Oh Captain, My Captain -Robin Williams

15 August 2014

In general I tend to shy away from writing about tragedies and heartaches that surround us. In this crazy, mixed-up world where they shoot down planes, neighbors being cruel to one another and militarized police attack protesters and journalists, it’s hard not to tune-out. I love to create a space on the internet that provides some distraction from the heartbreaking realities of our world. I want my blog to be a source of inspiration, possibly bring some laughter, provide camaraderie through shared experiences and at the very least, to feel a little lighter.

 

But I’m finding it impossible to remain silent as I feel the collective outpouring of grief for the sudden passing of Robin Williams. As the lachrymose eulogies of Robin Williams continue to flood, it’s evident that he was the most beloved American actor and comedian of our time. For Millennials, Robin Williams was our childhoodBabyboomers came of age virtually at the same time as he did.

 

As Williams once quipped, “Well, you just try and keep it in perspective; you have to remember the best and the worst. In America they really do mythologize people when they die.”

 

At the expense of sounding trite and being cliché, please allow me to also take the time to thank this man renowned for his comedic genius and kindness.

 

Because my grief, also being experienced by the countless others around me, is real. 

 

For me, Robin Williams was my America.

 

Williams was the rare common ground, the (sad) clown that my American-weary Filipino parents could enjoy watching with their children. For those few moments (far and few inbetween), my immigrant parents set aside their uncompromising views of life and laughed with us.

 

For someone who wasn’t allowed much of a childhood, watching his films enabled me to steal moments of simply being a child – a rare, safe space where my mother’s mania and depression couldn’t haunt me. Movies and tv shows obviously aren’t reality but for a child who desperately needed some adult compassion, his performances went a long way to giving me some momentary happiness and escape. What else would a five-year old child who walked home from school to an empty apartment do but watch television? Or what about those endless weeks of summer of being left alone to either read, or watch TV because God forbid playing outside would make me darker to my parent’s chagrin? Suffice to say summer camps, family vacations and stable home environments were not a shared experience for this child of working-class Filipino parents.  What did remain fairly consistent and reliable were the chances of the prolific acting and comedy routines of Robin Williams being on television or readily accessible on the VCR.

 

As I grew alongside his movies, I learned about America, random pop culture trivia and the world. Because when you don’t have parents who believed in having conversations with their children except for giving commands and criticism – books, movies and media become major players in shaping one’s perspective of the world and navigating the perilous world of childhood and adolescence.

 

What probably made Robin Williams’ presence more palpable was that we shared a common home – San Francisco. He was the local celebrity with whom there was a real possibility of randomly running into (unfortunately we never did). As with all celebrities, whispers of his own demons only made more evident by his candidness of them, simply became a blasé footnote when I became a young adult. And to my geeky embarrassment, the first time I stepped into the Sistine Chapel, I took a deep breath, smelled the air around me and looked up. After all, it was because of Robin Williams’ lecture in Good Will Hunting that I first learned about the masterpiece and started dreaming that one day, maybe I too could lay my eyes on it (I know, I’m a big sap). It wasn’t that I celebrated the existence of Robin Williams everyday (that would too melodramatic and disingenuous), but rather his influence enriched my reality, inciting me to laugh, dream, hope…and simply be human, complete with imperfections and wobbly bits.

 

So when news of his death came crashing down my Facebook feed, I couldn’t help but mutter the words, “Oh Captain… My Captain…” in dismay. For a moment, in my foggy recollection of What Dreams May Come, I fantasized that since millions of people genuinely loved him, chances are that he would be in heaven, or probably re-incarnating back into the world next week. My eternal optimism is partly his fault any way.

 

I can guarantee you that when the time comes, my little boy will also watch Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, What Dreams May Come, Jumanji, Bird Cage, and Mork & Mindy for starters. Maybe he too can learn a couple things about my America as well. But most of all, I hope that he can perceive and try to emulate the kindness that Robin Williams bestowed upon the world. I’ll be there to give my son a helping hand.

