The American Dutchess

Navigating faith, love, and life in the Netherlands

Thursday, October 11, 2018



Tonight we went to dinner at a nearby community center, and I was expecting to see people from so many different countries. Instead, it seemed that most of the other guests were Dutch people over the age of 70 - when we walked in, it felt like everyone was looking at us. Thankfully after a while some other foreigners came. (The irony of this is that I actually look like the majority ethnicity...I just caught myself about to imply that non-whites are not Dutch, regardless of how many generations they've been here.  Oops. Gotta work on that.)

R. overheard someone at the other table, and suddenly I heard him offering my services as translator from Dutch to English. No preparation, nothing.  Just on-the-fly interpretation in front of a group.  Well, here goes, I guess.

Adel from WE Organization shared a bit about how he went from Syria to Lebanon to study law.  Later with the conflict in Syria, he just tried to survive there in Lebanon, but there was a lot of discrimination there, so he left. "I got to Holland the same way you see on TV - a rubber boat, then on a truck...."  (Say whaaattt? It never ceases to surprise me when I meet someone who's actually made such a perilous journey.) He's mostly around other foreigners, and a lot of Dutch people speak English, which has not really forced him to learn Dutch.  Hence why I was translating.

Honestly, hearing his story made me confront my idea that refugees are poor and uneducated.  In the back of my mind I know this to be false, but you see otherwise in the news.  Adel studied LAW - in the US, studying law is usually a sign of high intelligence and prestige, though I think sometimes people have a different view of lawyers.  He speaks really good English, and he's started his own organization here.  (Why exactly would countries turn away refugees with this kind of social-impact initiative?? Seriously, check out their website)

I also met two young women who have just started their own strings duo, playing the oud (pronounced "oot" or "ut") and kemenche together.  E. is from Turkey and has only been here 2 years.  She and I spoke mostly English together.  Her fellow musician Jawa is from Syria and has been here 3 years.

It was a good evening, with only a few hiccups - they didn't have a high chair for our 16 month old, and our 3.5 year old dug around in a box of bottle caps while the strings duo was playing.  But most of the time the kids entertained others by just being their cute little independent selves. :)

However, there was one older man who was shocked and a bit upset that Adel had been here 3 years and still couldn't speak Dutch and "wasn't integrated."

I wish I had spoken up and said something to that guy. Seriously, it takes a LOT longer than that to learn a language.  Think of a baby.  An 18 month old can understand your language, but can't really speak it.  A 3 year old can speak your language (albeit with humorous mistakes), but can't read or write it.  A 5 year old is finally learning to read and write, but certainly isn't reading the newspaper or writing their CV/resume.

Sometimes it goes faster, depending on if you've already learned (how to learn) other languages, or if the target language is closer to your first language. So yeah, don't get yourself in a tizzy if someone can't speak your language after 3 years.

I'd like to do something like this again - the international dinner, that is.  And maybe even the on-the-fly interpretation into Dutch.  :) But for sure, I want to stand up for others!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017



The following is a recipe I created from 3 different soup recipes:

Chunky Lentil & Vegetable Soup
https://www.akitcheninistanbul.com/2017/01/chunky-lentil-vegetable-soup/

Red Lentil Soup
http://www.veggiesbycandlelight.com/red-lentil-soup/

Best Ever Spinach Lentil Soup
http://www.melaniecooks.com/lentil-spinach-soup/11179/

I made it a couple months back for when our families and a few friends gathered at our home after our baby's dedication service at church - and now I'm finally getting around to writing out the recipe.  Unfortunately I didn't take any photos.  :(

Ingredients:
1 onion
4 cloves of garlic, pressed
500 grams vegetables (I used frozen spinach, carrots, some potatoes, and some cauliflower)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin
15 ounces diced tomatoes or 4 tomatoes (or a combination - I can't remember what I used)
5 cups water
2 tbsp lemon juice
parsley (dried or fresh)
1 cup red lentils

Directions:

Saute the onion on medium-high heat until the onion is translucent.

Add garlic and some of the vegetables (depending on what you've added) until cooked well.  Add the other spices.

Add the water, tomatoes, and lentils.  Bring to a boil and then simmer until the lentils have cooked through.

Mix in the lemon juice and sprinkle with the parsley before serving.

Eet smakelijk!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Het is bijna zo ver...

Het is bijna die tijd...tijd voor Halloween.

Trick or treating gaan.  Op bezoek naar de buren of familie (of Trunk or Treat)...
Lieve costuums voor kinderen...
Pompoenen met gezichtjes of andere figuuren erop...
Snoepjes, snoepjes, en nog meer snoepjes...

Oh, sorry hoor. Ik werd een beetje afgeleid.  Ik dacht dat het over Halloween in Amerika ging.

Ik zal opnieuw beginnen.  Tijd voor Halloween in Nederland...

