22 December 2010

Taking time to contemplate life

I received the following quote in my feed reader today (taken from the Subiaco Abbey blog): 
I found it a good reminder: taking time to contemplate life is something I strive to do.

But at the same time, even as much as I'm thankful for how good it has been to slow down and resting after the wedding event, I struggle with how much the slowing down is actually good contemplation and how much is taking a good and necessary break - and how much can be laziness and/or a lack of desire of putting in the hard work of making new patterns and trying out new things?

Thus I have more to contemplate - in this season of contemplation and remembering that Christ is coming, coming to heal us of our brokenness.

21 December 2010

When it snows, it rains...

There is snow in the Netherlands - lots of it, and it's not going away. Last year was the first year in a long time that the Netherlands got a significant amount of snow, so people are slightly more prepared for things - but the snow still makes everything somewhat more complicated.

Fortunately, public transportation is still running. And I can still bike. But since they don't clear the paths or roads (only salt certain areas), biking now involves going over ice sections, through slush, and/or digging through 10 cms of semi-packed snow. I spent almost 2 hours today biking - to go to and from some place that normally takes 15 minutes with a bike!

And it is great that the trains are running (albeit on reduced schedules and with only minimum delays). It just seems that for some reason in the last week, some of the major stations have had hours during the day when almost no train could get in or out.

Thus, it's now a perfect time to stay home, right? except it's now leaking in our bedroom - cold water is coming through a section of the ceiling....

On the bright side, the snow is beautiful - and the encouragement to not take things for granted and to do things a little snower and travel less isn't a bad reminder. And furthermore, the cat is fascinated by the snow (see pictures), so if we ever get bored staying home, we can just toss him out on the balcony :)

08 December 2010

Verliebte in Wien

A couple of pictures from our honeymoon.


Verliebte in Wien means "In love in Vienna." We found these numbers in a subway station - and I thought it made a great picture....

You'll notice that the number has gone up in the second picture :)

07 December 2010

Starting over again

Moving in....
It dawned on me today, after being somewhat exasperated by my lack of productivity, that I am once again starting over again. At least this time, it's only a change of city and not a change of land.
And the language is mostly the same, although the communication is at a completely different level. That comes with the new territory - the switch from being single to married - and the process of learning to share not only one's space, but also one's life with another.

The cat making himself at home
And starting over again means that I have given up my home and the place where I had mostly figured out where I belonged, and so it is discomforting and confusing at times. I miss knowing my place and knowing the routine and knowing where things go. I miss the routine of community life, most especially the daily prayers and coffee. And I'm not used to my new role within the community - that of being there sometimes, with my presence being more of a delightful surprise than something that can be normally expected. The feeling of welcoming has been great, but I still miss the comfortableness I had in being part of the normal life of the community. It's hard to know how to mourn these aspects well, when they are overshadowed by the fact that what I have received is more than worth what I have given up.

Making a home for my things
- and overruling some of Matthijs's stuff :)
I am in the middle of making a new home, of finding new places to put things (and hiding things on Matthijs and secretly stashing my stuff on the bookshelves - note the picture of Sint Nicolaas being overshadowed by my toy), and the cat is making himself at home. And we enjoy just being together - we still can't get over the reality that every day we can eat dinner together and go home together. And we've played lots and lots of games together (we even have more after the wedding!). And in the midst of starting a life together, we can dream together and wonder about how life can and should be now. That's a bit overwhelming at times, but it's also pretty amazing.

Somewhat dissheveled, but happy to be 'home.'
So as much as my heart longs for working on research, it's not surprising that it's also full of lots of other thoughts and feelings - and starting again is a bit harder than I expected. It's a bit of a disappointment at times, but it's probably also healthy.

28 November 2010

Being a newlywed in Advent

As I was sitting in church this morning, soaking up the reality that this Sunday marks the beginning of advent, I started wondering what it meant to be a newlywed during Advent. When I think of Advent, I think of the idea of "already - but not yet" - a time of remembering that God's kingdom is here already, but it is also not here - and we long for a time when everything should be as it ought to be. So how does that fit with being a newlywed?

Being engaged felt a lot like being in an 'already-not yet' period. It was a time of starting a new life together, while still recognizing that it wasn't until the wedding that the new life together would begin. And the wedding was the day we were waiting for - even if some of the organization could be done before then (like moving some of my stuff) - and some of the celebrating had already started (I had friends and family visiting for a whole week before the wedding!), it was only on the wedding day that all the planning involved in having the wedding and family visit and moving and so on would be pretty much over. The anticipation of having all that planning and organizing done and finally being to able start a new life together made the wedding itself feel a lot like Christmas. So, how do I wait again, now that I finally feel like my time of waiting is finally over?

And my thoughts turned to how even if we're now finally married and the wedding is over, the marriage is just beginning. And learning to adjust to the fact that Matthijs's home is now also mine, and my cat is now also Matthijs's (we're not sure for whom this is the greater adjustment!) is challenging, as is building a marriage together that's good for both of us: learning how to be ourselves while making space for each other and trusting each other fully. As those things aren't always easy, it now sometimes feel like we're still in the waiting period - like our marriage is "already, but not quite yet" still. And that's where advent fits in well - this beginning of the church year, just like our new marriage, is full of hope that things will be good. After all, Jesus is coming, so how could it not be good?

12 November 2010


A little over a week ago the community had their geloftebevestiging, the moment when the community members renew their promises to the community. In a bit more than a week, I'll be getting married and making the commitment to a life together with Matthijs. So besides the usual busy-ness of life in community (and my needing to arrange for somebody to cover my absence in the weeks to come), there's also been the busy-ness of wedding planning - and anticipating a visit of family and friends. It's all been good, but it's also been a bit full. And I'm looking forward to everything in the next while, but I'm also looking forward to life slowing down again, so I can take a deep breath.

But for now, I'm a bit absent on my blog - just like I'm somewhat absent from the community in the next while. Pausing is good, as it helps to put things (back) into perspective. But i hope not to pause too long - my being able to share what's going on in life is a way for me to look anew at the challenges and blessings of my life.

22 October 2010

Taking a break during the first year of being married

One of the things that I'm really looking forward to about being married is having time with Matthijs: time that is not taken over by planning a wedding or by organizing the next time we'll see each other. And there will no longer be 1.5 hours travel time before (and after) seeing each other! That means there'll be time to have lots of conversations and think together and laugh together and do nothing together. Yay!
A number of people have told me to take the time to enjoy that first year of being married and not to do too much other stuff. I know that's wise advise, but I still chafe a bit when I hear it. Perhaps it's simply because I don't like being told what to do or feeling like people assume that because I've never being married, I have absolutely no idea what it might be like (or what would be good for me). I don't know for sure what it'll be like, but I do have some ideas of what might be good. I am purposely trying not to plan too much for after the wedding, as I want to give us space to make plans together; after we get married, it's even more obvious that it's not just about "my" plans anymore but it's now "our" plans. So I am already kind of following the advice to take it easy - but the advice itself still makes me a bit uncomfortable. It's not like I'm not looking forward to spending lots of time with Matthijs (see first paragraph of this for a reminder); it's just that I'm uncomfortable with the idea of my whole life revolving around Matthijs and my marriage. I (we) do certainly want to invest lots of time in building solid habits and good communication for married life - that's why we're taking a marriage course now - and why we've spent lots of time and energy already on the difficult questions of expectations and desires and communicating well. And it will be nice to slow down and settle somewhat, so that the chaos in my life (brought about, I expect, by many of the recent changes) can decrease somewhat. And I do want to laugh lots and enjoy being married!