Robin Williams Instagram

“...that you are here; that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

 

Your verse will continue to linger and bring joy Robin Williams. How tragic that you were consumed by so much darkness when you brought the world so much light. God Bless.

 

 

(Photo source: Instagram of Robin Williams)

Going Dutch – Nijntje Aan Zee by Dick Bruna

1 July 2014

When I was invited to join the Read Around the World Summer Reading Series hosted by Multicultural Kid Blogs, I couldn’t resist sharing our favorite Dutch children’s book by Dick Bruna.

I also instantly knew that “nijntje aan zee” would be the perfect Dutch contribution to the summer reading list for the three and under crowd. What better way than to introduce a book about spending a day at the beach, a beloved national pastime among the Dutch, written by acclaimed Dutch writer and illustrator Dick Bruna?

Part of our family’s love affair with Dick Bruna started when we were given a signed copy of “nijnte aan zee” as a baby-shower present from my Dutch mother-in-law.

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“For Mama Rina and Papa Bram, Dick Bruna”

The Dutch love Dick Bruna so much that they even opened the dick bruna huis in Utrecht, dedicating a museum of over 7000 pieces consisting of children’s books, book covers and posters created by Dick Bruna.

As one can see from the photo below, Dick Bruna playfully introduces the basics of visual art. Through his work, babies and toddlers are immersed in a world of colours, shapes and lines along with a simple story line written in lower-case letters. It’s a perfect way to introduce the visual and written word to the preschool crowd.

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And the great news is that there are 16 books available in English making Nijntje (Miffy) more accessible for children around the world. Happy summer reading everyone!

 

This post is my contribution for the Read Around the World Summer Reading Series from Multicultural Kid Blogs!  From June through August, bloggers from all over the world will share their recommendations of great multicultural books for the entire family!  For more details and the full schedule, please visit the series main page.  You can also follow along on our Summer Reading Pinterest Board!

Happiest Kids in the World Travel Guide: Paris

11 June 2014

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Only when I became a parent could I fully appreciate how wonderful Paris is for babies and toddlers – to see this glamorous city renowned for its history, food and artisanship through the eyes of a child. For many, Paris has a reputation for being a city exclusive to lovers, fashionistas and artsy types – the ultimate playground for adults with discerning taste.

Au contraire.

Experience from a recent trip has convinced me that Paris is city in love with babies and toddlers. I’ve compiled a “cheat sheet” for parents traveling with babies and toddlers. It is a list inspired by the traveling habits of Dutch families. After all, the Dutch who have the happiest kids in the world and are prolific travelers have some invaluable insight.

Here are seven tips to enjoying a trip to Paris with babies and toddlers from the happiest kids in the world:

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A Place to Call Home
For many Dutch (European) families traveling with babies and toddlers is the norm. An apartment offers several conveniences that parents would appreciate such as more room, a kitchen and washing and drying machines.  It is also a more affordable option for families looking to be centrally located.

If this is your first time in Paris and you would love to experience the quintessential Parisian neighborhood while hitting major sites, I highly recommend staying in the 7th Arrondissement. Also known as the Left Bank, the 7th arrondissement is home to the Musée d’Orsay and Rodin Museum, within walking distance to the Eiffel Tower and Seine, and has a much more relaxed pace than the rest of the city with its village-like charms.

However, keep in mind that renting an apartment can be a hassle and possibly a gamble. My personal pick is this AirBnB two-bedroom rental. The host is a lovely woman who is accommodating and flexible to the unique needs of families with young children. The apartment also includes free parking – an added bonus for those traveling by car.

Bring A Stroller
For parents who love to travel, almost everyone can agree that an absolute traveling essential is a light-weight, foldable stroller.  A toddler can only walk for so long – even for spirited little souls like our son who loves and insists on his freedom. And anyone visiting Paris will soon find out that experiencing the city involves a lot of walking. In fact, I’d argue that the best way to see Paris is on-foot at a leisurely pace. Traveling by metro sometimes takes just as long, if not longer than simply walking on the lovely, outdoor Parisian streets and along the Seine.

