Category Archives: Life in Delft

The Seesaw of Thirty Nine

Thirty nine is (in no particular order of importance):

  • Knowing that opportunities are fewer, every door no longer open yet having the courage to throw myself into the deep unknown.
  • Feeling wistful about leaving this town, our home for fifteen years, and being excited about all that awaits.
  • Enjoying what must be the mellowest years of parenting and being deeply aware how numbered the days are.
  • Knowing that I am much more than what I do, yet being terrified what losing one part of my identity will mean to me.
  • Asking big questions, being at peace with small answers.
  • Enormous privilege of being able to learn from those fresh and new to life (“it is good to be alive”, my son, age 5) and those with wisdom and softness of years (“it will come”, my mother, age 67).
  • Knowing that achievements are not all they are cranked up to be, yet feeling the need to achieve more.
  • Feeling connected with the world stronger and broader than ever before and deeper than ever being pained by its sorrows and horrors.
  • Having some greys and still being occasionally mistaken for a student instead of a lecturer.
  • Using three languages on a daily basis switching seamlessly between them and at the same time being unsettled not knowing what language I dream in, love in or what language that book that one day will come should be in.
  • Being anxious about starting all over again yet knowing that we do this every single day.

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Filed under Cherished moments, Life in Delft, not such a zen mama, Reluctant academic life, Uncategorized

The year I let go of letting go

I don’t let go very well, we know that by now. Probably in general, but in particular when it comes to motherhood. I am acutely aware that the days I have with my children under the same roof are numbered. Una is turning 9 this year, half way one might say. More than welcoming and celebrating the changes and milestones, I hold on to what went too fast, painfully fast, as though I can stretch the time, live it and feel it a little bit longer. And for a long time I have been subconsciously beating myself up for it, and fighting it, saying things that make it sound like I am embracing what is coming and letting go of what has been. Fake it till you make it sort of thing.

Somewhere over the holidays, while reflecting on the year that past with the full heart and full belly, it dawned on me that somewhere along the line I must have realised how ridiculous this fight against my very core has been. I do not want to let go, and how should I? They are my babies, my heart. Every moment that has passed is one moment less I have to love them.  This is a simple life truth, that no self-improvement book, no New Age fad can ever change*. And somewhere along the line I seem to have let myself feel that, be at peace with that, what a relief.

1. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before? 

Ran a half marathon!

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I don’t think I made any last year? For 2016, not really a resolution but I want a little more patience and a bit less internet time.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

No. I was talking to a friend a couple of months ago how no one around us is having babies any more.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Thankfully no one really close to me.

5. What countries did you visit?

New: Canada. It made a nice dent on my travel scratch map. Loved it, from the moment I got of the plane, joined a really loooong passport control queue, an officer came and took a family with two very small very cranky children to the front of the queue and than another officer came and took all the foreign passport holders to the front of the queue. So that is the Canadian hospitality people talk about. I was there for a conference and only visited Montreal but it had such a nice vibe, friendly locals and great autumn weather. I also got to hang out there with Maja and her family there one evening and when Milos and the kids went back home the two of us had a nice dinner together, lots of talking, laughter and tears.

Other: Italy (Laggo Maggiore), England, Germany, the Balkans (Croatia/Bosnia/Serbia), France. We spent the summer holiday Croatian island hopping, filled our vitamine D reserves, swam and dove in Vis, crashed for a few days with Jasmina, Zoki and the kids in their holiday house in Zlarin. For Christmas we went to Paris with Louise and Kevin. It was really neat sharing the best of it with the kids. We went to Euro Disney, was fun enough for the kids, but really disappointing with super.long.waiting.times.for.everything, from coffee to bathrooms and let’s not talk about the rides. But we went there in good spirits and I (or was it Louise :)) may have thrown in something in the line of “this is costing a freaking fortune, so fun will be had or else…” so it all worked out in the end. Una had a hard time seeing all the homeless people on the streets of Paris and had questions like “going to Disneyland was so expensive, why didn’t we give that money to these people who have no home?”. Indeed, why don’t we?

