How To Succeed In Your 30s

18 June 2015

dutchmomonbike

I’m now well into my thirties where motherhood and finding my calling take center stage. Being 31 weeks pregnant with baby number two and having a career opportunity help solidify those feelings. Since I’m riding high on pregnancy hormones, it’s the perfect opportunity to wax poetic about how to succeed in life in your 30s. And when I mean “succeed”, what I am actually referring to is how to acquire the overachiever’s ultimate, ever-so-elusive trophy – genuine happiness.

 

What do I know about happiness? The self-deprecating, overly apologetic and polite Asian-American in me is tempted  to write :  not a lot really. Yet if I am truly honest with myself and my readers, I have to admit that overall, my life is pretty wonderful mainly because I’ve decided to go Dutch. (Though please don’t confuse my behind-the-scenes life as equating to perfect because I too have a whole laundry list of first world problems.)

 

Spending my 30s in the Netherlands -the world’s epicenter for happy babies, kids, and adults – is quite helpful and even inspiring. Living in close proximity to Utrecht, one of the happiest places in the world, reinforces the overall message of happiness. It seems that simply being Dutch is an almost universal guarantee for being happy. With their trademark blend of refreshing directness, liberal attitudes and keen sense of fairness, the Dutch seem to know a lot about living a life well-lived.

 

I still have a lot to learn from these beautiful (and sometimes intimidating) giants that tower over me. I am also convinced that it’s when you’ve outgrown the narcissistic 20s and you find yourself on the landing on the stairs, that you are more open to this alternative lifestyle free from the status quo. So for now, here are some things from Dutch culture that get to the very heart of accomplishing happiness in your 30s (and for the rest of your life):

 

how-to-succeed-in-your-30s-3

 

Live within your means.

It’s actually quite refreshing to live in a culture where being thrifty is admired and encouraged. Life in the Netherlands, like the United States, can actually be prohibitively expensive. The struggle is real folks. Thankfully, keeping up with the Joneses mentality doesn’t exist here and is frowned upon. People in the Netherlands work to live, not live to work, mastering the fine art of life and work balance.

 

Don’t ever apologize for who you are.

Be honest with who you are and trust your intuition. Accept the reality that not everyone will like you when you follow your heart and your guts. Life isn’t about winning a popularity contest. Just dust the dirt of your shoulders when it comes to trolls and mean girls.

 

Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Though it definitely takes some time getting used to, Dutch directness can do wonders for your mental health. The Dutch have no qualms saying what is on their minds and letting you know about it. There’s no second guessing, no trying to figure out nuances, no anxiety. It’s clear from the start. And you’re equally expected to speak your mind. Be brave and let the words come out.

 

Always err on the side of kindness.

Despite the notorious reputation of the Dutch being cheapskates, they’re actually among the most generous when it comes to giving aid according to the World Giving Index. They may not have much but they are more than willing to share what they do have, whether it’s time, money or expertise. This generosity is reflected in everyday life. There’s a sense of social responsibility in Dutch neighborhoods to keep an eye out for each other. Don’t be fooled by their initial distant demeanor  – underneath their stoic personas lies a kind person more than happy to help and give without hesitation.

 

Friends and family are everything.

Contrary to the infamous reputation of Amsterdam’s liberal policies for sex, drugs and alcohol, friends and family are everything to the Dutch. Daily family meals and regular get-togethers with their nearest and dearest are a must. By nurturing the ties that bind, one fosters their sense of belonging.

 

how-to-succeed-in-your-30s-2

 

Enjoy the company that you keep when no one is around.

Master the art of “dating” yourself by investing time (and money) in your own interests and passions. While family and friends are of utmost importance to the Dutch, they are also fiercely independent and embrace personal-development. They even have a special calendar to ensure that they pencil in “me time”. This is especially important for moms in the thick of parenting in the early years to remember.

 

Celebrate every single birthday.

Since we never know when the proverbial shoe will drop, celebrating every single birthday with our nearest and dearest is an absolute must. A simple cake with candles and refreshments surrounded by lots of love, laughter and gezelligheid will suffice. For the Dutch, each birthday is an important accomplishment accompanied by greeting the birthday celebrant with “Gefeliciteerd” (literally translated as “Congratulations”). I always like to add in, “for living another year.” Everything else – fancy dinners, extravagant gifts, and decorations – is superfluous.

 

Eat less, exercise more.

The simple mantra “eat less, exercise more” as part of your daily reality can help you live a long and healthy life. The Dutch incorporate regular exercise, usually in the form of biking, as simply being part of what they do nearly every day. And of course, given their pragmatic and traditional view on food, they always eat meals in moderation.

