And they are 15…

Biggest news around here is that in the last week Henry and George turned 15 on their respective birthdays. While there was less live music and go-go dancing on these birthdays, they did each manage to open their presents and go to town on their birthday dinners. In between their birthdays, Pickle and Olive turned 2. Cats are not that good at opening birthday presents in comparison to the dogs.

For the winter, there’s definitely a new sweater in Henry’s future. He’s always had less hair then George and now he’s got some balding going on. I tell him often that it makes him look more distinguished. We went on a walk this morning and with the rain, the sweaters needed to go on to try and keep the undercarriage somewhat dry. It’s not really cold enough yet but it’s been raining nearly the whole week.

They are not the only ones who don’t like wearing extra gear. I am also not a fan. I’m commuting via bike daily, despite the rain. Regularly on the ride, I say out loud “See, Mom? I’m learning not to be a sissy!” πŸ˜‰ It’s like you reach an acceptance point. That no matter how much rain gear you might wear, you’re going to get soaked. So just pedal through. Last Saturday, I got caught in so much rain and hail that my cotton sweater was down to my knees from the weight of the water. Yeah, that was super comfortable to sit in for three hours while I was meeting with someone.

This afternoon I am going to walk 50 feet and listen to the organ concert in the Grote Kerk. I love organ music. It’s the perfect fall music too because it makes me think of haunted houses. That might not precisely be their goal in the church. πŸ˜‰ I’m going with my 89 year old walking companion in crime. GG was her first choice for concert partner but I am actually the one who likes that kind of music!

In the past week, the rules have changed again to counter a rising number of Covid-19 cases. For example, everything pretty much closes at 9PM now – since no new people can come in after that time. If you want to go out to dinner, make sure you do it before 9PM. Same thing if you want to grab a drink somewhere. My magic hour for going out was leaving the house around 10PM. Well, that’s not working so well anymore. They say it is only for three weeks but I have a feeling it is going to be extended.

We were scheduled to leave on vacation this morning. As you can imagine, that didn’t happen. We’re not going to reschedule for a third time, we’ll just skip it this year. Which suits me fine anyway because we all know how much I struggle with vacation. πŸ™‚

I’m hoping that you are healthy!

Here’s where I begin to realize

that I seem to have wandered into a bit of a writing wasteland. Not sure what that is all about. You would think that with all of the staying at home due to Covid, there would have been more things to read, not less.

I know that in general this year I have been feeling less open to the world, less interested in sharing what I am thinking, feeling or experiencing. I think that there’s a good portion of that due to redirecting all available energy and motivation to keeping my company alive. When I am bathed in the glowlight of a computer screen, it is usually because I am doing something work related.

Then there’s the cycling. I don’t take public transit anymore. I get sweaty fast and wearing a facemask makes that worse. This means my options are limited to the bike or the car. Gas still around 8 euros a gallon and let’s not even get started on how cranky I get in traffic. Biking it is. I like it. I put on the music and do a lot of thinking during the commute. Even in the 90 plus degree days of the past week, I biked to the classroom. I was not the only Sweaty Betty out there!

I have a special crate for Henry and George, complete with seatbelts, on the front of Beatrix. This week, one of my employees repurposed an old tent to build a rain frame for the boys so they can ride safely sheltered, even in foul weather. They are still toddling along at nearly 15. With this heat, we have been going on the big walk of the day at 630AM. This timeslot was not always appreciated. πŸ˜‰ They are in good health, for which I am immensely grateful and determined to keep that way.

