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.

 

The day that papa is ‘cool’ and ‘yes, you too, mama!’

I have three very different kids. I find it fascinating that these children have the same father and the same mother, yet they are so very different and unique.

Each child gives us its own challenges, sometimes age appropriate, (think toddler age, and teenager…) and sometimes very character/personality appropriate.

Every time when we think we figured it out, something happens that makes us start from scratch, back to square one, back to talking till late at night how we are going to handle this child or this situation with this child. Parenting is never boring, that’s for sure.

By now (our youngest is 11) we have figured out many things and situations, but the child that keeps surprising us (in every single way) is the middle one.

img_4934Today, he was sitting in a comfortable chair, taking a moment on his tablet, looking quite relaxed after a rough morning (because his favorite fish died).

Out of the blue he said to me, while I was passing: “You know, I think papa is quite cool actually!”

I must have raised my eyebrows, not because I wouldn’t agree, but this seemed to come so unexpected.

“Yeah, he let me keep my tablet in my room, even although he knew I had hidden it under my bed. He didn’t say anything!  And yeah, you are cool too, mama: you’re both pretty cool!”

 

I smiled, walked on and let his words ponder in my mind while I took a shower. I thought back to the time we experienced huge challenges with especially this kid, from aggression to anxiety to depression, from not sleeping, nights in which he woke us up multiple times which resulted in a grumpy, dysfunctional family at times. Things we couldn’t do, like going out for dinner as a family (too many choices, too many unexpected moments for which we could never prepare him completely) or even as husband and wife (because I had trouble trusting a baby sitter with complicated situations that quite possible could occur, especially around bed time), I thought back about the countless discussions my husband and I had, complete evenings were filled with talking about ways to deal with situations, school, drama, problems. The amount of money we put into counseling and therapy, the hours we tried to find time to help our child cope with the world.

Having children completely changed me. Due to circumstances I didn’t foresee and never heard of in the parenting magazines, I was forced to change. My husband changed. Our relation changed. It had to.

Due to everything we have dealt with, we became stronger. More resilient. In a strange way more positive and optimistic, less judgmental, more flexible.

If I see a screaming kid and a struggling mother or father in the supermarket, I don’t judge. I don’t know what their situation is. I don’t know why the child reacts the way he does. I try to send the parent a comforting smile, a look that says: “hang in there, I know it can be hard.” If my children complain about a child in their class, who acts like a ‘complete idiot’ I try to explain that there might be a reason for the child’s behavior, a reason we don’t know.

My kids became more tolerant (one thing that always comes up during Parent teacher conferences, especially with the oldest and the youngest child is how tolerant they are and how well they work with children with ‘special needs’).

 

In a way I think my son is right: we became ‘more cool’.

We learned not to sweat the little things in life, but to enjoy the precious moments, the sunset, the 5 minutes of unexpected alone time. Our family dinners with great discussions, our growing and developing children, trying to find a way into this big world, forming their own opinions and thought processes.

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Yes, we sometimes complain that we feel like Uber drivers, taxiing our children from A to B and C to D. Yes, we sometimes grunt when they disturb you in the midst of a good book or while watching TV  for a problem that apparently is of utmost importance and needs to be dealt with at this precise moment (like ‘Where is my grey shirt? –Dunno, wear your blue one. ‘No, I need my grey one, it fits better with my navy pants….’)

And yes, sometimes I envy my childless friends, who go out whenever they want, who can eat whatever they want and don’t have to occasionally make Mac & Cheese or oblige to Taco Tuesday each and every week, even when you feel much more like eating Thai.

 

But then again, would I have been this ‘cool’ if I didn’t have to change? If I was my own self, with my own knowledge and never had the opportunity to look at the world through my children’s eyes? I guess I own that to my children. And that IS pretty cool!

Avoiding making these rookie mistakes this winter

Being a Maine-igrant I have made many rookie mistakes. Like arriving at a party at 6, when the invite says: 6-8. Six in Maine means six-ish and unless you don’t mind that awkward situation when the hostess is still in the shower and the husband is watching TV and there are no other cars in the driveway (also called door yahd, I believe), it’s much better to show up at 6-ish (meaning 6:30).

 

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Embrace the beauty of winter

As for the winter, I have made so many rookie mistakes, I can’t even count them. If you are new to Maine, let me list a few for you:

 

  • Shoveling when it is still snowing. As Phyllis Diller once said: “Cleaning the house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the sidewalk before it stops snowing.” Now, to be honest, I don’t really know who Phyllis Diller is, but I know what she means.
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    Shoveled path way filled up with fresh snow….again!

    I have wasted so much time shoveling the drive way in the midst of a snow storm, thinking it would mean less work once it did stop snowing, but this turns out not to be true. Be like a Mainer and just sit it out playing cribbage.

