Adaptation

 

I have written before about juggling two cultures and all the traditions and holidays that come with that. Fourteen years in I feel like I am starting to get the hang of it.

Halloween was the first big US holiday that we have been back in  the Netherlands for, and so I knew it would be an emotional one for the kids. Oh who am I kidding, it was emotional for all of us. We LOVED trick or treating in our little village of Somers with friends and neighbors. That very first year we were there the kids were over the moon to finally be able to experience real Halloween and the excitement never wore off.

Because of this I wanted to compensate more than I perhaps normally would. I have found that the best formula for combating homesickness is not always to try to imitate what we miss, what we had, but rather to honor and celebrate the occasion in a whole new way. It cuts out the pain of comparison and gives us the freedom to try something new that we might otherwise never experience.

And so instead of attempting trick or treating we stayed home and threw a spooktacular Halloween feast for our family. Spider webs, candles and flickering ghosts hung around the room went a long way towards creating the perfect atmosphere. Everyone was such good sports: they all crammed into our tiny living room for dinner (with a pretty complete representation of body parts) and enjoyed an outside fire and a game of nighttime tag as well.

We all went to bed feeling happy, content and exhausted. It was a huge success.

Thanks Fine Fischer for so many of the lovely photos!

 

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Posted in Culture, Family, Holidays, Homesick, kids, Moving back to the Netherlands, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Bike Chronicles IV :: Wind

 

Wind. A calm day with no movement in the air is a rare thing here. It seems there is always at least a breeze, often a stiff breeze or light wind, and just as regularly a strong wind bordering on a light gale. Strong gales are not uncommon. And contrary to the fickle, gusty mountain winds, waking to wind here in the Netherlands generally means it will be a constant companion throughout the day. Never ceasing. And so we find ourselves just as often as not riding bikes with the wind. Gentle breezes that keep us cool and stir up the heavy, humid air. Light winds that trick us and make for an unexpectedly tiring ride. Side winds strong enough to buffet front tires and cause accidental swerving. Tail winds that push us in a hurry as we sit up tall, our backs acting as a sail. Head winds that bow us over our handlebars, hunkered down and grinding hard. Typical Dutch bikes don’t have gears, or three at most (for stiff breezes, strong winds and full-on gales, I suppose, as the only steep grades to be found in most parts of the country are dikes). And so we lean in, making ourselves small, and toil away. Legs burning, resigned to a slow, steady pace and a sweaty back upon arrival. Wind directions often shift throughout the day, so lucky folks might get a tailwind both ways. But that hardly ever happens. Double headwinds are much more common. A sort of Murphy’s Law for windy bike riding. This morning dawned with a heavy wind out of the West, which means today’s biking will be accompanied by a strong side wind. If I’m lucky it will shift just enough on the return ride to give me a little push in the back as I haul my groceries home. But it probably won’t.

:::

Biking in the Netherlands. It may beat hagelslag, old city centers, museums and the sea in terms of what I love about living here. It ranks right up there with affordable universal health care. I have so many anecdotes related to bikes and bike riding in the Netherlands that I decided to start a weekly series:  The Bike Chronicles. Each week I will share a different aspect of this delightful part of Dutch life; sometimes just a photo that captures a moment, other times I might bite off a weightier, more thoroughly researched topic or share a longer story. Bikes will be at the center of each post, but really, through them, you will gain a much broader understanding of my daily life and Dutch culture in general. Enjoy!

 

Posted in Bikes, Day-to-day, Seasons/Weather, The Bike Chronicles | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Wat is dat?

Photo close-ups of typical Dutch things I come across that might be odd and unrecognizable to the foreign eye…stay tuned for the answer!

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Living in a foreign country, even after years, increases ones observation skills. I find myself chuckling at odd things I notice while in line at the supermarket, riding my bike through busy city streets or the open countryside, waiting to pick up my kids at school, or looking out my front window. Things pop out at me that natives might see so often they simply stop noticing them. Occasionally, when I come across such things, I’ll post them here so that foreigners can take a stab at guessing exactly what they are looking at, or what it is used for, and natives can rediscover the beauty and uniqueness and – sometimes – hilarious absurdity of dutch life.

Posted in Architecture, Day-to-day, Wat is dat? | 9 Comments

Creative Juices

 

IMG_2164I have a hard time calling myself an artist. For the longest time, and still, on bad days, I believed that artists had magical creative juices flowing through them, filling them up and spilling out into beautiful works of art that took little or no effort. I thought that to be an artist meant you can’t help but create, a sort of inner urge that can’t be stopped. Some people, few, I think, have this. The rest of us work really hard at it.

I go days, sometimes weeks or months, without much of a creative urge. It is just gone. Usually along with any real motivation to make my bed or vacuum the living room rug. But then I have good days, lots of them, when I manage to create an atmosphere and structure in my day that promotes well being and creativity. I nibble a piece of dark chocolate while sipping a cup of coffee after a morning run and I sit down right then and there with paper and pencil. I make creativity a priority and get a few really productive hours in first thing in the morning. For that brief moment, it does flow, it really does. My heart soars, then, and I can hardly stop grinning. This makes me an artist. I feel like an artist. But those other moments? The ones when I don’t feel it but I sit down anyway and draw some crappy pictures in my sketchbook, when I’ve nothing to show at the end of it but some crumpled up papers and a little black cloud of frustration above my head? Those moments make me an artist too.