But we also want our marriage to be fruitful; in the beginning, some of the fruit we bear will be a solid foundation for our marriage - but even in building that solid foundation, we don't want to lose sight of the vision that our marriage is to be honouring to God, a means for each of us to be more the people God wants us to be, and a blessing to others. And I can see now already a bit of how that might be manifested: Matthijs and I both want the excitement and joy of being married, coupled with our now having a constant theological sparring partner, to bear fruit in my dissertation and academic endeavours (and maybe also some academic endeavours for Matthijs, too :)). And we want our joy of being married to spread to those around us - and who better to share that joy with than those we love: the community and other friends and family?
The Old Testament talks about a newlywed not being allowed to go to war or be obligated in any way (Deut 24:5): "he must be free to stay at home for a full year and bring joy to the woman he has married." If I do some practical exegesis, I assume that the intention was not that the man should do nothing for a year - I can't imagine too many women who'd find joy in their husband hanging around the house doing nothing! There is thus a bit of interpreting here, and my interpreting is that, especially in the first year, the couple chooses first and always for what's best for their marriage and can push other important obligations of serving God and society aside (this building a foundation for a healthy marriage is, after all, the best way to serve God and society). But that doesn't imply doing nothing - in fact, the need to do nothing can then also become an obligation that hinders our marriage. And it does not imply that we'll have to turn away from other joys (and challenges) in our life, like the community, singing, visiting, and playing soccer. Perhaps we need to make limits, but the hope and expectation is that those other things that bring joy and challenges would in turn be a blessing to our marriage.

20 October 2010

So how does one prepare for a wedding?

Well, there's the usual ways of making lists and talking to people and buying stuff and making plans. And I've been doing that - sometimes too much, actually. But I've also discovered another way to prepare for a wedding: go to different weddings. And it just so happens that Matthijs and I have 3 weddings in October to go to. In my first four years of being in the Netherlands, I'd only managed to go to 3 weddings, and now, all of a sudden, 3 in one month! It makes it a busier month, but it also is fun to get ideas and perspective and have lots of fun, especially as I get to play honorary sister of the bride for the last one in October!

And if you ask, I'd tell you that I'm not stressed about the wedding. But last night I dreamt that I'd been brought to the wrong church, which started half an hour earlier, and I didn't even have the right shoes on (just my regular sandles) - and I blamed Matthijs for it all, even yelling at him. But I think after yelling at him, I felt better and I was still happy to have married him (even if it wasn't perfect). Eventually, probably when I kept being puzzled by how I could have had the wrong shoes on, I realized it was a dream and this couldn't be all happening - and I woke up. The only good thing about the dream was the realization that it's obvious that I'm looking forward to being married, even if it's not perfect :)

18 October 2010

Productivitiy and Prayer

What with the wedding, there are a lot of things that need doing (and then there are other normal life things that ought to be done). And that puts pressure on me to be superproductive. It's not a bad pressure, except for one thing: prayer and coffee/tea drinking and mealtimes (normal parts of community life) are not exactly productive.

So in the midst of the strong sense that I need to be productive, my normal desire to attend prayer and other activities in the community is quelched. This sometimes means that I don't attend prayer - I allow other things to come first. But it also means that sometimes I choose to go to prayer, choosing to do something unproductive as a way of trusting that things will get done and be good without my doing something all the time. And this choice forces me to remember that even if being productive is a way of being faithful to God, productivity isn't the same as being faithful. And I don't want my life to focus on how I can do more but instead on how I can do things delighting in God and participate in what God is already doing.

13 October 2010

Silence is golden

There's a saying in english about "silence being golden." It suggests that there is beauty in silence.

There's another saying with regards to silence that my mother taught me: "if you don't have anything good to say, then say nothing at all."

And I have been silent here on this blog. Not because I have nothing good to say, but because I haven't always known how to say it. Or haven't always had the energy to say it.

It's not that planning a wedding is so overwhelming - it's basically an incredibly long to-do list all focused on one major event. To do-lists are manageable. And thankfully I've had experience planning other things (one of the advantages of being a bit older when I get married), so planning this isn't so bad.

The challenge is that my life doesn't stop to plan a wedding - so there's other stuff that needs doing, too (and which takes time and energy).

And it's surprising what unknown things you bump into when planning, especially about expectations, communication, and relationships. Finding a healthy way to work through the stuff that comes up also takes up quite a bit of time and energy. But even if that part hasn't been always so pleasant, I am deeply thankful for the sense that I have grown in my relationships and my ability to relate to others well.

But I think I'm still very much looking forward to a break from it all after the wedding.

21 September 2010

Weekend at a Convent

I spent the weekend at a convent, and it was good. I went expecting to meet God, and I was not disappointed. I had given myself permission ahead of time to waste time with God and others. As for my time with others, the only negative thing I can say was that the conversation and questions raised were too interesting and delightful to be part of! It was the kind of fellowship that you hope for and yet still are delightfully surprised by. But at the same I also wanted to spend time with God alone and listen/talk with Him far enough away from a world that had felt confining and confusing in the last little while. Although it took some effort to put aside both my book and the delightful distraction of others around me, it was worth the effort to hang out with God. I emptied (again) before God all of what had been happening in the last while, especially the pain, confusion, guilt, and anger involved. This release to God felt much needed - and although the presence of the others might have felt like a distraction from this really good part of the weekend, I think the laughter and delight in meeting the others made it easier to face with honesty the challenges of the last time. Even if I wasn't willing to share what I was struggling with, sharing in the laughter was enough - perhaps another time/day, it will be good to share more.

One of the best parts of the weekend was a strong feeling that this kind of religious life is for me (albeit transposed to a less Catholic setting and as a married person). One way was in getting some perspective; to be reminded that we are not the only community with its share of quirks - and laughing at these more would probably do me good. And another was the fellowship - the delightful sense of getting to be yourself and have opinions and puzzle together through things and laugh together; in all of these things, to celebrate the other person for who he/she is. Certainly with time, fellowship becomes more challenging because we bump more into how who each one of us is sometimes exasperates others - and then we have to learn to make space and celebrate the other still. And this is what I want to strive for in living in community - and even if it's hard and sometimes exasperating, it is worth the effort - as this glimpse of delightful fellowship let me see.

And perhaps the part that is the most confirming was the sense of having been ready to meet God. Even if I'm not always present for the daily prayers here (physically or mentally), even if I struggle with doing fellowship well, even if my goal of Sunday with God doesn't succeed so well, and even if I feel overwhelmed sometimes with things here, my normal life has still been shaped to be open towards God and others. And thankfully, even when I don't do as well as I want to in being open, God gently finds ways to meet me and remind me of how it can be - and how much I can delight in that.

20 September 2010

looking at the Red Light District

I haven't written too much about my neighbourhood in the last while, but it is something that is often in the back of my head. So when I read Marco's thoughts about his experience here in the Red Light District, I wanted to share them with more people as I thought they might be a helpful way to have others see the Red Light District.

Marco begins thus:
"This neighborhood gets me down. And the worst thing is not the prostitutes or drug dealers. The worst thing is the tourists. Isn't it sad enough that humans have strange and dark needs and desires, that they can so easily fall victim to all-consuming addictions and that these are so universal that every major city has prostitution and drug dealing... must we make a TOURIST ATTRACTION out of it? What went wrong?

His further thoughts can be found at his blog, "songs of a soupman"

10 September 2010

Resolving my commitment to the community with my commitment to my future spouse

In the last while I've been doing quite a bit of processing about my relationship to the community. This has to do with some of the things that have been happening in the community, especially changes in the core group. But a lot of it also has to do with the fact that my relationship to Matthijs changes pretty much everything.

Have I mentioned that I don't always handle change well?!?