 

  • Going to get groceries right before a big blizzard or even at the start of one. As a true Mainer, you should be prepared. You should have a six-pack, a bottle of Allen’s coffee flavored brandy and a can of mackerel with some saltines stowed away somewhere so you can sit the blizzard out without having to leave your home. Turns out: not everyone who works at the grocery store lives right around the corner and not everyone in Maine is equally well prepared. What ends up happening is a super crowded store with limited staff and that might even get the most laid back Mainers grumpy.

 

  • Not investing in the right gear. Okay, it is a good thing you can’t see me right now, as I am confessing to my most embarrassing Maine Rookie mistake: it took me seven years (7!!!!) to realize that the winter is not all that bad if you have snow pants, good boots and warm mittens and jacket. I came prepared with a warm jacket, but never invested in good boots until just a few years ago. It makes all the difference.
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    Be prepared! Know what LLBean can do for you

    And even when my children were little and I would go sledding with them, I never had snow pants. I used my Dutch rain pants and thought that would do the trick, resulting in literally freezing my a#$ off. Especially if you are an adult and don’t expect to grow much more (in whatever direction), invest in good winter gear!

 

  • Find a house with a mud room or breeze way. Snow is fun, but when it melts it turns into, yes, water and mud. This is what my breeze way looks like after the kids have played outside in the snow and I came back from shoveling the drive.
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    Seriously, every hanging surface is been used after playing in the snow.

    If it is a snow day, expect everything at least double: two pairs of wet, soggy mittens or gloves per child, two wet snow pants: you’ll get the picture. You need space to dry everything.

 

  • Learn your essentials. I was so happy to learn about these ‘trays’ for boots and wet shoes, great invention! Keeps my mud room a lot cleaner and takes care of frustration about wet socks too. I also learned about this fantastic invention called: Peet dryer.
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    My friend Peet dries my mittens and my boots

    Works for boots and mittens too. I have two of these in my house now (Confession: this also took me 8 years to figure out…blush…)

 

  • Snow tires shouldn’t be optional. I really thought I was okay. I am driving a pretty heavy car, the roads here get cleaned quite fast and I just wouldn’t go out in a snow storm. Sounded reasonable and all, but when I had to wait for the last child to be picked up at my preschool and I had to drive home through a blizzard that hit us much sooner than predicted, my drive home was treacherous and intense. The following year I did invest in snow tires and have not ever regretted that decision. I think I can now safely claim it might have saved my life. Do it! Your life is worth it!

 

  • Learn your school’s cancellation or early dismissal policies. Sign up for text message notifications or check the local TV-channels. Always have a plan B for your kids: I recently started to work at the school and experienced the stress for the teachers when it became clear we had to dismiss early. The teacher had to figure out where her students had to go after school and was extremely busy with checking her email and phone for messages from parents who didn’t have a clear plan B. When you live in Maine where the weather can turn quickly, you have to be prepared.

 

  • Clean your roof. Okay, this one is important. When I lived in the Netherlands and we had snow, like maybe 4 cm (that’s less than 2 inch for your metric challenged people) it made everything look so beautiful. I remember drawing on black paper with white chalk and giving the rooftops a cute little layer of snow. Pretty yes, but I learned that snow can be heavy. I learned that snow can melt during the day and freeze during the night and thus can create a thing that is called an ‘ice dam’. And I learned that these ice dams can cause a lot of damage, as they will cause your roof to leak. This means replacing sheet rock, repainting walls and replacing your carpet. Not worth it (unless you’re into remodeling). For snow removal from the roof, you can buy a roof rake (such a cool device, I love it!) or when you already have a dam you can buy hockey puck like tablets to throw on the roof and they will melt the ice. Clever inventions. You can also do like us: install solar panels: the snow will slide right off and bonus feature: you’ll have free electricity!

 

  • If you have a long drive way, invest in a snow blower. I love my “mighty beast” as I lovingly call it. It saves us a lot of money in the long run for a plow service and fits our needs because we don’t have to wait until someone comes and plows us out.
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    Me and my mighty beast. I love him!

    Besides, it a really good workout and I easily get my 10.000 steps in by snow blowing the drive way.

 

  • Learn to love the snow. I know, this might sound obvious, but when we had a particular hard winter and I kept craving for spring, I became all depressed. Thankfully, I had a good talk with myself and found a positive twist (“If winter is hard, you’ll appreciate spring much more!”). We built a sledding track in our back yard, and when it got dark I placed tea lights in mason jars all the way next to the track and we kept sledding until we had no feeling left in our hands, feet or ears. We carved seats in snow banks and drank hot cocoa outside. When in April the snowbanks were still a yard high, we used food coloring in spray bottles and painted flowers on the snow.
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    No spring? No problem!

    Snow makes everything beautiful (despite sometimes being a nuisance): try to embrace that.

 

There you have it: some solid advice from one Maine-igrant to another. (And one more thing: always, always zip up your coat pockets before snow blowing or playing in the snow. Trust me, I learned the hard way, just today!)

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Snow is beautiful