It’s the vacation season in the Netherlands. It doesn’t really feel like it compared to previous years. We had rescheduled from June to October. Our province is listed as Code Orange now for Covid so that means it is unlikely that we will be welcome visitors. We had an old farm rented in the Ardennes, the “mountains” of Belgium. I think if we want to go on vacation this year, we will probably be better of staying within the borders. I don’t really do vacation, so that’s not such a bad thing. πŸ˜‰ I would like to be able to take the boys somewhere that they can spend 95% of their time off leash.Β H&G taking a break

I hope I find my way out of this closed off period. Now that I have said it “out loud”, I can begin to do something with the idea. That’s me, Action Fan. πŸ˜‰

Winter is coming…

It’s the Summer Solstice today, I believe. My mother would say that after today, it was time to get your fleece back out because winter would be coming. Even though I know that we have a long way to go until the dark winter days, I can’t help but feel like today we have to enjoy the sunlight as much as possible.

In preparation for a late evening, all of the pets are taking a nap at the moment. The square in front of our house is full of people sitting on the terraces. The 1.5m distance between people seems to shrink with the increase in the number of beverages consumed. πŸ˜‰

This morning we went out early to escape the heat and to pick up the bread that we order once a week. Pickle came along as he was ready for an adventure. It’s not always handy when the cats are along for the walk but it is fairly difficult to persuade them otherwise!

The “intelligent lockdown” has gradually been easing here since 1 June. It still feels weird. With the requirements to wear masks in public transport, I pushed myself to bike to work instead. The first couple of days were tough. I also needed to get lost a few times as I was trying to do it out of directional feel rather than using technology. I think I have a good speed and a good route now. Monday will be the first day I try the commute with the dogs in the basket. They were used to the Metro but it’s too much to manage right now and the bike is better for me physically. I have made special adapted seatbelts for them so they don’t fall out or in the case of George, jump out.

Last Friday, I had a rough day in general. It wasn’t made any better by it being the 4 year mark of Raven’s death. That night, during the hour that he passed, the skies opened up and there was a massive storm. Enough water came down to flood into GG’s Chamber of Stuff. We didn’t discover that until Saturday. Back to the storm, I really felt like Raven was making his voice heard, that he had something to say. I stood at our backdoor and just watched and listened. There’s not much thunder and lightning here so when it happens I pay special attention. This was angry thunder, the big bangs that make you jump.

So I did what felt right, I started talking to the air around me. I usually do this in times of extreme stress or sadness, the moments that I really wish I could hear my Mom. I figured why not try it with Raven too?

For most of the past four years, I’ve shut off how I feel about Raven’s death. There are lots of reasons for that. I still do hope that that it’s all been a terrible mistake and he will come walking through that door again. Much like I still hope that about my Mom. Full of stories about what they have been up to. It’s not going to be that way though. I haven’t stopped loving them and every time I think of them, they are coming through that door, even if not in the way I had hoped.

Olive has just turned over and stretched out the other way, which is a sure indicator that she is on to something. I think I might add my snores to their’s. After all, tonight we have to celebrate!

Itchy feet…

It’s the 9th of May and we’re technically still under an “intelligent lockdown”. This morning, as soon as my eyes were open, I needed to move and get out of the house. On Saturdays, we pick up bread that we have ordered the week before. I brushed my teeth and threw on some pants and ran for my bike.

First a stop at the tiny organic vegetable store. Since you have to have 10 m2 per person in a store, going to shop there often means standing in a line outside waiting for people to touch everything. For many people, grocery shopping has become the form of entertainment and diversion. People use this to get out of their house, to feel somewhat normal. So, it takes twice as long at least.

By the time I was checking out, there was already a line outside of shoppers. Jumping on my bike, I cycled to the coop as fast as I could because her doors open at 10 and the line for bread is usually quite long . Only three people are allowed in at a time. Since Dutch people often seem to be more talkative, everyone also wants to complain/talk with the people behind the counter. Luckily, there was no one there yet when I arrived. Within minutes though, the line was forming.

The common theme for me is that I am losing a lot of the patience I had. Going outside now really irritates the hell out of me, with all of the lines. As the weather gets better, more and more people are going outside. Also because people are tired of being indoors, which I completely understand.

