The green, green grass of home

Sometimes people asked me if I miss it.

My home country. The Netherlands.

I always have to think about that.

The longer I live here, the less I do, I think.

In the beginning I was absolutely missing certain foods and stores. Smoked sausage here doesn’t even compare to Unox rookworst and if you grow up with different chocolate sprinkles on your bread, it’s hard to get used to the breakfast cereal to satisfy your sweet tooth. And although the selection in your massive stores is tremendous, sometimes I truly missed the little scale clothing stores where I exactly knew what my size was and where to look for what.

But that changed. I am happy with my Greek yogurt with wild Maine blueberries for breakfast and although I enjoy an occasionally slice of bread with ‘hagelslag’ when Dutch visitors bring the good stuff, I am less and less missing the food. (except for the Indonesian food: Oh, how I miss the flavors and smells of nasi goreng, babi pangang and so much more. Part of this is probably due to the fact that I live in a ‘white potato bubble’, there isn’t much of a good ethnic food variety around here.)

And now, while in the midst of my fourteenth Maine winter, I think I don’t really miss much.

However, every early spring (or midwinter, depending where you live), I see pictures of blooming flowers or hear my family talk about the abundance of little birds chirping and singing, while the blue skies with famous Dutch white cauliflower clouds bring spring fever to my Dutch friends and family.

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My Maine mind isn’t even set on spring just yet. I am in the midst of winter, filling buckets with water for an impending snowstorm. I am happy if I can go outside leaving my jacket unzipped and soaking up the rays of sun, reflecting of the white snow around me.

When I don’t see those pictures, or put them in the same category as my friends’ vacation pictures from say, Aruba or Florida, I don’t miss it at all. My ‘inner pioneer woman’ instinct goes about her day, preparing dinner early, in case the power goes out, planning my work-outs around the days that I don’t have to snow shovel. I enjoy the midwinter sunshine and the days that slowly but surely give us daylight till 5 pm, or on a particularly bright day even till 5:15.

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Sunset over Hamilton Pond, Maine

Cold becomes more and more a subjective term: if 32 degrees felt cold in October, it feels mild in February.

 

Pictures of blooming crocuses, snowdrops and people in jackets sitting outside on the terraces near the cafes in the Netherlands are just that: pictures.

 

Things change when I see grass. Green grass. The song becomes so evident in my head and my heartstrings get pulled whenever my eyes observe the green. The grass here is hidden under dirty snow and I know, that come spring, it will be covered in mud. For a bit we will see green grass, before our ruthless summer will make it all brown and yellow. Not much moisture in the granite! And although beautiful, in the fall the grass will be covered with a mosaic of red, yellow, orange and brown leaves.

So when people ask me: “Do you miss it?”

I’ll shrug and say ‘nah’ (and adding silently: except the green, green grass of home)

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Green grass in February in Berkenwoude, the Netherlands

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It started with a murder plan and ended with Love Bugs

I’ve been contemplating a double murder…

Every day, when I walk down the stairs to the basement, I get reminded.

There are two spiders living on the ceiling near the stairs.

Every time I see them, I think: “next time I vacuum clean, I should suck them up.”

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Isn’t she beautiful?

But I decided against it. You know why?  I saw them close together and was wondering if they were friends, or enemies. They just sat there, close, but not too close and I thought maybe they were hibernating or just patiently waiting for spring to arrive and bring more insects for them to eat.

One day, while walking down the stairs, I looked up and saw only Alastair (I had affectionately named them at this point). My head quickly swiveled to the other side and there, on the other side was Shelob. What happened? Did they get into a fight? Were they sick of each other’s company in this dark and drafty stairwell?

A few days later, they were back together. Complete stories went through my mind: Maybe Shelob found food on the other side and cared for Alastair. Or maybe they needed a break and Alastair eventually beckoned Shelob back, to a closer proximity.

Truth is, I thought a lot about these spiders. There was no way I could vacuum these house mates: they belong to our family now. I talk to them, say ‘good morning’ or ‘good evening’ to them, even asked them permission to take their picture and post it. Shelob was a bit worried if her figure would come out well enough in the picture, but I told her she was perfect, she didn’t need to worry. Alastair was fine with it and nodded in agreement that Shelob is, in fact perfect the way she is.

I told them that they should stay where they are (as in high enough to not get into any human’s face and out of the way enough to not get noticed by those who don’t always notice things) and they could stay as long as they wish. I did warn them about building webs out of reach of the humans otherwise I would be forced to clean that up.