Our personal pick is the Maclaren Quest - the perfect stroller for traveling with a toddler. We were initially drawn to the Maclaren Quest because of its reputation for being a preferred traveling stroller among jetset parents, its lightweight aluminium frame, durability and generous weight limit of 55 lbs. Unlike other strollers that have narrower seats and only accommodates up to 30-40 lbs, the Maclaren Quest was a comfortable ride for our 30lb, two year old who is above average in height and weight among his Dutch peers (the Dutch being the tallest people in the world). It’s also surprisingly maneuverable along the Parisian cobblestone streets, grasses, pavements, and dirt paths. And for parents with adventurous and precocious toddlers like mine, I appreciated being able to run after my toddler with one hand while navigating the stroller with the other hand. An added bonus is that the Maclaren buggy hood has UPF 50+, the highest possible rating for sun protective fabrics.

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Keep to Nap Schedules
Enforcing a regular nap schedule for babies and toddlers like the one you have at home during traveling can make everyone involved a lot happier. A well-rested baby and toddler can do wonders to minimize tantrums and maintain relaxed temperaments.  You can either return back to the hotel/apartment for the nap or simply bring along a stroller. Personally, bringing along a stroller is a much more convenient option and a perfect time to take a leisurely walk to the next destination right after a big Parisian lunch. Consider bringing a fully-reclining stroller like the Maclaren Quest (which has four-different incline positions).

Re-Envision Landmarks Through the Eyes of A Child
The best way to still enjoy the famous landmarks of Paris, a happy, contented child, not lose your sanity and actually have a pleasant time? Utilize the nearby Parisian parks strategically located and dispersed throughout the compact city. One of the best kept secrets of Paris is the seemingly random little playgrounds and play areas scattered throughout the different neighborhoods and along the Seine. And it’s hard not to notice the city’s genuine adoration for carousels strategically placed close to various landmarks and tourist attractions. Parisians indoctrinate the importance of joie de vivre starting from the cradle, providing their youngest citizens hidden gems of carousels and playgrounds, providing momentarily but much appreciated relief for parents and children.

Rather than ambitiously (and arguably naively) trying to climb the Eiffel Tower with a toddler, consider heading over to Place du Trocadero. There is a beautiful double-decker antique carousel, sweeping panoramic views over the gardens and the Eiffel Tower. You’ll not only have the tourist obligatory pictures, but if you arrive there for the sunset, you and your little one will be delighted to see the Eiffel Tower lit and gain a deeper appreciation for La Ville-Lumiére.

Utilize the early morning wakeup calls and head over to the Louvre before the crowds come. Afterwards, head over to the Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Gardens), a haven for children offering a traditional carousel, playground, and pony rides to name a few child-orientated attractions. The 25 hectares Parisian garden also provides plenty of beautiful flowers, landscaping and sculptures that adults can appreciate.

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Jardin du Luxembourg and Parisian Playgrounds
The Jardin du Luxeumbourg is the definitive children’s paradise of Paris – a playground ripe with nostalgia of long forgotten Parisian childhoods of wooden toy sailboats, pony rides and children’s marionette show. The enclosed playground offers plenty of amusing entertainment for the four and under crowd- sandbox, slides, climbing contraptions, seesaws and twirling toys.  An added bonus are the toilets that accommodate to the needs of its smallest patrons.

At the heart of this children’s haven is the 135-year old carousel designed by Charles Garnier, the architect of the Opera de Paris. Built in 1879, the antique manége with its green-roof, well-worn wooden horses and dirt floor makes it a postcard worthy experience for both adults and little ones.

If you are visiting Paris with a toddler (or even older children), this is an absolute must. While the various activities are not free, the €12-15 euros spent for the half-day at the park are well worth the memories you’re making with your child.