So in the midst of these changes, I've been sorting out commitments and loyalties and looking closely at how I relate to people and what expectations I have (including trying to be honest about what's not healthy, in the hopes that it will become healthier). I'm deeply thankful for this processing, and I believe deeply that my relationships are generally improving because of this, but it hasn't been very pleasant - and not just for me, I know (Matthijs has received the brunt of my frustration sometimes, alongside of the lack of clarity found in being in the middle of processing, and he's still been really encouraging).

As part of the processing, I wrote an article for catapult magazine about communities and commitments and sorting out the balance. It can be found online: but nuns can't get married!. If you read it, it'd be helpful to remember the lack of clarity that's often found in the middle of processing - and that I'm still in the middle of it.

But even though it feels like the processing with all this stuff is not yet resolved, there's been some really great moments of clarity along the way. I have received a strong sense of two things -first: that I really want to be more honest, including in my relationships with others - and second: pray more. Those two realizations have been worth all the messiness of the processing.

09 September 2010

the friendly neighbourhood homeless guy

When I moved into the community a number of years ago, I was aware that we had a sort of drop-in centre. That part of the life here intrigued me, especially as it felt like I'd be better able to be personally involved with the poor and needy, something I felt Christians ought to do but had no idea how. I had felt pretty distant from the poor and needy while attending Seminary or living in a small town. My only experience with homeless folk was a few random people begging and some of the gypsy camps in Ukraine. When I taught there, a gypsy woman who I saw regularly would often ask for money. I'd give her money sometimes, but I felt rather helpless in knowing better what to do.

And now, I sit and have coffee amidst homeless folks. Sometimes it's nothing more than sitting in the same room as each other - conversations flow among people who've known each other for long and less with those who've just come to visit for the coffee. And sometimes a coffee that's all that's wanted - or a place to get out of the rain or cold and to rest and get a bit of coffee. But sometimes it's a conversation that's desired, something I still find difficult to manage with some people. But with others, it's much easier - and we've built a kind of rapport. So with some of those who walk in, even if we don't talk, there's a general appreciation for the other.

And sometimes we'll even see each other on walking along the street and then we'll greet each other. That I now do that and find that normal is something I'm glad of; it feels like a number of people have stopped being "those homeless folks" who are nameless and in desperate need of help. Instead, a number of guys have started becoming one of my friendly neighbourhood homeless guys, people I enjoy greeting on the street and look forward to seeing. And even if I'm still not sure when it comes to homelessness how best I can love God and others, it feels like there's been a step forward. And I feel honoured that I now have some homeless guys in my social circle, something I would never have imagined possible before I came here.

30 August 2010

The Good News

In interacting with the first chapter of Mark (You, Me & Mark (Zondervan, 2002)), Adrian Plass talks about how it is difficult, when looking at how messed up the world is, even to know what the good news is. Looking at mess the church is and also ourselves as individuals makes it even harder to see the good news. And the lovely theological answers that we might have don't really cut it beside the day-to-day reality of hypocrites, hardship, the offense of the gospel, sin, and our own failures.

And so, Plass gives the following picture of the good news, one worth recording and coming back to:

"I have met this man called Jesus who, as this passage tells us, stepped out to deliver the good news two thousand years ago. My spirit tells me that he has all the answers I shall ever need, even if he will not give them to me now. Like Peter splashing to the shore from his fishing boat I shall run to him one day when I spy him in the distance because I want so much to be with him. I shall have breakfast with him - he will cook it. He has made it possible for me to go to a place where the past cannot strangel the present, and bodies cannot wear out, and tears will be wiped away, and sins will be forgiven, and reltionships will be healed, and we shall be very much ourselves, and things will be as they were always intended to be, and we shall be in the place that we were homesick for but could not identify and there will be no more religion and it will be divinely ordinary. We shall be happy and at home. Good news for God, and good news for us."

Adrian Plass's You, Me & Mark (Zondervan, 2002), 22-23.

23 August 2010


This week marks the beginning of the new season for the community. It has meant the return of all the core community members that were on vacation - a joyful and lively arrival. Unfortunately, their arrival has also meant the leaving of a couple from the core community, who had been staying on to cover things while most of the other community members were on vacation. And so, as much as I am thankful for the arrival of those who had been gone, I find it hard not to link their arrival with the going away of people I know I will miss. Despite expecting this leaving for months now, having seen some of the brokenness that led up to the decision to leave, and even truly believing that their leaving is for the best, I am still saddened by the real-ness of it. There was a brief month in the middle of the almost leaving when I got to enjoy their company and be community together with them - and simply show up for chapel knowing that the other would be there and most likely available to drink tea or coffee afterwards. And now that brief month is over - and I am thankful for it, even though it means I have been reminded more of what is being lost.

And I'm not sure exactly how to mourn, nor how to participate in the joyful return of the community members whose presence makes things different simply by being here - and who didn't share that last month.

So I am simply going to chapel and otherwise cacooning in my house as much as possible. I've attached myself to my computer - it is high time that I get my act together and write some stuff on Ezekiel. And the forcing myself to work hard and concentrate fully on something I enjoy and flourish in is good for me, and if I work hard enough on it, it will bring on a good weariness and a joyful feeling of accomplishment. And hopefully after a week, I will be more able to participate in the rest of life in community, being able to mourn well while also hoping and delighting in all the new possibilities and upcoming challenges.

10 August 2010

What's wrong with you?!?

I think one of the lines/statements I'll be bringing into my marriage is:
"You are [or do things] so different from me. What's wrong with you?!?"

It is, I realize, an utterly ridiculous statement. And that's the point - I need to say it so that I can take a step back from myself and/or the situation and be able to laugh at myself. Because even if the statement is ridiculous, subconsciously I will probably think it. No matter how much Matthijs and I are alike and how much we care about each other, there will be [are] moments when we do/think things so different from each other that it causes frustration. And then it's easy to think/act as if there's something wrong with the other person. And then by learning to express that frustration in such a riduculous but still helpful way, I can better remember to be less quick to judge. And I am reminded to recognize that differences from my way of doing things are hardly inherently wrong, even despite the fact that they often bring challenges and sometimes frustration.

And as I continue to laugh at myself, hopefully I'll also remember that Matthijs isn't the only person in my life where this question might be helpful. Life in community draws me into close quarters with people who are very different from me, people whom it is also easy to judge that there is something 'wrong with them.' And it's easy to let that fester into something unhealthy. Learning to laugh through my frustration and being willing to see the challenges of living together as people who are different is also good for me. Knowing the blessing of living together well, the good things we as different people can bring together, makes the effort definitely worthwhile.

08 August 2010

hearing the David and Goliath story again

In church this morning, we read the story of David and Goliath (1 Sam 17). And as I listened to this familiar story, I heard it again anew.

The pastor pointed out how Saul tried to clothe David in his armor, the same armor with which Saul (and his army) had not been succeeding. Not burdening others with our unsuccessful methods/ways was given as a moral of the story. Even as much as I question whether this was a moral (and more so, why a moral even is necessary), this thought got me to thinking, something I appreciated.

And the story itself had got me thinking. Thinking about how utterly crazy it was for David to try to take on Goliath (after hearing the story so many times, one can kind of forget that). And that made me wondering if in the last while I've too easily said/thought/felt that I couldn't do something.
And then the next strange part of the story is that the adults in David's life actually let him try to take on Goliath! They even went so far as to try to give him armor, as if further condoning what he was doing - or as a last-ditch effort to try to let him go home in mostly one piece.
And then hearing/thinking about the death of Goliath, it occurred to me that David never touched Goliath, but instead shot him from a distance. Even as much as Goliath could have rushed David when he realized what was going on with the slingshot (or perhaps even raised his shield), it seems a bit un-sportsmanlinke for David to have killed him from such a distance. Perhaps I'm missing part of the story or how slingshots work, but I do wonder a bit about how fair David's killing was. And what are the implications of it being unfair?