They seem to understand our agreement and today, when I walked down the stair, they seem extra happy. I wasn’t sure why, what was different, until I realized today is Valentine’s Day.

I went back upstairs and gave them a flower. I’m sure Alastair would have taken care of it himself if it wasn’t for the brutal Maine winer.

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Of course it had to be a tulip: they live in a Dutch household after all!

I smiled and couldn’t help thinking: “aw, those love bugs!”

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

 

 

Create a little sunshine for yourself!

I read somewhere that jotting down words of gratitude can help improve your mental health and overall well-being. I believe it.

It’s easy enough to talk yourself down real quickly and get into this funky mood, where nothing seems fun.

But it doesn’t really take that more energy to try it the other way around.

Our school district had only a one-and-a-half week Holiday break and my household, well, let me just say, we didn’t approve!

Mentally, we weren’t ready to go back to school and for me to work. Clearly, my household was no exception in this: ‘my’ students had a hard time getting back into the groove of things as well. For children with behavior issues, these weird unstructured weeks, followed by going back to school on a Wednesday seems to amplify their challenges and therefore I was tired when I got home from the first workday in 2019.

This morning, when the alarm went off at 5:26am I wasn’t having it. (as one of my coworkers so beautifully described it on her Facebook page: it was a ‘no Thank you’ kind of a day). I dragged myself out of bed, walked like a zombie to the kitchen to make coffee and lunches for my troops.

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“Oh, how I wished Nature had helped us and dumped a big load of snow, so we can stay home today”, I thought wistfully.

But sitting down with my coffee, lunches done, I thought about that article I read. Here I was, drinking coffee on a very cold day in a warm house. Talk about gratitude! The black liquid made me come alive and I was ready to take my shower.

It was ‘hair-wash day’ and in a bit of a rebellious kind of act, I decided to use my ‘weekend shampoo’

 

(I had a new hairdresser talk me into buying this really expensive shampoo and conditioner, which supposedly would make my scalp all happy and healthy, but when I frowned upon seeing the price, she suggested I could use it just once a week. Of course I bought it and instantly felt super guilty about this. I mean, why spending a fortune on something you literally flush down the drain? But hey, the deed was done and I decided to use it just once a week in the weekend.)

It was only Thursday and here I was: using my expensive hair product!! Might as well use the once-a-week-60-second face mask too. I giggled while I stepped under the warm stream of water. And then it hit me: this must be what the article meant by ‘small signs of gratitude’.

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Using weekend shampoo on a Thursday. Giving myself and my body some extra love to start the day with a smile instead of a frown. It doesn’t take much, it really doesn’t.

My hair smells great and here I am: much happier than earlier this morning, even finding time to jot down my thoughts on this and full of inspiration to help ‘my’ kids today get through their day.

 

Happy Thursday everyone!

2018 through the rearview mirror

2018

  • The year I became a US citizen (It was kind of a big deal: on one hand it tells me that this is where my future is and how happy I am to be here, on the other hand it has something more definite and I struggled a bit with the current political climate. However, the urge to vote and more actively contribute to this nation won!)
  • The year that my daughter was fortunate enough to bring her friend to her country of birth and for my an opportunity to see my native country through the eyes of a 12-year-old American girl. (‘Wow, they have banks for hamburgers’ about the FEBO snack corner).
  • The year that we were lucky enough to have a summer job that gave us so much pleasure, but that we also gladly retired from (because 5 years was a good run!).
  • The year that I finished my first official school year as an EdTech in Special education.
  • The year that I started my graduate course in autism at UMaine with so far a 99.9% score (and secretly I am a little sore that it isn’t 100%….).
  • The year that I finished a room, a place for myself that turned into this beautiful retreat, as colorful as life itself (it’s just very hard to leave it, once I spent time in there, I forget all time and concept: “mama, what’s for dinner? We are hungry!”).
  • The year that I took a break from blogging and writing, because there truly was no time to fit it in (but I was able to accept that and have big plans for years to come!).
  • The year that my wonderful family climbed the highest mountains in New Hampshire and Maine (and even saw a Dutch dog, a frieze Stabij, while hiking in NH: made my day, and I felt strangely connected with the spirit of the Mountain in Maine: it’s a thing.).
  • The year that I learned to embrace the fact that I now have teenagers (it’s such a different phase in my life, but I truly enjoy it, most of the time and learned to ignore serious eye-rolling).
  • The year that one of those teenagers got his driving license and the others also grew so much in independence and height! (So much that two are already taller than me and my daughter has reached the point that we technically can share shoes and clothes now….technically….)
  • The year that I was able to listen to the Top 2000 just like my friends and family in the Netherlands, despite being over a 1000 miles apart. (It’s a Dutch thing: the best 2000 songs of all time, voted by the Dutch, played as a countdown list from Christmas to New Year’s Eve, which is called ‘Old year’s evening’ by the way).
  • The year with more ups than downs and so much to be grateful for (I should really record my highlights as they happen, but then again, what’s the fun in that if you can just pick your brain on New Year’s day to review?).