Travel Off Season
Arguably one of the best aspects of traveling with toddlers and babies is not being restricted to school schedules. Traveling off season is also a great time to take advantage of lower prices and not having to deal with hoards of tourists suffocating the museums, landmarks and boulevards.  If you can get past the temperamental weather that Parisians have made a national pastime complaining about, Paris can be quite lovely. The more relaxed pace at the playgrounds will also make it easier for your little one to make a new Parisian friend or two.

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Come with No Expectations
As the Dutch national philosophy goes, “Doe maar gewoon, dat is al gek genoeg.” Arrive in Paris with your little one in tow with no grandiose expectations and simply do what the Parisians do – embrace being a flâneur (a passionate observer). Paris is best enjoyed at a slow, relaxed pace anyway. And what better way than to experience it with children who are naturally curious and full of wonder. Some of the inconveniences of being a parent to young children – such as early morning wakeup calls, nap times and bedtimes – can make a trip to Paris a memorable one. The leisurely pace will give you the chance to see and experience a more authentic, genuine Paris through the eyes of your child. Take the time to pause and see the world from their perspective –  discovering hidden treasures, experiencing new places and simply celebrating the here and now.

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Hope you and your family enjoy an unforgettable experience in Paris or inspired to take a trip to the City of Light!

 

P.S. If you’d like to connect with me, come join me on my Facebook page. Promise I’ll try to only post interesting updates about my Dutched reality and random stuff that inspire me to share.

 

(Photos taken courtesy of me and by my dearest friend Maria Chang. The Maclaren Quest was gifted to me by Maclaren for a review. All opinions are mine. Thank-you for reading.)

Moving Strategy

9 June 2014

moving strategyphoto of my two year old playing with a moving box

Two weeks remain before we move out of our comfortable, modern suburban home into a 1930s cottage nestled in a Dutch forest. We are excited to move. Beyond thrilled actually. And understandably, the stress of it all is starting to take front and center attention in the Finding Dutchland household.

Rather than letting the stress impact our family’s happiness and well-being, I’m actually utilizing it to improve family communication skills and a “team building” exercise. In reality, this translates to my husband giving me full control over our moving strategy and designating specific times for unadulterated concentrated packing without the presence of my toddler.

As health psychologist Kelly McGonigal suggested in her Ted talk, I’m making stress my friend. And since right now, I am in the thick of moving, here are some of the things I am doing (and have done) to make it one happy move:

Start one month before
What can I say? I’m a planner at heart. Make a list of everything that you need to get done from now until moving day. There’s also practical logistics such as providing a written 30-day notice to the current landlord and canceling or forwarding utilities (gas, water, electricity, garbage, cable/internet, phone and cell phone) that need to be done well in advance. And of course, you need time to make an inventory of what you have and purchase moving supplies (moving boxes, bubble wrap, clear storage boxes, vacuum-seal bags).

De-clutter & Purge
Consider moving as a gift to figuring out what is truly essential and useful in your life. While I’m a sentimental fool, considerate ruthlessness are the two words best to describe my moving-state-of-mind. I’m a firm believer in not letting the things that you own take up owning you. Most of the time what we save to use for later we never end up using anyway because we forget about it, or we simply can’t find it.

Organized packing
Create a clear, organized packing system. Labeled all the boxes to include what was inside, what room it will go in and in what floor. When labeling the boxes, consider also implementing a color coordination system for all the rooms and floors.  We were able to be settled enough to have overnight guests for a couple of days and throw a ginormous first birthday less than one week after moving into our new home.

Clean Along the Way
Try not to leave major cleaning projects right at the last minute. Allocate some time during the last week of the move to deep cleaning the oven, fridge, freezer and bathrooms. Granted, the simple act of moving can cause more mess. But a slow and steady deep clean regimen can help guarantee your deposit back since you will leave the place cleaned.

Clean New Place
If you can get the keys to the new place before the move, I strongly recommend you cleaning the new place. Even if the previous tenants or landlord cleaned the apartment, one can get a lot of comfort cleaning a place to one’s own satisfaction. It can also make settling in a lot faster as it makes it easier to unpack and make the house into a home.

