Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How the Netherlands is slowing me down

Not in a good way, though. Not like, stop and smell the flowers slowing down. Not like, simplify your life slowing down. No. Not even like, I could be doing great things but the Netherlands is holding me back! (Although it is, and I might write about that some other time.) No, it's more of a Borg thing: We drive slow. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

<Sigh> Resistance is futile.

So today I received another fucking speeding ticket in the mail. My crime this time? 4 km/h over the speed limit. 4. For which I am being fined 33 euros. Seriously. And if I don't pay, it will go up, first to 46 euros, and then to 85 euros. I don't know what happens after that and I don't intend to find out. I will pay my ticket. And complain about it.

I understand that the speed limit is 50 km/h. Really. I might not agree with it, but it has registered. It's just this zero tolerance thing keeps biting me in the ass. In Canada, my general policy is not to exceed 20 km/h over the posted speed limit. I have, on occasion, exceeded this. Yet never in my 18 year driving career have I gotten a speeding ticket there. Granted, this may well have to do with the failure/banishment of photo-radar and the vast area that traffic cops have to police, but the fact remains. 18 years, relentlessly speeding, 0 speeding tickets.

Fast-forward to the Netherlands. Soon after getting my new car, I drove some friends to the airport. Two weeks later, I received a fine in the mail. 56 euros for 8 km/h over the 100km/h limit. That's what you get for doing someone a favour here. <Sigh> To be honest, I was surprised I was only going 8 over.

Then in the summer I drove with some friends to Castlefest. I thought I got 'flashed', but weeks passed with no fine in the mail; I thought I was home free! Then, almost 2 months later I come home one day to find the fine at the door. 46 euros for 6 over. <Sigh> You will be assimilated.

This time, I was driving with my parents to Delft to get a souvenir. 33 euros for 4 over.

You can see how the Borg Netherlands is winning, though. I am assimilating slowing down. The Netherlands is financially forcing me into the Dutch mold: compliant drivers who promptly pay their fines. Resistance is futile.

Ultimately, what is the real lesson to be learned here?
a. Assimilate! Resistance is futile!
b. Know where all the cameras are. This is an expensive learning process, but will allow for continued speeding.
c. Stop driving other people. Apparently fines only result when carrying passengers.
d. Move to Germany. Glorious land of the unlimited autobahn. Avoid the Borg Netherlands at all costs!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

More ninjas? The second baby dilemma

I am struggling with a lot of identity, purpose and direction issues right now. I feel torn. There are things that I want for myself, things that I believe I am meant to be doing, but I am held back by the life I have built for myself. I think that my purpose is to physically work towards saving the environment. And I feel that to do that, I need to be in a location that needs physical help. Like the desert. Or the rainforest. Or the tundra. Or working on things related to saving these areas, things I don't really believe I can do here, in the Netherlands. And I can't do any of it because I have built this life, this family, this home and I am stuck here.

I feel torn, because I feel a pull to be somewhere else, making a difference, when I am sort of trapped by responsibility, obligation and love, to be here with my family. It's also awkward, because I feel like I can't make a difference here. This may have something to do with the 'terrible twos' and The Little Ninja asserting his independence, but I feel like I am stuck in a constant battle with him. And I'm losing. I feel like I have no impact here at all. Like I am totally useless. No one even listens to me or pays any attention to me. This combines with my complete burn-out in the work sphere, where I also feel I am not making any difference in the world and am not even actually making any money, either. Which is sort of the whole point of a job. If I have to do something that completely bores and/or frustrates me, I should at least have something to show for it. And I don't. The only thing I have to show for it is a growing list of physical problems and internal turmoil.

So. Amidst all of this tension is the desire to have a second child. Logically, it is a stupid choice. I can barely handle the one-child family I have now. I hated being pregnant and I still remember how absolutely horrible delivery was. And pregnancy and delivery are really kind of necessary parts of having children. And I do consider that things will likely ease up a bit when The Little Ninja starts school in another year and a half. And I know that having another child would add to the stress, the responsibility, the workload and postpone any possible freedom for at least another 4 years.

And children are a gamble: you don't know what they're going to be like until they're born. I know that I might have another child (or twins!) that is (are) just as difficult as TLN. And that scares me, because I truly don't know if I could handle that. I mean, physically and developmentally, TLN is perfectly healthy and I am still driven to tears trying to deal with him.  I could have a child with health issues or developmental issues, which would force me into a role I could not thrive in and essentially deprive me of any possible sort of freedom in the future. And that would probably kill me. But delivery could kill me too. If it hadn't been for modern medicine, both TLN and I likely would have died during the childbirth process. I know that. Childbirth remains a major risk.

