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Month: June 2017

5 top tips for mothers

Her name is Nina. She changed my life in 2014. She changed me.

This journey through motherhood is a never-ending one. Among many other things, it has been teaching me about the meaning of deep connections, selflessness, and unconditional love. It has taught me what empathy (really) means and what comes along with it.

As any other journey in life, motherhood doesn’t come without bumps along the way (pun intended!). Although I have always considered myself an empathic person, it wasn’t until recently that I understood the strong impact empathy can have on one’s life. Empathy is defined asthe action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another, of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner;” in other words, it is the “ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

When we become mothers, the physiology of the brain changes; our hormonal production changes to make us more empathetic with the purpose to adapt to the tiny human being that we have generated.

As soon as our babies are born, we become able to feel with them in order to be able to respond to their needs in the best way possible. We feel their pain. We cry with them. We suffer with them. And we become so immersed in our babies’ needs that we start losing our focus on ourselves as individuals. Motherhood comes with priority shifting, and, at some point, our identity gets shaken off.

Through my coaching practice and from talking with other mothers in informal settings, I observed that a lot of mothers suffer from some lack of confidence, have a negative self-image, and sabotage themselves by negative self-talk and limiting beliefs.

I frequently hear self-castrating beliefs such as “I shouldn’t dress the way I want because I am mother now” or “I am not allowed to have fun if my child is not with me” and so forth. This limits their freedom – to feel, to behave, to be. And most of them seek me in order to help them to deal with negative emotions that have been triggered or enhanced by maternity (such as fear, guilt, anxiety, and frustration). It truly breaks my heart to see so many wonderful women not valorizing themselves as they deserve. So, when DelftMama invited me to write a blog as a guest, I decided to give my contribution by sharing simple tips to get you going through the day in a more healthy way.

I am not going to be extensive here, but I hope that by starting to practice the following suggestions you may find it easier to get through your day and avoid falling into the negativity spiral.

 

Tip #1: Mind your (negative) language

Are you familiar with the expression “careful with what you wish for”? Yes, the way you set your mind for something is halfway to being successful (or unsuccessful).

Expressions such as “I don’t deserve,” “I am not good,” “I can’t,” etc. are behavior sabotagers! People have no idea of the impact that their own words can have on their psychological processes. When we say something like “I am not capable of doing such and such,” we are already believing that that is true; we are accepting it and, therefore, creating a limitation.

Our brain literally believes in everything we say, either out loud or in internally. So, instead of using negative language and focusing on negative aspects of yourself or your life, make a conscious effort to praise yourself, to point out and talk about the good things about you, about others, and your life. Describing yourself in a positive way is already halfway to build a healthier self-image!

 

Tip #2: Breathe and connect with yourself

Breathe when you are annoyed. Breathe when you are happy. Just breathe!

Allow yourself to take a few minutes a day and stop whatever you are doing just to create a moment to connect with yourself. Breathe in and out naturally while paying attention to any sounds surrounding you. Observe how you feel in your body, pay attention to your emotions, let your thoughts come and go without judgement. Go back to breathing.

If you are not used to meditating (or even if you are!), my suggestion would be to listen to guided meditations. These are a great tool to help you to take a little break during your day. You can find meditation videos and podcasts on Youtube, or you can download the app “Insight Timer” on your smartphone – I am hooked on this one, as there are literally hundreds of podcasts to choose from!

 

Tip #3: Take a break

No matter what that annoying voice tells you, you-deserve-to-take-a-break! Indulge yourself, take care of yourself. Literally do anything that YOU enjoy doing. Meet with friends, exercise, have a drink (or two!), play video games, go for a massage, go to the movies, go silly, just go on a spree!

 

Tip #4: Go out on a date

Spend some time with your partner. Cherish and indulge each other. It is difficult when you have a little one (or more) between you. My advice would be to make time to spend some quality time together.