 

Travel.

Where ever you are in the world, chances are you are going to run into a Dutch person. The Dutch love to challenge themselves in learning about new cultures and how other people live. Consider visiting one new place each year. Not only will time away do wonders for your psyche, but will give you a new perspective on what it means to really live and some time to reflect on whether or not you’re living the life you want.

 

And don’t forget to turn your face towards the sun.

The perpetual grey skies in the Netherlands make every day that the sun shines a remarkable, special day. It really is about celebrating and finding joy in the everyday moments of life, the quiet moments of getting up and being grateful that you have another day to live. Just remember not to forget the sunscreen.

 

how-to-succeed-in-your-30s-1

 

(First photo courtesy of Peter Eijking. Visit his website for more inspirational images and videos of the Netherlands).

 

Postpartum Care and What We Can Learn From the Dutch

30 March 2015

Postpartum Care and What We Can Learn From the Dutch

 

As an American mom expecting her second child and living in the Netherlands, I can’t help but think about postpartum care between the two countries. It’s hard not to notice the difference – there is none in the United States.

 

In Holland, mothers getting back on their feet after delivery is a matter of national interest. All mothers are entitled to a kraamverzorger (a professional maternity nurse) for the first eight to ten days after giving birth. According to the pragmatic Dutch, a mother’s body has a lot of healing to do postpartum while also meeting the near physically exhausting, twenty-four hour demands of a newborn.

 

That’s where a kraamverzorger comes in – to help the mother rest, regain her strength, and bond with her baby in the comfort of her own home. A kraamverzorger is not only responsible for the well-being of the newborn, but also for closely monitoring a mother’s recovery’s process. It’s a gentle crash course in motherhood where a kraamverzorger serves as an invaluable resource for breastfeeding tips, bathing, changing diapers, dressing, feeding, and schedules.

 

She works closely with a midwife, or an obstetrician if any potential problems arises. An added bonus is that a kraamverzorger can take over household chores – cooking, laundry (washing, drying folding and ironing), tidying up, vacuuming, general household cleaning, and watching over older children.

 

Kraamverzorgers are a solidly Dutch middleclass experience. It’s not just for the fancy. I would know. We’re a single-income household. Kraamverzorgers are part of the basic universal health insurance and the cost of care is sent directly to the health care provider. There is an additional nominal contribution and depending on a person’s health care package, even this can be partially or completely reimbursed.

 

I initially found the whole Dutch approach foreign, frivolous, and a bit entitled. I was one of those first-time mothers-to-be who was confident that she could handle postpartum recovery all by her lonesome self. I had trusty reliable sources such as “What to Expect When You’re Expecting“(the ultimate pregnancy bible for stereotypical first-time moms), fail proof Google and mommy forums. . If my own mom was expected to hold the down the fort (cooking, cleaning, laundry, a newborn and two older children) a mere days after her second C-section delivery, why couldn’t I ? I was going to be a super-mom: no need for a stranger to come to my house to help me and my newborn. Hear me roar.

 

What I didn’t count on was making God laugh with my well-thought out birth plan of a picture perfect delivery and near instantaneous recovery. My son came exactly one month before his due date and not without a struggle (vacuum-assisted delivery and an episiotomy). While I had meticulously prepared for all the baby essentials and devoured all the pregnancy literature, I didn’t anticipate that I might actually need some personal care. There was also the initial difficulty of feeding a 36 week premature baby and getting the intimate breastfeeding dance started. And the hormones. Oh the lovely hormones.

 

My kraamverzorger, a matronly Dutch Surinamese woman named Rhada, was responsible for my change of heart. She’s like a modern day Mary Poppins but even better – she taught me how to embrace the new me. Not even my own mother could give the kind of care, patience, love, understanding and assurance Rhada gave me.

 

A friend recently shared with me that after her delivery, her Dutch midwife showed her the placenta and pointed out, “That’s the size of the wound left inside of your body.” Puts postpartum recovery in perspective doesn’t it? The midwife’s words speak volumes of the importance of allowing a mother to convalesce after she gives birth.

 

It’s a modern approach that sees the wisdom of taking care of moms so they can have a solid, positive start to the year long recovery process of childbirth. It certainly helps address potential issues such as birth trauma, postpartum depression, struggles with breastfeeding and physical injuries from difficult deliveries.

 

I can’t help but wonder if this kraamverzorger program is part of why Dutch moms raise the happiest kids in the world. Happy moms generally raise happy kids. And for a mom having her own private maternity nurse to help her recover and pamper her in the comfort and coziness of her own home can do wonders for a mom’s overall well-being. Wouldn’t you agree?

