Friday, March 29, 2013

Fun with children: Doodling on cupcakes

Don't you just love long weekends? I can't imagine there's anyone who doesn't! Maybe you are lucky enough to be heading somewhere during the short Easter holiday, but if not, that probably means lots of time at home, and if you have kids you are going to have to entertain them. We love to babysit, and I have discovered that kids love to help you with whatever it is you are doing, even if it's chores like cleaning or cooking. It's also no secret that one of the favorite activities of children is drawing. What could be more fun for them than to decorate a batch of cupcakes they have made themselves? This banana-muffin recipe for instance is extremely easy (no creaming of butter), as it does not require any mixer at all (just your hands) and it will use up those bananas that have been ripening for days and nobody wants to eat (but are still perfectly good and sweet inside).

 Ages ago, when I saw Sweetapolita's rainbow-doodle cake I knew it was something I wanted to try. When I accidentally found a set of edible-markers at a crafts' shop I got them, just in case. And the other day when we were taking care of the kids of some dear friends I let them go crazy drawing. They had lots of fun and were very proud to present their masterpieces to their parents. It's the perfect activity for a long weekend. Even adults can have fun! I guess what I really want to say is: happy Easter everyone! May hope, birth, joy and renewal come to all of your lives.

These photos are blurry... kind of on purpose.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Yeah pen pals: #Postcircle, #Recipe Swap

 Am I the only one who used to have pen pals? You know, back in the day when e-mail did not even exist and there were friendship chain-letters, that you had to copy by hand and send by snail mail? There really is something special about writing a letter in actual paper, gathering cute little trinkets thinking of the receiver, whether it's candy, a bag of tea or a newspaper cutout, then putting it all together in an envelope and sending it away. It's like magic coming right out of your mailbox and like sending some magic away.

There is no secret I just love to take place in these fun exchanges. I participated in (and told you about#AOW's bookswap, then last year there was Fiona's old-fashioned recipe-swap. Well, this year the lovely Anna from 'Miss Beatrix' is organizating #PostCircle and Laura from 'The Mrs. makes' is coordinating a Recipe swap. My first pen pal was Hannah from Dainty and Ivory and she already received a few things (Stroopwafels, Haagse Hopjes (Dutch coffee caramels) and a duckling). Yesterday I was more than thrilled to get my first little envelope with a cute card of investigative cats and a little green and purple cat keychain that is going straight to my purse. (Thanks so much to Lesley and Claire).My #recipe-swap envelope is being prepared as well and will soon be on its way.

For any of you who would like to join, both #Postcircle and #Recipe swap are open to join during the whole year, so if you want to play with us just click on the links.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Of pandemics and rice balls.

 The other day, Smitten immigrant wrote about how while they are in the middle of a transition, of a waiting period, her and her beloved have been busy playing their recently acquired game Pandemic. I immediately asked where she got her copy of the game. You see, Epidemiology fascinates me. I still want to go back to school and study it in depth (the main drawback is that such a master is worth 12000 EUR). In the motivation letter required during the admission process for medical school, back in 1999, I remember already writing that I wanted to be an Epidemiologist. In High-School, I was very impressed by the Hong-Kong avian flu cases of 1997.

"This was the first time a highly-pathogenic-H5N1-avian influenza-A virus transmission directly from birds to humans had been found to cause respiratory illness. During this outbreak, 18 people were hospitalized and six of them died. To control the outbreak, authorities culled about 1.5 million chickens to remove the source of the virus"*

Then I saw the movie Outbreak, and I knew I wanted to work in Public Health. At the OIE or the  CDC, preferably. I am still working on that dream. A while ago, I saw people play the game Pandemic on a documentary (I think it was Forks over Knives, which you should totally watch, in case you haven't) and I became obsessed with it. The boy was planning on surprising me at Christmas with it... except it was out of stock, never replenished by the supplier and in the end the order was cancelled. So when Smitten Immigrant invited us to play with them and also revealed her secrets as to where to find the game we had to go. We probably played the game 5 times at their place, and 2 more times yesterday. It was lots of fun.  Moreover as they are preparing for a big move, they are busy trying to get rid of the unessential, and they kindly gave us "The manga cookbook". Which means, that yesterday we fulfilled our long standing dream of eating rice-balls, just like our favorite Japanese cartoon characters. (Thanks!)

