woensdag 20 augustus 2014


Yesterday Little Brother turned five. And today he is still my blue eyed baby boy - yet somehow he has truly changed overnight.
For months, perhaps even from the first time that Big Brother started his kung fu practice, Little Brother dreamed of going there too. I wasn't sure if it had to do anything with kung fu itself or that he simply wanted to do the same stuff as his brother (being envious of what the other has/does/achieves is a recurring trend so to say). I promised Little Brother we would consider it as soon as it was summer break. That should keep his mind off it - or so I thought.

Because during summer break, Little Brother kept asking when he could go to kung fu too. I suspected Big Brother's sifu wouldn't accept him as a student (generally kungfu starts at six and Big Brother was quite the exception when he started at five and something). So I set the next hurdle: wait until you are five and we'll see if sifu lets you do a trial lesson.
I don't know if sifu needed the money or if Little Brother's twinkling eyes did the trick again, but Little Brother could give it a go. I dug up Big Brother's old kung fu gear and proudly hung it next to his current set of clothes. When I saw Little Brother prancing around in his 'new' T-shirt and sweat pants, I realized the change that had taken place. He had literally outgrown a phase.

The cargo bike ride is a piece of cake. It's pouring but the boys couldn't care less: they are off to kung fu together! Little Brother already told everybody at school and all his birthday guests as well. He immediately knows where to put his shoes, shakes hands with his teacher like a pro, and starts stretching with Big Brother.
As I pick him up, the teacher greets me with a smile. I spot both boys on the mat, having a blast: Little Brother obviously has taken to kung fu like a duck to water. Then Little Brother puts his shoes and rain coat on and says firmly: "But I'm not going to do it. You said, YOU, that I could decide after this lesson. And I say no."

On the way home I ponder on his answer. As his mother, I don't want to force anything on him or pretend to automatically know what's best. However I suspect Little Brother is probably beat - and I see a lesson to be learned for him here: do not quit after a first time. My five-year old is extremely quick and isn't used to failure of any kind. "Well, perhaps you thought you could do kung fu the same way Big Brother does it?" There are the tears he bravely held up. Little Brother nods. "But mama. It's HARD!"
Time for some explanation. "Have you ever heard about the word self-confidence in school?" Big Brother replies: "No not self-confidence, but I do know confidence. That means to trust someone." Oh, how I love this boy! "It's simple: self-confidence means trusting yourself. Believing that you can do it. And that is exactly what you learn at kung fu. Did you really think it was about those movements?"
We will see how Little Brother feels after his second lesson. Because the way his eyes light up when he tells me which parts of practice he already masters, is something I want to see over and over again.

woensdag 13 augustus 2014

Childhood fantasy

My absolute favorite part from a children's book, is the chapter in Astrid Lindgren's "Bolderburen" [The Children of Noisy Village] in which the main character Lisa gets her birthday present. On the morning of her seventh birthday, she is blindfolded by her parents and led around the house. They take a complete detour, hoping to distract Lisa even more, and when she finally opens her eyes, she is in a room she has never seen before. Her present is a new bedroom - one that turns out to be a room in the house that wasn't in use for a while and that her parents secretly decorated especially for her. It goes without saying that she is the luckiest girl in the world.
I must have been around Lisa's age when my mother read me this book and of course I would have loved a surprise like that as well! This summer I'm re-reading "Bolderburen", this time for my own boys. At first I wasn't sure if Big Brother and Little Brother would like it as much as I did, but they do. They immediately decided that Big Brother would be Lasse and Little Brother Bosse, just like the two brothers in the story.