So, logically, the choice is simple. Deal with the one child I already have, keep on keeping on until this phase or whatever passes (please, please be a phase that passes), and be prepared to sacrifice yet another year of my purpose, drive, passion, and self, really, to this one child with the hope that after that, when he starts school, I can then get my own life on track and do something I feel is meaningful.

So where's the dilemma, right?

It's here: I don't believe that family decisions should be made with logic. I believe that these are the decisions that should be made with the heart. My heart knows everything my head knows. It knows how I constantly struggle with TLN. It knows that a second child may only add to my distress. But it still yearns for another child. It has faith.

And it is possible that a second child would be easier than TLN. I see it in families all around me; two totally different children, with totally different temperaments and personalities, one easier and the other more difficult to handle. And I hear regularly that delivering a second child is much easier/faster than the first. These things are all possible.

But I am afraid that it would be even harder. I am afraid it might kill me. I am afraid of being trapped in this current role and place. I already feel guilty for wanting a different life than I have. And yet I yearn to entrap myself even further with another child, another chain keeping me here, useless and unfulfilled. Unhappy. It is stupid. And I see that. Believe me. And yet, somehow, it STILL seems like the right thing to do. And this conspires to only add to the turmoil inside me. I want yet another thing that I shouldn't want.

Popular wisdom says that you should design your life around the things you want to have achieved when you die. So that if you were to look back on your life on your deathbed, you would be satisfied with the life you had lived and the achievements and contributions you had made.

I need to make a difference. I want to contribute. And I want a family. Are these things mutually exclusive? I don't believe they should be. But then I wonder if I'm just rushing too much. Why can't I take a few years from my purpose to have the family? I can't do it later. Time is running out as it is. If I am going to have another child, now is the time to do it. Now, when the likelihood of a chromosomal anomaly is still reasonably low. Now, while I still have most of the baby equipment needed. Now, so that I can stop sitting on the fence about this one issue and confidently move toward the future - freedom delayed by a few years, true, but not by indecision.

But what if my haste is some unconscious knowledge that I won't live to be 94 like my grandfather? What if time is running out in more respects than just fertility, and if I am going to make any difference in the world, it needs to be now? Then I need to focus on that. And forget family expansion.

But something inside me won't let me decide with any finality not to have another child. I can't do it. And yet I fear to move forward... My head is decided one way, my heart the other. And so I sit here, on the fence, torn, waiting for something to change, to shift the balance.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sands of the Gobi

Today was a great day for memories.

We went to the beach this morning and played in the sand and a tide pool. I wish we could have stayed all day, but The Little Ninja had a dentist appointment at 2:30 so we headed home for lunch and then to the dentist. Apparently he has weak enamel on his molars so he's going to have to go for check-ups every 3 months because he's more susceptible to cavities and breakage. Hopefully it won't affect his adult teeth. We'll just have to wait a few years till they come in and see.

After that we biked over to a local ice cream parlour that we keep passing by and had a cone each. When we went home, I thought he needed a nap, even though it was quite late by this point, so in a last ditch attempt, I offered a choice: we were going to go home and lie down. Did he want to lie down in his bed or in his tent? Easy decision, right?
As you would expect, he chose the tent.

So I set up his toddler tent in the backyard and set it in a shady spot. I told him to go lie down and then I started to set up my tent next to his, because I wanted in on the fun and simply do not fit in the toddler tent.
He helped me put the poles in alignment and then I quickly set up the tent the rest of the way. He wanted to climb right in, but I could see it was filthy. It was covered in red sand. Gobi Desert sand.

When I was in Mongolia, I remember saying after my 8-days-without-showering desert adventure that I would never be rid of the sand. I'd be finding it for years. I was joking at the time, but now here I was, some 8 years later, spreading the Gobi over my lawn.

I carried my tent with me for my entire 2005 overland trip from Japan to Holland, mostly as an emergency precaution, and I ultimately only used it twice (not even in emergencies), in Mongolia. The gers on those two nights would have been pretty cramped so I broke out my tent. It was a horrible experience because I had no insulating layer beneath me and I shivered the whole night, only falling asleep when the sun finally came up.

