Merry Christmas

I’m back here on my blog for the first time in two years. Not counting the political upheaval and all its emotional and real-world repercussions, these have been challenging years – especially this past one.

And precisely because this is true, I have been trying to count my blessings every day, and to enjoy the little things, the moments, the people that make my life special and that keep me going.

So with that in mind: have a very merry Christmas, everyone, and enjoy the holiday season! Stop long enough to recognize and soak up the small things, the moments, the people. It really only takes a few seconds and it’s absolutely worth it!

Restoring the Fourth Estate

Good, honest, impartial and balanced reporting has always been important, but never more so than today.

We’re at a pivotal moment in Western civilization, where societies will commit either to democracy or authoritarianism. Now, more than ever, it is time for the Fourth Estate to recommit to providing one of the most essential checks and balances: an informed public. That means a renewed dedication to reporting facts and truth, and clearly indicating when an item is a news report and when it is an opinion piece or endorsement. It means no more click bait, no more sensationalist headlines, no more unsubstantiated reports, no more claims out of context, no more witch hunts or character assassinations. In other words, it is time for the media to step up to do its most important job: to help people understand their communities, their country, and the world and all its people and cultures.

Ratings and circulation are important, of course, because a media outlet must be a viable enterprise, but the nature and purpose of the press has gotten lost in a tsunami of capitalism and a battle of ideologies. This likely means that a new economic model is needed to ensure an independent, fair and unbiased press whose voice will not be drowned out among the misinformation and disinformation currently poisoning the well.
The mess we find ourselves in today is due to any number of causes, chief among them a lack of transparency, a lack of information and knowledge, and as a result of these a breakdown in communication and a lack of understanding and respect.

In a healthy democracy, there is no room for a post-factual approach or disdain for the truth, especially if it’s an inconvenient one. History matters, and so does the present. In order to preserve the future, there should be a clear and uncontested path for all citizens to obtain the facts, engage in critical thinking on the basis of those facts, and to reach their own conclusions. We may each draw different conclusions, and we may not agree with one another, but at least the foundation will be solid, and we will not be drawn into a disastrous future with the wool drawn over our eyes.

 

Wij hebben nog tijd

Sinds de overwinning van meneer Trump in de Amerikaanse presidentsverkiezingen heeft het gespookt in mijn hoofd. Eng om te zien dat mensen uit puur protest iemand met de overtuigingen van die man konden verkiezen tot hun president, maar ik begon me af te vragen of het hier ook kan gebeuren; of wij er hier ook toe in staat zijn om feiten, xenofobische en racistische uitspraken te negeren om een demagoog ons land te laten besturen.

Zeker na de toon die is gezet in Amerika over het afgelopen jaar is de inzet immers: als je maar klare taal spreekt, maakt het niet uit wat er uit je bek rolt. Toch?

En als we daarin meegaan, zijn we minstens zo erg als die Amerikanen waar we nu al dagen met afschuw, spot en ongeloof over praten.

Die uitspraak: hij zegt wat ik denk/voel, daar moet toch automatisch een andere vraag aan gekoppeld zitten? Is wat ik voel misschien eigenlijk wel gewoon een beetje fout?

Als iemand hardop een door angst of onwetendheid of eenvoudige gemeenheid ingegeven uitspraak doet waarvan hij eigenlijk best weet dat die niet te verteren is omdat het gedachtengoed erachter niet in orde is, dan hoef je zo iemand niet te prijzen omdat hij hardop zegt wat niet deugt en wat andere mensen dan dus misschien wel voelden/dachten maar tot dan ook niet hardop zeiden omdat het niet deugt. Zulke ideeën worden niet opeens verheven of fatsoenlijk omdat een politicus ze luidkeels verkondigt.

