… Hello 2017

Originally I had planned to write something about the New Year on January 1st. But then I thought, maybe that is not really fair. Maybe I should give the New Year a couple of days to make itself at home before I start questioning it. I mean, is there anyone out there who feels great on January 1st? Come on, be honest! I bet almost everyone feels either hangover or tired or both. I normally feel very, very tired. Staying up late just it not good for me. But of course I stay up until midnight for the count down and the fireworks, and then, when I would like to go to sleep, I can’t, because this is the Netherlands and everyone keeps on shooting fireworks until at least 2 o’clock. So I never get to sleep until around half past two. And then, thanks to my little ones, the night is over in a wink. And I get up, look at the reflection of myself in the mirror and say “oh yes, you definitely look one year older than yesterday, my dear”. So the whole day I am feeling like I have clouds of tiredness in my head. It usually gets better in the evening, and when it is bed time, I am almost awake again. Then I of course stay up a bit longer to enjoy the lovely feeling of not being tired. Which leads to more tired cloudiness in the morning…

To cut a long rant short, the first days of the New Year are generally not my best. It feels a bit like a jet-lag – maybe that’s what it is: I am jet-lagged from the Old Year and need to get accustomed to the new one. Something like that.

But now the New Year has had a whole week to gently pull me into its own timezone, and I am getting the feeling I have finally arrived in 2017.

So, let’s have a look.

The newspapers thankfully have also recovered from looking back into 2016 and start to center their attention on present times again. Or rather, on the future – elections and other milestones of the coming months. But they do look at the present state of our society too, trying to analyse it from new angles. Maybe that is the best thing about starting a new year: everyone feels they can put aside old habits and ideas and start with a fresh sheet of paper. And although it is quite common to sneer at all the resolutions and plans, and make jokes about how everything will be back to normal again in a few weeks time – I still think we all have the chance to change things this year. Maybe not be completely different, being an “all new person”, but doing a few steps in new directions, hopping out of the comfort zone for a bit. Have a fresh look at old things. Maybe being a bit more open to other people, listen not only to what they say, but also to what they mean.

Maybe, if we all try to get rid of those clouds in our heads – clouds of tiredness, clouds of prejudice, of resentment and the dense fog of distrust, maybe we can keep the feeling of a fresh start for a little longer. And then, at the end of this year, maybe the newspapers won’t be all centred on the bad things – on the other hand, they probably will be anyway, because newspapers live on bad news, but maybe more people will say: “Hey, they got it all wrong, 2017 was a great year, actually.”

I choose to try.

What about you?

🙂

 

Good Bye 2016 …

It is New Year’s Eve and like the previous years, I am sitting in the living room with my laptop, the Christmas tree in view, the sound of fireworks in my ears (although it is only around 22.30, but that’s the Netherlands for you), thinking and typing away.

2016. What a year. Loads of controversy, debates, violence, without doubt.

And if you believe the newspapers, 2016 was dominated by all these negative things. My newspaper had a special section today that – pages after pages – looked at all the people that have died in 2016. The VIPs of course, not the countless victims of war in Syria and likewise. I leafed through it and thought, guys, can you stop doing this? Are we really going to define this year by the prominent deaths that happened? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I do understand that the deaths of these people feel important for some. But do we have to define a year by them? In 2015 one of my favourite authors, Terry Pratchett, died. I was sad, very sad, but I would not have dreamed of calling 2015 “the year when Pratchett died”. – Who knows what great minds have been born in 2016, we just don’t know it yet, because they are still busy drinking milk and having naps.

So, can we not define this year by death please?

As for the political things that went wrong this year, yes, there are quite a few. As for terror, yes, we cannot deny it is here, in our midst.

But.

But does it really help to make a list of only the bad things? Does it make us feel better? Does it help the victims? Does it un-do the political change that happened? It cannot, of course. So what do we hope to achieve by colouring a whole year black?

