Emma Massingale

If my fairy godmother were to appear all of a sudden and tell me my life had been cursed by some envious sorceress and that the only way to save me was to switch lives with someone, I would choose the life of Emma Massingale.

In fact, I wouldn’t need my own life to be threatened to choose a life like Emma’s. #lifegoals

That she has a lot of animals is unquestionably awesome, but the way she does it is what I admire the most. The bond she shares with her furry friends is incredible.

She is an adventurous soul. She is a dreamer who learned much about life and herself the hard way (by being too bold and breaking important bones). She is naturally charming and unapologetically awkward.

But don’t take my word for it, take a look:

All the work she does with the animals is based on fun and never force. She uses their natural way of being to teach them tricks. She is their leader but most definitely also their friend and part of the pack.

She goes on fun trips around the country with beasts of all shapes and sizes and makes it look effortless. One time she might take all the tan colored horses (of all sizes) out for a stroll. On the next occasion, she might take the speckled team (including the dalmatian) along. And sometimes, like in this video below, she’ll go on a ride with two ponies, a lamb, a dog and a cat.

I am a fan, as you might have suspected by now. I love all of her work and am thrilled every time a new vid comes out.

I even love it when she dresses up her animals in crazy outfits, even though I usually can’t stand that. In her case though, I know that she wouldn’t do it if the animal was uncomfortable with it. Also, I believe that her animals live very natural lives, outside of the work they do with her.

I guess that, if my fairy godmother were to appear, I might ask her to adjust just one aspect of my new life as Emma. I would be tempted to ask her to transfer it all to a place with slightly better weather. I’m sure English moors are lovely on a sunny summer day but in the winter, maybe not so much…

Then again, if at the end of the day you can warm up by the fire surrounded by some furry friends, it would totally be worth it.


This dedication to Emma Massingale is a contribution for my own personal A-to-Z challenge, which I will be adding to once a month. Alphabet so far:

  • A is for Axolotl
  • B is for Bird buddies
  • C is for Comfort food
  • D is for Dystopia
  • E is for Emma Massingale

All the images in this blog were taken from Emma Massingale’s social media accounts. I do not own them nor have rights to them.

Mind Cleanup: Aug 2020

AAaaaaaand that was it for August, folks!

My blogging flow was definitely less burdensome than it was in July. And I think that applies to most things in my life. The rhythm of what we used to consider to be normal is slowly returning and I am enjoying getting back into the routine.

Cycling

In some respects my routine has even improved.

For example, when I started to go back to the office, I didn’t feel completely comfortable taking the train, so I started cycling the 19kms to work. And now that I’m back in the office three times a week I have kept up this habit.

We’ll see how long I last when autumn makes an entrance, but for now I feel really good about myself.

Permaculture

I don’t even know what triggered it, but somewhere in the last month I have become very interested in permaculture. I have spoken to several people that have experience with these principles and I will definitely sign up for an extensive course in the future.

Bill Mollison, one of the founders of the concept, says some things in the video above that captivate me. He says:

When you look at a whole system there are two things that are very undesirable: one is work, and the other one is pollution. Pollution is a product of work. Work is a result of not supplying every component of your system with its needs.
(…)
Another thing which is extraordinarily intriguing is that when you design well nature takes hold of what you’ve done and does it better. But what you gotta do is watch the system and guide its life path.
(…)
[Permaculture is] an attempt to build a good place to live.

How to Summer

August was hot. The Netherlands didn’t know how to cope. We were not made for temperatures above 25 degrees celsius, and definitely not for weeks and weeks on end. And where did all the sky-water go?

The pandemic just added that little extra layer of complications.

Beaches were too full, crammed with every Dutch person that would normally travel abroad during their holiday. On top of that, holiday-goers from other countries made their way to our small sliver of coast as well, given that our corona measures have been relatively lenient.

As you can imagine, everybody and their mother had and opinion about this. It was intense.

And for reasons not completely clear to me, quite a lot of people drowned. Did it have to do with the large amount of people in the water and therefore an inherent larger amount of people running the risk of getting in trouble? Or did the abnormally high temperature perhaps do something to the water(currents)? Or are people just not good swimmers (anymore)?

I don’t know what was up, but it was definitely remarkable.

Star Trek

I’ve been watching the Star Trek – Next Generation series the last few months. I am now somewhere halfway season 5. I watched it sporadically as a kid, but never from a-to-z. This means I never got fully acquainted to the different characters, other than their superficial traits.