 

Tip #5: Get it out of your system

Whatever you are feeling right now you may find yourself thinking that you are the only one. You may assume that other mothers don’t feel the same way and that talking about your feelings will perhaps be a burden on others. I get it; I have been there and got the t-shirt. But you are not alone in this. Venting out and sharing your feelings with friends, other mothers, or even a professional will very likely help you to find some balance. And, remember, by expressing your feelings you may actually help others do the same. It’s a win-win situation.

 

So, after reading these tips I hope you already have your diaries at hand and are ready to plan a date with yourself, with your partner, or a friend for this week!

Just have some fun! Oh, and make sure you attend the Delft MaMa events – they are a great way to have fun while sharing experiences.

And, remember, just breathe!

 

 

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Water, Water, Everywhere

With warm weather (hopefully) just around the corner and the school summer holiday fast approaching, I’m busy working on my summer holiday bucket list. In addition to being a list of things I’d like to do with my two girls aged 7 and 5 while they are off school, it’s also a list of places to cool off when it’s hot. I love the beaches at Monster and Ter Heide, but being a redhead I miss the shade. We thus often opt for a local lake where we are more likely to find trees for me to hide under. If any of you, like me, start to wilt like fresh spinach in a pan when the thermometer rises above 25˚C, you may enjoy one of the options below.

Freshwater lakes

Prinsenbos (Naaldwijk)

The Prinsenbos is one of my favourite places to go with the kids. Given that we live in Naaldwijk, it is very close by. It also just makes a lovely day out.

There is a small lake for swimming with a sandy beach and grass to sunbathe in. There is playground equipment and a small nature playground with a water pump on the other side of the parking area. There is nowhere to buy refreshments, but there are picnic tables to use and the ice cream man is often parked at the entrance.  

If you get tired of swimming, you can take a walk on the path around the lake, which is buggy and wheelchair friendly. The walk takes about 15 minutes at adult walking speed.

Madestein (between Monster and Den Haag, gemeente Den Haag)

The Madestein is a large park and recreational area in between Den Haag and Monster. There are a few entrances, but I normally enter and park on the Madepolderweg side, which is also where the restaurant ’t Brasserietje is. There is a large grassy area in front of the lake where you often see families gathering for BBQ picnics.

Wollebrand (Honselersdijk – off the Veilingroute N222)

The Wollebrand may be located directly behind a provincial highway, but once you are in the park you would never know. There is a sandy beach surrounding the swimming area with a grassy field behind where you can stretch out on a blanket and daydream an afternoon away. If you fancy a walk, there is a tree filled park behind the lake with walking trails.

Directly on the beach is a modern restaurant with good food and a big deck overlooking the lake called the Wollebrand. If you are feeling adventurous, there is a cable water ski/wakeboard track on the lake.

Krabbeplas (gemeente Vlaardingen)

The Krabbeplas is a great lake for swimming and surfing located in a huge recreational park between Maassluis and Vlaardingen. There is playground equipment, a sandy beach, and a large grassy area for relaxing or picnicking. On the beach is a restaurant called the Krabbeplas. While it is a little outdated, it’s still a decent option if you don’t feel like cooking after a long day of playing in the water.

Grote Plas Delftse Hout (gemeente Delft)

What’s not to love about the Delftse Hout? There are several options for swimming in the Delftse Hout, but the Grote Plas is the largest swimming lake in the park. With lots of sand to play in, shady trees to hide under, and grass to picnic in, it’s easy to while away a summer day.

There are two options for restaurants in the Delftse Hout, Knus and Het Rieten Dak. For families, Knus is great. It is overlooking the lake further along from the beach and has a nice playground to keep the kids occupied while you enjoy a cool drink. Although the beach is not as nice as the Grote Plas, you can jump into the water right from the restaurant. They also offer waterbike and rowboat rentals by the hour.  

These last three lakes I haven’t visited yet but definitely plan to this summer. Maybe you have been and can tell us about it?

