Monday, December 31, 2012

Goodbye, old year.

I am so glad it is the last day of this year. The image above pictures perfectly how it felt. In one word, it was hard. And it went so, so slow. It was like torture: trying, struggling and not getting anywhere. I started the year full of hope, with patience. I guess you could say I got better at the waiting game because of it. When we came back from Mexico in March: a very thick sadness hit me like a train. I of course tried to fight it with all my might, and just kept on going through it. I thought a lot about what a succesful life really means, about happiness, about what matters. I wrote my first guest post for Fiona's bravery files, on some tough stuff we're dealing with (and you're probably familiar with).

From April through August I was pretty much sick, or on the-verge-of-getting sick all of the time, feeling tired, weak, restless. Then, in June, I hit a low point. It was my birthday month, and this is the year I reached 32 (though I am still an advocate of never growing up). Between the I-don't have-a-career-and-I'm-not-going-anywhere stuff and the things that I seem to have no control over (no matter what I do, or not do) I really felt lost. And I always thought I would have a baby by 32, never mind the fact I had been taught that, statistically, if you haven't had your first child by 32, it will get harder. (This is not supposed to be the case if you already had a child before 32).

At the end of August I finally left a job that was making me unhappy. Let's just say I was in a closed, toxic environment that was killing my soul, messing with my mental health and making me physically ill  (I know that now, because I felt better almost right away). In October we finally took the jump and were allowed to start fertility treatments (IUI's for the time being). Our first 2 cycles didn't work, but if anyone wants to read how it has been for me, I laid it all down here. It was not at all like I expected it to be or like other people said it would be. It was not that bad either. When I was looking into it, all I found was horror stories and I was scared and angry that I had to go through it. In reality it is not that hard (the physical part at least). It's the emotional rollercoaster that will attempt to destroy you inside, if you let it, and that will happen with or without fertility treatments.

In November, when we came back from Mexico (for the 2nd time this year) I finally started to feel better, I turned a page. Mexico was like vitamins, like a high on happiness and it really helped me settle down. And though I did not get the PhD position, I was this close and I got feedback that will lead me in the right direction (whatever happens). In the end I confirmed that it's not me, it's them. My CV is perfectly apt, I am doing the right thing, I have the right background, knowledge and experience. It's just that, they have to know you personally (I could write a whole rant about that, and about how the educational system  obeys economic and neoliberal interests and segregates people, but sadly that is just the way the World works as of today).

It was not all bad, 2012. For one, we travelled quite a bit. There was my sister's wedding in February, and my brother's in November, so that makes 2 over-the-ocean journeys to Mexico. We celebrated our 2 year anniversary both in May and in September. We went to Guanajuato, Ixtapa, Mexico city, Cacahuamilpa, Istanbul, Lille and Paris. That is without including day trips to Haarlem, Noordwijk aan zee, Gouda, Utrecht, Leiden or Amsterdam exploration missions. We got involved in protests to express our wish for a better Mexico.

I have also been experimenting in the kitchen quite a lot  and my baking skills are improving. I made macarons yesterday and they look and taste perfect, on the first try (don't worry, I will write a full post on that). I am also incredibly grateful that we are able to pursue treatment. I have also learnt that hope is a gift, and that together with faith it will keep us going through the hardest storms. There is always a new day. But also, even if I will sound like a greeting card, joy is there, within our grasp, every day, and choosing to be happy is a task for today (not something to expect of the future).

*Image credit. Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia from Lars von Tiers.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A day at the Teylers Museum (Haarlem)

 As you do on the second day of Christmas, we headed to Haarlem to visit a museum. And boy were we in for a surprise. We went to the Teylers Museum (Spaarne 16, Haarlem) to see an exposition on Rafaël, the florentine master from the Renaissance. What we did not know was that the Teylers museum, which happens to be the first and oldest public museum of the Netherlands is so much more than an art gallery. It turns out that his founder, Pieter Teyler van der Hulst, a silk merchant, financier and philantropist from the Enlightment period, believed that knowledge enriches humanity and so he set up a foundation and museum to stimulate the sciences and the arts.

This is the skull of a Phorusrhacos, ancient, giant, terror birds from the Patagonia,.

There is a little bit of everything and a little bit for everyone: from natural history, to geology, to physics, to ancient medical instruments, microscopes, telescopes to art. And not just any art. There are Rembrandt's, Michelangelo's, Rafaël's and representatives from the classic Dutch artists (Nederlandse Romantiek, Haagse School). I am so, so happy we decided to go, but you know I do have a soft spot for Science museums.