Zombies, skeletten, spoken, en heksen
Pompoenen met gezichtjes
Spooktochten / Halloweenoptochten
Bloed en ingewanden

Ja, we hebben die allemaal ook in Amerika.  Maar, weet je? Alleen maar de gruwelijkste dingen zijn naar Nederland geĆ«xporteerd.

De Christelijke reactie

Nu begin ik veel artikelen op Facebook te zijn over hoe verschrikkelijk Halloween is.  Hoe doodbang kinderen kunnen worden.  Hoe christenen moeten er niks mee te maken.  Hoe het alleen maar over bloed en ingewanden gaat.

Ik geef het toe dat wij die argumenten van amerikaanse christenen ook hebben.  En ja, er is wel een correlatie tussen Halloween en hedendaagse feestjes, maar ook een correlatie tot allerheiligen  op 1 november  (ga het even opzoeken, ik wacht hier op jou).

Maar Halloween is een van die culturele feestdagen dat verder en verder weggaat van die ideeen.  (Denk aan kerst, bijvoorbeeld.  Waarom horen rendieren, sneeuwpoppen, en de kerstman bij de geboorte van Jezus?)

Ik mis de niet-enge aspecten van Halloween.

Toen ik een kind was, ging ik bijna elke jaar "trick or treating" (snoepjes bij de buren vragen).  Omdat wij in het midden van nowhere woonden, gingen wij in de auto naar familie en vrienden.  Vaak gingen wij naar de neven en nichten van mijn moeder, en vaak gingen wij als laatste naar mijn opa en oma toe.  Soms gingen wij naar een nabijgelegende buurt om het gevoel te krijgen van lopen van huis naar huis.

Ik was een keertje Sneeuwwitje, een pompoen, een bruid (gewoon, zonder bloed), en een "lopende woordenboek" (met referentiemateriaal en definities op mijn t-shirt).  Veel van de huizen of tuinen waren met neppe spinwebben en skeletten versierd.  En ja, veel van de oudere tieners draagde enge maskers en costumes.

Cheburashka (Soviet cartoon character)
Toen ik les bij een christelijke internationale school (oost-Europa) gaf, hadden wij "Fall Festival" (herfst feestje).  Op de laatste zaterdag van oktober was iedereen (ouders ook!) zich aangekleed en kwamen ze naar de school.  We hadden een costume parade, spelletjes, en lekker eten (en ook wat echte bladeren op de grond in de aula).  Hier zag ik veel van de leukste costumes.  Laura Ingalls Wilder (van Klein Huis op de Prairie).  Barbie nog steeds in haar doos.  Billa Man (zijn kleertjes waren altijd van de boodschappentassen).  Koreaanse studenten in hun traditionele Hanbok jurken.  Avatar.  Skiers vanuit de jaren 80.

Tijdens Fall Festival hielden wij de costumes en leuken dingen, maar dan zonder het duisternis en negativiteit.

In de laatste jaren heb ik veel artikelen gezien dat zeggen dat het zou goed zijn voor christen deel te nemen aan Halloween. (Wacht even! Niet de computer dicht doen!)  Het is een laagdrempelige manier om je buren te leren kennen en de liefde van Jezus uit de delen in plaats van even bunkeren.  

Kijken naar de toekomst...

Ik wil graag een compromis hiervan hier in Nederland.

Ik wens graag dat mijn kinderen "trick or treating" kunnen gaan, om de ervaring te hebben, maar dan zonder gruwelijke costumes.  We zijn pas een paar maanden verhuisd, dus ik ben benieuwd als mensen hier in de buurt iets doen.  Ik zou dan een paar jaren wachten (de kinderen zijn een peuter en een baby), zodat ik beter de enge delen kan uitleggen.

Ik wil ook graag een gezellige costume-feestje geven, een soort Fall Festival voor vrienden van de school en de kerk.  

En net zoals in Amerika zou ik een deel van hun snoepjes verstoppen.  Zou ik alles opeten?  Dat is nader te bepalen. :)


It's almost that time of year again...time for Halloween.

A time of trick or treating and going to neighbors or family (or Trunk or Treat)...
Cute costumes for kids....
Pumpkins with faces or other figures carved into them...
Candy, candy, and more candy...

Oh, sorry.  I got distracted there.  I thought we were talking about Halloween in the US.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017




Multiple times I've heard the expression "sleeping like a baby," and it's generally used to describe a great night of restful sleep.

However, as the mom of 2 kids - one who's 2 1/2 and one who's 4 months old - I beg to differ.

Here's how you REALLY sleep like a baby:

1. Don't.  Like, not at all.

2. If you do, then just wake up every few hours to eat and use the bathroom.  Sleep "all day", and by that I mean in 3-4 hour long cycles that include eating and using the bathroom.