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?

Patience, more of it, please. Let’s make that the resolution for 2015?

7. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Have you not seen #1? I ran a half-marathon!

I followed and completed the training for a mindfulness instructor.

9. What was your biggest failure? 

Hmmmm, I can’t think of anything I would really classify as a failure… I’ve worked a lot on the whole mildness thing, perhaps it’s working?

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Thankfully not.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

New running watch?

14. Where did most of your money go?

Mostly the normal stuff, bills, mortgage, holidays.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Doing the mindfulness instructor training.

16. What song will always remind you of 2015?

“Take me to church”, Hozier. Nestor says “mama, this is OUR song”.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: (a) happier or sadder? (b) thinner or fatter? (c) richer or poorer?

a. happier

b. the same?

c. the same?

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Keeping in touch more often with a few dear friends.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Internet time.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

#1 25.12 – Louise and Kevin came over from sunny SA hoping to see some snow.

21. Did you fall in love in 2015?

I did. With my family and my imperfect life.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

We caved in and got the Netflix subscription. What a mistake to make.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?N

No.

24. What was the best book you read?

I have read quite a few books on the topic of mindfulness, loved Rob Brandsma’s essays.

And have I mentioned that I read “Ontdekking van Hemel” by Harry Mulisch? In Dutch. Schouderklopje for me.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Hozier.

26. What did you want and get?

Some clarity about the whole “where we are going to live next year thing”. Well, we still don’t know where we are going to live, but we made some decisions and took some actions and it feels good, whichever way things turn out.

27. What did you want and not get?

Teleportation superpowers. Flying is so expensive.

28. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 38. Low key – cake, friends, the best kind.

29. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?

I probably wore dresses more this year than in my whole life. And I discovered that I love stripes (to Louise’s horror :)).

30. What kept you sane?

Running, mindfulness, more sleep than in the years before.

31. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Rob Brandsma  – “the” mindfulness person in NL. Loved his books, his tweets and got to do the training with him.

32. What political issue stirred you the most?

The refugees issue. It made me question my conviction that I live in a country based on tolerance, equality and compassion. But I also met some incredibly caring, generous and energetic people who put so much of their time and energy in helping others. So it all balances out, thank goodness (as long as you stay away from comments in online news portals).

33. Who did you miss?

My dad. The past three years have soften the sharp edges of the pain but I miss him so very much.

34. Who was the best new person you met?

I met a really nice woman at the training, she lives in the same town and we will try to get a group together and practice what we learned. I met a couple of cool parents on the school ground (I really do not enjoy small talk while waiting for the kids and it is great having a couple of people you actually do like talking to), had a really nice group of students I gave lectures to last semester….

I discovered a couple of new blogs I love, does that count too?

35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.

Let it be.

36. Give a quote that sums up your year. 

“No matter how long your journey appears to be, there is never more than this: one step, one breath, one moment – now.” Eckhart Tolle

 

 

*Until Una gets that time machine actually going, that is.

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That moment when you close the door behind the last guest, walk into your kitchen and your first thought “oh, who is going to clean all this and where do I even start?” gives way to a warm feeling of what can only be deep gratitude for all the dirty plates and the food that was on them, and the friends, little and big, who came from near and far, with broken leg and head cold, to eat that food and drink that wine with you, to celebrate the birthday of your child and sing to him and spoil him and eat too much sugar and laugh too much and talk too much. That moment is what feeds your soul. IMG_0138

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Meivakantie in pictures

After falling in love with Texel during the May holidays last year, we decided to make it a bit of a tradition and went back this year. And we fell in love with this beautiful island again, with its dunes and beaches and sheep and lighthouse.

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Short break on the way up to the lighthouse

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SO windy up here

We visited Ecomare, a museum and sanctuary for preservation of Texel’s nature and animals. They rescue seals and porpoises (bruinvis) and then either release them back to the sea or keep those who can not go back.

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Bruinvis, neither brown nor fish

One of my favourite things about Texel are its dunes. We took long walks through several of them, the quietness, the beauty, the scents are out of this world.

