Here are some snaps of me shooting The Antiques Diva for CRAVE Amsterdam -profiling 150 women you need to know in Amsterdam.
I decided to go snowboarding last week after more than ten years.
My sister and I used to go together. We knew some of the surfers that competed, the monitors, the guys who designed the surf wear up in Sierra Nevada, a beautiful mountain top in the south of Spain, so close to the sea you can actually see it from one of the slopes. We were “in” with the cool crowd in what is already a pretty cool place.
It was somewhat different this time. For one it was her, me, our husbands, and our seven children, (two mine, five hers), ranging between one and eleven years of age. And while my sister has continued going to the mountain regularly, living in the tropics I did not have the chance.
We were realistic enough to book a family friendly hotel. One of those places with half board, day care and monitoring service where reception is connected to your room in case anyone wakes up during dinner. More importantly, one of those places where no one looks twice if during lunch your kids are climbing up the furniture, and when you get up it looks like a restaurant exploded beneath your table.
Logistics sorted, it still left the fact that I had no idea if I would be able to snowboard again.While we rented the gear (all truck loads of it for the whole tribe,) I kept debating weather to get a snowboard or give up and go back to skiing, which I did before becoming a cool snowboarder. While Skiing well is harder, snowboarding is pretty ruthless in that you are either in full flexed mode or you’ll fall flat on your face. There is no room for being lazy on a snowboard.
In the end, I decided to go with what felt closest, and put on a snowboard. Unfortunately for me, in the past ten years there have been quite a few changes. First, the boots I used were semi hard, almost like ski boots, while now they only use the soft version. When I learned to snowboard the front foot was almost facing the mountain with only a 45 degree turn, and both knees aimed to stay together. Now you are practically sideways on the board with your knees facing in opposite directions. So when you flex down it looks pretty much like if you are going to take a dump. Already I could see this was going to be a humiliating affair at the best of times.
I’ll spare you the details but here is a short run of the long weekend:
DAY ONE; after endless logistical problems with the kids we head off to take the “egg” which will take us to the top of the mountain. I nearly have a hear attack on the way up. Seriously, I was shitting myself in fear wondering how I was going to make it down. Once we got going it was actually not as bad as I suspected. Weird and all, but managed to turn and go down slowly but surely. Feeling pretty good about myself. Song of the day “you’re unbelievable” by that 90’s band
DAY TWO; went up only with the boys (added pressure). Feeling really energized and cool, although my legs can barely take it. The sun is shining, head song is still going, and start being able to go faster and take sharper turns.
DAY THREE: wake up with no will and find myself at the top of the mountain with no adrenaline whatsoever. Song of the day “I will survive” by ABBA. 'Feeling pretty confident and taking sharper turns' slowly becomes known as the first step of falling. One particular interesting fall went like this:
I am all excited that I am going down a black slope that I struggled with on the first day when –of course- I fall. I'm sliding down the mountain on my belly feet first and patiently waiting for the snow to slow me down. Eventually I get impatient and decide something has to be done, so I try to stick the board hard into the snow, this makes me rotate counterclockwise and I am now sliding down the mountain on my belly head first, like a penguin. Snow has officially entered all areas of my non-waterproof-lower layers of clothing. Again I grow impatient and decide something must be done given the mountain refuses to stop my fall. This time I am turned over like a waffle and am now going feet first again, but facing up. I give up.
I spent the last few runs trying to get myself hiked up so that I would have a good after taste, but the fact is that the snow is now heavy and I am tired (and hungry). I have decided to stay behind and sit on the mountain taking it all in. The place is beautiful. White covered mountains as far as the eye can see. The kids have been having a blast every day with their cousins. Absolute mayhem. I know that if I had a few more days I would be going down much better. But in spite of my shitty style, my frustration for being back to square two, and how old my painful legs make me feel, I can take pride in the fact that I am here, I am surfing. Live fast stay young. That’s all I’m saying.
So this is what my typical morning looks like:
Wake up (after many snoozes). Get kids to school (after long and loud negotiations). Start checking email over morning coffee (one of life’s greatest pleasures). Begin writing report, then check twitter. Tweet. Continue with report. Prepare a toast. Respond to incoming (work) email. Call to confirm meeting that work email just reminded me of. Check facebook. Eat toast. Go back to report. Look at last version of edited photos. Edit photos (again). Go back to initial photo agreement to remember original plan. Tweet. Go back to report. Email friend about Friday dinner. Check email. Respond to email (kitchen stove needs to get repaired). Call garage. Open agenda, look at “to do” list. Add things to “to do” list, (some which I have already done, but want the pleasure of crossing out). Tweet. Check email. Check agenda to respond to work email, get side tracked to doctor appointment that needs to be re scheduled. Drink coffee. Check email. Pray that I finish report draft before school pick up time. Make it just in time to pick monkey up from school on my bicycle.