 

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Looking in the rearview mirror, I think it will be hard to top 2018. However,  looking at the road in front of me, I see so much opportunity, so much to discover and enjoy, so many things laying ahead. Things I am not even aware of, things that have not happened yet, like unopened presents waiting to be gifted, little treasures waiting to be  found.

I love not knowing what’s ahead of me, but I also love what I do know and can plan for. Like finishing my graduate course, visits from family from the Netherlands, more hikes to plan, more writing to do, art classes to follow, work every day.

I wish you all the best for 2019, and remember: eyes on the road, but check the rearview mirror every so often!

Cooking in the land of Oz.

I love to cook and bake. Cooking is a necessity of course: I made it my job to feed my family and I take pride in trying to provide a healthy, home-cooked meal almost every day. Baking is more for fun, and for special occasions (because what you bake, you’ll have to eat and that is not always fitting in the ‘healthy’ part of my mission). In this day and age, I usually browse the world wide web for new, cool recipes. In addition, I have a significant amount of cookbooks and I keep all approved and tried-out recipes on hand-written cards and in binders.

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A problem arises when I use my Dutch recipes. Besides the fact that some of the ingredients are not available on this side of the ocean (at least not on this beautiful island in Maine), I also have to convert measurements and temperatures.

 

Measurements I am familiar with like grams and deciliter all of a sudden have to become (the so vague to me measurements) ‘cups’ and ‘tablespoons’.

Of course I have my tools: a nice set of measuring cups both for fluids and solids and a set of different measuring spoons. One could argue that it is just a matter of getting used to when using different units of measurements, and that is no doubly true. However, I do think that measuring with a scale is so much more accurate than in a cup or with a teaspoon. How full is the cup? How packed down is the flour, sugar, baking powder? How carefully did you scrape it off? With the help of a digital kitchen scale, I can scoop out my flour and measure till the nearest gram. Try that with a cup!

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Right before Christmas, my daughter was helping me bake some cookies. She loves the scale and the little enjoyment that comes from scooping in just enough sugar to make the scale stop at exactly 150 grams.

Before we transferred the sugar to the bowl, we measured it again in cups, because this recipe needed to be written down for her best friend, the American way: in cups, spoons and ounces.

Not an easy task, as the 150 grams of sugar doesn’t completely ‘translate’ into 1 or 3/4 cups. It was ‘one full cup and a little bit’ at the best. While cutting and measuring the butter, I noticed that on the package it is labeled in  (16) ounces, and each conveniently separate wrapped stick  (4 in total) has measurements on it in teaspoons, tablespoons and cups. But what if the wrapper isn’t perfectly centered? Or the stick got dropped to the floor and one end got terribly dented (don’t ask: it did happen!) Not a very accurate way of measuring, I think.

And let’s talk for a second about ounces. Ounces, that might be the worst measurement unit of all. Is it fluid ounces or solid? What is the difference (I know, one for mass, one for volume) and why is abbreviation oz. and not oc. or ou. or even os.? How many ounces go into a cup, and how can that even be accurate (water and oil do not have the same density, right?) And as for dry measurements, I found that 3 teaspoons is about one tablespoon or 1/2 ounce and that 1 ounce is approximately 28.3 grams; how does this even make sense? I dare you to try it. Do 3 teaspoons of flour indeed equal one table spoon and half an ounce, so 14.15 grams? And how about 3 teaspoons of baking soda? Sugar? Butter?

In the table below I did my mini research study. See for yourself.

Product Teaspoons Tablespoon grams ounces
Sugar 3 1 15 0.5
Flour 3 heaping 10 0.4
Baking soda 3 1 17 0.6
Butter 3* 1* 17 0.6
Salt 3 almost 11.3 0.4
Powdered sugar 3 1 8 0.3

* According to the lines on the wrapper

I tried to carefully scrape the filled teaspoon without pressing it down. Subsequently I carefully transferred three teaspoons worth in the tablespoon. Despite my careful measuring, I wasn’t always able to exactly get a tablespoon. Sometimes it was a wee bit more, sometimes a wee bit less. As for me: I asked for a new scale for Christmas as the old one was becoming a little finicky, but who can blame her after 10 + years of faithful gram duty in the land of the oz.?