 

Now that I am almost half-way through my second pregnancy, I’m looking forward to the glorious first days with my newborn in my arms and my kraamverzorger by my side. I’m convinced that going Dutch postpartum should be the latest parenting trend that American moms would be excited to be part of.

 

 

(photo courtesy of Tanja de Maesschalk taken during my first pregnancy)

A Very Pregnant Announcement

9 March 2015

avergypregnantannouncementDearest friends,

After struggling to keep it a secret for months, I’m excited to announce that Bram and I are expecting a new addition to our family. I am 16 weeks along and due on 21 August 2015. While I fluctuate from being absolutely thrilled and scared of having another baby, I am on cloud nine with thoughts of becoming a mother all over again. My husband is over the moon and my almost three year old son has declared that he too is pregnant.

And as you can probably guess, I can’t wait to share my experience of the joys of motherhood with all those sweet steps along the way: documenting my pregnancy, contacting my maternity nurse, gynecologist vs. midwives, finding out the gender, choosing a name, growing pains (morning sickness, aches, braxton hick contractions), preparing for baby, having the feels, preparing my toddler, creating my tribe….

Hugs & Kisses,
Rina Mae

p.s. And yes, I am officially back in the wonderful world of blogging about my adventures in the Netherlands. Here’s to Finding Dutchland, where ever you may be. 😉

Oud en Nieuw in the Netherlands

31 December 2014

oud-en-nieuw-netherlands-1

 

If you happen to be in the Netherlands on the last day of December, chances are you’ll learn that it is affectionately called Oud en Nieuw (Old and New). Others refer to the 31st of December as Oudejaarsdag (Old Year’s Day). The name of the day speaks volumes of how important it is for the Dutch to reflect on the past year while welcoming the new year.

 

I love that.

 

Oud en Nieuw speaks to my sentimental soul, the writer in me. So in true Dutch and American fashion, I nostalgically reflect on the past year and make my own New Year’s resolution.

 

Despite my neurotic tendencies of waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop, my life this past year has been (overall) incredible. Though my family’s life in the Low Countries is far from perfect, we live a privileged life. We finally found a place in the Netherlands that we would love to call home – Doorn. My son is growing up happy. And a lot of it has to do with living in a country that values social well-being and a keen sense of fairness within a free-market infrastructure.

 

Though there are still times when I stumble, feel horribly out of place and a fresh flood of tears follow, I am the happiest I have ever been as an expat. I can’t help but feel like the luckiest mommy blogger in the Netherlands. The constant support and encouragement via likes, shares, comments and personal messages from my readers fills my heart with gratitude. Thank-you.

 

Perhaps the biggest personal surprise in 2014 was that I started writing for my two year old son. While my blog was initially inspired by loneliness and a desperate need to connect, it has evolved to becoming a legacy for my son. As a child of immigrant parents, I am intimately familiar with cross-cultural conflicts and things simply being lost in translation. This blog is my gift to him – an honest endeavor to understand and learn about his Dutch culture while also teaching him about our Filipino-American roots.

 

The other reason for my happiness as an expat (and as a person) is living a more genuine life that’s authentic to my own personal values. In Marjorie William’s poignant article A Matter of Life and Death, she writes, “For me, time is the only currency that truly counts anymore.” Her words deeply resonate with me. In 2014, I learned to value my time and how I spend it.

 

My New Year’s resolution is simple – to write more. I plan on taking a sabbatical on my blog for the month of January to find the time and space to write. And since all the world’s a stage, the part I am going to play in 2015 is the eccentric writer in the woods.

 

Wishing everyone a fabulous New Year! And of course, don’t forget about the requisite all night partying, anarchy of fireworks, and indulgence of Dutch olliebollen.

 

p.s. If you would still like to connect with me during my January blogging sabbatical, you can get glimpses of my fabulously ordinary “Dutched” life on Facebook and Instagram.

Christmas Crash Course in the Netherlands

8 December 2014

christmas-crash-course-netherlands

Now that the yuletide season is underway, I would like to impart some expat insider knowledge on how the Dutch celebrate Christmas. Although from the periphery the Christmas celebrations might seem intimately familiar for American sensibilities, there are some key differences that make it distinctly Dutch. Here are the following essential highlights of a Dutch Christmas:

 

Spread the Christmas cheer.