I'm not completely thought out on the story, which is good. I always appreciate being able to hear the stories again and wonder about them anew - and wonder about God's presence and what He is saying and what I can and do hear.

04 August 2010


The following quote about 'integrity' has stayed with me in the last while.
"Integrity is the gap between what you say and what you do. The smaller the gap, the larger the integrity of that person. The larger the gap, the less integrity." Taken from: Integrity

The quote has raised the question:
What does it mean if I say I love doing something (like academic research), but really struggle to find the time and energy to do it?

How does integrity fit in here? Is it a question of whether I'm fooling myself in saying that I really do love doing this? or does my struggle of finding time and energy reflect that something else is going on in my life (some kind of problem, imbalance and/or sin) that is affecting my integrity?

It is something I continue to ponder.

31 July 2010

I heard the bell ringing

I heard the bell ringing - an invitation to come to chapel. And so I went.

Certainly there was a slight pause while deciding if I would answer. I don't expect to hear the bell on a Friday night; with many people on vacation, there are few people around who would hear the bell. And not expecting the bell, I hadn't planned on going - the plan was instead to finish a book.

But after hearing the bell, the decision was fairly simple. I could come to chapel, so why wouldn't I? It would remind me again to turn my heart to God and to attune myself to His presence. And I had no idea if chapel would simply be a series of songs and quiet prayer and a Bible reading; or whether in the midst of that I'd be more aware of God's presence in my life and what He'd have for me.

And I went. And in so doing I was reminded of why I came - and I remembered why I'd continue to go - for the simple reminder of turning my heart towards God, something I hope to do in my whole life but made easier by the regular chapel times and constant reminder to come and join in prayer.

update aug 2010: An article in the most recent letter from St. Gregory's Abbey also focuses on the value of the bell in calling one to prayer and recognizing the gift of being reminded of how one's time is for God. It can be downloaded from their Archive (current issue: or nr 242 once a new issue comes out).

19 July 2010

No more vacation for me, thanks...

As many people in the Netherlands take a vacation during the summer, I have been frequently asked where I'll be going on vacation this summer. And my answer? Nowhere - I've had it with taking vacation! Most people seem quite puzzled by my answer. When I explain that I've already had 3.5 weeks of vacation this year (first to Turkey and then to Canada), it's easy to interpret my answer as saying that I've already had all my vacation for this year. But that's not really it - even if I could take more vacation, I have no desire to (I get the impression this is odd to most people).

Perhaps it is simply the fact that since Christmas I have been a total of at least 10 weeks away from Amsterdam (more than half of the time was work-related).

Perhaps it's simply my personality - that I'm somebody who is perfectly
happy to stay home and read.

Perhaps it's because of my childhood - although we went camping when I was growing up - it was only for long weekends. School holidays were simply a change of pace - and usually a shift to other kind of work. So I'm not used to this whole going on long vacations thing.

Or perhaps it's because of my insistence on not working on Sunday (something else inherited from my childhood). And having a 'not have to' day (and no guilt!) once a week is like having a mini-vacation every week :)

And it's likely due to the fact that I generally like my life as it is - I get to study and think and I am part of a community that has rhythms and structures that provide stability and peace for my life. And even if I do not always appreciate all of those things when I am in Amsterdam, when I am gone and/or on vacation, I miss those things the most - and my life feels incomplete, even in the midst of the joy and wonders that vacations can and do bring.

04 July 2010

Intellectually flabby

If you don't exercise enough, you get out-of-shape (flabby, in slang). I feel a bit like that's been happening with me intellectually. It's not that I do nothing; it's just that I don't have all that many deadlines, and I've spent a lot of time in the last while away from my own research. I have been thinking, but it's been about other things.

I've noticed that I've gotten lazy; as well, I'm super easily distracted and content to do little for longer periods of time. The following description that I found on Alan Jacobs's blog, text patterns, resonates with me:

these days

Tom Bisell, from his book Extra Lives, an extended defense of the art of the video game and the value of spending large chunks of your life playing them:

Once upon a time, I wrote in the morning, jogged in the late afternoon, and spent most of my evenings reading. Once upon a time, I wrote off as unproductive those days in which I had managed to put down “only” a thousand words. Once upon a time, I played video games almost exclusively with friends. Once upon a time, I did occasionally binge on games, but these binges rarely had less than fortnight between them. Once upon a time, I was, more or less, content.

“Once upon a time” refers to relatively recent years (2001-2006) during which I wrote several books and published more than fifty pieces of magazine journalism and criticism — a total output of, give or take, 4,500 manuscript pages. I rarely felt very disciplined during this half decade, though I realize this admission invites accusations of disingenuousness or, failing that, a savage and justified beating. Obviously, I was disciplined. These days, however, I am lucky if I finish reading one book every fortnight. These days, I have read from start to finish exactly two works of fiction — excepting those I was not also reviewing — in the last year. These days, I play video games in the morning, play video games in the afternoon, and spend my evenings playing video games. These days, I still manage to write, but the times I am able to do so for more than three sustained hours have the temporal periodicity of comets with near-Earth trajectories.

28 June 2010

A Good Day

When I went to bed on Saturday, I had the feeling that it had been a "good day." (Some days aren't so good - and some days, I'm too tired or busy or something to even recognize whether the day might have been good!) And what made it good?

Most importantly it was a day of celebration. On Saturday br Rik, one of the members of the community here in Amsterdam, was ordained. And since he's been moving towards this point for quite awhile, it was extra exciting for all of us to see that the big moment had finally arrived.

A year ago br Rik was ordained to a deacon - an important day in his process toward becoming a priest but also the day when I bumped into Matthijs. Matthijs and I remembered each other from a conference a year before, we talked about old testament, communities, and music; and I gave him my email address (and as they say, the rest is history :))

It was also a good day because I had time on Saturday to do things for myself, time with Matthijs, I got to meet good friends of Matthijs (something surprisingly complicated to organize - mostly because we live in different places and his friends don't visit him for a week, like many of mine do :)), and got to celebrate an event with Oudezijds 100.

The ordination and the party afterwards felt classic Oudezijds 100, with a little bit of Anglican high church mixed in (more from the presence of the bishop than from Christ Church herself). And as was usual with organization in the community, there were a few glitches: for example, 15 minutes before the service, we discovered that one of the robes (mantels) was missing, so I got to quickly bike back to the house and pick it up before we started. But there was also lots of food and music and lots of people, so it was fun to talk about nothing and everything - and simply enjoy the celebration together. The only down side of the day was the felt absence of one of the community members, an absence that brings a lot of uncertainties with it. But even then, grieving together an absence is also a good thing; a good thing that does not diminish the celebration of the rest of the day.

See Christ Church's website for photos from the Ordination service.

22 June 2010


The other day at breakfast I asked one of our volunteers learning dutch if he knew what the word "verloofd" meant. He was pretty sure it had to do with a german word and had something to do with engaged. Since we'd spent more of breakfast talking about language stuff, it hadn't seemed like so strange of a question. But then I mentioned how Niagara Falls is a rather romantic place, and suspicions were raised that there was something more than just a dutch lesson behind my original question. And so I confirmed it: while we were visiting Niagara Falls, Matthijs had gotten down on his knees and proposed to me - and I had gladly accepted. We hope to get married this November and plan to live in the community here to see if this might be a good fit for us together.

In the weeks after getting engaged, I've not only been initiated to the world of wedding planning but also to the strange ritual of 'how do we share the good news'. Although with some people you can just announce the wedding plans right after saying hello, for others there feels like there ought to be more of a moment to mention it, a moment that doesn't always come naturally. I had thought that the wedding planning itself was one of the biggest challenges of getting married but this finding the best way to tell people in a timely manner, well, that's been a good preparatory challenge. Fortunately, there's still email and phones and everyone seems pretty okay with my just announcing the news, even if it might be awkward at times :) The question of how to share the good news is overshadowed by the good news itself: the excitement and wonder of planning to begin a life together.