Because also good things happened. Try it for yourself: type “good things that happened in 2016” in Google, and see the lists coming up. Some are long, some are shorter, a lot of them are rather silly, others are heartwarming. The important thing is: there are loads of them. My personal favourite is this one:

The 99 best things that happened in 2016, from Ebola’s eradication in West Africa to saving the manatees

It gives you the feeling that not all was lost in 2016. And I think we really need to hold on to that idea. Yes, terrible things happened in 2016. Some of the political decisions seem like a big step backwards, a step in the wrong direction. But some right steps have been taken too. People died, but people also were saved. People were born, people grew a little older, who might change things in a positive way in the future. We should not close our eyes to the bad things, but we should do our best not to let them define us. Because then they have won.

So let us take in that year, with all the good and bad, try to balance it in our mind. Let us think about what we can learn from it. Let us think what good things we can take from it. And then, let us turn around, face 2017. Let us make it a good one. I still believe we can.

Happy New Year.

🙂

Merry Christmas – or whatever that means?

These days there are loads of wishes flying around:

“Season’s Greetings” – “Have a great holiday” – “Happy New Year” (mostly in combination with one of the others) …

And of course: “Merry Christmas”

Although, I have to say, the last one is getting a bit under pressure. Of course, in our global society, one cannot always be sure if wishing “Merry Christmas” is appropriate, as your counterpart could have another religious or cultural background. And of course the last thing you want to do is to offend them – you want to wish them something nice. So … what do you do?

“Season’s Greetings” – I find these a bit wishy-washy (no offence meant). It does not really have any content, apart from the at least well-meant intention of wishing someone well, and specifically in December (although there is really no reason why “Season’s Greetings” could not mean a nice summer holiday…)

“Have a great holiday” – works if you know the other person actually has some extra free days, but is not very specific.

“Happy New Year” – great wish, but really only applicable next week 😉

So in the end I mostly still do say “Merry Christmas”. But what do I really mean with it? For me, “Christmas” does not necessarily mean the specific Christian celebration – although I do call myself a Christian (not a regular church-going though). For me, “Merry Christmas” is the short version of a mixture of feelings I get these days.

I guess, what I really want to say is: “I wish you to be surrounded by love and peace, filled with hope. I wish that you can always see a light in the darkness, that you even can be that light yourself.”

That’s my Christmas spirit. Even, no: especially in times like this. But it is a little bit long to say, so I just stick to “Merry Christmas.”

So, to all of you out there, no matter if you are religious or not (and absolutely no matter what type of religion that might be):

Merry Christmas (substitute with long version, if so desire)

🙂

I have blown it

Last December, when everyone was busy thinking up New Year’s resolutions, I just dug up the one from last year: being more creative, doing more healthy/sporty things. The usual. Prone to fail, as always.

But then something happened. I had started two calendars, one for the creative things, one for the healthy ones. As usual, at the beginning of the year, everything worked out fine. Every day I did something creative (blogging, writing, working on a photo-book I coloured in one calendar day in dark blue. And everyday I did something sporty (talking a long walk, dropping Little One off at school on the bike, yoga) I coloured in one calendar day in turquoise. Quite soon, the dark blue calendar showed some white spots. Days I was too busy being creative. But the turquoise one filled up. And up. Very soon I found myself doing a little yoga in the evening, even if I had done something else too. Even if I did not feel well. Even if we were travelling and arrived late. I did something. Maybe not much, maybe just a bit, but I went through my moves, I stretched and bent and it always made me feel better.

I started to be really proud of myself. And a goal appeared: a the end of the year, I did not want see a single white day in that turquoise calendar. October passed, November passed, December came. All good. I could already see the finishing line.

But then yesterday happened. An incredibly busy day with me buzzing around the whole day. Which is not unheard of. We also had family coming, to stay for the weekend. Also not completely uncommon. I cooked and took care of the dishes and got the boys to bed, I set with family to chat. At one point I excused myself, being very tired. Husband stayed down for a bit longer to chat with his dad.

