Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Fairtrading Bags

New cotton shopping bag from Lidl! I use these sturdy cotton bags for everything - carrying recyclables to the container, sorting laundry, hiding gifts or food (non transparent!) and of course for groceries. I had been eyeing the new style for a while but already had several of the old cream-colored ones at home. 

Today Pippin and I stopped spontaneously by Lidl on the way back from the park and I got more groceries than could fit in my backpack. Alas, we had to buy a new bag :)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Helmets and Homes

I left the helmet in the hall, put my toddler to bed with extra careful kisses. Then I opened a message to my husband. I wanted to text, "I'm done here. Let's move back home."

But I couldn't. Because we are home. And whatever the USA or Poland or other countries used to be to us, they're not home now.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Painter

“Hello!” the painter calls cheerfully.

Pippin hides his head in my shoulder, peeping out as I walk closer and say hello back.

The painter dusts the blue doorway lightly with a clean brush. Then he offers the brush to Pippin. “For you?”

“Do you want to help paint?” I tease my little boy.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Recipe for Unforgettable Smoky Sweet Chicken

Marinate chicken, fry it on high. Start to set the table, soothe a hungry 1 year old, then hurry back to the kitchen when you remember the stove is still on. Hurriedly remove now-smoking chicken from heat. Open a window before the smoke alarm starts, then whirl to rescue bottles from 1 year old who is exploring the usually gated kitchen. Yell accidentally at 1 year old, remove 1 year old from kitchen, remember to turn off fire while still holding smoking pan. Put chicken down, shut kitchen gate, and apologize to the now-crying 1 year old. Kiss husband when he walks in the door in the middle of the chaos. Accept compliments on the smoky yet sweet flavor of the new favorite dish.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Speedy Child

Our house is relatively child-proof, but Pippin keeps getting older and faster. If I leave a door open, he finds it, guaranteed.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Cool Kid Corner

Nike high-tops and slouchy cool clothes, a cigarette in one hand and a phone in the other. The epitome of an urban "Cool Kid", a young man leans against the corner of a cafe as I walk by with Pippin. Or try to walk by.


Friday, September 4, 2015

Donate Your Blanket

It has been a long quiet spell here on the blog, maybe because life outside the blog has been busy. Ideas for blog posts (like our Breda city trip and Pippin's birthday party) have been floating around in my head but never actually made it into posts.

What's nudging me back onto the blog today though is the refugee crisis in Europe.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Procrastinator's Guide to Dejunking

Tip 1: Breakables
Place breakables on a 'Awaiting Decision' shelf. Allow a child or clumsy friend to knock them onto the floor. Then throw shards in the trash, vacuum floor, and carefully wash off feet. Decision over. Award food to everyone in the room.

Tip 2: Boxes of Junk
Stuff box of junk under bed. Pull it out at least once a week in search of earplugs, earrings, or small children. Repeat until sick of box. Take to donation center. Do not donate small children.

Tip 3: Toys
Take photos of old toy to be sold online. Place toy in closet until buyer appears. Wait two unsuccessful weeks, removing small child from closet and forbidden toys periodically. Feel guilty, allow small child to play with old toy. Find small child standing on toy, about to jump off and break it or her/himself. Replace toy in closet. Apologize to husband when toy attacks him upon opening of closet. Wait one more week. Take toy to donation center and breathe sigh of relief.

Tip 4: Multiple Parts
Store half of an item in one location; store the other half in a location so clever even you can't find it. Hunt through every possible storage location, then give up and just donate the half you can find. Hope that some person will happen to be missing that exact half and buy it with tears of joy.

Tip 5: Eye Candy
Casually display an attractive item on the dining room table. Wait until guests admire it, then offer it to them. If they refuse, try pleading or threats. If no one has accepted after a month, take to donation center.

Bonus Tip: Minimalism
Become a minimalist. Before buying any item, remember the energy and time it takes to dejunk the same item. Use procrastination in your favor and delay buying item at all.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Morning Milk

He makes a little chirping noise to let me know he's done with his morning milk.

Once he has my attention, and I'm not looking at my phone or eReader, he pushes the empty bottle out of the way and squirms into a more comfortable position on my lap.

There he cuddles quietly against me for 2.5 seconds.

Then he dives, face first, off my lap. He speed crawls towards the window and spends the next minute patting the glass and making sure the neighborhood is safe.

Then he crawls away for the next adventure.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Inside and Outside a DutchInLaw Life

This month some of my family are coming to visit (so exciting!), which means that I get to show them around my DutchInLaw life. It would be fascinating to introduce them to more DutchInLaws – foreigners married to Dutch spouses – because everyone has a different way of interacting with Dutch culture. This is mine.

There's the inside world: I drink tea, read and write, and take care of my little family.
There's the outside world: I bike around town, have coffee with friends, and take Pippin to the shops and the library.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

How to Scare an Egg

My husband is standing at the counter, trying to peel off a sticky shell.

"You didn't scare the eggs? I'm losing half of it," he says.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Spring Fever and Capsule Wardrobes

Pink and white trees are blooming all over Rotterdam. Pippin and I have been to parks twice in the last week and played on the swings and slides. The sun shines through the windows and has coaxed me to pull out some Tshirts and shorts.

Not long ago, my sister sent me a link on capsule wardrobes. A few days later, my mom sent me the same link. And then a few days after that, a friend messaged me with "Random question: do you do a capsule wardrobe?" Either spring fever is in the air or they've all been conspiring together. Maybe both.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Meeting The Faceless

Since we've had a baby, I've become very aware of the next-door-neighbor-through-the-wall.

Since he's in the next building over, we don't see him in our stairwell and say hi.

We don't know his name or whether he has a significant other.