Also, I never appreciated the deep philosophical questions that many of the episodes touch. Questions such as “what does it mean to be human?”, “what is love?” and “when does help become an imposition of your way of living on another” come by.

Now that I am going further down the Star Trek rabbit hole, I am even thinking of writing a couple of blogposts about the deeper lessons one could learn from it. The stories are not quite ripe yet, but I am enthusiastic about the idea.

Music service switch

I’ve always used free version of music streaming apps. This means I have to deal with commercials in between music these days. And that’s OK. I get it.

It did start to bug me that Spotify made their commercials extra annoying, probably to coax me towards buying their premium version. I don’t like being manipulated that way. So once I got over my attachment to my Spotify playlists, I made the switch to Deezer.

It’s been an easy process and there is nothing about Spotify that I miss. I highly recommend Deezer. The fact that their commercials are friendly and subtle (and not 50% louder than the music I was listening too either) I am actually considering trying the premium version!

Confusing quote

My interest for permaculture has also caused my filterbubble to start including information from more alternative sources. And that is how this little gem came upon my path:

I was actually quite confused by it.

The premise that plants grow better if you speak kindly to them is already a bit wobbly, if you ask me. I think I am not integrated enough in the treehuggers-community to be able to accept the parallel between plants and people in the way it is presented here. My imagination is clearly lacking…

On to September we go!

The anniversary of mindful Karen

This week marks the five year anniversary of my “Smug in the now“- post.

Back in 2015 I made a list of things that bothered me about the stereotypical mindful, vegetarian, yoga-practicing, gluten-fearing, urban-dwelling individual (often female, but not exclusively).

I guess today, we would refer to such a person as the yoga edition of barbie-doll Karen.

At the time, I felt I was surrounded by this type of people, and they annoyed the hell out of me. From my point of view they were stressed out hypocrites, tip-toeing their way around their looming burn-out, telling me to relax…

On a sidenote, I just found out the pejorative ‘Karen’ has its own wikipedia page. That is so awesome. Thank you internets.

How did Karen get me so worked up in 2015?

The (shortish version) of my list of objections to mindful Karen back in 2015 was as follows:

1) When she starts applying her ‘wisdom’ on others, she is not only annoying but oftentimes also wrong.
2) Her uninvited ‘health tips’ are counterproductive (and again, annoying, which is bad for my bowels).
3) Quoting an exotic luminary does not make her sound wise, but kind of pathetic, especially when applied as a conversation stopper.
4) It is always a sad day when a high-quality sarcastic retort gets dissected, but mindful Karen can’t help but try to find the deeper meaning behind simple statements, killing everybody’s buzz.
5) Karen is fooling herself by putting a lot of energy into avoiding ‘bad vibes’, but is really missing out on life by doing so.
6) Eliminating fiery emotions makes life colorless, lukewarm and passionless.

Looking back

A fact that I may not have expressed specifically enough in the first point in the original post is that the mindfulness lessons Karen learned are really only meant to be applied on her own inner self. The minute she tries to change other people is the second she stops being mindful all together and therefore has zero credibility on the matter.

As far as my food habits are concerned I think I have evolved. I have become more conscious of what I eat, not only for my own health but also for the well being of other beings and the environment in general. I’m sure the people I was directing my angry words at in 2015 were not all full of shit (no pun intended). However, I do think I needed to move away from that toxic group of hangry gluten-phobes to be able to make a change myself.

The sixth point should probably not really have been part of the list. It is not a point that describes yoga-Karen per se. More than anything, it is the conclusion of why I felt threatened by the ideas of mindfulness, or what I associated it with.

My hardheadedness and tendency to be blunt are traits of mine that I have a complicated relationship with. They are strengths as well as weaknesses. I guess my fear was (and probably still is) that the ‘luke warm’ bath of mindfulness would erase that part of my identity, taking away my uniqueness.

Embracing my inner Karen

Today, I am much better capable of applauding every effort somebody puts into becoming a better, healthier and more stable person. I can sympathize with the struggle that goes with that and understand they may not get it right straight away.

That, in their enthusiasm, they can’t help but project their problems and accompanying labels and lessons on others, is OK.

I have become better at controlling my impulse to snap back at people giving me well-meant advice. I can see their good intentions before condemning them for being wrong or pushy (which I still think they are, every now and then).

