Join us for the second post in our Delftian Entrepreneurs series (read the first post here) as Delft MaMa Julia Candy introduces us to Jie Li, aka the Cake Researcher. Read about this phenom of a woman who balances an academic career, motherhood, and a bustling side hustle.
Renny Wiegerink works with Dutch and expat women in her business, Auryn Acupunctuur en Advies voor vrouwen (Acupuncture and Advice for Women), which is based out of her home in Delft Noord. From the eastern part of the Netherlands, she moved to Delft 25 years ago. She knows how it feels to have to move around in a strange place/culture. A long-time collaborator with Delft MaMa, Renny values being able to share her experience and knowledge as a native Dutch person with expats. When planning the Delftian Entrepreneurs Series for the DMM blog, I knew I wanted to start with Renny. Grab a cup of your favorite beverage and join us! Read more
In 2007, Lucie Cunningham set out with an idea to start Delft MaMa. She never imagined the impact it would have on the community and countless lives over the years. We sat down with Lucie, Delft Mama’s founder, to learn more about her personal story, how it all got started and how things have evolved. Read more
As we transport ourselves to new places, it can be easy for us to lose sight of our roots. In this story, however, Delft MaMa Maya Levi, originally from Israel, shares with us her journey of reconnecting with her Jewish cultural-religious identity as she settled in the Netherlands. In parallel, Maya describes the Jewish festival of Chanukah as a powerful festival of conscious reconnection with religious roots.
Guest Post by Nina Bogerd and Maya Levi
Although she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) fifteen years ago, Maya Levi has never let it determine her life. She is always full of energy, always optimistic. Even now, as the disease starts to profoundly limit her life physically, she is discovering new spiritual and physical pathways within life’s limitations.
MS is a disease that affects central nervous systems, thus the brain and the spine. Immune cells attack the myelin layer around the nerve cells, resulting in damage to neural functions and an impaired electric signal. The wide range of symptoms—e.g., balance problems, muscle weakness, blindness—vary from person to person, depending on the specific location that is damaged in the brain or spinal cord. The common prognosis, though, is the worsening condition over time. Maya’s symptoms have always included balance problems—but in the last year, the signaling to the legs has been so far damaged that walking has become extremely difficult.
However, the point of Maya’s story is not to focus on her disabilities caused by MS. The focus is on enabling her still existing abilities, thus strengthening her body and soul.
Raising funds to enable Maya
On the GoFundMe campaign started by her friend Lidia Bernabei, Maya tells us that although using a wheelchair might become inevitable, she wants to explore new opportunities to do as much as she physically can, to empower herself. She invites us to financially support the activities that she would like to do, but otherwise cannot afford.
In September, Lidia ran a half-marathon (20 km) in Rome to raise not only funds for Maya but also awareness for MS. Delft MaMa Nina Bogerd ran in Ljubljana, Slovenia in October, and Andrea Ortenzi ran in New York in November. These runs are steadily raising awareness for MS. Maya is currently training at the gym (weights) and on an indoor hand bike as a part of her physiotherapy and hopes to participate in a half-marathon with the hand bike in Rome in September 2019. If you plan to run somewhere the coming year, you can also dedicate your run to this campaign.
Funded: From disable to enable
The funds raised so far has enabled Maya, among other things, to start taking horseback riding lessons. These lessons have had an extensive impact on her body, mind and soul. But more specifically to her MS, the horseback riding forces Maya’s core muscles to stabilize her body. The lessons are taking place in Madurodam Manege, that specializes in horseback riding for people with disabilities. In addition to horseback riding, Maya has been able go wind sailing again, and plans to continue that next year thanks to Sailwise, a foundation that organizes adapted sailing activities for people with physical challenges.
Funds needed: Access to better mobility aids
At this moment Maya is unable to leave the house independently with the kids—she is dependent on her husband, ‘Regio Taxi’ (Municipality Taxi’s), and friends as she only has a manual (borrowed) wheelchair. A mobility scooter has been approved in September by the municipality but is not yet in place. Maya would like to have an electric folding wheelchair for traveling with her family. She would also like to have a hand bike with exchangeable wheels that can be connected to a wheelchair. This would allow Maya, a biologist, to go outdoors and enjoy nature. These are expensive products that can improve Maya’s quality of life.
Delft MaMa High Tea
Maya should not be alone in her struggle. To help Maya further, we are organizing a High Tea on the 9th of December, 2018, at Lunch Café Leonidas Delft. Money collected will go to Maya’s GoFundMe campaign. You are cordially invited to an afternoon dedicated to supporting one of our heroic mothers.
Thanks to Nina Bogerd and Maya Levi for contributing to this post.
NOTE FROM THE EDITORS
Initiated over 2 years ago, the Delft Mama blog has delivered numerous creative, heartwarming contributions throughout the years. Looking back at those earlier posts — in our role as current editors — we realized there were quite a few that we missed. Surely we aren’t the only ones, especially with new members joining Delft Mama each year. With that in mind, we decided to take a look back a couple times each year to recall one of those “Oldies but Goodies”.
