Fancy* Nancy


Mom. I love so much, there’s not even words for it. So how do I write a post about how important you are to me? I suppose the easiest thing is to make a list of things you do that have positively shaped me and informed who I am.

First, you have a crazy sense of humor. You can tell a joke that’s not even funny, but your full rolls of laughter that follow the punch line make us all laugh so hard that our eyes water. Further, you say flippant things, followed by that gut busting laugh, and suddenly a world that seemed serious and foreboding is shot through the middle, rendered wobbly and no longer able to take itself so seriously.

Second, you love nature, animals, living in the country. Because of you, I grew up loving trees and tall grass. After having two boys, you were so happy to finally have a girl. You got your girl, but one that loved, not surprisingly, trees and tall grass. You tried so hard to put ribbons in my hair, send me to modeling class, get me interested in dolls and hair brushes and dresses. It paid off in the long run. I have a dress section in my closet and I do brush my hair once in a while. I gave my Hotwheels and G.I. Joe’s away at least a few years ago now. Because of you and dad, I love nature, being still, listening to night descending upon the countryside.

Third, you are the illustrated dictionary example of Hope Springs Eternal. You never give up on people close to you (or on animals or plants). You ALWAYS try to see the good side in situations, even when things are rough. Yes, this can have a down side. But, whether its the Pollyanna Principle or positive thinking, it has played a positive role in my life.

Fourth, you can call it for what it is. I remember one break up with a very handsome boyfriend. I was heartbroken. You listened to me for a good half hour and then you asked what seemed the obvious.
“Well, why don’t you give him another chance?”
“Because he broke up with me!” I responded forlornly.
“Oh! Well, then. what’s the problem? Forget about him. If he can’t see how precious you are, he’s not worth another tear!” That was almost 15 years ago now, and I don’t know if I got the words exactly right, but the message was clear; I am absolutely valuable, and if this guy doesn’t get that, then he’s not worth it. I wanted to argue, but there was no arguing. Why would I ever want to be with someone who didn’t appreciate me? Her simple words seemed to break the spell that was keeping my heart bound to a place it didn’t belong.

Fifth, you value stories and you pay attention. As a retired librarian, you know how important stories are. You told us stories throughout our childhood, emblazoning a love for stories both real and imagined. You created a biography about your father. You developed a family tree and are working on your own biography. Further, you clip articles out of the paper and send them to us, wherever we may be, to let us know what is going on with our long-lost high school friends, former teachers and home town characters.

Sixth, you make an awesome cheesecake.

Seven, you are my mom and my friend. The list goes on of course, but for now, this is my message to you, mom! I love you!

*Even though you gave up the big city years ago to go live in the countryside, you still have a fancy side to you; the part that grew up playing violin, going to balls in fancy gowns, spending your Saturdays in the library devouring knowledge.

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Anti-Graffiti Man


Yesterday, one of the volunteers opened a side door to the church and pointed.

“Shit!” I exclaimed before I could push the edit button. Someone had tagged the side entry with the word Gus spray painted in black loopy letters. Gus must be tall, because the letters were above my head and the whole tag was longer than my arm when fully extended.

Clients just arriving in their business suits at the main entry (the church rooms are rented out for gatherings during the week), glanced over at us, taking in the graffiti with mild concern. Perhaps that wasn’t concern, but judgment, I thought; “Do we want to gather in the type of place that draws graffiti?”  I was pissed and somehow taking it a little personally that the building had been tagged on my watch.

Luckily, this didn’t have to be the headache it could have been, because the City of the Hague has an anti-graffiti program.

I called the hotline and a woman answered the phone in a pleasant, upbeat voice. Her friendliness and eagerness to help completely caught me off guard. (Whereas the Dutch are world-renowned for many things–quality cheeses, tolerance, a legal drug culture–customer service is not one of them.) This polite city employee was also efficient in her message; someone would be out to clean up the graffiti within five business days.

