Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Living the dream - 2 years today


On this day, two years ago, I moved to Utrecht.
It was a bright Sunday morning, calm and full of hope. I arrived just about when the movers had piled up my boxes by the front door, ready to bring them in. The rest, as they say, is history...and what a wonderful journey it has been!

Back in September 2007 I first set foot in Utrecht - to meet old friends and to visit the Rietveld house. I had a great time, so upon leaving I looked at the top of Dom and thought 'How nice it would be if one day I could live here...'

So I've been living my dream for two years now.
The first year was simply extraordinary! I have never thought I could have so much fun, make so many friends, experience so many new things. I was happily in love and loved back! My life was so rich, so colorful, so incredible. It was paradise!

But then things went awry - a robbery, job loss, love life got shaky...you name it! Total chaos!
For a very long while I was lost and scared, very scared indeed. I would hate waking up, and when I do so I would sit and stare at the wall, my brain drawing a blank. I wanted to disappear altogether.

At that same time a friend asked me - 'Why don't you go back home? You have nothing here - no job, no man, you don't even speak the language...'
Yes, she was right...why???
Because I was living my dream!!! And that's what makes ALL the difference. Wanting something and getting it, and loving it...and then losing it - what a royal pain that was! But I KNEW that's what I wanted.

It will take another 100 blogs to tell you why and how much exactly I love my life in the Netherlands. And it still won't be enough, because how do you describe the vibrant energy, the liveliness of every single moment, the happiness...

Another expat questioned me - 'While living your dream, don't you miss your real life passing by?'
NO, I wanted to scream at her - this IS my real life! It may be freaking scary and tough at the moment ... but that's the only life I have. What else do I have to go to?
It took some serious adjustment - attitude, budgeting, lifestyle ... but I AM so happy to be still here. I learned to live in a new way, but it's still MY way - my chosen place, my wonderful friends, my kind of parties! And my life is real - genuine and worth living it!

Who knows when the winds of change will blow, and my sailboat will have to leave the harbor, who knows which direction I'd head...but for now, I am blessed to be living my dream! Two years today!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A week in Auckland - a teaser



Up until 30 minutes ago my hair was still styled by the winds between Waiheke island and Auckland, and tiny grains of sand from Oneroa beach were still clinging to my skin. As much as I wanted them to stay with me and remind me of one of the most amazing sunsets I've ever seen...after about 30 hours of flights and airports, I needed a long hot shower.
Now the scent of sea is only a memory, and a gentle aroma of Shea butter soap is wrapping my body. But the Sun kisses are still all over my face and neck...the evidence that the good time in New Zealand was not just a dream, that the overwhelming lightness of walking Piha beach was for real. Far far and away, but real and so simply beautiful.

Stay tuned for the full story and pictures :)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day



I tried to restrain myself from blogging today, but I failed - I admit with a grin :)

It doesn't matter whether you celebrate Valentine's Day or not (just like many don't fancy birthday parties). The truth is, we can't escape Love - one way or another, sooner or later, we fall into Love's embrace. It could be a bliss, it could be a torture. It's Love nevertheless. I somehow have the ability to enjoy the butterflies Love gives me even if it's unrequited Love.
Of course, I much prefer reciprocated one - we all have been there, we know how great it feels!
To see my loved one's eye shine and hear his laughter, just because we are together is by far the best thing in the world! And the most meaningful one, at least for me!

Although I am single on this Valentine's Day, I am in love! Can't help it :)

To all of you out there who have someone by your side - Happy Valentine's Day! Cherish each other!
To all of you who are looking for someone, or even if you are not - Happy Valentine's Day!
Because frankly, you can't deny it - love is everywhere :)

Have a fabulous day! And if you don't know where to look for Love...see where I've found it - all the hearts above I collected during the last 12 months...simply looking around.
I told you - Love is everywhere ;-)

Monday, February 13, 2012

A change in strategy



Having been unemployed for a while one inevitably gives in to the overwhelming pressure from people around: 'You should try everything!','What if you don't like it so much, it's a job - apply for it!','You don't have many choices, do you? - then you should apply for whatever you find!', etc.

But nearly 40 applications later I am still at square one...and Deepak Chopra's Law of Pure Potentiality is echoing in my head -
"Imagine throwing a little stone into a still pond and watching it ripple. Then, after a while, when the ripples settle down, perhaps you throw another little stone. That's exactly what you do when you go into the field of pure silence and introduce your intention. In this silence, even the faintest intention will ripple across the underlying ground of universal consciousness, which connects everything with everything else. But, if you do not experience stillness in consciousness, if your mind is like a turbulent ocean, you could throw the Empire State Building into it, and you wouldn't notice a thing."

I have always been obedient to this law - I pick a target my heart strongly desires, I study it well, I focus on it, get still, set my eye in the target's center, set my intention too, and only then I let the arrow go. But lately I had lost my focus.

Luckily, a former boyfriend of mine told me this funny and smart story (that's why I like my boyfriends razor sharp!) -

In a forest a fox bumps into a little rabbit, and says, "Hi, junior, what are you up to?"
"I'm writing a dissertation on how rabbits eat foxes," said the rabbit.
"Come now, friend rabbit, you know that's impossible!" "Well, follow me and I'll show you." They both go into the rabbit's dwelling and after a while the rabbit emerges with a satisfied expression on his face.

Comes along a wolf. "Hello, what are we doing these days?"
"I'm writing the second chapter of my thesis, on how rabbits devour wolves."
"Are you crazy? Where is your academic honesty?"
"Come with me and I'll show you." As before, the rabbit comes out with a satisfied look on his face and a diploma in his paw. Finally, the camera pans into the rabbit's cave and, as everybody should have guessed by now, we see a mean-looking, huge lion sitting next to some bloody and furry remnants of the wolf and the fox.
The moral: It's not the contents of your thesis that are important -- it's your thesis advisor that really counts.