 The oval room reminded me of the library at the Beast's castle (except it wasn't filled with books)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

 I wish you all love, happiness and joy. I hope you enjoy the time with your friends and family, the baking, cooking and sharing. The board-game playing. The lights in the street, the candles by the windowsill, the snow if you wish for some.
I hope 2013 brings light and fulfills our deepest wishes. And I hope there will be peace in the World too, that we understand that we are all here together on the same journey.  Thanks for being here :)

Friday, December 21, 2012

The tree

 There is a lot of talk of blending Holiday traditions and creating new ones when you start your own family. This piece by Kirsty explains it more eloquently than I could have ever put into words. Being Mexican, most of the traditions I grew up with heavily intertwine the religious with the more ancient traditions of the pre-columbian civilizations that flourished in Mesoamerica. In our particular family, there were more elements to the mix, my dad being an agnostic (skeptical?) swiss guy who wouldn't go to church* but was happy to introduce us to the glory of cheese fondue (that's an authentic recipe), Caran d'Ache coloured pencils and Calida pijamas that would arrive in parcels from afar. My mom was raised catholic, and even when we didn't really practice, we were believers at heart, if that counts. To top it off, we were sent to a very catholic school for 5 years, which was enough to confuse my 5th year old mind and be the source of internal conflict and all kinds of complexes that I fought hard to get rid off (but that would be a story for another day). It was at this school that I learnt about the lives of the saints and I finally figured out why the official setting-up-the-christmas-decorations day was on the 8th of December: it's the day of the Immaculate conception of Mary. It was also there that we were taught about the sacred time of advent, a time of waiting, hopefully, amidst the darkness, and also of spiritual preparation. The beautiful words of Fiona on this subject really touched me, she carefully articulated the reasons why this year I did not feel ready for the holidays to come. I like to know that even before Christian times these holiday traditions arose from ancestral beliefs, how it is all about being in contact with nature, about the (pagan) Gods' promise that the winter, the cold, and the darkness will not linger forever, that life will return, that there will be crops again, and like Adrini said: "that no matter how dark it can get I am  we are not alone in this life".
 Anyhow, I wanted to talk about how all of this blending is slowly taking place in our family. You see, since the beginning of the month (and at the latest by the 8th, see above) I'm always eager to set up our christmas decorations. But the boy wants nothing to do with any of it until after his birthday: that is the way it was always done in his family, and that's how we've decided to keep on doing it. Another big dilemma is the tree. Last year we had a small natural one. I love the smell of pine spreading around the house, even if I don't feel 100% comfortable about the ecological implications of cutting off a tree just for us. However, the boy hates the mess left behind when all the needles inevitably start to fall. We tried to find an artificial one but even the medium ones were out of the budget we were willing to invest.  The original plan was to keep the one from the boys' childhood, but the box where it was got thrown away by accident when the house got sold.
That's a hint to our bucket list for the next year
 Anyhow, we do not have a lot of space for storage, so our decorations should fit a small box. That's why I was so happy when I found the perfect compromise: a pretty wooden tree with miniature hanging decorations and tiny bells that will do the trick without taking much space. Last february, my mom also got us a foldable, aluminum, hand painted Betlehem from San Miguel de Allende so now we are all complete. Do you have any special holiday traditions? A special date by which all the decorations have to be set-up?  When does the christmas mood starts to kick in your family? And have you blended, added or adopted new traditions?
 * the fact that my dear dad wouldn't go to church was my main concern during our weekly cathechism classes, for, according to what they said he would be going to hell for sure. Luckily I have been able to distinguish faith and religion as separate (and often contradictory) entities.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pandan meringue kisses

 Some days ago, for some reason I now have forgotten about, there was a glass of egg whites waiting sadly in the fridge. I had to do something with them, and it struck me that I had been waiting for a chance to make meringues (as a first step training for project macarons, to be attempted during the holidays). I was inspired by a simple recipe from Peggy Porschen's book "Boutique baking, delectable cake, cupcakes and teatime treats."
 I adapted the recipe by giving pandan flavour to the meringues. As you know, I am obsessed with the beautiful green color and sweet, subtle flavour of the essence of Pandanus amaryllifolius, common in South East Asian cooking, and easily available from Asian supermarkets. Maybe you remember hearing about it from the time I made Pandan cake and Pandan coconut sandwich cookies. Anyhow, I was actually surprised about how well they turned out (thanks Kitchenaid), so here goes the recipe:

What you'll need: 
-100 gr. egg whites (from ~ 3-4 eggs).
-a pinch of salt.
-100 gr. sugar
-1 tsp. (or more) Pandan essence (or the flavouring + colouring of your choice, feel free to be creative here)
-100 gr. icing sugar
-a piping bag with a star nozzle.

