Here it is – 2016

Yesterday shortly after 11 pm, Husband and I set out for the beach. We walked there – taking the car would have been outright silly and we thought it would be too crowed to sensibly bike there (in the end, I guess biking would have been ok, but walking was still nicer). Even though it was an hour before midnight, we could already see at lot of fireworks. (What happened to the idea of actually greeting the new year with fireworks when it was really there, not hours before? But ok, it did look cool and it gave us something to watch on our way.) On the beach they had erected a huge bonfire over the last few days (actually there were two – one one either side of the harbour entrance). At midnight, the real fireworks started (meaning it got really loud and really colourful) and then the bonfire got lit. It looked good, with a very showy flame, helped along by the right amount of wind. Shortly after that a faint drizzle started that sort of spoiled the whole thing a bit – you could see many people starting to head home, us included, me having made the same mistake I always make at these occasions: dressing too lightly. I had thought, oh, it is so mild anyway, without thinking of a) the wind b) the fact we would be standing still for some time. So I already was slightly cold and did not need to add being completely wet. When we arrived home, Granny had already tugged the boys in (who had watched the fireworks from the big windows upstairs). We stayed a bit longer, as you cannot really sleep before 2 a.m. anyway, when noise from all those fire crackers starts to fade.

I got up this morning with my usual first-of-January-feeling: very tired (did not manage to fall asleep until long after 3 a.m.), slightly grumpy about being tired, slightly feeling strange because it is supposed to be a new year but really only is a new day, but with a new way to write the date. Usually it takes some time until I can write the proper year without flinching. (So, let’s practice: 2016, 2016, 2016….) But the sun was shining, which was good, and the boys were reasonably friendly with each other, which always helps.

After lunch I decided it was time for a Zen moment, took my bike and headed off for the beach again. It had gotten colder, like it often does after new year (funny, does the weather have a calendar too?), but this time I had dressed more sensibly. The first thing I noticed was how empty the streets around our house were. Everyone seemed to be either still having lunch or taking a nap. The second thing I noticed was the dirt that was lying around in front of many houses: the remnants of the fireworks, sticks and paper wrappers and stuff. Some spots were covered with red cracker wrappers. Normally I would not describe our area as dirty, but today many streets were outright filthy. What happened to cleaning up after yourself? I mean, even if you are too tired in the evening or claim it is too dark, why can’t people pick up a broom in the morning and clean up the mess they made? Fireworks are not really environment friendly anyway, but at least you could try to limit the damage. Oh well.

When I came closer to the beach, I realised where all the people where: there. The beach is still big enough that it did not look crowded, but the streets were. It always amazes me how many people still try to take their car to the beach on days like this. I mean: public holiday, clear sky, sunshine… not a good idea to take the car there. There are enough parking spots now I guess, but the streets leading to and from the area had sprouted traffic jams. I weaved through them with my bike, locked it next to loads of other bikes on the boulevard and started my walk on the sand.

The big bonfire had burned down to a big heap of ashes, still producing smoke. Some diggers were busy transferring the ashes on trucks. Every time they dug into the ashes, thick dark smoke came out, twice I could even still see a flame. It must still have been very hot in there.

People were walking on the beach, alone, in pairs, in groups, with children or dogs or both. Quite a lot of surfers where out too. I could feel the sun in my face, amazing that it has some strength even in January. In spite of all the people, I still managed to keep my feeling of being on my own. My beach, my sea, my sky. Briefly I considered dropping in at one of the cafes for coffee, but I did not feel like speaking. Plus when I passed them I saw how crowded they where, so I just enjoyed the smell of fresh coffee coming from there and walked on.

When I pedalled home on my bike later, a saw a girl, maybe thirteen, fourteen years old, blond hair, cleaning the street in front of her house with a broom. I smiled at her, but she was too busy to notice me. She had a look of serious concentration on her face.

Faith in humankind restored. We can do this. 🙂

Welcome, 2016. We may have greeted you in a way that was showy but messy, but we can still make it good.

Doors

I don’t know how many of you know the “Never-ending Story” by Michael Ende. The original (“Die Unendliche Geschichte”) is considered a classic German children’s novel, one I really loved reading when I was young. I recently rediscovered it reading it to my oldest one as bedtime story. Most of the story takes place in “Phantasia”, the land of stories. Beside the gripping story there is a lot of food for thought hidden inside, most of it probably going unnoticed by the younger readers.