An additional thought that may be important to include is that most of my friends are yoga Karens. Ugh…. Did I really just use that argument……? Yes I did…

I realize everything I just typed sounds awfully condescending.

For the sake of honesty I will not rephrase. But I will try to save this sinking ship by patching it up with some additional thoughts…

Because who is that person writing a lifetip on her blog every month? ME!

Who frowns at the people buying bread rolls at the super market without bringing their own reusable bag? ME!

Who asked the neighbor to refrain from spraying pesticides on his roses in his own garden? ME!

I could go on with this list for a while longer, but you get the point; I can’t help but tell others how to live their lives and frequently point out why their actions are some sort of ‘wrong’.

Ergo, I am no better than then people I was aiming my poisoned arrows at in the past and whom I can’t help but talk about condescendingly, even now.

I am Karen. There I said it.

Lifetip 7: Embrace doubt

This post is about doubt, about truth, about facts and our reliance on them.

Life of Pi – Yann Martel

One of my favorite books of all times is Life of Pi, which is basically 400 pages of inner musings of a very contemplative kid.

It is a story about a boy surviving a shipwreck and dealing with his trauma by befriending it. Pi’s inquisitive nature and innocent mind investigate religion in a such an open-minded way, that it opened my mind towards the spiritual realm more than any cleric ever could.

During a conversation Pi had with a fervent atheist, he came to the conclusion that this conviction was not for him, but he did respect the thought process behind it. He understood that atheists were thinkers as well, which was something he could appreciate. He concluded that agnostics were the ones furthest away from the truth, as they accepted the idea that anything could be possible, while at the same time doubting everything. He said:

It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.

Even though this is one of my favorite quotes from the book, I will be making a case for doubt as a philosophy.

Uncertainty is the only truth

These are insecure times. Somehow though, this is not reflected by what we see and hear in the media. People with strong opinions debate each other, the one more certain about their point of view than the other.

In the current state of the world, experts are mocked for changing their views on matters such as climate change or the way viruses spread. Yet, it is the ones that claim to know precisely what is going on and what we should do that we should be watching with suspicion.

If you really want to be right, be prepared to admit some things are simply not known or clear. Doubt and nuance are key, yet these properties are not welcome guests at talk show tables.

Mark Rutte

Our own prime minister admitted that during the peak of the COVID-19-crisis he was making decisions for our country based on whiffs of evidence and in some cases deciding what the course would be only minutes before the press conference. There were no clear facts, only ideas. I definitely don’t envy him for having to govern under such circumstances.

I praise him for admitting that he had no certainty to build on.

Subsequently though, as Dutch citizens, we must accept the idea that the prime minister may have flipped a coin to draw the lock down road map, but we need to follow it nonetheless. His doubts may not be reflected in our actions.

The appeal of misinformation

Sadly, US citizens do not have a leader that gives them a clear path to follow. This is not just tragic for the American people themselves, but also for the rest of the world. Just like it gives a kid confidence to compare notes with the classmate with the best grades before a test, we have become accustomed to look at what the “land of the free” does, to see how our own course compares.

In fact, POTUS #45 does pretty much the exact opposite of what our prime minister does. Whereas the Dutch prime minister says much is uncertain he still tells us what our course of action is going to be. The US president says he reads everything and knows all, yet he gives the American people nothing to go on as far as a consistent plan is concerned. More even he contradicts himself on a daily (hourly basis) and spreads (and invents) misinformation on the go.

Fake news and disinformation create fearful people that crave for a simple answer on which they can build a simple truth. People prefer a solution in a happy meal package; not nutritious per se but cheap and easy to swallow. We must not give in to that.

Actual facts take a while to take form. Ideas that don’t rely on research can be up and ready pretty much immediately. When faced with a new situation, people need a frame of reference. Conspiracies and fabricated information find fertile ground in these moments, as scientific information will not yet be available in such an early stage.

Practice doubt

In order to become a doubter, you must:

  • ask questions
  • empathize with people that think differently
  • be brave enough to change your mind
  • accept that absolute facts are rare (if they exist at all)

Because the more we admit we don’t really know anything for certain the closer we will be getting to the truth. The humility we gain in the process could even turn out to have a positive side effect in other areas as well.

Dystopia

The letter D has brought me to Dystopia.