We just know that there's a good chance that our crying baby bothers him and that his loud music definitely bothers us.

When someone is faceless it's easy to reject them. To sigh in frustration, make snarky comments about their music taste or laughter, and yet be uncomfortably conscious that we might be annoying them too. To grumble about the parties they throw and yet never actually get to know what sort of person they are.

On Saturday I met our neighbor.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

One Small Act

One of my favorite websites for eco-friendly living is One Small Act. I discovered it when my life went through a makeover in October 2012 – new house, new city. I started chasing minimalism and conscious consumerism. I blogged about the start of the journey here. Did I have any idea how the journey would unfold, or the friends I would "click" with? I doubt it. But I'm glad I started down that road.

"Recycle a piece of cardboard"
It's interesting to look back at how much I didn't know then about eco-friendly living. My family had always been frugal. My mom can stretch a grocery budget further than anyone I know, and my dad was always the one to explain how solar panels or cycling crops worked. And of course I knew how to recycle, compost, and use up leftovers. But I had never really thought about the chemicals in shampoo and makeup. Or what made Fair Trade food fair. And I hadn't known that there were other "normal" people like me who wanted to be better stewards of the Earth but weren't always sure how to do that. One Small Act (then called "Practically Green") was the perfect answer, because it provided a community as well as bite-sized challenges within bigger projects like recycling, parenting, and saving electricity. I found and tried challenges like:

Track your trash for a week

Find a healthy recipe

Watch "The Story of Stuff" documentary

Take a shower that is 5 minutes or less

Donate a gently used item to a charity

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Be Yourself

Poster for sale. Inspiration for free. "Be yourself, don't try to be normal." Good thought for those of us who never totally fit in.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015



The virtual home of hipsters who drink organic green smoothies, display nail art and Crossfit abs, and spend hours writing songs in Starbucks. Since I do none of the above, I obviously do not belong on Instagram.

Or so I thought.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

DutchInLaw Blogger Interview

"Meet Lee, an expat who lives with her husband and baby in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands....." Read more here at expatwoman.com

Monday, April 6, 2015

Learning the Language

A Hungarian Poster
"Study the language. The language is key to the culture. This doesn't, however, mean you have to attend class (thank goodness). Just turning on the radio is a big help - you'll become familiar with the speech patterns/intonations/dialects, the popular music, and what's going on in society. You can also watch movies in the language (especially with subtitles), take up a hobby outside the home, or get a language buddy. Then, of course, there's the Internet - podcasts, language websites, and online forums. If you enjoy classroom learning, there are classes at different language levels....."

I'm drafting my response to interview questions on an expat site. Some of my answer I've already put into my draft of DutchInLaw, the book. It's fun to think through, but I feel like I'm missing some of the answer because it has been so long ago that I first set foot on Dutch soil. And the way I look at language learning as a 29 year old woman is different than when I was a 15 year old girl. Then, I had studied some Greek, Spanish, and French. Now I've studied Dutch, Polish, Italian, and a little bit of German. I've figured out that I do not learn well in a classroom setting; I learn best by immersion, and following my interests. I've also found that I'd rather watch a movie or listen to music in the language than study the details of grammar details, which means I can quote sentences but not necessarily conjugate them.

Writing about language learning makes me wish I had a reason to learn a new one. New friends who only speak Turkish? An upcoming move to Spain? Still waiting for a big enough lure....

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Shopping Moments

When I go on errands with Pippin, certain moments occur. And repeat. Often. So much so that I decided to note them here.

 Start Line. This is a 15-25 minute period in which we get ready. I dress Pippin, check the weather (see below), re-dress Pippin to suit the weather, find my own jacket, collect any articles that need returned, pause to give Pippin a drink or a snack, hunt for any receipts needed, put on Pippin's jacket and his shoes, pause to put a water bottle and a snack in my own bag, find his pacifier in case we run into his naptime.... Ever heard the phrase, "Slower than a herd of turtles stampeding through peanut butter?" That would describe us. 

Weather Report. This is the part where I read online that it's going to storm, and then there proceeds to be gorgeous sunshine as Pippin and I get outside. Or I read that there will be sun and it rains as soon as we step out the door. Sometimes there's even hail. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Revenge of the Sock Snatcher

Somewhere I have a photo of an over-full sock drawer. Or I might have deleted it because it was just too demotivating.

Instead you get a picture of shoes of me and one of the sock owners.

It so happened that I spent nearly a year as a nanny for three adorable little girls. We had lots of fun together, and the photo is from a day when we all went to the park to feed ducks.

The thing about going on an adventure is that you generally have to wear shoes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Eco Guilt

You become a mother, and you start looking around at other mothers who are doing it better. They make all the baby food from scratch. Create fantastic, imagination-stimulating nurseries in coordinating colours. Maybe even sew baby clothes from organic cotton. 

A feeling of inferiority sets in. It's known in modern terms as "mommy guilt." Based on the amount of magazine articles, blogs, and web pages it's hugely prevalent. The cure, if there is one, seems to just be to remind yourself that you're doing the best you can for your child. And that all the other mothers are doing the same thing, so it's not worth comparing. Do what you can and don't worry about the rest. If you want to get better, take baby steps - don't give up just because you're still in progress. Enough is enough for now. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Want vs Need

One of the things I noticed while I continue my house hunt is that I'm very focused on us and on what we want. 

Is there a garden for me? A play place for Pippin? Room for a workbench for Faramir? Can we all enjoy our hobbies and follow our passions?

Is the neighborhood safe for us? Can I go running and not be paranoid? Can Pippin go out to play at a park when he's older?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Happy At Home Moments

Some days, being a stay-at-home-mom bothers me. 