One of the strange places in Phantasia is the “temple of 1000 doors”, a sort of maze consisting of an endless array of rooms with doors leading to more rooms with doors. Every door in Phantasia can temporarily be an entrance to the temple, any of the doors inside could lead outside again – if you open it for the right reason. The trick is that – once inside – you can only escape it by finding a wish, coming right from your heart. You need to choose the doors that by their shape, colour or material remind you of your wish. If you choose rightly, after a couple of doors you are outside, in a place that will bring you closer to your wish. If you cannot find a true wish, or do not manage to choose the right doors, you will wander the maze forever.

How often are we stuck inside this maze without even realising it? That was the question that floated in my mind yesterday late in the evening. How many of our daily choices lead nowhere, only to more choices? And how many of them come from a true wish?

And how many of the choices we take lightly turn out to be big ones when looking back? Things we discarded with a quick shaking of the head, could they have changed our lives? For the better or the worse?

And what about my choices? Do I regret any of them? (The big ones, not the ones about which pizza to choose for dinner.)

I don’t really know the answer to the first two questions. But strangely enough, when pondering about the third one, the answer was no. As far as I can say today, the big choices where good ones (apart from some not so great pizzas). There is no point in my life that I look back to and say “I should have (not) done this”. Of course I did things I am not so proud of now, and I would do a lot of things differently today, act more kindly or more brave. But looking at the crossroads of my life so far, I am happy that I took the turns I did.

Which probably means I am happy with the life I am living.

Which I am.

(And no, it probably is no coincidence that these thoughts came up at the end of the year… It is a (bad?) habit to reflect on your life in December.

By the way: Happy New Year, when it comes!)

 

 

A feeling of gratitude

Today I took my bike, rode to the beach and had a quick walk. It was one of these spur-of-a-moment things: the sun was shining, the sky clear, just a bit of wind, Dutch autumn as beautiful as you can get. Even the North Sea was blue. (An Italian friend of mine once stated that the North Sea was no proper sea, not being blue but mostly brownish, quite an unfair statement, I felt today.)

There were not many people around, it being a normal workday and not much of a tourist season either. A few mothers with small children walked around, I saw a few couples and some happy dog owners who claimed the beach again with their pets on this 1st of October (from May to September dogs are banned from most of the beach areas… everyone can guess why…).

I thought, yes, this is my beach again. And suddenly I felt a huge wave of gratitude. Gratitude for this life I am living here, this happy, sheltered life with a family I love, in a beautiful surrounding.

Maybe it is because of all the hard news I am reading every day. You hear about the refugees, about conflicts and chaos in so many countries. We are truly privileged to live here (and with here, I do not only mean the Netherlands, I mean Western Europe, or maybe even all “safe parts of the world”, wherever they may be). It is not as if I earned this in any way. I just had the unbelievable luck of being born in the right part of the world at the right time, being born into a loving family that could afford raising me, giving me all the chances I needed.

It would sound arrogant if I said I try to live up to this lucky start. Because I could never reach that goal. But – especially on days like this – I try to keep the thankfulness in mind and just do what I can to give a little bit back.

 

Why is it so hard to stop procrastinating?

Just a short question here today: Why oh why is it so hard to stop procrastinating???

I watched one of those TED talks the other day, where a guy encouraged everyone to ask himself the question “What is it you cannot not do?” – meaning what is it you feel drawn to so powerfully that you cannot imagine not doing it? Apart from caring for my loved ones, the answer for me is clearly “writing” (and reading).

But if that is true, why do I then not just sit down and do it? Why do I tell myself that the washing needs folding instead?

Answers, anyone?

(I will check later if anyone came up with a good one – now you have to excuse me, I need to go and fold the washing…)

🙂

When the choices get bigger – for all of us

Sometimes, when you are busy in your own little world, happily spinning in your comfy cocoon, something happens in the world that wakes you up, pulls you out, gets you to start thinking again.

While I spent a carefree summer in Austria, watching the boys play in grandma’s garden, a lot of other people where on the journey of their lives. A journey that might end their lives or maybe give them a chance for a new one.