Before this lockdown period, there were certain routines that were part of the daily life, primarily centered around the needs of the pets. Around those routines I had lots of freedom to live the rest of my life relatively unscheduled and unstructured – which is not the same as having nothing to do but rather not living my life according to a daily schedule.

Now that’s very different. My office is downstairs now, which has also become GG’s office, which occasisionally leads to tension over who has the most video calls per day. Going outside means taking the dogs for walks, accompanied by the cats when they feel like participating. For entertainment, it’s the grocery store. Everything is digital or has fallen away. Even my banjo lessons are now online.

What I find is that while this is absolutely a luxury problem to have, I have a lot of difficulty as a person with accepting the current state of things. Tomorrow I am going to go to my classroom and open up all the windows and just spend some time there. I need to feel like I can move freely, even if that isn’t quite the case. I am definitely also not someone who can live exclusively in the digital world. I need variety and disruption, I need the randomness that comes with being out in the world.

This afternoon, I will leash up the dogs and we will walk across the city center to go pick up our favorite 89 year old and go for a walk with her. She’s also someone who has very definitive opinions about freedom and restrictions so I can count on an interesting conversation! πŸ˜‰

Trying not to fall prey to cabin fever…

Like the rest of the world, The Netherlands is trying to get a handle on the Corona virus and what it means for public health. From last Thursday’s message of being careful not to infect the elderly and others with compromised immune systems to Sunday evening’s announcement at 1730 that all cafes, schools, gyms, massage parlors and others were to be closed for three weeks effective in 30 minutes, there was a pretty significant shift.

This is a weird situation to be sure. As I sit here, downstairs in the office, the dogs are in their big bed. Olive is sitting in the middle of the conference table (aka Oma and Opa’s dining room table from the 50s) and Pickle is trying to get himself in and out of the mailbox. GG finally has permission to work fully digital – which was a big step for her employer. Today she was among the first 2500 employees who they were going to enable the video features of Skype for. πŸ˜‰ Of course, that means that there’s an upgraded standard of grooming required when video functionality is added!

For my classroom, we’re digital. It’s interesting because we’ve always been able to run the program fully online but we chose not to since the interpersonal contact is critical. It seems to be working well, I think that is primarily due to the group already being formed offline.

That is the positive thing that I see could come from this period. That Dutch society (employers and institutions primarily) begin to see and experience that flexibility is not a bad thing. That requiring people to show up 9-6 in order to be productive is not a guarantee, that allowing people to work from home for what ever the reason creates more room for inclusion in society, that it’s good not to commute excessively, that there’s a lot of unpaid work that happens and that perhaps you can look at how you encourage that to be shared. Stuff like that.

I have been reading the news from Seattle again, since the news a few weeks ago about the outbreak. That’s an unusual feeling. Since the middle of 2018, I had sort of distanced myself from Seattle. After all, since I wasn’t going to be an employee anymore, I wouldn’t be returning to Seattle for nerd camp anymore. Of course, when you are starting something new up, then it tends to take all of your time and focus. Now I have a little more time to do some deep thinking about stuff that isn’t related to the company. That’s still there as a constant pressure but there’s not much I can do at the moment since everything is contingent on what happens 6 April. Will everything open up again? In the meantime, I can do some more reading, writing and creating. I think I might like that.

Take care of yourself.

Buon giorno…

Here I am, looking out the hotel room window into the green shutters and terra cotta walls of Bologna. It’s just after 830 in the morning and the church bells have stopped ringing.

The sunlight that is shining down onto the roof tops has a color all it’s own. It’s different from the sunlight that we get in Northern Europe. Somehow not as clear bright but a rounder bright. It’s the difference between a LED lamp and a softer watt bulb.

I’ve been here since Tuesday and will go home tonight. I’m working on a EU project and every four months, they meet in a different country. The next one in June will be in Lisbon and the one in the fall will be in Rotterdam.