According to Wikipedia a “dystopia is a community or society that is undesirable or frightening. (…) Dystopias are often characterized by dehumanization, tyrannical governments, environmental disaster, or other characteristics associated with a cataclysmic decline in society.”

A quick online search further shows that imagery associated with dystopian landscapes are often overly industrialized and polluted. I noticed many computer games these days are set in such a landscape.

My motivation for choosing this word as an inspiration for a blog post does not stem from a conviction that my life or surroundings are dystopian right now. On the contrary, I see a lot to be hopeful for.

Despite my optimistic outlook on things, I do feel that many of the ingredients to plunge into something terribly horribly nasty are present as well.

There is a reason the series Black Mirror was such a success. Each episode tells a story based on an exaggerated and uncomfortable aspect of modern day life. It is an unbingeable series for me, because so much of it feels just a tad too familiar. I guess that is why it is called Black Mirror and not Black Window.

The other day my boyfriend said that he wouldn’t be surprised if at some point in the near future reality would ‘split’. He didn’t mean we would be entering into a parallel universe or something star trekky like that. What he meant, was that there would be a rift in society, where different groups live by different sets of facts (and therefore different realities).

It’s a scary idea but I do actually catch his drift. People are choosing to believe such silly (untrue) things, and they in turn think I am crazy for believing what I do.

This image of two people debating what number they see, is often used to explain how two people can be right or at least believe to be. It’s a metaphor for people being convinced of different things, based on their point of view.

Still….

Somebody put that number there and that person meant it to be a six or a nine. Communication can solve the mystery. Just find the guy that chalked that numeral there and ask him what the message was he was trying to bring across. And once the number-creator has let us know he wants six loafs of bread, not nine, there is no need to continue debating what the number looks like. It’s a six. Period.

It is impossible to have a conversation about things if you can not agree on the most basic principles. When communication is no longer possible, anarchy awaits.

I remember how my punk and goth classmates used to talk about anarchy as if it was something the world needed. I never understood what they meant, as I believed anarchy and chaos were pretty much the same thing. And who wants to live in a constant state of chaos? This video helped me understand anarchy’s charm a bit better:

Nobody wants hate to prevail over love. Nobody wants to make decisions out of fear. Nobody wants to distrust their neighbor.

Lawlessness and violence are not ingredients for anybody’s utopia, I don’t think. People only want to get rid of laws if they feel those laws are corrupt or unfair. Violence is only a means to bring a process of change in motion, not a goal. People that thrive for violence just for the sake of violence are psychopaths, and I choose to believe those are actually quite rare.

There are moments when I feel there is a bigger power pushing us towards the cliff, like in that horribly disturbing (but kind of catchy) song by Stromae (who felt it was fitting to include an image of Obama in his music video in 2015 to depict people being eaten up alive by the Twitter-demon… man… that hurts even more in hindsight…):

But in the end, I think there is no architect behind any of this.

This current state of affairs has been constructed thoughtlessly by many individuals, all acting selfishly but without a higher purpose. Most people do not base their day-to-day choices on a future plan or any bigger picture. They just react to what is straight in front of them.

And I think that is how I would sum up the current state of the world. It is nobody’s fault. Everybody is a victim of an involuntary structure that forms them and they it.

We all agree it’s horrible but the consensus is that “it is what it is”. We learn to work with this system, even though we don’t want it. We fortify it by basing our laws on the premises of its faults. Many people have convinced themselves that we can’t change it until we have found who is responsible.

The winds are changing though. As I said in the beginning, I am feeling hopeful. More and more people are learning to vocalize their feelings and needs. We are starting to see how society is falling short. “It is what it is” is no longer an acceptable explanation.

If there were a way to achieve true and positive change while bypassing the anarchy-fase, that would be awesome. If keeping the peace means leaving everything the way it is, then bring the chaos, by all means!


This is a contribution for my own personal A-to-Z challenge, which I will be adding to once a month. Alphabet so far:

Mind Cleanup July 2020

July was not a good month for blogging, apparently. My goal to publish at least three blogs per month was not met. It was my Alphabet challenge that got in the way. The letter D… Ddddamn you, letter D.

C-words

Words that were more prominent in my life were all C-words: Communication, conspiracies, consciousness and, you know that other C-word.

A double C-word that featured in a discussion I had with my boyfriend G was crowd control.