And this is fine with me.
I like working this way. I work alone at home at the best of times, on most occasions I work amidst toys that are carefully deposited on top of whatever I am trying to read, or accompanied by philosophical discussion along the lines of
and indeed what came first, the chicken or the egg?
I like the interaction that the social media provides me with, its almost akin to a colleague popping by to say hi on their way to the coffee machine. I like being able to do many things at the same time, and having my breaks, all within the comfort of my own study. But lately I have noticed worrying signs of spill over.
I often find myself in the fruit section of the local supermarket thinking ‘ the white balance is off,’ or going into the dry cleaners and thinking ‘need to saturate the reds here’.
More troublingly, I apply this work methodology to other areas where it is not so applicable, like putting water to boil in order to cook pasta, and only return once the water has evaporated and a strange smell is taking over the house. Or leaving linens to soak in the sink, for days on end.
While reading a nice novel, have you ever felt the urge to press “Ctr+F” to locate something you liked? More significantly, the irritation of not being able to do so?
I also realize that my attention span has decreased significantly. I am absolutely unable to sit through commercials. I often try to fit in conversations with my husband, which goes ok until I leave him half sentence in order to return to my program. When I attempt to pick up where we left off on the next break I’ve usually lost him. So then I flick through a magazine or, sadly and more often, pull out the lap top and check my email, facebook, tweet, or cruise the net. This is pretty bad I know, but last week I knew I was in trouble when I found myself attempting to check my email on my iphone at a red light. Even that appears to be too long a time for me to stay idle.
My kids are 100% part of what they call the MTV generation. They will grow up watching news snippets of 30 seconds, the internet where everything is available on demand, even cartoons seem to be following this worrying trend. There is a constant fight to keep our attention by making the messages simpler and shorter, trying to stand out through loud sounds, bright colours…. you name it someone is trying it. How will this affect them? Will they be able to read one of the classics, start to finish? can I protect them from this when I am not even able to protect myself?
I attach a photo I took yesterday, and yes, that is me taking a photo while driving. See what I’m talking about?
But it was not that thought out. It was just a gut thing. So I asked for extended unpaid leave, again a privilege I know, and I got one year. I was not intending to use that whole year, it just gave me time to find a new job as we had transferred to Cambodia. And then I was offered a job….. and I struggled between what I thought I should do –take the job- and what deep down I knew I wanted to do.
As fate would have it, I became accidently pregnant again, which gave me a fantastic excuse to turn the job down, and ask for another year of unpaid leave. So it was only after almost two and a half years that I had to accept the fact that I was not willing or able to go back to a 9 to 5 job, (and I’ll take this opportunity to highlight that they are never actually 9-5).
It was quite a shock really. I did not expect that from myself. So I entered this rollercoaster where my identity and self worth were thrown completely off.
Nearly four years later it seems that the plan I set out has worked. I work mostly from home. In exchange for a few weeks of travel a year, I get to stay home the rest of the time, and have extended holidays that I can enjoy with my children. Working from home means that even though I am working, earning money, and continue to have a career, I can have breakfast and lunch with them, pick them up from school, take them to play groups (some times). As long as I get the job done, it is up to me how I distribute my time.
Recently as the holiday season hit and I finished my last job of the year I accepted that I would be effectively unemployed for a while. Work rarely comes in at that time of the year. And I was ok with it. Free to decorate the house, go visit Santa, look after the grandparents, wrap the presents. Then January came and went. And as February stretched out I –like most freelancers-begun to panic. I was waiting for news from all the CVs sent before the year had wrapped. As the days passed with an empty in box, I begun to fear I would never get work again. Ever.
Then February turned out to be a very generous month. I am currently booked up for the entire year, and February is not even used up. Of course, they are all happening at the same time, and I am faced with the fact that -if I take all the work offered, I will be traveling on a monthly basis from January until May, ten to fourteen days at a time. And so, the other shoe drops. Is this too much? How will my constant absence affect the children? Should I turn some work down? (my husband seems completely bewildered I even consider this option)
You see, children cannot express themselves. Well, they can, but they rarely make any sense, at least mine which are two and three years old. So I cannot use them as a gauge. They are important to me. But so is my identity as an independent and valuable member of society. I also work because I want them to have a feminine role model that they can look up to (not that not working is not positive, this is just my choice as a parent).