The Christmas spirit is actually spread over two and a half days, from the eve of the 24th of December till the 26th of December. The pragmatic Dutch (and may other European countries) discovered the practicality of having two designated holidays on the 25th (Eerste Kerstdag, First Christmas Day) and the 26th of December (Tweede Kerstdag, Second Christmas Day). By officially having two and a half days of festivities, the Dutch are much more relaxed and able to really party like it’s Jesus’ birthday.

 

It’s all about the gezelligheid, hoor.

Gezelligheid is an untranslatable abstract Dutch noun which encompasses the feelings one gets when they spend time with loved ones, reuniting with someone after an absence, and/or general togetherness that gives you warm and fuzzy feelings. It’s all about warmth, coziness, and a sense of belonging. Gezelligheid is the focal point of any Dutch home and most prized during the holidays. Gezelligheid during the Christmas season brings “light” to the hearts of many Dutch people. This is quite important because it’s literally the darkest time of the entire year – there is an average of only three hours of sunlight in December. Hoor is another untranslatable Dutch word that suggests to “listen up closely”. 

junior-sinterklaas

 

No gifts, bah humbug.

Gifts are traditionally not exchanged on any of the Christmas days. The gift giving happens on the feast of Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) on December 5th or 6th. Christmas, to many Dutch, is all about gezelligheid, love and nurturing the ties that bind. However, to the chagrin and dismay of many traditionalists, the American gift giving Santa Claus is slowly, but surely infiltrating into the Dutch psyche. Like all children who love receiving presents, Dutch children are more than happy to embrace the American version of old Saint Nick. Double the presents (December 6th and December 25th), double the fun. Since my son is half-American and half-Dutch, he can expect presents on both days.

 

O Dennenboom, O Dennenboom.

Like the rest of the world that celebrates Christmas, the Dutch also have Christmas trees. According to my Dutch husband, the Christmas tree is usually put up the day after Sinterklaas to keep the two holidays separate. There’s also a prevailing preference to buy a real Christmas tree as opposed to the plastic kind. And for the ever so conscientious Dutch person, there’s also a program where you can “borrow” a tree and replant it back into the forest.

 

It’s a family affair.

While Christmas is traditionally a Christian affair commemorating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is becoming more about a family holiday in many Dutch households. While some families attend the Christmas Eve mass, many others enjoy a three hour seated dinner, hopefully a sprinkling of good conversations, and possibly some board games. Even non-Christians hold Christmas close to their hearts and consider it an important family holiday to be together.

 

BabyBramChristmas_057

 

Prepare yourself for a culinary extravaganza.

The stereotypical Dutch, who pride themselves on being thrifty, throw caution in the wind and put a lot of effort in preparing a culinary extravaganza. Depending on a Dutch family’s personal preferences, variations of an elaborate Christmas meal include: a four-five course meal prepared days in advance, often consisting of game meats such as turkey, venison, goose, or hare; fondues of different cheeses, vegetables and/or meats; and gourmetten – grilling at the table where everyone can cook bite-sized pieces of luxury meats and vegetables to their heart’s content. The festivities continue with a Christmas brunch the next day where one can enjoy Christmas stollen (round bread with currents and raisins), various almond sweets, bread rolls, pates, smoked salmon, cured meats and different cheeses. Other typical Dutch Christmas treats that may make guests appearances are: Duivekater (a sweet festive bread), Kerstkransjes (Christmas wreath cookies), Kerstkrans (wreath shaped pastries glazed with different fruits and filled with almond paste, like a round banketstaaf), Jan Hagel cookies (fragrant and flaky Christmas cookies), Kerststol (fruited Christmas loaf), and Banketstaaf (pastry logs with sweet almond paste).

 

Christmas markets.

Part of the Dutch Christmas time gezelligheid are the various Christmas markets. Here people can buy Christmas wreaths, candles, and various Christmas decorations to bring “light” and good cheer to the holiday festivities. And of course, they can start purchasing the specialty ingredients for the Christmas meals. The charm of these Christmas markets is also that many stalls are a home-grown affair selling things made by local food artisans, craftsmen, florists and other artists.

 

Dreaming of a White Christmas and ice-skating.

A lot of Nederlanders dream of having a snowy, white Christmas (just like any other place that seasonally snows during this time of the year). Before the advent of global warming, many can look forward to some outdoor ice-skating on natural ice as part of the family festivities. With the uncharacteristic weather conditions the Netherlands has currently been experiencing this year, we might possibly get our wish to have a white Christmas with iceskating. And then we can all eat a healthy bowl of erwtwensoep (Dutch split pea soup) and a warm cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream.