He was telling me about how 5G technology has the power to stun and paralyze people through milimeter wave frequencies. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes, and G couldn’t help but notice.

It turns out that Mona Keijzer, the Dutch State Secretary for Economic Affairs, helped fuel this idea when she mentioned crowd control during a debate on the implementation of 5G in the Netherlands. For Dutch speaking people interested in hearing her exact words, click here (but please close your eyes while you listen, as the imagery in the vid is misleading imo)

My first reaction was that she was referring to the capacity of 5G to be more precise about peoples’ exact locations, making it possible to anticipate where it could become undesirably crowded (and of which individuals that crowd might consist). Cynically enough, I think we’re already past the point that that is shocking or secret, troubling as it may be. This New Yorker article from April 2019 explains my feelings about that quite well.

My boyfriend challenged me to read into it further, as he felt my filter bubble may have been keeping me away from seeing the full picture. So, I did. And I hereby admit that I did find reliable, science based information, backed by governments and mainstream institutions, that affirms that “hypersonic weapons” are a thing and that 5G could play a role in making the application of such weapons easier.

That’s all I’ve got to say about that (for now).

Music

Time for a musical interlude.

Can we all just take a minute to appreciate the talent of this young man?

And can somebody please make him a sandwich?

‘Good’ communication

During the lock down period, when we were all working from home, a lot of communication was conducted in writing, rather than in spoken form.

It has been interesting to see how eloquent people who have no problem explaining something face-to-face can have so much trouble doing the same thing when those words need to be presented in writing. I witnessed a lot of sloppy communication that I knew was meant well, but could be interpreted in so many ways, that it made my brain hurt.

I find the power of language wildly interesting. Learning about meanings behind words and the unintentional damage that can be done with them is something I wish everybody would take a little time to think about.

Luckily, I actually like my co-workers. They are cool peeps with good hearts, making it easy to forgive their verbal clumsiness.

I have been re-listening Marshall Rosenberg’s teachings myself, which have turned out to be excellent running and cycling soundtracks.

As a lover of sarcasm and brutal humor though, I have always needed to check myself every now and then. I don’t always get it right but I do try to fix any damage I may have done and do better the next time around..

It did make me realize that, once again, ignorance is bliss.

The fact that I have knowledge of Marshall Rosenberg’s teachings and the implicit idea that there is such a thing as ‘violent communication’ turned out to be a bit of a burden for me.

It made it harder to let things pass, even when I knew what the message was that someone was trying to convey. Words that I have come to identify as ‘aggressive’ make me frown, where I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought in the past.

These spasms of annoyance also demonstrate that I’m not done learning. I know that the way I receive and process a message is up to me. How I feel can never be somebody else’s responsibility (or their choice of words).

Still… I just wish they would just ‘do it properly’.

the letter D

Deodorant. Doom’s day preppers. Defunding the Police. the Daily Show. Dancing. Drought. Dominance.

As I said, I’m having a hard time finding something to write about that starts with the letter D.

I had an idea about the word Dixie, but I have to admit that would just be a sorrow attempt of me trying to be relevant and probably failing. I know too little about it and simply do not have a strong enough opinion about the matter, which means I lack motivation.

And then there was Democracy. I do have an opinion about that. But I just wish I could come up with something easy for once… A topic that not only makes for easy writing but also easy reading.

I’m sure something will get written in the upcoming weeks, but July 2020 will have to go into the history books as one without an Alphabet-inspired post.

Alright, August Blogust. I’m ready for you.

Mind Cleanup June 2020

June twentytwenty was one for the history books for sure. You’d better hide that book though, because I might tear that page out and burn it later on…

USA.? WTF.!

US politics have always been dominant in the news of the world, at least during my life time. As a non-American-citizen who never lived in the USA but did go to an American school for some years, I felt I belonged to the in-crowd a little bit. I didn’t always agree with what was going on in the White House, but I could follow.

Nowadays, I am just baffled by the political chess game and its bizarre ripple effects. Don’t get it. Not in the slightest. Don’t even really want to…

I must have done something right in previous lives to be allowed to carry a Dutch passport during this one… Being American must be so confusing right now…

And then the murder of George Floyd happened.

I haven’t actually watched the footage of his assassination, but I have read transcripts. I’m speechless. About all of it. The fact that it happened, how it happened, where it happened, why it happened. All of it.