10 June 2010

back in Amsterdam

I began the day in blue jeans, but sometime in the morning I changed into a skirt. I also changed my shirt to something that was a bit wider in the neck, and I put my contacts in. And then I put my hair up and pulled on my great dutch high-heeled boots.

As the university doesn't pay me to do research, I figure I don't have to look like I work there (although most people there also look pretty casual much of the time). So I just wear whatever I'm in the mood for.
So what was the reason for all this effort? Not work itself - but the trip to work:
- the contact lenses are because they, unlike glasses, don't get all wet and spotty when it rains,
- the boots were to protect me against the puddles I was biking through;
- the skirt was short enough to be covered by my poncho, so that only my boots and legs would get wet;
- the wider neck was to make sure I didn't arrive with a damp colour leaked onto through the coat and poncho; and
- hair drips less (and looks less wet) when it's pulled back.

I guess I could have taken the subway/metro to work but who wants to be stuffed with everybody else into a clammy subway car? And if I did that, how would I ever get to show off my sense of accomplishment of learning how to have a somewhat pleasant bike ride in the rain and arrive without looking and feeling like a drowned rat?

[I must say it's good to be back in Amsterdam (and I'm also okay if it doesn't rain again this week :)]

05 June 2010

Update on my dad

Since last posting about my dad's surgery, I haven't written much - life's been kind of busy. Not only has there been the surgery, where everything has been going well, there has also been my semi-annual trip to Canada to visit friends and family, and there was quite a bit of things to do before leaving and while here.

My dad was quite tired last week still, but this week he's had more energy (well, except for now as he's dozing in his chair). And it's been really good to see him, and I'm really glad to see in person that he's doing well. Even though I can also see that it's hard for him to be still so tired so much - he's used to being able to do so much whenever he wants.

And the visit itself has been good, although a bit different than usual since Matthijs came with. I've still been trying to visit lots of people like usual, but it's been rather busy with trying to visit/meet so many different people and also trying to see some of the things there are to see here. I'm really glad to have been here and done everything, but I'm also looking forward to returning again to life in Amsterdam.

12 May 2010

Today my father has surgery

Not knowing how to tell others, I have said little about my father's planned heart bypass surgery.

I suspect that part of the reason I have not mentioned it so much is because I'm not entirely sure how to react to the whole situation. On the one hand, it is the sort of procedure that is performed so often that it is almost routine. Yet, it is still his heart being operated on - and it is my father who is being operated on. That makes it a bit more uncertain, and I am a bit anxious.

Most of the time, living so far away from my parents has been okay, even providing neat opportunities like my being able to visit my parents for days at a time (seeing them at their work)- or have them come here for vacation. But now, with this situation, being so far away makes it harder. My mom and sisters have kept me updated really well, but it's still strange to be thousands of kilometres and 6 hours time difference away (like right now as I write they're on the way to the hospital, even though it is still dark outside there) while something this big is happening in the lives of people I love.

My mother has said that my father is calm and peaceful about everything, and my Mom and sisters sound also peaceful about the situation. And we are all trusting God. And deep down, I am deeply thankful that the problem was discovered before my father ever had any problems, like a heart attack - because of his work and a heart murmer, he is forced to have random check-ups, which this time discovered the possible danger early on.

And today, I am praying extra for my parents - and I am looking forward to hearing from my Mom/sister tonight about how my dad is doing.

11 May 2010

Still a bit of disorder

Although I recently wrote a note saying that my life was returning to normal, there are a couple of signs that my life still has quite a bit of disorder in it.

A part of that disorder and irregularity is normal - it's an obvious consequence of trying to make ends meet without having a job - it means I take on a number of random short-time things when the possibilities present themselves and when the need for money is more higher. Life in a community is also full of random activities that occur frequently enough to be normal but not enough to be 'regular' for me - and some of which are demanding and/or unexpected. And then add a boyfriend to it, who I like more than enough to see frequently but who also needs to be scheduled in amidst all the above randomness [fortunately his life is slightly less disordered normally].

And then there have been a couple of bigger irregular things in my life - the 5 extra days in Turkey - and a last-minute visit from a friend. Both things were good, but both drew me away from the already limited order I have in my life.

And so I see that certain things that are normal in my life, like writing for this blog and working on my dissertation and/or my unfinished thesis have been pushed a bit to the wayside. And I miss them.

And so when somebody asked if I was looking forward to the retreat with the community this weekend, the obvious answer to me was 'no.' It is one more thing, like my being present more within the community this past week while others took vacation, that draws me away from what limited order I am trying to struggling to find in my life. I think tomorrow after spending some time with the community, I will be thankful to be there - but for today, I am still longing for a certain amount of order, as well as the wisdom (humour?) to see order in the midst of the disorder.

30 April 2010

And back to life as normal

So my life has been returning to normal here in Amsterdam. Considering where I live in Amsterdam - in a community in the Red Light District - normal can mean pretty much anything.

Last Saturday evening I walked out the front door and bumped into some man lying in front of the door. "Just great," I thought, "some crazy man passed out in front of my door." But he sat up, and I looked a bit closer - and I discovered it was Daniel hanging out watching the tourists go by. So I sat down and joined him. Why not, eh?

And as for more normal, today I'm writing this in the office of the community with some pretty overwhelmingly loud music coming from outside. The tons of people wondering around bedecked in orange today make it fairly obvious that today is a special holiday - the Queen's birthday.

And what did I do in honour of the Queen's birthday? I went to Schiphol to pick up a friend, Crystle, who's visiting this week. It took more than 3 hours to get there and back (normally it's 15 minutes there and 15 minutes back). I missed the last train travelling between Amsterdam Centraal and Amsterdam Sloterdijk - as of 11.45 this morning, trains could no longer run that part of the tracks because people had decided to walk on them. So, then a rerouting - and a delay before the re-routing was announced. Finally, I met up with Crystle (more than an hour late), and we began the adventure of getting back to Amsterdam Centraal amidst the re-routed and overcrowded trains. It was fairly gezellig, though - lots of friendly people clothed in orange, happily drinking beer, hanging out with friends, freely talking to everybody, and looking forward to hanging out some more in Amsterdam.

As I write this, it's become a bit more obvious to me why I found my beach vacation in Turkey nice - but slightly dull. I mean, castles are great and hanging out with the boyfriend is also great (and the rest of the company was pretty good, too) - but it doesn't quite compare with the 'never a dull moment' of life here in Amsterdam.

22 April 2010

Home Again

I thankfully got to fly home today, and I am happily situated back in my small apartment (which is still bigger than a hotel room - although not by much), doing my laundry, spending time with my anxious cat, doing stuff on the computer, and looking forward to chapel and coffee with the Community this evening.

In honour of coming home, I thought I'd share a couple of pictures from my trip that have to do with home:
Throwing snowballs - a normal winter activity back home (the other home, that is).

Bikes in Konya

Jip and Janneke (dutch children's literature) in a sidestreet in Tarsus

My temporary home for the last week:

The view of the hotel and the beach.

The view of the beach and fort in the Mediterranean that you could see from the terrace of the hotel (and also from my balcony).

The castle within a 10 minute walk from the hotel.

And the last glimpse, a brief glimpse at one of the highlights of my vacation - the caves in Cappadocia. Now that I'm home again, I remember again how amazing a vacation it was.

More pictures to follow...

21 April 2010

If you are stuck in Turkey, looking at castles is a good way to spend the morning...