And so, I struggle. Again. Does it ever get any easier?
It’s a beautiful large wooden chest, delicately carved on its front. My guess is that it is from Oman. The dark wood, the intricate work, its age, these are some of the things that give its origin away, and it is right in front of me, standing proud, reminding me of all the uncertainties heading my way.
We are leaving. I know that now. It is not written anywhere, but by now I can read the signs. It wont be just now. Many months will pass perhaps even before we know where. And then, only then, perhaps not even then, time will transform itself, and with it, so will our lives.
The time change I can predict and describe. The transformation of our lives, I can only wait to witness as a by stander.
First, time will be slow and heavy. Every evening I will welcome my husband to a tired home. One that has lived a full day and is ready to drink some warm milk and go to bed. He will be tired as well, the children will welcome him with excitement, knowing that with him comes the night, and rest, and only then another full day to fill. In the silence of the dark we might not speak of it, but it will be there. We will scrutinize time, as it lazily and distractedly waits and waits before giving anything away.
Some months from now it may choose to give us something. The sign may be clear of muffled, and then we will patiently wait some more. I will try to plan, without really knowing what to plan for. We will continue trying to believe in the permanence of our home, but knowing really that we are only playing this part, like characters from a play.
And then one day, somewhere in the not so distant horizon, time will pull off this lazy cloak and reveal our fate. And then I know what it will look like. This 80 year old maid will turn into a frenzied child. The world will revolve around us at high speed. It will be impatient and spoiled and demanding. So we will run, and run and run.
Soon after all -hell will break loose. How the children react to this, now no longer babies, will very much determine what this part will look like. All I know is that there will be a rough period. A rough ride.
But once its done, once the fairground has closed its doors and dimmed its lights, I will find my old friend again, the time from my home. The one that likes to sit for tea once the children have left for school. The one that stays up with me late into the night, making time for me to read or write to a dear old friend.
For the time being, time and me are hanging out, playing chess if you like, she makes a move, I make a move. We play with the kids and drink coffee. But we both know this will change. Its just a matter of time.
Yes, you read right. I buggered off, no husband, no kids, for one entire week. Now, before you get over excited, let me explain that it has actually taken me one full calendar year, (actually, 14 months to be precise) to pull this off. The biggest block to doing it was – of course, guilt.
The idea came to me when my children were 2.5 and 1 yrs old respectively. The one yr old was still breastfeeding day and night (with emphasis on night, given that he was getting up, and more importantly getting me up, two to three times a night). My husband had moved to Holland, and I was in the process of packing up the house, finding schools, working out the tax rules as a freelancer in my new country and the like before joining him.
Did I mention that I had a photo exhibition going on?
So, in short, I was stressed and tired. I was also reading one of the most wonderful books I have read; ‘eat pray love’ by Elizabeth Gilbert (http://www.elizabethgilbert.com). I wont go into details of the book, but she does a retreat, so the exhaustion together with the book brought the idea to me. Truth be told, if it hadn’t been for my husband’s support, I probably would not have done it. That and …. serendipity.
As I was once again procrastinating and finding excuses as to why it was not a good time to do this, I received an email from a dear friend asking if I wanted to join her on a yoga retreat in April. I had to laugh, it was like destiny reminding me of my commitment to myself. My friend whom I had not seen in almost seven years, who I did not even know did yoga, was asking me to do exactly what my body had been asking me to do for over a year. Clearly it was time. One other thing happened, I panicked at the idea of waiting another four months to do it. Only then did I realize that I was again over tired, and that I sill owed this to my myself.
A couple of days before I had come across an add in a restaurant advertising a yoga retreat in the Red Sea. It was half a week in the Desert, and half a week by the sea. It seemed absolutely perfect to me. A mixture of sun, together with the solitude that only the desert can provide. Let me tell ya, it did not disappoint. Having one week to catch up with my dear friend, to share my life and get to know hers again, was like having home made bread cooked every day for my soul.
I am back now. I will soon blog about more details, but for the time being let me tell you, confess, I did not come back a super mom. A couple of days in I had a cold (probably as a result of the shock of coming back to northern European weather), and the night before leaving I spent it holding tight to the toilet, getting over some food poisoning. But you know what? not only was it worth it, but I deserved it. I would not have taken so long to fulfill my promise to anyone else. And I do feel better, and stronger, and just that much wiser, if only because I pulled this off.