Friday, April 23, 2010

My week is cursed!

Or as they say, the higher they rise the harder they fall.

I totally rocked last week. I pulled a fantastic birthday party for my 4 yr. old, two home made cakes (one for the party and one for school), I even managed to ensure that we had the hottest sunniest day yet this spring, (that was all me of course). Then I took the hubby to Amsterdam for a romantic, one Michelin star, cool and alternative restaurant. The next morning he was greeted by his favourite cake, home made cards from the kids, and I even managed to surprise him (positively) with his birthday present. I rocked that birthday celebration too.

This week, well, that seems to be an entirely different matter.

I started a new job that will require me to travel to Colombia, so I decided –under the current ash cloud circumstance- to ensure I had my ticket first. I lost an entire morning trying aimlessly to pay for it. The darn site kept refusing all my credit cards. Such was my desperation that I opted to call (loooong wait with crap “hold” music) while I tried and failed to work. Finally got my booking confirmed through an email, one of those that says “pay up in 24 hrs or you’re history.” Then I received a second stating that it had not gone through so better just make a transfer, and I did that too.

I work part time, so that was Monday.

Tuesday I came to the realisation that both payments had gone through. On closer analysis the two emails I had received from the travel company had slightly different addresses, and so I quickly came to the realisation that I had finally become a victim of internet hackers; tried phoning the travel agent but they were on ash cloud panic mode and the lines were off. Sent many panicky emails asking for confirmation or clarification, but as they did not reply to me immediately I decided there was no time to waste and off to the bank, where I reported the fraud and they started an investigation. They also suggested I contact the police and the recipient bank, which I did, although it took me 100 years because I cannot speak Dutch (even though I temporarily live in Holland) and the darn machines keep giving me options that I don’t understand (meenie meenie mainy mo). Eventually I managed and started an enquiry at the recipient bank as well.

That was Tuesday, as far as work is concerned, but then during a play date with the kids I kept feeling worse and worse, so after I dropped them off back at home I headed to the hospital. Of course, it turns out I have a UTI. If you don't know what that is 1. I’m NOT going to tell you and 2. You lucky bitch/bastard, because this is not my first and they are painful.

I got home extremely upset with life and decided that no matter how behind I was with work I was going to sit in front of the TV, munch on comfort food and watch crap. And then lightning struck and when you thought nothing worse could happen it did; THE REMOTE IS BROKEN. Not even the TV remote, the cable remote, so I cannot change the channels manually, I can only watch whatever is on that one channel.

I have tried to phone the cable company, but so far have not managed a number combination that gets me to an actual person

Wednesdays I usually look after the kids in the morning, so I begged the caretaker to take them away in the afternoon to ensure I was alone and could focus. That was before I remembered that I had a dentist appointment that took me three months to get, and only managed to through dodgy contacts. Did I mention that I totally hate going to the dentist and shake all the way through?

That was Wednesday.

Thursday I got an email from the travel agent saying that indeed both emails were from them -no fraud- that they had returned my money, on both accounts, and cancelled my booking (aaargh!) how many times do I have to pay for something so that they get I want it?? So back to booking and fighting with the internet.

I also had to call of the search and rescue missions with the banks, and although everyone was very nice to me, felt very much like a fool, and wasted what was left of my morning. I did manage to get some work done, to take the kids out to the park on a lovely sunny afternoon, and even my dance class. But lo and behold, just as I thought that the curse might be over I came home –bathed in my own sweat, to find there is no hot water (and therefore also no heating).

Today I am on call with the heating company cause if I don’t manage to get them in that is the weekend in cold and smelly house (no, I am not planning to shower until they fix it!)

Friday, please go easy on me!

PS I attach a picture of my living room because I feel it's a good reflection of what my brain looks like

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Europe against the vulcano

A sci-fi movie could not have come up with a better plot, except in a movie by now Tom Cruise would have gone on some life threatening mission to the centre of the volcano and saved the world from its doom, (either him or Luke Skywalker.)

Unfortunately in real life we are stuck waiting it out. Half of Europe is right now squinting their eyes while tilting their head ever so slightly thinking: "What the fu#k?"

In the last few years and thanks to airplanes the world has become a very small place. We take flying for granted, and for many of us it is part and parcel of our lives.

My family’s personal schedule for the upcoming 7 weeks included trips to Kenya, Spain, Colombia, Geneva and Uganda. My parents live in London and for the first time ever they have realised that it is an actual island fully surrounded by water. It’s taking them two days to do what would normally entail a two-hour flight in order to attend their grandchild’s communion.

The strangest thing is –apart from the fact that it is Iceland at the root of all this chaos- no one knows what to do or what to expect. No one really knows how volcanic ash affects airplanes, (not really, like how many times did someone think, 'oh yeah, lets spend lots of money to see what happens when a volcano explodes near an airplane.') Or how this extraterrestrial ash, (cause surely soon this is going to be blamed on a UFO, Al Qaeda or the government) is going to affect our respiratory systems and agriculture. No one *really* knows how long it’s going to take for things to go back to normal.