I’d like to stay a bit longer. I’ve been doing a great deal of walking, in part to get some breathing room as too many people around me all day long makes me cranky and impatient. Also because the food here is really heavy, different from the countryside. And also to see more of the city because it is beautiful.

On the other hand, it will be nice to sleep in a bed where my feet are not hanging over the edge. πŸ˜‰

Tomorrow after work, we’re off to a weekend in the woods again. A place for the boys to run free and a place that’s quiet and free from too many stimuli. I plan to spend the whole weekend breathing in forest air and walking until all the thoughts in my head have worked themselves out. πŸ™‚

 

80

Today Mom would have turned 80. I can’t really align the weight of that number with the liveliness and fiestiness that my mother displayed. I don’t think that for her it would have marked any sense of slowing down or taking it easy. I don’t know that, of course. But when I think about her and how ageless my mother always seemed to me, 80 seems like it wouldn’t have been much different than 60.

I think part of this comes from the fact that we never really knew my Mom’s age as kids nor as young adults. Mom had a very strong belief that her age was definitely not our business. I don’t remember questioning it, I knew when her birthday was. I remember one time I finally saw a piece of ID that had the year of her birth on it. 1940, that was eons ago. I think I was probably in my late 20s before I even knew that.

Turns out that my mother did things a little differently than most of her peers. At the time when lots of young women were starting families and stopping with working, my Mom was out having a career, moving from embassy to embassy and not settling down. She was 33 when I was born and 38 by the time Rupert came along.

I am not really interested in people’s ages. I don’t really think they say a whole lot about the person or where they should be. I know that I don’t really think about my own age as being a point where I should wear responsible shoes, drive a respectable car and join the PTA – to paraphrase Weird Al. Sometimes I catch myself thinking “Well, you are probably more than half way through your life expectancy, what are you going to do with the time that you have left?” Then I think concretely about what I can do to make sure that I am not taking any moment for granted.

Today I went walking with the dogs and my 88 year old walking companion. We talked about her recent solo trip to the east of The Netherlands and how she was still conflicted because while she enjoyed it, she felt that with only old people around her, that wasn’t the mix of active minds and viewpoints that she enjoyed. The dogs were happy to be out after all the rain yesterday and Henry ran the entire way home, which was fun to watch. Kind of like a small dog dogsled team without the snow and the sled.

GG and I went to the Old Harbour in Rotterdam for Mexican food and margaritas to toast Mom. And now, after a good Mexican coffee and rainy weather outside, it’s time to grab the dogs and a book and read.

Love you, Mom, always.

Into the woods…

I’m sitting here, looking out the window, at the sparrows that are darting by and the random cats that just went running out into the field. George is sitting on my lap, shivering from excitement, as he just had to bark ferociously at two dogs that were going by. The boys both have cataracts now, due to their age, but it doesn’t seem to impact George’s ability to continue to believe that everything he can see is his domain.

The way this works is that George sits on my leg and braces his paws against the arm of the sofa. In effect, I am his office chair since this enables him to look directly out the window. Β Henry is curled up next to me and under a blanket since our second long walk of the day involved more water, including me making the decision that it was probably just a muddy crossing so I should keep going. Until I ended up to my shins in cold muddy water and had the good sense to turn back.

I’m not entirely sure where we are. I know that the cabin is located just outside the boundaries of a nature reserve. Early this morning, the boys and I walked through the woods and came across a herd of deer completely unexpectedly. Wow, they move fast once they start and they are loud!

We got here last night, in the dark. What should have been an hour and fifteen minutes driving time turned into four hours, due to traffic. I love watching how quickly the boys shed their age when they are somewhere off leash with lots of new smells. As much as I try to take them with me everywhere in the city, it’s no substitute for being able to run free.

My goal is to spend this week doing something different, figuring out what I need to process and move forward from. I’m also hoping to fill myself up with positive energy since normally this time of the year is definitely not my favorite and one where I really miss my Mom. My goal is also to survive the dog farts, George just let one rip in my lap.