It's the last week of summer break (yes, we made it, and quite easily as well this year). I promised the boys a final surprise, for example turning their bed into a hut again. Big Brother was totally disappointed: "That is lame. That won't last forever. I'm not in." But Little Brother was in tears, because he loved the idea. Kenji was on his way to the hospital for a check-up and I had to think long and hard to come up with a solution to kill time and to keep the peace. "If you boys are up to it, I'm willing to try if I can give you a new room?"
Actually, I had no idea if it would work. I'm a total idiot when it comes to spatial awareness and their room isn't big at all, so my options were very limited. However, Big Brother and Little Brother were bouncing and obviously completely up for it, so within no time the hallway was stacked with mattresses and the like. The biggest challenge was a complete turn of their bunked, which succeeded - literally by a couple of centimeters. Then I had to take down a couple of shelves. Shelves that Kenji and I had put up there when I was pregnant with Big Brother. "Mama, can you really do that? By yourself?" I showed Big Brother my biceps and smiled. "Of course. The older you are getting, the stronger I get." Big Brother is quite strong himself and in all honesty, I couldn't have pulled my trick off without his help. Together with this brother, he pushed and pulled furniture in all directions, and was then assigned as loose-screw-keeper. Little Brother took care of the vacuum cleaner and together we got the job done.

As the boys were playing in the living room, I went on with the finishing touches. I framed a Lego City poster and put it up in their room. Then I called in the boys. Little Brother was the first one to spot it: "Look, Big Brother, look! It is your harbor! In our room! Mama, where did you have that poster?" I explained to Little Brother that mothers have their ways. At that moment, Kenji texted me that he was almost home: talk about perfect timing!
I don't think I've ever seen the boys ran sooo fast across the hallway, they couldn't wait to show him their new room. Yesterday Amsterdam turned into Bolderburen and my childhood fantasy came true.

woensdag 6 augustus 2014

Lineage (& winner give away Paradise in Plain Sight)

As I said in my review, it doesn't matter on which page you open Karen Maezen Miller's book, it's simply bursting with wisdom. I just randomly flipped through and was so struck by the following, that I decided to share it with you:

"Life is transmitted with nearly impossible and inexplicable precision, and Zen teaching accords with nature. We are each the fruit of ancestral seeds - thoughts, words, and actions - that reveal their own meaning through us. Like it or not, we each carry the indelible marks of our lineage. In the same way that we have a physical lineage, we have a spiritual one, although you may not realize yours. In the same way that trees derive their life from the soil, they take it from the sun as well. Anything and everything that comes to us comes through a lineage, because that's how life works: by cause and effect. 
Lineage is not a choice of this or that. In lineage, as in life, you get what you get."

I couldn't be more blessed than to be part of the same Zen lineage as Maezen. It wasn't by choice, that I've only come to realize this very moment. Wow. I got what I got: the sun, moon and stars.

The winner of my copy of Paradise in Plain Sight is Mary-Ann. Please send me an email and I will send you the book as soon as possible!

zondag 3 augustus 2014

Once the best, always the best

Only one line comes to mind: Kenji is the best. (Yes, this will be a variation on one of the many do-you-all-know-how-much-I-love-Kenji-posts, but whatever. It can never be said enough. He simply is the best.)

Summer break is bliss. It has never before been so peaceful. Partially that is because I don't stress out about goals I have set for myself. There is no book that has to be written, there are no skills that need to be mastered and I have the luxury of keeping my mind off work for most of the time. Skipping the goals is the second best part of the holiday.

The best? Well, you've read that in the first line. The best part is having Kenji. Having him in my life; having him around so full of commitment and, most of the time, with a lot more energy as well; and having him as the devoted father of our boys.
Big Brother and Little Brother seem to bond more and more, especially now that their social school circle is absent. People often ask us if the boys are twins and I'm not surprised one bit: they are joined at the hip and start to play together as soon as they jump out of bed. The extremely nerve-racking and enervating days, when only the tiniest spark of tension could ignite the umpteenth fight, are over - and hopefully not just temporarily. The joy their imaginary adventures bring forth, is indescribable. Kenji and I secretly listen in to their stories as Big Brother and Little Brother live their fantasies, look at each other and chuckle: these boys are the purest gems.

