… 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?



Resolutions Part III: The thing about family and friends

I am almost at the end of my resolutions list: Spending more time with family and friends. How is this one coming along so far?

Well, the family (apart from husband and the boys, who I am luckily seeing on a daily basis 😉 ) is not exactly living around the corner, so quick drop-ins for coffee are out of the question. One side of the family is a 4 hours drive away – not too far for the occasional weekend trip, but still not a distance you are keen to cover on a really frequent basis with two kids in the back of the car (plus the driving does take a lot of time out of the normal 2-day-weekend). We have been there in December and are not sure yet when the next trip is going to be. But we will go to see my mum end of this month – flying down for a week during our “Spring Break” (ha! funny word – although it has not been really winter yet, I do not yet believe spring is waiting around the corner). We are all looking forward to that.

What about seeing friends? Some friends I see almost daily on the school yard at pick-up time. It is nice for a quick chat, but it is not the same as sitting down for a coffee somewhere and actually spending some real time together. Which I have a not done very often recently. Not at all this year so far, to be honest.

The problem is, meeting for coffee in the morning takes interferes with resolution number 2, getting more writing done. So I am kind of stuck. But there are a few people I definitely want to meet for an elaborate chat (without kids) really soon.

What I would also love to do is spend a weekend with an old friend who is living about 3 hours driving from here. We have done it before and it was lovely. She does not have any kids (yet), so it was a weekend going back in time for me. Just being responsible for my own needs, not having to check if anyone is about to get hungry (= grumpy and starting fights with his brother) or tired (= same outcome). Doing stuff like going shopping, stopping for a quick bite in a cafe, go home to dump the loot, decide on a movie, go out again, come home late, chat endlessly during the whole process (except during the movie). After a weekend like this my friend and I are completely up to date with each others’ life again, have sorted out the problems of the world as well as our private ones and filled each other in on other people we both (used to) know. My (and probably her) ears are then ringing a bit and I feel a bit high from all that new input, but I am always driving home very happy. And happy to be with my family again – because funnily, it also makes me realise how much I like my normal life too.

So we need to find a free weekend for that again – which is not easy since she is really really busy and my weekends tend to fill themselves with lots of activities (that very often are a bit too much for a home-alone-daddy to handle… like two different birthday party invitations for the boys…). But we have managed before and we will again. In spring. Spring is our visiting season.

Another good moment to get all social and having a party would be my birthday, which is actually approaching rapidly. The last years I never had a party. Not a conscious decision, it just did not happen. For this year I was rather determined to do something – going out with a couple of friends (since I am not so keen on doing all the work required to have a party in our house… on my own birthday). But our primary babysitter did not have time, and the back-up babysitter did not answer my emails. And while I was waiting if she would answer, and while I was wondering where I put her mobile number, I suddenly realised I was not so keen of having any kind of birthday activity after all.

You see, the last weeks and weekends have been incredibly busy and I am starting to feel I am in this reactive mode again – responding to queries, doing things that are expected from me, without stopping to think what I wanted myself.

So I stopped and I thought. Here is the result: I will not have a party. I will not even go out. On my birthday, I want some time for myself, maybe a nice cake (from the shops… I won’t put husband through any cake baking ordeal, and the boys are still too small for it), maybe order some special dinner, getting someone else to clean the dishes. 😉 Take it slow. Have a nice evening with husband (when the boys are in bed). Breathe. Just be.

(Maybe that’s a sign I am getting old…. Oh well. I am probably. 😉 )


Looking at those resolutions: Part II

After having looked critically at the health-related items on my resolutions list last week, today is the day to examine the outcome of “try  to spend more time doing things you really like”. (And I won’t mention the fact that I had a bit of a relapse sweets-wise… partly due to younger son’s birthday…. I am talking cake and icing and jelly beans…)

Doing things I really like – so that would be writing. So, how has my writing coming along in January (plus a bit of February)?

Well. Yes. Better than in December. But not as much as I wanted it to.

Why is it that even though I really try to schedule time for writing, dedicate whole mornings to it, other things still manage to sneak and wriggle their way in? Volunteer work at school, chores at home, doctor’s appointments – they come slithering into my life one here and one there, clogging up my free time, and before I realise my week is full of the stuff.

It is your own choice, I hear you say. Just say “no” to the volunteer work, leave the mess in the house a mess, and stop complaining about things like dentist’s appointments – they are only once every 6 months anyway. (And if you stay fit and healthy you won’t need a doc in between. Ha ha.) If writing is that important to you, then stick to it.

Yes. I know. True. But.

But doing stuff at school is fun too, and I enjoy being around the kids (my own and their class mates). And I like it when the house is a bit less messy. And things like laundry and grocery shopping need to be done.

O.k. But then it is your choice, isn’t it? Your conscious choice?