What was your weekend like? I hope you had lots of fun, regardless of the cold temperatures!

 *Avian Influenza A Virus Infections of Humans. CDC factsheets.
** Last image source.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Obsessed with patterned-tights

 Spring was supposed to arrive yesterday, but the white witch snow is still around in some places. And anyway, in this Northern latitudes Spring is about the light. About the longer days. About the flowers coming back and the lambs being born. Oh and the water chicken and the ducklings. There are deep meanings hidden there. We celebrate life, hope and birth, darkness losing, going away.

But over here it's certainly not about the temperature. My winter coat is actually an all-year coat, except for maybe, a total of 17  random summer warm days that always come as a surprise. (Like Forrest Gump said, "you never know when you're gonna get them". Oh, but I don't think he said that.) Those days can come anytime in May, June, July, August, and most commonly, in September and are often 'loose' or a set of 3 warm days in a row amidst the rainy, cooler temperatures.

  But a girl wants to show her legs. And she is not crazy enough to go bare legged. (She tried this before, with goose bumps and freezing as a result). And that's where tights come in. I love to go crazy with them. They might have stolen the boy's heart. When we met, at the airplane, I was wearing brown shorts with flowery, heavily patterned tights. He later confessed that those tights got his attention and had him checking me out (score!). They can be so versatile. Dresses, skirts, shorts and tunics all get a chance. And of course the thick ones under jeans are like balm on my legs during the colder days.

Moreover... is everyone, massively going on vacation and  I didn't get the memo? The new Spring-Summer collections are already in and it does not make any sense. The shops are full of beach dresses and sleeveless, sheer pretty little blouses, swimsuits and other similar items that would be impossible to wear in our dear Low Countries for.... pretty much the whole year. Do you have any tricks to beat the cold and still feel Spring-y when it refuses to properly arrive?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What helped me learn Dutch. The useful and the not-so-great.

 Now that I passed the NT2-II (sometimes I still can't believe it) I thought I would put together a list of resources that helped me and also mention those that didn't so much (so you can avoid wasting your valuable time and money). Perhaps it can be useful for someone out there.

-My first formal contact with the Dutch language (other than the loose words that the boy and his family would slowly teach me like names of colors, days and animals, how to say hi, good morning and thank you...) was "De Delftse methode". This is a class that was developed and takes place at TU Delft (though it is taught in other centers) of which we had only heard amazing stories. People raved about it, about how great it was, about how people went from not saying a word to being able to maintain full conversations after the intensive (3 month) course. So I took it. And it was a waste of money, and not just of a small amount. How to explain this. The method is based on the premise that small children learn a language by listening and then repeating what they hear, like parrots. So that's what you will have to do. You get a book with CDs, a list of words and written conversations, one per chapter. You listen to these conversations and your task is to memorize them (word by word), understand the meaning of these words, and write them down, literally. This is not a bad exercise per se, if it was not all there was. The method omits to take into account that children, after the parrot phase are sent to school to learn things such as grammar, synthaxis, spelling.... It's mentally retarded if you ask me.

I have to say that your experience with the Delftse Methode is going to highly depend on the professor you get. I know some professors (the one who developed the method) are very good and take their time to actually explain things. But most of them just focus on making the students repeat the texts like idiots psittacidaes and they do not explain basic things like, say, the conjugation of the verb "to be",  the use of auxiliary verbs, or the basic structure of the sentence. Sure, at the back of the book, Het Groene boek (Nederlands voor buitenlanders), (we noemen het boek daarom het groene boek), you'll find a section on grammar but this is never  covered or explained in the classes and Dutch grammar is not as straightforward as to just be able to understand it by reading some random conversations. My recommendation with this method, as a first approach only, is to get the book, listen to the cd's and study it by yourself. But by no means pay the money for a course that won't give you any added value or teach you anything else than what is already in the book.The silver lining is that I made some good friends in that class, and I liked going to campus everyday for 3 months.

