Mindfulness

happinessRecently I have been thinking a lot about ‘living in the moment’, finding a better ‘work-life-balance’ and – dare I say it – ‘mindfulness’.  And then all of a sudden today I feel completely happy and ‘in the moment’. And I have not made any effort to ‘focus on my breathing’, ‘use all my senses’, or ‘consciously feel my body’ (let alone honour it for the sacred temple it is).

No it is just a gloriously uncomplicated day. I wake up quite late after an epic ten hour sleep and decide on a whim that eating five chocolate digestives makes for a lovely breakfast when washed down with three cups of strong milky tea. I finish off painting the room upstairs that I have been working on for the past three days and then plant some tulip bulbs still wearing my paint smeared jogging bottoms and a shapeless cardigan. A quick but lovely cappuccino and a cheese sandwich later and I am on my bike and on my way to the rowing club to coach my daughter’s team.

Manure

It is a totally lovely autumn day and the girls are all in a good mood (which is quite something for six twelve and thirteen year old girls).  The air is quiet, the sky blue, the trees are showing off the most beautiful autumnal colours I have seen (noticed?) in a long time. The day is mild enough for me to cycle along the canal without wearing a jacket. A whiff of manure from a nearby farm makes lift my spirits even further in a way only scents can.

My daughter is uncharacteristically generous when discussing my coaching abilities on the way back home. Which probably is a really smart move as I – also totally uncharacteristically – agree to clean her guinea pigs cage. Something that I not so long ago vowed I would never do, as the 12yo was the one who wanted the guinea pigs in the first place. Not me.

 Waistline

While Mr S., the 14yo and two of his mates watch the match between Manchester United and Manchester City I decide to totally ignore the pile of ironing and the overflowing laundry baskets and bake a cake. It turns out really well and the abundance of 14yo boys in our house this afternoon means everyone is digging in and I don’t feel any need to watch my waistline either. Nice!

After eating too much cake, it miraculously is five ‘o’ clock (already!). Time to light a fire and pour myself a glass of wine (Mr. S. sticks to beer). The children as it turns out, have actually done their homework, so we don’t need to raise our voices, which makes for a nice change on Sunday night.

Uncomplicated

Dinner consists of a hearty stew, concocted the night before by Mr. S., who invariably likes to take us through the steps to get to this perfect result. He also never tires of discussing how he could tweak the recipe to get an even better stew next time. The children and I happily oblige. It is just a totally uncomplicated, lovely and relaxed night. In fact just as uncomplicated, lovely and relaxed as the day has been.

So who needs mindfulness, when a good night’s sleep, some fresh air, scrumptious food and hanging out with your loved ones, can give you the exact same result? So here is to spending time doing uneventful things, hanging out at home and being totally unadventurous. Cheers!

 

What does a perfect day look like in your life? I would love to find out!

hamburgers

Burgers

The 13yo recently turned 14, leading to festivities, which, amongst other things, saw 8 of his mates gobble up an oversized cake in two minutes flat. This meticulously planned get together at the birthday boy’s house went on for exactly 7:53 minutes. The boys spent the rest of the afternoon on a nearby football pitch. Kicking the hell out of each other.

A week or so after the cake eating feast, the ‘gang’ again gathered at our house for the real party: a night of ‘chilling’. Cool as cucumbers as they are at this age the guys all turn up at the exact agreed time, ready for burgers, sausages, crisps, chocolate, or basically any type of food you care to shove their way. Such joy! Mr. S. fires up the BBQ, while I cut up the ubiquitous carrots, cucumber and apples, as even after twelve years of party teas, I am still not ready to let go of the hope that some kid some day will accidentally eat a carrot stick.

We start off with sausages, generously covered in ketchup, mayonnaise and curry sauce. The second course consists of burgers, rolls, ketchup, mayonnaise, curry sauce, cheese, some tomatoes and lettuce leafs. On to the third course – we are now fifteen minutes into the meal – of profiteroles and chocolate sauce. It seems 14yo bodies can easily handle 3000 calories in one sitting. But even more surprisingly, considering the fact that the boys are heading for a Guinness Book of Records entry for fastest meal, they manage to have a lively conversation at the same time.

So Mr. S. and I are now completely up-to-date with all the boys’ teachers and their qualifications (‘boring’, ‘really boring’, ‘can’t teach at all’). Of course they are being taught by some good men and women as well, because some of them are labelled ‘can be funny’, ‘okay’ and – best in show – ‘not so bad’. I hate to think what they would make of me, or Mr. S., had we been brave enough to try and teach these boys ‘French’, ‘Humanities’, or ‘Biology’.