Back to my story - I finally regained part of my focus back. A good start! And I applied the Law of Pure Potentiality - I just sent an application in for a job I am really interested in, good fit to my skills, with opportunities to learn more, an adviser who seem a bit chaotic, but genuinely enthusiastic about what he does, great work location, and very importantly - I provided 3 top level references! Let's see how it all pan out.

In any case, I am pleased I found the courage to change my strategy to my liking :)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

'Mainstreet'



You know these days when you wake up with a tune in your head? For no particular reason?

Today I woke up with the melody of Bob Seger's 'Mainstreet' in my head, the guitar solo so clear. I found it on YouTube and listened to it. Again and again...

"I remember standing on the corner at midnight
Trying to get my courage up
There was this long lovely dancer in a little club downtown
I loved to watch her do her stuff...'

I don't normally pay attention to song's lyrics, for me it's all about the music. But how surprisingly matching the words were to the confident guitar solo, the soothing beat of the song...and how hard I've been trying to get my courage up lately.

I love moments like this, when a few things will line up and synchronize - mood, music, words...
It feels blissfully perfect! And it gets my courage up!

Which tune did YOU wake up to?
How do you get YOUR courage up?
Take a moment and share a story...

And to get you in the mood, here is Mainstreet...

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A Real Thanksgiving - finally!


Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, but having lived in the US for a while and being a US citizen now...I couldn't help it but learn to appreciate Thanksgiving. It comes with less stress than Christmas - no presents, no cards to mail, but it is an equally lovely holiday to get together with family and friends, and simply sit back and relax... with plenty of food on the table, of course!
After 3 years abroad (with relation to the US) and no, the turkey nuggets at the Reading Movie Theater do not count as real turkey, I was already craving a real turkey meal for Thanksgiving and that's how it all started.
Steph, my Canadian friend and a passionate cook, and I started planing a cozy Thanksgiving dinner for 6, or 8, or 10 people ... at most. But one thing led to another and before we knew it we had a list of 20+ guests...Thanks to Pete and Ginger, an American couple with special 'connections', a day trip in the countryside secured a 21.45lb turkey and half that weight chunk of ham! Way to go!
For those of you who know me...I am not a great cook...nor am I keen on waking up early, especially on the weekend...but on that choosen Saturday, in the name of Friendship and Good times, I got up at 6:30am to heat the oven and start baking the turkey!
I went back to bed with the alarm set for an hour later, but the anticipation of having a real Thanksgiving bash and friends around kept me up. The rest is history! See the photos...
The Turkey cooked perfectly! Everyone brought some food, so we had tons of side dishes and deserts! And drinks! And happy people :)
And a Real Thanksgiving - Finally!

Beer Tasting Party - Reloaded


Beer Tasting Party 2010 (The Original) took place in October 2010.
Because of its success and attendees' interest the Beer Tasting Party returned! :)
But what is a Beer Tasting Party?
In a nutshell - everybody brings 3-5 beers - as exotic and rare as possible! Then we try and enjoy the variety of 'liquid gold'!
For the full story...click HERE

This year's facts:

Beers emptied : 116
Smallest beer : 250ml
Biggest beer : 2 liters
Lightest beer : 3.5%
Strongest beer : 11.3%
Attendees : 26 people and 2 toddlers (the little ones did NOT drink!)
Average beer intake : 4.46

Beer came in glass bottles, cans and one plastic bottle.
The list of names is long, but worth mentioning 'Tasty Lady' and 'Iki' :)
There was beer from Poland, Czech Republic, Bulgaia, Greece, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Jamaica, The Netherlands (rather large variety!) and...of course, BELGIUM!
Special guest was Bart Van Kuik's Home Made Brew! Tasted by many and liked by all! :)

Goof up: 1) A beer from last year's party was kept in my fridge - sentimental value (Praght's Extra Stout). Well, it was not spared :) Pieter claimed it tasted well! O'right then! As long as ambulance is not needed ;-)
2) Poor Birsen traveled to Brussels for her beer contribution...only to find out she has to be in Paris on the night of fun and beer ;-)

Cheating: Quite a lot of cheating happened this year...4 bottles of wine, 1 Bacardi Black, 1 Bombay Gin...but the Liquid Gold Gods are forgiving :)

Closing line:
Dear friends, thank you all so very much for joining the party with genuine enthusiasm, specially selected beers and the perfect attitude for a good time! It was a night to remember and it will be remembered! :)

Photos: Click HERE

See you in 2012!
Cheers!

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Making friends...yet again

( This post is dedicated to Fleur who gently reminds me it's time for another post )



No matter the reason...you've recently moved. You've moved to a different city, state, country or continent. You've settled more or less now and as much as you enjoy your own company...you start feeling like you want to have near by friends to do fun things with, spend time with, have a drink, share a hobby.
But how do you make friends...yet again?
Where do you look for the people you would have things in common with?
How do you approach them?

I started writing this post some time ago, from an expat's point of view.
But recently my cousin changed her job and the city she lives in, staying in the same country she grew up in, and a few months later she asked me: 'I start to feel lonely in my new city. You always have so many friends. How do you find them?'
So, it's not just the expats... :)
Truth to be told, I do have many friends.
It's a dream come true, as when I was a child I was very shy and I was often avoided in school.
Now I treasure my acquaintances and friends!
They are my quintessential survival tool as an expat!
They make the world smaller and cozier.