After work, I took our son to Natuurspeelplaats Robin Hood (Robin Hood nature play area), a playground in the middle of The Hague’s forest with a child-oriented ropes course including rope bridges, zip line and climbing walls. The weather was perfect and we almost had the place to ourselves. My son pointed out that the birds were chirping, remarking how pretty of a sound it was and how much he liked being surrounded by green. I was so absorbed in playing with my son in the beautiful forest, that I’d forgotten all about the morning graffiti incident–until we reached the climbing wall. The entire wall had been tagged in curvy black and red spray paint, a few profane remarks mixed in with other inanities. A look of disappointment clouded over my son’s face.

“Oh man!” he declared. “That’s totally not allowed! Why do people do that?” I wanted to say because people are stupid and mean, and have no respect for beautiful public places. Or, based on the lack of artistic style, maybe it’s because they’re bored and have nothing better to do.

“I don’t know,” was my simple response. Because, really, I didn’t know and I hadn’t Googled it yet.* I wondered if this was the work of the same person or persons who had tagged the church. But, considering I had no background in literary forensics, I decided to forego any handwriting analysis and focus instead on the good guys-bad guys game my son had created for us. On our walk home, I saw other small tags on electrical boxes and street signs, as if someone had gone on a graffiti rampage throughout our neighborhood. When we got back to the church, I found more graffiti on the church tower. Part of me wanted to be open to the idea of graffiti as art. I’ve seen beautiful graffiti art and even appreciated it. But this was not art, or artistic expression. It was just vandalism.

The next morning, I dressed in a business skirt and summer shirt, eager to celebrate the two days of summer weather that had been thus far correctly forecast. I cut open a melon we had received in our Kievit fruit packet, discovering perfectly ripened flesh of the fruit presenting itself in a bright shade of salmon orange. As my family devoured the melon I had divided into three bowls, our breakfast was interrupted by blaring music that drowned out the soulful words of the Bob Dylan song currently playing on our iPod.

“Where is that coming from?” I asked my husband. He walked to the front balcony, peering out the window.

“From outside. It’s a city worker cleaning up the graffiti.”
“Already? Wow. That was fast!” I remarked. “I want to see it.” All three of us stepped out onto the balcony and waved to the man in worn blue overalls by the church.

As he started to work on the graffiti, I remembered the small tag I had seen on the church tower. I headed outside to talk to him while my husband finished getting our son ready for school.

After thanking him for coming so quickly, I asked him if he could remove the second small tag. It wasn’t on the reported list, he informed me, but he said he’d take a look at it. We discovered a much larger tag on an electrical box just by the tower, and since he would need to take care of that one, he agreed to remove the other small tag while he was at it.

I asked if he’d like a cup of coffee and he nodded heartily. When I returned with a steaming hot cup, he thanked me, pointing out that not many people offered him a cup of coffee these days.

“Maybe they don’t see you,” I suggested, imagining him cleaning up the side of an office building or a random utility box, out of view of the building’s occupants.

“No. They see me. I’m right there in front of them,” he explained. I remembered the loud music that had pulled us from our breakfast. Yes, he was not one to go unnoticed. A wise tactic, I thought; best to let someone know you’re there cleaning up the mess.

“What’s in that fluid?” I asked as he effortlessly removed the graffiti from the utility box.
“No chemicals,” he responded, practically reading my mind. “It’s all natural, made out of fruit extracts.” He explained that the City wanted to eliminate use of toxic substances, and this was just one example.

“That’s great that the “Gemeente” is thinking that way. There are so many toxins we are exposed to every day,” I started. Little did I know I was preaching to the converted.

“I’ve been to India three times now,” he said, “and when I get back to the hotel, I wipe a wet cloth across my face and it’s black from all of the pollution. And people think because it’s in India, it doesn’t matter. We all share the same air and the same environment,” he went on.

I realized that I had shoved the anti-graffiti man in a little box the first moment I saw him–just a hired hand doing his manual labor job to the soundtrack of whatever happens to be on the radio. Based on my surprise that he too thought about the interconnectedness of the planet, and the importance of using nature-based cleaning solvents, I had also boxed up his awareness and intellect into a cube much smaller than appropriate.

