The Start

My first weeks of retirement were spent with my grandchildren (plus parents and dog) in their lovely summer home situated four minutes’ walk from the sea and wetlands and three minutes’ walk from the woods and conservation land.

Morning ritual one: two barefoot kids in pyjamas run outside to the mailbox and stand in front of it with their arms raised up in the air, waiting for me to pick them up so that they could open the mailbox. By themselves. One would think, what’s so special about an ordinary US mailbox? but uptown city kids get mail from their doorman. Great back stretch and resistance exercise, by the way, I highly recommend it. Just go through your knees when lifting so many pounds of child, twice.

Morning ritual two: Breakfast! Smoothie? Oatmeal? Toast? Cheerios? Eggs? Yogurt and fruit? Your wish is my command….no it’s not a restaurant but they are my grandchildren….as long as it is reasonably healthy I will go for it.

Morning ritual three: Playlist with kids’ songs on the home speakers, singing and dancing, still barefoot and still in pajamas. Grandma joins in: loosen up those muscles, Old Girl! Little Diva runs upstairs between songs for wardrobe changes, complete with headwear. Little Fearless One climbs with great earnest onto every possible surface from which he could fall. All are enjoying themselves immensely, including Old Girl.

Morning ritual four: get washed, get dressed, go outside. Grandpa has taken the dog for their daily constitutional and they join us now. Big Dog is fed. There is coffee. Watered-down juice (falls into the reasonably healthy category.) A snack, of course. Water the plants in the yard, play ball games, play hide-and-seek with ALL the cuddly toys (Big Dog finds the ones we forget). Play zoo and zookeeper, play dog-is-sick-and-has-to-go-to-the-veterinarian. Yes, Little Diva is also a Little Animal Lover. Little Fearless One wanders inside and builds towers with blocks and makes vroom-vroom sounds while playing with toy cars. He sorts the pile of shoes in the hall into pairs, sweeps the floor and puts every tiny piece of lint he finds in the wastebasket. Little Fearless One will be a most-wanted partner some day.

The welcome early afternoon nap of Little Fearless One is a moment when we all gather energy for the rest of the day. Read. Play a board game or color with Little Diva. Or just cuddle and chat and snooze on the lawn chairs, drowsy from the sun. We hear waking-up noises upstairs. How to continue our day? The beach? A hike in the woods? Stay home and play in the pool and yard? The luxury of the seemingly endless row of warm, lazy summer days without school and work and commitments settles over me like a soothing balm. Deconstructed days. Meals taken under the shade of the pergola or on a picnic blanket on the grass. Relaxing and reading on the lawn chairs by the pool while Little Diva and Little Fearless One run around the yard with Big Dog. Soft evenings outdoors, fire pit on, toasting marshmallows and counting fireflies.

Sleep comes easily these days. Alert ears for the two Little Ones, but that has become second nature now and barely disturbs my rest. What a start.

The journey continues

When I became a teacher. I discovered my voice. I had something to say and could share it with others and so motivate and inspire further thought and action. I could function as a catalyst by sharing my energy and enthusiasm. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity and to have been given the freedom and trust to create that space. I learned so much; mostly, that I can contribute. I believe that if you can then you should. This is a forever occupation, right?

Staying endlessly curious, embracing purpose, developing new rituals, discovering latent talents (?) and creating a new structure in which to fit it all. Learning that the concept of time is relative when days are no longer dictated by lesson hours. This is the excitement of what is called ‘retirement.’ More questions than answers, just like the epistemology and ethics classes I used to teach. Will I continue to experience purpose and provide sustenance and collaboration, will I hold up a moral  compass for discussion here and there?  I hope so, it gives meaning and depth to living. I want to keep growing!

The inner rhythms are more peaceful as autumn approaches. Thoughts turn inward, there is now real time to physically enjoy nature and to pay attention and be mindful, to contemplate and look back but mostly, to look forward and imagine yet unknown challenges and experiences. And to envision and create some specific new plans. I still feel the urge to share what I see, what I experience, what I think and what I wonder. What do you see, experience, think, wonder?

April showers bring May flowers

Every first of May during my childhood, I would wake up to find a small basket of flowers hanging on the doorknob of my bedroom. The flowers were picked early in the morning from my mother’s flower garden and the shimmering dewdrops still clung tightly to the petals.

Only I, as the daughter of the family, received this special gift from my mother on May Day. 

Today is the first of May and in my small garden wild bluebells and lilies of the valley sprout forth with the unstoppable energy of spring. Alternating sunshine and soft rain showers, the weather gods are providing our gardens with exactly what they need today.