Anyway, I guess I never even opened it again since. Accommodations were easy to find for my entire trip, really, and once I got to Holland, I was looking for a job and a place to live and train... I never seriously even considered camping. And then once I had a job and a place to live, well, I never really had any desire. I remember packing the tent into a plastic bag and putting it on a shelf in the shed when we moved to our house 5 years ago, and there it's sat until today.

All those grains of the Gobi were just sitting there, waiting to be discovered. And it took an afternoon backyard camp-out with my 2-year-old, 8 years later, to make it happen.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Killing ourselves

You might not expect such idiocy from a species named for its especially large and developed brain, but we are destroying our own habitat. In radically changing the face of the planet, as we continue to do, and by continuously releasing extreme quantities of pollutants into the environment, we are setting in motion our own (thoroughly justified) extinction. True, as a species we are ingenious and some will possibly manage to survive. Hopefully not as homo capitalis or homo prodigi (capitalist man or wasteful man, according to my Google-based Latin), but as some newer kind of man not bent on profiting from the rape of the Earth.

We are bankrupting ourselves and 'feeding the habit'. Consumerism and our credit-based society is putting large sections of society into an unsustainable position of ever-growing debt. Add to that that governments cater to the corporations and organisations largely responsible for that debt and the destruction mentioned above, you see that even those responsible for protecting us as a people are doing us in.

We are overfishing, overpolluting, overclearing and overusing. Sure, it seems like there are enough fish when you look at the fish in the supermarket. The sky and water look blue. It seems like there is forest aplenty around the world. Honestly, though, all is not as it seems. If we stop commercially fishing the oceans right now, the fish populations might recover. One day. The sky and water can look clean without actually being clean. And there IS a lot of forest. But those forests are responsible for filtering the air of the whole world, returning oxygen to the atmosphere so that we (and everything else) can keep breathing. Consider that not so long ago, most of North America and Europe used to be covered in forest and are now largely farmland, and look at how quickly forests are being cleared around the world to make space for more (poor) farmland. The scale at which we are taking away from the environment is immense. And the token efforts to compensate are negligible. Yet the rate of consumption is only increasing.

The 'developed' world is greedy and wasteful, 'buying' and claiming resources that belong to everyone in the name of profit, burning and disposing of vast resources to facilitate an addiction of bigger and better and more.

Here's a little doomsday scenario based on the forests mentioned above. Every person on Earth relies on those forests. We don't actually know exactly how much we need to survive, though, so we just keep on cutting it down. Because it's just forest. You don't have to pay for it. You can just take it. And what happens when oxygen levels in the atmosphere start to drop, and people start having symptoms of oxygen deprivation? Then what? The people at high elevations, where there is already less oxygen, would suffer first, of course. Typically these are not the richest or most powerful people in the world, though, so their voices would probably go unheard, while more forests are cleared. There wouldn't be a real fuss until it started to affect larger populations. So everyone who can afford it moves down to sea-level where there's more air and the people higher up just all curl up and die and maybe logging is halted. Maybe. But at that point there already isn't enough oxygen in the world for the people and the problem continues to get worse. People start planting trees, perhaps. But it's already too late. Plants need oxygen too. They can't grow without it. As oxygen levels drop, photosynthesis is less efficient, so less oxygen is released. Mass populations start feeling the effects. The rich start walking around with their own oxygen supplies and people start sealing themselves into oxygen-enhanced domes. But this can only work for a select few. There are too many people on Earth and something needs to be done about it. Wars start, in the name of survival, fighting over air. The poorer populations lose, of course, suffering from the tiring effects of oxygen deprivation, struggling to fight against the rich armies supplied with oxygen to make them active and strong. But no one knows what to do with all the bodies, of humans and animals dying all over the world. So they just retreat to their bubbles and let them rot in place. Unfortunately, decomposition releases even more CO2 and other pollutants into the air, which only contributes to climate change and pollutes the air even further. Meanwhile the world outside the bubbles is a toxic desert. Inside, there isn't enough food to go around. Not a nice scenario? Stop cutting down the forests! Stop taking! The  trees don't belong to everyone? Surely we can agree that the AIR does!

Oxygen is only one of the things we rely on the forests for, though. The Amazon rainforest in particular is considered one of the most important forests in the world, for its biodiversity and its influence on world climate and weather patterns. Seriously. And it is being cleared at a horrific rate. Why? To plant 'biofuel' crops - crops whose only point is to continue to fuel the fossil-fuel-based energy and vehicles we rely on today, two of the main sources of pollution in the world. 'Biodiesel' doesn't burn any cleaner than regular diesel, but since it comes from plants instead of oil, it's supposed to be okay. And since the rainforest is just there for the taking and people will pay ridiculous amounts of money for the oil crop, bye bye rainforest. Hello desert.

