Friday, March 10, 2017

Happy Messy Kitchen

In our old house, the kitchen piled high with the mess, and in our new house, the kitchen piles wide with the mess. The two adults and the child who live here all have more interesting things to do throughout the day than clean, which means it's normally evening before anyone takes action. And by anyone, I mean D clearing off his part of the counter so there's space for the bread machine, and me clearing off my part of the counter so I can set out breakfast bowls and spoons. In the morning, the counter fills up again quickly, but I'm teaching Pippin to help unload the dishwasher so I can load it again.

Sometimes the mess in my kitchen stresses me. On rainy cold days, when the world seems against me, even just clearing the counter can seem too much to handle. Other days it's much more manageable, fortunately. When guests come over, the kitchen gets cleaned quickly. If there's a good movie on Netflix, the kitchen gets cleaned thoroughly (like when I binge-watched historical drama 'The Crown' during a bout of flu and scrubbed everything, including the highest part of the stove hood). The rest of the time, it stays at a reasonable level of comfort.

Today it's way more messy than comfortable, thanks to all the baking and cooking today. Dishes from the muffins Pippin and I baked this morning, dishes from the pancakes we cooked tonight. A pile of mugs from a gezellig visit this morning with my parents-in-law and a friend who dropped by. There are even guest appearances by a litter of seed packets on the table and a bucket of dirt in the sink. It's a cozy disaster, a happy messy kitchen. It's a place where I can feed the people I love, where I can plant seeds for tomatoes in pots, and seeds of kindness and helpfulness in my little boy's heart.

All the same, when it comes time to clean up the happy mess, I'm very grateful for the dishwasher.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Teacher

I hesitate while filling in the website form. Me, a teacher? I was looking for a free download, not a psychological cross-examination.

I'm browsing a resources website while Pippin naps. By entering simple information like my email address and a little about myself, I get access to free downloads like coloring pages and preschool 'printables'.  It only takes a few seconds to fill in my info, down to the last question or two. A few simple clicks will get me to the downloads page I'm looking for. The part that's making me pause is the dropdown box with, "I teach___ " and then a drop-down menu. The choices range from pre-K to homeschool to adult education. There's also a simple "I don't teach" option. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Scrubbing

Tonight I was so bored of painting my nails and reading adoring fan mail that I decided to clean my dusty-from-unuse stove.


No, that's how it happened in the alternate reality where I'm a famous but and reclusive writer, living in a seaside loft by my lonely self, writing best-selling songs and poetry and subsisting on organic salads and fruit smoothies.

In this reality, I took a break from all my other to-do lists to scrub the stove that we use every single day. The stove that has five glorious burners so I can cook Christmas dinners for nine people or just spread out fresh pans of chocolate bark. The same stove where a gleeful Pippin helps me mix pancake batter and fill muffin molds. The same stove that was filthy and sticky from a concoction of dust, grease, and miscellaneous spatters and practically screaming for a bath.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Magicking

It's funny how Christmas takes on different flavors as I get older. December as a whole becomes different, and instead of a spectator, I'm the orchestra director. I'm the one doing the Christmas magicking, whereas as a child it just seemed to happen. Back then, the music wrapped around the days in a soundtrack of jingle bells and choirs. My parents called us downstairs for the Christmas story, and explained our traditions as we lit candles and unpacked the tree. My mother taught us special Advent crafts, and we made ornaments of clay or felt that represented Baby Jesus coming to this world to show God's persistent love to surprised humans.
As a child, I watched as presents appeared under the tree, and wrapping paper rolls appeared in the closet. Guests showed up at our house to feast and laugh and hug. As an adult, and especially as an adult living in Holland, I know that Christmas dinners only happen when everyone synchronizes their schedules and messages about who brings what food. As a wife, and especially as a wife of a man surrounded by renovation projects, I know that holiday gifts and decorations and cooking tend to be the woman's responsibility. It was easier when the magic arrived at my house and I just had to greet it. Preferably with fuzzy slippers and hot cocoa.