- Invest in some good dictionaries. If you can afford it, don't even bother with pocket or medium size dictionaries and splurge in the biggest, thickest dictionary you can get  (the Van Dale's are the best). You will keep on using them.  As an extra I got the "Van Dale groot 4 talig beeld woord & boek", it's basically a pictionary. It is full of drawings of things and its name in 4 languages (English, French, German and Dutch). And get yourself a book of conjugations. It is very handy to have a little book where all verbs in all tenses are easy-to-find and it helps you understand how the rules and exceptions of conjugations work. I got the "201 Dutch verbs fully congujated" by Henry Stern and I was very happy when I found such a book (It took me a while to find it... I knew such a book in French, la conjugaison, by Bescherelle, and unfortunately this specific one does not exist in Dutch).

- Go to classes. To good ones. This is where I get to recommend my school, and my dear professor Petra. If you are in the area, make sure you ask for her, and enroll in one of her courses because she is really, really good (not to mention fun, crazy and chaotic, all great qualities in my book). In the end where I really learnt was at Direct Dutch. I took the intermediate, advanced and NT2-II courses. Right from the start the method focuses on conversation without leaving the rules behind. It was here that the mysteries of how to structure a sentence in Dutch were finally revealed to me. This is how it works: you will get some class material and cd's. You can choose between intensive courses or 1 time per week 2h 30 classes. I chose the latter because at the time I was working. Before every lesson you have to read a newspaper and prepare a short summary of it to present it at the class. The idea is to get you talking, but don't worry, it's usually less than 5 minutes and these presentations are done at the end of the class, so the ice has been broken, so to speak. For the intermediate courses the online newspaper was enough, for the advanced classes we could chose from one of the main newspapers (de Volkskrant (my fave), de Telegraaf or de NRC). Every week we also had grammar exercises (from the class materials) that were reviewed during class and you had to write a short composition (on any subject you wanted, though there were also guidelines) of 100-150 words. During the class after explaining the grammar as was needed  and going through the exercises we mostly talked. The fact that we had to read, write, talk and study beforehand made all the difference.

-Get immersed in the culture. Watch TV. Listen to the radio. Visit museums and art galleries. Even seemingly "silly" stuff can help. I got a good deal for a 4-month subscription to Grazia magazine and I read all of it. If celebrity gossip and fashion aren't your thing just choose something that appeals to you (interior decoration, games, computers, cooking). I also found the videos from very helpful. Sure, they are meant for kids from grades 1-8, but they are simple, easily understandable, cover a wide range of subjects that you can choose from and the ones for the junior-high school kids are very interesting and often take 15 minutes, which is a good length. Not too long, not too short. I also loved learning some songs from the Dutch children's singing competition: "kinderen voor kinderen" ('...op een onbewoond eiland lekker leven is de leus').

 Update I should have mentioned here: listen to Dutch music, try to write down the lyrics (I like Dio and Cef): Tijdmachine and De wereld in are really catchy songs.Partysquad has some fun numbers too (don't mind the swearing). I like Ik ga hard and Helemaal naar de k****. Don't judge, the boy shows me this music. And, again, the newspaper De Volkskrant has a dossier- series called "Der Nederlanden", that talks about all kinds of subjects around "Dutch-ness", from the use of the bike, to the food they like or historical figures, games and traditions. 

-Finally two books that I found helpful were Klare taal, uitgebreide basisgrammatica voor de NT2 (Jenny van der Toorn-Schutte), which starts at a very basic level and is full of exercises and clear explanations and Help! 3 Zal ik u even helpen (which we used in the preparatory class for the NT2-II). The intertaal grammar summary (which looks like a simple plastic folder) was extremely useful, concise and helpful. (The name of this booklet is "Grammaticawijzer", it is produced by Intertaal and it is available in many different languages.)

At first Dutch sounds very different and the order of the sentences is confusing (many times you will only find the verb at the end of the sentence, and inversion of the subject is common). But slowly you will see that it is in ways similar to English, French, even Spanish (some words are the same) and of course to German and Nordic languages (but that was not helpful in my case because I have no basic knowledge in any of those). You will often get frustrated because at the beginning the learning process is fast, and then you seem to reach a point where you are stuck. Where you are not learning anymore, where you seem to be making no progress. I think this is where you absorb and really learn. Because after that, I promise you, if you keep your efforts, there'll be a click, and suddenly you will find it easier to start talking, you will notice you understand people around you, you will lose the fear. And I am not saying I am fluent here, I still have a lot to learn. I want to be able to write, manipulate and twist language to make pretty sentences like I am able to do in Spanish, French or English. I am not there yet, far from it. But from here it is a matter of keeping at it, of reading books, making the effort to speak Dutch with the boy (ahem, we keep forgetting after a few hours of doing so).

