Weird in a good way

man-869215_1920Words have meanings, and sometimes one word can have different meanings. When you are learning a new language, those are the kinds of words that are difficult. It was during my time as a substitute teacher that I became aware of a most common word with multiple meanings.

The scheduled activity after lunch was ‘put-up circle’. I had no idea what that meant, but thankfully the kids did.

They came back into the classroom after lunch and recess and immediately stood in a circle with one child in the middle. (This child was picked by the teacher, not by me. It said on the plans for me: ‘Put-up circle with girl xyz).

All kids had to say something nice about this child.

To be honest, I had mixed feelings about this. I knew that some kids would have a hard time with being literally in the center of the attention and I also knew that for some kids it might be hard to come up with something nice to say on the spot. On the other hand, both being able to give and receive compliments are great skills to have.

The chosen child of that day took compliments really well and even coached the more reluctant kids into ‘thinking about it, I’ll come back to you’. The child in the middle was clearly not an introvert and a natural leader.

A few kids would repeat whatever their neighbor said: “I really like your laugh.” -“I also really like the way you laugh.”

And a few kids said: “I like you, because you are weird, but weird in a good way.”

After ‘put-up circle’ I asked those kids what they mean with that: ‘Weird in a good way.’ First explanation: “Well, you know, when you are slightly different than the rest, but it suits you. It makes you a better person.”    “Yes”, added another, “you know, more unique, not so ‘cookie cutter’.”  “Interesting”, I thought, and I think I got what they meant.

But then I asked: “So what does it mean when a person is weird, but not in a good way?”  The kids thought about that and one said: “Well, when someone is weird in a not good way, he is just, well, uh, weird. Like strange.”  “Strange how?”, I asked, not willing to give this up.  “Strange as in creepy, just uh weird!”

One girl took the lead. “When a person is weird in a good way, he makes you laugh and makes you think he is cool. When a person is weird in a bad way, he makes you feel uncomfortable.”

 

It was time to send the class to PE class, but while they were busy exercising their bodies, I kept thinking of the ‘weird’ definition.

‘Uncomfortable weird’ versus ‘weird in a good way’. I think it comes pretty close to the Dutch words of ‘gestoord’ versus ‘prettig gestoord’. (Crazy and happily crazy)

I consulted the dictionary:

weird

wird/

adjective

adjective: weird; comparative adjective: weirder; superlative adjective: weirdest

  1. 1.

suggesting something supernatural; uncanny.

“the weird crying of a seal”

synonyms: uncannyeerieunnaturalsupernaturalunearthlyotherworldlyghostlymysteriousstrangeabnormalunusual; More
antonyms: normal
  • informal

very strange; bizarre.

“a weird coincidence”

synonyms: bizarrequirkyoutlandisheccentricunconventionalunorthodoxidiosyncraticsurrealcrazypeculiaroddstrangequeerfreakishzanymadcapoutré; More
antonyms: conventional

 

Even in the synonyms I saw a lot of contradiction: quirky (A quirky person is quite funny in a sort of unusual way) versus eerie (I think of an eerie person as a person I should be somewhat scared of).

One ‘put-up circle’ and my brain is swimming. These fourth-graders were so good in giving me descriptions of the words they used and all kids totally got the ‘weird in a good way’-thing. That in itself is a really good thing, but with so many words in the English language, isn’t it weird (in a good way) that one word can have such a variety of feelings and meanings?

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The day the sun found my ‘off-switch’.

Well, here I am.

Halfway up a mountain in Maine.

The places I passed are down below and new things to discover are up ahead.

I sit down and take a moment.

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The path twisting and turning, never the same.

Granite steps spaced unevenly by skilled trail builders, granite boulders, smooth where millions of hands touched before me.

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Trees still grow here, finding a way for their thirsty roots to find water and soil between the granite.

 

A large ant crawls up my leg, unaware it is tickling me, sending happy shivers to my brain.

In the distance I hear a few cars, a small airplane in the sky, but other than that, just the rustling of the leaves and singing of the birds.

I take a deep breath in and for the first time in weeks, maybe even months I think I feel truly relaxed.

If trees can grow on granite mountains,

if boulders can give way to human feet,

if an ant, smaller than the nail on my pinky can crawl up my smooth, sweaty leg,

then, by all means I should be able to relax.

 

Slowly my imagination replaces my never ending must-do-lists.

“This tree has a face: it looks like a dragon or dinosaur!”