We are breathing easy again because flights are starting to go in and out, but next week everything could change again. The last time the volcano erupted it was active for two years. TWO YEARS! and the thought of not being able to fly for that amount of time, or any extent of time for that matter, appears to be truly unthinkable. I get a message back from my brain that reads “does not compute”

Like many people these days I fly for a living. Not because I work in the airline industry, but because I have to physically visit locations I am supposed to evaluate, and they are always in far away places. I also emigrated from home years and years ago, so my family is elsewhere, and flying is how we go home, how we see the cousins and the grandparents. How we attend weddings and baptisms. The thought of my children not being able to see their family for two years is just not acceptable. Again “does not compute.”

I’m sure that there are much more dramatic stories than mine. Parents caught away from their children. Farmers’ stocks rotting at the airports. (wait! Does that mean we are going to start running out of some of the nice exotic food items we take for granted too?) There are also funny stories of people’s much unloved bosses caught away indefinitely, or that of a friend whose romantic cruise with another couple translated into her husband and the other couple’s wife being the only ones that made it out.

But what strikes me most about all this –apart from the fact that it is little, insignificant, pretty and friendly Bjorg’s Iceland at the root of such a big problem- is how unthinkable a life without flying is to me. I try to make the mental exercise of how my life would change if I were not able to fly for two years, and it seems almost as bizarre as if someone told me I could no longer use computers but had to go back to typing, or sending mail instead of email. The extent of the shock translates into a system crash, and a blank screen followed by and another “does not compute” sign.

Here’s to hoping.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

what if?

I’ve been toying with a pretty radical idea lately; what if (what if) I changed those things about myself that drive me crazy and that I know are bad for me.

It all started with Facebook. A friend sent out the following question:

What is the ONE THING, if you did it consistently, you know would totally change your life? And What ONE THING would you stop?”

I tried thinking of one, but three immediately came up; eat healthy, go to bed early and clean up. Yeah I know, not creative stuff, but what can I say, I’m a simple girl with simple issues.

We all know that eating healthy is good for you. That it increases your energy levels. But we just can’t bring ourselves to stick to it, because life is full of sweet little rewards that taste good and provide immediate satisfaction, and when it comes to a sweet tooth, I’ve got the sweetest tooth on the face of the earth. But there is this little voice inside me that keeps asking, “but what if?”

The wisest piece of advice I’ve heard on this came from Jen (you know, Aniston), and it was simple: stop eating shit every day. So what if I skipped that cookie I don't need, (and the five that usually follow it). What if instead of nutella on my bread I had lean ham, or even more radical, an apple?

I am also a very messy person. Growing up my mom used to call me Ms Autumn, because it was like I was shedding leaves throughout the house (in the form of shoes, books and empty glasses of water). My brother always said a detective would have a very easy time working out what I did; “you walked in through the front door, (left coat there), had a milk and cookies (plate still on table), watched TV on sofa (left magazine out)” and so on. And although it is a quirk that both my husband and I have accepted about me, the bottom line is it drives me nuts. Not that I do it, but the mess actually bothers me. Deep down and although I can hardly admit it to myself, I am a closet freak who would love to have a color coded wardrobe, the kitchen contents organized in tagged see through matching Tupper ware, and all the papers in my office filed in color coded folders. But mess is to me like mold to the tropics, it just grows around me. Whenever we go to a nice resort the first thing I do is take a picture of the room, because I know it will never look like that again. Not while we are there anyways. But, what if I followed the one minute rule? (from the book The Happiness Project, where you don’t procrastinate on anything that takes less than a minute). What if every Monday I filled a large garbage bag with the useless crap that is lying idle on every corner of the house. What if?

What if for a month I decided that no matter what I was going to go to bed and turn the light off at 10:30. What if I managed to turn myself into a morning person, and actually have breakfast with my family. What if my mornings where slow and lazy instead of manic and painful. These days by the time I wake up I’m already late! Not the best way to start the day.

It sounds so simple, so perfect and so impossible at the same time. There is a big –gigantic- invisible barrier between me and these goals. And I know because I have tried and failed so many times. But I also know because a few times I have managed to cross the threshold and get to “the zone.” That place where your brain no longer questions your decision. Where temptation no longer exists. It’s like a switch is turned off and cookies no longer seem tasty, and cigarettes stop being attractive. When you are there it seems so easy you wonder why you didn’t just do this before, but should you loose this state of grace then you remember, because I don’t know how to get back there, and judging from all the self-help stuff out there, I think we are all still struggling to work it out. I suspect it has something to do with absolute resolutions. When you know you are serious, your brain and body follow. But how to get so resolute?

Truth be told I don’t know. But I can’t seem to put away this little voice inside me that says

“what if you try it? Just this once. Just this month. Go on, I dare you”

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

why I love photographing children

It was my daughter's fourth birthday party and I was busy hosting, but had a hard time keeping the camera down.

Just any afternoon. Kids going about their business of having fun and living the present. (All those things that zen gurus keep trying to re-teach us)

need I say more?