Zwemvijver Wilhelminapark (gemeente Rijswijk)

Put Te Werve (gemeente Rijswijk)

Dobbeplas (Nootdorp, gemeente Pijnacker-Nootdorp)

Outdoor pools

If you enjoy swimming outside but prefer the comforts of a swimming pool, there are two swimming pools that I know of that also have an outdoor pool which is open in the summer:

Zwembad de Waterman in Wateringen

Zwembad de Hoge Bomen in Naaldwijk

Water parks

Waterspeeltuin Tanthof (gemeente Delft)

A lovely and very shady place to spend an afternoon playing with water. There is a man-made creek with running water to float a toy boat down and go chasing after it. The stream ends in a small pool just deep enough to splash around in. There is playground equipment in the park and a petting zoo close by. Although there is enough to do for a family of all ages, I would say this is a particularly good option for toddlers simply because the water is very shallow.

Waterspeeltuin Delftse Hout (gemeente Delft)

And here we are back in the Delftse Hout for the water park. You can find the entrance close to the petting zoo. There is a small entrance fee, but personally I think it is well worth it. The park is kept clean, and there are toilets and a small café on the premises. Since there are so many options here for playground equipment, water fun, and sandcastle building, it is easy to spend the whole day.

Burying your sibling in the sand is optional.

Waterpeelplaats Tubasingel (gemeente Rijswijk)

I haven’t been here yet but can’t wait to explore it or hear all about it from a Delft Mama.

Unfortunately, a lot of the smaller lakes become infested with Blue Algae in the warm weather. The local government tests the water regularly and does make efforts to clean the water, but they are not always successful. If you want to make sure your lake of choice is safe to swim in before you go, see www.zwemwater.nl for the latest information.

 

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Delft mama of the week: Elizabeth

Our Delft mama of the week, Elizabeth, has worked as a political consultant, a NASA tour guide, and a lawyer, volunteered for the Sisters of the Holy Cross in Ghana, traveled to 30 countries and 45/50 US states, and even been inside the Space Shuttle. Now she is a travel writer and full-time mom living in the Netherlands.

In 2015, Elizabeth’s husband, Jeff, was offered the exciting opportunity to complete his PhD at TU Delft, and Elizabeth and her two older sons eagerly joined him. They saw Delft as a charming town in its own right and an ideal base to travel around Europe. A third son joined the family and their travels in 2016.

Elizabeth is clearly enamored of the Netherlands and of Delft in particular. She describes it as “a real town with the advantage for expats that everybody speaks English and that you can find friends. There are a million little restaurants in every price bracket, and there are parks hiddeneverywhere. You can go climb the windmill, go to the farm and buy eggs, or see sheep at the petting zoo. These are just so many opportunities in this special town.”

A half year before arriving in Delft, she found the Delft MaMa Facebook group and connected with fellow Coloridan Caroline. When she first arrived in town, Caroline helped connect her to Delft MaMa friends and resources, giving her an invaluable piece of advice: “surround yourself with expats who are excited to be here in Netherlands, as your local friends will largely determine your mood.” Elizabeth has put this advice to good use, not only finding supportive friends, but also making herself a valued member of the Delft MaMa community. She co-coordinates the weekly Delft MaMa newsletter with Karen, and in the coming months, you may have the chance to read an original post or two of hers on the Delft MaMa blog.

Elizabeth believes that “Delft MaMa is a wonderful resource that provides something for every personality type. If you are a one-on-one person, there are many events. Ifyou need mom friends, you can go to a Mom’s Night Out. If you need friends for your children, there are playgroups. If you are just are looking for advice, you can ask on the Facebook, and the newsletter details what’s going on locally in the coming months. When I travel, I usually look for something like Delft MaMa, but a lot of places either do not have an equivalent or the local international family group is not on the same level as a support group.”

Elizabeth is thriving in Europe, but the decision to move to the Netherlands was not so straightforward from a professional perspective, as her visa status precludes her from working locally. Elizabeth’s optimistic and driven personality, though, have helped her to embrace this difficulty and turn it into many opportunities – that to spend more time with her children, blog actively, and pursue other endeavors close to her heart, particularly traveling.