Hire movers
If financial considerations allow for it, please hire movers. While one can save a bit of money by asking friends and family for the favor, hiring professional movers can go a long way. If you take the costs of renting a moving van, procuring other moving essentials (ropes, dolly, boxes) and the actual time it takes to move, hiring movers may actually be more cost-effective in the long run. Your friends and family (or more accurately – their backs) will be grateful.

Bonus tip
If you are moving with a baby or toddler, seriously consider utilizing your support network of friends and family to do some babysitting the weeks leading up to the move and moving day itself. Our little loved ones can definitely sense an impending major life altering change so it’s also best to explain (rinse & repeat) what is going on. Also, while it is a lot more time consuming, having them help packing non-breakables and toys may do wonders for their self-esteem.

Anyone have any moving tips to add before the moving day?

On Being Filipino-American, From San Francisco to the Netherlands

28 May 2014

Just like fellow blogger Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom, when people ask me “Where I am really from”, this video is one of the first thoughts that come to mind.

 

I often wish I had the bravado to carry off a similar reaction in the end. Alas, I have yet to build up that kind of swagger without losing my composure in a fit of laughter. Though to be honest, it wasn’t until I had moved to the Netherlands did that seemingly innocuous question become such a personally loaded one.

The question isn’t as much as being curious to know about your own personal situation but rather your own ethnic origin regardless of nationality. The color of my skin has become my initial business card and from there, people like to make several assumptions until they hear me open my mouth.

As a child of immigrant Filipino parents, being Filipino-American wasn’t a novelty. It was perfectly normal. In a recent Slate article titled “What Language Does Your State Speak“, when English and Spanish were taken out of the equation, Tagalog, the national Filipino language of the Philippines, came out as a clear winner in California, Hawaii and Nebraska. Filipino-Americans are one of the largest immigrant groups in the United States and the second largest Asian-American/Pacific Islander ethnic group.  As of the 2010 US Census, the Filipino-American community consisted of 3.4 million people.  Filipino-Americans are now the largest Asian-American ethnic group in the entire state of California.

But growing up, I had wanted nothing more but to “fit in”. Whenever Thanksgiving rolled around, the most quintessential American holiday for many people (aside from the 4th of July),  I had desperately longed to experience the kind of stereotypical American family gathering depicted on a Norman Rockwell canvas. If we were lucky, a roasted turkey would be present. But it definitely wouldn’t be the center piece.

There would be stiff competition from lechon (roasted suckling pig), pancit (Filipino noodles), mechado (Filipino beef stew), lumpia (Filipino egg rolls) and a dozen other native Filipino dishes. And rather than being an intimate gathering around at the dinner table eating from the family’s finest China, we would all be standing around buffet style happily eating out of paper plates and plastic utensils surrounded by more than forty family members. That’s how we roll.

In hindsight, who exactly was I trying to “fit-in” with? I didn’t fully comprehend my own feelings until now. Not even after being a student of Professor Ronald Takaki at UC Berkeley. I might have gotten an A in his Asian-American studies class, but one of his most crucial messages didn’t surface until nearly ten years after graduation. It wasn’t until late one night, when I was still suffering from severe sleep deprivation due to having a young baby, desperately searching for something that I couldn’t vocalize, did I stumble upon novelist Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted talk “The Danger of a Single Story”.

The flood gates started opening the moment her beautiful soulful voice recollected her journey in finding her own authentic cultural voice.

And the light-bulb finally went on.

Like Adichie, I had grown up in a world where there were no books and stories about growing up that I could directly identify with (as a Filipino-American). I did get my hands on the Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club” and Sandra Cisneros “The House on Mango Street”. But stories written about the Filipino-American childhood experience by Filipino-Americans was and still is painfully missing. And it wasn’t until recently did I make the connection of the importance of telling one’s story.