I am not and never will be a prolific, free-flowing, easy-going artist. But I will be – I already am – an artist. Anxious, insecure, and uptight, with great effort and mixed results, but still, an artist.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Bike Chronicles III :: Amsterdam

Biking in the Netherlands. It may beat hagelslag, old city centers, museums and the sea in terms of what I love about living here. It ranks right up there with affordable universal health care. I have so many anecdotes related to bikes and bike riding in the Netherlands that I decided to start a weekly series:  The Bike Chronicles. Each week I will share a different aspect of this delightful part of Dutch life; sometimes just a photo that captures a moment, other times I might bite off a weightier, more thoroughly researched topic or share a longer story. Bikes will be at the center of each post, but really, through them, you will gain a much broader understanding of my daily life and Dutch culture in general. Enjoy!

:::

 

Last week my father in law and I spent a day biking around Amsterdam.  It’s always a wonderful adventure. Amsterdam, outside of the few streets and squares near Central Station that cater to the millions of tourists with chintzy souvenirs covered in a haze of pungent smoke, is a beautiful, vibrant city that never fails to make me happy. I remember my first visit with my new boyfriend Maarten in 2000. He had studied and lived there and was eager to show me his stomping grounds. We picked up his rickety old bike that looked like it had been fished out of a canal and he put me on his handlebars. Looking back he was obviously testing my mettle. I guess I passed because we are still together and I loved every bit of that day, except maybe the sore bum. Anyway, since then I have had many biking adventures in Amsterdam and even now there are always moments when fear makes my heart skip a beat and adrenaline tingles in my white-knuckled fingers as they grip my handlebars. It isn’t for the faint of heart, especially not when trying to keep up with a local. Here are some special biking rules Amsterdammers seem to follow that make riding there extra, umm, exciting (I would say that these all apply, to some extent, to all bigger cities here, but I’ve heard from Dutch folks that Amsterdam truly is known for it’s unique biking culture)

1. Go with the flow. You go, they go, we all go, just work with it and don’t get in anyone’s way. This might very well be the Golden Rule of Biking in Amsterdam and I could possibly just leave it at this. But I won’t..

2. Red lights are a reminder to look both ways when you cross the street, no more. ( I am constantly being left behind by my loved ones at red lights.)

3. Bikes have the right of way unless cars take the right of way, then cars have the right of way.

4. Cross tram lines at enough of an angle to avoid getting your tire stuck in them, but be sure to do so with seemingly no effort or thought – don’t look up from your phone.

5. Obviously don’t wear a bike helmet except maybe if you are a bike courier in which case you might want one because you ride around like someone from Amsterdam but then even faster. Even then, though…

6. Watch out for pesky tourists that ride slow and stop suddenly for photos. If one is in your way ring your bell and yell something guttural to scare them and make them understand that they did something wrong.

7. With around 30,000 bikes stolen each year, some folks go so far as to uglify their bikes to prevent theft and if you don’t lock it, expect to lose it.

8. By all means go out and enjoy a few drinks with friends at your favorite ‘kroeg’ but keep in mind that technically there is a law in place now against drunk bicycling.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

1468

IMG_2195Dates like that with visible history still blow my mind. This church we passed on our bike ride today was built that year. The sign says it now serves as a starting point for some pilgrims walking to Santiago de Compostela. It never gets old. Well, I mean, obviously it does but you know what I mean..

Posted in Bikes, Culture, History, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Speaking of New Words…

IMG_1866A moment I overheard while the kids and a friend were jumping on the trampoline made me smile and gives me the opportunity to update you on the kids’ language skills.

Mylo: Ik ben een hummingbird!
Friend: Wat is een hummingbird?
Noa: Dat is een heel klein, heel snel vogeltje.
Sam: Het is een kolibrie.

Mylo now feels comfortable speaking and making mistakes, he mixes Dutch and English together as needed. The other day he told me, full of confidence, ‘I just use English words when I don’t know what to say in Dutch. My friends understand it anyway!’ I have my doubts but I am thrilled with his confidence. He had the most to learn, and has certainly improved the most drastically of the three.

Noa is now comfortable enough and has a large enough vocabulary that she doesn’t have to fall back on English anymore. If she doesn’t know a word, she can ‘talk around it,’ using other words to describe it. She didn’t know the Dutch word for hummingbird, but was able to describe it – It is a very small, very fast little bird – so that the average Dutch person would know what she was talking about.

Sam is fluent. His vocabulary is large enough to make conversing along normal lines easy. It doesn’t mean he knows everything (remember, there are always new words to learn), but day to day life happens comfortably in Dutch. Duh, guys, the Dutch word for hummingbird is kolibrie

So there you have it, all the phases of learning a second language, brought to you by the Fischer kids.

Posted in Bilingualism, Dutch language, kids, Moving back to the Netherlands | 3 Comments