Do you have any tips for learning a new, different and seemingly incomprehensible language?

*Marktplaats is a great place to find second-hand books (or anything else for that matter). We got my Spaans-Nederlands, Nederlands-Spaans big dictionaries above for 40 EUR (instead of 90 EUR) and they are brand new.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Blog crush: Sarah Britton of My new roots

 I have a long, pending post on how we have been trying to eat healthier, on the things we have been doing for that purpose (like trying to minimize sugar and meat, and completely avoiding fish). I am thinking, now that I finally finished reading "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer, I should really put all my ideas in one place. It is a complicated and confusing topic because it is very personal and I do not like the preachy, radical, absolute tone *some* vegans adopt. Then, I do really feel like I want to talk about it, but if I do I am afraid of becoming like that. So when I found Sarah Britton's blog, 'My new roots', I knew I was in good company, just read how she describes herself:

<<A lot of people want to know “what I am” – vegetarian, vegan, raw foodist, fruitarian, macrobiotic…guess what? I am a person who eats! My food philosophy is this: I hate labels. They stink. They force a person to define themselves with very rigid terms, and beat themselves up if they suddenly eat something that doesn’t fit that definition. I know I never want to have to label what “kind” of diet I subscribe to. Being dogmatic about anything, for me, just doesn’t work. Being flexible does. I eat almost entirely organic food. My diet consists mainly (like, 99%) of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds. I probably eat an egg once every couple weeks if the mood strikes me, and sometimes I will enjoy some goat or sheep dairy in very small amounts. You’ll even catch me nibbling on a freshly caught fish once or twice a year at our summerhouse (if I know where it came from, who caught it, and that it was killed humanely, I’m game. Why not? There is nothing like a fish straight out of the ocean!) The only label I’ll slap on myself is “whole-food-lover”. Nothing makes me feel better, think better, and look better than whole foods! And the big bonus? I never count calories or worry about my weight because I know that if I eat this way, my body will be in a perfect state of balance and health, naturally.>>
 Her TED talk, one change, is really inspiring. And I absolutely love her blog because she actually explains all the nutritional benefits of the ingredients and foods she uses on her recipes from a scientific point of view (she is not only a chef, but a certified nutritionist). Her happy, poppy personality is contagious and she really makes you want to make those little changes. Right now. Today. Which is why, for those of you in The Netherlands, I was super excited to find out she will be coming to give some classes in April. 

* this is not a sponsored post, I just really felt compelled to share this goodness. I think it is information everyone should have available.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Childhood memories

As you maybe know, the lovely, amazing Lauren, from Better in real life, just had the cutest little baby.

While she plays and cares for her new human, she asked a few of us to write about our childhood memories, for a guest series. Head over to her always honest and fun blog to read my story. I am so happy and excited to be over there today.


 When I was 13 or 14, I begged for painting classes. There was this art school, special for young people, where I would go 1 time a week. You would start with HB and B pencils, move on to colored pencils, then charcoal, pastels and finally, oil painting. I think I only ever made it to charcoal or pastels. Actually, now that I think of it, as an 8 year old, one of my uncles who is a photographer / artist  / graphic designer gave me lessons at home for a few months. Then,  in high school, every semester it was mandatory that we choose extracurricular activities which could be sports, writing, choir, art, drama, dancing... For a few semesters, again, I took painting.

I really enjoyed these classes, but to be honest, I never took this creative side of mine seriously. It was the sciences that were drawing me hard, and that's the direction I went into, without any doubts. However this itch was always in me. I remember, when I first went to Paris, with my 2 best friends from college, back in early 2000, we would each spare money (by not eating anything other than the free breakfast at the youth hostel and a baguette sandwich the whole day) to get us treats. I got myself a box of 12 soft pastels, and since then, I always had them, and some ingres fabriano paper with me. All through my university years. Except, I did choose quite intense studies and I never gave myself or made the time to paint. Which was why I decided to undust this side of me and take some lessons, this time, in a technique similar to watercolor.

Do you have any hidden passions that you have never really pursued or taken seriously? Aside from painting, I would have loved to be a journalist.