Laten we proberen om te leren van de fouten die nota bene op ons eigen grondgebied nog geen honderd jaar geleden zijn gemaakt, en waarvoor velen zich nog steeds plaatsvervangend schamen. Een collectieve waanzin die zo erg is geweest dat generaties later nog steeds geen excuses afdoende zijn om goed te maken wat de bevolking hier toen een hele bevolkingsgroep heeft aangedaan. Omdat een demagoog zei dat het hun problemen zou oplossen – problemen die daardoor niet alleen nog veel erger werden, maar die gezelschap kregen van andere, nog veel ergere problemen. Een onderbuikreactie die zoveel schade heeft berokkend dat er na afloop van WO II meerdere verdragen zijn opgesteld in een poging ons in de toekomst te beschermen tegen onze eigen kwade demonen. Het is triest dat dat überhaupt nodig is, dat dat fatsoen niet ingebakken zit en verwacht mag worden.

We hebben toegang tot meer kennis, informatie en communicatiemogelijkheden dan ooit. Er is geen excuus meer om ongeïnformeerd te zijn als we dit soort belangrijke beslissingen maken. Ja, we voelen en we vrezen, maar we moeten ook denken en durven.

En dat betekent dat we niet alleen haat en isolationisme moeten afwijzen, maar vooral ook dat de politiek een goed alternatief moet bieden voor de retoriek van de populisten en demagogen die ons vertellen wie we de schuld moeten geven van alles, maar die met geen woord reppen over daadwerkelijke oplossingen. Alsof met de vinger wijzen het antwoord is. Het is wel makkelijk natuurlijk: dan hoef je je verder niet in te spannen om constructief te zijn en kun je net doen alsof globalisering niet bestaat, behalve als het je uitkomt. En dat cynisme, daar halen de populistische partijen hun macht vandaan. Ze zijn er echt niet in geïnteresseerd het leven beter te maken voor “echte” Nederlanders.

Dus, politiek Nederland, laat je van je goede kant zien. Erken dat er een hoop mensen zijn die legitieme problemen hebben met de gang van zaken hier, die zich zelfs gemarginaliseerd voelen, en doe het niet af als een gevalletje “ze begrijpen er niet genoeg van”. Zie de problemen, en bied constructieve oplossingen of op zijn minst een uitleg.

En wij als kiezers: laten we asjeblieft leren van onze eigen en andermans fouten, en niet vanuit de onderbuik besluiten. Laten we niet een land creëren waar politici onze burgers bang maken voor onze medeburgers. Dat land bestaat al: het heet Amerika.

 

NoNoWriMo

Oh, it is so well beyond time for me to write something on this blog again. I got lost in mothering and tidying (yes, Marie Kondo got her hooks into me too). The tidying is almost done – I’ve mostly adhered to the category based tidying system, but our attic (read: dumping ground in the seventh circle of hell) really is a space based project. It is on the calendar for the day after tomorrow. Which gives me time to find courage anywhere I can. Somehow.
And now that I have regained some semblance of order, I feel like it is appropriate for me to get back into blogging. The timing is right: it’s NaNoWriMo after all. Now, I know I’m not going to be able to crank out 2500 words a day and twice that on Sundays, because between birthday parties, childhood illnesses, laundry, budgeting and seriously challenged energy reserves, I’m lucky if I manage to stay awake when I’m sitting with my youngest until he falls asleep in his bed at 7 PM. So no NaNoWriMo for me. You can call me unambitious, or just a realist.

A blog post on a regular basis should be feasible, though. 

This is the so-manieth try in a series of attempts to finally firmly establish a healthy, consistent writing habit. I keep trying, and failing, and trying again. Eventually I’ll get it right, but until I do I’m going to give myself some credit for not giving up.

And that’s worth something, for sure.