After the festive dinner, they all retire to the front room to watch films on Netflix. They are in to action comedies at the moment, a genre that Mr. S. and I haven’t explored really. At least not in the last twenty years. Not that we are allowed to watch this film with them of course. Our place is firmly in the kitchen, making sure cokes, crisps and chocolate biscuits find there way to the hungry troops at regular intervals.

The next morning, however,  I get a blow-by-blow account of a film called ‘Big Dan’, about this ‘really small guy, mum, who has to go to prison, because of embezzlement and is really scared to get raped in prison. So that’s why some Kung Fu master teaches Dan to defend himself, mum, and then when he goes to prison he beats the crap out of everyone and they all call him big Dan, even if he is only 1,60 or so’. The 14yo thinks I might really like this film. And you know what? He might be on to something.

So here’s the plan for next Friday night. ‘Big Dan’, a big bar of Tony’s Chocolonely (salted caramel!), me and the 14yo: heaven!

In Love

in loveIt is official. I am totally in love with the Netherlands. It was not easy to get to this milestone, but these past few weeks at least I really feel I have arrived!

It definitely helps that for two weeks or so now the weather has been absolutely gorgeous. Hot and sunny, sweltering even, meaning I got to drink lots and lots of guilt free glasses of chilled white wine or rosé. When/if summer arrives in the Netherlands you have to really make the most of it. Not having to wear socks, by the way, always cheers me up. But there was more, much more.

The Tour the France in Utrecht for instance. I never ever watch cycling, but the past weekend with the Grand Depart in Utrecht there was no escaping from it. I could not help noticing how absolutely glorious Utrecht, Rotterdam and the county of Zeeland looked, filmed from a French helicopter. I must have spent an unprecedented sixteen hours or so watching a bunch of sweaty cyclists battling it out, and much to my amazement (and that of Mr S., a hardcore Tour de France fan) I loved every minute of it. So much so indeed, that for the past couple of days I find myself really paying attention to the Tour the France news on the radio.

Going back another fortnight we celebrated the ubiquitous musical week. A very Dutch phenomenon, where every Dutch pupil in the last grade of primary school (aka ‘groep acht’) performs an end of primary school musical. The excitement this brings is unsurpassed. At least for a 12yo girl.  Months of practice, sourcing and making costumes, experimenting with make-up culminated in four performances in two days.

All Song and Dance

Although my 12yo did not talk about much else besides this musical for the past months, she somehow had not mentioned that she had quite a large part. I knew of course that she had been given the role she wanted, that of a police officer (to make absolutely one hundred percent sure that she would not have to wear a dress on stage), but somehow she had convinced me and Mr S. she only had a few lines.

For years and years now attending assemblies and other performances that included our daughter, always meant we a. would not see her as she had positioned herself safely on the back row, even tough she is not particularly tall, or b. her teacher would put her on the first row, as she is not particularly tall, and she would sing with her mouth firmly closed, looking like a rabbit in the headlights. Not that it mattered, we were always really really proud of her participating at all.

So completely prepared to tell her it does not matter, we love her anyway and by the way think that she said her one line extremely well, we take our seats. The opening song, and there she is, front row, all song and dance an absolutely radiant. Not only is she on stage during every song, singing her little heart out, she also turns out she is the star of three whole scenes together with the other police officer, the tallest boy in the class. One scene even involves her going into the audience with a microphone to interview people and even that she does with great ease.

Teacher

So now I am not only love with the Netherlands, but also with my 12yo’s primary school and especially with her ‘groep acht’ teacher. An amazing lady who apparently got out of bed at one in the morning during the overnight school trip to make a cup of tea for our daughter, who complained about a tummy ache, who convinced my very very stubborn 12yo that reading Dutch books could be as much fun as reading English ones by bringing in her own books from home specially for her, who made our daughter pass her end of primary school exams with flying colours and turned out to be an even bigger Harry Potter fan than our daughter (Mrs S and I did not even know that that was possible). It was lovely to be able to thank this teacher at the musical after party and to have a good old giggle about the fact that the 12yo was wearing a dress for this occasion!

Another Dutch tradition made sure that our daughter got officially kicked out of school, whilst being cheered and high fived by all the younger children. This was closely followed by days and days of going to the swimming pool, hanging out with friends and very, very late nights.

Just the other night, totally exhausted from all these festivities, I find the 12yo in tears. She is sobbing with such conviction and determination, that at first she can not draw enough breath to tell what is wrong. But eventually she calms down enough to confide in me she would love to stay in primary school and do ‘groep acht’ all over again.

