Truths about change – the beauty of being exactly where I need to be

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This week is my fifth month in the Netherlands. What an adventure to live the life I’ve always wanted for myself and my family! Besides all the expected challenges of settling into a new home country, the biggest change for me has been becoming a full-time mom. 

This was – and still is – huge. I’ve never not worked in my life. I spent the majority of my career working as a journalist in a fast-paced and severe environment filled with impossible deadlines, stress and anxiety. At the end of each day I had very little time or energy for my son. I had zero capacity for enthusiasm. It wasn’t sustainable and I knew it. My depression medication dosage doubled. I had more than one emotional, psychological and physical breakdown. 

Suddenly, all that came to a grinding halt. My life took at 360 degree turn. 

Instead of flying out the door at 6am in the morning to start work at 7am, I now make school lunches, prepare breakfast and take my son to school. I have time to make friends with other moms. I have coffee with new friends in the mornings. I arrange playdates for my son after school and I can actually be there. I fetch my son from school at 1pm and on our cycle home we talk about everything he did that day. The two of us can do so much together – walks in the forest, running up and down sand dunes, go to the beach, bake cakes, visit museums and go to the movies. 

During the past five months I’ve often had a song called Turn! Turn! Turn! on my mind. In 1965 it was a hit single by folk rock group, The Byrds, and was written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s.

…To everything, turn, turn, turn.
There is a season, turn, turn, turn.
And a time to every purpose under heaven….  

There is something quite amazing about huge life changes. You find your direction amid the change and temporary uncertainty. I think being a full-time mom is possibly the best thing that has ever happened to me. This is a busy and demanding job but I love this season of my life.

When I think about how my life has changed, I now know this: 

I’m happy. Not in a frivolous way but a deep restfulness.  

My priorities and values are in alignment. I have time and energy for my son. I love showing him how wonderful the world is, I love encouraging him to dream, discover and experiment. 

I have time to look after myself. This is something I’ve neglected in the past. 

I’m brave. I am rebuilding my life the way I want it. 

I’m grateful that my husband values my contribution to our family and makes it possible for me to be at home with our son.

 

If you are lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it. –  John Irving. 

This girl listens to trees

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Wherever I go, I always notice trees. I think they are nature’s greatest wonders and we can learn so much about life just by observing trees and their seasonal transformation.
I have discovered some beautiful spots in and around Haarlem where I can go to spend time with trees.
Sometimes I am not alone (often I have my son with me) or I appreciate a beautiful tree through a window while I am indoors. However, I really treasure the moments when I am alone with them.
This ritual has become an important self care activity. Some people go for facials and manicures, I head for the trees.
In this environment I often find it easier to seek inner wisdom about life’s difficult questions and my inner struggles. It is an opportunity to connect with the earth and myself again. I don’t need to engage in articulate conversation. All I have to do is sit quietly, observe the beauty around me and listen to my heart. Trees teach stillness so well.

I think life is like a tyre’s tread. When a tyre hits a few bumps in the road it needs realignment to run smoothly again and prevent damage to the tyre. This also happens to people. When I feel that my soul is restless and things just don’t seem right I like to spend time in nature to find realignment and new perspectives.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. – Hermann Hesse

One of the most significant lessons I’ve learnt from trees is their ability to let go. Have you ever noticed how gracefully trees change colour and lose their leaves? They seem so at ease with embracing change.
Learning to welcome change – whether it is positive, negative or a bit of both – has improved my quality of life. I’ve realized that the universe always brings the change when I am ready for it and need it. Moving to another country is the biggest decision I’ve ever made. Uprooting 17 years of adult life in one place wasn’t easy but it also wasn’t difficult because the time was right to see what else the universe has planned for me.

There is great freedom in letting go. It could be a person, a relationship, a job, a career path, a home country or material possessions – all of these have applied to me at some point in my life. Letting go gives me so much freedom to discover new places, different ways of thinking, new people and ultimately a new life.