PS, come back later in the day for a surprise. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The British Countryside

Last weekend I was on a short trip to East Sussex, between London and Brighton for a painting class.  You know how they say that the images that your mom saw when you were in uterus can create memories in the baby as well? Well, I felt some kind of connection. I feel really at home in the UK, even with the misty, wet and gray tendencies of the weather. And I can't help thinking that it is the very kind of landscape to which my mom was exposed to during her pregnancy.

I also have to show you the newest addition to our bookshelf: "The country diary of an Edwardian Lady", by Edith Holden. You see, I have a soft spot for biographies and memoirs. But when they are an actual facsimile of a handwritten journal, which include poems, snippets of walks, personal thoughts and lovely and scientifically accurate drawings of nature (complete with latin names), I melt.

Edith Holden was born at Kings Norton, Worcester in 1871, one of seven children of a Midlands paint manufacturer (no wonder she was attracted to art then). The family lived in the small village of Olton in Warwickshire where she wrote and illustrated the journal. She recorded in words and paintings the flora and fauna of the British Countryside through the changing seasons of the year. She details observations on the wildlife she saw surrounding Warwickshire and on her travels through England and Scotland. Her journal is a testament to her deep love of nature and were executed with a naturalist's eye for detail (which would make her an early biologist of sorts) and the sensitivity of an artist.

Have you ever been at a place to which you feel strongly connected to, without having been there before?

I love that my room had a painting of a bunch of Poppies.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Fantasies of being a young mom, and finding joy when life happens.

I always thought I would have babies easily. After all, when you grow up watching MTV’s  16 and pregnant you end up afraid of getting pregnant, not the opposite. In my fantasies I dreamt of being a young mom, something about having the energy of youth and the crazy recklessness that comes with it appealed to me.  In high school I always thought if I had an “accident” I would keep the baby, be happy, and go on to become a doctor as well. Of course, that was not a possibility since at that time I was not even dating anyone, let alone sleeping with boys. 

To continue reading head over to 'Any Other Woman'. I am honored they are sharing my story.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Woman fail? Choices?

 I am part of a generation that grew up being told that “women can do anything they set themselves up to”. This is the generation that could finally enjoy the fruits (voting, an education, birth control…) of years of struggling and fighting that started with our grandmothers, if not earlier. From grades 5 through 9, I went to an all-girls hardcore catholic school where we were led into believing that we were going to be “agents of change”, that it was our calling to make a difference in the world. We had classes and conferences by empowering role-models, successful, worldly ladies, explaining how women, by their own psychological complexion were ideal candidates to reach the very top of all kinds of businesses and professional roles, as values such as compassion, empathy, connection and our innate ability to communicate were natural to us girls. At the same time we received parallel messages telling us of our important role in the home, how we were meant to be the pillars of our families, how a feminine touch (like leaving flowers by your husbands’ workplace or knowing how to cook a perfect meal, complete with sauce hollandaise) could make the difference in a bad day. How we were to be the rock of our husbands and families. They went on to explain that all of these things were our duty along with other things like managing the household’s budget frugally and efficiently, and yes, emphasizing how our main and most important mission along with all of the above was to procreate and take care of all the children that would be sent to us (those were the words they used!!!). 

Trying to succeed at all of those spheres at the same time sounded contradictory. We might be super girls, smart and funny, tough yet romantic, but I have not yet discovered my own superpowers.  I cannot be in two places at the same time and I certainly don’t have any control over my crazy hormones. There are so many cultural messages, coming from media, literature, our education, telling us what we are supposed to do. If you take a dip in Art history, starting with the earliest civilizations, one of the first pieces that you study are Venus statues. Those big stone women with a huge belly and big breasts, the earliest dating back to 35,000 – 40,000 years ago, were already telling us that our uttermost important role was (and is?) to bring new humans to the planet.  From them on, the role of women in society has very slowly changed, but has, overall been limited to the backstage scenes. Through high-school and university I really enjoyed reading “The Second Sex” by Simone de Beauvoir. Her in depth study about the female condition along time and history is so clear and straight forward that I formed my own ideas and ended up convinced that yes, against all odds, us girls were ready to join Pinky and the Brain and take over the World. 

