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

It only takes one decision

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Don’t be afraid to start over. It’s a brand new opportunity to rebuild what you truly want. – Author unknown

It is good to remember that a different life requires just one decision. Follow your heart. It will never lead you astray. 💛

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Morning view. Blesberg Farm, KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, South Africa. Photo: Wilma den Hartigh

 

Let yourself blossom

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There’s nothing more beautiful than an Agapanthus flower. They are indigenous to South Africa and completely spectacular when in bloom. I’ve watched this one in our garden unfold over a few weeks.

I think stepping out in life and following your heart is just like a flower opening. There is a lot of risk involved in making a decision to do what makes you happy – often this requires major life changes – but the rewards are wonderful. If you don’t, you run the risk of missing out on the most beautiful times of your life and you’ll never give yourself an opportunity to share your gifts with the world.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was greater than the risk it took to bloom.”

My one wild and precious life

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Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it is just about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.

I’ve been stuck inside all day. It has been pouring with rain since early this morning. But later this afternoon it cleared just enough to go outside for a bit and watch the beautiful stormy sunset. The clouds were all wispy with delicate shades of orange and yellow. I watched the clouds move slowly across the sky. They don’t seem in any hurry to get anywhere. They just move along slowly in the direction the wild takes them.

While I was standing outside I thought that this is actually the way I feel about life. Like the clouds I am in no hurry to get anywhere. Where would I rush to anyway? I am quite happy with a calm life. The more important question for me is what I plan to do with my one wild and precious life? This is a question I constantly ask myself since I came so dangerously close to losing my life.

My answer to this is simple: all I want is to be happy.

It don’t want to exhaust myself chasing status, money or that promotion or fancy job title. I have no need to impress anyone. I don’t want to be busy all the time. I don’t want to be “hectic” all the time. None of these things will make me happy. People often think this approach to life means you “have no ambition”. But it has nothing to do with that. I can think of no better goal in life than to be happy – and if I’m doing what makes me happy professionally and personally I believe I’ve achieved success in life.

I think the glorification of busy is probably one of the biggest afflictions of our time. We live in a world where people are always busy, always on, rushing somewhere, running late, checking emails, clutching their smart phones, checking in to everywhere they go – the gym, the mall, that anniversary dinner. People just need to stop. Check out. Slow down. Ask yourself – does any of this make me happy?

This is the thing for me – I don’t want to miss out on the things that make me happy. Those important moments in my life that no amount of status or money can give me.

I want to leave work on time to fetch my son from school. I want to enjoy the sunset and a glass of wine with my husband on the patio and talk about life and our dreams – not stare into my computer screen answering work emails. I want to walk in the park and look at the trees. I want to notice the seasons change and watch the roses in my garden bloom. I want to enjoy an evening with my friends. I want to make Christmas decorations with my son and not give any thought to whatever needs to be done at work. I want to sit on the couch with my son under a blanket and drink hot chocolate.

What I’ve learned is that it is up to me to set the standards for my life. I have to decide what is important to me and unashamedly stick to what I believe. I have to set my own boundaries otherwise someone else will set them for me. And this won’t be for my benefit. Do what you know in your heart is right. Don’t dance to someone else’s tune.