 

christmas-crash-course-netherlands

 

Here’s to wishing everyone a prettige kerstdagen (merry Christmas days)!

christmas in different lands 2014
 

This post is part of the Multicultural Kid Blogs ‘Christmas In Different Lands’ series. Each day of December up until the 25th a different blogger around the world will share a part of their family Christmas. Check back each day for seasonal inspiration, from crafts to recipes, family traditions and more!

 

Secret Caravan

25 November 2014

I’m so excited to introduce my first sponsored post from one of my own lovely readers, Maria-Eleni from Secret Caravan.

 

family (1)

 

When I first browsed her online store Secret Caravan, I instantly fell in love. With the back of my mind preparing for Sinterklaas and Christmas, I was drawn to the beautiful, whimsical toys, thoughtful reading material, and useful travel aids. Their online store offered products that evoked all the qualities I would love to give my friends and family – thoughtful, unique, useful and with a dash of quirkiness.

 

Question: Hello! Please tell us about your family and Secret Caravan.

Answer: My husband, Giannis and I (Maria-Eleni) live just outside of Athens with our three year old son Ermis. Giannis and I both have creative backgrounds. In fact, it’s how we first met and fell in love. Six years later we decided to start a new adventure. Launched in the summer of 2014, Secret Caravan was inspired by our family’s desire to live a simpler lifestyle. We believe in living with intention, appreciating the small things and discovering the world around us. We wanted to create a store where we can share that philosophy with others. Every single item that we sell in our store we handpicked and we own ourselves.

 

When I heard that they owned every single item from their store, I couldn’t resist asking for snap shots of their home. I had a sneaking suspicion that it would evoke warmth, simplicity, style and gratitude. I was right. Here are the pictures :

Home1

Home2 (1)

Home3 (1)

 

Their home reminds me of the old-age adage of William Morris, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

 

Q: With the holiday season right around the corner, what are some of the gifts that you guys recommend to my readers? Can you give suggestions based on the spirit of the simple gift giving philosophy: something they need, something for them to read, and something they want?

 

Secret-Caravan

Something they need:

How To Find Old New York

Owen Fox

A Pastry For Your Thoughts – Notebook

 

Something for them to read:

Kindling Quarterly No. 4

Maps

Gather Journal No 5

 

Someting they want:

Rock the Shack

Up to the Moon Puzzle

Handmade Statement Necklace

 

Finding Dutchland readers get a special discount of 15% with the code FD2014 until December 10, 2014.

You can connect with Secret Caravan on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

7 Inspirational TED Talks for Moms

24 November 2014

7-inspirational-ted-talks-moms

I often get asked what inspired me to start blogging. Being a new mom in a new neighborhood in a foreign country contributed to a special level of loneliness. As an entrepreneur’s wife, it also meant a lot of nights being home alone with a sleeping baby and nothing but the internet (read = Facebook mommy groups, the Huffington Post and Scary Mommy) and books to keep me company.

 

I created my blog Finding Dutchland in the summer of 2013 with some general goals: to aid in personal self-growth, to connect with other moms, and to share my experience as a parent in the Netherlands. I never imagined that more than a handful of people would actually read what I had to share. But what actually gave me the impetus, the final push to set-up my WordPress blog, was watching these seven inspirational TED talk videos.

 

Chances are that you already are familiar with TED, but for those who are not, the premise of TED (originally an acronym for technology, entertainment and design) is that it’s a “platform for ideas worth spreading.” The TED organizers “believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.” And since the best things in life are free, anyone can access these captivating talks about socio-economics, science, philosophy and technology online, anytime and from the convenience of their homes.

 

What I love most about the TED talks is that they not only challenge conventional wisdom, but also create momentum. This isn’t surprising when you have a thought leader presenting his or her life’s work and passion with an enthusiastic live audience that is curious and hungry to learn. And all talks conducted within twenty minutes or less.

 

I’ve compiled a list of seven TED talks with young moms like me in mind – the moms up late at night, nursing or cradling their babies back to sleep; the moms in the thick of those early years when real life isn’t Pinterest perfect; and moms who yearn for a little more intellectual discourse than the babble of babies and toddlers. It’s also a great parenting source, providing interesting ideas that one can apply to his or her own parenting philosophy.

 

These TED talks are captivating for anyone who is on the cusp of self-discovery and needs a friendly push to live a more honest life true to their heart’s calling. Or for anyone needing a feel-good inspirational talk in the middle of the night. Their words help guide me to be the writer, mother, wife and person I aspire to be. I hope that they speak to you the way they’ve spoken to me.

 

1. Chimamanda Adichie : The Danger of a Single Story

This was the TED talk that encouraged me to write. Through Adichie’s soulful prose, I was inspired to share my story as a Filipino-American mother living in the Netherlands.