So, here is what I can share 'dissecting' my Face Book Friend's list...and, of course, I have more friends than that :)

About 1/4 of them are former/current colleagues who have become friends of mine.
Another 1/4 are people I met through friends. Friends of friends is the easiest way! But what if you are the new kid on the block?
I hope you find this useful -
I have made 16 friends on Couch Surfing (hosting, surfing, CS events),
15 friends at MeetUp (and similar) events, 12 at Language classes, and 10 while traveling.

CouchSurfing, MeetUp and Language gatherings are best for expats and especially if you are not exactly an extrovert and outgoing person! You could surf with or host people who are similar to you, or attend local CS event to meet the city gang.
MeetUp groups could be dedicated to a hobby, particular sport, food... you name it! And if there is no group in your city, you could start one!
Language classes - not only learn the language of your choice, but meet people with interest in the same culture, or if you are already expat ... meet other expats.
Travel - this is my specialty! I like to chat up people while traveling and before you know it - you have a friend - in a pub, on the plane, in the dorm, on a boat ride...

The rest of my friends are a colorful mix of college-mates, relatives, people I met at community events, etc. The key is - get out, get exposed...you won't make friends by staying home. Unless of course you throw a party and you ask your friends to bring along someone :)
I recently saw a guy in the park - he chatted up a girl, they were both reading books, 2 meters apart...a simple conversation about the weather, origins, travel was followed by exchange of phone numbers.

Some less usual ways of meeting people and making some of my best friends - the guy who's toddler spilled milk on me waiting for my flight, the lady I rented a room from, the nurse in the dermatologist office, my realtor, a couple of on-line dates, the best friend of an ex-BF, the GF of the guy I had a crush on, and a 'one night stand' who somehow turned into a great friend for many years now :)

All it takes is an open mind, a smile and a simple 'Hello!'
At times you would have to repeat it. It takes some patience and a chance to find the people to click with. But it's worth it! I think I have been lucky many times...but then again, I am always open to a new friend and that favors the odds.

Here are some useful links:
www.MeetUp.com - global site for local gatherings
www.CouchSurfing.org - global site for travel-lovers
www.InterNations.org - global site for expats and locals networking events

If you are in the Netherlands, try:
http://www.britsoc.nl
http://www.iamexpat.nl
http://www.insego.com

Good luck! :)



Thursday, October 06, 2011

Steve Jobs, Thank you!


Exactly two days ago, on 4th October, a friend and I exchanged these comments on FB:

‎Friend:'3 apples changed the world, 1st one seduced Eve, 2nd fell on Newton and the 3rd was offered to the world half bitten by Steve Jobs'
Me:'Was Steve Jobs also naked when he bit the apple?'
Friend:'good question, let me know the ph number, i'll call him to ask :P'
Me:'http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Steve_jobs_phone_number'
Friend:'steve jobs made a good point, was newton naked as well!! now i am not calling him to ask this'
Me: :)

It was fun!
But it also reminded me of Steve Job's Stanford Commencement Speech, which another friend shared with me years ago. It is a profound speech, and I have listened to it again and again when life gets rough... I thought - not only is he a technological and creative genius, but he is also a very genuine and wise man, brave to share his personal story.

Connecting the dots...
Love and Loss...
Death...

For these who don't know me, I have been having an year from hell - within a month I lost the man I love, my job, and my home. And I'm living on my own abroad, in a country who's language I don't speak. So yesterday, 5th Octover, I watched Steve's speech again to find hope, because after all ... I am alive and I am a fighter... I even wrote down his words, they are so inspirational!

In a moment of admiration I visited the Apple website, looked at his photo (the one in this post) and I thought... Thank you, Steve!

Little did I know that on that same day his life will end...
I'm shaking my head in disbelieve, yet life is like that.

I won't rant about the greatness of Apple and their products. This post is about Steve!

I will miss this great man, but I won't forget his words!

And I will live by them...
Thank you, Steve!




PS. Thank you Soham, Arzu, Alex and Erik, for many things...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

One amazing weekend!



I have to! I have to recap this w/end. Because it was an amazing one!
It was so colorful and diverse - in terms of weather, cities, things I did, emotions I felt, but most importantly - the people I was surrounded by, literally and virtually! And in hindsight, I loved every moment of it!
The weather - nice and warm when I left Utrecht, rather chilly Friday night in Groningen, quite rainy Saturday, and lovely sunshine on Sunday - everywhere I went.
The cities - Zwolle, Groningen, Amsterdam and Utrecht.
The events:
- Super awesome Swingin Groningen Jazz and Soul Festival - with Benny Golson, Candy Dulfer, Kraak & Smaak, Billy Cobham quartet, which lead to a MeetUp / CouchSurfing gatherings and drinks with Mannus, Muhsin, Indiana, Koos, Mike, Anna, and Erik. I loooved the Benny Golson performance! Reminded me of the great times in Chicago, and further back in time - learning about jazz with my boyfriend Alex and my friend Ivo, and even further back - listening to jazz for the first time as a child on a short wave radio with my Dad. Sweet! I also enjoyed the more dancing jazz and soul tunes.
- A stroll through Groningen in the rain, with Mannus - including discovering a quaint square by the University, an eclectic photo exhibit, a lovely garden, a backgammon game (I won!)
- A delicious Dim Sum brunch with Ray in Amsterdam which turned into a leisurely stroll along canals, across bridges...sneaking bravely into the Grand Hotel to check the Marriage Chamber - ignore the name, it's an amazing hidden art-deco gem!!! Also played the piano in the hallway! Yes! Popped in a great chocolate shop (you knew I love chocolate, right?), the ever so inspirational RoB shop, De Jaren for drinks...did I miss anything? Oh, I laughed a lot!
- Going away dinner with the Fantastic Four (well, Five now) - Vero, Paul, Isabel, Mette, and Markus. A bit sad to see some friends moving away, but good to know one has good friends!
- Phone call with a dear friend of mine - loved to hear her laugh!
- Skype chat with my parents - poor they! Had not called them in a while! Guilty! :)
- A group Reiki energy exchange - with people from the UK, Ireland, Russia, the Netherlands, US, and Germany. I am so at peace now!