My Thoughts on Brexit

Given the events of the past week, it seems Britain is in a pickle. Even with the UK currently stuck between a rock and a hard place, many might still be convinced that Leave was the right way to vote, but extricating the UK from the European Union without significant side-effects is proving rather more difficult than expected.
But then, the orchestrators of Brexit seem in no particular hurry to set events in motion, nor do they seem to even have a plan – even a very basic, broad strokes one – for how to proceed. That, however, is Britain’s problem now, as the EU is anxious for it to invoke article 50 and begin its departure, relieving everyone from the unnecessary uncertainty that is the current state of affairs.
What Britain has learned is that its departure looks to be a lot less smooth than Farage, Johnson and Gove, to name a few, have made it out to be. Promises were made and walked back, assurances were given which now prove untrue.

The European Union has spent (wasted?) a considerable amount of time negotiating a deal with David Cameron, an outcome and effort that Cameron himself apparently thought so little of as to have it tossed aside in the referendum that he himself promised in order to leverage his re-election.

Leaving aside the ugliness of the campaign leading to the current outcome, Britain now finds itself in an interesting but untenable position.
The EU has invested a lot in trying to keep Britain in the Union – something the British no doubt see differently – and so for this reason and many more it now no longer feels inclined to make any allowances when Britain finally decides to invoke article 50. For possibly the first time ever, the UK will be treated no differently than any other country, it will not get the opt-outs it is so used to injecting into every agreement, it will not get to cherry pick its privileges without committing itself to certain obligations. It will, in other words, have to take or leave what it is offered. If it takes what it can get, the voters at home will be miffed, to say the least. If it doesn’t, the guaranteed access to the common market that Boris Johnson so confidently wrote about simply will not happen. That will result in a whole different set of problems for Britain, chief among them the high likelihood of the dissolution of a formerly United Kingdom with Scotland likely deciding to secede if that is the only way for it to remain in the European Union (recent talks certainly seem to point in that direction), and Northern Ireland exploring its options with Ireland.

If Parliament should decide to walk back the decision and risk the ire of a set of disenfranchised Leave voters, the UK will still have irreparably damaged its relationship with its constituent parts by showing a shocking disregard for, for example, Northern Ireland and the Good Friday agreement, and the reassurances it gave Scotland at the time of its independence referendum in 2014. It will also have permanently altered its relationship (and not for the better) with the European Union, which seems increasingly disinclined to “take it back” as it were even if it changed its mind, Britain having proven itself such an unreliable partner. In fact, if Nigel Farage is to be taken seriously (a subject for a separate discussion in itself) Britain’s membership in the EU has been something of a Trojan horse. Yes, Minister was supposed to be a satirical comedy show; Farage seems to have taken it, stripped it of its humour, injected it with malice and applied it to his presence in the European Parliament.

And so, after a protest vote in an ill-advised referendum, Britain seems to have little to no room to move and not really anywhere to go. The climate inside its borders, newly accentuated, is hostile and tense. Brexit was a rash decision, made on the basis of tenuous arguments, misinformation and false promises. I imagine there are quite a few people who wish they could take all this hindsight and turn back time on this tangled mess. If only Doctor Who were real.

2016, What Will You Do Next?

It has been a long time since I published a blog post. Life has been busy and I’ve found over the past several months that it is all too easy – though not necessarily always a great idea – to sideline my own activities in favour of facilitating other people’s; this is true not only of me, but equally of my husband.

Not that that hasn’t also brought very satisfying results – our son is walking, even running, and beginning to talk; my daughter is finding her feet at her new school and has had some real successes – but it’s time to pick up some things again just for me.

Which is why I’m now writing this brief blog post, which will be followed shortly by a longer, more serious one.

But first, I would just like to ask one simple question: 2016, what the f***??!

This year has been marked by one unexpected celebrity death after another, multiple violent attacks, one personal loss, and one very far-reaching decision with potentially devastating consequences. And we’re barely even halfway! There’s 6 more months to go…

Brexit will ensure that those 6 months will not pass calmly and pleasantly, even if no other unexpected tragedies occur. Whoever wished upon us that we may live in interesting times is clearly getting their money’s worth.

 

 

Baby Boom: Can We Have It All?