 

2. Brené Brown: The Power of Vulnerability

Brené Brown’s “The Power of Vulnerability” is arguably the most therapeutic TED talk that exists. Warning – it can lead to lots of tears and the start a lot of healing. There’s even an amazing Facebook group if any of you are interested in getting more valuable life lessons from her. Following her advice made me a whole lot happier.

 

3. Sir Ken Robinson: How Schools Kill Creativity

Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk “How Schools Kill Creativity” is the most viewed TED talk ever. He makes a compelling case for designing an education system that nurtures – rather than stifles – creativity. As a firm believer that education begins at home, it’s never too early to start learning about the educational system and opportunities available for our young ones. It’s where I learned the importance of play.

 

4. Jill Bolte Taylor: My Stroke of Insight 

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor asks us to rexamine our life and all the negativity that we impose on ourselves and everything and anyone around us around us.

 

5. Shane Koyczan: To This Day … For the Bullied and Beautiful

Unfortunately, bullying isn’t just restricted to the school classroom. It can happen anywhere and everywhere, behind closed doors at home, and on the internet. Nonetheless, listen to the words of Shane Koyczan as we create a safer world for us and our children.

 

6. Rita Pierson: Every Kid Needs a Champion

I wish every single child will come across a teacher like Rita Pierson at least once in their life as their champion. Teachers are our society’s unsung heroes.

 

7. Sarah Kay: If I Should Have A Daughter

I can just fall into the spoken words of poet and educator Sarah Kay. She brilliantly describes the mother I aspire to be for my child(ren). It’s no wonder how she got two standing ovations during her TED talk.

 

 

Attending a TED conference one day is on my bucket list. Until then, I’ll be busy sharing the lessons of Dutch kids growing up happy – an idea that is definitely worth spreading.

Mr Miles-Fastest Traveler in the World (Flying Blue Competition)

17 November 2014

MR-MILES-UK-01

Hey lovely readers! I’m giving you guys a heads up on an awesome promotion on this beautiful Monday of the 17th of November.  Flying Blue, the frequent travel program of Air France and KLM, is holding a giveaway of 5 million miles in 10 days.

 

When they reached out to me to promote this competition, I immediately said yes.  I’ve always been someone who would rather spend money on experiences than things. Travel is one of the most valuable life experiences you can have. As the Atlantic article Buy Experiences, Not Things suggests, collecting experiences rather than material possessions really does contribute to a better sense of well-being.

 

If you are following my blog, than chances are you also have a soft spot for travel too and would love this competition. Plus, in the spirit of the Dutch cultural value of being thrifty and loving free things, this competition giving away up to 5 million air miles sounds like a sweet deal.  How awesome would it be than to have a chance at winning free air miles to help you travel more?

 

The premise of the competition is fun and easy. Mr Miles – the fastest traveler in the world, is challenging you to try to get to any of 100 destinations before him.


How can you join?

 

Head out to beforemistermilesin.com to get your “e-passport” (Register for the competition).

 

Chose any destination by changing the extension of the URL.

 

If you landed before Mr Miles, congratulations, you just won a prize (between 500 & 200.000 Miles). And if he’s already there, don’t worry – he’ll make you feel welcomed very quickly and you can always try again.

 

There are also 3 sweepstakes of 200.000 & 500.000 Miles (basically 4 world tours tickets), so might as well try and look in as many destinations as you can.

Helpful tip: For a chance to get ahead of him, follow his clues on Twitter (@FlyingBlueMrM) or Snapchat (@FlyingBlueMrM)

Here’s an entertaining video explaining the competition:

 

 

Wishing everyone the best of luck!

4 Reasons to Love Sint Maarten | Saint Martin

10 November 2014

sintmaartin-4

As an American mom living in the Netherlands, I’m trying to figure which traditions and holidays to continue celebrating and which ones to skip. One of the holidays I’m still on the fence about is Halloween. Ironically, despite its roots in Scotland and Ireland (Samhain), Halloween is a distinctly American tradition. The celebration of Halloween is a special day for lighthearted, community-sanctioned mischief, totally devoid of meaning and the best example of runaway consumerism. I personally love it.

 

While Halloween has taken over England, it still hasn’t reached the Netherlands. Outside the American expat santuaries of Amsterdam, Den Haag, and Utrecht, Halloween is simply another day. This year we decided not to bother with Halloween and rather celebrate the Dutch tradition of Saint Martin (Sint Maarten of Tours) instead. Being the only Americans in the village, it wasn’t a challenging decision to make. Plus, the two celebrations are actually quite similar under the premise that it’s a children’s holiday involving going door-to-door and recieving special treats or sweets.