Elizabeth’s blog, Dutch Dutch Goose, started as a way to share her European travel experiences with family and friends and as an outlet for her creative and professional talents. Dutch Dutch Goose soon became a popular resource for families around the world. Her post on traveling from the US to Europe on the Queen Mary 2 with children was a particular hit, given the lack of information available on this topic online. Thanks to the success of her own blog Elizabeth was also asked to become editor-in-chief of BebeVoyage, a global community of parents providing local, practical advice on traveling with kids.

Elizabeth and her husband traveled widely before having children and have decided to use travel as an educational tool with their children. They firmly believe that “the places we see and people we meet during our different travel experiences help make our children better human beings. Exposing our kids to so many different tastes, modes of transportation, ways of living, and cultures is the most wonderful gift we can give them.”

Elizabeth is also always challenging herself and looking for ways to grow and learn through travel. For example, this careful planner took a trip this year without having organized any specific destinations or itineraries. You can find more about how the family managed this adventure in spontaneity here.

Through her blog, Elizabeth also shows families around the world that travel with children may be challenging but that it is both a feasible and a rewarding experience. For Elizabeth, there is no need to travel for many weeks or to a distant location to make a trip great, as visiting a nearbyfarm or museum can be just as valuable.

There is also no need to force your children to immerse completely in every aspect of a trip. Instead, do your best to ensure your children are comfortable and enjoying their time traveling, even if this means allowing them to look at the iPad on some museum visits or play at a local playground for some hours rather than visiting a site. Elizabeth notes, “I find that the kids absorb so much of the little stuff while traveling, like going to playgrounds and to kids cafes, as opposed to all the big tourist sites. At these places, they get a better picture of the local culture, differences in parenting, and differences in interactions between the kids.”

Furthermore, “the best trip for me is one where each member of the family has something that peaked their interest, and we have all gotten along and enjoyed ourselves as a family.” During our interview, Elizabeth described how a trip to Brussels’ train hostel that was requested and largely planned by her eldest son fits the bill.

To summarize some of her expert advice, Elizabeth encourages parents to know their kids and make them comfortable, know that disasters happen and don’t let them ruin trips, plan the right balance of activities parents are interested in and child-friendly activities in an itinerary, and allow children to absorb the little details during trips that show cultural differences.

One word that kept popping up during our conversation was “gift,” with travel as a gift, living in Delft as a gift, and even her local un-employability as a gift in disguise. Elizabeth also described her time interacting and talking to her kids while biking as a daily gift and one of the highlights of her life in the Netherlands. I hope all Delft mamas can also recognize and take advantage of the multitude of gifts in their lives and embrace challenges with as strong a positive attitude as Elizabeth. Indeed, it is this zeal for life and focus on uplifting values like joy, discovery, and gratitude that make Elizabeth so charming and her blog posts so delightful to read.

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Some of my favorite books by female authors

There are so many authors and readers in our Delft MaMa community that I felt inspired today to write about women writers. Books have always been one of my passions. At one stage growing up, I would finish my homework and then devour a book a night. These days, I do not have the luxury of finishing a book a day, but I generally manage to carve out some time from my busy schedule to read. Believing in the power of literature and being enamored of a wide range of authors, I, however, find it jarring to see how much the literary world still reflects biases in our society. Female authors are reviewed less often reviewed than their male counterparts, and fiction written by men or about men is more likely to receive literary awards. Furthermore, a large swath of popular novels by women are deemed less worthy of praise than more “serious” literature, generally written by men, as shown in this exchange.

With so many exciting and excellent female writers to choose from and with the summer holidays around the corner, I decided to make a short list of some of my favorite works of fiction from the last fifty years by female authors. Over the upcoming holiday, perhaps you can spend some of your well deserved rest and relaxation time discovering one of these gems. The list idea is inspired by the Guardian’s weekly Top Ten book series, which I also highly recommend.

I will start my list with a Arundhati Roy, an Indian author and activist, whose first work of fiction in twenty years will be published next week. Before you dive into her new book, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, I would recommend taking the time to read her spellbinding The God of Small Things. Set in Southern India, this novel shows how a series of prejudices linked to class, gender, and religion combine to produce a tragic outcome. Its evocative, lyrical prose is made all the more vivid by the fact that the story is told through the eyes of two children, fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel. This evocative book was the first Indian novel to win the Man Booker Prize, and I am sure it will linger in your mind long after you reach the last page.