It's not a bad thing to be responsible for making the magic, to know that work goes into it. To know what goes on behind the scenes.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Being Busy

In Dutch, there's a phrase mee bezig zijn. It translates literally to 'to be busy with', but it means more than just being busy and extends to the idea of being occupied. If you asked, I could say, "Mijn blog? Daar ben ik niet zo mee bezig, de laatste tijd." I haven't been occupied with my blog lately. A word you can use in combination with bezig is druk - which also means busy. Work can be druk, traffic can be druk, a hyper toddler who wants to touch everything and run everywhere in our new house is definitely druk. And together, the words come out as (very) busily occupied, which is what we've been since we signed papers to buy a house in August. Since then, we've been packing, moving, unpacking, and renovating a huge house in a quaint old neighborhood, down the river from Rotterdam. Or up the river, depending on what way you're looking. It's a beautiful old house, dating back to around 1910, but is also a major fixer-upper, sold with dozens of unfinished renovations and defects. Some areas of the house are new, and obviously were invested in, but they sit right next to a project we get to tackle. Like a luxurious walk-in shower in the upstairs bathroom - but no ceiling above it, just plywood beams. The kitchen has sparkling appliances but bare sheetrock/drywall walls instead of paint. If we had been the one to start the renovations, I feel like we would have finished most of the house in moderation, but apparently the previous owners wanted to do (some) areas in high style. Our challenge is to make the whole thing livable, and then 'nice', and then - maybe in 15 years? - maybe make it really nice.

The bulk of all the renovating has fallen on my incredibly talented and persistent husband. When there are attic roof tiles to be ripped off and a new under-roof built, he is the man. Or when the roof of the kitchen is literally crumbling onto the counter, he's the one who collects tools and co-laborers and saws it open, then places and waterproofs a new roof. He's been bezig on every level of the house, fixing siding outside of the bathroom, replacing incorrect pipes under the kitchen sink, and literally building a new door by hand (because a house from 1910 doesn't have standard sized doorways). And since he's still working and studying all of this has to happen in his 'free time'. 
My days haven't been filled with as many power tools and office hours, but my own free time has been pretty well filled by everything that comes with a big move and renovation. Like figuring out how to organize everything when the size of our home has more than tripled. Like buying cleaning and renovating supplies and groceries when the distance to the nearest grocery store has also tripled. On the bright side, I'm growing a story collection of all the things I've managed to bring home on my bike, like plastic trolley sets, buckets, rugs, curtains, brooms.... Then there's the 24/7 job of parenthood to our adorable and active toddler. And this parenthood thing has lately and unfortunately and literally been 24/7, since our neighbors here somehow manage to be noisier than in Rotterdam. Case in point - which I hope is an exception - Pippin howled from his bed six times last night. Between the hours of 10 and 12 pm. Not cool. Other nights it has gone better, thankfully, but it's all too normal for me to have to go in and soothe him at 11 pm or 6 am, which seem to be peak hours for echoes from hollow brick walls from 1910 and wooden stairs that might be equally old. 
Or the stairs might just be standard noisy wooden ones from the last fifty years - I'm no judge of how old things are in this neighborhood. I do know that we have three or four layers of aged (vintage?) wallpaper in my laundry room, and three or four layers of paint on the attic rafters. And in the beams in the bathroom and closet, we can see the remains of an insulation layer of reeds. Reeds. In my house. Which looks nothing like the charming thatched cottages that still decorate some areas of Holland. I wish I did know more of the history here; all I've found so far are references to workers in a glass factory or how high the flood waters came. So far the only (small) floods we have seen are when Pippin tips over his plastic bathtub into the shower or when we didn't put enough buckets in the kitchen to catch the leaks. 
But between the leaks, the noisy neighbors, and the continuous sawdust and tools everywhere, it's becoming a lovely home. I'm enjoying having the space to spread out, to dream about how I'll plant a garden in the spring, to cook large meals and still have counter space to make dessert. It's also amazing to be able to invite people over whenever I want, and just tuck Pippin in be in his own room whenever he needs to sleep. In our old house, his bedroom being in the living room meant that I could only welcome guests between eight and two, or four and seven. Now we could have all night movie marathons or early morning yoga classes without him even noticing. And we're just a bike ride away from friends, from the church, and D's parents, which means my social life has suddenly blossomed. We greet our new neighbors when we see them, and I have hopes of making friends 'just a block or two away' with whom I can share cookies or playdates or barbecues. There are also toddler music-and-play mornings at a school, and monthly story hours at the library. My volleyball season has turned out to be fun, and exciting, but with its fair share of drama. After a few practices, I talked seriously with some of the club leaders and said that I just didn't fit with the younger (i.e. 14-18 year olds), less experienced team, and could I please try out for the Dames 1 team? While they were two levels above my team from last year, I was accepted (I thought) on basis of them needing a backup setter... only to have it turn out that they already had enough backup setters and I could be put at diagonal and hopefully yelled/coached into a good player at that position :P I guess it was too much to hope that I could just join and have a challenging but drama-free year at volleyball, while there was so much chaos at home. 
Despite all the to-do lists, grey weather, and stress levels, we've made dozens of special memories here already. Like sitting on makeshift chairs to eat hot-from-the-snackbar patat. Making Christmas cards at the table, and having old friends over to eat and laugh and hang out. Taking the ferry across the river. Prying up bricks from the patio to make a little herb garden. Cuddling up on the couch together to watch a movie and eat pizza. Visiting the harbor to see Sinterklaas and the Pieten arrive on a real ship. Going on a walk by the river when the frost sparkled on everything. And amid all the mess and exhaustion of renovation, there has also been time to just be thankful for this amazing new house that is bigger and more charming than anything we thought we could afford in the housing market here. And grateful for the chance to plant our lives here here, close to friends and family, and surrounded by green, instead of in crowded, urban Rotterdam. Some days it feels like starting my Dutch-in-Law adventure all over again. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Man on the Bench