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Happy cooking!

My squashy Maine adventure

Squash…it sounds kind of like the way I think it tastes. Like mushy mush, lingering on your tongue, trouble swallowing…

Let me put it this way: I didn’t grow up with squash.

None, at all.

At a certain point in my life the what you call ‘Italian summer squash’ or ‘zucchini’ found its way in the Dutch grocery stores and therefore on my plate, used mainly as an ingredient in Italian pasta dishes or French inspired vegetable stews.

And about 20 years ago I did receive a recipe from a co-worker for pumpkin soup. For me, a pumpkin was something you saw in American films around Halloween, cut with scary faces. Not to eat. I was never brave enough to make it.

No it wasn’t until I moved to the USA when I learned about this group of vegetables called ‘squash’.

I was intrigued by their beautiful shapes and colors, reminded me of ‘calabash’ (Gourds) a decorative plant we grew, for exactly that reason: as decoration. I was confused why they were displayed at the produce section in the supermarket, but then again, the cut flowers section was next to it.

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However, I learned it was a menu item: you could actually eat these gourd-like things.

Oh, how often I picked one up, surprised by the heavy weight and wondering how you would eat a thing like this. I sometimes would look up a recipe, but never really felt too appealed to make it. I tried it in restaurants when it was served as a side dish and can’t say I was too impressed. It looked and tasted like baby food to me and I am kind of sensitive to smell and texture, so I decided that maybe squash wasn’t my thing.

The squash table in the produce aisle kept taunting me with their intriguing colors, and wonderful names: Delicata, Butternut, Spaghetti, Acorn. It wasn’t until one day two of my co-workers in the teacher lounge were eating squash for lunch. One had spaghetti squash (which to me looked like orange flubbery spaghetti, not sure if I am ready for that) and one was spooning a delicious smelling soup, made with winter squash. Soup!

I love soup! My family loves soup. We eat soup every Sunday as soon as the days get shorter. I would (finally!) make a soup with squash!

I did my research: I would choose a butternut squash soup as that squash sounded the most delicious to me. The shape was easy to recognize (in case they weren’t clearly labeled in the supermarket) and the rest of the recipe’s ingredients really spoke to me.

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Off to work I went:

Step 1: Cut the squash lengthwise in half.

Hallelujah, that was easier said than done! Even with my huge sharp chef’s knife it was quite a task to cut the thing. But I got it. (Made me wonder how the first Settlers did this.  Did they use axes? And how did they decided to even eat this stuff?)

Not as much seeds and stringy gooey substance as I had expected, but just like with the pumpkins we carve for Halloween, I don’t care for the smell or the texture. Yikes!

I endured it bravely: scooping out the strings and seeds, even separating them in hopes that butternut squash seeds would roast just like pumpkin seeds, because that was a thing l liked.

I noticed that the hole I scooped in one squash looked just like a heart: maybe this was a sign? Maybe I 5751337155_8cd6643ec3_m squash after all!

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I had to generously brush the cut sides with melted butter. That sounds good! And sprinkle with pepper and salt. Put the things in the oven, easy enough and wait about 50 minutes.

It did start to smell quite nice. (but maybe that was just the butter?). About an hour later I used a fork to test the squash. I have to admit: it didn’t look half bad. I decided to give it another 10 minutes. I prepared the seeds by tossing them in olive oil and sprinkled some garlic salt on them, and when I took the squash out, I roasted the seeds.

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In my big Dutch oven (in my case a Real Dutch oven, as in, from the Netherlands) I sautéed my onion, garlic and two granny smith apples. I scooped out the pumpkin flesh, still not convinced this would be good. My husband looked over my shoulder. I dared him: “should we try to taste a bit?” We did. It was okay but I couldn’t help wrinkle my nose. That texture!

I added the broth and water and brought it to a simmer. It really looked good and smelled good too. I did another taste test. It was okay, but still had that stringy, weird texture of squash.

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After an hour on the stove, it needed to be blended. This was the moment! I was hoping the blender would take care of the texture thing. And indeed it did: instead of the choppy texture of food and the stringy texture of the squash I now had a smooth orange soup with the texture of…baby food.  I so wanted this to be a huge hit, but I still didn’t believe in it.

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Slowly I poured some cream in the soup. ‘Come on, Edith’, I hear myself thinking, ‘how bad can it be? It has apple, onion, and cream, all things you love, and, oh yeah, butternut squash.’