What to do:
Preheat oven to 80ºC and prepare two cookie trays with baking paper. Clean your mixing bowl with lemon juice or vinegar and dry very well to make sure it is immaculate (and more importantly, grease free) before you start beating (otherwise your egg whites might not rise as well). Put the egg whites and salt in the bowl and start whisking on high speed. As the egg whites start to get stiff, add the sugar, little by little, waiting for the sugar to dissolve between each addition. It is important not to add the sugar until the egg whites have started to stiffen (to make sure enough air is incorporated into the mixture). If you do it this way, the sugar will actually help stabilize your meringue. Stop mixing when your meringue becomes stiff and glossy. Add the pandan essence and icing sugar and carefully fold them in with a spatula. If you are not using pandan essence, you can divide the mixture and give it different colors. Now you are ready for the fun part: pour the meringe in your bag and pipe star forms onto your baking trays. Bake for 2-3 hours, or until the meringues have completely dried out. Mine were ready after about 2 hrs. If you store them in an airtight container, they can last for 3 months, but in our household they did not last 4 days. And that's it, enjoy.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The busiest weekend of them all

It would not be an exaggeration to say that this weekend was the most fun, cultural filled and activity packed of the year so far. I guess it is quite obvious that by trying to do all-the-things we would end up missing some (or like my mom used to say: "El que mucho abarca poco aprieta", something along the lines of "Jack of all trades, master of none"). It is also kind of obvious that at some point I would have some kind of meltdown. On Saturday night, after dinner, there was a moment where I'd had it, and all I wanted was to collapse on my bed, immediately.
This weekend was the boy's birthday, so I spent Friday baking him a huge american-style birthday cake. My original plan was to cover it in fondant, but as the mascarpone frosting was delicious (and fondant - covering requires only a very thin layer), I decided to keep it simple. I used Ainhoa's wedding cake recipe, and it was so absolutely delicious (thank you Ainhoa). I only tweaked it by adding a pinch (well more of a pinch) of cinammon to the icing, because I just love to go crazy with it.
 Early on Saturday morning I woke up to decorate our apartment with car-sale bunting, balloons and garlands. Making a huge big deal of birthdays, including decorating all the house, is starting to be a tradition in our family. I made him his favorite breakfast (omelette) and gave him his presents (a tiny stack of books: he got this one and this one). Our dear neighbours (the ones with the young kids we babysit every now and then) are moving to a bigger house, and they asked us to take care of their 3-month old baby on Saturday, while they moved furniture out, which we were more than thrilled to do. I had made a reservation for high-tea in Amsterdam, but helping out and hanging out with the cutest little girl was for sure the best option. In the afternoon the boy's closest family came for tea, cookies and cake, and then we went for dinner at the Penthouse, a super fancy restaurant at the top of a skyscraper where you can enjoy the views of The Hague (well, because this country is so flat, you could see as far as Rotterdam).
On Sunday morning, we went to the airport to drop off mom-in-law, who is heading to sunnier latitudes, after which we went grocery shopping and cleaned the house in turbo mode (the boy vacuumed cleaned, while I trailed after him, and mopped), and then we set off to the American Book Center for a lecture by Professor George Saliba on the relationship between Science, the Arab / Islamic world and the European Renaissance.
After that we rushed to catch a cloud, that is, watch how artist Berndnaut Smilde manipulated the temperature and humidity conditions in a closed room to create a fluffy ball of air. Alas, we missed it. The Q&A after the conference took a bit too long (and we could not just leave in the middle of it), and when we arrived at the art center, barely 15 minutes late, the cloud had just dissipated and all we saw was some steam still floating in the air. As a consolation prize I got a bunch of postcards with a photo of the magic phenomenon. I only hope I will figure out where he will do it again, but he's a Dutch artist, so it should be possible.
 Last but not least, after missing the cloud we drove back to Amsterdam for an authentic Mexican Posada party. A posada is a Christmas party that takes place everyday for 9 days starting the 16th  of December, and ending on the 24th, representing the 9 months of Mary's pregnancy as well as the pilgrimage of the Holy Family on the days prior to Jesus' birth where they travelled asking for lodging (the word "posada" means accomodation). I just found out this is yet another sincretic tradition starting in the 16th century and combining  Spanish Catholicism with the December Aztec celebration of the birth of Huitzilopochtli. In these parties typical mexican food is served (there were tacos dorados, tamales oaxaqueños and tlacoyos); piñatas with 7 points (representing the 7 capital sins) are destroyed by hitting them with a stick to release their fillings: normally candy and fruit (oranges, mandarins, sugarcanes, jícamas). During the party 2 groups are formed, one goes outside, carrying a small Betlehem, representing the pilgrims (the holy family) asking for lodging, and the second group stays inside, pretending to be the hosts, and repeatedly refusing to let them in until they recognize it is Joseph and Mary, by singing this song. I was so happy to attend (I had not ben able to go to a posada in a very long time) and to be able to show a very Mexican tradition to the boy. How was your weekend?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