Ephemeral spring – how lucky we are to live in a place that knows seasons! The fresh light green color of unfurling leaves on the elm trees, the ebullience of blossoms on the Japanese cherry trees, the fleeting flowering of the forsythias and the magnificent magnolias plus the bright daffodils and anemones popping up in the wooded areas offer us a fleeting, and therefore even more special, treat to behold. 

Spring knows no Corona and this glorious showstopping season teaches us that acceptance of impermanence and change can bring us peace and joy. ‘This too will pass,’ my mother would say. In strange times like these, I hear her voice clearly. ‘This too will pass.’ Always trust your mother’s wisdom.

Spring Hibernation

Spring hibernation

is a strange sensation:

a requisite recommendation

for continued cohabitation.

Spring hibernation

is a fruitful frustration of

consumer castration and digital domination.

No Spring Hibernation for vital vocations.

No Spring Hibernation for onerous occupations.

Their determined dedication to informal isolation

brings mindful meditation and restful recuperation,

creative collaboration and peaceful procreation!

Spring hibernation:

a critical cessation…

or a welcome way station?

You’re leaving?

It is starting to dawn on them, but they don’t get it. Unable to determine age, it is incomprehensible to them that my time to move on is about to arrive. I have no illusions: almost immediately – save the nostalgic moment or two – it will be as though it never was. As though I never was. No longer part of their daily lives at school, greeting them, teaching them, encouraging them, admonishing them. I will miss it more than they will. They will continue and then they will leave too. Our spaces will be magically refilled like a hole dug in the sand at the beach, where the sides naturally collapse and shift and the hole is refilled. The wind blows over the space and the evidence disappears, save a slight indentation if one looks closely enough.

Everything is different, everything will be different. There will be no more sleepless nights worrying about the mood changes and mental health of a student in trouble. No more meetings with concerned parents or with parents who should be concerned. No more energy spent on trying to keep 31 15 year olds focused and interested during a lesson. No more shared moments of flow, when the 16  year olds finally get it! No more refining that lesson, trying to get it just right, trying to experience it as a student would. No more brainstorming with colleagues, no more being part of educational reform, no more evaluations and back-to-the-drawing-board moments, No more success moments when the innovation has been refined and seems to be working,

And no more long evenings and weekends marking essays, posters and tests.

I will not miss the workload, the frustrations and the overwhelming fatigue. I will miss my role, my place, the collaboration and the automatic and natural social routine that has developed over the years with students and with colleagues.

It is a strange feeling, at the same time wistful and exhilarating. Not stopping but moving on; there is still so much to learn and explore, so many ways to make this life meaningful, so many ways to contribute and be useful. Self-determination! School timetables and fixed vacation dates will belong to a past way of life. Friends and family will have my attention back (oh, dear, are they ready for this?) I will be able to read a book during the day without feeling guilty and I can be outdoors instead of spending my days cooped up in a too-warm, airless classroom.

I am ready.

Is the world ready for me?

City mouse, country mouse

I recently read an interview in which a young woman said that she would never live in a village again. She had grown up in one and her experience of ‘gossiping busybodies’ was negative, to say the least. ‘Everyone knew everything about each other.’ She found the atmosphere suffocating and the interference in her life unbearable; a gross violation of her freedom. So on to an anonymous life where she -and her children – were free to be who they are. No judgments, no pressure to conform and no comments about her offspring. And that meant for her, life in the city.

Because my own children live in large cities and we (their parents) live in a village, , this line of thinking gave me food for thought. Was it true? Or at least justified?

We raised our children in a village next to the one where we now live. That was a conscious choice. We exchanged the city for peace and quiet, more space and cleaner, more natural surroundings; not necessarily for a different mentality. We had good friends in the city and we were warned about narrow-mindedness in the provinces. ‘Is that true?’, I asked myself then. People are people. I still think so.

It is true that we met and socialized with many of the same people at soccer and hockey matches, at dance and music lessons, at school, at parties and dinners. But tell me how this is different to life in the city? I see that my children also carve out villages in their lives in the big cities. They each have a circle of friends who often live in the same (good) neighborhoods and with whom they share sports activities, celebrate milestones, discuss ups-and-downs, organize (children’s) parties, meet on weekends, discuss career issues and enjoy meals together. They share their lives with each other. They also know a lot about each other and there must also be some degree of ‘gossip and interference’. Anonymity, is that so desirable? One of our basic human needs is to belong, to own an emotional piece of space within a community, to be recognized and cared for. It is one of the ways we form our identity. And that translates into our needs for safety, for support, for compassion, for social contacts and our evolved willingness to cooperate, to share, to empathize. The ability to attach is seen as a foundation for our psychological well-being. And what about free will: don’t we have a choice whether or not to participate in the gossip circuit within our ‘villages?’