And after what I’ve experienced in the Netherlands, I’m finally beginning to “check my privilege“. Of the importance of being a storyteller. In honor of May being Asian-American Heritage month, I share my own story of being an Asian( Filipino)-American along with other bloggers around the world. I am a Filipino-American mother, wife and writer currently living in the Netherlands (Europe). Let the conversation begin.

 

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Traveling with the Happiest Kids in the World

27 May 2014

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Dutch kids are known to be the happiest kids in the world. And the Dutch are among the world’s most avid travelers. It wouldn’t be surprising if the two were somehow interrelated!

It’s no secret that one of the things I love most about Dutch culture is their love for traveling. There’s a saying among the Dutch that “You can find a Dutch person anywhere in the world.” It’s quite impressive given that the population of the Netherlands is only around 17 million people. Traveling is simply ingrained in the culture. It is part of the Dutch work-life balance equation rather than some alternative lifestyle for the jet-set, adventurous crowd. Whether it’s traveling within the Netherlands, heading over to neighboring countries or having more ambitious plans, the Dutch love to explore and learn about different places and cultures.

For some people, traveling with babies, toddlers and kids would be the last thing they would want to do. Many people assume that once you cross over parent territory, passports and wanderlust would have to be put away. Not for the Dutch.  They just get creative, modify their plans by traveling locally or simply baptize their little ones straight into international travel.

Every Tuesday (Travel Tuesday), I plan on sharing some things I’ve learned about traveling with my little one as a baby and as a toddler. I’ll be writing about some insider travel tips for families visiting the Netherlands, or expat families wanting to learn more about all the wonderful family-friendly stuff available in the Low Countries.  And I will also be including travel essentials – what to bring and what not to bring depending on where you plan on going to. The tips will be inspired partly from the Dutch culture, but also from my own experiences.

What better way to officially start than to share a few of our favorite things and “tricks” to entertain Bram while we’re en-route (plane, car, train, bus), at a restaurant or having to do some waiting time. And as parents of babies and toddlers know, having an “activity kit” to entertain their short attention spans can both be a sanity saver and make the experience a lot more pleasant.

 

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Here is Bram Junior’s “activity bag” that we’ve prepared for our upcoming trip to Paris (clockwise):

Back-pack
Any small bag would just do. Or even what ever diaper bag you are using. Since we are traveling, I choose the Skip Hop Zoo backpack he already has – it’s the perfect size and has amazing storage capacity.

 

Something to Eat
Toddlers are often notorious for being “hungry” at inopportune times. It’s always handy to be carrying along snacks. Bram loves the stuff from Ella’s Kitchen (100% Organic Baby Food) which can now be bought at Etos. And since he only gets it when he’s traveling, it becomes an extra special treat.

 

Something to Read
Carrying around a tiny mini-library of some sorts can do wonders to keep a baby and toddler preoccupied. Since we’re absolute fans of The Very Hungry Caterpillar (who isn’t?), we’re bringing along this ultra compact mini-library which he got as a gift from his fabulous aunt.


Something to Create
Having crayons (Wasco Playon Crayon Primary), an activity book with stickers (Leukste Doe Book Voor Jongens) and a pad with paper and an attached pen (Paddenstoel Notitiehouder) can really entertain a baby and a toddler. It’s why most family restaurants have some sort of crayons and coloring sheet! And what better way to have it in your bag just in case you may need it.


Something to Play With

An awesome trick I’ve learned is to wrap small presents for Bram to unpack. Whether it’s a new toy or an old one he’s forgotten about, it doesn’t matter. I am a bit convinced though that’s the novelty of the wrapping paper and process of unwrapping that babies are most fond of. I’m partial to lovely wooden toys and couldn’t resist getting him a little red mouse compass (muis compass), a clown top (blauw tol, clown met trektouwtje), and a pirate tic-tac-toe game (Spelletje, boter, kaas & eieren, piraten).

Have a Wonderful Weekend!