This morning I visited my fourth castle this week. And before breakfast I walked out the hotel onto the terrace and read a book while looking out over the sea. I even have maids come in and clean my room. I might be stuck here but İ can hardly complain that life is difficult, eh?

Tomorrow we will hopefully fly home - flights are going again and we are re-booked for tomorrows flight. There is a layover in Istanbul which might be problematic because of the backlog there in the past week but otherwise everything looks good.

And the mood here has generally been positive. After all - if you have castles just around the corner to visit how hard can it be?

Well, ıts only hard when you remember what you miss. Yesterday Matthijs and I took a trip to a nearby city and visited an Orthodox Church. Walking into a church that is frequently used, invited in by the cleaning lady who enthusiastically inquired into what churches we attended (even though we didnt speak her language or she ours), I entered a place where İ sensed others frequently came before God. And even though I am travelling with a group of Christians and there have been many amazing sights, including beautiful parts of nature and churches from ancient times, I realized yesterday how much İ miss that silence and special place related to meeting God.

And when we heard yesterday that we could go home tomorrow - that flights were going again and we had a reservation again, a sense of relief filled me. I find uncertainty and the unknown so hard.

And with the hope of returning to normal life - a life I love - it is easier to be thankful for all the possibilities around me here. And I continue to be surprised, after seeing more of Turkey than I had expected, concerning how much continues to be new and different and unexpected.

17 April 2010

in İceland a volcano erupted....

And hence İ am enjoying a (mostly) all expenses paid vacation (on unexpected free-time) beside the Mediterranean Sea. My group vacation - a sort of educative trip - has now become a beach vacation due to the havoc to flight operations that the volcano has caused. Our flight out is now booked for monday - hopefully the disruption of flights in Europe will be cleared by then.

İ think İ would have preferred to have gone home as planned - back to life as usual - but hey, since İ don`t have that choice - hanging out in a hotel on the beach of the Mediterranean in the company of a group of theologians (Matthijs being of course my favourite :)) with good food included and castles to visit - that is a pretty great alternative.

09 April 2010

Celebrating spring

Spring has come to the Netherlands. And then it disappeared again - but now it's come back again.

The first really warm day that I had free, I did one of my favourite things: going for a bike ride. I took the tried and true route - the ferry to Amsterdam north, through the small streets towards Durgerdam - and then briefly by the Ijsselmeer (Ijssel Lake), then a detour through Ijburg, past the Flevopark, and alongst the zoo to get home. And what made it more enjoyable is that I could drag Matthijs along.

The weather stayed well long enough for me to make another bike trip - this time, with the mission of picking up a scratching post for my cat - in Hoofddorp. I figured I could handle the 40+ km trip, and it was a new adventure, so why not? This time I dragged Daniel, one of the volunteers, along. We biked southwest, through the Vondel Park, through Badhoevedorp, past Schiphol, and into middle of nowhere of Hoofddorp. It was a good way to spend a Saturday - and my cat is generally enjoying the scratching post (although he still hasn't learned to stop using the couch for his claws).

Easter was somewhat cold and rainy (and quite busy for me), but it is now once again beautiful sunny weather. And how am I going to celebrate it? Vacation!! Tomorrow I'm going on holiday with Matthijs - a tour through Cappadocia (Turkey), enjoying the landscape and buildings and visiting especially sites having to do with theology, like connections to Paul's journeys and the early church fathers, monasteries, and churches. I'm very much looking forward to it :)

15 March 2010

Further thoughts on Community

Crystle and I talk about community a lot. We talk about a lot of other things, too (friends do that, after all). But when we talk about community, what I like best is that she "gets it" when I talk about how community can be so much of a blessing and yet also so much of a challenge. The community she is a part of (the Kirkendell Cluster) is very different from mine (Oudezijds 100); yet the nitty-gritty hard work of community is present in both. The challenges of communication, healthy growth, good accountability, and making space for each other all appear in some form or other in each of our communities. Alongside of that, of course, are the problems each of us bring to communities - our impatience with processes that take too long or appear never to get better, confusion and frustration with people who are so different, and our own insecurities that exclude both ourselves and others (to name only a few of the problems!).

When I bemoan all these challenges of community with Crystle, I not only feel understood (which is nice), but I also feel like I'm given new strength to continue the struggle to do community well. It's like by expressing myself to someone who understands, it clears away some of the grime that prevents me from seeing how God is working in and through community to bless others and myself.

Crystle, in a recent blog entry, put it quite similarly. The following is a short excerpt from her thoughts. (the full entry can be seen here: http://cdn.gv.ca/2010/03/12/learning-how-to-interact-with-others/

"Living in community isn’t a walk in the park. Whether you’ve been at it 2 years or 50 years, it is still critical to
* communicate to build relationships, and
* know your own expectations, and know the expectations of others.
Conflict will inevitably result if we fail to continue to work on these....

The reward [of working on these things]? Conflict won’t fester into feuds. Unconditional commitment means others will support me when life gets tough. Being known and accepted by others for who we are. Ability to work with others towards a better future.

I think that’s worth the hard work."

last note from brenda: me, too (even if I sometimes forget).

11 March 2010

a few "onhandig" moments in my going to America

A few rather onhandig things happened right before and right after my flying to America a couple of months ago. Not only do the things that happened illustrate the range of what onhandig means, they also remind me to laugh at myself on account of some of the dumb things I do.

After I got to America, I managed to forget my contacts, my purse, and my passport in three different places (and on different days). The contacts are still at my friends' house (waiting for my next visit), my mom picked up my purse (left at my sister's), and finally, after quite a bit of stress and hassle, I got my passport back - thankfully! This nasty habit of leaving things behind me was definitely inconvenient - and I subsequently resolved to do my best to get rid of this rather onhandig problem of mine by paying more attention to things around me. It's worked - at least to a degree (in the next day or two, I have to search through my apartment to find a couple of cards I seem to have misplaced....)

The other definition of onhandig is awkward or clumsy. And well, before I left I managed to have a couple of rather clumsy moments. About a week before I left, I slid out on my bike - and landed on my hip in the snow slush. It didn't hurt too much. Within a day or two, I managed to fall down the last 4 steps of my stairs (while carrying all my recycling out). I made quite a bit of a crash - and my downstairs neighbour came out to see my rather dazed expression. My body was starting to feel sore after that.

But the last moment of being onhandig was the worst. On the day after Christmas (when I wanted to leave early because I had plans), my ladder fell down from my loft - while I was on the top of it. I managed to scramble back into the loft so I didn't come crashing down with the lader (definitely was much more awake at the point). But then I was stuck with the problem of how to get down without a ladder. I had my phone, but I didn't have the phone numbers from most of the people in my own house - and it was too early to call people from the main house to come rescue me. So I figured that my loft's not really that high, so I can jump. I threw my mattress down on the ground, and after talking myself into having enough courage, I hung my feet over first and then jumped towards the mattress. It was relatively successful - except that I definitely jarred my back - and so by that time, my whole body hurt every time I moved. When I saw Matthijs later that day, I received limited sympathy from him. And I figured I'd better not tell anybody else since I'd get even less sympathy. I'm now being much more careful about the ladder and how securely it's attached. And if it ever happens again, I'm going through my whole address list to call for help first (even if it means being laughed at - at least then I'll be laughed at beforehand and not afterwards)!

I was reminded of this last incident the other day when Matthijs was looking carefully around my house. He admitted that he was picturing how I'd managed to get down. I wasn't sure if I should find that annoying or funny. I found it funny - I can only imagine how I must have looked! And so, if you'd like some visuals to help picture it yourself, Follow this link for pictures of my apartment :)

08 March 2010

a glimpse of my family

A number of months ago, my aunt published on her blog several letters to her husband, who had recently passed away. In putting these online, she shared with us the joys and challenges of having been married to my uncle. It was pretty special to get a glimpse of her and my uncle in this way, and I was grateful to have been able to read those letters.

