New beginnings

It was december 2010 and everything was covered in snow. We finally experienced a white Christmas in the Netherlands. Not only a white Christmas btw, it would not stop snowing.  We took a picture of our family of five; one baby, one almost two years old and a little boy who had just turned five. We did it again, striking the same poses, a few days before we left South Africa and, yes, we did it again this year, on the 31st of December. (Leading to a quarrel as Joost said ‘Yes, I remember how we did this, we don’t need the picture!’ Well…)

Foto family moving

Taking this picture made me realise that we really are moving. It’s not easy, it’s never easy and I’m very thankful to be able to share my experiences with my dear Instafriend Anna! She is also Dutch and has been living in Sweden for two years. We ‘met’ online and she and her lovely family are also moving back to the Netherlands. We decided to write each other bits and pieces about our moving process. I have included the first correspondence!

Anna & Eva are moving

Anna

Dear Eva,

It’s the day after Christmas and me and my laptop sneaked out of the house. Now I sit here in this coffee bar, where the Swedes have their endless Fika and I try to think and write. I have a lot to think about, because we are moving back. Back to the Netherlands. Just like you. I actually don’t like the sound ‘moving back’. It gives me that feeling you get when you got the Jail card at Monopoly ‘Go directly to jail. Do not pass go, do not collect 200’ You have to start all over again. I think I prefer moving forward.

And I know it is not true. We are not ‘moving back’. You cannot move back when it comes to the life you are living. It made me think of this quote of Eric Roth

“It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed, is you”

So moving back is actually moving forward (are you still with me?). It is just as exciting as moving abroad, only then with the good Dutch cheese and friends and family nearby to help us!

Next time I wanted to write about how I will miss being ‘special’ when we are moving to the Netherlands again. Don’t you think you will miss being that ‘weird open Dutch family’ when you are back home again. How many times I used the “o, sorry, it must be a cultural difference” -excuse when I found myself in a (social-) awkward situation. Going to miss that.

 

Love Anna

Eva

Dear Anna!

Trying to get my head around writing having the kids sitting at the other side of the table. They’re doing arts and crafts and you never know if it will keep them busy for 4 or 5 minutes.

Just like you, we’re moving to the Netherlands in February after having lived in South Africa for three and in the USA for two years. Do I feel like we’re moving back and if so, back to what? We’re Dutch, yes. Well, at least, Joost and I are Dutch. The children have lived in other parts of the world for more than half of their lives! Besides that we’re older, experienced other cultures and I think we learned from that, maybe even adopted habits. Meaning, we’re not the same anymore. We’re moving forward and back and with different versions of ourselves. (Love that quote you used!)

I remember how it was having three little ones moving to the other side of the world. They were 5, almost 2 and 5 months. We were going on an adventure to Africa, see wild animals, do cool things! Yes, it was an adventure, but I also noticed that you take it step by step. The first weeks you live in a dream world, you’re in Africa! After those first weeks it’s just you and your family in another house, in another city,in another country. You make sure the children go to school, you arrange playdates, you learn the language (better) and you find things to do (the toughest thing ever). After another few weeks you start exploring.
It’s weird, you go from Africa, to the city, to your house and when you feel at ease you slowly start making your circle bigger again.

Not sure if I make myself clear, but I think the same will happen to us in the Netherlands. Yes, we’re going back, but we will first have to settle in as a family. The children will go to a new school, make new friends and get used to our house (that we don’t have yet and furniture will be on the boat for three months too, but no stress, NO stress) We will probably cocoon with the five of us, maybe the closest friends and family, to be able to give the children a feeling of security. After that we will explore and slowly expand our circle.

The process will be the same and thus adventurous. I think it’s not going back, it’s definitely about moving on.

Love, Eva

Ps. Yes, I will miss being special, haha! I will speak with an American accent just to have people ask me: ‘Wow, where are you from?!’