I suppose we are meting out judgments onto ourselves and others just about every nanosecond of every day without even realizing it. Well, maybe a little aware. But it’s when our judgments are proven wrong that we wake up to this not-so-subtle undercurrent shaping our views on the world.

Anti-graffiti man not only cleaned up the graffiti, but helped me clean up my own internal acts of graffitying others with preconceived notions. Speaking of which, what is your preconceived notion of the “type of person to graffiti?” See the Goodbye Graffiti link below for one account or consider this quote from Alex Salvador’s thoughts taken from the website Amsterdam Street Art:

“Ah, finally, someone else gets it. They think the same way. There is hope – for art to return to the hoi polloi, the voiceless, the oppressed. Or so I thought.”

* According to Goodbye Graffiti, people, more specifically males between 15 and 25 with problems fitting in, graffiti because they’re bored, frustrated, want to rebel or mark their territory.

Write FAST and Furious! Learning to Outrun “The Spock Brain”


Writing is a mystery for me. Sometimes it flows and sometimes it blows. Kristen Lamb gives a thorough Star Trek backed approach to the benefits of just going for it at full speed ahead.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Many new authors slog out that first book, editing every word to perfection, revising, reworking, redoing. When I used to be a part of critique groups, it was not at all uncommon to find writers who’d been working on the same book two, five, eight and even ten years. Still see them at conferences, shopping the same book, getting rejected, then rewriting, rewriting…..

Sigh.

Great, maybe Kathryn Stockett, the author of The Help took five years and 62 revisions to get her story published. Awesome for her. And yes, her book was a runaway success, but this isn’t the norm. It’s playing Literary Lottery with our careers.

For most writers, it will be hard to have a long-term successful career if our pace is a book or two a decade.

Most authors who’ve made legend status were all talented, yes. But many were (are) also prolific. 

Does Writing Quickly Produce…

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The Currency of Hugs


Sometimes when my son speaks to me, I feel like I am the grasshopper and he the master. It is not for the clarity of his statements that I feel this way, but for the oxymoronic riddles he weaves. For example, he was sad that he only had two Father’s Day presents for Arie Jan.

“I only got two presents on Mother’s Day,” I offered, suggesting that two is a reasonable sum.

“No. You had a third present. I gave you a hug,” he recalled in all seriousness. This is a child who knows how partial I am to his hugs. Armed with this knowledge, he has even tried to bribe me for more iPad time or a second helping of dessert with the currency of hugs.

Later in the morning, he was giving Arie Jan a hug on Father’s Day after the presents were already opened.

“He’s giving you another present,” I wisely informed Arie Jan. “A hug.”

“No,” corrected Ezra. “A hug isn’t a present. A present is something that lasts, that you can continue to do something with.” I tried to process his double-standard change-of-heart over the value of a hug. But then it hit me; he thinks there are different exchange rates at play in the currency of hugs: mom goes all weak-kneed and teary eyed when he hugs her, whereas dad quietly takes it in stride.

Arie Jan added his two cents into the equation, making the Oh Grasshopper lesson twist further into itself.

“Well, in that manner of thinking, would the candies you just gave me really be a present? They were here one moment and eaten up the next.”

“Hmm. Well, yeah. They’re still a present,” Ezra decided.

“Yes, and hugs may last a moment, but they stay with you in your heart. They may not be there any longer, but their presence lingers.”

My interpretive filter kicked in once again; whereas I smother my husband and child with kisses and hugs like a good American, Arie Jan has a more Dutch approach to affection. He is not one to loosely scatter I-love-yous throughout conversations, or randomly kiss and hug his family members. Earlier on in our relationship, I mistook this sparseness as a difference in how we felt about each other. But I couldn’t have been more wrong; his love for me was deep and real and his love for his son is profound.

Unlike me, Ezra has never misinterpreted his father’s level of affection; he can feel its immensity. But just as a teacher who is as sparse with his compliments as Hemingway was with adjectives, Arie Jan has taught Ezra the value of quality over quantity.

This is a lesson I cannot learn. I will continue to hug and kiss my men whenever given the chance. They may roll their eyes and look at me like I’m goofy, but I’m going with the premise that they would be both concerned and disappointed if I acted any other way.