…and then the protests erupted, the anger spilt out, the statue-iconoclasm began, the “church & bible photo op” happened, flags were put up for discussion, the Tulsa Rally flopped by and the golf cart drive by was shared…

Oh and John Bolton just happened to release his hypocrite ‘tell all’ book, as well as some Drumpf niece or cousin or whatever.

And let’s not take our eye off that report regarding Taliban fighters being payed by Russia to kill Western service personnel

Who makes this stuff up?? I mean… yeah… the Russians apparently… but… DAFACK?!

And now elections are coming up. You would think it’s a no-brainer. There’s just no way Americans are THAT foolish… right?

VOTE!

Please fellow earthlings, do the right thing and put an end to this madness. One term is more than enough for #45.

Music

And now, all I want is to put on some music.

Michael Kiwanuka – Light

First, allow me to share a sweet and meaningful song to drive out the darkness of my mood a little bit…

Jorge Drexler – Asilo

This next song is to warm up the heart (and once again admire the beauty of the Spanish language). This song is about two lovers asking for one night of ‘asylum’ in each other’s arms. Just forget the world for a bit.

the Chicks – March March

And after a good night’s sleep and a cuddle, it’s time to hit the streets again. Just follow the Chicks, they know the way…

Tiny Desk Concert: Jon Batiste

Jon Batiste is incredibly talented, but oftentimes a bit too heavy on the jazzy side for my taste. This tiny desk concert is awesome though. If you have to choose, definitely listen to the last two songs (starts around the 07:00 mark), for a taste of that feel good jazz that Jon Batiste does so well.

Tiny Desk Concert: Cimafunk

And this one is to shake off any bitter or sour taste you may have left in your mouth after reading the first part of my blog (for which I do apologize… but it is a mind cleanup, so I couldn’t not…)

Lifetip 6: Calibrate and compare

This lifetip was originally supposed to be titled ‘Create your own compass’.

When Jesse Frederik discussed this lifetip in a Rudi & Freddie podcast episode, he lamented that fact that people tend to prioritize whatever fact they encounter most often.

He described that, as a consequence, we only seem to talk about what everybody else is talking about. His tip was meant as an encouragement to always ask ourselves what is important to us individually and to talk about that instead.

This all rang so true to me. I could think of dozens of examples of people that followed their heart, going against the stream, and making the world a better place because of it.

Also, Jesse Frederik proclaimed that people should make their own estimates and assessments with the available facts. You can do that by asking yourself, what ‘a lot’ means to you (for example when speaking about money)? What is a ‘big’, what is ‘small’? What is ‘wealth’? What is ‘poverty’?

Is a billion dollars investment in military equipment ‘a lot’? Should the amount going towards education be equal to that or would that be ‘too much’? Is a farmer in Spain rich or well off? Is he still rich when compared to farmers in the Netherlands? Is he rich in comparison to you?

Those type of questions are crucial for people like Jesse Frederik, who make a living from the understanding of politics and economics. It must be so frustrating to realize that people (including politicians and people in positions of power) have lost sight of proportions.

In money terms, it’s like everything above a million is just ‘a lot’, putting millions and billions and trillions all on the same heap of unfathomableness. This lack of understanding that we have of amounts and dimensions, is something I will go into further on another day, in another blogpost.

Whereto does the compass point?

Allow me to bring the focus back to the metaphor of the compass and the suggestion to ‘make your own’.

This lifetip was pretty much ready to be packed and posted, when the pandemic took over our lives. From that moment on, all sorts of people started deciding they knew what was good for themselves and their families in ways that were hard to fathom.

All of a sudden, me telling people to stand up for their own truths and to ‘create their own compass’, suddenly sounded like quite a dangerous notion, or in the very least an incomplete one.

I guess I had never considered the possibility that the idea of having an original opinion and a rebellious mind could backfire this way. That sounds incredibly naive now, doesn’t it?

So I came to the conclusion that suggesting you can make your own compass, implies that it is up to you to decide what North is. That is really not a good idea at this particular time.

We already know where North is, as well as East, West and South. The wind directions are not up for discussion. These are facts, backed by science and carefully crafted compasses (and modern day global positioning systems). The compass is fine. you don’t need a new one.

At the same time, I can not ignore the importance of questioning absolute truths every now and then and to never settle for answers like “That’s just the way it is” or “Because I told you so”.

So I went back to the drawing board.