I just finished watching Baby Boom for what is probably the twentieth time. The first time I saw it, I was watching it on the recommendation of a dear family friend and I loved it. I still do, especially now that I’m smack dab in the middle of motherhood, and having seen up close what the things that are standard practice in business can do to working professionals and by extension to their families.
Out of curiosity, I went online to read some reviews of the movie as it came out at the time. The LA Times was unabashedly enthusiastic about it, Roger Ebert thought it was a charming fairy tale (actually, he called it “(…) a fantasy about mothers and babies and sweetness and love (…)”). I think it’s more than that. I think that underneath all the comedy and polish, the filmmakers were trying to express a sincere hope that things would be changing for the better in corporate environments, and that it was about time too. I think that they were expressing the belief that the realization of potential and the achievement of success don’t have to be binary as they had been up until then: you can either have it all or you can dip your foot in the pool at best.
A lot of reviews were firmly in the Ebert camp: having a family and a successful career? Cute idea, but a fantasy, of course. I suppose their reviews were written from the perspective of the status quo at the time. It does beg the question: were they worried that change would be detrimental for the economy or, more cynically, just uncomfortable for the established order? Or were they simply convinced that business would always stay the same and there would never be room for a more holistic approach in corporate America, or indeed anywhere in the world?
Perhaps on that, they were right. Even though great strides have been made in recent years, the commercial environment – more than being woman-unfriendly – is decidedly family-unfriendly. And before all the hard-working, self-sacrificing childless (or childfree, as they may prefer to call themselves) earners begin pre-emptively declaring that they will be the ones doing all the work for their slacking, uninspired, uncommitted, parenting co-workers: nobody is suggesting that companies simply put people with families on the payroll and then allow them to only work whenever they feel like it. Of course a responsible job should be taken seriously, and there will be times when more is required from work than will be comfortable to combine with family life. But especially today, in this constantly hailed 24-hour economy and with technology opening up hitherto unimagined possibilities for telecommuting, we should really already have developed more realistic views on work requirements and results, as well as what is and should be humanly possible and reasonably required. Just try this change on for size: efficient performance trumps hours worked. That would be an interesting experiment, no?
Tired people don’t work efficiently. Worried parents tend to shift focus on occasion. Does this means that parents who choose to be involved in their children’s lives should be cut from the workforce altogether? Or is it perhaps time for a new type of economy, one in which all aspects of a person’s life are granted equal value on balance? I think it is.
Baby Boom expresses the hope, even the optimism that this future does exist, per J. C. Wyatt’s speech upon rejecting The Food Chain’s offer. I like to hope it’s right, because by now progress should slowly be steering us toward a reality in which having a full life is truly possible.

Relevance in the Age of Parenting

It’s been nearly a year since I gave birth to my gorgeous little boy (yes, I’m bragging) and nearly 7 years since I’ve been gainfully employed. Well, not counting efforts to start up a company with a friend who had a wonderful idea and developed it into a business, writing a book with my former colleague and mentor (second edition published last year – it’s not a bestselling novel or anything, but it’s a good textbook) and publishing a number of articles in a beautiful online magazine.

Now that I’m summing it all up, it doesn’t really look too shabby. What’s more, I plan to continue writing. So why do I feel so irrelevant sometimes?

My husband and I made a decision long ago that one of us would stay home with our daughter, who has since gained a little brother, and so far it’s been me. Initially, we had excellent daycare for our girl, but on the whole I just don’t want to put my kids into daycare – I think mostly because I genuinely like having them at home. They’re going to grow up so fast, I feel like I want to see as much of them as I can while they’re still young.

Before I continue, let me cut off the inevitable sh*tstorm the previous paragraph will invoke: this is not a criticism or judgment, implied or otherwise, on working parents, nor do I believe that this is the best option for all parents and children. It’s simply an evaluation of myself and an expression of my preferences and choices, nothing more, nothing less. Just me.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I’ll go back to the division of labour I was just talking about. My husband bit the bullet, in my view, and has a full-time job that he’s good at and which pays the bills. And I am a full-time mom. It’s satisfying and it’s hard work but there’s also a certain erosion of self that slips in, and that comes from the inevitable comparison of the status and importance of the stay-at-home mom to the status and importance society grants to those who collect a salary for a job well done.