And this is just one of the many things we're doing wrong right now. Like good little scientists following the scientific method, we isolate problems and try to study just one variable at a time. And each one of the things may have horrendous consequences. But the total effect of all of the horrible scenarios I could describe right now would surely be even worse?! But that's not something that can be proven by 'scientific' experimenting; it's theoretical. So it isn't studied. It's not an actual 'environmental problem' in fact, unless/until society perceives it as a problem. Which it doesn't. Because right now it is just theoretical. The forests ARE still there right now. There ARE still a few fish in the seas. So you don't see a problem and don't think about it. And it won't change and we will continue on this path to destruction until we are all dead, and everything on Earth along with us.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


You know how I was trying to be positive? Well, I haven't written in a while because I'm having a hard time with that. I feel like I'm failing. So I've decided to write about that because otherwise this blog will just curl up and die... So as a bit of a warning, this will probably be a rant, and if you're one of those gentle souls that doesn't believe in negative feelings, stop reading now.

First of all, despite my contrived list of things I like about the Netherlands, the honest truth is that I hate it here. I've been here almost 8 years and despite my 'integrated' life, internally I seriously doubt that I will ever feel like I belong here. I am not Dutch. I will never be Dutch. The list of things that annoy me here on a daily basis overwhelmingly surpasses, exceeds and outweighs the list of things I like. Yes, there are good days and bad days. But if I consider my entire experience living here, I wonder how I even manage to stay another day.

Yet obviously, I manage to stay because I have a life here and I can't leave. Even when I had nothing to tie me down, picking up and moving to another country was difficult. And now I have a mortgage on a house that drops in value every year, amounting to a burden that is quite literally a cage keeping me here. I have a Dutch husband (for the moment. I can't say our relationship is terribly healthy righ now either) who refuses to leave the Netherlands for at least the next 20 years. Leaving the Netherlands means leaving him (or waiting until retirement). And I have a Dutch son. If I were to leave, husband and country, would I even get custody of him? And if I did, how would I manage?! I don't make enough money to support the two of us, and I quail at the thought of looking after him all by myself without ever a break. Although, I suppose if I were to return to Canada, even just to regroup, probably meaning staying with my parents, they would be able to help me out a bit in that area. But anyway. These are hypothetical. The reality is that I'm trapped here and I hate it.

I am stuck at home every day. Essentially the only people I ever see are my husband and my son. I take The Little Ninja to daycare in the morning, then sit behind my computer procrastinating/working/worrying about not having enough work all day. At 5:30, when The Recyclist brings home The Little Ninja, I basically have to have dinner on the table. That or face screaming from one or both of them. Then I look after TLN until he's in bed. I can either watch tv with The Recyclist in the evening, or be relegated to trying to read over the background noise of the cursed tv. There's only one living room and my only other option is to go upstairs. Where I sit all day.

I don't make enough money because I don't get enough work and because I get paid too little for the work that I do. Despite my years of experience (ever increasing!) my clients continually force my rates down. I earn less every year. So I worry about not getting enough work, because it means we have less income. And while my rates are being forced ever downward, prices for everything else are going up. I desperately need some time off to just unwind, but I feel guilty for every assignment I turn down because that's income we won't have.

I also hate my job. I procrastinate because I don't actually want to do the work. I'm bored. I'm always on the lookout for other jobs, but my options are limited to engineering in Rotterdam 5 days a week, or some local part time job. Neither option really appeals. I was looking at some schools to see if I could retrain to do something more hands-on. Sadly, even training to be a construction assistant (to hold the bucket of nails and fetch coffee) takes at least a year, full time. And there's no work in construction anyway. Rather pathetically, the apprenticeships, if I could get one (unlikely, given that: I am female, I am 'old' and would therefore cost more - minimum wage is age-based, construction hours are not compatible with daycare hours, and, again, there are no jobs) look like they would earn me more than I'm making now (as a translator/editor with a degree and six years' experience). But I would go out of my mind doing something so menial.