23 May 2014

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What are you guys up to this weekend?  On Saturday we are headed over to meet my friend’s newborn baby girl who happened to be born on my birthday.  And of course, hopefully spend some time at the Amersfoort zoo, our regular haunting joint.

Here are few interesting links around the web this week:

The New Inequality for Toddlers: Less Income, More Ritalin

Need to learn a new language? Check out some useful lifehacker tips.

Googling while expecting – haven’t we’ve all been guilty at one point? ;)

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to make some chocolate hazelnut cookie sandwiches.

Any designer purse (or expensive anything) could never survive my toddler’s curiosity but I love this mom’s take on hers.

I never really understood the use for HDR until now. Can’t wait to try out the tips.

Wishing everyone a wonderful weekend!

 

P.S. If you love the water color portrait of me and my son, it’s made with this awesome iPhone app called Waterlogue. The other option is Brushstroke.

 

What Dutch Customs Might Seem Strange for Americans

22 May 2014

dutch customs Inspired by the Slate article “What French Customs Might Seem Strange for Americans” and my official anniversary of becoming an expat, I thought I would impart a few Dutch customs that I found initially strange but found to be endearingly wonderful:

Three kisses.
Contrary to their other European counterparts like the French, Italians, Portuguese, Spanish and Greeks, the Dutch customarily like to give three kisses. At first awkward,  the extra kiss feels like an extra reassurance that you’re loved or at least liked enough. The current trend involves three kisses for everyone that’s more than an acquaintance and is done regardless of genders – woman-to-woman, woman-to-man and man-to-man without absolutely any sexual connotations.

Biking everywhere.
A bike is simply considered an extension of one’s body and the most convenient way to travel in the Low Countries. Regardless of weather, the Dutch can be seen biking gracefully around the cities, in the suburbs and between the countrysides.

Having chocolate for breakfasts and pancakes for dinner.
The chocolate is disguised in the form of hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) placed on bread with butter. And pancakes are the size of dinner plates. It’s not that the Dutch have chocolate for breakfast and pancakes every single day (though many might actually do). It’s simply that the Dutch CAN do this without as much as raising eyebrows or eliciting consternation that is so liberating.

Not working when the sun is out.
Due to living in a country that is historically often grey and somber, the Dutch take every opportunity they get to enjoy being out in the sun. If there is beautiful weather on a weekday, some call-in sick for a “mental health break”, or the majority of sun aficionados leave work early. Anyone who has ever been in the center of a city like Utrecht or Amsterdam will know that every Dutch person will be outside sunworshipping on the terraces, or out at the beautiful Dutch beaches.

Most stores closed on Sundays or have much later opening times. This also applies to Mondays too.
When I first arrived here (seven years ago), everything being closed on a Sunday was one of my major aggravations. Coming from a consumer-driven society, I couldn’t understand why a lot of stores weren’t open on a Sunday and how most stores, even major chains, were slow to open their doors on a Monday morning. While more and more stores are becoming open on Sunday (though opening times are usually around 12pm), I appreciate the more relaxed way of living of taking it nice and easy.

Being frugal
There is something quite refreshing about living within your own means and not having unreasonable (or non-existent) credit card debt. The Dutch, on average, may significantly have a lot less spending power than their American counterparts. But overall, they enjoy a higher standard of living for most of their citizens. Every single expense is meticulously calculated from the amount of grams of meat per person to inventing a bottle-scraper (flessenlikker) to get that last ounce out of a jar.

Congratulating someone on his/her birthday party
I still don’t really understand this custom, but if you ever attend a Dutch person’s birthday party, chances are that you will hear the birthday person being “congratulated” as well as the family members and significant others. Literally. I think it’s their way of acknowledging just how fleeting life can be and that each year a person makes it should really be something to be proud of. It’s an awesome reminder of our mortality and a sincere celebration of life.