At the moment, in my mind everyone working and supporting themselves and others is endlessly more significant, stronger and more valuable than I am somehow. And since my husband is the person I am closest to and with whom I share home and hearth and heart, he’s the most natural person for me to compare myself to – though I know he himself sets much more stock by personal value than status.

I can’t remember the last time I made a decision that had repercussions beyond this house. For example, the only planning I do involves grocery shopping, dinner times, what and when to pack for trips, how to schedule the laundry so that any required items of clothing are ready at the time they are needed and/or wanted, and so on. Weigh these things off against, for instance, planning software implementation, incident response, and client conferences which may all have multi-million dollar bottom line ramifications, and it’s easy to see how you could feel every so slightly less relevant than your working fellow human beings. (And now I’m guilty of the same thing I am railing against: assigning worth according to monetary value.)

Here’s the thing: I’m educated, I can hold my own in discussions, I keep up with the news (though it depresses me, lately) and I have an interest in a broad range of topics. As a mom I’ve certainly had to engage my brain to untangle the mess that had been my daughter’s education until the beginning of this school year, and I continue to be deeply interested in education and where I feel it should be going in this fast-evolving future. And yet there are times when I feel like I’ve wasted my education, my mind, even myself in aspiring to be a stay-at-home mom, which is crazy, because simultaneously I sincerely feel that being a mom is an incredibly rewarding, significant and responsible way to spend my time and I wouldn’t want to miss this part of my kids’ lives for the world! Yet somehow I’ve begun feeling stupid, worthless, irrelevant.

It’s a bizarre internal struggle, and I feel strongly that it is actually also a needless one, because here is how it should be: any choice I make for any reason I make it should feel like a valid choice to me. So why do I keep comparing myself to society’s idea of success?

Well, I think I’ve figured that out. It’s partly because any successes I achieve are private, not celebrated or rewarded by anything other than a smoothly running household (nope, not its own reward). Basically, stay-at-home mothering after a while begins a to feel like a mundane occupation, such a basic standard that it fades into the background no matter how many hugs and kisses you may get from hubby and kids – which is not to say that I am not incredibly proud of my husband and children and all their successes, or grateful for their health and happiness.

Perhaps this is my own shortcoming, since self-worth should come from within, right? Personally, I think that only works if you’re either living in a vacuum or you’ve already had your share of publicly celebrated successes and achievements. Clearly, I am not zen.

But more than that what’s been making me doubt myself is this ongoing, often aggressive debate raging between two camps: the stay-at-home parents and the working parents, each feeling attacked and judged by the other. No opinion can be put forth by either side without the other side a) feeling insulted for perceived (and sometimes, granted, real) slights, and b) immediately negating the one side’s perspective on the basis that they don’t know what it’s like on the other side of the fence.

I’ve been feeling stuck and pigeonholed by this debate, and I’ve found myself developing thinner skin as it progresses. Trying hard not to jump to conclusions or take offense, I’ve even started reading judgments and insults into innocuous comments. It’s driving me crazy and it’s doing serious damage to my self-esteem and my self-image. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

And so I think this parental partisanship should end for the mental and emotional well-being of everyone.

Here’s what I submit for a healthier frame of mind all around:

We are all relevant, we all contribute in our own way as best we can to a different aspect of life. One is not better than the other, and each contribution to society does not derive it’s right to exist or be appreciated from the remuneration or status or self-proclaimed moral high ground attached to it. Let’s try not to put a price on everything but rather finally see its value. If we can manage that, perhaps we can finally begin to see each other, instead of the preconceived notions we have of one another.