I don’t know why, but I had a hard time even trying a spoonful. I did though and it tasted…okay.

Still not a fan of the texture and the flavors on my tongue were vaguely familiar, but at the same time strange. I told myself to ‘woman up’ and get over it and take another bite. It wasn’t disgusting, not at all, but I can’t honestly say that it wowed me.

 

My son set the table and I serve the soup topped with the roasted seeds and some sunflower seeds to make it even prettier. The plates look great on the dark table set with cranberry colored placemats.

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Soup is served

My husband and daughter dug right in. They liked it. One son pushed his spoon from one side to another, fished out the seeds and nibbled them up. The other son, to my surprise, took a bite and his face revealed that he wasn’t a fan. However, he finished his entire plate.

As for me: I gobbled up the soup, with the feeling I am eating warm applesauce or baby food, but I have to admit, it was slowly growing on me. I even took a second serving.

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I did it: I made and ate squash soup! (But I know this recipe will be ‘squashed’ to the bottom of my pile and next week I will make a soup with veggies I know and I like).

The goal of the soccer moms

My kid plays soccer in the school’s co-ed soccer team. She is in 6th grade and the team consists of 6th through 8 grade students. All fine and dandy, nothing wrong with that.

Except my child likes to be the goal keeper.

Why? That is the million-dollar question, but she looks mighty fine in her big gloves and goalie outfit. I beam: I am so proud of her.

football-2415894_1920The game starts and the Tigers play fierce. Lots of ball activity on the blue side of the field. Good. I glance up at my girl in the goal. She is following the action with her eyes, even although she is far away from it.

The green Tigers try to score, but Blue intercepts the ball. Green gets it back before the mid line. This goes on for a while.

Then Blue sees an opening and a huge girl in blue dribbles the ball past all Green defense.

My girl is alert and ready, her arms in front of her, her legs move her body from left to right.

I feel confident: she got this!

Another huge person in blue comes closer to the goal, Green tries to catch up, but the big kids in blue pass the ball, one kid kicks the ball with enormous force straight towards the goal.

The goal, where my youngest child is.

‘NOOOOOOOOOOOOO’ I want to scream. I want to run out there and protect her. From these big kids, from that ball that is coming at her at a zillion miles an hour. But I am frozen, biting my shirt that I pull halfway over my face.

My eyes are just little slits; I can’t bear to watch.

Only my ears are on high alert, registering every sound. A thunk and loud cheering. Did she miss? No, the cheers come from the Green Tiger supporters. I hear someone yell out: “Nice save!”

I let out a big breath. Didn’t notice I had been holding my breath this long. My daughter places the ball in front of her, walks confidently back a few steps and runs towards it. With a mighty kick she gets the ball almost halfway on the field.

Blue is defending, Green attacking. I am still trying to regulate my breathing. “Please, keep the ball on this side”, I quietly think.

But then I look at the other goalie. A tiny boy in blue. His gloves are big on his hands; his shirt looks huge. He reminds me of a scare crow. Beautiful longish blond hair. He looks nervous, but alert. I am closer to this goal and more aware of the expressions. Tension, concentration.

A hustle is going on between Green offense and Blue defense. The ball rolls in the goal keeper field. He looks so relieved. He grabs the ball and throws it back in.

It doesn’t make it far: Green has possession and aims for the goal. I look beside me.

A mother, chewing her nails, almost closing her eyes. The shot gets intercepted by defense, and the ball rolls gently towards the goal. He grabs it.

I hear her sigh. “Your son?”, I ask, pointing my head towards the goal.

“Yes”, she answers. “It’s hard to watch.”

I nod and look at the other goal, far away from us. “My daughter”, I say. We give each other a look. We understand, no further words are needed.

I walk closer to the middle line, but no further. I don’t want to get too close, in case my motherly instincts do kick in and I will run in front of that ball to protect her. The other goalie’s mom follows me a bit.

“It’s easier over here”, I say, “When you can’t really see their facial expression.”

She nods. Again, we understand each other.

My daughter has a few more awesome saves and one that couldn’t be saved. Green might need to work on defense a bit.

Her son lets in one as well. In the end it is 2-1 for Blue, but the Green Tigers play well. Finally, the long shrill whistle I have been waiting for.

I feel my body relax a bit and before I turn around to go see my child, I feel a hand on my shoulder. “Only 6 more weeks”, the Blue mother says.

I smile a tiny smile. “Only six more weeks”, I repeat quietly.

“Only 6 more weeks.”