Excerpts of a random conversation:
'How long were you with your last boyfriend?'
'I don't measure relationships in terms of time, but in terms of intensity.'
'So how intense was it?'
'It made my every body cell alive!'

'How far do you usually travel to work?'
'These days distances are measured not in kilometers, but in hours...so 1-2 hours.'
'And how long would you travel to meet a girl?'
'As far as it would make me happy.'

Today I woke up with a sense of sweetness from life - for the first time in a couple of months. I smiled and smiled and smiled! Until it hurt, and then I smiled some more!

I found My Happy Place ...again!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

1 Pomodoro, 2 Pomodoros, 3 Pomodoros


A few years ago I bought a simple digital alarm clock from IKEA. I managed to set it without reading the instruction booklet. So far so good. Shortly after that I started hearing beeping sounds, but as they were single beeps and not too loud, I could not figure out where there were coming from. Finally, on a weekend, after a few hours on the sofa reading a book, I had an Eureca! moment - my clock was beeping once every hour. At first it felt annoying, but soon I realized it was a good reminder of time passing by, especially when I was doing something very lazy and slowly (while actually it could have been done much faster).

Last year a friend mentioned Pomodoro to me. It is based on the same idea, but it's much better!!! Why?
Because you can set the timer to 25min, 45min...anything you like, or anything suitable to the kind of tasks you do.
Because after '1 Pomodoro' (the length of time you work), you have to take a break of a few minutes (also timed!). It is important to take the break!
Because during the Pomodoro time you are not allowed to answer the phone, have a snack, or get distracted, which maintains your focus and makes you more productive.

You may be like me at first and already think that the Pomodoro technique is too simple, or too annoying, or too...whatever, but once I tried it I was sold on it! And I wish I had started using it sooner. Because it really works and improves time management.

This blog was written in one Pomodoro of 30 minutes. Now I'll have my well deserved break. And you....go download the Pomodoro timer and let me know how it works for you :)


PS. Thanks go to E. Pragt for introducing me to Pomodoro.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Who said dreams don't come true ... literary!



A few years ago, in a dream I had, I was talking to a friend, holding old black&white photos in my hand. As I placed the photos on the table to show her, something unexpected happened - every photo played the last few moments of time before the picture was taken, as if in a movie, and then it would stop and be a still shot. The most vivid one was of a woman's face turning away and towards the camera, playing coy, laughing, the wind blowing through her hair. I woke up, but the dream was so vivid, that I could not wait to tell a couple of friends about it. I even came up with the idea of exhibiting my still photos on-line and attaching a suitable music peace to each. We all agreed it was a cool dream, an interesting idea, but that's how far we got.

Imagine my reaction today to a link a friend posted on FaceBook: Jamie Beck' and Kevin Burg's animated GIFs portfolio is sooooo close to what I saw in my dream (sound still missing!). Especially the photos of the girls with wind in their hair...

Steping aside from my dream, I must say - Good job, Jamie and Kevin!!!

Some of the photos touch me in yet anoher way. Remember the last time you felt blisfully happy...when everything is nearly perfect, and you don't want this moment to go away, when you want to freeze time and stay there, for ever!...but a little movement, like a flickering candle flame, or a passing by taxi, remain in motion to remind you that you are still alive?... Jamie's photos remind me of these beautiful times...

What I wanted to say is ... dreams do come true (literary!) and the most amazing moments of our lives will be kept in our memories as long as we cherish them with our hearts. As for beauty..."Things are pretty, graceful, rich, elegant, handsome, but, until they speak to the imagination, not yet beautiful" (Ralph Waldo Emerson).



Thursday, March 03, 2011

Facing big decisions


"Don't worry, Mother! If the marriage doesn't work out, we can always get  divorced!" OK, I didn't say it quite like that, but it was close - I had just phoned my Mom to inform her of my decision to get married with my boyfriend from 4 years to which she replied "Are you sure this is the man you want to spend the rest of your life with?"

I loved him. And I loved him a lot. But I was becoming resentful at the way he didn't appreciate what we had, for not showing emotional support, for keeping some distance and not trusting me completely. It hurt me to find out that instead of talking openly with me, he called my parents and told them I don't care about him anymore. It was rather the oposite - I cared about him, but we could not see eye to eye. I was trying hard to succeed with my job (first job abroad after college), while he had just closed his business back home and was currently unemployed (for about 9 months) It was tough! I didn't know what exactly to do, but I knew I didn't like the current state of my life. Before too long, a friend asked me one day - 'So, are you guys getting a divorce?' My immediate reaction was 'Of course not!', but then I realized I'm short on breath and I felt dizzy. A second later added 'But I guess that's where we are heading...'. I hanged up as soon as possible. I had to think - was I really going to get a divorce? Was it happening to me? For real?

Some decisions in life will always be tough and painful - like breaking up with someone you love, deciding to get a divorce, or deciding to divorce second time. Some may not be easy, but won't be so emotionally taxing, like selling your first home or car. But often even positive events - moving to another city or country for that dream job, buying a house with your long term partner, having a baby - they put us to the limits of our comfort zone. Clearly a chain of events - could be short or long, is leading us to that point of making a decision, but the moment of facing the big decision...that's when I freese! And I'm sure many of you too.

I've tried diferent approaches. I'd pretend all is ok until one day I start loosing my sleep - my worries win. Or I will go wild - parties, alcohol, friends, random dates. Then I'll sit down with the legal yellow pad and counts pros and cons. Or go sit on a beach and listen to the waves until a solution emerges in my mind. And at times I will simply cry for hours. Ironically, they say that there are no signs on the most important crossroads in life. Not even your closest friends could know what's best for you.