Elena Ferrante’s engrossing Neapolitan Novels (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, The Story of the Lost Child) follow Elena (Lenù) and Raffaella (Lila) from girlhood in a tough Neapolitan neighborhood through many twists and turns to arrive at old age. Ferrante masterfully paints a portrait of a friendship that is both a source of strength and anguish and examines the inner lives of her characters with lucid intelligence. Ferrante has never revealed her identity, considering her biography irrelevant to her fiction. Unfortunately, a journalist recently reported to have unmasked the “real” Elena Ferrante, an endeavor that many describe as sexist.

Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories offers a refreshing perspective on traditional European fairy tales and their underlying themes. Carter’s heroines are not helpless damsels in distress but strong, independent characters that define their own destinies. Her depictions bring to light the sensual dimensions underlying most of these traditional tales and her gorgeous, gothic prose is a joy to read.

Another collection of short stories that I would strongly recommend is Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America. These excellently crafted stories delve into the everyday of lives of people, most often women, to find deeper meaning. The prose is subtle and minimalist, especially if compared to that of Carter, but the stories manage to pack a true emotional punch. For example, the poignant “People Like That Are The Only People Here” brings the reader inside the painful reality of life for parents of a child diagnosed with cancer.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale become a bestseller again. Atwood’s dystopian vision documents the life of Offred in Gilead, a theocratic military dictatorship that subjugates women. The story is a page-turner and a frightening prediction of where the dogma of limiting women’s rights and wilfully destroying the environment could lead. If you are interested to find out more about this prolific Canadian author, the New Yorker recently published an intriguing profile of Atwood.

Another page turner, but one based in the past rather than an imagined future, is Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. Mantel plunges the reader into the intrigues of King Henry VIII’s Court and brilliantly portrays the ambitious Thomas Cromwell. Her prose is vivid, and the tale is thrilling enough that the reader never feels overwhelmed by the large cast of historical characters. Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up The Bodies both won the Man Booker prize. The third and final part of the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, has yet to be released.

Penelope Fitzgerald only published her first book at the age of 58, but her late blossoming career left us with a remarkable body of work. One case in point is The Blue Flower, a short but elegant novel that immerses the reader in moments of the life of the 18th century German poet Novalis. Fitzgerald shares a multiplicity of sensations and meanings through a series of vignettes, but the tale retains an aura of mystery that will keep you searching for what the blue flower truly represents long after you have put the book down.

On the fence between journalism and fiction writing is the work of Svetlana Alexievich, the 2015 Nobel Prize in Fiction Winner. In Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, Alexievich weaves together interview segments to show how the collapse of the Soviet Union impacted everyday citizens. Many qualify Alexievich’s work as oral history, but she prefers to call her literary technique, “a novel in voices.” No matter how you classify the book, it offers a remarkable and compassionate portrait of post-Soviet society.

I have read all of the extremely talented Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s works, and my favorite is her powerful account of the Nigerian Civil War, Half of a Yellow Sun. Rather than focus on battles or glory, Adichie offers a devastating assessment of the disappointment and violence wrought by this conflict. You may also be familiar with Adichie from her TED talk on why we should all be feminists.

The list would not be complete without a work by the brilliant 1993 Nobel Prize laureate, Toni Morrison. Beloved, a virtuosic novel in every sense, tells the tale of former slave Sethe and her process of “rememory.” It is even more tragic to note that the book is based on an actual case from the 1850s. For those interested in the topic of the value of work or how work relates identity, I also encourage you to read a short piece by Morrison from this week’s New Yorker.

Additional resources :

For the very ambitious, the New York City Library created a list of 365 Books by Women Authors to Celebrate International Women’s Day All Year.

Danielle Dutton recommends her top ten Top 10 Books About Wild Women.

Marta Baussels lists 10 Inspiring Female Authors that You Need to Read.

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