“This boulder looks just like a giant turtle and this one: Wow! It looks like some ancient tribe carved a sun in it.”

 

Just then the sun places the spotlight on my journal, on my words I just wrote, as if to say: “Yes, you can let go. Yes, you should relax. Yes, you will embrace.”

I look up, blinking to the bright light.

The sun is right and thanks to her I finally found my ‘off-switch’.

I jump up and continue up the mountain. Muscles strained, but mind completely relaxed!

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What to do when you can’t juggle?

One of the people I follow on Social Media had a nice piece of writing in which he used the metaphor of juggling for teaching. The article is in Dutch (too bad, as it is very interesting, even the word by itself: jongleren, in which jong mean young and leren can be translated as learning, how appropriate!), and I would love to tell you all about it, but the purpose of me mentioning this, is the metaphor of juggling. (In case you do want to check it out, click here.)

Last February I went to the Netherlands and participated in a training given by this same guy. Right now I sincerely wished he had also taught me how to juggle in addition to all the other very useful information I learned that week.

Because, here is my confession: I think I am trying to keep too many balls in the air, while I have no clue how to juggle.

‘Me-time’ seems a word of the past since I started working full-time. And as I work at the same school as my children are attending, I am with kids from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed, even on my commute to and from work.

This is not a piece meant as one big pathetic complain, but how do people do it?

Household, three (pre)teenagers with a variety of activities (piano lessons. orchestra, track and field, swimming, just to name a few), healthy home-made meals, clean and folded clothes, after school and weekend transportation from and to friends, house rental business on the side.

I haven’t taken the time to work-out or even to go for a walk. Mail is piling up. You can start seedlings on my kitchen floor. I have so many ideas in my head, but can’t get a word on paper. No poem, blog or piece of writing has been generated for a while.

The signs are there: I have been using a certain kind of medication for over 15 years now and never forgot to take it until recently.  My eczema has been under control for years and suddenly flares up again. I am known as a punctual person, but have been late for appointments recently. And I can’t seem to shake this lingering cold!

I kept thinking of this ‘juggling piece’ and I know I am definitely trying to keep more balls in the air than I can handle.

The question is how can I let go of a few and which ones?

I have worked before while having kids, millions of people combine work and kids, so why am I having trouble?

Uhm, maybe because I am the kind of person that wants to do everything she does perfectly. And being perfect is hard, even if I was a great juggler.

Girl juggling

So instead of learning to juggle, maybe I should learn to accept that slightly crooked folded towels (done by my teenage son) are fine too. That not every meal has to be ‘Martha Stewart-style’ and that sometimes sandwiches for dinner is okay (or a not-so-healthy meal made with love by my 13-year old).  That it is fine to say to my kids that I can only bring them to their friends or pick them up at certain times rather than be available per their request (or even say -no- sometimes). That is it okay for me to read a book while I told my kids to clean the bathroom. And that it doesn’t make me a bad mom if I miss a track and field meet once in a while.

So I dropped all the balls, talked to my family over dinner and together we made a plan. They all would chip in and I would communicate my needs better. I went to bed that night feeling a bit better and didn’t even have any bad dreams about my poor juggling performances.

And guess what? I discovered that the world still goes around with dirty dishes in the sink.

The cutest holiday of the year

Aw, Easter! One of the year’s cutest Holidays due to that cuddly Easter bunny.easter-eggs-2093315_1920

And just like every year, Easter has a way to creep up on me. Once the first Easter eggs and Peeps appear in the stores, I hear myself thinking: “Ah, it must be Easter soon. Let me check it on the calendar.” Of course I still have at least a month till the big day, because stores need to fill their ‘special season’ aisle with something, and there just isn’t a whole lot going on between Valentine’s Day and Easter.

But then I forget, thinking I have an ocean of time to get in the Easter Spirit (whatever that means), until all of a sudden it’s here. Easter.

 

Now I don’t know about you, but we don’t do a whole lot about Easter. Our kids have outgrown the Easter bunny and we never knew of ‘baskets’, Easter gifts or dressing up nice. We’re not religious and there are no Easter traditions like bonfires and ‘walnut bowling’ (by lack of better translation of this typical North East Dutch tradition) happening here.

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So how does Easter look like on our house?

 

Well, one of the kids still likes to hide the plastic colorful Easter eggs, if papa doesn’t want to do it. They also like their Easter brunch: a freshly baked bread, croissants and of course a boiled egg (might be painted, or decorated with stickers, or just colored). We will have an Easter branch: a branch from the yard decorated with little wooden Easter decorations (shipped from the Netherlands, but really a more German tradition) and the kids will expect some Lindt chocolate bunnies.