Here’s the first installment, a rather recognizable, yet shocking and frankly funny post that speaks to the core of one of Delft Mama’s missions — to help build networks and provide support that makes families (and families-to-be) feel at home here in Delft.
Blackberries and Memories
Yesterday, I took my daughters blackberry picking. To someone else this may sound like just another day out, but for me it was special. It was special because it enabled me to re-live one of my favourite childhood memories and to share it with my own children.
When I think of it now, it seems a little strange, a teenage girl voluntarily taking her little brother out to pick blackberries. Remember though that this was in the time before iPads, and we had two months of summer holidays to fill!
This particular memory takes place towards the end of the summer break when we had already spent days at the beach, in the park, hung out with friends, set out crab traps, wandered around the house doing nothing in particular and were feeling rested, relaxed, and superbly content. Suddenly it was the end of August, and what had started as an endless vacation was *gasp* almost over. The race was on to make the most of those last sun filled days. I grabbed a few buckets and shouted to my little brother, “come on! We are going blackberry picking.”
Vancouver Island, where we lived, is a magical island of spectacular natural beauty (but that’s another story). It is also covered with wild blackberry bushes that ripen in late summer. Out we walked into the hot sun carrying our buckets like little soldiers on a mission to the nearest patch. After sizing up the bushes to find the juiciest specimens we dropped our buckets and started picking. We worked in companionable silence broken only by the occasional “ouch!” as one of us scratched ourselves or ‘mmmm’ when we were unable to resist a taste. Occasionally, disaster would strike in the form of accidentally kicking over a nearly full bucket or, particularly painful, falling into the bushes. Much to the hilarity of the other sibling.
If I let my mind travel back there now I can still smell the warm, ripe berry smell, part fermented fruit and part earthy leaves that would soon be turning brown. The hot sun burning the back of my neck, the scratches on my hands and the relaxing monotony of picking. Concentrated as we were on our efforts to find the biggest, juiciest berries, we lost all track of time.
Buckets finally full we trudged home with the fruits of our labour. Tired and hot we competed to see who had the most scratches or whose fingers were the purplest, stained from the dark juice.
Back in the kitchen, I made the pastry and, together with my little brother, we rolled it out to fit the pie tins. Then we cooked the berries, adding lots and lots of sugar. By the time we’d assembled the pies and baked them in the oven, the kitchen was a disaster of flour and squashed berries. At about this time, my Mum arrived home from work to find two children who had made a disaster of her kitchen proudly displaying fresh blackberry pies.
The childhood experiences that my daughters have in Holland are very different from my own back in rural Canada. Sometimes this is part of the fun. We get to experience things for the first time together. But other times it can make it hard to relate to each other. Memories that friends back home hold on to because they are triggered by their familiar surroundings have faded into the recesses of my memory. It’s amazing how a simple activity like this can bring those memories rushing back, filling my heart with a warm glow.
Vancouver Island is too far and too expensive to travel back to regularly. However, I am doing my best to bring a little bit of my life in Canada here to share with my family. When I do and when it works, the distance between here and home closes just a little and the effort is so very worth it.
I would love to hear about traditions from home that you are sharing here with your children?
And of course about any good spots for blackberry picking!
The day I met Tatjana was full of rain, clouds and gray – a typically glum Dutch scene. As I walked to our meeting, the clouds abated, and rays of sunlight shimmered on the rainy surfaces to make Delft’s canals even more picturesque. Tatjana’s warm smile welcomed me for a cup of coffee and the day seemed to take on a new light. At risk of sounding trite, I could easily compare Tatjana to the lovely sunshine on that August evening. She is an open, warm and optimistic person, who brings out the best in her surroundings and attracts people to spend more time in her radiant glow.
Tatjana’s sunny personality, though, is not the result of a golden childhood or easy lot in life. Indeed, our Delft Mama of the week has weathered many storms over the years. Born in Yugoslavia, Tatjana’s first years were spent under a communist regime. As the Cold War ended, Yugoslavia imploded. In the war that ensued, Tatjana’s family had to flee the Serbian army that invaded their hometown in Croatia. As Tatjana recounts, “ when I was 11 years old, my home town, Petrinja, was destroyed. We lost our home, and my father only managed to save two photo albums before we fled. We were refugees for four years.”
Life as a refugee entailed not only this initial loss but also the strain of constant moving. According to Tatjana, “I moved almost every year to a new place and would have to change schools. As a kid you are trying to look at everything in a positive way. You start going to a new school and meet new friends, which is nice, but when you are constantly forced to move and start all over again, you feel that enough is enough.”
The family also suffered financial difficulties, as her father, a Croat, was often the sole breadwinner. Tatjana’s mom is Serb, and her mother was not trusted and often discriminated against in finding work in Croatia. Tatjana told me, though, that “once people actually interact with my mother, their views change. At one hospital where she worked, as a Serb, she was initially an undesired employee. However, her colleagues cried over her leaving several years later.”
Despite these early experiences of the ugly side of human nature, or perhaps showing wisdom beyond her years in confronting these difficulties, Tatjana became a strong, positive, and, curious young lady. She studied political science in Zagreb and worked all sorts of jobs before and after graduating. Eventually she became a journalist working for some of the most significant media in her country.