Some days I miss being able to just escape the house without having to bring extra diapers, an increasingly heavy Pippin, and a carrier or buggy.

Some days I miss being able to move around the house and make noise without having to take naps into account.

Monday, January 26, 2015

When I Was More Dauntless-Divergent

I was reading "Insurgent" today, after having seen "Divergent" last summer. Both are treasures. I love it when books and films leave me wondering about a new angle on my own life. Taking the aptitude test online, I wasn't surprised to see that I'd fall under the Divergents as well, instead of fitting into one of the normal factions. My answers were a mix of Amity ('I am Peaceful'), Erudite ('I am Intelligent') - and then either Dauntless ('I am Brave') or Abnegation ('I am Selfless') as a third. Taking a few more quizzes, for fun, led to the same result, or when 'Divergent' wasn't a permutation, I would get the other answers; Candor ('I am Honest') was the only faction that wouldn't welcome me, apparently. Amity and Erudite were the highest, but what really made me stop to think was that things have changed in the last few years.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Sweet Streamlining

From this...
to this.

From this...
to this.

My kitchen will be so much tidier now.

And the Het Goed 2nd hand store should be rather pleased (I hope) when they sort through the stuff we brought them. Stuff that we have appreciated, and enjoyed, and are now ready to pass on to someone else who will use it more than we do. Storage issues and moving possibilities aside, it bothers me when we hold on to things that we don't use. My ever-patient husband is great at reminding me to stop and consider whether we need something before I buy it on a whim ("I think you need a lightsaber") or toss it on a whim ("It's summer - let's get rid of the fat scarves.") I'm good at questioning whether we need to keep certain things that rarely get used in our lifestyle. Vases? Ice skates? File binders? Some things go in a give-away pile; some stay but get better organised.

Meanwhile, Faramir and I sit together on the couch in the evening and clink our cups of steaming tea in congratulation. We make a good team.

And this is only part of what we stuffed in the car.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Bowling Over Budgets

Last week I wrote about when logic and frustration came together sweetly... and I replaced all of our mugs. I'm starting to give our bowls the Stink Eye this week. And I spent about an hour yesterday washing and inventorying all our baby bottles and parts. There's something immensely satisfying about actually taking action on a frustrating area of life. No matter how small.

And I know in the grand scheme of things it. does. not. matter. that we have mismatched bowls and mugs. If we lived in a seaside cottage or sprawling farmhouse, I think it would be great fun to have whimsical mugs and cups and bowls that visitors would choose favourites from. When I visit my parents' house, I recognise the special mugs that my uncle sent to my brothers about ten years ago. The mugs sit next to The Cup that my mum has measured out ingredients in for her (famous) homemade biscuits for the last fifteen or so years. And there are new little mugs and bowls that they have picked up on travels since. 

A friend said in reply to the mug post that she "revel[s] in a hodgepodge of miscellany." I think that sounds wonderful. And somewhere else, I might. But in this little house, it's a constant source of irritation that the bowls don't stack, because there is only room for one stack of bowls on the shelf. Literally. Which means after I do the washing up, I have to restack the four china bowls biggest-to-smallest in their spot. Or (more likely) I put one on the shelf, leave two on the rack, and stick the fourth on the counter. Unless I drop them on the floor while Pippin makes a sudden grab for the soap.

In an earlier effort to be eco-friendly, I bought some lovely pressed-bamboo bowls, which have a fun texture and are a pretty cream colour. Unfortunately, they're not microwaveable and aren't meant for holding liquids too long (risk of dissolving?) And they also don't stack. They glare at me from under the counter every time I walk by and I feel guilty because I really do like them. But they're not practical in this stage of life, not in combination with the other unpractical bowl configurations.

All of our mismatched bowls hanging out on the mantel.

So the plan is to head to the store some time this week and buy a set of bowls. Stackable. Harmonious. Simple. I was near Xenos yesterday but told myself we could wait till February, maybe, because it borders on extravagant to suddenly replace all the (perfectly serviceable) mugs in the house. And then the next week to suddenly replace all the (perfectly serviceable) bowls. Faramir and I are both frugal; we want to be good stewards of the money God has given us. While we have enough money to live happily, we know we don't have unending bank accounts, and that we've worked for our savings. We budget for daily (tasty) food, comfortable/presentable clothes, and especially for trips to see beloved family members scattered across the world. It makes me feel silly to spend our household budget for things we don't technically need RIGHT THIS MOMENT.

But at this stage, it's not an extravagant whim. Having a baby changes life in so many ways beyond the obvious ones. I knew we were in for sleepless nights and teething times (which we think has started again - ?!). But no one mentioned just how badly I would feel the need to streamline my life even more than it was. I already had a simple wardrobe. It got simpler. We already had a simple home. It got simpler. We already had simple meal plans. Guess what? They got simpler too. I just don't have the time and energy for more than simple. To spend more than a few minutes deciding what to wear, looking for a shopping bag, or planning dinner. I don't regret the simplicity. It's refreshing at best, not-stress-inducing at worst. And if spending extra euros on stackable bowls gives me more energy to play peekaboo with Pippin, that's a good trade-off. Another good trade is getting rid of the miscellaneous kitchen junk and ingredients so Faramir or I can cook dinner in half an hour or less and then linger at the table talking about our days. Maybe I should find a way to make a more holistic budget - one that includes emotional energy and time as well as money. Instead of thinking, "I'm wasting X amount of euro's," I could think, "I'm trading X euro's for Y energy plus Z time to spend on things that matter."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Toys for Me... I Mean, for You

The problem with having a six month old baby is you can't really justify buying certain toys for them now.... Like Star Wars Lego sets. Or Christmas countdown trees of boxes to fill with mini-suprises. Or Nativity scenes with little figures.