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This year I went to the Netherlands in March and invested in some Dutch chocolate eggs (no offense, but so much better than the Hersey ones: due to more strict ‘chocolate regulations in the EU, chocolate eggs actually have to contain a certain percent of cocoa in order to be called ‘chocolate eggs’). They will be some surprised tomorrow! (And I am so proud of myself for not eating a single one of them yet!).

And no, we don’t do ‘baskets’ or gifts, other than the chocolate bunnies. We don’t dress up. In fact, we might spent a huge chunk of the day in PJ’s and robes, if we feel like it.

To us, Easter is a regular Sunday, high on chocolate and the most special thing is having brunch together, something that in our busy household with teenagers doesn’t happen that much anymore. And I am glad there is no ‘second Easter day’ here: Monday we can just move on like any other Monday.

 

I take that. I feel grateful to have found a way to combine the best of both countries to my own liking. To me, that is one the biggest advantages of moving to another country.

 

However you celebrate this holiday with your family, in one or two days, with huge baskets or just some chocolate eggs, with Peeps or Hema eggs, in church or at the ‘meubel boulevard‘ I wish you all a very happy Easter!

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How holding hands can be a powerful symbol

How do you show that you care? In the Netherlands this week, men showed that they cared by holding hands, women showed it by sharing the pictures and encouraging this action. Children showed it by holding hands, all together.

Why?

Last week a gay couple on an evening stroll was brutally attacked by a bunch of teenagers.

Attacked because they were holding hands.

That’s all they did. Walking home from a nice evening in town, holding each other’s hands.

This didn’t sit well with many people. The Dutch, still overcoming both the shock that Geert Wilders* almost won the elections and the relief that Geert Wilders didn’t win the elections, are working hard to keep up the image that the Netherlands is a tolerant country. The first country to legalize same sex marriage in April 2001, now 16 years ago.

That tolerant image isn’t quite the same as it used to be, and just like many other countries, the Dutch are dealing with big things like globalization, the European Union crisis and immigration problems to name a few. Fear is the fuel for lack of tolerance and maybe it is therefore that a group of people quickly jumped into action with a simple gesture: holding hands.

The hashtag #allemannenhandinhand (all men holding hands) took off like wild fire and became quickly big on Social Media.

One of the first photos published, with Alexander Pechthold (The leader of liberal democratic party D66) and Wouter Koolmees (Lawmaker for the same party) were all over the news and even made it in many international news resources. The comments on these photos were very ranging from very negative like ‘cheap publicity’, ‘Disgusting’ to very positive like: ‘this shows bravery’, ‘a picture says a thousand words’ and everything in between.

Bottom line is, that a small gesture can become symbolic for what you, as a person or even as a nation stands for.

Holding hands might not change the world, but the symbol ‘I care’ (and in this case: I care about people and do not tolerant violence against gay people) might just do enough to feel compelled to also hold hands and post a picture. It can work as a starting point for further discussion and teach children about tolerance. (I loved seeing photos of entire school communities holding hands in one big circle, from the youngest child to the oldest teacher, boys, girls, teachers, administrators.)

Whether you do or do not want to hold hands or see people holding hands in public, to me this little gesture shows that in desperate times when you sometimes feel like it doesn’t matter what you do or say, it actually does matter. Can I hold your hand?

Mirror, mirror on the wall…

This last Christmas I gave myself a beautiful gift: the gift of confidence, strength and acceptance. Where did I buy this gift, you wonder?

I bought myself a work-out DVD set, called  ‘All in 18.’

I read about it in a magazine, Women’s Health, and there were a few exercises featured in the article to try.

IMG_5561What I like about it is that it focuses on the entire body and that every session is only 18 minutes long.

You really can carve 18 minutes out of your day. Think about it: that’s only 9 funny cat videos on Facebook, three articles in the NYT or less a day.

I started right away.

There are 6 DVD’s with each an 18-minute work-out targeting a certain part of the body: The Total Body Fat Torch, the Upper Body Burn, Ultimate Core, Fierce Legs and Glutes, Sweat and Sculpt Combo and the 18-minute-Max-Out. And it includes a bonus DVD with two 10-minute bonus work-outs (10-minue Metabolic Mayhem and 10-minute All-In Abs) to spice things up or make it a bit more challenging on days that you can spare 28 minutes.