Here is what I have learned in my life so far (and remind me to read my own blog next time I hit a speedbump!):
- Face the big decisions with respect to yourself and to others that might be involved.
- There is no need to wait for the situation to get as bas as possible before taking a step towards improving it.
- If the situation I find myself into is worse than the average level of happiness I experience in my life - something needs my attention.
- No matter how big the decision - most are reversible!
- Some decisions are scary because of how much money is involved in them - ask yourself if money is what you live your life for.
- Many times the goal behind a decision is much easier to reach than you think - be courageus, go for it! Trust yourself!
- Every decision, even the best one, is a result of your life experience up to now. Tomorrow you would have lived longer, know more and the decision might not seem as perfect, but it is still a good decision for right now.
- I could seek advice, I could listen to a shrink, but ultimately I make a decision myself, because I am the one to live with the outcome.
- At times a little patience helps to see the forest (or the trees).
- Often I have to let go of a little to gain a lot.

A few big decisions I've made over the years:
- Moving from Cleveland to Chicago - not many know this fact, but my first eight days in the States I lived in Cleveland,OH with my uncle. Don't get me wrong, I love him dearly, but it was not the life I was looking for. So with only $165 I moved to Chicago, staying with friends for while, learning the language and falling in love with the Windy City...before I got my first job and moved to Arizona.
- Divorcing my first husband while I still loved him - being civil when parting is so important. Till this day, although not often, we can still talk like grown ups and even share a joke.
- Leaving my easy job in Illinois and getting a challenging one in Madison, WI - I loved the city, I loved my friends there, I loved the job I had! Great time!
- Leaving my well paid job in UK and moving to the Netherlands for half the money, having so much fun! Even falling in love!!!

You see, in my books a life with no regrets is life well lived! And if not now...when?!! And facing big decision is part of it.
I'll leave you with something you probably have read already, but Mark Twain said it so well:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover"



PS. The image I initially used when writing this post is Roy Lichtenstein's work, but the words I photoshoped. I simply couldn't find his other painting which had the comment on divorce. Appologies! And if anyone has Roy's painting with the mother and the daugther, pls, let me know. I'll be happy to put the proper one up.

PS2. I finally found the image I intended to use when writing this piece. It's now at the top of the post, and it comes from Douglas Coupland's "Generation X" - an illustration by Paul Rivoche.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Train poetry


The window of the train was dirty
The dirt stood in between
I couldn't see at all... if you were in

Standing there on the platform,
frozen with a choice to make -
turn back and depart... or wave at you

At last I raised my hand
a little insecure fingers
and waved good bye... just like before

No matter if behind the window
you waited, smiled and waved at me
or simply found a seat... and sat

Looking at it through my heart
it didn't matter what you did -
my wave said nothing's changed... for me

20.Feb.2011

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Lessons learned from the IFFR at 80km/h winds


IFFR stands for International Film Festival Rotterdam. This is the Dutch version of the Madison's Wisconsin Film Festival. Movies from all around the world are shown for a week in various cinemas and it's a buzz event in Rotterdam. This year, for the first time, they had additional showings in Groningen too. On Saturday I went to see a couple of movies in Rotterdam with a CouchSurfer friend of mine.

The first movie we saw was The Eighth - it was advertised as a 'Bulgarian Western'. Having lived in Bulgaria for my first 26 year, I would not call it an 'western'. It was the typical 'partisan' movie from my teen years - the 'good' guys(the communist partisans), the 'bad' guys (the fascists), one minute long love story, and a lot of shooting followed by the good guy's victory. Seeing this movie in my late thirties, after living in US, UK and now the Netherlands, made me sad - we grew up so brain-washed, with a sickening sense for guilt and drama. Who needed it? Who was it good for? Why did we believe it? Questions I don't plan to answer here... but now I know better why I am the way I am...self-criticism and drama were big in the time of totaliarinism...and they still linger in my life! Well, time to change!!!

The second movie - Le trésor des îles chiennes. A Frech production. Well...we left mid-way through the showing. Enough said! One black and white movie was enough for the day! And not another depressing pointless plot - hunger for money, people manipulation...Eeeuw! With monotonic music boring into your brain to the point you want to scream! WTF! Who would enjoy that???

Lesson 1 learned - pick carefully the movies you are about to see (AND PAY FOR!!!)

The rest of the day was luckily a lovely time! My Rotterdam host gave me a very nice walking tour, and intro into Rotterdam's story and history, incorporating my favorite Erasmusen bridge, a few interesting monuments, a great Italian restaurant and a cozy bar when we chatted for a long time.
Thanks Erwin!
The 80km/h gales of wind did not stop us, they were strong, but warm and gentle too. I actually liked them being playful, messing my hair, blowing up my (rather short) dress, and blowing far and away the disturbing thoughts the movies brought up.

Lesson 2 learned - pick carefully your company!

Finally, to tell you the truth, I had already seen a couple of IFFR movies - Never let me go, Black swan, Another year...and they were much better choices...and free!

Lesson 3 learned - stick to what you know, stick to what you like, stick to who you are!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

My 2010 (a late Christmas missive)

If 2009 was all about travel - any length, any destination, any means of transportation, any fashion, just so to escape the 'killing me softy' English reality, 2010 was all about being THE SOCIAL BUTTERFLY. Being present, out and about, enjoying the reality I ended up in, a grand social feast for my body and soul, an abundance of new people, new friendships, new challenges, new job, new country…everything new and enticing! Every time I move, I get that kick of extra liveliness, extra curiosity, extra sturdiness, extra optimism…and this time all went well (for the most part!)