The magical first

FullSizeRender-6Ten years ago on Christmas Eve I gave birth to a huge son. It was unexpected as everyone had told me: ‘That’s such a tiny belly, that must be a little girl!’ Giving birth to Boris wasn’t easy. When I had been in labor for about 12 hours, Boris’ heart rate went down and doctors and nurses were preparing me to undergo whatever necessary to get him out quickly. At the same time Boris – over 9lbs. – suddenly rushed out by himself and decided to do that superman-style with his hands next to his shoulders (yes, there were no anesthesia involved). Boris was the first to make me a mom and he is the first with a lot of things.

Last week on a random Tuesday, I told him the truth about Santa, the Elves and Sinterklaas (a Dutch celebration comparable to Santa Claus). We would have informed him way earlier in the Netherlands as children stop believing when they’re about seven or eight years old. It’s the benefit of being an expat; if there are no rumors at all that he doesn’t exist, why would you question it? Boris is about to turn ten though and friends have already asked him if he still believes. How do you break this news to your child?

I officially asked him to come to his room where he sat down and looked at me with his big blue eyes. For a moment I doubted my decision. And then I just told him everything, dramatically starting with: ‘What I’m going to tell you is not nice.’ I shared that Santa doesn’t have a factory where he has toys made. That sadly, mom and dad buy the presents. Boris said: ‘I knew that mom, I’ve seen a text message from you to dad a few weeks ago.’ When I said that the Elf is not real either, Boris looked at me and asked, “But how does he move?” I could see him think ‘you lied to me!’ and at the same time I felt how I destroyed even this last bit of magic. He knew and didn’t know at the same time, he believed.

Boris was the first and he will be the first with a lot of things. The first to make Joost and I a family, the first to eat solid food and the first to walk on wobbly tiny feet. The first to swim and to see and feel the sea. The first to go to school, the first to cycle without training wheels and the first you share with that Sinterklaas isn’t real. The magic of a first child is that you experience all those things for the first time yourself as well (and learn from it in some cases). Boris taught me to focus, to love unconditionally, to be present and to be a child again. I’m experiencing it a second and third time and it is just as special, but Boris will always be the first.

Happy Birthday Boris!

Music moves you

image1-3It is almost five years ago that we moved from the Netherlands to South Africa for Joost’s work. I remember arriving at Johannesburg airport after a very long flight with a five year old, an almost two year old and a five months old baby; we were beyond exhausted. When we entered Jo’burg airport the people were happy and friendly and music surrounded us. I instantly felt more energetic. Music thrives you, music influences your mood, music fuels your fire.

South Africa was the country of Adele’s 21. She accompanied me everywhere I went on a CD in my car. She sang, I sang, and I definitely sang louder. She dragged me through my first weeks (could have been months) of denial: ‘I’m not going to be able to live here, this is horrible, let’s go back home’. She encouraged me to go to the gym and comforted me when I was homesick. She celebrated with me when I drove to dinner dates and I ran my first (which was also my last) half marathon with her. We partied together, I cried with her and she made me happy. Adele and South Africa are forever connected.

Three years later we moved to the United States and I kind of forgot about her. I couldn’t find the CD and I listened to the radio. Not only because I wanted to, but because the children did too. They were older and the popular songs the American radio mainly plays were exactly their cup of tea. My white minivan turned into an American style lyp synching car with everyone singing to modern beats. If you’d ask me which artist will forever remind me of the United States, it would be a tie between Sam Smith and Iggy Azelea. The latter because nothing beats running or cycling to her uptempo beats.

Adele must have missed our duets as she suddenly announced the release of a new album. It made me a bit suspicious. What did this say about our stay in the United States? Well…. definitely something. About two months ago another opportunity in Joost’s field of work unveiled itself. We decided to go for it, to move again and this time we’re moving back. Back to the Netherlands. One of the main reasons for that decision is that the children are getting older and saying goodbye to your best friends every two years is too much for all our hearts to bear. Way too much.

I’m sure Adele will help us, I’m sure she will comfort us when we miss our friends and different homes around the globe. I’m sure she will be there to guide us integrating in a well known place, but with different versions of ourselves. Adele was there when we left and she will be there when we return; when we say goodbye, she says Hello.

Writing a book? Ha ha! (Step 4: Where would I be without Saar)

Book Lilian, writing a bookThis piece is not written by me, it’s written by Sarah Breimer (Saar) who – amongst a few others – helps me writing
my book . Skyping with Sarah gives me a deadline, a reason to focus and she helps me further in my process. Apart from this, she is a fun and bubbly person and great to talk with. Oh, we never Skype with video btw as your own head is very distracting.