St. Lucy in Gouda

This year, the boy and I went to Gouda for one of the main festival of lights, Kaarsjesavond, which took place last Tuesday (and not the 13th) in honor of Saint Lucia.
I wrote about her story and the origins of this beautiful tradition here. It means something to me because I have always, always loved the name Lucía. So many characters of my favorite books have that name: Lucy of The Chronicles of Narnia, La maga of Julio Cortazar's Rayuela (Hopscotch), and, as annoying as she is, I have always liked Lucy from the Peanuts.
It really is a pretty sight: the main square and all the houses around it illuminated by candle light (as many as 6000 candles are lit), singing carols while waiting for the huge tree (brought all the way from Kongsberg, Norway) to be filled with lights, and listening to a short reading from the gospel of St. Luke, about the census of the Roman provinces of Syria and Judea.
We had hot chocolate, an oliebol, erwtensoep and gluhwein.  These celebrations are so necessary to beat the winter blues, like Fiona puts so well: "looking for the light, finding the positive, noticing the colour and the beauty despite the darkness". Let's be lighchasers.
The Virgin and St. Joseph register for the census before Governor Quirinius. Byzantine mosaic c. 1315. (Istanbul) Source

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Of books, nail polish and (more) suitcases.

They say a coffee table is a window to your soul. Here's what's on mine today. As I was taking the picture above I couldn't help but notice that I tend to pick up books with two girls on the cover, though that was not the reason I chose these. I just finished Angeles Mastretta's last book: "La emoción de las cosas", which I found at the airport on my way back from Mexico without even knowing she'd just released it. I have for the most part really liked the books I've read from her: "Mujeres de Ojos Grandes"('Women with big eyes'), "Arráncame la vida" ('Tear this heart out', maybe you saw the movie?), "Mal de amores" ('Lovesick'),  and "Maridos"('Husbands').

 She has a way of describing mexican's society from a feminist point of view in a very acute manner: the hypocrisy of catholicism, mingled with a pseudomagic (or superstitious?) way of understanding the world (like knowing your dead grandma nods at you from the outer world and grants you miracles small and big when needed), vivid descriptions of the lovely landscapes of Mexico and the intricacies of its political life [for instance during the Revolution (in Mal de Amores / Lovesick)]. This was the most autobiographical of her books so far, it is more of a collection of memories and personal stories, I liked taking a peek into her life and feelings. And I also discovered she writes a blog, Puerto libre, which is a continuation of an online column she used to write for the Spanish newspaper "El País".  So much goodness.

I am now diving into "Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nafisi. I had been eyeing it for a while, and when I read this review at Worldette, I was totally sold. I am only in chapter 4, and I can't put it down. I'll tell you more about it when I finish.

In other news I am having tons of fun experimenting with nail polish. During high-school I was never into fashion or makeup. My sister, who's 6 years younger than me, was already better at it when she was 13. But lately, I have to say I like playing. Under normal circumstances, I had to be *forced* by my mom to put on transparent or very light pink / peach polish, so something so bright is really a (tiny) adventure out of my comfort zone. When I saw the bottle for 99 cents, I just thought I'd give it a go. Also, you may or may not have noticed that I'm obsessed with our new otomi pillow covers. In the photo you can also see little green meringues. I made those yesterday when I found some old egg whites abandoned in the fridge. They were begging to be turned into something fantastic. I'll share the recipe soon.