 

In the spirit of spreading some Dutch cultural pride (my son is half-Dutch after all), here are four reasons to love the Dutch tradition of Sint Maarten (Saint Martin) in the Netherlands:

sintermaartin-2

 


1. Saint Martin’s Day is celebrated every November 11 in honor of Martin of Tours. 

Martin was a Roman soldier remembered for having a kind heart, being wise and readily helpful. Tradition and folklore has it that one day when he was approaching the gates of the city of Amiens (modern-day France), he met a scantily clad begger who was asking for alms. Martin impulsively cut his military cloak in half to share with the man. Later that night, he dreamed that it was actually Jesus with whom he shared his cloak with. Soon after, Martin left the army and was baptised.

Saint Martin is regarded as a friend of the children and patron of the poor in the Catholic tradition. November 11 is the day that Saint Martin passed away. Saint Martin’s day is traditionally an old harvest festival that is celebrated in many European countries and precedes the fasting period of Advent, which begins on November 12. Though the modern day celebration of Saint Martin in the Netherlands is now non-secretarian, I love how I can still share the story of a random act of kindness.

 

2.  Part of the celebration involves an informal parade of hand-crafted, or store bought lanterns made out of paper as children go around the neighborhood, door to door.

Traditionally, children’s lanterns were made out of hollowed out sugar beets or turnips hanging on a string tied to a wooden stick. Now children often decorate their own paper lanterns at school, or purchase it at the local grocery store. As soon as the sun sets, which often feels like around 4:30 p.m., small groups of Dutch children make processions around their neighborhoods with their latterns.

There’s something romantic and nostalgic about seeing little children with little paper latterns going door-to-door and lighting up the dark, cold “winter” night. The “11th day of the 11th month” after all, is traditionally considered to be the first day of “winter” according to the agricultural calendar.

 

3. “Earning” their treats by making them sing for it.

Rather than saying “Trick-or-Treat”, Dutch children are expected to sing songs.

The most popular song is:

Sint Maarten, Sint Maarten (Saint Martin, Saint Martin)
De Koeien hebben staarten  (The cows have tails)
De Meisjes hebben rokjes aan (The girls are wearing skirts)
Daar komt Sinte Maarten aan (There comes Saint Martin)

My favorite is the one that goes:

11 november is de dag, 
dat mijn lichtje, dat mijn lichtje,
11 november is de dag,
dat mijn lichtje schijnen mag.

12 november is de dag,
dat de tandarts, dat de tandarts,
12 november is de dag,
dat de tandarts boren mag.
There’s something more honest, wholesome and innoncent about singing a “song” in exchange for some sweets rather than a mischivious “threat”.

 

4. Absolutely no costumes, no fuss, no organized fun. Money saved.

For parents who don’t like fuss, wasteful preparations, and spending money they may not have, Sint Maarten seems like a dream. Since children often make these paper latterns at school, it’s also much less of a time commitment and a hassel.

Okay, let’s stop beating around the bush here. Saint Martin is a great way for us (American expat parents) to get a bit of “Halloween” without having to spend money on costumes.

sintmaartin-1

 

Extra Random Trivia for Utrecht Lovers:

Have you ever taken the time to look at the coat of arms and the city flag of Utrecht? Did you know that it was made in honor of Saint Martin, the patron saint of Utrecht?  As my “historian” Dutch husband loves to point out, the red part is the Roman coat and the white part is the undergarment of Saint Martin.

 

As much as I love Halloween, I am relieved that it doesn’t exist in the Netherlands. In fact, neither is Sint Maarten. Sint Maarten is practiced only a handful of pockets in the Low Countries – traditionally in Utrecht, Limburg, Noord-Holland, Groningen, Friesland, Drenthe and Noord Brabant. Perhaps it’s about time that the Dutch embrace this beautiful tradition as an entire country?

 

 

(Photos from last year’s Sint Maarten celebration)

 

From the Cutting Room Floor: A Letter to My Two Year Old Son

5 November 2014

hello-november

Dear Bram Jr.,

 

When I was pregnant with you, I had lofty aspirations and unrealistic expectations. I actually believed that If I allocated eight months (my entire pregnancy) of doing absolutely nothing but researching and reading all the highest rated parenting books according to Amazon and the New York Times, then everything would play out according to my plans. I was the perfect parent before I had you.