And yes, I did stand there and try to figure out how long before he could (safely) enjoy them. And whether the fact that they were on sale would help in the justifying process. I finally, regretfully, put the boxes down and managed to leave the store without anything more exciting than ziploc bags and frozen green beans.

On the bright side, Pippin has gotten some fantastic toys for Christmas and his half-birthday. 

Like a Noah's Ark with soft little figures to hug and squeeze.
Like a toolset that he can chew on and we can pretend to saw off toes with.
And a too-cute hedgehog named Chester who rolls up into a pouch and is not prickly at all.
There will be enough time later for Lego and toy food, God willing. We even have a hand-me-down Playmobil castle and a wooden bridges-and-roads set waiting in storage. Until Pippin is old enough, other little visitors can enjoy them. And when he reaches 4 or 5 years old... oh, the fun he and his Mumma will have!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

People Who Don't Hate You

Today was a pleasant day with visiting family, skyping with other family and a friend, and just general cosiness. I found myself thinking just now, "Always nice to hang out with people who don't hate you." And then I had to think about that for a few minutes. I never hang out with people who hate me, and I'm not even sure if there's any one out there who actively dislikes me. Then again, I don't hang out much in general so I probably wouldn't notice. Maybe the thought was just another moment of amused hyperbole. Maybe it was an unconscious reminder that just because friends move away or we fall out of touch, it doesn't have to mean we don't care about each other. Not always, anyway.

Faramir and I talked about moving today. That was rare because normally it's just me talking about moving. As in every few months. As a TCK, moving makes me feel safe. It's exciting. Challenging but in a familiar way. Staying in one place for too long makes me feel itchy. And my husband is both a traveler and a patient man, so he understands some of the itch and is gracious with me about the rest. A clever man, he brings up great points to think about while talking about moving. Like whether we'll be putting Pippin in school in a given area or how much his work reimburses travel. The thing that didn't really come up was friendships, which are much harder to quantify.

Part of me wants to move to some beautiful village (maybe on an island?) where we can build friendships that will last for years and drop by for coffee with the neighbors while our children play outside and grow up together. Part of me wants to stay in this general area, so we can still keep the friendships we have with the people who already come by for coffee! There aren't very many of them, to be sure, but they are special. And I'm just now getting to the point of being so comfortable that I'm not embarrassed if my floors aren't swept, etc., when they come over.

The other day, two girl friends were visiting, and we had a lovely talk before deciding to extend the visit and have lunch. After a few minutes negotiation, I ended up chilling on the couch and feeding Pippin a bottle while they fixed the soup and toast! There was some giggling and calling back and forth between the living room and kitchen, but it was the highlight of my day, if not of the whole week....

Other friends may not live so close by, but at least we have the option to meet up in town or at home for coffee. Even if that's only once every two or three months, it's fun to look forward to and savour when it happens. If we move far(ther) away, it probably won't happen. There will be new friends, and that will be great, but there won't be the old options of 'just biking into R'dam for the afternoon' or 'just hopping on the metro to your house.'

And yet, I feel like we're in a 'holding pattern' here. We knew this was temporary, and some of our friends are also expecting to move before long. So looking at houses is practical as well as soothing. We may not be able to narrow down options much at this point, especially since we might not move for another year or so. But it helps me to see that we do have options, and to give me a chance to dream about living somewhere fun and new before reality comes knocking with the packing boxes.

And thinking about moving helps me appreciate the place we are now.  "Everything is more beautiful because we're doomed," Achilles tells Briseis in Troy, one of my all-time favourite movies.  Knowing our time here is limited helps me not take it for granted. It also gives me fresh appreciation for the people I get to hang out with who don't hate me.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Asking Questions and UPGs

** Note: This was a tricky post for me to write. Including this note, hesitating between typing 'Please don't be offended by this post' and 'This is what is on my mind so it would be dishonest for me to pretend it isn't.' So now you know. Challenging post ahead. **

Yesterday, while running errands, I stopped in front of a window display in an otherwise vacant store. On a platform was the largest and most intricate Nativity scene I had ever seen. There was a castle tower with the Wise Men and a camel emerging, a courtyard with a well and humble shepherds and sheep. An angel and stars hung above the stable roof, where Baby Jesus spread open friendly arms and the visitors (and sheep) climbed a few stairs to greet him.... And on the windowsill below the scene were a few Buddha statues and a lost angel or two. Welcome to Rotterdam, I thought, and snapped some photos.  

As a kid, I read the book "You Can Change the World." It was about praying for different gatherings of people around the world who don't know about Jesus; they're called 'unreached people groups' or UPG's. I knew that Jesus made a difference in my life - he helped me be more patient with my siblings, and I could talk to him whether I was upset or happy. Sometimes we went to an international church, so I knew that he understood whether people talked or sang in Spanish, Armenian, Dutch, or English. He was never to busy to listen to me, and when we moved through different countries, I never had to say goodbye to him and wonder if he'd remember me.

The book made sense because if Jesus made my life better, he would make life better for the people around the world if they knew him too. I especially liked the part where we could pray for people who didn't have a Bible in their language yet, because it's hard to read in a language you're not very good at. Or to talk in it, and how can you really talk to God if you can't think of the right words? Some people groups didn't even have a written language, so for them I could pray that people would make cassette recordings of the Bible to listen to. Sometimes I dreamed about becoming a translator and traveling to Papua New Guinea or some Arabic desert - adventures and languages and new experiences! Plus getting to see the look on someone's face when they heard for the first time that God LOVED them and had sent me specially to tell them that.

