Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Forgotten Spinach

Last week I discussed relationships. But what if you don’t get to see the people you are closest to every day? What if you are too stressed and pulled in every direction to enjoy these relationships? What then does life have to offer? I think the answer lies in the grocery store.

Some days I go in to Albert Heijn and everything is so exciting, a new culinary discovery waiting to happen. I am eager to try that new dish I have been wanting to test. I can practically taste the sweet, juicy pears and hear the crunch of the buttery cashews as I meander through the aisles. I derive great pleasure from day-dreaming about the farmers in the field, toiling away at producing life-nourishing aliments. That simple act of farming, or rather, the complicated act if you think about all that goes into creating a life-form, is so positive. It creates life, it sustains life, it is connected to Mother Nature at her finest.

Moreover, the grocery store connects us to our fellow humans. It is impossible to enter into an empty supermarket; everyone has to eat. And on that very basic but deeply rooted level, we are all the same. We are in this store together, this life together. We may have different items on our shopping lists, but our needs are the same. At the humanness, at the goodness of the earth, at that simplicity how can I not help but smile?

Other days, though, the glory of the groceries hides behind a sepia filter, faded. Something to ignore. These days are like having to run and get the spinach forgotten in an earlier shopping endeavor. Go in, go out. Try to avoid the cold of the refrigerators everywhere. The luxury of marvel traded in for the necessity of focus. Go in, go out. No extras, just the greens.

Photo from:
While some days may equate to the forgotten spinach trips, they needn’t be. There is always something to be admired. Even though the cold of the refrigerators grips the back of your neck, have reverence for the wonder of electricity, the heart of temperature control. More so, be thankful for the privilege of keeping milk and vegetables in cold environments. Smile that they are not spoiled. Offer up praise for the many choices available. And while sometimes there might be a clean-up in aisle 2, the rest of the store still has a plethora of untainted joys to offer. C’est la vie.

It's the small things that make life great. My grocery store this week is stocked as follows:

Aisle 1: Having the sweet toddler I was babysitting fall asleep in my arms as I read her a bedtime story.
Aisle 2: Coffee with a friend serendipitously extended into lunch. Those stolen bits of time are the sweetest.
Aisle 3: Leading the 8 and 9-year-old Sunday School class in a few songs for the retirement home. The residents were so happy to have the children visit them.
Aisle 4: The forgotten spinach run. I may have been querulous about having to bike in the wind to get it, but it made me realize the necessity of keeping an eye open for the goodness surrounding me. 
Everything can be a learning experience.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


As I go through the week trying to stay in touch, people keep asking, “What are you up to? What have you been doing while at home?” This week exemplifies my day-to-day here, as not much out of the ordinary has happened. I am studying for the GRE, which I’ll be taking at the end of February. I am shadowing the speech therapist in the elementary at the American School of The Hague (ASH), where I used to attend, and being there has also afforded me the opportunity to reconnect with former teachers. I am also doing research still, continuing the project two other undergrads and I began this fall. Also, we seem to go to the grocery store often, a daily ritual in the Netherlands made necessary by the small kitchens and refrigerators.

The beloved supermarket
Photo from:
While the highlights of my week have been interactions with others—babysitting, a dinner party with family friends, visiting with past teachers—the predominant thought on my mind these past few days has nothing to do with these exchanges. But rather, reading the excellent book You Were Always Mom’s Favorite! by Deborah Tannen has centered my focus on my sister. Older by two years and two weeks, my sister has always been the one I looked up to. When we were younger, I wanted so badly just to be included with her and her friends, which she often allowed with magnanimity and openness. As we have grown older, our “opposite-ness,” increasingly apparent to our family, amazes the both of us. We find it especially strange that some people ask if we are even related while others wonder if we are twins. How can that be?

In her book, Tannen discusses the two inevitable forces that play a role in the relationships of all sisters: competition and connection. So, although we may have many differences, my sister and I remain linked by the bond of our upbringing. It is because of my sister’s efforts and initiative that we have stayed close despite the distance. And for that I am most humbly grateful to her. Moreover, my sister’s courage to blaze a path on her own has been one of the greatest motivating forces inspiring me to go out into the world and grow in my independence. I knew I would be ok going to university in Indiana where I knew nobody. I know I will be ok going to Peru for a semester where I will have to navigate another foreign land. I know I will be ok because she has passed strength to me in the knowledge that if she can do it, I can do it.

Photo courtesy of  Samantha Tatro
And so while my life right now is governed by the small banal tasks, I see the relationships I have as the center of a dream-catcher, the daily going-about as the strings creating the frame that allows the central circle to exist. Quotidian duties may become frustrating or boring at times, but the big beautiful things emerge from the daily happenings. So what am I doing today? I’m adding another loop to the dream-catcher. Building relationships. Calling my sister.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Winter Wonderland

Although the Netherlands is along the same lines of latitude as Siberia, snow only occasionally blankets the landscape. The North Sea warms the air, keeping the temperature relatively stable and mild year-round. As such, the snow on Monday was an unexpected treat, and it merited a grand winter adventure. Mijn moeder (my mom) and I went for a long walk just down the lane from our house, meandering through the woods and playing in the white dreamland. Hopefully these pictures give a good sense of the scenery; it was difficult to narrow down (from 181!). Gelukkig besneeuwde dag!

From my bedroom window

"Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The trees are God's great alphabet:
With them He writes in shining green
Across the world His thoughts serene.
~Leonora Speyer

By the lake

"Fietspad" means "bike path." Zo nederlands, echt?

"The poetry of the earth is never dead." ~John Keats

Failed attempts to get a jumping picture. This would be the landing "did you get it?" face.

 My lovely snow beard. Watch out Sinterklaas, I'm already working on the whiskers for next year.

Oh hi!


A hunting house in the middle of the woods

Moeder an dochter

If you look closely, you can see the green algae frozen in the ice on the canal

"And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything." ~William Shakespeare

Another canal and bridge? Well, it is the Netherlands

"I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes." ~e.e. cummings

Come rain, wind, snow, or ice
Nothing keeps the Dutch from their bikes

More typical Dutch: bike path (red part) and canal

Heel mooi! (Very beautiful)

The farm house down the street. In the spring, you can see the baby lambs in this field.

Swan Canal...not quite the same ring as "Swan Lake"

If it gets cold enough, everyone comes out to walk and skate on this lake. It's only been frozen twice in the last five years, though.

Dutch flag in the Dutch wind (which always seems to be against your face while biking)

A typical Dutch rowhouse, which happens to be ours. We're in the far right third.

So much pride, even the Dutch sky is "oranje" (orange). It looks a bit pink in this, but it was very orange in real life.

"Alone with myself,
The trees bend to caress me
The shade hugs my heart."
~Candy Polgar