True North

Something that applies to all compasses is that they are of no use if you don’t know where you are or where you want to go. If you don’t know what the starting point is, then there is really very little point in knowing what North, East, West or South is…

I then renamed the blogpost to “Find your own true North”, which is more of an encouragement to figure out which ideas you want to guide you through life.

I also contemplated if it would be different if the lifetip would be ‘Calibrate your compass’. This wouldn’t require a whole new set of truths (aka a new compass), just a re-allignment of your values with the current one.

It also reminded me of Jack Sparrow’s ‘broken compass’, that doesn’t point towards the classical wind directions, but only towards the thing you desire for most in life.

The idea of having a compass but no idea of ones position or destination paralyzed my whole thought process for a while.

Explorers and cartographers

When I found my courage to continue with this post, I decided to investigate the compass metaphor a bit further. I realized that, as a tool, it is most useful when you also have a map. With a map, you can pinpoint your location (or so I’ve been told) and analyze what you would encounter if you were to go in this direction or that.

Once you’ve decided where it is you want to go, the compass can be useful to set your course.

The map we all have to deal with in our daily lives, is one of those computer-game-type-maps where you only get to see the areas where you’ve already been and only fill in the rest as you proceed.

This means you will inevitably be flying blind for a a bit, until you pass a certain threshold and the new borders of the map become visible. I guess that notion comes closest to the way the first explorers had to navigate.

The point beyond the furthest anyone had ever gone remained blank on maps for many centuries. Dragons were drawn into these unknown territories to discourage people to go any further down that unknown path.

The parallel between that metaphor and life is that we can’t really know anything about situations in the future, nor anything that we haven’t experienced first hand.

I have to suppress the urge to type something sarcastic after the previous sentence, as it is almost insulting to have to say it. As professor Redundant would say: you don’t know what you don’t know.

Compare maps & compasses

Basing your choices in life solely on what you have experienced first hand is not very practical, though.

As an example; if I saw somebody diving into a pond from a high cliff and not die, I would assume I could do the same and survive as well. I wouldn’t need to measure the depth of the pond or the wind or check if the water was of the right density. I also wouldn’t check if there were crocodiles, sharks or anacondas down there ready to gobble me up. I would instantly accept that the reality that applied to the first diver would also apply to me (and that I would have fun in the process).

But what about the person standing on the side of the pond refusing to take the jump, convinced it would not end well? What reality does he base his ideas on? Does he have different facts? What does his compass read and what does his map show? Can both realities be true?

If I were to speak to the bystander, I could encourage him by saying “Come on and jump in with me! Hakuna Matata. It is fun!”. With that, I would be assuming many things.

His answer could be: “I am so clumsy, I would surely trip before making the jump and hurt myself with the fall”. I could comfort him by saying (without lying) that I had very poor motor skills myself and that if I could do it, he would surely be fine as well.

If he were to say “sure, but I can not swim”, that would definitely change things. It would indeed be dangerous for him to jump in, without being able to swim, and very reckless of me to encourage him anyway.

Pushing someone who can not swim to dive into a deep pond, would be homicidal. One could say that, from where I stand (with my compass and my map), it is quite rare to encounter someone who can not swim. It is customary for Dutch children to learn how to swim at an early age. My frame of reference tells me that, being an adult equals being able to swim. The possibility that an adult may not be able to swim, would simply not occur to me.

So… long story short: when speaking to someone with a different idea or opinion, it is very useful to check if your maps and your compasses are based on the same parameters, for you could be having a very long discussion without realizing you are simply not talking about the same thing.

Trust the equipment

This leaves me with the dilemma that I don’t want to encourage people to embrace ideas that are just not true.

After thinking it over, I arrived at the conclusion that people that are embracing ‘true fake news’, are not using a compass at all (and the fact that there we live in an era where we have to differentiate fake fake news (which is true) from true fake news (which is fake) continues to baffle me, but no something to go into further here).

People that are not willing to base their life decisions on facts but prefer to rely on gut feelings, would never look at a compass to decide whether to go left or right. They navigate more like Sandra Bullock did in the movie Birdbox; moving around in fear with a blindfold on, shooting at scary sounds and hoping for the best.

A compass will always just do that one thing, which is show you what direction North is. If someone would say “I don’t want a compass that shows me what North is, I want one that always points towards the closest supermarket”, you can simply conclude that they don’t really want a compass. That is not what compasses do. Period.