Of course, I had other dreams too. Maybe I would become a photographer, or a diplomat, or an author, or a mom, or a ballerina. These days you can see from my blog that I spend most of my time writing and taking care of a little hobbit. Photography is mostly limited to photos on my phone of the hobbit, but when I'm out in the city, there are always stories and photographs just waiting to happen. I've also done a fair amount of traveling (mostly in the pre-hobbit days) and while I've photographed hundreds of faces, no one has ever walked up to me and said, "Hi, I'm from an unreached people group, and I'd like to know more about Jesus." I would honestly be pretty shocked if someone did. Especially here in the West, where there are churches scattered all over and you can order a Bible on the internet if you want one. Or pick one up in a bookstore. You're not going to get arrested in Holland or America or England if you own a Bible or go to church; the risk is just of getting a remark about how old fashioned or intolerant you are.

But most people I've come in contact with just nod politely and, especially in Holland, shrug and say something like, "Je moet het zelf weten." You'll have to know for yourself; it's your life. The popular view is that everyone is entitled to their own belief(s), whether that's Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad, the Universe. Or a combination. Like in the window display. The only intolerance would be... being intolerant of others. And I imagine that praying for other people would join a particular style of faith/life might fall under that category. Especially because one can't exactly suggest, "My way is better than yours," since that would be rude.

I think the hard part is that we can't see what others are dealing with. I sit and have coffee with other young moms in the city, or at someone's home, and we all talk about our babies. If I have dark circles under my eyes, they can assume it's because Pippin is not sleeping well at night. I'd assume the same for them. But what if we actually felt comfortable enough to ask? Maybe there are allergy issues. Maybe someone's mother has recently died. Or a best friend from college. Maybe they stayed up late because they were having a glorious three-hour skype fest with a sister who lives in Japan. Maybe they're working late because rent has gone up again and their car recently broke down. And if we felt comfortable enough with eachother, maybe we could ask, or offer. "Have you tried cutting out dairy? My little one always cries when I have milk." "Do you want to borrow our car for a few days?" "I'm so sorry about your mom - can I pray for you?" Maybe one of the suggestions would help, especially if accompanied by a hug and an understanding look. And even if the answer is, "No, thanks, though," it's good to know that someone cares.

I feel like it's important to have that understanding, though, before offering anything. It certainly doesn't help to get judgemental comments like, "Well, if you just trained Pippin to sleep better..." or "What, did you think life as a mom was going to be easy?" Much less, "Your life is a mess, you should go to church," or "You know you're going to Hell if you don't get right with God." Nope. Not helpful at all. And yet, I've been the person sitting there trying to hide tears and half-worrying, half-wishing someone would come up and say, "Hey, are you ok? Can I do anything?" And when no one does, it leaves me wondering if anyone actually cares about me.

I've probably mentioned it once or twice (or twenty five times), but we live in a very diverse neighborhood in a very diverse city in a very diverse country. Sometimes when I walk around, I pray for the people, that they'd come to know God and find peace. Most of the time, though, I'm too busy thinking about my grocery shopping list or imagining how fun it will be when Pippin is old enough to make "woof woof" noises at dogs. Most of the time I focus on my own life, with occasional twinges of, "What happened to that little girl who believed she could help make the world a better place?" Today I looked up unreached people groups online, because that came to mind in between checking Facebook, feeding Pippin rice cakes, and planning dinner. Apparently there are 18 UPGs in the Netherlands alone. 3 with people in Rdam itself.

Mind. Blown.

So much for faraway, exotic villages and jungles. In my country here are 18 different people groups who essentially don't know that Jesus exists and/or don't have Bibles or gatherings of believers in their own language. It's one thing to deliberately know about Jesus and not want to follow him; that's a personal choice. But to not even know that he exists is like, in my mind, not knowing that fruits and vegetables exist and living on a diet of white bread. It's like not knowing that the sun exists and living in a basement. It's doable, and it's certainly simpler, less complications. But it's also so much less richer. And while I'm not going to stand on a box on a street corner and yell at people for their belief choices, it's not something I can honestly shrug about either. Because who wants other people to live in a basement or eat white bread all their life?

I don't know what to do about the information I found today. The thought came to mind that it would be really easy if there was already some church working with these UPGs and I could just show up and... take photos or something. Maybe serve lunch while they did the planning, or take care of kids while they did the real connecting. I know what I'm good at, and it's not any sort of confronting or arranging people! And how incredibly awkward (for me, anyway) to walk up to someone and say, "Are you from this UPG? Great. You need Jesus. Come with me." I know several extroverts who have a gift for making instant friends and then it all goes smoothly into conversation and they can find out if someone actually wants to know about Jesus.

On second thought, I've had more conversations with total strangers since last year than ever in my life. Pregnant bellies and cute babies are instant ice-breakers, even for us introverts. Maybe this season of life is an open door to new relationships and a chance to share what's important in life. Important things like finding our way in the Dutch culture, and family, and faith (and coffee and tasty treats!)

Maybe it also comes back to that whole prayer thing again. Maybe if I pray, and am willing to be uncomfortable, I'll end up meeting exactly the person who has also been praying for someone to tell them about God. I've heard some incredible stories of men and women who had dreams telling them to go find out more about Jesus at a certain place or from a certain person. You never know what could happen if you step outside your comfort zone.

And maybe it also goes back to being willing to care, and ask questions. If I assume everything's fine, and don't dare to question someone's dark circles under the eyes, how will I have the chance to help a friend in a difficult time? If I don't dare to strike up conversations with strangers, how will I have the chance to tell them something about the Jesus they might be looking for?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Consultaties, Compliments, and Crackers

A friend commented once on Facebook that she wasn't a big fan of the Consultatie Bureau (a sort of 'Youth Health' system). I've heard several people agree with her, but I'm more on the side of a mutual friend who commented back something to the point of, 'Funny, I like going there - where else do people want you to talk nonstop about your child? :D' I'll also be honest and admit that I enjoy the compliments we get there. Of course I'm a biased parent who thinks that my child is funny and smart and adorable. But it's not a hard duty to show up and have nurses, secretaries, and random other parents exclaim, 'What an alert child!' 'What beautiful eyes!' etc.