After an early life already full of more than enough moves, Tatjana faced a challenging situation when a long-distance relationship with her now-husband, Eelco, become more serious. “When I first started dating him, the idea of moving from Croatia was not too appealing. After we decided that we really wanted to be together, though, it was logical that I come to the Netherlands.”
Moving to Delft almost perfectly corresponded with another big change in Tatjana’s life: she left her challenging and hectic life as journalist to become a stay at home mother. Tatjana and her husband welcomed a baby girl, Hannah, three months after her arrival in Delft. They see the experience as an adventure, and Tatjana seems refreshingly calm and relaxed about motherhood, relying on intuition rather than books or forums. She even recounted to me how on her most recent trip to Croatia, her friends voted her the least changed among the group since motherhood. She has kept her glow, but like most mothers looks forward to the days when she will have more free time to pursue her varied interests and talents including making clothing, photographing, going to concerts, exhibitions, theatre, reading, sports…
Tatjana is clearly enjoying her life in the Netherlands; “I am so happy that I actually came to live in Delft because I think it’s a perfect location. It is very close to the coast, and I take every opportunity I can to go to the beach. I also love being close to Rotterdam, which is my favorite Dutch city because it’s different from all the others; it’s really modern and a harbor city with an international feel.”
Tatjana had some local friends and acquaintances when she arrived in the Netherlands, and she was initially suspicious of what Delft MaMa could offer her. “I had heard about these international mamas meeting, but I thought it was a weird idea to become friends with people if the only thing we have in common is that we all have babies. I had joined the Delft MaMa Facebook group, though, and saw that a lot of interesting things were going on. This January, I thought maybe I should try to do something, and I started taking my daughter to playgroup.”
Tatjana has since become an active volunteer for Delft MaMa, heading the King’s Day Sale in April and frequently opening the playgroup. She has also met many new and interesting international moms, who she is building friendships with based upon shared interests. Now that she has received her official authorization to work, she is also on the lookout for new opportunities and new ways to contribute. She wants find a position that is “something very meaningful and will hopefully help people. I am now at this turning point, and I still have to decide which new path to take and which career is best for me.” I am absolutely certain that the path ahead will be bright and that the community will be enriched with Tatjana’s contribution.
When she opens her mouth, anyone would be under the impression she’s from Scotland. As a matter of fact, she often gets mistaken for Scottish even by the Scottish. However, once you ask her which part of the beautiful highlands she comes from, she’ll tell you she’s born in and bred in the flatlands of Holland, more precisely born in Amsterdam and bred in Zwolle.
As a little girl, Susan once had a very vivid dream. In the dream, she was running off a green hill out of the forest in a white dress with long hair and came alongside a cobblestone wall with a big tree. “I ended up in Ireland that was similar, but now I got a Scottish guy…” Susan explains. Only when she met her Scottish guy, Iain, and visited Scotland with him, she realized it was just like in her dream. Susan refuses to speculate the meaning of this dream, but it clearly has had a lasting impression on her.
Susan was just finishing school when she got a job at a new Irish bar in her hometown. This led her to get a job offer in Ireland, where she lived for four years, before returning to the Netherlands to study. Susan got her master’s in art, specializing in architectural history. It was a long stretch for her, as people had been telling her all her life that because of her dyslexia she doesn’t have what it takes to get through University. Somehow Susan managed to turn what others perceived her weakness into her strength and with the help of her University professor, she realized that because she observed the world differently, it gave her a big advantage as well. “I’m thinking very different than mainstream. In University, I did research my way; if I see a building, I can already build it in my mind. I didn’t know that people don’t do that,” Susan points out.
These days Susan is a busy mom of Aoife (8) and Fionn (3). Only through her daughter, Susan has started to deal with her own insecurities from her childhood and adolescence. Growing up, Susan felt a lot of people didn’t get her. “I see everything, I feel everything, I hear everything, I take everything in. I’m highly sensitive, open to everything. I learned that through Aoife, to be honest. She looks at the world the same way. She doesn’t fit in the regular schools and that made me look at my life. I think really quick, see things other people don’t see. I need to adjust all the time. It doesn’t make me cleverer, I just think different”, Susan casually points out and continues “Ever since Aoife, I can look at life and say “life isn’t that bad”. I always thought I was weird. Now I’m quite happy about my abilities.” She’s now also more forgiving to herself, since she learned to see things through her daughter.
Because of this amazing ability to take it all in, Susan is a highly creative person. She would love to do an exhibition for her photography “at least for the sake of trying out”, she says. She loves to create with her hands and looking at the things she has done or photographed, Susan clearly has a good sense of proportions, colour palettes and composition. Susan tells me she has made some bags and buttons, but doesn’t like repeating the creative process to make a product. It’s art all the way for her.
She’s soon pushing forty and since her kids are already going to school and growing up quick, she’s at the brink of her on blossoming. “I was thinking the other day about going for my PhD. People always told me I wasn’t good enough, but I realized there is the TU here, so I might! I’m going to look into it. My time will come,” Susan says with anticipation. Personally, listening to her for more than an hour, I cannot but agree.
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.