The writing process

When Eva and I ‘met’ online and started talking about the book she was about to write, she immediately impressed me with her energy and her open mind towards my role in the process. As a writer, it can be hard to take a step back and look at your own work. It is almost impossible, but, especially with non-fiction, it is very important that you do. It can be useful to see if you are still doing what you set out to do. And if you are not, if that change is for the better or should you refocus?

Eva asked me to be her first reader. This basically means that every once in a while I read along with her and together we discuss the challenges she faces in this process. She decides when she needs us to meet for a next round. We pick a day, she sends me her work and I read it.

While reading, I always have a few questions at the back of my mind. Is this still the story Eva intends to write or is she drifting in other directions? Is it evocative enough, does it have the right tone, does it tickle my mind as a reader or am I slowly falling asleep? Afterwards, when we meet for our Tuesday morning/evening Skype meet-up, we talk endlessly. Is this the right track? Why is there so much information on this and so little focus on that? Where is this all leading to, why did you decide to add this element or leave out something else?

Not all of those questions need immediate answers. They merely function as pointers for Eva to think about and to take on as she goes along in the process. Most of the time it already helps to talk about the story to clear your writers’ mind or to remember what you had set out to do originally.

As a writer, I know how challenging it is to talk about the story you have been working on so intensely. It takes a strong and open mind to be able to talk about your own writing without feeling criticized or doubted. Eva has that mind and that is sheer pleasure for an editor. I have grown to love our Tuesday morning/evening meetings, as for me they are so full of inspiration, recognition and good talk. I can’t wait for Eva to finish her book and be extremely proud of herself. I know I already am.

Writing a book? Ha ha! (Step 3: Prepare)

Bk Lillian, prepare

After that first conversation when you get to know each other you’re on to the real thing. You have to pick a subject from your ‘table of contents’ (see previous blog) and start preparing if you want to move beyond the level of ‘chitchat’. I wanted to start with the historical part, which was all about China and Hong Kong. Where should I start?

1. Collect background information

Honestly? It wasn’t me who started preparing. Based on the conversations I had with Maggie and Lillian, I figured it would be great if they would create a timeline and a family tree. Maggie would create the family tree to give an overview of her and her husband’s family within a frame of Chinese and Hong Kongese history. It would give meaning to the choices the families had made within a historical context. Lillian created a timeline to highlight the big events in her life.
Both Maggie and Lillian worked on their ‘assignments’ and it turned out great. Now I had a few key elements that I could use for my own preparation.
– This is especially a great tool if you’re writing an autobiography, although you could argue that a fictional book character needs some background to be as real as possible too, so it might work anyway. –

2. Brainstorm questions and ideas

I knew I had to focus. When I just started blogging, I easily wrote about 48 different subjects in one blog. When I started writing for a magazine the editor politely asked me if I could stick to one single subject per column? Right. How to do that?
A writer-friend handed me a brainstorm technique: Think of a dish, such as salmon, and think of 20 different ways to serve salmon. It’s all about being creative with that one single subject. If you can do that, you can apply it to your blog, column and interview questions.
Okay! I, for example, wanted to get more information about how Maggie lived and under what circumstances. I asked myself what the reader would like to know and what I would do if I were her? I would think of a possible answer Maggie would give me and thought of a fictive next question. I grouped those questions and thought of 10 more questions per subject. It resulted in endless white sheets with post-its with a lot of questions that I later categorized and translated to the actual questions.

To sum it up:

Brainstorm ‘Salmon’
Subject -> write down as many questions as possible -> categorize the questions – > think of 10 more questions -> ask ONLY the relevant ones during the actual interview.

It works for me and it makes it easier to relax during the interview and chat as if I didn’t prepare. I use it when writing columns and articles as well.

3. Fail to prepare? Prepare to fail.

If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. That’s a fact. You might have a nice, short conversation if you don’t prepare. If anything, the information gathered is probably not very useful. Yes, of course you can fill in blanks later and ask questions to clarify things you’ve written down. BUT you don’t want to waste your time or worse, waste the time of the people you’re interviewing. Besides that, you want to be relaxed and being prepared takes away half of your stress upfront.

