan was to quickly pack my suitcase and leave for a friend's house in the UK. After months of waiting, I finally got the oh-so-precious letter saying I was granted residency for a year. Celebrations all around, jubilant skype conversations, and even pastries from my parents in law!

Thanks to bureaucracy, I received that letter in November, informing me that the year I was granted began... in September. I was grateful that I had my permit and could stay with my husband in our new apartment, so I wasn't going to call and complain. We eventually looked up how soon I'd have to reapply: three months before expiry.

Which means tonight, six months after getting my permit, I need to sit down and apply for my next. They did send the whole packet of materials to our house, unasked, so that makes it really convenient. Unless, of course, we choose to grumble about needing to go get new, "previously unused for residency document" photos made. Besides that quick errand, we should be good to go. Just praying now that the regering/government/IND is still happy to let me live here....

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Laundryline

After a very long, wet winter-spring, how thrilling to join the ranks of Dutch Housekeepers and hang my laundry outside. White duvets and linens blossom from balconies in a mass embrace the sunshine and wind. Hopeful loads of fluffy winter sweaters are crammed onto clothes rack before being packed away. Small children run outside to play, thankful for the sudden release from conscription in the rainstorm sentries corps. For these few, happy hours, man and nature are at peace.

At least until the winds pick up and threaten to gift my downstairs neighbors with the zebra striped pair of socks that I neglected to securely clothes-pin.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Tapas and Techies

<p>Out to eat tonight with the tech team frm church. Some older, some younger. I'm the only girl on the team at the moment, though last year there was another one. Actually, she ran sound for my wedding, which made me happy. Female techies are pretty rare, but the few that I know are cool. I think it comes with the job....

For one thing, techies tend to have a quirky kind of humour. There are always things to notice and quietly chuckle at, preferrably with another techie or two. From the remote (sometimes even soundproof) tech booth, you have a great view of fidgety kids, accidents on stage, and other workers.

Then there's independence. As a techie, you have to be able "to keep your head when everyone else is losing theirs and blaming it on you," (Kipling). If a server crashes or microphone dies, you have to fix it. Now, or sooner. Even if you're lucky enough to work in a team you're still responsible for your part. Judging from the amount of introvert techies I know, I'd guess that the solo work is a big attraction. If you want to be a part of events but don't get warm fuzzy feelings from being surrounded by people, the tech booth is a brilliant place to be.

And tonight the tapas restaurant is a good place to be as well. Great food - so many fun little dishes - and great company. A discussion about years spent running sound, on one side of the table. On the other side, a debate on Macs vs Windows. Drawing on serviettes, discussing Westlandse accenten and Southern drawls. Adding 'Techies' to the graffiti collection on the walls. All in all, a satisfyingly different way to spend a Friday evening.tim


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Maybe On Time

It has been a long day and a longer spring. Learning a language in a foreign country is in no way a rarity these days. Nor is looking for a job in that foreign country. Nor is being a newlywed and building a new life with a new family and new friends in that language in that country.

Even though I know perfectly well that none of this is unusual, I found myself crying on my husband's shoulder today about all the above. Which, unfortunately, is not unusual either.

Instead of reminding me calmly that none of the above is deadly, or permanent, he said an oddly comforting thing. "I'm impressed that it's taken this long for you to be like this." And I felt better. Just one more reason for me to love my husband. He said a few more things, like a reminder that I have been through a lot of major changes in the last year, and he knows how it feels to not have a purpose in your days. But it was that one comment that stuck with me the most.

Even though it feels like I've cried way too much over the last few (long, cold) months, maybe I've been stronger than I thought. And even though it feels like I've been struggling to find all the pieces of 'home' for way too long, maybe I'm right on time.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

No Spotlights Needed


Keyboard. Drums. Guitar. Bass Guitar. Singers. Check. Now, the tricky part. Making it all sound good. 

I sit in the back of the hall, checking the sound system. Each element on stage plays its own part; harmony, melody, undertones, rhythm. The spotlights catch the faces and the instruments, but what's hidden is my concern. No matter how beautifully the stage is set up, if the sound isn't right, listeners will hear one big chaotic mess. 

I put on headphones and start moving the sliders. The singers - her voice needs to be clearer, his louder. The guitars are too heavy and distracting from the delicate piano. It's not a competition on stage - it's a cooperation. Another techie friend motions to me to check the speakers onstage. Delicately I adjust the keys and buttons until the front of the room pours out sweetness and power, mixed in the right proportions. Maybe the audience won't notice any difference, and maybe even the musicians and soloists will be too caught up in the music to check the details.  That's why I'm here, though. I do my part, so they can do theirs, so the message in the music can come across clearly, effortlessly. 

I smile quietly, contentedly hidden in the dim lamp glow behind the sound panel. No spotlights needed for my job.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Poffertjes

Definitely a Dutch treat. I remember going to the mountains with friends when I was a kid and being introduced to this deliciousness. Poffertjes are essentially miniature pancakes, usually topped with powdered (caster) sugar.
When I moved to the Netherlands last year, one of the gifts in my "welcome basket" was a poffertjes pan - a frying pan with little dimples to pour the batter into. Also in the basket was a packet of poffertjes mix! My then-fiance (now husband) and I stood over the stove for about an hour one night and made the whole batch. Between all the batter drips, laughing, and mistakes, we ended up with a pretty good amount of the tasty little things. This week I made my own mix from a recipe I found online, and made a new batch with my mum. Eet smakelijk!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

New smartphone.

New smartphone. Whole new era,as it were. On the go, here I am, riding the lift, shopping at albert heijn, biking in my city. Most excellent.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Photo theme for the week - Ready.




Toronto, Canada. Airport to an old-new-favourite world.