3.  Suck on something - like a pacifier or maybe a lollipop - to help you fall asleep.  Spit it out later.  Bonus points if you accidentally spit it out while falling asleep and can't find it to put it in again.

4.  Fart every so often.  Or, even better, eat something that makes it more likely to fart and then cry your eyes out because of the discomfort.

5. Change up your sleeping routine every month or so.

Sweet dreams!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

We've just welcomed baby #2 into the world - a little girl!

Here's the story of her birth, for those of you wondering and for myself looking back at this in the future.

Before the big day...

Labor with our Munchkin (now age 2) lasted only 4 hours, so my midwife/midwives wanted us to make sure we were mentally prepared for the possibility of giving birth at home this time.  I very much wanted to give birth at the hospital, and not at home - especially with Munchkin around - but eventually I warmed up to the idea.  Rather, I warmed up just enough to the idea that it sounded palatable but still not preferred.

In the Netherlands, once you register your pregnancy with the health insurance provider, the provider will mail you a kraampakket which contains everything necessary for a home birth and the time shortly thereafter.  This includes coverings for the bed, an umbilical cord clamp, materials for sterilization (no, not THAT kind of sterilization!), and maternity pads for later.  We were told to make sure we had that ready and in an easily accessible spot.

Labor began - but I wasn't quite sure!

Shortly before finally getting into bed, I chugged at least a liter of water.  So when I started feeling a bit "crampy" in my lower back around 12.45am, I just thought they were Braxton Hicks contractions.  I kept an eye on my watch, went to the bathroom, and Randolf rubbed my back a bit, but to no avail. 

An hour later, they were still there, lasting 2-3 minutes and happening maybe every 6-8 minutes.  (I only tracked them for one round with an app, but this feels like what it was the rest of the time.)  I wondered aloud if this was the real deal, and thought it was better to call the midwife than not.

As Randolf called the midwife just before 2 am, I hopped in the shower, hoping for some relief.  (Result: Not too much, and then I got out and started shivering because I was soaking wet.)  I remember once again thinking that I could really go for an epidural this time - though I even questioned if I truly needed it, considering I'd managed fine last time.  Randolf had also called his parents to give them a heads-up about the likelihood of coming over to stay with Munchkin (they live about 2 miles away).

The midwife arrives

As soon as Maya* (not her real name) arrived around 2 am, it felt like my contractions (since I was now sure that's what they were) got worse.  I laid down on the bed for her to measure me, and I was already at 6-7 cm.  "If we don't leave now, we might not make it to the hospital in time," she said, as the hospital is just over a mile away with a few traffic lights and speed bumps in between.  She asked if we had someone coming to watch Munchkin - who thankfully was sleeping soundly this entire time - and we confirmed that Randolf's parents were ready to come over when needed.

This time we actually had the hospital bag ready to go, unlike last time when it was not at all prepared!

Despite at first thinking I'd ride in our car with Randolf, it was decided that I'd ride with Maya and Randolf would wait til his parents got to the house.  Turns out we got to the hospital at about the same time.

Arrival at the hospital

Last time, Randolf had to pay for parking in the regular hospital parking lot.  But this time, as he was almost right behind us, he was able to follow into the special maternity ward parking area - with a slagboom (those things that go up and down and prevent you from just riding in to a parking lot or tunnel or bridge without paying).  Before we had left the house, Maya had called ahead to ask them to keep it open for us.  This shortcut led easily to the elevator next to the maternity ward.

We arrived there around 2.15am.

I crawled onto the bed and after a contraction or two, my water broke.  

The midwife and attending nurse told me, "When you feel the urge to push, go ahead and push."  Between contractions, I said, "I don't REMEMBER what that feels like.....oh wait, now I remember...."  This time I felt more comfortable laying on my side for a while rather than on my back the entire time.  Eventually I rolled over onto my back - saying that I needed a forklift truck to help me.

A couple contractions after that, her head appeared and then one more push and she was out!  Her birth time was 2:37am.

Staying (or rather, not staying) at the hospital

The midwife or nurse (can't remember now) handed me our daughter to hold skin-to-skin.  Over the next half hour (I suppose - I had no concept of how much time had passed), R cut the umbilical cord and I delivered the placenta.  The midwife showed us how you could still feel the blood pumping through the umbilical cord, but I was shaking far too much to feel it.  She also showed us what the placenta and amniotic sac looked like.  

I was stitched up - and man, the needle for the local anesthetic hurt so much! Maybe I shouldn't have looked at the midwife when she was preparing it...

They offered us something to drink - I just wanted water instead of tea, because I wanted to have some semblance of a chance to fall asleep at home later.  They brought us beschuit met muisjes, a traditional Dutch snack for sharing when celebrating the birth of a baby, and I got a cheese sandwich.