One of my favourite letters is her description of meeting my uncle's family - my dad's family, that is. My aunt came into the family shortly after my mom did (and according to my mom, their experiences were fairly similar). I think what I like best about the story is how my aunt writes it in a way that makes some fun of herself. She recognizes that at 20, she was naive and could easily look down on those who are different - and my dad's family was very different from hers! At the same time in her description she captures well some of the things I love about my family - hard-working, learning to make do with little, boisterous teasing, tenacity, earthy, practical, being willing to be different, and fun loving - all things they've tried to teach me to be, too :)

The following is her description of her first meeting with the family:

"The following weekend we arranged that I would take the early train to London and we would first of all attend the Remembrance Day ceremonies in L-ndon. Then we would travel to the farm and meet your family. That was a weird weekend for me. On the one hand I was thrilled to be arm in arm with you during the ceremonies, when romantically, it began to snow.

But when we arrived at your parents farm, I was shocked. I never seen a farm like that before (I had rarely been to a farm before), and it certainly did not fit my vision of a farm. You did not warn me about anything. It was not a really prosperous farm, and it showed. Your family, on the other hand, were real farm people, and that showed too. They laughed and teased their way through a huge sloppy meal, and there were so many little kids. Rough little kids. I had no idea they were having so much fun at my expense. This visit also changed my view of you a little. I was disappointed, because you seemed to be like them when we were there. Not at all like you were when away from them. You didn’t defend me or tell the kids to knock it off. You even spoke a type of pidgin English to your Dad, of which I only understood the work "tractor".But much, much later I realized that you behaved like that on purpose. You wanted to see if I would fit in or if I was truly snobbish (unknowingly) like my family.

That is also the first time I ever drank coffee. I had never been encouraged to drink coffee at home, it was always tea. When someone asked me if I would like a coffee, I timidly said, I’d rather have tea thanks, they laughed uproariously, and slapped a huge mug of coffee down in front of me. I learned to first tolerate coffee, then enjoy it, and now drink very little tea at all, only coffee! So I guess you can say I did learn to fit in!

I stayed overnight that Saturday night, and slept in a huge bed with two other girls. I laugh now when I remember that night. I woke up in a tangle of arms and legs, with your father shouting up the stairs for the boys to roll out and get to the barn. At breakfast they horrified me with farm and animal stories. When I got ready for church and put on my stylish little pillbox hat, they split their guts laughing. In embarrassment I put it away. I never wore it again. What an education in country ways that was.

Now I don’t mean to be unkind about your family. I learned over the years to understand and love them. Your parents worked hard and did the best they could, and I actually have a very good relationship with all your siblings and spouses. I’m glad now that they were the way they were. It shook me out of my narrow little world and made me see life on the other side of the fence. And that’s exactly what you hoped would happen. But you did not ease my way."

taken from: http://theasramblings.blogspot.com/2009_11_22_archive.html#5581625693333864708

05 March 2010

further news about my cat

Although i assume every cat has its quirks, the quirks probably are more obvious when one lives alone. And honestly, jerry's my best entertainment - next to my computer, my books, and my own thoughts (and the tourists and the community and friends :)). So for those of you interested in the cat, here are some pictures and some quirks:

He talks a lot. Some of the time i know what he's saying. Like there's the traumatic meow when i've been gone too long (usually interspersed with purring because he's happy to see me). There's the "is it really you?" meow when he hears me coming up the stairs. And the "where are you?" meow, when he's coming up the stairs. And the "i'm bored, play with me" meow. And the just talking or "i don't know" or "something's wrong" meow. This last meow is periodically followed by a visit to the litterbox.

He came 'potty-trained'. And he's never, as far as i know, gone outside of the box, for which I'm very grateful.

He plays fetch, mostly cat food and paper. Sometimes i throw a piece of rolled up paper onto the hammock. He jumps up after it and knocks it off. I've become quite a good shot from the couch.

He climbs up ladders - and climbs back down (how else is he supposed to get to the bed to sleep on it?). He learned how to do the ladder pretty early on - it took him much longer to go down the stairs in the house (they're pretty steep, and i think he fell down them once). He refused to let me carry him down the stairs. However, if i put him in a bag - and even if he was looking out - he didn't mind at all being carried down.

He likes bags, especially being inside them. He's also attracted to boxes.

Last week i bought a mop and the first day i tried it out, i realized that jerry and i had found a new source of entertainment. With the mop, the whole floor remained wet longer. It was like one large slip'n'slide for the cat. And for whatever reason, jerry decided that it was a good time to run like an idiot around the apartment - he didn't seem too phased by the fact that his legs kept slipping out from under him.

So that's life with jerry. He's not so good with other people yet - he's pretty scared of them. And i don't think he likes having to share my attention. But hopefully that will improve sooner rather than later.

02 March 2010

just another 'normal' evening

Last week, a Russian tourist fell into the canal. Drunken, stoned, and/or clueless tourists end up more often in the canal, so this wasn't all that unusual. It just so happened that it was rather cold last week, and remaining wet and cold could have been dangerous to his health. Thus the police asked if anyone had a shower this man could use. Sjoerd graciously volunteered our place.

And so at 10.30 at night, Sjoerd and the policeman made bad jokes at the expense of the tourist who was having a much different kind of evening in the Red Light District than he might have imagined. At breakfast, a day or two later, we joked about it further. And we wondered what the newest housemate had made of the whole experience. She didn't seem too phased. She figured that police in the hall and drunken Russians in the shower were not a normal part of life here. She's essentially right - normally that doesn't happen. But after living here for a few years, she's also a bit wrong - strange things here happen here all the time. So even if showering drunken Russian tourists isn't normal, that there could be a drunken Russian tourist in the shower or a duck in the kitchen or police checking on a crying child in the middle of the night or overly stoned tourists coming in asking for help - well, those possibilities are all pretty normal around here. And hey, at least life's never dull.

18 February 2010

Just another normal donation

Part of the adventure of living here is that we get the most random of donations. For example, at the moment we're eating pepernoten (gingerbread kind of things) from Sinterklaas. We usually eat Easter eggs in november (for whatever reason, we get several humongous boxes of them in May most years - and don't get into them in the summer (they're locked up or forgotten) - and hence we're still eating them in November).

Those are the normal donations. The odder ones are the 300 olliebollen and the 8 fridges. Although I think I've now bumped into an even odder one.

The other day, as I was getting bread out of the freezer, I noticed a large stack of small square boxes on a shelf next to the freezer. It had a picture of this happy couple, smiling at each other in a sort of romantic way. It was semi-tasteful but still reminded me too much of a condom commercial. I was curious, so I looked a bit closer. The label on the box told me nothing but there was a website printed on it that seemed to suggest that this might be related to Viagra or something. I was still curious but I figured I'd ask somebody about them instead of opening one up and checking: I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to discover up close what was in inside.

I finally asked somebody about it. It turns out that it's just kleenexes (paper tissues). And thus much tamer than I had suspected. I can see, though, why we've received them as a donation: it's not exactly the kind of box I can imagine most people would want to have on their living room table, where others could see it and wonder.

16 February 2010

Shrove (Pancake?) Tuesday

It was probably in college when I first really recognized that there was something special about the Tuesday before lent begins. (The relation of Mardi Gras to Lent was still outside of my normal experience - and Carnival meant nothing to me until I moved to the Netherlands.) The idea was that since Lent included giving up sugar and fats and all those bad things, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday was ideal for using up all those things - and since these things made great ingredients for pancakes, Shrove Tuesday became known to me as Pancake Tuesday. I don't think of Shrove Tuesday that way anymore, though. I'm pretty sure that's related to living in a monastic community.