I went upstairs with the thought in my head ‘I still need to do my yoga – I will just do it on the bedroom floor, as the living room is still blocked’. Also not the first time.

But then I forgot.

I got ready for bed, I brushed my teeth, I snuggled under my blanket. Done with the day.

No yoga. Nothing else done that day I could remotely call “sporty” or “healthy”.

So, with the end in sight, I blew it.

I wanted to stand there on the evening of the 31st, having proved to myself that I, Miss Absolutely Unsporty, can have the discipline to pull it through.

But I haven’t. So I can’t.

 

And it wasn’t even my choice.

Freshly Fallen Leaves

(This is something I wrote a few weeks ago. It was not written for this space, but I thought, why not put it here after all. It can sit between the other loose figments of my mind.)

 

Freshly Fallen Leaves

The day had started badly and went downhill from there.

Cathie woke at 7 to the sound of Little One complaining that he could not sleep any more, even though it was Saturday and he did not need to go to school. Before breakfast, the boys managed to get into at least two fights (those were the ones loud enough for her to hear). Older One then refused to do his homework, it being weekend and he wanted to rest. And it was not fair for him to have homework anyway, while Little One just played. Cathie’s husband was still snoring happily upstairs, so no help from him, not today.

Nothing dramatic or even unusual, just the wild goose-chase she normally tackled quite easily with a mixture of routine and determination, but on this day it felt heavier, more unnerving.

At lunchtime she was already wishing it were Monday again, with everyone back at school and her being able to breathe in a quiet house.

In the afternoon, while the boys were having their music lessons, Cathie had just enough time to dash to the library to bring back some books. In the end it was getting late again of course, so she grabbed the books and ran. The shortest route was through the park, on a path lined with old trees she did not know the names of. At least some of them were chestnuts, she suspected. It had been raining, a stormy quick shower that had left the path with a coating of freshly fallen, wet leaves.

These leaves were, as it turned out, extremely slippery, especially if someone was running without paying much attention to their surrounding.

She fell in the most pathetic way imaginable, like a character in one of these old black-and-white movies. Her feet slid forward, she tried in vain to stabilize with her arms, which sent the books flying, then landed on her back, uttering a miserable squeaking sound. The sound embarrassed her more than the fall itself. But the embarrassment came later. First there was a breathlessness, then pain. Then anger and embarrassment. Cathie raised herself up to sitting. Here I am, she thought, hurting and wet and looking completely ridiculous. What a stupid day, stupid leaves, stupid everything! Without realizing what she was doing, she hit the ground with her fist. It hurt too. Great.

“That looked painful”, a voice said. Cathie looked up at the women standing in front of her. “It was.” She could not think of anything else to say, half expecting the woman to stretch out a hand to help her up. Instead, the woman looked at her for another moment, a slightly amused look on her face. Then she sat down next to her.

Cathie frowned. “Everything is wet here. Why are you sitting down?”

The woman still looked amused. “Why are you?”

“I fell, as I think you have noticed. I slipped on these stupid leaves. Now my back hurts and I am cold and wet and I hate this day. Thanks for asking.” That came out snappier than she normally would have spoken to a stranger, but the woman unnerved her.

“I see.” Then, after a pause: “These leaves are really pretty, don’t you think?” She ran her fingers over the wet surface.

Cathie stared at the women, who seemed to be absorbed in what she was doing, touching a red leave here, a brown one there. She seemed to be older than Cathie herself, maybe in her 50ies, but then Cathie had never been good at guessing someone’s age. Dressed maybe a little too thin for autumn weather, so as if she did not care. The hands that were still caressing the leaves looked as if they were used to working a lot.

Cathie wanted to say something, something sarcastic and smart, something that would unload the frustration that had been building up inside her the whole day.