The nurse and midwife measured our baby and dressed her in one of the outfits we had brought in our hospital bag.  (She swims a bit in her Carter's and Gerber's newborn size outfits...)  I also took a shower and changed into clean clothes.  Oh, and these blankets that nearly every American baby has been wrapped in at the hospital? Never have seen one here.

Here's a cultural difference for my American friends and family:  "Once you're able to pee, you can go ahead home.  We'll bring the discharge paperwork for you and then you'll be free to go." After the birth of Munchkin, we stayed for a couple nights because he was born 3 weeks early and they wanted to make sure he could maintain a good body temperature and eat well enough.  We were in the hospital this time til about 6 am - far longer AFTER than we were BEFORE the birth.

Kraamtijd begins!

Today marks one week since we've been parents of TWO kids.  We are of course not getting much sleep, but we definitely appreciated the week of kraamzorg.

We had a nurse come every day for the past week and help with cleaning (dishes, vacuuming, bathrooms, laundry, taking out the trash) and checking on the baby and me.  She even helped with our Munchkin a few times (when he would let her!), getting him dressed and changing his diaper.  The funny thing is that she was also the kraamzorg for my brother-in-law and one of my good friends here!

Our birth announcements have been mailed and we're starting to receive congratulatory cards in return.  On Saturday, 2 sets of friends and their kids came over - thus begins the time of kraambezoeken!  Baby showers aren't a big thing here.  Rather, you have visitors over a little at a time and they bring gifts at that point.  At least it's less overwhelming that way!

The days ahead...

The days ahead will be full of diapers, feeding, playing with Munchkin, watching them interact, and of course sleeping whenever possible!

We are looking forward to getting to know this little girl!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Today marks the same point in this pregnancy as when our first little one was born.  So, as you can imagine, we are thinking that the baby could come any day now.  (Preferably not this week, though!)

Preparations

We've been preparing for this little one's arrival, despite also being in the process of fixing up our new house (thanks also to friends and family who have been helping us out!) and chasing around a toddler.

I think I can say that we are a few steps farther ahead than with the last one -
- This time the hospital bag is mostly packed, with a list of what needs to be grabbed at the last minute.  Last time, it was going to be my project for the following week.
- Last time we were just going to have the baby sleep in a separate room, in a regular-sized bed, but then were advised that it'd be easier (and better for the baby!) for him to sleep in our room.  So for the first bit of time, D slept in his stroller bassinet propped on 2 folding chairs in our walk-in closet.  This time, we've borrowed a bassinet from some church friends, and it's already put together.  And yes, it's also in our closet, but that's because it'll be in the way for now.

Now, for those of you that do NOT live in the Netherlands, you've probably thought to yourself, "Yeah, that's what we do here too."

But - bet you don't have to do THIS to your bed!


Last time R had picked up these bed raisers a matter of days before D's birth, and we hadn't even had a chance to set them up.  He and his brother raised the bed after we got back from the hospital.

What's the point?  These raise the bed so that the sleeping surface is now about at my waist (I'm about 5'5" or 165cm tall), and the point is to force me to do some pregnancy gymnastics in these last weeks.  Or trip over the stool when you need to get up for the thousandth time to go to the bathroom in the night.  Just kidding.

Home Births

In the US, the rate of home births - or those outside the hospital - is less than 2%.  (I couldn't find any definite stats from recent years, but I didn't see any higher than 2%.)

In the Netherlands, that rate hovers closer to 20-30%.  (Again, varying numbers for different cities and years.)

Both of these stats assume - and hope for - a low-risk birth with the possibility of transfer as needed.  I didn't want a home birth with my first, and I would still prefer a hospital birth with my second.  However, my midwife told us to prepare for the possibility that this birth could happen at home if it goes as quickly or faster than before! (From my first contraction to D making his appearance in the world was a span of only 4 hours!)

With a home birth, the raised bed makes it easier for the midwife to help with the birthing process.  This is tantamount to having a hospital bed that can be raised or lowered as needed, only you're not just going to pull these things out from under the bed every time.

Kraamzorg

The Dutch healthcare system has a wonderful thing called kraamzorg, and is not easily translatable back into English in one word/concept.  "Maternity nurse" maybe comes the closest.  For approximately the first week after D's birth, a nurse came to our house each day and helped with the following:
- checked my vitals
- checked that my uterus was contracting/shrinking as it should
- checked D's vitals
- made us tea and coffee and sandwiches and brought them upstairs when necessary
- cleaned the house
- did laundry 

It's a marvelous thing - sorry, America, that you don't have this.

In order for her to check my vitals, and make it easier on her back (so the reasoning goes), our bed has to be raised.  

Removal

I mean removal of the bed raisers, not the baby!

I think last time we pulled out the bed raisers once the kraamzorg time was done.  It was marvelous, because I no longer had to use a stepstool to get in and out of bed!