Serenity in the midst of chaos

Hi! Yes we moved, we’re in the Netherlands and it’s been nice and hectic and sad and stressful and relaxed and overall we’re happy. Could be because we’re staying in a wonderful Airbnb house. Last weekend though, we agreed with the owner to temporarily leave it as he needed it for himself. It sounded perfectly logical when we agreed to do so about three months ago, but once the moment was here, it made no sense at all.

WHY did we agree to move out of a temporary accommodation to move to another temporary accommodation? The hassle of packing bags (again), of sleeping in another bed (again), of taking the kids to school from yet another place (again).

Once in the apartment though the rush immediately disappeared and it truly felt like a weekend away. There was no washing machine, there were no ‘things’ to arrange like a new dentist, there were no new friends to be made, there were no new parents of potential new friends of the children to meet, and there were no activities planned. It was just the five of us and the sea and the city and the beach and a festival.

The festival is called Boekids and is a yearly cultural festival for children in a pop stage environment, which made it extra cool. There were writers reading from their work, singers singing, pancakes, popcorn and all kinds of fun activities. Boris did a theatre workshop, we learned how to make an illustrated video, we took a picture in a tiny Alice in Wonderland house and halfway through the festival we listened to ‘Clean Pete’; a talented young singer-songwriters duo. They performed songs while interacting like pro’s with their audience.

We had never heard of Clean Pete, but we loved it. The children danced to the songs, Boris went on stage when they asked if someone would be brave enough to do so (I was happy I wasn’t him, because I would have never dared to do that, I honestly had to stop myself from discouraging him) and Joost and I just sat there, watching, reflecting and enjoying our children. There was one song we had to sing-a-long with the chorus. So the audience started: ‘Het is zo, zo zo fijn, zo fijn om alleen te zijn.’ Translated: ‘It’s so, so, so nice, so nice to be alone.’ The lyrics, the rhythm, it was perfect.

The next day I drove the kids to school and we listened to the Clean Pete cd. Then the ‘alone song’ played and together we sang the chorus. Singing with my children, driving through a well-known country with different versions of ourselves, listening to – for us – new music, made me confident that we will get there. Wherever there might be.

A strong body is a beautiful body

Seven months ago I started CrossFit. If you have no clue what it is, read this. Last weekend I joined a CrossFit competition. No, of course I didn’t master any of the skills. No, of course I wasn’t ready, or strong enough, or any other excuse you could possibly think of. But I did it and it was stressful and amazing and I liked it and here are my top three reasons.

1. The team spirit
The team spirit is great. We joined the competition with six individuals that had worked out together every now and then. We supported each other as if we had known each other for years though. I was proud when I did something better than I thought, but I was even happier when one of my team members did something they thought impossible. You’re doing your best for you, but you’re especially doing your upmost best for the other five. After day one we ended in the bronze category with 24 other teams. We had totally expected this to happen. What we hadn’t expected at all was that we dominated the first WOD (workout of the day ) in our category of that second day. The flow was right and our double unders just rocked. (If anything, master those dubs! ;))

2. Yes you can
Your body can handle so much more than you think. Yes, of course I was (extremely) nervous before every single WOD, but I linked 10 pull ups instead of 5, I could lift more weight – okay, this is not true, I really am an average lifter on a good day – but I jumped higher and fought harder and we achieved so much more than we thought possible. Of course you push yourself during a normal workout, but a competition makes you go the extra mile, a competition is not only physically challenging, it definitely is a mental challenge as well. I’m truly amazed by what you can handle when you feel you have to.

3. You’re so strong mom!
My family came with me and supported us. It was a conditio sine qua non (I wouldn’t have done it without them because joining a competition was already way out of my comfort zone). They danced around on the field, they enjoyed watching everybody and they were the perfect cheerleaders. Especially Boris thought it was so impressive what we were doing and what we were capable of. He told me a few times: ‘Mom, you’re so strong!’ It was the BESTESTcompliment ever and it’s something that I hope my children will live by. Forget about pretty, thick, thin, small, tall, old, young, tiny or big; a strong body is a beautiful body.

So yes, I can recommend CrossFit. It has made me stronger, more resilient and happier. And yes I would definitely recommend joining a competition. It’s surprising to see what you’re capable of, the team spirit is amazing and above all, it’s so much fun!

Crossfit comp

Bobbie crossfit
Crossfit locatie
Crossfit group
Crossfit kettle bell

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


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


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?’
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!