But instead she looked. The leaves were pretty. Some were brown, some red, some yellow, some still green. Different shapes, having fallen from different trees. “Chestnut”, the woman said, touching a brown one. “Acorn” – a dark red one. “Birch” – a yellow one with tiny dark spots. As the women turned her head, Cathy noticed her eyes. They were the same color as the chestnut leaf.

Cathie felt a shy smile forming inside her. “They are pretty”, she said.

“As are your books.” The woman turned her head in the direction of the library books, spread out around them.

“The library – I am late!” Cathie scrambled to her feet, picking up the books, which seemed to be only wet from the outside. She wiped them clean on her coat. “I need to go.” The woman tilted her face up to her. There were fine lines around her eyes. “You might just make it in time – if you don’t run so very fast”, she said.

Cathie shook her head, not knowing if that was her answer or just an expression of her uncertainty. She turned and walked away, books held close to her chest, when she realized how rude it was to go without saying good-bye. Turning again, she saw that the woman had gotten up too. She was walking towards the other end of the park, carrying two heavy looking plastic bags Cathie had not noticed before. As if she felt Cathie’s gaze, she stopped and looked back. Putting down one of the bags she raised her arm to a short wave. Despite herself, Cathie waved back.

When she arrived at the library a few minutes later, the big doors were just being shut.

Oh, well. Cathie shrugged and looked at her watch. She still had some time before it was time to pick up the boys. She could gather some leaves for them. Maybe they would like the colors, and now she could even tell them their names.

Changing of the Seasons – Changing of the Mind?

After a long summer, autumn is here now. This summer had had a slow start in the Netherlands, and when the summer holidays ended and school started again end of August (I know, really early – but that is 6 weeks of summer holidays for you…) many people said there had been no summer at all. But as soon as the kids sat in their classrooms, the weather switched to warm. Switched to hot even. We have had the hottest September since they started recording the weather (1901, if you are in for the numbers) – during the second week we even hit the 30 degrees Celsius. And so we had beach afternoons after school – my kids were even swimming in the North Sea, which they had not done the whole season – picnics in the park, water fights in the garden.

But it seems that at one point the weather realised it was behaving strangely. Temperatures have been going down slowly, and one can feel a difference in the air. We will still have 20 degrees today, but the mood has changed. Autumn is here.

So I spent some time in the park last Saturday, sitting on a bench on my own, looking at the trees and the grass and the sky. The leaves start to turn yellow, but I think that is more because of the dry weather we had (I have been watering my garden the last weeks, something I normally don’t have to do in September). The sky was still very blue – enhanced by my sun glasses.

I sat and looked and thought.

It seems that especially the change from summer to autumn touches something inside.  At least inside me. If affects me differently than the other seasons changes do. When winter changes into spring, I am all bouncy and happy, start working in the garden, dream of sitting outside in the sun. When spring changes into summer, I am busy hunting for my summer clothes and the sandals in the cellar, drag the hammock outside and eat salad a lot. During summer I hardly find time for writing blog posts, although I continue reading posts (luckily not everyone is as lazy as me). But when it gets cooler, the air smells of falling leaves and there is that special chill returning to the evening, I start getting philosophical. Suddenly my mind wakes up and starts asking questions. About life as such and my life in particular. About ageing and priorities. About what I am doing with my life.

Is it because the change to autumn already hints at the next change, the one to winter? Not that I don’t like winter – I think every season has its charms, although if I could, I would probably shorten winter a bit. (Maybe having three months of spring and autumn each, four months of summer and two months of winter?) But autumn and winter, they always remind us that nothing lasts forever. Of course after winter, there will be the next spring… but what if not? Would we still like it, embrace it?

As I said, autumn brings thoughts into my head, they tumble around like the leaves in the wind.