If you want to read some of my previous posts on trees, freedom and new beginnings, click on these links:

Dutch food – these are a few of my favourite things

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I love going to supermarkets and spending time walking down every aisle. I never thought I’d say this because I’ve never enjoyed shopping. However, I’ve realised that it’s a great way to make a new country feel like home.

Food is a universal connection point between people and an important aspect of every country’s culture. That’s why I think it’s important to know what people eat here and how it is prepared or presented.

Fortunately not everything has been foreign and eating Dutch food and treats brings back many beautiful memories from my childhood. I grew up in a Dutch home (my father was born and raised in South Holland before moving to South Africa in his early twenties) and my parents took great care to introduce my sister and I to Dutch food from a young age.

When I go to a store I always take a tas or tasje (This seems to be the word people use around here for a shopping bag). I like this part of the experience because I’ve built up an awesome collection of bags. I have my favourite cloth bags but most of them are made from waterproof material (these come in really handy in this climate).

My collection of shopping bags

It’s been great fun to introduce my husband and son to some of the yummiest Dutch food.

Hagelslag chocolate sprinkles. This can be enjoyed on buttered bread at any time of the day. I’ve also discovered that the sprinkles can be used to jazz up a home-baked banana loaf or mixed into plain greek yoghurt.

Stroopwafels. A syrup waffle is one of the best things that will ever pass your lips. They are sold in packets of 10 or so and it is impossible to only have one at a time. My husband and I enjoy having them with coffee or red wine. The filling consists of syrup, caramel, brown sugar and cinnamon. Apparently the stroopwafel was first made in Gouda during the late 18th century or early 19th century by a baker using leftovers from the bakery such as breadcrumbs, which were sweetened with syrup.

Speculaas biscuits. These are spiced shortcrust biscuits. They always have an image such as a windmill or figure (often from the traditional stories about St. Nicholas) on the front side. People tell me that they are supposed to be eaten at christmas time but I am quite happy to have them all year round. They are just perfect with a cup of tea.

Croquettes. A croquette is a small breadcrumbed fried roll containing mashed potatoes or ground meat, cheese or vegetables mixed with brown sauce. The best time to eat one (or two) is while exploring the streets of Amsterdam, at Keukenhof among the tulips, at a street festival or on a canal cruise. Croquettes go well with a serving of friet (french fries) and mayonnaise. You aren’t going to win healthy eating awards for this fast food combo but go ahead and try it. You won’t regret it.

Cheese. Dutch people eat a lot of cheese and I can understand why. It is simply delicious! Every Saturday morning we buy cheese at the Haarlem Market on the Grote Markt Square. We try out a different flavour every week. The supermarkets also stock a fantastic cheese selection. At the moment the Boerenkaas is my favourite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s time to start something new

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Just over a month ago I boarded a flight to The Netherlands. The land of cheese, tulips, windmills and bicycles was my new home. I left South Africa on a hot and humid day in March (not unusual for South Africa) and arrived in a cloudy and rainy Amsterdam (also not uncharacteristic for this part of the world).

While I was pushing our trolley of suitcases through the airport and going through customs I wondered if I had lost my mind. I’ve done some strange things in my life but moving about 10 000km to another hemisphere probably tops the list of crazy stuff I’ve done.

But actually, this move is one of the most responsible things I’ve ever done. It wasn’t an impulsive move but a decision to seek a lifestyle that’s a better fit for my family and I.

Albert Einstein said it well: “A ship is always safe at shore but that is not what it’s built for.”

We were ready for new adventures and unfamiliar places. We were ready to feel alive again and have fun.

Now I’m enjoying establishing new rituals. Early morning bicycle commuting through the mist. That fresh smell of cold morning air. Coffee in the medieval part of town. Cycling along canals and rivers is becoming routine.

The temporary discomfort of new surroundings is also good for the soul. Being confused about how things work – this is an opportunity to talk to someone and make new friends. Getting lost – as frustrating as it is this is when I’ve discovered the most beautiful spots.

 

These things make me feel vibrant and alive again.

Don’t be afraid of new beginnings. Don’t shy away from new people, new energy, new surroundings. Embrace new chances at happiness. – Billy Chapata