The interview went well, I’ve had a few more and started wondering what my next step would be? I thought this would be the right time to have another chat with Sarah who guides me in my writing process. Was I doing the right things?

Writing a book? Ha ha! (Step 2: Pace yourself)

Book Lillian Pace 017Lillian, the girl the book is about, and I Skyped – okay we used ‘Facebook call’ because Skype is really old-fashioned – for the first time a few weeks ago. (Read the previous blog if you have no clue what I’m talking about.)
It went well and then I had to think of what comes next. I noticed that writing a book is a slow process and very different from writing a column or article. It’s hard when you have an impatient nature and would like to finish things yesterday.

Finish yesterday?

A few years ago I had a coach at work. I told him about myself and I shared, amongst other things, that I like to do things as fast as possible. He nodded and asked me to stand up. He then asked me to run to the other side of the room while he was holding me. The resistance was high and it was not easy at all (and a bit awkward) to run with someone attached to you. He asked me what would happen if I would do it again, but slower? Well, I would arrive later, of course! I replied. We tried it and I arrived at the other side of the room faster than at full speed. I guess it’s a balancing act of making progress and giving room for things to ripen. It popped into my head while I was planning and talking and researching and quickly! starting. I paced myself and wrote down what I was doing and why.

1. Collecting information takes time

If you’re writing a book, you need to do research, read other books (in my case autobiographies), do interviews etc. I’m writing about a young Chinese lady and I need a lot of input from her, but also from her parents and possibly other people. It gives me a feel for who Lillian is. I also need to know things about her past. She of course won’t remember because she was too young. Gathering all this information doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time.
Okay, it’s even worse. Some of the ‘very interesting information’ you will write down now will be deleted at a later stage. You have to tell yourself not to worry about that now though.

2. Don’t Rush

If you start rushing, you will never manage to write a story that’s whole. Every story needs a beginning, a middle part, an end and a plot of some kind. A princess doesn’t immediately meet her prince, if anything it would be a rather boring story. Rushing makes you forget things; you forget to listen properly and you might make assumptions. If you start doing that, it’s all about you and you’re not writing a book about yourself. Period. Don’t rush.

3. Have a little faith

The longer it takes, the more time you have to start doubting yourself. Are the things you’re doing the right things? There already are so many good books, mine won’t be of any added value! What if it doesn’t work, what if the pieces of the puzzle won’t fall into place? Yes, this could happen, or not. Writing a book is a brilliant way to test yourself. You have to start with the first conversation and the first chapter and have a little faith that slowly but surely the story will unfold.

Have a little faith and prepare. Prepare? Prepare what?!

I will share how I do that next time!

Writing a book? Ha ha (step 1)

BOOK blog lillianRight. I sat down behind my desk with nothing but empty white sheets in front of me. Writing sounds really fun! And creative! What I’ve learned in the past years however, is that every creative process, whether it is a story, a blog or a brainstorm, is based on structure. That sounds rather boring, right? Well, get over it and start making a plan – I said to myself. I needed a table of contents and some sort of guideline. I needed to know how many hours this project would roughly take me and I needed someone to guide me in the process with more knowledge about writing books than me, which couldn’t be hard considering the fact that I had only written blogs and articles so far.

Step 1. Write down the summarised story

I wrote down the conversation I had taped. That’s lesson 1a and 1b at the same time btw: Tape everything. Especially when you’re a Dutch person interviewing Chinese people in English. You probably won’t even need to listen to it (I never did, because more important than taping is listening while you’re interviewing) but that might be because you taped it. I wrote down what Maggie and Lillian told me in a summarized version. They both read it and we agreed that this summary would be our starting point.