So what does being a woman mean in 2013? Apparently it means that we can finally “have it all”. When I hear such claims I can only laugh. And when I see women discussing these issues  and tearing each other down because apparently whatever you do it will be wrong,  I can only conclude that we haven’t quite figured it out just yet. It is so sad, this fight between "women”: it seems that whatever choices are made someone will come to tell you how you are not doing it right. And one can only assume that we are all intelligent beings, making the best choices that we can, with the resources, possibilities and information that we have in our hands. We are all just trying to make our best. 

As I go through life being unemployed regardless of the fact that I have two scientific degrees, while, at the same time I struggle with what the medical community refers to as infertility (though I refuse to use that term), I think of my junior-high school days and wonder what I did wrong, and when. If I am to judge myself according to the standards I was taught I am clearly failing in all womanly spheres at the same time. 

And then I read the news and it breaks my heart (not to mention enrages me) to learn that little girls are sometimes not even allowed to be born, and when they are, they are mutilated, they are  forced to work, forced into arranged marriages, are not allowed to study or pursue their dreams, cannot be independent or get positions of power.

It is international woman’s day and I think there is still a fight to be had. We have to fight so that every girl and woman gets the choice to live the life she wants. We have to change the structures in society to ensure that professional success and a family can finally be compatible. And among us girls that have been lucky/blessed enough to enjoy such luxuries as an education, the right to work and develop careers, the choice to have children (or not) to stay at home (or not), to go and work in the world (or to do so from the living room, while dressed in pajamas), to be scientists, lawyers, politicians, doctors, writers, to make a difference… so much kindness is needed. I seriously wish we would just start being nicer to each other, we would stop the judgments, because the beauty of feminism, is that we can *choose* who we want to be.  This fight is not over and we should make it possible for every woman and girl in the planet to be able to make these choices for herself. 
It's International Women's Day. Over at 'Any Other Woman', there will be a day long extravaganza of posts, where many of us will share views and stories (or art, poems, photos) on what it means to be a Woman, today, in 2013. Head over there, I am sure there will be wisdom galore.

Images via here here and here. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A tribute to Barcelona

 It was thanks to Tania's guest post that I first heard of Kaitlin from 'A Georgia peach abroad', an American girl finding her way in The Netherlands. Kaitlin is currently busy studying international tourism management. A little bit for fun, and also, as part for her thesis, she has started a guest-post series called: "For the love of travel". If, like me,  you love to travel, feel free to send her a guest post with your own travel tips and experiences. This is how it works.

And while we're at it, head over there to read what I wrote on one of my favorite cities in the World, the lovely, magical Barcelona.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Of books and exams

 My AOW bookswap parcel finally arrived. Thanks Chirsty :) I felt like a child waiting for Christmas day, and when I took the little packages out of the envelope I let them sit in the table and stared at their beautiful wrappings and ribbons for a while. Then I could not wait anymore and I had to open them. I am a spoiled girl. Chirsty did not send me one, but two books, both of which I haven't read. The first one: "The God of Small Things" by Arundhati Roy had been on my 'should-read-this-book' list for a long time, and I believe it will fit perfectly with my mantra for 2013: 'joy all year'. The second book I got is "Love in time of cholera" by Gabriel García Márquez, another classic, which I haven't read. I will make the boy read it too, because he has to get an introduction to magic realism.

In case anyone is curious (because you all know I'm an oversharer), I'll delight you with  my  answers to the AOW book swap questionnaire, which you had to answer before it got sent to your assigned swapper and with which hopefully your magic pen pal (anyone who makes books arrive to my doorstep is magical) would hope to find a book you'd like. Oh and if you are curious about other people's answers (notably Aisling, Anna and Clare, who organized it, plus some of us in the comments go here). And here's a glimpse of what other people have gotten. Pretty packages are the best thing ever aren't they?

