Monthly Archives: March 2012

Our new nest

Sebastiaan and I finally moved into our beautiful new apartment in the east of Amsterdam this weekend. It was exhausting but so nice to have the help of so many friends and Sebastiaan’s family. Both of the places we’ve lived since I moved to Holland have been furnished so we had absolutely nothing. We felt a bit dizzy just thinking about all the money to be spent on furniture, dishes pots and pans, everything. So because Sebastiaan and I are still students, living on a slightly limited budget, we decided IKEA was our best bet. After 2 trips and about 8 hours spent wandering the various IKEA showrooms, we found some great and inexpensive pieces to fill our new nest.

Our entire apartment looked something like this...

Bright and early Saturday morning the delivery van arrived and our 350 kilo load was lugged up 4 flights of stairs. Looking around the floor of our living room at what seemed to be 100 different boxes, it dawned on me, this my friends is why IKEA is so cheap…

2 days, a some bruised thumbs and a few splinters later, our little place started to look like a home.

This morning when I woke up with the sun shining through our windows I felt all the stress and anxiety of the past few months simply melt away.  I bounced out of bed, took a shower, got dressed and was all geared up to conquer the world when the loudest alarm I have ever heard went off throughout the apartment. Sebastiaan, who up until then had been sound asleep, jumped out of bed pulled the fire alarm from the wall (which didn’t stop the ear-piercing sound) and opened all the windows in the apartment. I still haven’t figured out how a 10 minute shower can set off a smoke alarm but, what do I know? Eventually Sebastiaan fell back asleep and I, now late for work, ran down the stairs (4 flights) only to realize half-way down I had no money for the tram and no idea where the nearest ATM was. After running about a mile around the neighborhood, I now know where the ATM is, where to grab coffee at 7am and where the crazy, and talkative, homeless lady hangs out. So all in all it was an eventful (and informative) Monday morning in the new abode, maybe our new home has to get used to us a bit too… 🙂

Our street!

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Learning Dutch

I’ve written previously about language barriers and the difficulties of living in a place where you don’t speak the language but I was recently reminded of this all too familiar feeling. Although my lack of fluency in Dutch has become a reality of my daily life, there are still times where the all-consuming frustration and isolation is almost unbearable.

Now that I have reached the point in my Dutch where I am able to follow a lot of the conversations around me and even take part a bit, people often assume that I am able to follow everything, or more often, fail to notice seamlessly switching between English and Dutch.

It’s exhausting concentrating on every word you hear, trying to interpret, translate or make sense of the few familiar sounds… Sometimes it takes every ounce of energy in me to follow a conversation only to realize they are talking about soaring gas prices or last nights Ajax game. Really? I feel like I just ran a marathon and for this? And off to my happy place I go…

While sometimes it really is easy to simply tune out the conversations around me and go somewhere in my mind (usually home), sometimes I just want to be present. I want to participate. I want to laugh and joke too. I just want to fit in.

While I know that it will take time for me to become completely fluent in Dutch, it’s time to pick up the effort a bit. I don’t always want to be the outsider or the one that forces people to speak another language. So much of the experience of living in a different county is getting to know new people,  a new culture and sometimes even a new language.

I’m not certain how much longer I will be living in Amsterdam but I would hate to leave after a few years and not be able to fluently speak Dutch, not to mention, how much I think it would mean to Sebastiaan. I so badly want to be able to speak Dutch to his friends and family (and of course our future kids) 🙂

So I’m going to try to take this on in baby steps… I’m going to read the Dutch newspaper on the metro in the morning, watch more TV shows in Dutch, force myself to speak it as much as possible and of course I will keep reading my favorite children’s  book, Jip en Janneke, which never fails to crack me up. I can see Sebastiaan rolling his eyes now… I guess reading children’s books together isn’t his idea of a good time but he’s been a good sport. As with anything else I pursue, Sebastiaan supports me in my efforts to learn his native language and helps me any chance he gets. It definitely helps knowing that Sebastiaan is always there to lean on and, most importantly, always the first one to notice that lost look in my eyes…

Relationships are hard

Relationships are hard. Really hard.

Feelings get hurt. We say things we don’t mean. We yell. We cry. We do things that drive each other crazy. We do things that the other person doesn’t understand. We do things that we don’t even understand.

Lately my faith in relationships has been a bit shaken by the astounding number of divorces and failed relationships around me. How do couples really make it work for the long haul? Is there some secret to a successful and happy marriage? I used to think it was all chocolates, roses, diamonds and candle light dinners, turns out that’s not the case (well… diamonds maybe).

I know that marriage is hard, it takes years of work and more work after that.

Sebastiaan and I are lucky to have parents that are both still together. My parents for over 30 years, his for 26. We both have amazing examples of what love really looks like. I’ve talked a lot about my relationship and relationships in general with both my mom and Linda (Sebastiaan’s mom) and they both seem to say pretty much the same thing even though they are in very different relationships. They stress how hard marriage can be and that no matter what it will have its ups and downs. As people change over time and as life happens, both the good and the bad, relationships are bound to be affected.

My parents recently experienced among the worst tragedies parents can imagine, the loss of my brother. It’s hard not to notice how this has dramatically influenced their lives and also their marriage. At first it seemed as though they were just trying to avoid drowning in their own grief and instead of leaning on each other, a kind of intangible distance grew between them.

It retrospect, I think it was their way of protecting one another. It was as if it was at all possible that for even one moment the other was not entirely consumed with thoughts of Kylen, they didn’t dare take that away. I’m not saying that this is necessarily the right or best way to deal with grief, but what is? There is no prescribed formula for dealing with the loss of a child. My parents still deal with the grief of losing their son everyday but I think now they are finally able to begin making space for one another again.

Sebastiaan’s parents also went through an equally scary and challenging period last year. Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was going to need a mastectomy. They were unsure how much of the cancer had spread and were hopeful but vague about the prognosis. I watched as they, and well all of us, were sent on an emotional roller coaster of fear, anger, uncertainty and hope. Herman’s grief was palpable. He was consumed by the unbearable reality of Linda’s condition. Linda, always the pillar of strength within the family, still managed to hold us all together through it all. Although Linda is now cancer free she is still dealing with the emotional and even physical consequences of her illness. She hasn’t gone back to work full-time and is at time struggling to redefine her role in her marriage and her family. Cancer changed Linda as I’m sure it would change most people. She sees things differently now, has very different priorities and has an entirely new perspective on life. Linda and Herman are too working to redefine what their relationship means in the aftermath.

Sebastiaan and I just celebrated our 2nd anniversary and it feels like we’ve already been through more than most couples experience in a lifetime, and to be honest, we’re really still getting to know each other. We have finally been able to catch our breath and take a step forward with a bit more optimism for the future. I still get annoyed by the occasional toilet seat left up, 30 minute showers, wrinkled clothes and addiction to junk food. And I’m sure he’s had just about all the PMS, Keeping up with the Kardashians and clogged shower drains he can take. But we’re figuring it out. We’re figuring out who we are as individuals and what that means for our relationship. I learn something new about Sebastiaan, and well myself, everyday. We bring out the best in each other, occasionally push each other’s buttons and constantly challenge one another to be better people. I know that we will also have to continuously redefine our relationship as we grow and face life’s challenges together as a couple and at times it won’t be easy, it may even feel impossible.

So what’s the secret to a long-lasting relationship? I don’t know that there is one and I definitely don’t know what the future holds for Sebastiaan and me, but I do know that even during the worst of times I can’t imagine my life without him.