We have deliberately chosen a village again: it feels safe, gives us support and is eminently comfortable. Boring? Well… we have traveled outside the well-trodden paths extensively in our lives together, have had diverse experiences and have lived in three countries. This village feels good now. It felt good then too. We enjoy our own space within this community. We also experience trust, friendship and sharing. And I think that if we lived in a big city, we would be living the same village lifestyle. We can seek variety in our work or in enrichment classes and cultural endeavours, in activities outside the village, on the road. We are not attached to a metaphorical ball and chain. Anonymity can be desirable and for those moments, I can arrange my life accordingly. Above all, though, it seems lonely.

As for my husband? Well …occasionally he mutters that he wants to live in a cabin in Vermont. I guess that’s his prerogative.

Stad of Dorp?

Laatst las ik een interview waarin een jonge vrouw vertelde dat zij nooit en nimmer in een dorp weer zou willen

wonen. Zij was opgegroeid in een dorp en daar ervoer ze veel roddel en bemoeienis; men wist alles van elkaar

en zij vond de sfeer benauwend en de interesse in

haar leven onwenselijk. Een inbreuk op haar vrijheid. Liever een anoniem leven, waar zij vrij was om te zijn wie

zij is. En voor haar kinderen wilde zij dat ook. Geen oordelen, geen

commentaar, geen druk om te conformeren. En dat betekent, voor haar, in de stad wonen.

Omdat mijn eigen kinderen in grote steden wonen en wij (hun ouders) in een dorp, gaf mij dit uitsprak stof tot

nadenken. Was het waar? Of in ieder geval, gerechtvaardigd?

Wij hebben onze kinderen opgevoed in een dorp, naast diegene waar wij nu wonen. Dat was toen een bewuste

keus. Wij ruilden de stad in voor rust, ruimte en natuur, niet per se voor

een andere mentaliteit onder de mensen. Wij hadden goede vrienden in de stad. Wij waren

ook gewaarschuwd voor een zekere mate van bekrompenheid in de provincie. Is dat nou

plaatselijk, dacht ik toen? Mensen zijn mensen. Dat denk ik nog steeds.

Het is waar dat wij dezelfde mensen tegenkwamen op de voetbal- en hockeyvelden, bij dans- en muzieklessen,

op school, op feestjes. Vertel mij dan wat anders is in de stad. Ik zie dat

mijn kinderen ook dorpen kerven in hun levens in de grote steden.  Zij hebben elk een kring

van vrienden die in dezelfde (goede) buurten wonen en waarmee zij samen sporten,

mijlpalen vieren, verdriet delen, (kinder)feestjes organiseren, weekenden bij elkaar komen,

carrière kwesties bespreken en regelmatig bij elkaar over de vloer komen. Ook zij weten veel van elkaar en er

zal ook ‘roddel en bemoeienis’ aan de orde zijn. Want anonimiteit, is dat zo

fijn? Een basisbehoefte van de mens is het bezit van een plek in het leven. En dat vertaalt

zich in behoeftes: aan veiligheid, aan steun, aan compassie, aan sociale contacten. De

vermogen om te kunnen hechten wordt gezien als een fundament van onze psychologisch

welzijn. Om niet eens over vrije wil te hebben: wij hebben toch een keus om wel of niet mee

te doen met het roddelcircuit binnen onze ‘dorpen?’

Wij hebben weer bewust gekozen voor een dorp: het voelt goed, geeft steun, is comfortabel, en ik durf het te

zeggen: het is gezellig. Saai? Mwa….wij hebben veel gereisd in ons leven

samen, ook buiten de gewone paden; wij hebben veel gezien en in drie landen gewoond. Dit dorp voelt nu

meer dan prima. En het voelde toen ook fijn. Eigen. Vertrouwd. En ik denk, als wij in een grote stad woonden,

zouden wij hetzelfde dorpse levensstijl naleven. Variëteit zoeken wij op in ons werk, in opleidingen, in

activiteiten buiten het dorp om, op pad gaan. Wij zijn niet vastgeketend hier.

Anonimiteit is af en toe fijn en dan kan ik dat opzoeken. Vooral lijkt het mij eenzaam. Mijn

echtgenoot? Nou…af en toe roept hij dat hij in een hutje in Vermont wil gaan wonen. Verschil mag er zijn.


