29 November 2006

Returning to full-time Studies

Last week marked my official return to full-time studies. The irony is that it was also the first week that I wasn't using my laptop since I first got it almost a year ago (it is waiting for a visit to the Apple store but I've had too much homework to do to get there yet).

And on paper, I've been a full-time student since September 2005 but since sometime in July doing schoolwork has not exactly been the dominant task of each week. Last week, however, it was. And I'm glad to return to it, feeling that I've had a good break from studying. I'm disappointed that my Dutch is not better already (and doing more schoolwork means I do less Dutch - instead i look at French and German!), and I'll miss getting to spend as much time going to chapels and 'hanging out' in the common room but the fact that I've been contentedly reading and taking notes for school for much of my Friday and Saturday (days I tend to slack off) indicates that I've returned to something that I truly love.

And just like this break of a few months has reminded me again how much I love studying, learning Dutch and 'hanging out' will be delightful short breaks so that school doesn't become my entire life (like it was for most of last year). And hopefully I can get back to writing and finishing thesis one even as i'm progressing nicely on thesis two :)

23 November 2006

being where i know God wants me to be

Both I and my friend, Sharon, have had a lot in common lately. we've just moved to a new place (because that's where we felt God leading us) and have had a lot of crazy, wonderful experiences because of our moves. One of the things that has amazed us both is the sense of being where God wants us to be. Because of that, all of the crazy, wonderful things of this new place are seen as a blessing, even as they sometimes are also challenges.

Sharon writes a lot of great stories about her new life in Romania - and she's written more about our conversation in her blog, so if you want to read more, you'll just have to read what she says about our conversation and check out the rest of her blog.

21 November 2006

Traditions and Dam Square

on Sunday, Sinterklaas came to Amsterdam. and as Sinterklaas (and more importantly all the Zwarte Pieten) are a true Dutch tradition, there was no way i was going to miss out. well, once my 'family' started insisting that i go, i figured that whatever lack of enthusiasm i might originally have had wasn't worth the effort needed to convince them i wouldn't go.

when we got to Dam Square, there were tons of other families (ours was a bit bigger and older than most - it was usually one parent with one child - and we had about 6 kids and 12 adults). and we were greeted by familiar (at least to the Dutch) Sinterklaas songs with a predominantly techno beat. and i realized that i was glad i had come. after all, who would want to miss an event this big? (and miss the chance to dance a bit in the middle of Dam Square with friends?)

then off to find our place along the path where Sinterklaas and his parade would come. we bumped into quite a number of Zwarte Pieten - some climbing down from a building, others biking through the crowds. and even more came down the parade path, of different shapes and sizes and transportation. the best were those on rollerblades trying to avoid the rather large tram rails in the middle of the path (only one fell that we could see!). but the favourites were the Zwarte Pieten with bags - because they had candies (pepernoten) and we'd put out our hands and bags - and between all of us we me home with a pretty good stash.

Sinterklaas came (on his white horse), we hurrayed, begged the Zwarte Pieten for more candy, tried not to get wet from the 'typical Nederland rain,' and wandered back to Dam Square to catch the rest of the show. a bit more music, a cannon spitting out toys and food, watching the excitement of the kids, the rain finally stopping - and then it was over. and off we went back home for a warm cup of tea - and to eat what was left of our pepernoten.

it was fun to get to enjoy Sinterklaas with the family. all of the 'hoopla' would have been too much for me by myself but when it's shared - the dancing in the Square, envying the Zwarte Pieten coming down on ropes, helping the children get candies, laughing over the rain (and trying to fit 5 of us under my little umbrella), sharing the excitement of the children and so on - the sharing as part of a family is what makes the tradition even better.

maintenance update

the bike is fixable. perhaps i need to get a new inside tire for it, but that's not that difficult (it might not have been the right size for the outside tire, anyway, which might have explained the tire going flat after we'd fixed it).

and the computer, well, the news is not so good. it's not really turning on anymore. the last time it turned on was at the apple store. he couldn't find anything wrong with it, although after i told him what had happened, he said it was likely the mother board. which means my computer is dying. so, the computer will get another trip to the apple store and a bit more prayer, and hopefully something will work out.

