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.