Step 2. Create a table of contents

Based on the story I had written down, I created a table of contents. Joost squeezed it into a frame with his amazing excel knowledge (I’m not downplaying this at all, I’m actually quite serious). It made it very easy to gain an overview of ‘interview time per chapter’ and ‘editor time per chapter’ and more stuff that doesn’t seem relevant, but is or could be very useful. In the end, it roughly summed up how much time I would need to write this book. I say roughly because you tend to underestimate tasks and how much time they consume. Let’s, for example, talk about packing suitcases. In the end it always takes up 20% more time than you imagined (and you probably bring 20% more stuff than you needed). Having this excel file created an overview that made the hours insightful to me and to everyone else.

Step 3. Surround yourself with great minds

Joost is my great excel mind. Besides that I needed someone to edit my English as nothing is more horrific than errors in grammar, style and punctuation.Errors will distract you from the content and it makes reading less fluent. Besides that I needed someone to guide me in the process. I decided that, although I was writing in English, I would love to discuss the content of the book and the process of writing with another Dutch person. Via a good friend, I came in touch with the wonderful Sarah who will be my Dutch sparring partner and I asked Melissa to be my first (American) editor.

Step 4: What are you waiting for? Just get started

That’s how I kicked off. Or well, I organized a Skype session with Sarah whose main advice was to ‘just get started’. Which is the truth and something you KNOW but ignore because it’s much harder than it sounds. Of course I procrastinated (again) but after a few weeks – when there was nothing left to tidy – I planned a first Skype session. I sent out invitations and that was that.

How it went? You can read about it next time! Hopefully I will draw a less dramatic picture although I have to admit that this kind of reflects my ‘base’ attitude towards fun but challenging projects.
And yes, I like coffee.

 

Writing a book? Ha ha!

Book lillian tekening blog 1It was just another Monday (a few months ago) and I was on my way to fetch the children from school when husband Joost phoned me: ‘Could you write a book for someone I know? More specifically, a biography?’
WHAT?
No, of course I couldn’t.
Yes, of course I could.
No, of course not.
And that’s how I emailed the ‘someone I know’ to make an appointment for a week later when she happened to be in Bentonville Arkansas.

Someone I know

In an enormous hotel (yes, Bentonville has one) I met Maggie, a wonderful, stylish, dedicated, energizing, Chinese lady living in NYC. We chitchatted for an hour as if we had known each other for years. We rushed through her life, only to discover in the last few minutes that the book was going to be about her daughter. Writing a biography about a 17 year old? Hmmm, I wondered if I would be able to write an interesting story about such a young girl. Then I met her daughter Lilian via Skype. Lilian was great! She was born in the year of the Ox; hard-working, creative, funny and at the age of 17 already mature enough not to take herself too seriously. Both Maggie and Lillian were amazingly open and I felt that we could make this work.

Decision making? Use CCCD

How do you make a final decision to embrace a project or not? I came up with the criteria CCCD, which – I think – are actually applicable to almost (I don’t know why I write down almost btw) every relationship.
1. Content. There definitely is an interesting story to share. I liked the bits and pieces of Chinese culture they both shared and ideas immediately popped into my mind.
2. Click. Maggie and Lillian are very special ladies and we instantly bonded. All three of us highly valued trust and a safe environment. There were a few jokes and loud laughs and it just felt right.
3. Confidence. Maggie was convinced that I could do this based on my experience and the conversation we had. There has never been any doubt, which boosted my self-confidence and made me eager to work with her.
4. Dedication. We agreed that it would be an adventure. We were going to do something we never did before which was exciting and I felt that we could make it work!

I was going to write a book!

Yes, yes, I could write this book. Content, a click, confidence and dedication were key elements for me to make the decision. Oh my gosh, what an amazing opportunity. The only thing left was to actually write it. And (Oh my gosh), I had never written a book before. Where should I start? A few nervous breakdowns and acts of procrastination later, I broke the process down to a few steps. I will share these steps next time. Nice cliffhanger, right ;)

Then one final remark: I have no experience writing a book. I’m just doing what feels right and to be honest, writing it down makes it real, it keeps me motivated. Feel free to share whatever you want, whether it’s feedback, tips or tricks! Happy to hear it all!

Celebrate life

IMG_2733-2My granny died on July 8th, 2010, which is five years and nine days ago today. It was extremely warm, for a Dutch summer and I was extremely sad, for a mom to be for the third time. I was due to deliver baby Bobbie on the 14th of July. Lucie, our first daughter, was going to be Bobbie, but Joost didn’t think Bobbie was a good name, for a girl. That was before we both thought having a third child was not a good idea btw, but if you start reasoning to have a third, you will find enough reasons not to go for it.