17 November 2006


as i write this, my bike's tire is flat and my computer is 'sick'. and although i'm feeling somewhat positive about trying to fix both of those problems, i'm not all that enthusiastic about having to do maintenace on things that i own.

yesterday afternoon, one of the guys helped me fix my bike tire. getting the outside tire off was a bit difficult, but it looked like we had the inner tube fixed and all put together by the time we were done. however, this morning, the outside tire is not properly on my tire anymore - and it's definitely flat. so it warrants some more fixing. i'll do what i can myself when i get home (i'm at the University now) and then see if i need to ask for help. fortunately, i did borrow someone else's bike today (yesterday i took the metro - and although the ride here was great, the ride back was annoying (the train was late in coming and then it was packed) and i missed my daily exercise!).

and yesterday evening, my computer started malfunctioning. i call it sick because i'm hoping it will get better. but it got fuzzy and stopped working, which is definitely not a good sign. and hasn't returned to functioning yet today. so off i go with a prayer and hope to the apple store hoping someone will be able to tell me what's wrong and be able to fix it.

as much as this maintenance is probably necessary, it means my school work is once again not being worked on as much as it should be. so, hopefully things improve soon.

15 November 2006

St Martin's Day

on Saturday we celebrated St. Martin's Day. i'm still a bit foggy on the significance of St Martinus but i know it has a lot to do with light and helping others out (my dutch needs some work before i can tell you what exactly is going on all the time - and until then i'll have to look him up in our encyclopedia of saints in the library). on that day, children make a lantern and walk outside and ask candy of people. tradition has it that Br Luc lowers from his window a basket full of candy and mandarins from his window for the children. it's usually the last stop for the community children - and quite a highlight i'm told. unfortunately, this year, Br Luc was on vacation at that time. since i had the key, i thought that such a tradition ought to be continued - and it can't be that hard, so i could stand in for him. (of course, i really had no idea of what i was volunteering for when i volunteered :))

Br Luc lives almost at the top of the building. when i look out his window, i can see the tops of most of the other houses. you have to go up at least 4 flights of stairs to get to his place. so lowering a basket out of his window on a rope is slightly complicated. but as i got help in getting a rope and finding something as a basket (a small child's swing - i had to stuff the leg holes with a bag) and getting the candy (i did it while i was doing groceries Saturday morning), it felt good to know that i was helping carry on a tradition. and as i saw the children walk to the house across the street - there were about 20 children plus 10 adults so it was quite a group, it was fun to hear them. unfortunately for them no one was home. so they left proclaiming (somewhat loudly) that a greedy one lives there :)

and then they rang the doorbell to my apartment last. and i let down the candy (and the rope was barely long enough - so in order to get candy, i had to hang on to the top of the rope and the kids had to reach up a bit :))

and it was definitely a highlight. and i was glad to be part of something that was loud and entertaining and joyful in a way that much of what else that goes on in our street is not. and hopefully our neighbours will ask what is different about our house - and the community that brings its joy and its children and its traditions out into the midst of the streets and the tourists.

living in the centre (centrum)

i've been noticing the swans in the canal out front a lot lately. they're pristine white against the brownish-ness of our fairly narrow canal and bring a beauty and peaceful feeling to the neighbourhood. and they just seem so out of place at times. back 'home,' swans only appear in quiet parks and clean waters - and here they are in the midst of the busy-ness and messiness of life in the centre. and the juxtaposition of the peaceful beauty of the swans with the busy, restlessness of the tourists and neighbours has led me to think of other such juxtapositions.

tonight i'll be spending quite a bit of time in quiet - in my room trying to learn Dutch and doing homework, or in the chapel for evening prayers, or having tea with others. and on the street, the pubs are full and the streets are crowded and there is a couple of rows of police on the bridge down the street - and the yelling and shouting over tonight's football (soccer) game will provide the background 'noise' to another 'mostly quiet' evening here.

if i sit on a certain side of the table at supper time, i can't help but see a very thin, scantily clad (usually in pink) girl standing in a red lit window smiling and beckoning at the guys that walk by. and i wonder, as i often do, about her - about how young she is, about how happy and sad she is, and about why. the house beside hers is one of the communities, and on certain days/evenings, i can look in on people i know (people i'm learning to call family :)) doing their dishes, reading their mail, talking and just going about normal life the same way all of us do in many different places.