Pumpkin, How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways. 3: Chicken with Garlic & Pumpkin-Potato Purée

Pumpkin! It’s coming out of our ears! But, I think I’ve managed to make four sufficiently different dishes with my stash of pumpkin flesh so as not to bore the family with each serving. Last night’s dinner marked the last in our series of pumpkin-infused evening meals, and so this is the last of my pumpkin recipes (for now).

We closed off our pumpkin theme with a lovely plate of chicken sprinkled with dried Italian herbs on a bed of garlic and pumpkin-potato purée, and here is how I made it.

This will feed 3-4 people.

For the purée you’ll need:

  • 6 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 400 gr of pumpkin flesh, cubed
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 2 tsp maple syrup

potatoes and pumpkin

First, boil the potatoes in water with some salt for 10 minutes, then add the pumpkin and boil it along with the potatoes for another 7 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small frying pan heat  the butter and add the garlic, sautéing it until it turns golden. After draining the potatoes and pumpkin (and turning off the flame), put them back in the pot and mash them. Next, pour the garlic butter in, and add the salt and maple syrup. Stir thoroughly and cover the pot with the lid; this will keep the purée warm until you need it.

garlic butter

For the chicken, you’ll need:

  • 600 gr chicken breast, thickly sliced along the length
  • dried Italian herbs (I used a blend of dried oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary)
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp water

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium flame. On a plate or board, season the chicken slices with the Italian herbs on one side and sprinkle salt on the other side of the chicken slices. Then, fry the chicken in the pan for 3 minutes on one side and 3 minutes on the other side. Always check to ensure that the chicken has been properly cooked (slice open the thickest bit of chicken to check that it has not been undercooked). Take the chicken out of the pan and place it on a separate plate, covering it with aluminium foil to keep it warm.

chicken

Next, pour the water in the frying pan, using a spatula to softly loosen the brown residue from the bottom of the pan. This is tasty stuff, and because the chicken was cooked gently, there should only be golden and brown bits, but no black. Mixed in with the water this makes for a mild and tasty sauce.

 

To serve, first place 2 heaped tablespoons of purée in the middle of the plate, then drag a trail through the middle of the heap with the spoon. This is the pocket in which you can place the chicken. Pour just a little sauce over the top and you’re done.

dinner

Enjoy!

 

Pumpkin, How Do I Love Thee, Let Me Count the Ways. 2: Pasta with Salmon and Roasted Vegetables

Ah, more pumpkin. Time, then, for the next recipe, which turned out pretty well except that the salmon was not spicy like I had originally planned.

So, without further ado: here is the recipe for today’s pumpkin side dish, and the salmon main dish too, of course. This serves 4.

We’ll start with the roasted vegetables. You’ll need:

  • 450 gr pumpkin flesh, cubed
  • 3 small parsnips, thickly sliced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
  • olive oil to taste
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • leaves from 2 twigs of thyme
  • sea salt to taste

pumpkin veg

Preheat the oven to 190 C/ 375 F. Put the vegetables together in a large bowl, sprinkle them with olive oil and stir in the garlic, leaves of thyme and sea salt. When everything is properly mixed up, spread the vegetables out over an oven tray and roast them in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes at 190 C/ 375 F.

Next up, the salmon and pasta. You’ll need:

  • 300 gr of spaghetti
  • 1 can of sardines in oil (125 gr)
  • 2 tsp Thai fish sauce
  • 350 gr salmon, cubed

salmon

 

Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package. Meanwhile, heat up a skillet over a high flame. Empty out the entire content of the can – the sardines and the oil – into the skillet together with the fish sauce and fry the sardines until they’ve become soft and have fallen apart.

 

sardines

Now add the cubes of salmon and stir fry them until they are just done and not any longer, otherwise the salmon becomes too dry. After you’ve drained the pasta, immediately add it to the salmon and gently toss the pasta until the salmon has been thoroughly mixed through.

 

pasta with salmon

A serving tip: place the pasta and salmon in the centre of a flat dinner plate and place a circle of vegetables around the pasta. Enjoy!

pasta and veg