But I just think she has fallen in love too. Fallen in love with the Netherlands, Dutch schools, Dutch friends and – dare I say it – even with Dutch books. So I guess she is going to be absolutely fine at her Dutch secondary school in September. And if she is happy, I am too.

Taking Stock

MrsS-Taking-StockThe other day, my OCD playing up, I decided to clear out my kitchen drawers. I just knew my whole life would fall into place if I just managed to somehow put the order back into my kitchen drawers. And today was the day I was going to tackle it.

The plan of course being, that after the kitchen I would straighten out the rest of the house. Just entering the front door would be enough to put me in a Zen like state from now on. That was the idea anyway. Long before I opened the kitchen drawers.

Who knew that I had so much food stashed away, I could feed the whole village for a week, without once having to go to the shops. I count eight (eight!) tins of tomato paste; another seven tins of chopped tomatoes; enough flour to bake bread and cakes to last us for months (years?) and twelve half empty bags of different types of pasta, all with slightly different cooking times of course.

I have long since suspected the Pasta Mafia of intentionally selling pasta in such quantities to guarantee people always end up with an odd assortment of non-matching pasta shapes, wasting away in cupboards world wide. But I digress (although from now on we are buying just one type of pasta). Back to the drawers. The sheer volume and diversity of my rice collection makes me giggle. There is sushi rice, basmati rice, risotto rice, wok rice, brown rice, white rice & wild rice. And then their is couscous, bulgur, quinoa, organic quinoa and barley.

I could also perfectly see my tendency to completely getting hooked on a food trend to only abandon it within weeks. But not before buying all the necessities to change my diet for ever. So I shamefacedly look at tubs filled with (expensive) poppy & hemp seeds, dried cranberry’s, apricots and dates. Undoubtedly very, very good for you, but not that easily incorporated in a life, in which I eat breakfast in my car four days a week (after several ‘accidents’ I decided that peanut butter sandwiches don’t leak, crumble or otherwise spill my outfit for the day, whilst at the same time fill me up for a good couple of hours).

Pulses turn out to be another weakness. Buying pulses that is. Because I find packet after packet of dried split peas, lentils, chick peas and mung beans. And then I have not even mentioned the tins of mixed beans, chick peas, white, red and brown beans, butter beans & kidney beans. Funnily enough I do not find countless packets of crisps, chocolate biscuits, or Maltesers, nor do I find dozens of bottles of forgotten wine, or ten different flavoured chocolate bars. These items clearly never last for more than a day.

Now that I did take stock, I feel I should eat all this food. Two spoons full of hemp seed a day, topped up with some butter beans straight from the tin should do it. Lentil soup, lentil salad and lentil casserole will be a daily fixture from now on as well. And of course lots and lots of rice and pulses. Hungry anyone?

 

PS: Please, feel free to come help me eat all this food. There is only one condition. You have to bring chocolate!

47

47_lemon_meringue_pie47. That is right, I turned 47 the other week. My children are of the opinion that 47 is still quite young, some of my older friends and colleagues call me a ‘spring chicken’, Mr S., bless him, seems to think I do not grow older at all, but I feel perilously close to 50 and yes that makes me feel a tat old.

The birthday is lovely though. It all kicks off with strict orders to stay in bed from the 12 and 13yo and a cup of tea from Mr S. to let me know they really mean it. Reading a book in bed – completely guilt free –  for an hour and a half in my book makes for an extremely good start to the day. (The fact that I cannot a week later remember what I read is a bit worrying but I guess that is being 47 for you).

When the three of them finally make me come down, I find the living room decorated with a string of blue and pink balloons, adorned by my daughter with smiley faces, happy birthdays and mum’s-the-bests; all up side down, as she had not realised that you do not string balloons the same way you hold them. It is just lovely.

Every breakfast item known to man is laid out on the festive table and Mr S., who normally starts asking me weeks in advance what he should get me for my birthday, now surprises me with 47 red roses and a harrowing tale about how he visited every florist in our village fifteen minutes before closing time, to find exactly 47 red roses.

Gift

The 13yo, completely true to character had not managed to find me a gift, as a consequence of which he had to get up ridiculously early (from his point of view that is) to cycle to the market, shepherded by the 12yo, who knows exactly what he should have bought his mum in the first place: three dark purple petunia’s. How very me indeed. My daughter, who started planning my gifts weeks, if not months in advance, surprises me with a hand made voucher for a ‘luxury dinner for two, completely free!’ (providing I buy the ingredients of course) in her own restaurant, which she, with a keen eye for detail, has given four and a half stars.