I'm trying to figure out what I could do to fix my situation. What hands-on job requires real thinking? Because I really miss having to think. I used to be really smart. Seriously. The lowest I have ever gotten on an IQ test was 140, (and I blame the noisy environment when I took it). I was always in the 'enhanced/gifted' class at school. I love solving problems. I love thinking and coming up with new ideas, new ways to do things. I am easily bored and crave something new. Not like new employer; more like new career. This is extremely difficult to facilitate in the Dutch labour market, where you need a piece of paper to qualify you to do anything. Seriously. Work at McDonalds? Hospitality certificate. Plant trees? Gardening diploma. Secretarial work? Secretarial diploma. And I don't actually want to do any of those things, certainly not badly enough to go get a certificate for it. Those papers also limit you. I have a mechanical engineering degree, which here only allows me to do mechanical engineering (in theory, interesting. In practice: boring). I have excellent English skills, something that, considering the standard of English here, should be prized more highly. My Dutch is about as good as any foreigner is likely to get. I want to work with my hands on something tangible. I thrive on change. I feel completely confined here. And though I keep on keeping on, I hate it. I'm dying inside.

To continue my rant, I feel completely unappreciated. And unheard. Invisible even. The only positive feedback I get from my clients is that they keep coming back to me. Despite this, they keep pushing down my rates, implying that if I don't lower my rates, they'll go to someone else... and I know they will, too.  My husband's every word seems to be criticism of something I'm doing or not doing. You know 'defensive driving'? I seem to be defensive living. People seem to literally not see me. I have to watch out for cars, bikes, even people walking - they'd run right over me. (Part of this has to do with the inconsiderate nature of Dutch people, which I can go into at length. Don't get me started.) I live a photoshopped facebook life that almost exclusively highlights the positive, and my Dad still had the gall to criticize me yesterday for swearing in a comment on someone else's photo.  I can't even fucking swear on facebook anymore? I didn't invite my family to be my facebook friends. I felt obligated to accept their requests. I don't want them on there. I want to be able to post things that they can't read. I carefully filter my life for them already when I talk to them. Now I have to censor facebook too, my one link to my friends around the world? I almost unfriended him, right then, but didn't, because it would be unfair, since he's stalking me through his wife's account and she didn't say anything. I feel like I can't even live my life truthfully. Everything has to be great to the outside world. But I'm so tired of faking it. Of lying. Hence the rant here; this anonymous blog is my sole outlet. Can't I ever be honest to actual people who know me? Don't I have the right to say that I am unhappy and discontent with my life right now?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

8... a sign?

I got an 8 on my environmental science exam (out of 10). I'm quite pleased. I guess the prof understood my Dutch well enough. Whew. (Or he didn't and gave me the benefit of the doubt. That could be it too.) In the bigger picture, this means I can take more courses, possibly leading to a degree at some point. In an even bigger picture, I wonder if it's a sign.

I don't mean to go all new-age on you, but I've read a lot about synchronicity and basically letting the universe tell you what you're meant to be doing. Recently I've started interpreting things in my life as signs that I am definitely going down the wrong path. Big things like I'm not getting much work as a freelancer and dreading actually having to do any of the work I do get, and little things like how nothing ever goes right, from bags of groceries falling over to tossed trash bouncing back out of the garbage can, my e-mail program constantly crashing right when I need it and burnt fingers from cooking.

So I wonder if this exam result is a sign pointing me in the right direction, in contrast to the useless signs around me that just tell me I'm going the wrong way.

Friday, February 1, 2013

A Memory of Caring (WoT rant)

Since I finished my exam, I've busy reading my reward for studying so hard: the final book in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, A Memory of Light. It isn't quite living up to expectations. My 'reward' is seeming more and more like a punishment...

I'm not enjoying it as much as I'd hoped or expected. I mean, I knew this book would be about The Last Battle, as the entire series has been leading up to it. I guess I just didn't realize that meant the whole book would be battle. Battle, war, military strategy, tactics, fighting, dying... I'm 700 pages in. I don't care anymore. The battle is taking forever. I just don't care. I'm not one to skip ahead, but it's seriously dragging for me. I'm sure it's exciting enough if you're into that sort of thing, but I'm so not. Twenty pages of battle, okay. Seven hundred and it's still going? Come on. I'm a fantasy reader, not a general. This is not what I signed up for. I read 13 enormous books leading up to what should be the big payoff. Instead I get an epic battle. So epic I might never finish it. Let someone win already and tell me how it all wraps up! After 13 books and several years, the arc of this story needs a big resolution... a climax can't last 700 pages. Just get it over with already. The tension is dying, not building here!