I guess you’re supposed to follow the schedule with a work-out every day, 6 days in a row with one day rest. After I did the first work-out, my body didn’t agree with doing another one the next day. I had to recover! So I came up with a schedule of doing the work-outs every other day and added some cardio as well. (Spinning or running)

One thing you need to know about me, is that I don’t particular like exercise. Never have. I am far from competitive and ‘having to do a work-out’ is almost on the same level as going to the dentist or for a mammogram. But I also realize the benefits and have experienced the ‘feel good’ hormones after a satisfactory work-out (unlike the dentist or the mammogram!).

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It’s therefore with pride that I can tell you that I have been able to keep up my work-out routine, despite having felt sick and low on energy, having traveled to the Netherlands and starting working full time.

 

To make sure I don’t get any injuries I have placed a mirror in my exercise spot. It was daunting at first, but I have improved my form, upped the weights, and shaped my entire core. Looking in the mirror, my red face pressing the weights above my shoulders would have thrown me off a month ago.

IMG_5563But now I don’t see the face: I see the shoulders, getting more and more defined every day.

Doing a plank with my post-three-kids-hanging belly like a little potbellied pig was terrifying at first, but I notice how the belly is shrinking, tightening up, how the arms are getting stronger, how beautiful the form is becoming.

This morning, marking of another work-out on the calendar, I couldn’t help myself: before I put the mirror away, I gave it a kiss.

I will never be as our President refers to as a number 10 kind of woman, but I like what I see and I am proud and confident. And that is the best gift you can receive.

 

Kill Hill and the Rule of Three

I’m the middle child of a family of three. I have three children myself.

Version 2While running the other day, I realized I like the number three.

I use it often.

Three blue bottles grouped together in my window sill, three little pine trees clustered in the back garden, three course meals, three shots of espresso in my Cappuccino.

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Three desserts: so much better than just one!

And in counting, sometimes almost threatening to my kids: “You’d better get yourself over here in three seconds. One….Two…”(although I barely ever have to use the Three), and other times playful: “Let’s see if you can pick your pencils up in one…..two…three counts!”

But the best is the Rule of Three.

When my children were younger and didn’t want to try their new-to-them food, I would divide it in three parts. One part had to be eating, no discussion. It was the ‘Try-bite’. The second and third part were optional, but worth to try, because how can you really try something new when you just eat a third of it?

I am using the Rule of Three a lot. My favorite use of the Rule of Three is while running Kill Hill.

This is a rather steep and rather long hill close to my street. No matter where I go running from home, I can’t really avoid this one.

At first this hill was daunting to me. “I’ll never be able to run this thing.” And I would walk it.

But then I noticed some landmarks next to the road, roughly dividing the hill in three sections. Section one: from the foot of the hill till the reflector sign. Section two runs till the big tree and section three till the traffic sign next to it, where the hill finally flattens out.

“What if I try running just one third next time?” And so I did.

And then of course I plowed on to do the second section too.

Because that is the power of the Rule of Three: once you do one and persevere for the second, you have already done more than half (therefore making it much more successful than a Rule of Four, where after doing two parts, you only half way there and we all know that when you reach a half way point it doesn’t matter if you go on or go back, that is the same.) When you persist and run that second part, eat that second bite, you are past the ‘going back point’ and that is already victory. Might as well do that last part!

 

That’s how I mastered ‘Kill Hill’. I also use it for my half marathon training. When you divide a difficult task into three (imaginary) pieces, it will become a lot less daunting.

 

Currently I am sitting in a Concord bus, on my way to Logan Airport for a trip to the Netherlands. I know this will be a long sit: it takes about 5.5 hours to get there. But there is WiFi and a toilet and comfortable seats. And when you divide the bus ride in three parts, it will be over before you know it. First stop Augusta: a good point to see if the bus stays this quiet or if more people will board than depart. Second stop Portland, where I will have to switch busses. Good chance to stretch the legs. And the third part is the airport. All together the three pieces of bus ride will form leg one of my trip. And this leg should be fine. Leg 2 will be the flight from Boston to London. Most of that will happen in the night so I am planning on sleeping during that part. The last leg is the hardest: I know I will be tired, I am not sure if I can make my connecting flight to Amsterdam and when my feet touch Dutch soil I still have to take  a train north. But I know that I am way past my half way point by then. I did already 66 %, so that 33% should be fairly easy. The Rule of Three. It works like a charm!

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Groups of three: I love them.