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Una and I ran our first race! We ran 1km together and then a few hours later I ran my first 10km. After my first infamous attempt at running with other people I was so nervous I would get lost again. But as this was the most popular annual race in Delft, there were so many people so I was safe. The atmosphere was great, the public was cheering us on all the way, from the Old Town, all the way Delftse Hout and back.

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Who says you can’t have ice cream before a race?

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And then, the last weekend of the holiday, Auntie Louise came to town. She was here for only a few days but we tried making most of it. We ate our weight in the South African delicacies Louise brought with: biltong (Mark), rusks (I) and Louise reciprocated by indulging in the best Holland offers – stroopwaffels. The kids LOVED having her around and they sure spent enough quality time with her, given that they would start around 5am by storming into her room and only leave her alone having passed from exhaustion late in the evening. I am sure if she ever sees Lego Star Wars again, she will run screaming. Louse has been to NL quite a few times already, so she’s done most of the touristy stuff but this is the first time she came when Keukenhoff is open, so we couldn’t miss the chance. We were lucky with the weather that day (Louise was still wearing her winter clothes though :)), the tulips although past their prime were still in full bloom, the kids were happy and full of energy, all in all a lovely day.

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Tulips, tulips everywhere

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Who is this boy and where has my baby gone?

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Say what? You call this WARM weather??

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Genetics is fascinating

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Una was so fascinated by the flowers, the photos below are all taken by her.

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Christmas staycation 2014

This year we decided to stay home for Christmas, both Mark and I took two weeks off during the kids holidays. And it has.been.awesome. The goal for the holiday was, as a friend of ours nicely put it, to do as little as possible. We have been leaving the house on a regular basis, day trips, museum visits, quick trips to town for coffee, hot chocolate and Christmas shopping, long overdue dinner out with friends but most of all we have been resting at home, cooking, eating, playing, and just enjoying being together.

And a couple of photos from when we did decide to leave the house…

Kinderboeken museum (Museum of children books) visit

This is definitely my all time favourite place for children in our area. The museum is in Den Haag, which means a short train ride for us, which in itself is always a big adventure for the kids. The museum has two fixed expos, one for younger children, age 3-6, Kikker en Haas, which is just beautiful, and the bigger one for older children (7+) with tons to do and see, all books related of course. We go there often and the kids love it.

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Rupsje nooitgenoeg (The Very Hungry Caterpillar)

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New expo about letters “ABC met de dieren mee” (ABC with animals)

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Nestor was more interested in the hiding and climbing opportunities than the actual content but I guess that means that the people who created the expo did a good job

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A big hug for Kikker (beloved character from the children series by Max Velthuijs). One of the expos is Kikker en Haas and it is phenomenal.

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Christmas day

The pictures speak for themselves I think, we had a lovely, easygoing day at home, with lots of food, playing, chilling together.

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Nestor was happy enough to pose with the Christmas stockings but visibly anxious to open the “big” gifts.

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A “death by chocolate” type cake, Serbian style, proudly decorated by Una

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Christmas lunch…

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and what we all did afterwards…

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Cheating a bit – it snowed two days after Christmas

Kasteel De Haar (Castle De Haar), the largest and most luxurious castle in The Netherlands.

We went to this castle when Una was a toddler and thought now it would be a good time to do it again, given Nestor’s obsession with knights and dragons and swords and stuff. And indeed, as soon as we stepped into the gardens and he saw the castle in all its glory, his eyes lit up and he cried: “I dreamed about this, a castle like this one!” And now during the school holidays they had a special tour for children, “Fairy tales of De Haar” (Sprookjes van De Haar). As much as Nestor was fascinated by the outside of the castle, Una was taken by the tour and princess hunt, and the role she had in it (she got to wear a tiara!) Unfortunately it is not allowed to take photos inside the castle, so all we have are photos of the gardens and outside.