Not Being an Armed Society
I’ve been tiptoeing around this subject for a while, but I have to finally come out and be honest. I love living in a country without having to worry about being a victim of gun violence. I’ll always be an American (God Bless ‘Merica!), but as a mom to a two year old boy, I take comfort in not having to worry about him losing his life to stray bullets, tragic accidents at a friend’s home, random acts of violence on the streets or school shootings. And somehow, living in a world without everyone and their grandmother being armed, leads to a much more peaceful and happier society.

Of course there are other Dutch customs that I may never get accustomed to – such as having to become a second-hand smoker – but that’s for another article.  Here’s to Finding Dutchland, where ever you may be.

P.S. Come connect with me on my Facebook page. We’re a friendly bunch who love getting updates about a Dutched reality and other random inspirational stuff related to parenting, travel and what not.

MidCentury Furniture Designer- Cees Braakman

21 May 2014

braakmandesk

For my 32nd birthday, my ultra romantic, thoughtful and endearingly supportive Dutch husband gave me a writing desk. This aspiring writer and lifestyle blogger finally has her own desk to scribble down her thoughts and type away her musing about living a Dutched reality and motherhood.

It really is a lovely writing desk. It’s definite eye-candy for people who can appreciate mid-century design furniture, clean lines and quality craftsmanship.

But it’s not just any writing desk. And for those who know my Dutch husband, he’s not one to simply follow current trends.

The writing desk was designed by non-other than my husband’s grandfather Cees Braakman.

Designing furniture had been a family affair for two generations. Dirk Lubertus Braakman, Opa’s Cees’ father, was a manager and head draftsman at UMS-Pastoe.  Following in his father’s footsteps, Opa (Grandfather) Cees joined his father when he was only 17 years old.

cess braakman writing desk
After recognizing the younger Braakman’s potential, the owner of UMS Pastoe sent Opa Cees in 1947 to the United States to learn about American design and the basics of furniture production. During his visit to twelve different US furniture companies, Opa Cees fell in love with the work of Charles & Ray Eames at the Herman Miller Company. Upon returning to the Netherlands, Braakman introduced the innovative bent plywood techniques to Pastoe. As the head designer for Pastoe from 1945 to 1978, Opa Cees helped revolutionize the development of the first modern furniture line in the Netherlands.

According to my husband’s foggy childhood recollection, Opa Cees was simply a furniture designer who lived in Oog in Al, a historically working class neighborhood of Utrecht, and he loved to go sailing. If we were to learn something from Opa Cees, it would be to simply find something that we’re passionate about, learn from the masters and carve out our own name.

And what better way to pursue my own writing ambitions than by a desk designed by Opa Cees. I’m so glad I didn’t believe anyone when they teased me about marrying the wrong Dutch guy.

p.s. If you’re interested in following my adventures in the Netherlands, come join me on my Facebook page. Guaranteed random updates about all things Dutch and inspirational material.

 

Travel With Your Child

20 May 2014

dutchmoms3

Travel with your child to give him roots and wings.
Show him the immense joy one gets
When connecting with other people and places,
Instead of materialistic things.

 

Demonstrate that no matter how far, or near you’re going
And where you two have already gone,
Embracing curiosity and childlike wonder
Will make life tons more fun.

 

Travel with your child to help him understand
that everyone is really one and the same
We’re all just looking for
a sense of belonging,
And need to listen more carefully to our
heart’s true calling.

 

Travel with your child to instill a bit of “grit”.
Journeys always present new and interesting challenges
where he will have to utilize his wit.

He will also learn that patience, persistence and a friendly smile,
Regardless of where ever he is in the world,
Will definitely be worth his while.

 

Don’t listen to naysayers who say that he will be
too young to remember.
Follow your mommy intuition; you mustn’t surrender.

For in your heart, you already know
Like cradling him close, reading books, and singing songs
Travel will help his soul grow.

 

So travel with your child.
And help him get started
To collect those memorable moments one by one,
It’s how a deeper appreciation of
different cultures and ways of living is won.

 

 

 

Dedicated to my Dutch husband who is from a culture that embraces traveling – near and far.

*”he” refers to the child, our son, but it’s universal for both boys and girls
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