This is how my Shrove Tuesday went:
- I had a normal day working on my thesis (which means I did some research when I got up, went to chapel this morning, talked to some people around coffee, cleaned up some, searched for a plant for the chapel, biked to the University, sat behind the computer for awhile, talked to my office mate, chatted with a friend, and tried to puzzle some things out);
- I had coffee with a friend.
- I picked up bread (on a bike, carrying two garbage bags full (no significant challenge anymore)).
- I ate spare ribs (not pancakes) for supper (the tradition here - celebrating the last chance to eat meat for awhile). And there was also brownies and whipped cream for dessert;
- I spent half an hour rinsing off the dishes. (There were 40 of us eating together and a significant number of pots and pans). On the bright side, it lets me get rid of excess energy, and I always feel like I accomplished something after that many dishes.
- I went to evening chapel, where we celebrated the Lord's Supper.
- I prepared the chapel for Lent.
- I listened to a guest speak about our Cause that we are supporting extra during Lent. (This also included the opportunity to eat a sort of donut that had was filled with this whipped cream stuff and lots of sugar and fat).
- I helped burn palm branches so that we'd have ashes for the service tomorrow.

Quite a number of times today I remembered (with joy) that life is never ever dull within a community. As much as it felt like today was busy with a lot of different tasks, it was also a delight to get to be share this feast day with others - and to share in the preparation for the time leading up to the next feast (Easter).

12 February 2010

And... Take a deep breath.

I think I'm finally feeling like I'm no longer running around like a chicken with its head cut off. I'm still walking around in a bit of a daze, but it's getting better. It helps, of course, that I'm not the only one walking around looking overly tired (Last weekend the core group of the community went on retreat together, and although it was considered a positive experience by all, we all came home tired - and then still had to continue through the rest of a normal week (or even busier than normal, especially if you're an accountant since this is the time of the year when books are checked/controled.)).

I'd kind of sensed that my life was out of balance and I needed to stop and take a deep breath. The first clue, of course, was that I was getting too busy to think - I just did whatever was next on the needed-to-be-done-now list. The second clue was a realization that I was really getting focused on myself. There's a country song that's popped into my head a lot in the last while: Toby Keith's "I want to talk about me." It's a cute song about a guy complaining that his girlfriend was always talking about herself and occasionally he'd like to talk about himself (instead of her). It rang a bell with me: how often had my thoughts and my conversation become about me. And could I stop focusing on me all the time already?!?
It's starting to feel a bit more like I'm paying attention to the world outside of me, thankfully. I'm still adjusting (and patience is appreciated), but it's also a relief. I like myself and all but even I get sick of myself after too much time with me.

All in all, I'm looking forward to life returning to the "normal" of here. Normal meaning at the moment returning to my responsibilities in the community and returning to my research on Ezekiel (and a grant/job application to have that be funded!). But knowing my life - and the adventure of community - normal could mean something else next week. If I keep taking a few more deep breaths and open my eyes to the world outside of me, I could actually admit to looking forward to whatever surprise or adventure might come.

06 February 2010

a different kind of blue apron

after a crazy busy month in canada and america, i'm returning to life in the community and donning my blue apron again. i'm thankful to be back again (especially now that i have the time and energy to participate more fully - the first few days back were filled with quite of busy-ness - the result of catching up on things here while still having work from america with me). but i'm also thankful for the time with friends and family that i had.

during my visits, i got to do a lot of random things that i don't do here in the netherlands. probably the most unusual over the holidays, was getting to don a different kind of blue apron, and help make sausage. (my parents used to own a butcher shop, so this brought back a lot of memories.)

the following are pictures of my dad and me (my mom was taking the pictures):

05 February 2010

Jerry has begun to earn his keep

as much as i appreciate Jerry just for who he is, there are still certain things that i expect of him as a cat. the two biggest ones are to cuddle and catch mice.

being a kitten means he's still rather wild and whines to play (i throw his food at him, which he seems to enjoy - and since he eats it, it leaves limited mess on the floor). nonetheless, he's learned to do a pretty good job of sitting happily on my lap and being pet. so he meets the first expectation.

and this morning i found a dead mouse on my floor, so it appears that he's figured out the mouse thing. he seemed pretty satisfied with himself (and obviously tired) this morning. i'm also quite happy that he's found his instincts since my house has a bit of a mouse problem - and i'd prefer if they didn't feel welcome in my section of it.

23 January 2010

teaching has been my excuse for not posting

i've been teaching for 2.5 weeks already. next week tuesday is the final exam already - and after a flurry of grading, i should be done. and i'd pretty much say that's my excuse for not blogging more.

and i have thoughts from teaching - the random things i've learned, things i've used in class, questions about how to do this teaching thing better, and how i can not help but feel honoured to be allowed to be part of students lives in this way. but they haven't appeared anywhere yet. i am still sorting out how to say them and trying to find for everything. this january course is intense enough if all you're doing is teaching. the problem is if you're trying to do anything else alongside (like research or visiting or trying to develop new course ideas), it's really hard both to keep on top of things and not to be exhausted all the time.

and at the moment i'm behind on my grading (i'm hoping and praying that tomorrow i'll get some good work done there) - but other than that it's been going really well. i'll gladly admit that i'm glad not to see my students tomorrow - but that's nothing personal :) after all, i do think they're a good group of students - and i do generally enjoy teaching. only it'll be really nice not to have to wake up at 6 and spend 3 hours in front of a class trying to pay attention to as many things as possible, most notably evaluating how things are going and how much comprehension is taking place.

08 January 2010

a normal day in grand rapids during interim

i started teaching yesterday - and that's been going well. as i haven't been teaching much in the last while, i feel a bit rusty and don't feel that i am teaching to best of my abilities. but i'm glad to be here and i've been enjoying the challenge and wonder of teaching.

the following is what a normal day looks like here:
- i wake up a bit before 6 and i lie in bed for a short while going through the lesson for the day (and thinking about what i still might need to do)
- then shower, breakfast, do some stuff on my computer and then put my stuff together and head off to calvin. getting out the door on time has been a bit of a challenge, as i've kind of forgotten what it's like to start work at a set time. that my parents have graciously lent me a vehicle (thanks mom!) helps a lot towards my being on time.
- class starts at 8.30 and goes until 11.45 - with a 40 minute break in the middle where there is the option to go to chapel.
- i open the class with some words and then pray - praying for the world, church, and our communities - taking the pattern of prayer from the community in Amsterdam.
- we cover one major concept/topic before the break and another after the break. it's a mixture of discussion (in small groups and as a class), a bit of note-taking, some powerpoint and references to stuff on the internet, my talking and summarizing things, and students being asked to write thoughts on the blackboard. the classroom isn't set up so well for discussion (no moveable tables or chairs), so i'm trying to think of ways to get around that - but the students seem pretty appreciative of discussion - and are more than willing to participate, so that part is going well.
- i eat lunch in my office (brown bread with chocolate spread) and i write down some thoughts from class, check my mail, and listen to the January Series online.
- i work at my computer in my cubicle until sometime after 3 and then i head home.
- when i get home, i do some exercise - either the rowing machine or shovelling snow (Grand Rapids gets an average of 21 inches (53 cm) of snow in January - i figure shovelling snow is not only good exercise but a great way to ensure that i'll be welcomed as a houseguest).
- the evening is spent having dinner, and sitting behind my computer preparing lessons and more. and pretty soon the grading will start...

so things are going well. i think the two things i like least are
1) driving in snow - but it has only been short amounts thus far, so that's okay. and i'm starting to get used to it again - it helps that it hasn't been too icy and my parents' vehicle is pretty good in the snow, and
2) missing life back in Amsterdam - both the rhythms and all the people.