 

 

 

 

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Una was proud of her role as the map navigator

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The entrance

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A selfie

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The castle gardens

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The castle door

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Still in charge of navigating

Tomorrow is the New Years Eve and we have a full day of cooking planned. We are  going to our friends’ house for the evening, the plan is to let the kids (ours and theirs) stay up until they fall over, eat, drink, play Catan and be merry.

Happy New Year, may it be a great one, full of love and laughter!

 

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Taken by the hand

One summer day, many years ago, I was in my early and my sister in her late teens, my mum called the two of us to the attic of our holiday house to have a “serious talk”. My mum was a loving but rather strict parent, so a serious talk would imply you were in some sort of trouble. She told us that she wasn’t feeling well and while it was probably nothing serious, she wanted to tell us a few things, you know, just in case. For whenever it happens. Now, this sounds quite morbid, especially for my mum who is an eternal optimist if there ever was one, but put into perspective it makes more sense. My mum lost both of her parents in her twenties, within a couple of years of each other, and a lot of things had been left unsaid which made her loss even harder to bear. So she went over a few practical things, on the level that was appropriate for us, drilled some more of “you have no one closer than each other” as though the previous 13+ years weren’t enough (it worked though, my sister and I are very close) and to our huge surprise totally skipped the studying hard/making sure we could provide for ourselves thing she made sure we grew up with and instead dropped the unexpected “and my biggest wish for you both is to, one day, take {a child*} by the hand”.

Fast forward more than a decade, I brought my firstborn baby to the same house for the first time. I was in a bit of a delirious state from the exhaustion accumulated over the sleepless months, sudden weight of responsibility and conflict of my own identity. That first night, my mum told me how thankful she was that both her and my dad have lived long enough to see me with a child (my dad had suffered a massive heart attack when I was 8 months pregnant and the doctors thought he wouldn’t make it; her own health was declining and other than the fact that it was a neurological condition we didn’t even have a diagnosis yet).  And then she added that she doesn’t need to worry about me any longer. I wanted to tell her that she should actually start worrying now because I don’t have a clue what I am doing with that child of mine and that I am probably doing it all wrong, and that I find it so very hard at times and at the same time so exhilarating and that the depth and rawness of emotions I feel sometimes scare me and… I can’t remember how much of it I actually said, most likely I fell asleep mid-sentence.

Fast forward almost seven years,  on a Thursaday afternoon, my second-born and I are walking along Oude Delft to fetch my firstborn from school (that baby is now in fourth grade). Or better, he is running and I am trying to keep up with him; these days he says so seriously: “Mama, now I HAVE TO run” and runs off to burn all that energy of a three year old. I walk behind him, wanting to take it all in, maybe snap a photo, it is all so beautiful, the canal on the left side, Oude Kerk in the front, Uit de Kunst to the right and my running boy amongst all of it. But my mind is heavy with the events of the work morning and choices and decisions to be made, and deadlines and timelines and uncertainties and it all feels too much. I try to shake it off and come back to this moment but it won’t go away. Oude Delft is a long street, and my boy’s legs, however long for his age, are still small, so he gets tired and starts walking next to me. I praise him for running so long and so fast, he says that he is just taking a break and will run some more. He walks a few more meters, turns to me with a sparkle in his big brown eyes and says: “Mama, give me your hand, let’s run together!” He takes me by the hand, pulls me and we start running. He holds my hand tightly and laughs with the full heart of a three year old and I feel the weight of my self-inflicted worries lifting off, I can’t even remember why they were so heavy after all. He laughs louder and louder and I join him, and we eventually stop running, exhausted, still laughing. And while catching my breath I finally catch the true meaning of my mum’s words. She doesn’t need to worry about me, I am taken by the hand.

 

 

*(in Serbian the phrase take by the hand implies taking your own child by the hand)

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Filed under Cherished moments, Life in Delft, Mindfulness, not such a zen mama, Out of the mouths of babes

Day 104

Today I am grateful for the generosity of people, strangers with no connections to the endangered areas other than the sense of belonging to humankind as a whole and empathy for suffering of others. This is the only silver lining around large scale tragedies, it returns the faith in humanity.

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