While I was lying in the hammock under the trees, a few white clouds sailing a happy blue summer sky, people sailed and drove and walked towards Europe. Some of them died, and we heard about it on the news, shook our heads and went on with our daily doings. It seemed far away, sad as it was.

But it got closer. Now there are thousands arriving every day at our borders, my borders. I see pictures of overflowing camps in Austria – my country. I see borders opened and closed again, trains and busses arriving, people camping on train stations because there are not enough means of transportation. I hear what the politicians say, the Hungarians, the Austrians, the Germans.

And I also see and hear about people helping – bringing food, clothes, toys, opening their houses. I see sign “refugees welcome”.

And the other ones, who think “the boat is full”, which is a especially ironic comment considering all those people on the little boats that sometimes  sink.

These are the big choices we are facing now:

What will we do? What will Europe do, its politicians, its people?

Will we face this together – that was the whole point of the EU right? – or will we revert to guarding our own little countries again, shutting the doors to the problems of the world and our neighbours?

Will we find a way of helping these people without tearing ourselves apart, without deepening the crevice that already runs through our society?

Back in the Netherlands, I am sitting at my desk, wondering. This might be the biggest challenge Europe has been facing since it managed to rise again after the horrors of World War II.

Let’s hope we are up to it.

 

 

 

 

 

Another lesson learned

I have already mentioned earlier that my stupid eye trouble taught me a few lessons (see “Lessons Learned”). Now I have come to the conclusion that these months have taught me something else, a bit disturbing, but still valuable.

Looking back at last November, December and even part of January, I see a different me than I normally am. I spent a lot of time lying on the couch, eyes closed. I meant, there were perfectly good reasons for that – my eye hurt a lot, or the stupid lens was misbehaving, and the only thing to make it better was put some drops in and give it some rest. But all this time of almost dozing off on my couch, with not much light around me – because it was a) wintertime, so not much light from outside, and b) bright light was not nice for my eye – did something to my mood, to my thoughts, to my normally quite energetic being. I seemed to be tired a lot, lost my drive, did not want to do anything anymore. Of course I had the perfect excuse – my eye. But I could have switched the radio on, listened to music, make plans in my head for my writing. I almost never did these kind of things. I just drifted away. After a while I would pull myself together, took care of the necessary things in the house. I would wash and clean and cook for my family, but besides that everything was on hold.

I think that for the first time in my life I came close to being something you could call “depressed”. Not my kind of thing at all, I would have told you before. I am either happy or angry or sad, but always with lots of emotion involved. I am not the passive type at all. But during this winter, I just let things happen to me. I let my eye trouble control me, instead the other way round. I waited for suggestions from the doctor, instead of researching myself, instead of demanding solutions. I just waited and hoped that everything would be over soon.

But when it took so much longer than I had expected, at one point I decided it needed to stop. Something needed to change. Luckily at that time I also saw a doctor who sympathised and talked and thought about how she could help, which gave me some sort of boost. Her idea of putting in much more drops (just moisturising ones, not medication) helped a lot to stabilise the lens that bothered me. Which resulted in me seeing better, having less problems. So my mind finally stopped going in circles around my eye trouble and starting thinking other thoughts again. And I finally got off that couch and into action again.

Now the lens has been removed for almost two months and my eye, while not completely back to normal, is behaving reasonably well.

But I keep thinking: wow. Is it that easy to loose yourself in grey thoughts? Is it that easy to let go, that easy to turn into someone you never thought you’d be?

I hope it makes me more alert, more aware the importance of staying active, both bodily and in your mind.

It certainly made me more sympathetic towards people who suffer from “grey mood” more often.

It certainly gave me a lot to think about.

Eye Trouble Continued – My endless story

Isn’t it ironic? Roughly two months ago I happily announced my blog anniversary, stating how much I like the whole blogging thing and that I would definitely go on.

A few days later my stupid eye injury raised its ugly head again, so I cut down on screen time. Obviously this blog is the first to feel it – I do rely on email for a lot of daily communication, but blogging is something that is not strictly necessary. As is reading books and writing … all the things I love to do. You can imagine my humour dropped.

