Sunday, December 18, 2016

Being Busy

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

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

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