’s Ochtends in de eetzaal van ons hotel in Limburg was er een vrolijk jong gezin aanwezig: moeder, vader, twee meisjes en een jongetje. De kinderen mochten zelfstandig bij het buffet hun ontbijt gaan halen en daarna, met rode koontjes, liepen zij één per één terug naar hun tafel met afgeladen bordjes. Samen ging het gezin ontbijten en er ontstond een geanimeerd, gezellig en o-zo-bekend geroezemoes.

Wat een drukke en ook wat een fijne tijd was het toen. Altijd in de weer met de kids, dat wel. Als je er middenin zit en je altijd moe bent en je probeert alle ballen in de lucht te houden, besef je niet hoe speciaal deze ‘gewone’ tijd is. Laatst zag ik een moeder uit de supermarkt lopen, haar twee zoontjes dartelend rond haar heen. De jongens waren druk aan het vertellen en aan het delen: ‘Mam, Mam!’ Zij, het centrum van hun wereld, het scharnierpunt waar alles omheen draait. Zou zij realiseren dat zij op dat moment de belangrijkste en meest betekenisvolle persoon is in hun leven? Ik wilde naar haar toe lopen en zeggen: ‘stop even, kijk, geniet, dit is zo kostbaar.’ Maar ik deed het niet. Doodvermoeiend en zelfs irritant was het vaak, weet ik nog. En toch vanuit mijn plek die ochtend in de ontbijtzaal, dacht ik aan hoe bijzonder en hoe dierbaar die tijd was en er welde in mij een oerverlangen op dat verdacht als heimwee voelde.

Wat een rijkdom, dat ik moeder mocht en mag zijn in dit leven. Geen makkelijke rol en eentje die onderschat en ondergewaardeerd is door de maatschappij. Er zijn veel moeders zonder partner; hoe zwaar moet dat zijn? Respect met een grote R. De rol van een moeder heeft weinig aanzien als ‘job,’ ook niet door wij moeders zelf. Waardering en voldoening halen wij uit betaald werk en carrière maken, ook in deze allerdrukste tijd van ons leven. Werk is noodzakelijk geworden om er mee rond te komen en dat het een slimme keuze kan zijn om erbij te blijven en om te groeien wat carrière betreft weten wij ook inmiddels. Daarnaast willen wij ook wat betekenen voor de maatschappij en een bijdrage leveren aan de economie. Toch worden vrouwen nog steeds in de regel minder betaald dan mannen en nog steeds nemen vrouwen meer waar thuis dan hun partners. Of het is de vrouw die deeltijd gaat werken omdat manlief dat ‘niet kan.’ Mannen worden geprijsd wanneer zij hun schaarse vrije tijd inzetten met de kids, bij vrouwen wordt het vanzelfsprekend beschouwd. Het is zinvol en raadzaam te blijven ontwikkelen als individu en werk biedt ons die uitdaging. De werkende moeder, de alles-kunner, overtuigen wij onszelf, is een krachtig rolmodel, Tegelijkertijd mogen wij het bewuste en tijdrovende hands-on opvoeden van en waardeoverdracht aan de toekomstige generatie niet bagatelliseren. De opvoeding experts staan in de rij om moeders-van-nu onzekerheden in te praten en op alle fronten moet het beste beentje voor, hoezo stress? De conundrum blijft ook voor deze generatie moeders een fikse. Mijn petje gaat af en ik maak een diepe buiging voor alle moeders: van toen, van nu en van de toekomst.

Happy Mother’s Day. Geniet van het geroezemoes.


When we open our bedroom curtains in the morning, we look out onto a pasture.  We live 3 minutes from our modern village but between us and the village is a farmhouse and we feel fortunate, enjoying this rural view every day. The farmer brought his five special cows and their three calves into the pasture last week  (the breed is called ‘Lakenvelders’ : laken means ‘sheet’ and they look indeed as though a white sheet has been thrown over the middle of their red-brown backs!) and the calves are still running around enjoying their freedom like little kids playing tag.Today is May 4th and it is Memorial Day here. Flags hang at half-mast. There are concerts and commemorative services held, wreaths are laid at monuments and this evening at 8 p.m, Dutch soldiers and civilians who have given their lives in war situations and/or peacekeeping missions since World War II will be remembered in a respectful period of silence for 2 minutes. Traffic will stop, the television will go on mute, music will be stilled, cyclists will bring their bikes to a standstill and people will sit silently in their homes and in restaurants. At the end of the 2 minutes, the national anthem ‘Wilhelmus’ is broadcasted and sung, on the street or wherever one happens to be. It is important to realize that flying the flag and singing the national anthem is not a daily event here but one reserved for special, meaningful moments. It is therefore all the more significant and moving; a participatory way to give tribute to the fallen.