November was not great, but December was worse. I spent a lot of time lying on the couch with my eyes closed. I managed to attend all the important pre-Christmas events at school (Christmas concerts, Christmas dinner for the children), we spent Christmas at the in-laws (saved me some cooking at least), but looking back now it all seems a blur.

It slowly got better and the last few days I started feeling like me again – the active me with plans and ideas, running up and down the stairs in my house (yep, we are back home again), tackling the chaos, shopping for groceries, that kind of stuff. I actually opened the book I got for Christmas from my mother-in-law, and yes, I dare look at the computer screen for more than a few minutes in a row.

And I stopped wearing my sun glasses in the house.

I had a chat with my eye-specialist (if you could call it a “chat”: I kept asking questions and he mumbled answers). We agreed to give it one more chance: four more weeks wearing that contact lens for protection, then take it off and see how it goes. If it turns bad again (with or without the lens), I will have another treatment, this time with a laser – apparently the success rate is much higher than with the one I had before, so fingers crossed. (Yes, of course: when I heard that I was thinking: why didn’t we do that in the first place then??? But it is a bit more expensive, and the insurance wants to try the cheaper one first, thank you very much.) If I interpret his mumbling correctly, my eye doctor thinks the cornea does look better and better, so maybe I have a chance to dodge another operation after all. We will see.

So hopefully it continues to go up from here – and I can start thinking and writing about other stuff again. And catch up with my reading… Just thinking of all the cool posts I have missed…. even if I only try to catch up with my four or five favourite blogs, this will mean a lot of work for my eye… But I will try to be patient, finish this post and then go offline again. Start the catching up tomorrow, maybe.

It is almost end of the year. Time to close a few not so nice chapters. Time to move on and concentrate on the nice things. There were a lot of those in 2014 too.

Cheers!

 

Happy Birthday, Blog!

One year ago – after having thought about it for quite a while – I decided to give blogging a try. In the beginning I felt rather shy about it. It took me ages to pick a theme and think of a name for my blog. I tinkered around a lot – not because I am such a perfectionist, but because I did not want to put anything online that looked ridiculous.

I have already mentioned why I started the blog: to give some thoughts a home. And that worked out well. My intitial goal was to post something once a week – no really strict goal, just an idea, a number in my head to prevent me from getting too lazy. After one year this now my 40th post – not a big number, but ok. Especially if you take into account my stupid eye trouble, which reduced my screen time quite a bit.

What took me by surprise was how much I enjoy reading other people’s blogs. I do not follow a lot of blogs regularily, but there are a few I really try to keep up with. It sort of clicked when I read the first posts (with others there was no click at all.) To feel touched by the lives of people you have no other connection with than via their blogs, is special. When I read about their lives, their worries and moments of happiness, I feel worried or happy too. I do care.

So, a big thank you to all of them who share their lives, who have shown me new facets of being. Some of their lives are completely different than the ones I am living, some share some lines. But all of them give me food for thought, a different perspective and sometimes a good laugh.

 

Writing a bit, reading a lot, thinking even more. All in all, this has been a good blog year.

Happy birthday, blog. I will keep coming here.

Project “Smile”

We all know that friendliness can get us a long way, but it is one of these self-evident concepts that are easily forgotten in the daily routine.

But a few days ago I came across an online article about “smiling at strangers”. I would quote it here, but I seem to have lost it, cannot find it back. Anyway, the message was simple: It is amazing how positive people respond to kindness from complete strangers, even it is just a smile. The author states he has made a habit of smiling at all people he comes accross on the street. (Probably not when stuck in a crowdy street, though.)

I think that is a nice idea, although I am sure I won’t manage to smile at really everyone. Not that the people I see in our streets are that hidous, but smiling at complete strangers does feel a bit odd, at least for me. I mean, I very often smile at small children on the street, or at their mothers when the kids are either behaving irrestiably cute or being a real challenge (in the last case the smile is meant as a boost for the mums nerves). I smile and make ‘thank you’ gestures at cars that let me cross a street (or rather at the people sitting in the cars). But smiling at someone just in passing? Not so often. So I tried it when walking back from the shops today. I did not really manage to smile at the middle aged man with the umbrella (he did look so serious – but ouch! I guess I am middle-aged too!). I did look at him in a friendly way though. The next person I came across was an elderly lady with a walking aid and a red wolly hat. This was more easy, I smiled at her, not only with my mouth but with my eyes too. She looked a bit surprised and gave me a tiny, but happy smile back.