GG came along with us. She will go back to civilization to spend Christmas with her family. I am relieved to not be participating this year. It’s not like it’s an excruciating experience. However, it’s not something that I enjoy and this year I am deciding to do things my way. Β So far, I haven’t gotten any feedback but that’s probably more to do with the fact that her family tends not to have “discussions” like we do. They are more mild mannered people πŸ˜‰

I believe today is the Winter Solstice so it should be the shortest day of the year. As my Mom would say, as of tomorrow we are heading back in the right direction.

 

Forgiveness…

Last night I had the most intense dream, one of those dreams that even when you wake up and know that you are awake, you continue to have the feeling that the dream is the reality.

In my dream, I was deeply involved in a conversation that I have never been able to have. I was able to get through all of the questions that had been running through mind and actually ask them to the person. I didn’t clear answers, or not ones that I remember.

When I woke up at 3AM, which is my usual time every night for wake up and look at the clock and remind myself that there are 3-4 more hours of sleep time available, I continued the conversation. I was awake and I continued the conversation with the sensation that the other person was also present. I still had things to say. The last thing I had to say was “I forgive you. I am done carrying this with me. I wish you peace.”

All day long I have felt like there is an enormous weight gone out of my life. It feels literally as if I have been freed. The closest experience I have had to this kind of feeling is when I had an intensive accupunture treatment that they normally use after trauma. I feel that same lightness today. It’s a feeling that I have been able to hold onto because today has certainly not been stress free. Nor have any of the daily stressors been eliminated. So it’s not like I woke up in a Disney movie. πŸ˜‰

Being me, I have tried testing it. Like just now I tried thinking about the person, to see if the usual feelings would come up. Nope. Now that is nice! I think that means that I am ready to walk on.

I feel like I have a super productive meeting, one that needed to be had and that now action can be taken. In this case, forgiveness.

It’s also fueled my usual optimism even higher, which is already pretty noisy! When I look at the list of struggle items today, I am still optimistic that they can be solved positively and that everything will work out. I am grateful that I can use my talents to try and change messed up systems.

What’s your experience with forgiveness?

We did actually return from vacation…

You know when you have that sensation that you have forgotten something? It’s right there at the back of your mind, like a small irritating noise? That’s a feeling I have been having for the past couple of months.

For example, this week I went to London for a conference and I left all my power cords on the train. I went to find an open shop the next morning to get new power cords and didn’t buy the ones I wanted to, instead choosing against my decision and ended up with cords that didn’t work properly. Then with meals, struggling to choose. And it’s not exactly like it was fine dining with so many delicious choices to choose from…

The Dutch have a word for this “keuzestress” which translates to “choice stress”. I am a good example of this. When things get really busy and my brain is on overdrive, I spend too much time on the little choices. I go back and forth 57 times. Which is really annoying and leads to things like forgotten power chargers. With big decisions, no problem. It’s like the more important the decision, the more clearly I can see it. But ask me if I want to spend 24 pounds to buy a new charger and I will agonize over whether or not I really need it.

Aside from the irritating habit of checking every small decision multiple times, I can’t complain. The boys are healthy and have charmed a whole new group of people in our new work building. My current group of students will finish this week. I have hired two more employees. The cats are fine, coming home much more often now that the weather is crisp.

Next week is Thanksgiving, which means it’s the time of year that my former interns come for dinner and share all their stories of what they have been doing. I think tomorrow I should probably figure out what we are going to serve them and start cooking ahead since it is another one of those crazy weeks. I’ve also just realized that a conference I have tickets for this week, I really don’t have time to go to.

My goal is to close out the year with a bit of peace and quiet. Which means I am thinking of escaping the whole holiday mess by taking the boys off into the woods somewhere and recharging. When I saw how much they enjoyed themselves in the Ardennes, I feel like I need to do that again with them. Of course, I should have planned this months ago.