I started 2010 with a resignation letter. Three months of relocation buzz went by quickly. Between the many phone calls and wrapping up projects, in February I went to Tokyo for the Winds International Workshop - the return to Japan was such a delight. Meeting the good old faces of the winds community - awesome! Great food, great fun, unforgettable karaoke night!!! Asia always touches me in a very special way!


The last two weeks of March were an ongoing going away party - the nice speech from my boss, the attention and the presents from my colleagues, it was sweet to discover that despite my barely-there social live in UK, I had somehow managed to make a number of friends over only 18 months.



On the 26th of March, after a very special good bye dinner with my friends Maria and Tomas I hit the road , direction East, having slept very little, but energy-filled by the sense of freedom, and the enthusiasm, the happiness that I am moving to Holland, a country that had fascinated me all the way back since my time in college.
A couple of days on the road with my Toyota Aygo, crossing three borders and I get the message 'Welcome to the frog-land!' - a welcome sms from a Dutch friend :-)
Sunny lovely morning, 28th of March - I am at the door of my new home, Jan Van Der Heijdenstraat 27, Utrecht.
Let the new life begin! And it does! Full throttle!!!

With most of the moving boxes still unpacked, I am having my first visitors from US - Leslie and Judy. Two days later my Russian friend Nadia joins. We explore A'dam, Den Haag, the Hoog-Velweve and Antwerp. We also stroll and admire Utrecht for a day and celebrated Leslie's BDay. Despite the bit chilly weather, we are having a blast.


On the second w/end I went to my first MeetUp event - 'Gazing at the stars'. Stars we did not see, but I met my new friends there - Mette, Markus, Vero and Paul - the fantastic four! And some more friends…But what's most important … I met Bart. He was the tipping point of 2010! The following two and a half months were roses and honey. Party after party, going out on town, driving to the beaches, lazy afternoons in the park, exploring the country, enjoyng the city, learning to live the Dutch way, cooking, leisurely weekend brunches…yes, we dated for a while and it was a blissful time! But then we ended it, because it felt like it.


All along I did not drop off the face of the Earth for my other friends though - it was lovely to get visits from Roel, Francis, Kirsten, Liz, Stuart and Frances, Simeon, Maria and Tomas, my uncle George and Nasia, Nico, Matt… did I miss anyone? I experienced my first Queen's Day, which was a madness, but fun! I also did not stop traveling, but shorter distances - Rotterdam, Den Bosch, Amsterdam, Gouda, Cologne. In Cologne we had a tiny family reunion - my uncle and his girlfriend, my three German cousins and me - always so heartwarming!


The second half of the years came with a twist…
In the middle of a hot July night someone climbed my window attempting breaking into it…I woke up and screamed, he ran. Nevertheless, it was quite an experience - one that I was not prepared for. And it's interesting how fear kills logic, because the first person I called in that moment was my best friend Leslie … who lives in Washington, DC!!! Then my friend Bart came over, helped me deal with the police, etc., kept me company for a couple of evenings…and that's when I met Erik - Bart's best friend. It was an incredible night, perhaps the best night ever, although parts of it are still blurred in my memory. But as Shakespeare says, All's Well That Ends Well…and I believe we made the best of it…


On the next day my sister, who lives in Spain, came for a visit - and this was big! It was the first time an immediate family member is visiting me ever since I left Bulgaria back in 1999. We had a blast - old time memories were brought to life, we laughed out loud, we biked in the countryside, we let the rain get us all soaked like being little girls again…we shared stories…it was amazing! With her in town, we watched the final World Cup game in one of Utrecht's pubs. Spain won. We almost got into a fight about it…how funny!


The rest of the summer remained very social and busy. I flew to the States for a reunion with my closest friends, in a summer house, up in Minnesota…happy happy times! Another couple of days in Madison and Chicago with more friends made me feel so lucky, so blessed! Leslie and Eric, Pat, Nadia, Paul, Judy, Yeti, Rosi and Erik, Rumi and Itso, Paul and Nancy, Kate and Stephen, Steve, Chris…if words could only tell how much you mean to me! Right after the States I flew to Bulgaria to visit my parents and friends from college. It was great! Upon returning I found out my bike was stolen, but that's Holland, so that's the usual.



Back in Utrecht I had two weeks of visitors, from all over - US, Germany, Bulgaria…back to back. It was a bit hard to balance work and free time, but I managed. And in the middle of this social extravaganza, on September 1st… I turned 38.
It was by far, the most special, most intimate, most real Birthday I have ever had!!! Because I was in love, and my loved one was there with me!!! Thanks, E.! I was so happy! And my best friends were there too!


Later in September I went to Cordoba, Spain for a conference. Nice location, good presentations, fruitful networking, seeing some old colleagues and friends, 30 deg C warmth…Nice!!!
Visiting the Cordoba Cathedral was a magical experience…a place that gave me so much peace, a place where I felt so much love, where positive energy was all around… I promised to go back one day, with the man who made me feel alive this year - Erik. I also spent a very special day in Malaga with my friend Maria, I wish we had more time together.




In October I hit a bump in the road - I broke a foot. Had to spent a month at home and in bed. For an energetic person like me this was the worst of times. If it wasn't for my friends to come by and help, and keep my spirit up, every day, I would have gone nuts! Luckily it didn't happen and by mid-November I was back on track. I was having guests - Tom and Ivan, Robin, Sue, meeting with my friends - Roel and the others, making new friends - Cristiana, David, Steph, going out for a drink, taking the train to Groningen.


Even with the cast on I threw two big parties - a wine tasting and a beer tasting! In between catching up with work and my social life…Christmas season was here.