The 14th started with me riding a very heavy Dutch bike with both Boris and Lucie in it to buy shoes for Lucie. We quickly bought them (the 18-months-old was still easy going fashion-wise back then) and when I was about to ride home, my sister phoned me: ‘Mom is in the hospital, nothing serious, I don’t think you need to come over.’
She thought, I thought, we all thought that mom was stressed, sleep deprived and heartbroken because she lost her mom just a week before. Grief must have been the reason for a heavy heart, for chest-pains, for the signs of heart problems. Right?

Wrong. I went to the hospital to find my mom attached to a variety of machines. The doctors were running tests on her and all we could do was wait. When I quickly walked out to park the car in a more appropriate parking lot, my sister phoned again: ‘You have to get over here, something is very, very wrong!’ I rushed in – as far as you can rush when you’re 40 weeks pregnant – to find my mom attached to even more machines and surrounded by a lot of people in long white coats. Five minutes later she was transported to another hospital, the sirens were loud and a team of heart surgeons was already waiting for her.

Turned out she had an aorta rupture, but not completely, because that would have been fatal. The doctors explained that the aorta basically consists of an ‘inner and outer tire’ and only the inner one was partly damaged. It was a very critical situation. We were standing at her bed and my mom was already drugged to get her blood pressure as far down as possible. She told me later that she believed that she was telling us not to worry and she also thinks she winked at my husband and my sisters forever-fiancé to make them feel at ease. Of course she didn’t.

She did survive the 8-hour surgery though. Three days later, Bobbie was born. I’m forever grateful for being able to celebrate two birthdays this week. Happy fifth birthday to Bobbie and happy fifth (re-)birthday to my amazing mom!

Oh and Bobbie was and still is a real Bobbie; positive, energetic, super sweet and she might be an actress one day…

My new gym made me cry

IMG_9927‘I think I might be too tall for CrossFit,’ I said in despair to the CrossFit instructor. (It was that or crying, but I considered myself too old for that.)
‘Nah, I don’t think so, look at them,’ said the coach – while pointing at huge men lifting weights as if they were balloons.
‘But those are men! That’s totally different!’ I replied.
It was day two at my new CrossFit gym and instead of lifting weights, I only lifted the stick that normally holds the weights.

How did I end up doing CrossFit?
Well, after the unexpected closure of my old gym, I tried another. It was okay, it provided a much needed routine and after four weeks I wanted to renew my membership. It was impossible, however, as this gym was about to close down too! Gyms seem to pass out when I arrive.

That’s how I ended up in the biggest and longest existing CrossFit box in Bentonville. The other CrossFitters asked me what I thought about it and I replied (again) that it was great, but that I’m most likely too tall. I told EVERYONE that I might be too tall. When I’m convinced of something I sometimes overshare. I think I do that to clear my head (I would like to give a less selfish reason, but I can’t think of one).
Nobody confirmed my beliefs, but instead started sharing their own handicaps:
– Oh funny, I always think that I’m too short!
– Oh funny, I always think that I’m not fast enough!
– Oh funny, I always think I’m not fit enough!
In the end we were empowering each other and figured that we all looked great and that I might not be too tall after all! We concluded that I should give it some time as things might change.

Things did change. After two weeks the summer vacation kicked in and I decided to bring my girls along. It made me nervous as I was afraid they would be too shy to stay in the designated children’s room.
And?
They had a ball. They loved it, played with the other children and ran around when the class was done. Lucie, my shy middle one, even wanted to try CrossFit for kids.

IMG_9854We went on a Saturday and she had been looking forward to it the whole morning. She
was wearing new shoes, she smiled but then she had to line up. She turned to me and whispered with a very, very pale face: ‘Mom, I think I changed my mind.’
At that point the coach stepped in, grabbed her hand only to let it go when she was smiling and running and was confident enough to do it on her own. It made me grateful and proud and it brought tears to my eyes. Again.

This gym is a keeper.