 Oh, and yesterday night we went to pick up some more vintage suitcases that the boy intends to turn into speakers... apparently this one was just a prototype. What I know is that I like the look of them in our living room, they give me the feeling that we are ready to go somewhere far away at any moment. If he does not pay attention I will have to take one of those and fill it with scraps, old train tickets, newspaper cutouts...

Monday, December 10, 2012

Boomcase: speakers on a suitcase DIY

 As you may remember, I was super thrilled when I found a vintage little  suitcase for the boy while walking through the small streets of Paris. He'd had this project in mind for quite a while, but whenever we went to flea markets, second hand shops or searched marktplaats (a Dutch sort of craiglist) we did not really find anything suitable, or else it was crazy expensive. So when I found the green number above for 12 EUR I was super happy, jumping up and down and doing a little dance, knowing I was going to be able to surprise him with something he really wanted. My only regret is not having gotten the 2nd suitcase on sale at the small antiquary shop, it was beige and green, and slightly larger.
 The last few days he's been busy with this DIY project, and now we can finally show you the final result. Other than the coffer you will need some tools (scissors, a saw, pliers, screws) and of course the speakers. We got a pair of those at the second hand shop for 10 EUR. What the boy did first was open up the speakers and take out the drivers (the part that makes the sound by converting electrical energy to sound waves). He then used the other part of the speaker as a template and marked the circles of the corresponding size in the suitcase. After cutting this part out, he procceeded to fix the drivers in place with some screws and then connected everything back together. He tested it with a remix by Dirty South. It works. Yaaay.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

First snow

 I smiled and did a happy dance this morning when I saw everything covered in white. It had already snowed a bit last weekend, but it was that watery kind of snow that melts immediately and does not stay. There is something magic about the first real snow of the year, before it becomes a soggy-muddy mess and you can't stand the cold and the slipperiness anymore. Or after it freezes and as you try to bike on it you fall flat on your face.

 The sky was blue and the air was crisp as we walked outside. We found the cutest Shiba-Inu, whose name, coincidentally was Sneeuw. He must have been as happy as I was to see the white stuff. These japanese dogs are known for loving it.
 I am finally feeling the season, we entered a flower shop and I felt myself wanting to get an advent wreath, complete with its 4 candles. If I have to be completely honest I don't want the year to finish. I feel like as much as I run, as hard as I try, I stay in the same place, so I feel pretty much like Alice:

<<—"Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”
“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”>>

But the year is not over yet, so I refuse to get all fatalistic and will from now on proceed to enjoy every day that 2012 has left for us.

Monday, December 3, 2012

December is here

I can't believe how fast time goes. Yeah, yeah, we say it all the time, and every year we arrive at this moment wondering what we did and where it all went. But cliché as it sounds, this is really how I feel. Whoah. December, really? I noticed a few weeks ago, when I organized a dinner with friends for the 1st weekend of December and out of 22 people, only 4 could make it. Everyone was fully booked: either with family, or on trips to all kinds of places: Aruba, Cologne, Münich, Berlin. The busy season is here, and I have to say, I love it. I just wonder why we don't make time for friends and family more often during the year. I know we do, or at least, we try, but these days are just, well intense. For those of you who are reading in Holland and still have some free space in your agendas, I put up a short list of events to attend if you wish to get into the festive mood:

-On 11 of December, in Gouda, you should definitely go to Kaarsjesavond (Gouda bij Kaarslicht), in remembrance of St. Lucy. I was there last year, and it is absolutely beautiful, magical even. As was put beautifully by Ellie on a recent discussion abouth faith (or not) and its relationship to holidays in APW:

"I think of Christmas and other holidays at this time as part of a greater festival of lights, as part of a universal human experience – that when the days get short and the nights are long, we need the light, we need the cheer, and we need those feelings of peace and joy more than ever – and we yearn for renewal and growth that comes with each passing year.

-Then, on the weekend of the 15 and 16 of December, there is the Dicken's festival in Deventer. I haven't been there yet, but it really must be quite impressive, there is a market and Christmas festival with more than 900 characters from Charles Dickens' novels brought to life in the city center.

-From the 16 to the 23 of December, there is a Christmas market in Valkenburg that takes place in underground caves. There will also be a parade and a visit from Santa Claus. 

-And on the 23 of December, The National Ballet of Kiev will perform The Nutcracker at the Rijswijkse Schouwburg, in Rijswijk.

I am officially getting in the Christmas mood, and that means at the moment I'm listening to my favorite Christmas Carol. How about you? Are you some kind of Christmas elf or do you feel more like a Grinch?
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