In December I ventured on a trip to London, for some Christmas shopping and to see my friends. Snow tried to rain on my parade, but I won! I'll spare you the canceled flights, delays trains and the frustration stories. Because despite of it all, I had a perfect time! It was actually many times better because of all the chaos!


My initial idea of a having a quiet Christmas spent in solitude failed. Surprised? Off I went to a few parties with new people, new experiences and new fun! But when it was time to put a proper end to a very very bubbly year, and to welcome the new 2011… I followed my heart and spent the last days of 2010 with the ones that matter the most - the man I love and the friends who were always there for me… Our plan was to have a cozy and quiet New Year's Eve dinner, with bubbles and nice conversations. But… once the fireworks started… it was a party time all over again :-) The Dutch folks love their firework!!!


To wrap it up…it was a wonderful year!!! A year to remember…with sweet times and with challenges, with real friends, with real love, with passion beyond control, with music, with discovering new worlds, trying new things, counting stars on two continents, dancing many nights away, waking up in the arms of your loved one…being yourself!

Having all these happy memories, I am facing the new 2011 and wonder…could it get any better? Of course it could :)
Happy New 2011 Year!!!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Beauty and inner tranquility



I had quite a month - a flamboyant January!
Normally to me, a month is a mere representation of the time encompassed by 30 days.
But this January had a life on its own! A wild animal which I failed to tame...
Absolutely cracking New Year festivities with dear friends were followed by some so intimate and heart warming conversations with my loved one, bonding culminating with the Solar eclipse on 4th of January. I was on the top of the world!

Then I found my apartment broken into and all of my high-tech gear gone. It took a few days to shake off the terror from the invasion of my privacy. Insurance is still handling my claim.
Another stressful week followed - should I stay or should I go...NL or UK...I exhausted my brain from weighting the pros and the cons. And I stayed.

The yoga marathon I wrote about a couple of blogs ago was a lifesaver. I switched to 'an anti-social mode', to save some energy, but I was already running on 'reserve battery power'. Nevertheless, true to the 'seize the moment' attitude, I enjoyed a couple of small social events when presented with the opportunity.

Next on the list - annual performance review at work. I passed, I even got a tiny pay raise.

And every evening, checking my email one last time before I go to bed, iCal will remind me that one more day has gone...for good. And all I could say I had done was to admit that I was falling inevitably behind - with everything. At the end, I got sick. Been with a cold for more than a week now...what a way to learn that sometimes one just has to stop and rest - rest my body, my thoughts, my emotions...

After a few days of sleep, my brain finally showed signs of life...I needed beauty!

Beautiful conversations with friends, beautiful thoughts about the future, even the beauty of things....it all brings me inner tranquility. Thank you B., W. and E. for being part of today!

I can not express the beauty of a conversation or someone's presence. So, instead I will share with you the beauty of three buildings to illustrate the inner tranquility I found today.

Santiago Calatrava is one of my favorite architects.
I have seen three of his works:
- Sondica Airport, Bilbao, Spain (photo by José Miguel Hernández)












- Twisted Torso Tower, Malmo, Sweden


















- Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI, USA



I think they are incredibly beautiful...and I can't wait for the Chicago Spire to join the skyline of the Windy City - my most favorite city, ever!

Does beauty bring you tranquility? :)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What do you miss most about home?


Travel Through Food Destination: Bulgaria

When I ventured into the thrill of being an ex-pat, the one thing I was very sober of was the fact that I won't be able to speak fluently. Despite months of learning English diligently, I KNEW I will have to relearn it once I land on American land. At home I took pride with my ability to play with my language and I knew I was going to miss this fun. Aside from that I was head over heels about what my new life would be like...I was 100% curiosity.
So it came a bit as a surprise when a few months down the road new colleagues and friends asked me 'What do you miss most about home?'... Was I supposed to miss something? I almost felt guilty, but I didn't really miss much, at least not yet. Back home I had family and friends, but I also had half of my family and friends already living abroad, so...I was not really getting it...If I wanted to see someone, I could just fly and visit. If I wanted some Bulgarian food I could go to the international food shop and buy the few unique things. I really didn't feel at loss. I was actually enjoying the expanding of my world.
Many years passed by. I still find it exciting and enriching being an expat. I added a couple of countries to the list of places where I've lived...and I may easily add another one or two, if the winds change...
What do I miss most about home?
I'm not sure... but in an attempt not to sound too full of myself, I'll admit that I miss a couple of fruits we used to have in my parent's garden - quince and medlar. They are not widely popular, at least not in the States, UK and the Netherlands.
Their taste is very specific - not too juicy, not too sweet, a bit tart even. Quince and medlar are both originating from mixing apple and pear trees, but they look so different.
Quinces are large and yellow, more pear shaped. Medlars are walnut-size brown balls. Both are usually not eaten when first picked, although they are edible - the quince is too dry and tart (but I like it!) and the medlars are left to rotten - and that's when you eat them (be aware of the pits!)
Normally, they are used for jelly...the MOST flavorful and delicate jelly I could imagine! And it carries the flavor of home on a fresh authumn day, with a crispy air and generous portion of sun...and that I miss...sometimes...