After the secretary finished cooing at Pippin (and remember, she probably sees 5-10 babies a DAY) I undressed him down to his diaper for the checkup. I once saw a mother pull out a miniature bathrobe for her little one, and commented how clever that was. I informed Faramir the other day that I'm planning to get Pippin one next winter when he's toddling around the house, but today I just grabbed a hooded towel/blanket to take. They do keep the Bureau rooms warm, so I tucked him in and held him on my shoulder so he could watch everything. A particularly enthusiastic papa smiled at Pippin and then said, 'Dear, see the cute baby looking at me! What a smart child! What big eyes!' She turned from undressing her own baby and nodded, then added, 'Oh, what a great idea, using the towel like that!' I laughed. 'It's the first time for me, too, trying it.'

Then I asked about their baby - a cute little grey-dressed girl of two weeks there for her hearing test. I bet the other papa couldn't wait for when she'd be old enough to watch the world and react to new people... but I also wondered how the other mother felt. And whether she was eyeing me and hoping she would be back in her old jeans by six months. I hope he reassured her later that he loved their baby the most and loved HER the most. Very important, because during the first month or two (or, you know, three...or six... or eighteen... or two hundred and forty) mamas need extra encouragement and love. Just a note.

The checkup itself went well.  Pippin was not allowed to eat the penlight that shone in his eyes and rolled all over trying to catch it. Middle of the curve on height and weight; 'Nicely average,' commented the nurse. 'Ach, and we were telling you that you were unique,' I teased him. She answered questions about when we could start baby sign language ('From day one, essentially') since I'd like him to be able to communicate a little instead of being frustrated when we don't understand him. I used to work with the 1 year olds group at a daycare/preschool, and it was great to see them progress from grunts to simple signs like 'more' and 'please' and 'all done.' She also asked how his eating was going, and showed me the section in the 'GroeiGids' ('Growth Guide') about how to vary his meals over the next few months. Apparently our next checkup isn't for another five or so months, but she assured me I could call or come to the walk-in open days if needed before then.

So there we were, finished for this time. I dressed Pippin again, smiled at 'Oh, look at his little mittens! Aren't those great!' from the other papa, and headed out the door to run some errands. Maneuvering a bulky stroller through stores is not fun, but we had several nice moments of, 'I'm sorry, we'll get out of your way,' and 'No, not to worry.' And a tram conductor who helped lift the stroller plus bags down to the ground when the curb didn't reach far enough. And a stocker at the grocery store who didn't know either what their selection was of 'Biscuits, but not too sweet or with chocolate... for the baby, but not necessarily a baby biscuit?'... but left to ask, and then came back and said they had a whole baby section.

There I found Liga crackers, which I recognised from my search online this week when I wondered what Dutch parents use, since I don't see Cheerios and British rusks on the shelves. And for the experience parents who are sniggering in their sleeves, I am well aware that this is my first child and I have time/energy to look up foods 'Suggested By Smart People Who Will Advise You How To Have A Perfect Child.' And I am aware that any following children will likely be hastily handed a piece of bread or cracker while I race after Pippin (or others) calling, "PUT THAT DOWN RIGHT NOW!"

Now that I'm looking at the packaging (the only one they had of that kind) I'm seeing a cheerful warning, 'From 4-6 months: Only to be crumbled into porridge; not suitable to be eaten out of the hand as a dry biscuit.' The question is now whether I am enough of a new parent to obey or whether we'll just decide that since Pippin is already 6 months, he'll be fine gnawing on it. He has teeth already, for crying out loud.

Looking up the crackers on the Liga website, I find that this entire range up to 12 months is just for porridge. So there goes the whole gnawing thing. And someone pointed out on a forum that beschuit (rusks) are healthier anyway, with less sugar. I check; sure enough, glucose syrup is the third ingredient on the package. Sugar is fourth.

Searching 'Cheerios kopen' I can find online websites where I can order them, but no supermarkets in the area. Oh, and a funny comment on a forum for Dutch people looking for their favourite British foods - 'I still have a healthy addiction, to Cheerios - a sort of round cornflakes.' Never heard that comparison before! We tried rice cakes last night at home but Pippin kept getting tiny chunks in his throat and coughing in confusion. Looks like it will be rusks at our house for the next while. And crumbs galore....

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Baby Nursing to Solids - The Next Adventure

There is a heap of newly sterilised storage bottles and caps and plastic pieces in my kitchen. They'll dry, then be packed away. They'll go in a cupboard or box with other "outgrown" baby stuff. The drinking bottles are still in the kitchen, and they'll be joined by little pots and spoons as we go on the adventure of solids. There will be solids, and there will be formula, but there will be no more pumped milk or nursing. I've already given Pippin tastes of solid foods, and laughed and photographed his face while he gnaws on green beans and spits pumpkin out with a grimace. It will be an adventure, I tell myself. Together we will brave the world of pureed broccoli and regurgitated banana, and I will make sure he gets his vitamin drops. It's all just happening sooner than I would like.