So this is my new project then. Trying to smile more at strangers. Being really friendly to people I am interacting with – people I do not know, but who serve me my coffee at the restaurant, who hand me my bread at the bakery, these kinds of things. Which does not mean I have been unfriendly towards them so far. But I think we sometimes wear a frown without even noticing, being deep in thoughts or just living in our own world. I will try to show a happy face to the world – honestly happy, not faking.

(Which means there will be days when I cannot manage because I do feel grumpy or sick with a heavy cold or suchlike. But I will try.)

And when I am already at it, I will try to keep the impatience out of my voice when my boys are in the “we are so busy we cannot be possibly listening to any requests from mum at the moment”-mode. But that is another story.

Have a nice day full of smiles!

Lessons Learned

No, this is not going to be “Eye Trouble, Part IV”, because I don’t want to define myself by that trouble any more. Things are still as they were, I am still hoping for December, full stop.

What I want to do today is think about some lessons I have learned from all of it. The obvious one being: “Don’t poke yourself in the eye”, but that is kind of a no-brainer. “Don’t let yourself get so tired that your reflexes start slowing down”, sounds a bit better. The whole thing definitely was a warning sign: If you think that neglecting sleep for weeks is something that won’t eventually catch up with you, you are wrong. Because you cannot sail along on “want to dos” and “have to dos” and “not enough hours in a day” forever. At one point the body needs rest, and it has various methods of making sure it will get it. Normally when I overstretch my boundaries I get sick, but it looks like this time I had gotten accident prone.

So that is lesson number one for me: “Take better care of your body.” (Ok, nothing really knew here, but it seems that I need to be reminded of that…)

But the most important thing I learned is how much we take things for granted. Having perfect eye-sight was something I never really appreciated. It was just as it was supposed to be. I could read for hours, sit in front of the computer almost the whole day, the worst I would get was tired. And sometimes, during winter, a bit of a dry eye from the heating air.

When Husband said “Where are my glasses” before reading the boys their bed time story, I never realised how lucky I was to just pick up a book and read. When I went to the optician with Older One to get his glasses, I did not think about how the world must be changing around him when he put them on or off.

But now, suddenly, eye-things have my attention. I ask my boy how it is for him to take off the glasses. Does he see everything blurry then? Because he did not seem to see the world blurry in the years before he got the glasses. Apparently yes, he does see blurry when he takes them off, but only for a few moments. Then his eyes focus and compensate and he can see properly again. He is long-sighted, so his eyes can adapt, but it makes him tired if he has to do it for too long. (Plus his eyes have different strengths, so the glasses also compensate for that.) But it means he can take them off for judo and still see his opponents, which is definitely a plus in this kind of sport.

My stupid right eye cannot do that trick. If I close the left one and something is too far away, it is blurry and stays blurry, and no amount of concentration on my side can change anything. (You could say I am now – hopefully only temporarily – near-sighted on one eye.)

So now I am really thankfull for my still perfect left eye, which is doing a lot of extra work these days, having to see sharply for both of them. I still hope that right one will improve further (at least I do not see does stupid circles around the lights any more, and the light sensitivity has improved a lot). Of course there is the possibilty the cornea will only heal partly, or not get thick enought, or whatever – resulting in me staying partly near-sighted. That would not be ideal, but there are a lot of worse things, so I am trying not to get to crazed out by that idea. It probably would not be the end of the world having to wear glasses for driving in the evening or so. Or for longer computer work. Many people end up wearing glasses when they get older, although there are probably not so many who are clumsy enough to injur themselves the way I did. (Plus I am not so keen on defining myself as “getting older”, but there is no question I am not getting younger either!)

Would that be lesson number three then? Stupid things happen, and sometimes they cannot be undone, but there is no point in letting them drag you down? Stop moaning about something as tiny as this and get on with your life?

Probably. Although I am not sure if I am quite ready for that one yet.

(Still hoping for the magic healing powers of my body to kick in.)