Tomorrow, May 5th, is Liberation Day and will mark the end to the Nazi occupation of the

Netherlands in 1945. The flags will fly again, this time from the tops of the flagpoles and this

special day will be celebrated with festivals, concerts, parades, speeches and a now-

dwindling number of elderly Canadian liberators who will, often in uniform, visit our part (the

eastern part) of the country. Homage is given to them as they share their history. Memories of the liberation but also of the occupation, the deportations and the hunger winter of 1944-5

include stories of the Dutch Resistance and the giving and receiving of shelter during those

dangerous days. These experiences are recounted at events and in the press, serving as

reminders to us all of the sacrifices for and the foundations and significance of our freedom.  De V-Foundation (a national foundation for peace, freedom and veterans’ care (in Dutch all

three words begin with ‘v’) ensures that war museums, remembrance centers and freedom

festival celebrations continue to obtain funding (including from the Roosevelt Foundation) to

keep memories and awareness alive.

There are those who, in commemoration of that time of hardship and food scarcity, will

choose to eat a tulip bulb or an onion with their celebratory drink on May 5th. i have read that in some parts of the country, cats and blackbirds disappeared from the landscape during the winter of 1944-45. You  can guess why. Wartime recipes pop up this time of year and cooking workshops are even held to promote awareness – and creativity – in cooking with a limited

variety of ingredients. There was hardly any meat, eggs or cheese. Bread was also scarce.

Sugar cost 40 guilders a pound, if you could find any.

So what to do when a birthday was nearing? Birthdays in the Netherlands mean birthday

cake. I researched some wartime recipes and learned that flour was replaced with cooked

and sieved potatoes. They were then mixed with hoarded rations of sugar and 2 precious

eggs. The eggs were separated so that the whipped egg whites would create a lighter batter. Yummy.

In America, eggs, butter, sugar and milk were also rationed during wartime and home bakers became creative. In the luxurious life we live, there is no blackbird or cat on the menu and

also no potato birthday cake. Also not in the America of 1944. However, I have discovered

that a number of today’s increasingly popular vegan recipes are based on wartime rationing. Retro-recipes. Anyway, here is a recipe for a chocolate cake that would have been possible tomake in the days of rations in America and will also fit vegan guidelines. There are a number of  versions of thus recipe on internet, some are called ‘wacky cake;’ this version of a wartimechocolate cake, which contains no eggs or dairy products, is actually quite moist and tasty!


1 1/2 cups plain flour

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon vinegar
1/3 cup rice bran oil or other vegetable oil

1 cup water

Instructions: Preheat oven to 350F.

Mix all dry ingredients and stir to combine.
Add wet ingredients and stir through well.
Pour batter into a greased & lined 8 in square baking pan

Bake for 30 minutes or until skewer comes out clean.

If you are reading this, then it is likely that you are free to walk outside with no constraint, you are free to make your own choices and you are free to speak your mind. Lucky you.

Lucky me. Now the rest of the world.

Spring Fling

When it is officially Spring and the sun watches over the equator, dark and light have equal say: the Vernal Equinox. Vernal means ‘new’ or ‘fresh.’ Dutch farmers invite us to witness a wonderful event this time of year. True to tradition, they let their cows out of the stalls after a five month indoor sentence and the ecstatic bovines literally prance and dance   in the pastures. For the first time, my husband and I witnessed this release a few weeks ago and and observed the farmers gazing at their liberated cows with blissful expressions on their faces. No matter that the sunshine was missing on this day. Freedom. Space. Nature. Green grass. The cows nuzzled each other and jumped for joy. They raced out together, rather awkward in their natural surroundings at first but quickly, they adapted and carved out their own niches in the vast open space, so obviously happy to be alive.

I am reminded of another experience, this time not in Spring but on a glorious October day a few years ago, when I was at the Bleecker Street playground in New York City’s West End with my small granddaughter. It was around four o’clock in the afternoon when the peace of quiet playtime was shattered  by a surge – and I mean a stream, a rush, an overwhelming outpouring – of boisterous school-aged children who burst noisily onto the playground. They had just been released from school. I looked on, not in bliss like the farmers but in stupefaction, as I held the hand of my overwhelmed granddaughter. Charged with pent-up energy and intent on taking their places in this open space, the children shouted with glee and played tag, kicked around a ball and rushed the playground equipment. I surveyed the situation with mixed feelings which included awe and dismay. Really? We really want kids cooped up indoors all day?

Remember recess in the sixties? We were made to walk single-file to the door and then the teacher would nod her head. What ensued was a race for space on the playground. Things haven’t changed all that much. Kids and cows need freedom.