Maybe the next baby will be one of the cool kids who gets "real" milk up to a year or two. I made it to six months with Pippin,  and I know I should be grateful for that. Especially since it's very normal for working mothers here to go back to their job after 2-3 months of maternity leave. That's when they have to choose if and how they want to pump, or keep breastfeeding (assuming they did at all.) I should be grateful for these six months, but I just feel guilty.  I'm a stay at home mum, so if I REALLY loved my baby I would keep nursing, right? Even if I'm not one of the mothers who cherished the nursing moments together, I know that breastmilk has a ton of benefits - antibodies, vitamins, etc. And who wouldn't want that for their baby? Not to mention nursing is easier and cheaper than formula and bottles. I also hate feeling like I'm giving up because it's so hard at this stage. One of my friends runs long distance races and finds ways to pump or nurse at pit stops. Three of my friends have three (or more) children under the age of 7. Maybe I'm doing something wrong if I can barely get through some days with just one baby, let alone nurse him fully.  

I console myself that maybe things will be different next time.

Maybe the next baby won't be traveling with us at three weeks old for a three week vacation - special memories of friends and family, more tears from me when we start formula in addition to nursing and pumping. Maybe the next baby will latch better, and I won't be sore enough to need shields from the start. Maybe the next baby won't have a tongue tie and possible lip tie that involve multiple trips to doctors who think I'm overreacting. Maybe the next baby won't get thrush at two and a half months, with me pumping milk for the next two months so the infection won't get worse. Maybe the next baby won't get teeth at four and a half months, after it finally starting nursing ok. Maybe it won't start biting around five months, especially while we're traveling. And maybe at the six month mark, if I do pump occasionally, there will be full bottles in the fridge, instead of 20 ml per 20 min. Maybe there won't be six months of drama and conversations centering on MILK.

I'm grateful for friends and family who are there for me, whatever my choices. I'm grateful for bottles and formula. I'm grateful that Pippin is chubby and healthy and he won't starve because I'm not nursing him. There are women across the world who don't have my options, and instead of being upset because nursing isn't working, they're heartbroken because their baby is dying of malnutrition in front of their eyes. Our earth is not a fair place. Which is why Faramir and I choose to send money and support organisations like Mercy Ships and International Justice Mission, because their people make a difference in the world instead of just complaining when things aren't the way they should be.

It's good to keep things in perspective. All the same, I can't help but hope that I'll be able to nurse for a good long time without regrets....

Friday, January 9, 2015

Mug Shot

I realised the other day how much nicer it would be if we had 10 or so decent-sized harmonious mugs living in our cupboard instead of 

3 huge mugs
2 bitty striped mugs from a set of 4 (I probably broke 2 over the years)
6 tea glasses (I probably broke 2 or 3)
2 medium sized coffee mugs (1 was broken and got replaced, 1 was ug-gly and was given away)

A few small coffee mugs are currently either hiding in a give-away bag in the cellar or have already been dropped off by Het Goed. In particular a set of tiny blue ones we bought to set up our first home together (awww) that went from 4 to 2 over the years.

In other words, a hodgepodge of mugness.

I don't need a perfectly matched set of mugs (especially not expensive ones, given my talent for breaking things). But I like things in my house to be harmonious, and 7 different types and sizes of receptacles for hot drinks was just too much. Especially when there are mugs, and then tea glasses, and then coffee mugs. Since the coffee mugs have "Coffee/cappucino/mocha" emblazoned on the sides, one OBVIOUSLY can not drink hot chocolate or - heaven forbid - tea out of them. And I imagine there would be a moment of shocked silence if I accidentally served 2 guests tea in glasses and 1 guest tea in a mug. Barbaric, really. When I have 2 good friends over, sometimes we drink tea in the big mugs, but that's allowable because we all match and the mugs don't actually say "Coffee." There's also the numbers question; we have enough to serve 6 people tea or 4 people coffee with the 3 huge mugs thrown in for good measure. So if we were to throw a party of more than 13, we'd have to worry whether everyone got the drink of their choice. (Then again, if we introverts are throwing a party for more than 13, everyone should be worried).

So, being the tactful respectful wife I am, I decided to ask my husband whether he liked the Dutch tradition of using tea glasses. If he said yes, I would just consolidate the mugs and keep the glasses. If not, I would ditch most of the drinkware and get new all-purpose mugs. My husband is a patient man who is used to dealing with my minimalist tendencies, and also a clever man. I had barely finished my question when he asked, "Are you wanting to get rid of the tea glasses?" I admitted I was, and explained the issue. After talking about it, we agreed that nondescript mugs were a good solution, which is why I ended up wrapping ten comfortable medium sized mugs at Xenos today. Not too ugly/cheap, but not too embellished and fancy. A man would feel comfortable drinking out of them. I ripped sheets off the roll of paper beneath the table and carefully tucked each mug in a cocoon against breakage.

Then someone walked up to the wrapping table and began to carefully wrap his own ceramics. Maybe I'm just being stereotypical, but the first thing I thought was, "Ok, so his wife/girlfriend sent him to the store for a set...." Then I snuck a sideways glance and noticed he was wearing an orange workman's suit, navy trousers, and heavy work shoes. And the china was a chic set of saucers and mugs with "Royal China" or something printed on it in black and white. I kept wrapping, wishing I could take a picture. And then I stole another look, casually sweeping my gaze across the table and outside, so as not to be staring. And outside was another piece of the story - a 'Gemeente' municipal van with another orange suited man waiting patiently in the driver's seat. "Engineers" was printed on the side. While I'm quite happy with our new mugs, I'm still very curious what the city engineers are doing with their new porcelain....

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Music Analysis

After thoughtful analysis, I conclude that my musical tastes run overwhelmingly to soft rock in a low key with a dash of existential hope/angst and a sprinkle of soothing undertones. And apparently there are fewer female artists who specialise in this because only one made it into my top 15 list.... 