 

Part of the plan was to be writing monthly letters to you inspired by one of my favorite blogs – Nurshable. The premise would be to highlight your different quirks, personalities and milestones month by month. Helicopter-attachment-parenting at it’s absolute best, or worst, depending on whose opinion you’re soliciting. Obviously that didn’t happen because this is my first letter to you more than two and a half years after you were born. As a firm believer in self-improvement (I’m American after all), it’s never too late to start now.

 

So let’s get to the heart of our story shall we?

 

At two years and seven months, you make being a mom an absolutely wonderful experience. I’m starting to distrust the common myth of the terrible twos. Rather, I would like to re-name this wonderful age as the “terribly, terrific twos”.

 

You are so affectionate. You love random cuddles throughout the day and insist on falling asleep in my arms.

You’re very clear of what you do and do not want. And while you also have your set of preferences, you’re also open to and curious about discovering the world around you. I pray that you never loose this. Stay true to yourself.

 

You love to sing and dance. I’m not sure where you got that from because your dad and I are tone deaf and each have two left feet.

 

The infamous toddler tantrums are far and few inbetween simply because we finally learned your language, rythm and schedule. You sometimes get upset and tears are shed to release your frustration. It doesn’t last long. There isn’t a simple explanation, perhaps an apology in order and a cuddle that would make everything better.

 

You are absolutely crazy about everything and anything related to transportation vehicles – construction trucks, cranes, trains, motorcycles, boats, and cars.

 

You love books and reading, whether it’s imaginary play reading, or one of us reading out loud.

You’re proactive about being helpful with household chores. Though it does take longer, a lot of patience and holding back my tongue, I’m absolutely delighted when you “help” set the table, vacuum, and load/unload the laundry. I’m afraid that the concept of folding clothes hasn’t

 

You’ve discovered the joy of stickers, coloring and arts and crafts. Thank God for your preschool to organize those things for you.

 

You’re finally sleeping in till at least 8:30 a.m. In my mind, that’s an absolute miracle.

 

You love being outside, whether to play in the sandbox, jump on the trampoline, lie on the grass (or trampoline) and stare at the clouds above, run around in the garden, “bike” to your heart’s content, and take walks in the forest right outside our front door.

 

You’re a foodie! Although you won’t eat everything, you’re always willing to try something new and decide for yourself whether or not your like it. You absolutely love Filipino stews like Chicken Tinola (Chicken clear broth stew with lemon grass), Bulalo (beef marrow stew) and Sinigang (Tamarind soup) and Pinakbet (Filipino vegetable medley stew) with a generous helping of rice. When you’re hungry, you would simply say “Soup rice”, climb up your chair and sit expectantly at the dining table.

 

And of course, you are absolutely crazy over herring with onions, smeer kaas (spreadable cheese), hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) with white bread and butter, and french fries. To get to your heart, a warm cup of chocolate milk always does the trick.

 

I was actually caught off-guard with how enjoyable parenting a toddler can be. Perhaps I read too much of Scary Mommy and The Huffington Post. Rather seeing the humor of all the wonderfully witty stories, I became anxious about this stage and dreaded it. Sarcasm sometimes gets lost in translation. Forgive me for being wrong.

Being a mommy blogger, I’m also careful to protect your privacy. There are the things unwritten and unsaid that will remain just between us. Though part of blogging is connecting to the bigger and larger world, to commiserate and share our experiences, I’m also coignizant that some things shouldn’t be shared unless with your permission. And right now, at two years and seven months, I have the foresight to gage that it’s a little too young and presumptious of me to ask it of you. But what I can share with conviction, is that overall, our life right now when you’re two years old is perfectly imperfect.

 

I don’t know how long this stage is going to last. The superstitious voice in my head (a byproduct of having Filipino parents) warns me that providing an honest snapshot of my personal life would mean sabotage. But the reality is, and it took me becoming a mother to internalize this fact, is that nothing in life is permanent. Not if, but when. The only things we have my dear son is now, our hopes, our dreams and each other.

 

These must be the precious handful of little children years that empty-nesters long for the most. When a young family’s life can be chaotic and exhausting, but delightfully simple and refreshingly ordinary. For now, there’s no worries about school bullies, fitting in, grades, standardized testing (CITO and Common Core come to my mind), schedules governed by soccer practices and music lessons. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there (which isn’t too long from now I’m afraid). There’s also no dealing with teenage hormones, resentment issues, drama and a whole boatload of other emotional landmines that adolescence may bring.

 

So for now, waking up from the fog of severe sleep deprivation and exhaustion the first year and a half brought (and occassionally still does), I’m reveling in the moment of the terribly, terrific twos.  Thank-you.

 

Love,

Your Mom

 

(Photo taken of my son at the Kröller-Müller Musem)