But as I look outside, the sun is edging around the neighbour’s house to greet me. It is a bit chilly this morning, but the sky is still blue, in the afternoon it will be pleasantly warm again. So let’s enjoy the beauty of autumn, while it lasts (I am sure we are in for enough of the grey-misty-cloudy-wet days too).

Summer was good. Now choose autumn. And be.

 

The Sun is Shining!

Yes, the sun is shining today – and it looks like MySestina has nominated me for the Sunshine Award 🙂 Thank you!

It does remind me of those chain letters that where around when I was in high school (yes, written on paper, can anyone still remember them or am I really getting terribly old?)… but it certainly is one of the nice ones. (Not of those that went: if you do not send this on, some terrible accident will happen to you… I always threw does away, and later, when things like that came via email, I deleted them without finishing to read. I do not like being threatened, thank you.)

Anyway, it says that you are supposed to answer some questions from the blogger who nominated you and then in turn nominate some bloggers and think up questions for them to answer.

The “criteria” (which sounds a bit formal) for nominating someone is that the person inspires you and brings sunshine into your live. Ok, here we go, my inspiring sunshine-bringers:

DebWasHere – e.g. On Stars and Bright Lights – for telling great stories full of depth and fun and sometimes sadness.

Filosofa’s Word – e.g. What Have We Become? – for sometimes making me laugh, but always think.

A Holistic Journey – e.g. Lessons From the Dying Brain – for being scientific as well as poetic and really sharp.

Writing for Myself – e.g. growth – for sharing her deep thoughts, for honesty (and beautiful pictures too).

Of course there are more blogs that I could list here… but I guess the whole thing is about choosing some of them, right?

Here are the question I was supposed to answer (plus the answers):

  1. Are you a Hero? – Seriously doubt it. Probably more Miss Caution. But, you never know, depending on the situation, I might choose to become one... 😉
  2. How does writing help? – Writing provides a way out for all those words in my head. Otherwise it gets too crowded and the words get grumpy. Can’t have grumpy words in your head, can you?
  3. How far could you go to be heard, to be recognised? – Not very far, I think. I don’t like to be the centre of attention.
  4. Do you think we are alone in the universe? – Looks like there are a lot of other people around anyway, right? No, seriously, it would seem arrogant to think we are the only ones. But they probably do not want to have anything to do with us.
  5. What is an achievement? – To get one step further than you already were. To widen your horizon. To choose.
  6. Do you read as much you write? – More.
  7. What inspires you? – Different lives, new thoughts.
  8. Do you follow to lead or you lead to follow? – I try to find my own path. Anyone who wants to follow is welcome.
  9. What could you possibly give to the world? – Two great kids, plus my feeble little efforts to be helpful and friendly to anyone around me.
  10. Do you let your failures drive you? – I hope not, but they do tend to linger in my mind.
  11. What’s the one thing that you would you change about this world? – Have everyone feel respect towards everyone else and act accordingly (ok, that is already two… but still)

Now comes the fun part… I am allowed to think of some questions myself… (I guess that is really the reason for those awards: that you can fire your questions into the world!)

  1. Where do you get your best ideas?
  2. What is the most annoying thing that can (and will) happen while you are writing?
  3. How do you handle 2. ?
  4. If you look at your list of priorities, at which number does writing come?
  5. Are you happy with that number?
  6. What situation would justify to sacrifice your computer with all your writings on it?
  7. If you could choose a belated birthday present now – anything! – what would that be?
  8. If you could “beam” one person to your side at this moment, who would that be?
  9. If you could choose one person in the world that would be “beamed” to an inhabited island, who would that be?
  10. If you could recommend one book, which one would that be?
  11. Do you like the person you are now?

Looking forward to the answers you guys come up with! 🙂

Ok, the sun is still shining, it is late in the morning here in Europe, and I choose to go out and mow my grass now! 🙂

Have a lovely sunny day, in spite of all the things that are on the news – which I deliberately have not read yet. That will come later. Now I will enjoy the spring day.