I crane my head back to check the bench. It's probably nothing to be worried about. Probably. I'm sure he's fine.

It's broad daylight. Chilly weather but no snow. Moms will be picking their kids up from school soon. If there's a problem they'll call for help, of course.

Or will they be like me and just go on by?

Monday, May 23, 2016

Sudden Stop

"Your body has only one agenda," a friend messages me. "Maybe you're stressed about something?"

I laugh in the middle of our conversation. "Sleep deprivation, drama at volleyball, (not yet) moving, trying to be a perfect wife and mother... there's stress in plenty!"

Which is apparently why my body - or at least my jaw - is forcing a stop to all this. Raging pain has resulted in two dentist visits in the last week and then even a trip to the ER last night. No cavities or abnormalities to see on the x-rays, so the most probable diagnosis is TMJ. And the way to treat the poor overextended, pain-radiating area is rest (along with painkillers that aren't as helpful as I'd like.)

Friends and family are praying for me. Strangers I don't know are praying. It's beautiful and humbling. My father-in-law drove me home from the dentist. My wonderful mother-in-law came over yesterday to help watch Pippin so I could rest. And my husband has done grocery shopping and rubbed stress knots out of my back (not to mention handling the 1am ER visit and taking over Pippin care for the weekend).

I remember being nervous about the kraamzorg (after-care) coming when I had just given birth to Pippin. People taking care of me, tidying my house? Surely I could handle it on my own. It went OK, but I was hesitant to accept help in my own home.

Almost two years later, I can handle the attention more gracefully. I can even enjoy the enforced rest. And I can cancel appointments and obligations without feeling overwhelming guilt, which is a big change for me. I didn't even mind that my schoonmoeder walked in yesterday to a disaster of a house with unwashed dishes, unswept floors, and toys and laundry everywhere. Instead, I slept (or tried to), read, let my jaw rest, and only came out of my room for the occasional ice pack or magazine. (Well, I did do the dishes, and put Pippin down for nap. Old habits die hard.)

It's not that my house is usually spotless, because it's definitely not. It's that I don't usually let visitors see it messy. Or ask friends to pray for me. Or wake my husband up in the middle of the night and essentially demand he take me to the ER.

This week, with the sudden stop of my normal life, was not what I had expected. I hope I never have another week like this, honestly. But maybe, just maybe, it will be memorable enough to remind me to slow down, stress less, and ask for help along the way.