the other day i was walking down the street with an 8 year old girl. well, it was kind of walking - it turned into us laughing and running (over something other which i don't remember now). and it was the most ordinary thing in the world that you'd do with a girl that age, who loves playing tag and laughing and having adults appreciate her. and as we passed through the tourists and others on the street and by the windows of women, i wondered what people thought about my walking and laughing with a child through the Red Light District, with its drugs and prostitution. that perhaps they (and all good people in general) should avoid this place. and i wish my neighbourhood was different - but i am choosing not to allow the place i live define what is normal. what is normal is laughing and going about a joyful life - what is being sold here is not.

and so i will try to continue to live a joyful life here, even if at times it is a bit overwhelming (the last week was a bit tiring as i spent a lot more time with people than with my studies - which led to disappointment in myself for not studying as much as i should and needing to use a lot more energy as i'm trying to communicate in Dutch).

and normal-ness will be defined as biking to school 3-4 times a week (25 minutes each way - it's been great exercise (between that and the many stairs, i've lost weight, which i found out today is actually not normal for 'Americans' who come here)), eating with lots of people, going to chapel twice a day, praying for loved ones who are nearby and far away, wondering how best to serve those around me, struggling with Dutch, studying Jeremiah, and laughing a lot. for that is normal for me - for normal is to be faithful to God in how i live and what i do - and this is how i can joyfully do that now.

06 November 2006

just an ordinary monday

today is just an ordinary Monday. well, as ordinary as living here can be :)

the morning started with a shower followed by reading a couple of passages in the Bible (including reading the New Testament passage and psalm in Dutch), then breakfast at 7:30, then dishes and clean-up, then a quick conversation to figure out how to get a room ready for a new guest (which reminds me that i still need to get the bedding for that room later this afternoon or evening), then brushing my teeth and studying some dutch. chapel at 8:45, then coffee and chatting with 'the family' in Dutch and English, then the rest of the morning spent cleaning the kitchen. about half the house has been sick with some kind of stomach flu (thankfully i've not gotten sick thus far and hope it stays that way) - so we wanted to be extra sure to wipe everything down with soda. as my evening cooks are sick, i spent a few minutes with tonight's 'head cook' finding a replacement for her. and because part of the kitchen cleaning crew was sick, the cleaning took until after 12 (instead of 11:30). then i helped set up lunch.

and as i write this, i have a cat on my lap happily purring. i'm cat-sitting my mentor's cat while she and her husband are on vacation. and i can't decide if she's purring becaue she likes me or because she's lonely and i'm willing to pet her. eventually i'll have to go get my laundry to hang up and plug in my computer, so she'll have to move. but for now, it's nice to have a bit of company - and to remind me of the cats i miss from 'home'.

and lunch was at 12:30 - they were only 8 of us today. then dishes again. then a couple of conversations, starting my laundry, and cleaning up my room. and then trying to figure out what homework i need to do this afternoon. or whether the time would be better spent trying to learn German, writing on my blog and/or writing a few emails. by reading this, you can see what i decided :) i think a bit of that would be good although homework would also be good - last week's homework was summarizing a French article on Jeremiah 32 (it was good practice for the book i have to read in the next month or so concerning Jeremiah's confessions that is written in French - and i discovered that my French is not too bad and although it'll be a bit of work (i needed to look up at least a couple of words for each paragraph to understand well enough what was being said, it'll be do-able)). and i went downstairs for a few seconds to check on the cooks filling in - and ended up cutting vegetables for half an hour - i should know better by now not to visit the kitchen while supper is being made :) as this often happens.

and i've been thinking about the community and where i live a bit more lately. last week, the members of the Spe Gedentes community - those who are part of the inner community of Oudezijds 100 that organizes things and is considered a monastery - renewed their promise to live here and continue the work that they are doing. my mentor helped me understand a bit more the community's commitment to sharing the love of God in this place. and as i was learning more about this place, i was thankful for its ecumenicity that is still very much dedicated to the church as a whole and to individual churches. on Sundays we never have chapel - because every community member is expected to attend and participate in his/her own church. and the community members belong to different churches (Anglican, Catholic, Reformed). and no community member will be ever expected to do something that goes against the teaching of his/her church that she belongs to. the purpose of the community is not to be a church but to be one way of expressing how to live out one's faith - how to be church in the world that we live in. and i know things are not perfect here - and that the community continues to ask how they/we might better serve God as the body of Christ. yet even with the imperfections, i like how things have been set up in a way that promotes the ecumenical church but still respects the different ways that God reveals Himself in different churches and the deep love and commitment that different churches have for God.