Then don’t complain. And use the free time you have left in between wisely.

All right. I won’t. I will. Promise.

(P.S. I really had no big plans for this morning, only writing. Had it big in my calendar. But. But then I realised that if I put in another one or two hours I can finish the big reorganising of our living room before the boys come home. So I moved stuff around. Threw out LOTS of things – that’s why I needed to do it alone – found new places for the things that are left… Now it really looks good. And I am happy. Because this has been on my to-do-list for some time. And today was just the day for it. … My choice. – At least I got this post done afterwards. And now I will have some lunch. 😉 )

What happened to those New Year’s resolutions? Part I

January is almost over, so I guess it is a good time to have another look at those resolutions I cooked up in December for this year. (At least now I still remember them.) Let’s see what has happened to them so far.

Item one was to improve on healthy life-style: more yoga, more running, less sweets.

I am trying to kick the habit of devouring everything sweet in sight – a habit that logically derived from all those Christmas cookies and chocolates that found their way into our house in December. So, when the boys are in bed, instead of searching the cupboard for a piece of chocolate, I make myself some tea. Later in the evening I munch an apple or a pear, sometimes with a bit of yoghurt. So far this is working quite well. (What really helps: I just don’t buy the stuff at the moment!) In case you are wondering, I am not striving to loose some kilos (I had gained a bit during the holidays, but that has already disappeared again – I am very lucky in that respect), I just realised that sugar has become too much of a craving. If you go through the kitchen drawers searching for something sweet just because you did it yesterday and the day before and the day before, it is definitely time to stop in your tracks. As I said, so far it is working. (I am not trying to give up sweets or chocolate completely in the end, just want to get back to a normal relationship with them. 😉 )

So far, so good. What about sports then? Yes and no. Yes to taking up my regular twice-a-week-practice of yoga, which is rather easy because the lovely yoga studio next door opened again after the holidays. (When I say “next door”, I really mean it, literally. So no excuses for me.) The first time after my two weeks pause (it felt longer!) was hard. That’s what you get from hanging on the couch every evening during the holidays, books and laptop on your knees (eating cookies). I felt as flexible as a piece of wood (not willow!) and as strong as overcooked spaghetti. But after a couple of times of suffering it is getting better and the backache I had cultivated (couch!) is slowly receding. (Isn’t it funny: a few days of sloppy sitting are good for three weeks of pain… ok, probably it was 10 days of sloppy sitting… but the first week it did not hurt… then it took me three more days to figure out why it was hurting… not smart, I know.)

As for the running: no. I am afraid I have never been more than a good-weather-runner, and an infrequent one. So no way I am going to start in this miserable, wet and windy weather we have got at the moment. I guess I just have to postpone this part of my resolution until springtime.

And when I am already at postponing anyway, I can postpone the rest of my self-reflection too. So far it does not look too bad: two out of three…. before I ruin my statistic, I will quit for today.

How are your resolutions coming to life so far? Or did you decide to not have any this year? That is a valid choice too! 😉

Good night.

Choosing not to judge – a tribute to Elias Canetti

I have no idea how known the author Elias Canetti is in the English-speaking world, although he was awarded the Noble Prize for Literature in 1981. Born in Bulgaria 1905, he moved to London as a child, later to Vienna, Zürich, Frankfurt and back to Vienna. 1938 he moved back to London, away from the Nazis, where he stayed until the 1970s. He then moved to Zürich, where he lived until his death in 1994. (For more details, please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elias_Canetti)

Why am I mentioning him now? I came across his works during my study years, when I started reading his autobiography and later almost all of his books. In “Crowds and Power” a lot of his thoughts circle around the giving and receiving of orders and what these orders do to the people giving and the people receiving them. He also writes a lot about judgments. About how we are constantly judging people, how delivering these judgments can grow to become an addiction, giving us a feeling of control and power. And how unfair and unkind these judgements very often are.

I had not thought much about Canetti for the last years, but recently his ideas keep coming back to me, being reflected in my daily life. How relentless we judge over people, sometimes without knowing them at all. We think one look and one isolated situation give us enough insight to be able to decide what kind of person they are. We stick labels on people faster than we realise but we are not so ready to change them. These labels tend to stick there and it would need some major revelation to alter our minds.

But the feeling of control that one gets from this is not the type I really want to have. I try to find more control over myself, over my own little silly thoughts and worries and angers. So why do I still stick labels on people so quickly? It isn’t a nice habit.

So the choice of the month, you could say my January resolution, is to try to judge less. Be more gentle to people in my mind. When they annoy me, give them the benefit of doubt. There could be a valid reason for their behaviour. If they just cross my way and disappear, let it be. If I have to interact with them more often, try to keep an open mind about them. Maybe even try to find out who they really are. Who knows, I might be in for some surprises. 😉

(And thanks Elias Canetti, for reminding me.)