(Photo from http://mudpiesandminestrone.blogspot.com)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My first trip to Japan (Part 3)


Day 2, 24 March 2001, The Birthday

Early wake up. A long day is ahead of us. Diana asks me if I prefer tea or coffee. Coffee, I answer. With milk and sugar, or black, she asks. And now I have to smile. It's been more than 8 months since the last time someone asked me in the morning how I like my drink. Feels nice!
Somehow I don't feel any jet-lag. That's great, we won't be wasting time with it, so we head to the market - with the bicycles. To an American that may sound a bit odd, but to a Bulgarian that's fine. It's a good idea to take the bikes, because we can see more of Okazaki. Everything around me is so interesting - tiny houses, narrow streets, even the cars are miniature versions of what's driven in Europe and America. The tree crowns are chopped oddly, very short branches. It's so that they don't get blown by the winds and not to tear any electric wires. And all wires are above ground - because of the earthquakes.
We first go to the Grand Market, where most stores are American chains. Feels like back home, but wait...the grocery store is also a miniature version. Very small shopping cards, small packages. Coka-cola is nowhere to be found in a 2 liter bottle, the max is only 1 liter. The largest milk carton is also maxing at 1 liter - not like in America, by the gallon (3.78 liter). There is an abundance of food that looks unfamiliar and I can't stop asking about this and that, and the thing over there... Diana still has the patience to answer my questions, but very soon she will switch to a 'Well, I'm not entirely sure.' because even after a couple of years in Japan, she is still as lost as me at times.
After we added a cake and a box of birthday candles to the shopping card, we can call it success! We have everything needed and we are ready for the party!
Back at Diana's apartment and before the guests arrive we sit down to plan the following two days. We will go to Tokyo and visit the graveyard where Mikao Usui was buried after his last years of work with Reiki. And then we will head to the foothills of Fuji, where Diana's son could play in his favorite Tomas's land park, while we enjoy the snow covered mountain. In order to plan it all, since there is no internet in the apartment, we open a number of travel guides, maps, train schedule tables...and Diana starts reading, looking for connections, hotel to stay at, checking the distances...and I feel like an idiot, because I don't know a word in Japanese!!! My PhD is worth nothing, but at least it's fun to watch Diana figuring it out!
Next comes the party. But I'll save you the details ... the important thing is that Kliment managed to blow all 4 candles in 3 attempts...attaboy! and had tons of presents to unwrap!!!
And the adults had all kind of rice cookies and snacks, and some sushi too. You gotta love rice!
The company consisted of 4 Bulgarians, 1 Russian, 1 German and 1 Thailand lady. The last two compeated in a speedy-getting-drunk Tequila contest...The German lost! Still...a good show! :) The festivities ended around 2am ... quietly watching a Russian movie.

...to be continued...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Making the most of Almere - a 24 hour adventure


Most times I plan my travels, weeks in advance.
Other times... I just hop in the car and drive off. That's what happened this last Friday...
I needed to escape! I needed a destination that is simple, yet not too bland; offering some quietness, yet something for my curiosity too. With the engine already on, I contemplated Rotterdam, the Delta works, Texel and finally decided to go to Almere.
Why Almere? It's not too far, it is on the IJsselmeer, a nice day-spa is in the vicinity of the city, and because it is a new city ... it's full of contemporary architecture, which I am so fond of. Enough for a day trip!
The most intriguing fact about Almere, in my opinion, is its location. Almere is on the Flevopolder which was claimed from the IJsselmeer only in 1968. IJsselmeer itself was once a part of Zuiderzee, but turned into a lake after the building of the Afsluitdijk in 1932. In a nutshell, Almere sits on a man-made island, in a man-made lake. Isn't that amazing?
I find my way to the city center easy and I pick Hotel Finn for my one night stay. After a short stroll down the street I end at the massive City Mall Almere featuring 120 shops, movie theater, restaurants, etc. Fun! But with all my respect, it looks just like any newer mall in a bigger American city. Only the people speak Dutch :)
Next stop, Thermen la Mer. Easier said than done, because my GPS failed to find it. While driving left and right, with no clear direction, I accidentally end up on the Fontanapad, a small park with excellent view of Almere's skyline. What a luck! Amazing! I snap a shot and continue.

After another thirty minutes of driving and the GPS telling me to turn where there is no road (Arg!!!!)...I call a friend for directions and finally get to the spa.
I spent four blissful hours in between a Finnish and a Meditative saunas, a Turkish bath, a swimming pool and also enjoyed delicious dinner and a drink. All my daily troubles melted away... at 90-95 dec C.
Back in the hotel a comfy bed was awaiting to offer a nearly ten hour sleep.
On the next morning I set the GPS to take me to Eilandenbuurt and Tahitistraat. There I saw some of the Gewild Wonen Expo 2001 Flexible Housing homes and also the pretty cool Exhibition Houses. To tell the truth, most of the residential areas are joy for a contemporary architecture fan like me. I snap a few shots from the car, because it feels a bit awkward taking a photo of someone's house... Imagine someone is doing it to me. Would I be thrilled? Perhaps not :-) If they only knew how excited I was to see their homes. I start wondering how they look on the inside...but I doubt I would ever find the answer to this question.

From there I took another wild shot at driving randomly and ended on the Gooimeerdijk, near by the city beach where I went for a walk. After that drove to the Muiderzand Marina - an old friend of mine. I visited the marina back in December, but the water was frozen, the boats were out of the water - they looked a bit sad on their stands, reminded me of trees without roots. Now life was back, watter glittering under the sun, wind almost pleasantly warm, boats making clinking sounds, ready to sail.

Now I take the Oostvaarderstdijk. It is not a big dike, but it's the first time I could see clearly how the land to the right is really laying lower than the water on the left. Unbelievable, but true! Windmills to the right are turning ... typical Dutch landscape.
Last stop before I head home - the Polderland Garden of Love and Fire. This place must be many times prettier when the trees are green and the sun in shining, but even now, it was very pleasant and had a very calming effect with the three canals, the minimalistic sculpture, and different trees in perfect straight rows and lines. The architect was inspired by a poem to create this project, The living flame of love, and the lines in the garden represent the connection between people in different places and times. So pretty!

With this my 24 hour adventure making the most of Almere was complete.
It was not the most exciting trip of my life, yet, it was very pleasant and relaxing. Interesting and adventurous too!

More photos? Click here :)
More info on Flevoland? Click here :)