Monday, April 12, 2010

I had a threesome the other day

It was me and two other women. Well, to be totally honest, we took it in turns; first I photographed the dream catcher, she was in a hurry, you know, cause dreams are always slipping away. And then, after the dust and the cats settled down, I had a showdown with my destiny, my aura, future.I shot Faye Cossar and Zelda Hall, an astrologer the first, a therapist and dream specialist the latter, for the CRAVE Amsterdam book.

Although I only met them at the shoot, I knew two things about them from the word go:

1) they are good friends.

2) not only did they decide to go on this adventure together –a lot of people are very self conscious about being photographed, but they decided they were going to enjoy themselves during it.

They had come prepared to play, with different outfits, colors, jewelry of all shapes and sizes to represent who they are, who they want to be, and to laugh at themselves too. Then they improvised exchanging pieces with each other, much like I used to do in highschool, when dressing was still as much a game as a search to see what “fit”.

It was fun, and exhausting (cause it took a few hours), but the most interesting part for me was to see how much the subject defines the shoot.
We met at a beautiful brownstone in central Amsterdam. Any photographer’s wet dream (actually, you should rent it out!) Every room had a different color, a different vibe. Everything was filled with textures and little exotic treasures. Cherry on top; a rooftop terrace overlooking the city. What was amazing was to see these spaces transform before my eyes.
The same rooms with the same things, made for two completely different pictures. Depending on who was posing for me some things came alive and others blended into the background. And then when we came back to reshoot it was like the furniture moved, the light changed ever so slightly, but enough to make a different shade of green, or purple, or pink, just enough to play up the eyes, the hair or the dress in an entirely different way.
Here are some of my favorite ones, do you agree?

Monday, April 5, 2010

On empty time and freedom

I miss empty time. Those days in early childhood where hour after hour would stretch before me, almost menacing, without a task or duty assigned to fill it. I distinctively remember the angst that sometimes accompanied these days. The words “I’m bored” would slip out of my mouth, always followed by the threat;

“if you’re bored I can think of a few things you can do. ” And let me tell you, these were never fun things.

How little was I able to appreciate these long boring days full of empty hours, which could be filled or not, without consequences. The total lack of responsibility and duty that came with them; nothing had to be achieved. Yet they came at a price; there was very little freedom to decide what to do with them. As a child you are at the mercy of others, and their filled days. Their tasks and responsibilities take priority, and so much of that valuable time is wasted.

Then comes youth, and with it a certain awareness stirs within. Anxiety grows and impatience growls demanding that these empty hours be used wisely. We rebel against this waste, the extent of which probably neither child nor adult fully realize. Adults tell them to be patient, that they have a whole life ahead overflowing with days to fill. But really, I think they are onto something. The window of opportunity to be free before life takes over is small. Very.

I remember when I first started working. I moved away from home leaving behind all my ties and responsibilities. I sacrificed some of my time to have enough money. Other than that my time was entirely mine. As long as the basic bills were paid everything was up in the air. I could shop, or just eat out. If I didn’t have to be at work I could be in Brazil or Africa, in rumba class of learning pottery. I could sleep in, eat late, eat out, in front of the TV. I could leave the dirty clothes on the floor, indefinitely if I so wished. Whole afternoons were dedicated to the ritual practice of a late breakfast. I relished the ability to decide what I would be using my time for.My time. Yes, I had to go to the office, I had to pay the rent and buy some food. But in hindsight I see that these days were a gift, when the world was my oyster and everything was still possible.

Those years are long gone now. Now my days look like a glass filled with milk to the rim, constantly overflowing onto the table. As soon as I’ve cleaned up one mess it’s overflowing again. Even days that are meant to be for rest; weekends, holidays, their emptiness is only an illusion. A “lazy day” quickly becomes a day where you can focus on all the things that have been lagging on that to-do list. During the night, well earned rest is bullied away so that other things can get done. And that is if the “we are open” sign doesn’t have to go on because someone is sick or having a nightmare.

As a child and a teenager you long for the day when you will become an adult. The master of your fate, the captain of your soul. But the truth is that you are not. As an adult, you are anything but free. Tied to work, responsibilities, bills and relationships.

I’ve met some adults that try to run away from this, (mostly men I must admit), and the thing is, for the most part they don’t succeed. This fantasy that you will be able to jump on the bed naked without a soul waiting for you, it just does not exist. They often find themselves tied to children that live far from them, over which they have responsibilities but no real rights. And where they do manage to remain in this state of empty days, at least from the outside, their days do look just like that, terribly empty.

In the end freedom has turned out to be nothing like I imagined it. Nothing like the one I dreamed of in my youth, or read about in the books. That freedom now comes across as a very lonesome affair. It seems to me that anything worth having ties you down. I will even venture that to some degree, the more something is worth having, the more commitment it requires. And I’m not just referring to my kids, which demand with a capital D (and a capital E and M and … well, you catch my drift,) or the other obvious one, work, but even the little things we love and cherish, like writing or fishing, require time, money and commitment if you want to be any good at them. Even a spiritual trip to Bali or a hedonistic afternoon of drugs requires money, time and planning.

We are free to choose what we do. We are free to choose what we love, what defines us, who we are, and what will tie us down. But those empty days of wonder with no responsibility or consequence, that freedom exists but for a few years in our youth. Use them wisely.