Kenji is not only there, but profoundly present. Together we can set the example as parents again: something we set out to do after Big Brother was born, yet was so harshly disrupted when Kenji was suddenly put offside. To think that at the time Little Brother wasn't even 18 months old...
Three and a half years later, the rules of the game have changed. We no longer bicker about who puts in the most hours or energy. Parenting has become a joint effort, where we don't keep track of each other's share and where "equal" isn't the only valid objective. Without having to make a statement about it, we have found a harmonious way to keep each other floating, to live and let live, and to love each other more every single day.
I know. This post becomes quite yucky again, but I can't help expressing my feelings. It's such a blessing to be married to this guy!

Please note that the give away of Karen Maezen Miller's latest book "Paradise in Plain Sight" is still open! Leave a comment here to enter (closing date = August 5th).

dinsdag 15 juli 2014

Paradise in Plain Sight: review & give away

When I arrived at Karen Maezen Miller's garden (it was October 2012) the sky was dark and I had been up for almost 24 hours. I didn't notice the fruits on the huge orange tree, nor did I see the path I was walking on or the intricate woodwork on the front entrance. "When you wake up tomorrow, you won't believe your eyes", she said. And by that time I already knew that Maezen's words would be true. It wasn't because of the jetlag, that I woke up really early: I was dying to see the miracle unfolding. I rolled up the curtain and tears started rolling down my face. There it was. The garden I had traveled all those miles for.

Maezen's century-old Zen garden cannot be captured in words. Nor do pictures do it any justice - and believe me, I spent at least an hour trying to take some of it 'home' with me to Amsterdam. What a fool I was. Finally I sat down on a bench and just looked. Inhaled and exhaled, as I was effortlessly part of the miracle.
In the following months and years, I often wished I was back in the garden. "The garden is right wherever you stand", was all Maezen replied. I didn't see what she meant. I wanted the trip. Craved the escape. Needed the peace and quiet. Surely those things weren't right in front of me? My noisy house, my messy life: how on earth could that be compared to such a balanced Zen garden?

Karen Maezen Miller's shares her experiences about the garden in her latest book, Paradise in Plain Sight, but, more importantly, she writes about plain sight. "Now, about this paradise. You're standing in it. For years, I've invited everyone I meet to come see the garden. And what I mean is to come see this garden. This garden that is your life." Reading it, I was constantly reminded to return to my Zen practice. If you open the book on any given page, Maezen urges you to wake up. And that is exactly what a teacher is there for. To keep repeating the message as long as is needed. "If you don't do Zen the way you do everything else, how will it be? It will be real. What a relief to accept that you will never get your act together. Then it is no longer an act. You can begin to live as you really are."

"The rakusu or the okesa - whatever you wear to practice in - is you banner of freedom. It's like a superhero cape that liberates you from yourself. The Verse of the Kesa is a song of love, your vow to transform greed, anger, and ignorance into selfless compassion. It might seem ironic that we hang something around our necks to express freedom, or that we don archaic garments in the name of formlessness, but Zen is funny like that. It covers all the bases." Karen Maezen Miller has no hidden agenda whatsoever: "I just want to tell folks how to sit." So if you are looking for the ultimate way to activate, or recharge, your superpowers, simply sit. That's all there is to it.

In my opinion, Paradise in Plain Sight is Karen Maezen Miller's best book so far. I could clearly hear her voice and feel her presence, as she gently yet resolutely showed me the Way. When I mentioned to Kenji how much I liked this book, he immediately picked it up and started reading (bare in mind, that has never happened before!). In case you want to do the same thing: you can order the book here. Otherwise, you can wait until Kenji has finished and I'm more than happy to pass my copy on to you.

Please leave a comment below if you would like to receive my copy of Paradise in Plain Sight. The book is slightly used of course, but its message will come across perfectly fine. I will draw a winner after August 5th (and take a short summer blog break in the meantime).