Kievit


After attending a fabulous lecture about organic food at a Connecting Women event, I signed up for the Dutch equivalent of Community Supported Agriculture. Thus every week, we have several bags of fresh organic fruit and vegetables delivered to our doorstep by Kievit. I know this sounds rather extravagent for a full time grad student with no time to contribute to the household income and a part time church manager. But I am a master justifier when it comes to making healthy choices that bite into our budget. Here are the points I used to convince my husband:
organic is healthier
we hardly ever eat out
we make 90% of our lattes at home (except for that one I had yesterday on a terrace in the sun as a means of bonding with husband)
they deliver to your doorstep (less trips to the store)
we don’t own a car Continue reading “Kievit”

Old Books versus Mother Nature


Usually I love nature. Just last week I was saying to my husband how much I want to live in a natural environment, away from the screeching sounds of the tram rails, the bricks and concrete and the compressed feeling I experience when I’m among the crowds in the shopping district.

But when a biting cold wind ushered in the first of June beneath a pewter gray sky, I wasn’t feeling the love. It’s like this nation is being punished by mother earth for some crime against nature. What? Too many bicycles? All of that public transportation upsetting you? Or perhaps its the recycling they do here–multiple drop off bins for paper and glass in every neighborhood. That’s got to be irksome.

But there’s only so long one can stay inside on the first of June. So, refusing to bow to the cold, I put on a lightweight fleece and announced to my family I was going for a walk. They looked at me skeptically. I set out alone.

I didn’t know where I was headed, but my feet didn’t lead me down my usual route to the forest a block away, but into the city. The city, where the crowds are; where things are happening in warm, brightly or dimly lit interior spaces away from the dreadful cold of nature.

I walked in the direction of the train station in search of adventure. But on the way, a well designed poster caught my eye, and I found myself turning into the smooth glass entry of the Letterkunding Museum. I walked up a flight of stairs. At the top you have a choice of experiences. You can turn right to enter the Kinderboekenmuseum, a fabulous museum where children’s books (all written in Dutch) come alive through a series of interactive exhibits. Or, you can go left through the thick glass doors, which open automatically for you, into an exhibition room that is either a part of the Nationaal Archief or the Letterkundingmuseum. But in either case, it is a surprisingly exotic experience (at least to someone who once worked in a bookstore in the rare book section, and whose mother was a librarian).

The room was dark, save for blue lighting that gave the space a retro-futuristic glow reminiscent of the starship enterprise control room. The entire left wall acts as a projection screen, the contradictory images of old and new merging into one another. This exhibition space is filled with small glass cases on columns, each holding a rare book or book-related antiquity, some close to 600 years old. I gazed at the gold, ruby and sapphire blue illustration in an historical bible from the 1600s surrounded by Latin text. Would those monastic scribes have brought their quills to the page with even more precision had they known the copies they were making would still be on display half a millenium later? Talk about pressure.

And then there was the book Max Havelaar, by Multatuli, the pseudonym of Eduard Douwes Dekker. Up until that moment, I’ll admit, I only knew that Max Havelaar was a brand of Fair Trade products for sale in Europe. I didn’t know a cultural history was tied to the name, originating from a work of fiction that criticized the Dutch East India Company’s (VOC) treatment of the natives in Indonesia.

It was here in this darkened room, gazing at the treasured books resting on velvet cushions beneath protective glass that I had a realization; nature isn’t the only object of my desire; culture, in all of its lushness, absurdity, timidity or boldness also has me entirely smitten.

The walk home through the crisp air synergized my two loves, the cold snapping me into mental and physical alertness, the ancient books filling me with a lust for knowledge. Perhaps such dark and miserable weather, combined with mental acuity is what drove all of those brooding European philosophers to greatness over the centuries.

Over dinner, I talked to my family about the books I had seen. My husband, a brooding philosophical type, related to my excitement. My son related to his pasta. And then the sun broke through the fortress of clouds, blasting its happy beams through our window onto the dining room table. Thank God for the sun.