Mat Kearney
Ludovico Einaudi

Shane & Shane
John Mayer
Mark Knopfler
Owl City

Andrew Peterson
Jamie Cullum
Five for Fighting


Read a fascinating post today on "Why Switchfoot Won’t Sing Christian Songs"

My favourite part:

"My songs are a part of my life. But judging from scripture I can only conclude that our God is much more interested in how I treat the poor and the broken and the hungry than the personal pronouns I use when I sing. I am a believer. Many of these songs talk about this belief. An obligation to say this or do that does not sound like the glorious freedom that Christ died to afford me. I do have an obligation, however, a debt that cannot be settled by my lyrical decisions. My life will be judged by my obedience, not my ability to confine my lyrics to this box or that." - Jon Foreman, Switchfoot

Full post here

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Groceries Again

After yesterday's errands, I sat down to blog eloquently about moments of human kindness encountered outside of my temporary apartment.

After today's errands, I fried the cracked egg and cleaned up the leaking milk that were casualties of my hurry when someone tried to cut in front of me at the grocery store because they were confused about when the cashier had said they could ring up an extra shopping bag. And by the time I cleaned up the mess, I found Pippin trying to sneak a nap on my bed before the authorised time.

Yes, I do go to two grocery stores. Often weekly. With a 7-8 kilo child strapped to my front and several more kilos of groceries in my backpack and little 'oma karretje' at my side. Which all need lugged up our apartment stairs. I feel my muscles should be much more defined than they are, but at least the workout is enough to burn off the handfuls of fresh nuts now available in the bulk bins at Lidl and the bitter chocolate at Dirk. Another recent upside of Lidl is a jovial new employee who talks to Pippin and makes faces at him. It makes me happy to shop where I recognise people, instead of just dealing with strangers.

This is what 'oma karretjes' looks like, so named because it's usually grandmothers who pull these carts around. Most other people put the groceries in the bottoms of strollers, in the baskets and saddlebags of their bikes, or - shock - in their car. If Faramir comes along to the store, I depend on his muscled arms to carry some of our heavy cotton grocery bags. When I take the baby carrier, my karretje collapses and fits in my backpack until we check out.

Monday, January 5, 2015


Some days I get frustrated with living here. The traffic noise. Cigarette fumes in our apartment building stairwell that drift into my house. Litter on the sidewalks and street, kids who ride their bikes without respect for anyone in their paths. There are few people, if any, who take pride in their neighborhood. And why should they? The apartment blocks are, for the most part, faded or dingy. The streets are narrow (which is, to be fair, normal for Holland) and cars shuffle in and out of spaces, dodging bits of glass or rubbish that may be on the ground. The 'Te Koop' and 'Te Huur' signs that constantly pop up in windows show how often new people arrive to buy and rent. The piles of trash left on the curb at moving day show how often people leave again.

Of course, there are positives to our neighborhood. Within a five minute walk are the shops, cafes, the post office, and great public transport. There are green parks and a fascinating stream of people from dozens of cultures. Some adorable architectural quirks are scattered around the neighborhood- a few gabled rooftops, a series of stonework reliefs on one street, some stained glass windows. A bike ride of fifteen minutes will get us to church, work, the city center, or even some relatives. I'm just constantly aware that this is is not permanent. It's not where we want to raise Pippin. It's not where we want to be in three years. I don't think most people in the neighborhood want to be here in three years.

When everything is so temporary, it's easy to just live on the surface and not invest. If the neighbors downstairs will probably move soon, why bother to get to know them? If others are dumping garbage bags next to the container, why bother to put mine in neatly? I tell myself that if we lived in a 'real' neighborhood I'd take the time to sweep the sidewalk in front of our house. I'd bake cookies for the neighbors at Christmas the way my family always did. I'd get involved in neighborhood activities. But since I live here, I tend to just focus on my little home, my family, and the friends I already have. Much more practical, I reason, than wasting time and energy on our temporary surroundings.

Sometimes my logic falls pleasantly flat, though.

At the grocery store this morning, I murmured to Pippin in his baby carrier. I pulled a basket behind me, much more convenient than wrestling his stroller through the aisles. It did make unloading tricky, however. At the checkout line, I bent carefully down, not crushing his legs, and pulled out a jar of peanut butter and some lettuce from the top of the basket. As I put those on the belt, I guiltily noticed two other shoppers getting in line behind me. People are generally patient with a mother juggling a baby during errands, but it was obviously going to take a few minutes for me to unload everything.

Suddenly the man behind me walked past his cart and picked up my basket. "I'll hold it for you," he said cheerfully. "Difficult to lean over with a baby, I'm sure. Here you go!" The cashier smiled. I smiled. If the store manager was watching the security cameras, he or she probably smiled too. I thanked him warmly, and agreed that it was much easier with his help. He stood there for the next minutes, sturdily holding a heavy basket of everything from potatoes to kiwis to crackers to pasta sauce. I thanked him again after I finished, and he smiled at me cheerfully through eyes that had seen four or five decades. "Happy to help, young lady!"

Still smiling, I made my way home. Who cared if there was a broken chair next to the trash and firework papers still on the sidewalk? Someone had brightened my day by taking a few minutes out of theirs for kindness. Without any expectation that I'd return the favour some day, or even be around next week. As I turned the corner, I could see one of our 'temporary neighbors' waiting outside our building for someone. I don't know much about J. - he listens to rock music, has guests who smoke (weed), and, according to the Purple Lady Neighbor down the block, is great at fixing computers. Maybe a decent guy? Maybe not? By the time I got to the building, he had seen me coming. And then  he unlocked the front door for me and stepped inside, holding it wide open so I, Pippin, and my pull-along shopping cart could come in. I smiled and said thank you for the second time this morning. For the second time, I was reminded that while it doesn't take a big commitment to live in our neighborhood, it takes even less to be kind to someone in it.