My daughter by the way also gives me another hand made voucher with some banknotes taped onto it to go and buy myself some make-up, which has me thinking I do look old and in desperate need of some ‘glow-in-the-dark nail varnish’, hot pink lippy and bronzing powder. On the purchase of which, she no doubt will advise me. I can not wait!

Firing squad

Shortly after breakfast, they all leave me. The 12yo to go to an all day party, involving all her friends and a subtropical pool and the 13yo and Mr S. to go to play slash watch some field hockey. I spend the morning (and the better part of the afternoon) food shopping and baking, because that is what you do in the Netherlands on your birthday. To the amazement of my expat friends and colleagues, Holland is the only country they have ever been, where etiquette requires you to bake several cakes and then bring them to work. Or else the firing squad awaits you.

I never looked at this tradition from their perspective, but after baking four (!) lemon meringue pies, I can totally see how lovely it would be if someone else would do the baking for you. The good thing though is that since the children are out all day and most of the evening too, I decide it is totally okay to accept an invitation to a BBQ from our lovely friends P. and M., who conveniently live a five minute bike ride away.

So totally against Dutch protocol someone else cooks me a totally scrumptious birthday dinner, invites some more friends and then gives me some lovely presents on top. All I have to do is turn up, drink some bubbles and be merry. The evening is such a triumph that from this day forwards any invitations for the 23rd of May will be gratefully accepted! (Mr S. will happily throw in a couple of bottles of fizz).

Expat Life

cottageLiving the expat life has opened up a myriad of possibilities in my mind. Whereas ten years ago I would only dream of buying a forever family home in the Netherlands, I now imagine myself living almost anywhere in the world. Considering I moved back to the Netherlands only a year and a half ago, these dreams of expat living are not always welcome (nor welcomed).

Certainly not by my almost 14yo son who is having a blast, living in the Netherlands, where he can cycle to school and most of his mates in less than ten minutes and has all the freedom and independence he craved for while living in Switzerland. The 12yo is also beginning to see the benefits of her Dutch life, being able to choose a secondary school all by herself and having the luxury of also making friends outside of school.

Even Mr. S and myself, though reluctantly at first, are starting to find our feet. It is really nice to have our own home again after years and years of living in rental accommodation. Having family and old friends close by is lovely and we are both becoming more and more involved in local sports clubs, which is something we definitely missed living abroad.

The minute though I set foot outside the Netherlands, I instantly want to be an expat again. So when I visited my dear friend P. in England a few weeks ago, I immediately starting plotting to get myself over the pond for a spot of expat living again. The compartment in my brain (and soul) that is labelled ‘How to behave in the UK’ opened up and out it all came – down to every scone eating, tea drinking, pretty dress loving bit of it. I always find it so tricky to leave.

As coincidence would have it off I went to Rome only a week or so after visiting England. Although I found living in Italy tough at the time (struggling to speak Italian, finding it difficult to make some local friends), here too I realised there is a secret Italian lurking somewhere inside me. One that relishes in driving too fast all the while honking the horn and – dare I say it – swearing. I also love (love!) sipping cappuccino’s in fluorescent, mirror adorned little bars, whilst eating sweat pastries that I would loath anywhere else in the world. I really don’t have a sweet tooth. ,

Mr S. , showing off his fluent Italian, did not stop chatting with everyone he met. His inner Italian came  out when he insisted- like a true Italian – to wear jeans and a long sleeve shirt on a sweltering hot day. And point blank refused to drink cappuccino after 11.00 in the morning. He even took the food ordering  for the whole table, acting like a true capo della famiglia. Adorable.

Together we dreamed about living in Rome (we would have a ball) all the while maintaining that we will retire to Cornwall, finding ourselves a cute little cottage to enjoy the (our?) sunset. It isn’t until I am home a good few days that I realise that although I have loved the expat life (and probably always will) it is the day to day talking to my neighbours, tending my own garden, meeting friends at the local supermarket, reading the news paper, being opinionated about local affairs and having a bit of time to build relationships is what I missed living abroad.

In my expat life friends would leave with sometimes only a few week’s notice, I couldn’t speak to my neighbours because I didn’t speak their language well enough, I couldn’t read the local newspaper, nor listen to the local radio. And although I tended some lovely gardens they were never mine to play around with. I bought shiploads of Ikea furniture in three different countries, but rarely something I really liked and mostly items that only looked sort of  right in one house but never in the next.

So may be, just may be, I should stay put for the next couple of years. Find out if I am capable of growing some roots again, watch my teenagers grow up and make their way in life, tend to my garden, paint some furniture, make some new friends and keep them close. And may be, just may be I will find that cottage in Cornwall some day.