- Who is your favourite author?
Julio Cortazar, Milan Kundera, Herman Hesse 
-What is your favourite book of all time and how would you describe it in three words?
Rayuela (Hopscotch, Julio Cortazar). Magic, Coincidences/Serendipity, Love-story-in-Paris.
-What was the best book you read in 2012 - again, describe in 3 words?
 Leonora, by Elena Poniatowska. It is the biography of Elena Carrington. Fascinating, Rebel, Animal lover, ahead of her time.
-What was your least favourite book you read in 2012 and why - in no more than 50 words?
 The particular sadness of lemon cake by Aimee bender. I found the story disturbing, I had to re-read the ending several times to make sure I understood correctly. It made me feel very sad (though, the fact that written words made me feel physically ill says something about how the author succeeded at putting feelings into words, and that is I think the definition of art.)
- If you could only take 3 books to a desert island, what would they be?
 The chronicles of Narnia, Rayuela (Hopscotch), The fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, And.... Alice in Wonderland

-What was your favourite book as a child?
Hans Christian Andersen-s fairy tales, I read the Chronicles of Narnia later, when I was around 12, and loved them too. 

This is how the package I sent looked like, though the book I sent is not the one on the photo, but "Tear this heart out" ('Arráncame la vida, by Angeles Mastretta). I saw the idea of drawing on envelopes on pinterest and totally had to try it.

Oh and I have some good news. Remember I took the NT2-II (official exam of Dutch as a second language) at the end of January? Well the results were released yesterday and I passed! I couldn't believe it, I was sure I had to redo at least one part, but no, I passed it all. I might have spent the whole afternoon jumping up and down while singing: "ik ben geslaagd, ik ben geslaagd, ik ben geslaagd, ik ben geslaagd!".  I keep trying to convince the boy that I should get this dress in reward of my efforts (too bad it is obscenely expensive).

Monday, March 4, 2013

A walk in Leiden

 Leiden is such a nice city to wander in. In the last month we've been there 2 or 3 times. It is different to other Dutch cities in that the center is kind of scattered around the water, and along one main street, but the canals are not all over the place like they are in Amsterdam. It is a beautiful medieval city, its renowned university is the oldest of the country, founded in 1575, and Queens Juliana, Beatrix and soon-to-be-king Willem Alexander have all been former students. Funnily enough, the half-moons on the cornice of the façade of its City Hall, in the BreeStraat allude to the 'Sea Beggars' slogan: "Rather Turkish than Papist" (Liever Turks dan Paaps).

 If you find yourself there, don't miss the Boerhave Museum or ice-cream and chocolates. I also recently discovered that the 2nd-hand bookshop De Slegte in Leiden* is huge (I mean 4 floors high), and full of surprises (there is even a section dedicated to books in other languages, and you can get novels from 2 or 3 EUR). Flying Tiger just recently opened a new shop in the Breestraat (on number 139) and I fell in love. It has all kinds of cute colorful and design things for the house (flower pots, washi tape, mugs, paper goods and everything in between) for some really good prices. While it is still a small city, it has its charm and lots of hidden treasures, like walls with poems in Catalan, Spanish, French and Italian scattered around. I dare you to find them!

*De Slegte in Leiden is at Breestraat 73.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Countdown to Spring.

 I am loving this year. There is so much going on: having some kind of rough schedule / goals for each month and actively focusing on being aware of the little gems of everyday is really working. Do you realize that as of today, we only have to wait 20 days for Spring? I can already smell it, in fact it is all over the place. The days are longer, there is light in the morning and when the boy comes home, there are flowers in bloom here and there and you can already get tulips.

  February flied away. I have been busy with a soon-not-to-be-secret project which I am very excited about, I had a job interview (but I am not getting my hopes up just yet as the competition is very harsh, that, I know), we celebrated the arrival of the year of the Snake (Dim sums at home anyone), which was also an excuse to clean and organize my closet and realize I really needed new shoes. Then I discovered all about Lupercalia, we saw friends pretty much every weekend, we started salsa lessons… Looking back it was quite a full month no wonder it felt fast (to be accurate it’s also a short month).

 And there is more. Today we will babysit our favorite kids in the World (but we will certainly miss their baby sister). I am planning on baking banana muffins with them; yesterday I was literally dancing around when my Oscar-special gossip was delivered straight in the mailbox. I found some delicious (and throat soothing) Swiss candy that reminds me of old times, I had a pretty fabric arrive in a perfectly packaged bundle (thanks Sol) and I started reading a new book (that I had been wanting to read for a long time and found serendipitously  for 2 GBP at a British Red Cross shop while in London.) What are you up to? Do you have plans for the weekend? Any exciting projects? Or just chilling in the couch with a movie is your plan?

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