Sunday, September 18, 2011


The sun is rising, and Rotterdam is glowing. So is Delft, and so is Den Haag - all visible from where we live in a panorama sort of world. The clouds put on a pink and purple party last night and then again this morning... people think of autumn as having red and gold colours but the sky seems to opt for pastels an awful lot. At least the stunning view out my window is only marginally blocked by racks of drying clothes.... Airing clothes is fine with me, but when it's wet outside it takes a pair of jeans about 24 hrs to dry it's not a pretty sight (plus sometimes the dampness just stays and smells. Not cool.) At least once it gets colder there will be central heating and that should help. Ahhhh- the thought of sitting next to a piping hot radiator. So much cosier than the impersonal air vent system working through a ceiling.

I can remember curling up on a warmed floor in Greece as a kid - there the heating often comes through the tiles as well. A big heap of warm robes and sweatshirts and my siblings, reading books or poking each other while waiting for Mum to cook breakfast. Butter, honey or brown sugar over steaming bowls of oatmeal, to be dallied over as long as possible before having to start schoolwork for the day. Or start chores - my memory's vague on which one was considered worse. I remember being five or six when I was given a stool so I could 'help' wash the cups and bowls; as I got older and our family grew, I did more and it took longer. (How else could you earn an allowance, though?)

I do know that when I was about 11, doing the dishes started becoming fun because I could put music on our kitchen stereo set. That hasn't changed - music on and soapy water make for a good past-time in my book. The kitchen gets clean, I get to have music on, plus I either get to enjoy a friend's company while they help clean up, or enjoy some solo time myself. Win-win. (Plus - word to the wise - washing up is a very valuable skill. I found that dish-doing plus babysitting make a very attractive combination to offer families as a college kid or single adult. They got a clean kitchen and happy kids, I got fed delicious meals. Money is optional. :D )

From my apartment here, I can even watch the sky while washing up. Like most Dutch windows, our window was bare when we got here. Blinds or curtains are used at night, or when watching films; in the daytime the whoooooole world can look inside (probably so the oma's can check on your housekeeping skills.) On one of our (many) house-furnishing trips, D. and I went to the window section of Gamma (the local equivalent of a Homebase, Home Depot, or Obi.) We found some raam-folie, a sort of heavy plastic foil that can be stuck onto a window to make it harder to look inside. There were choices like stained glass, flowers, or basic white matte; we chose bamboo, of course. We discussed using bamboo for our outdoor-style wedding, and currently have a bamboo plant living on the balcony, so it fits. I was a little worried I would lose my kitchen view, but clever D. cut a big strip and a little one, so we have our privacy (dancing in the kitchen might make us lose face with the neighbors) and our beautiful panorama view too....

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pull Pull Snip

So many other things to do - practice Taekwando, clean house, e-mail family members spread across the world, get ready for lunch at the school I volunteer at... and instead I'm playing with my plants again. Went out to water my geraniums this morning (the ones we 'live behind') and stopped to pull out some of the old growth... 20 minutes later I finished with the plants inside the house too, thinking busily. I pulled out handfuls and handfuls of yellowed leaves and old blossoms from plants that looked otherwise so healthy... how much is that like my life?

Weeds are pretty obvious - they don't belong in plant pots or in life. Rude comments, bad behaviour. Fairly easy to see in yourself, not to mention that other people tend to point them out too :P ) But what about the tiny tiny little things? The little darting thoughts like, " I have so much more style than she does" or an extra 15 minutes wasted on a random Web site or impatience with how long it takes to become fluent in a language. It's not like anyone can see what I'm thinking, or what I do with my time when I'm at home alone. But that doesn't mean I'm pouring all my energy and time into good growth, new leaves and blossoms. It's easy to look at my poor plants and laugh - why don't they put all that green energy from tasty soil and fresh water to good use? Silly geraniums and herbs for sending out unnecessary sprouts, for starting new leaves so far underneath the plant that there's no way they'll get sunshine. I'll just have to pull out the sprouts and leaves anyway = what a waste.

Pull pull snip. Another handful of dead leaves that I'm holding, and suddenly seeing my own silly habits. All the times I bike long distances through the rain and pity myself for sore muscles instead of just pushing on. Beating myself up for not keeping up contact with my friends (but then not doing anything about it.) Having regrets about not doing more with photos or video making - a huge part of my old life - but not making time to create. Like our pastor said last Sunday, if you talk about doing something but don't, "je houd jezelf voor de gek." In loose translation, you make a fool of yourself. Which is exactly what my plants do, poor things :D Someone should set them a good example by putting energy into where it matters and *blossoming.*

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"We came with the two of us, but now, alas... "

The elderly lady in the elevator with me trailed off, then finished, "Nou, ja, zo gaat het." So it goes. I nodded and added a sympathetic "Helaas," back. She said she'd lived in our apartment building about 14 years. I'd guess she was in her sixties or seventies, and could picture her moving in with her husband, making a home here. We talked about how beautiful the view is from up high... maybe she and he sat on their balcony and drank coffee together, the way D and I do. Maybe they had hanging plants to substitute for the beautiful gardens in their previous house. It's rare to see a bare garden here, much less a messy one; block after block of houses overflow with flowers or are neatly tiled and decorated.

I found six beautiful pink geranium plants in the dumpster room downstairs the other day, and brought them upstairs to be repotted and talked to. D laughed and asked if we "achter de geraniums wonen" - if we "live behind the geraniums." Seeing my blank face, he explained that's an idiom for being old. It made perfect sense. What does it say about a couple if they live behind the geraniums and they're only in their twenties? I don't think we'll live here the next 14 years, though. I'm enjoying it while we do, though; constant treasures in the trash room (discarded cds, stools, flowers, books), the aforementioned incredible view, and the friendly people. Everyone we see - in the elevator, the entrance, or in the cellars - greets us, and I enjoy greeting them back. I'm getting used to having the door held open when I wrestle my bike inside, exchanging pleasantries on the weather, or little conversations like the one in the elevator, all with perfect strangers. And all with their own stories - walking home, I stare up at the apartments and wonder about the people and their own little worlds, neatly stacked on top of each other....

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dutch-in-law.




I looked around me as I walked, thinking about what to write. How do you put images, smells, and feelings into words? Especially random, disconnected moments in days like that one. Above me in an apartment building, two women in Muslim headscarves sat on a balcony and watched the world - the calm, sunny for the moment, world in the Netherlands. How many thousands of kilometers from home are they? Or have their families lived here for generations. Next to them sat a solid 'quad'- a four wheeled road-ready vehicle. What a picture that would have made, but I didn't have my camera with me.

I kept walking. Bikers in tight-fitting spandex - 'snelfietsers' - passed me by. One, paused to check his bike, smiled at me; a girl in rolled up jeans and a tank top, who decided on a whim that the day was too pretty to waste and was walking the 9 kilometers home from her parents-in-law. Her Dutch parents-in-law. Her own parents were hundreds of kilometers and an ocean away, not quite walking distance. Next Sunday it would likely be rainy weather again - typical Dutch- and she'd bike home with her husband and hurry to get into their own cosy apartment.

But that day, it was sunny and clear, and her Converse sneakers tapped contentedly on the road home while she thought about writing a blog, or even a book, some day. Dutch-in-Law.