That means that the compass metaphor stands and that “Make your own compass” is still sound advice. The definition of that device already encompasses (hehehe) its parameters as well as its scientific origins.

Check your coordinates

Along with the creation (or purchase) of a compass one must also be encouraged to figure out the coordinates of ones current location.

I suppose that means you must become conscious of your position, which you can only do by looking around you and retracing your steps to where you came from.

Which lessons did you learn along the way? Ideally you would also ask yourself which lessons you didn’t learn, but that is a tough one (that goes back to the lesson professor Redundant brought us earlier).

What are your values? By whom were they instilled in you? What are your life goals and how do you wish to reach them?

Let’s say your life goal is “owning a house, a pool and a golden retriever”. Do you want to achieve said goal by working your ass off and slowly climbing the corporate ladder? Do you want to marry a rich gal or guy who will make all your dream come true? Or would you rather rob a bank?

All these options are viable. All of them have their up- and downsides. Your moral compass can help you decide which method fits you best.

The triad of tips

Congratulations, you have reached the bottom of the page and the end of this blogpost. The conclusion is that this lifetip consists of a triad of metaphorical tips:

  • Make and calibrate your own compass to set your course.
  • Determine your coordinates to figure out where you are, where you came from and where you want to go.
  • Check and compare your map and compass to that of the person beside you, especially if you plan to go out on an adventure together.

For now, I will leave any further translation of these metaphors to your own personal lives to you.

Comfort Food

Food is a hobby of mine, but mostly from the receiving end. I like eating.

I like trying different and new things. I’m also quite open minded when it comes to what can be defined as ‘edible’.

Tragically, I suck in the food-making department. I am lazy and impatient. On top of that, I am really clumsy.

When I moved into my current home a few years ago I quickly realized I had to improve my cooking skills (and willingness), given the fact that I moved to a part of town with a very high takeaway density. My budget, my health and the environment would all suffer if I gave in to all that temptation.

So, I signed us up for one of those meal-kit providers. We started receiving the ingredients for three meals a week. At first, my boyfriend and I endured the food making process by cooking together.

After about six months we were confident we had learned how to cook. We even dared invite friends over for dinner (cooked by us!) and they hardly ever complained of stomach cramps afterwards.

One of my favorite dishes I learned how to prepare in that time was the Ptitim with mushrooms, tarragon and lemonzest ricotta.

So yes, this is happening, I am going to share a recipe with you.

I’ve seen a variation of this dish in a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, which is more of a stew but features many of the same ingredients.

Ingredients (for 2 people):

  • 4 medium sized shallots
  • 1/2 lemon
  • fresh tarragon
  • fresh chervil
  • 100g ricotta
  • 250g cremini mushrooms
  • 600g pecorino or grana padano
  • 170g Ptitim / pearl couscous
  • 600ml of vegetable stock
  • oliveoil
  • butter
  • salt
  • pepper

About the ingredients

Ptitim, which is also known as pearl couscous or Israeli couscous, is not an ingredient I was familiar with previously. It has become a staple food at our place ever since we learned about it though. If you can’t get your hands on this variety of couscous, any type of pasta would work for this recipe.

The dish also includes tarragon, which in Dutch is called ‘dragon’. As if that isn’t reason enough to put into a dish it also happens to be superduper yummy. It has a sweet, anisey taste which I really recommend you get acquainted to, if you’re not already. If you can’t get the fresh variety, the dried stuff also works.

Chervil is not as easy to find where I live, especially not in the fresh variety. I have been forced to leave that ingredient out completely on several occasions and the dish was still really good, so no sweat if you don’t have it. The tarragon is quite essential though, so do try to include that one in some shape or form!

Step 1 – the choppy stage

Cut the shallot into small pieces. The original recipe advised to cut them in quarters, but I prefer them diced into smaller bits, but that’s just a personal preference.

Grate the lemon for some lemon zest. The recipe recommends half a teaspoon, but zest is such a specific flavor I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you want a bit more or a little less of that.

You will also need approximately 1 tablespoon of lemonjuice and I recommend making lemonade from the rest.

Cut the mushrooms in halves or quarters, depending on their original size.

Chop up the fresh herbs.

Step 2 – the part with the fire and the pans and the stirring

Heat a splash of olive oil in a large frying pan and add the shallot until soft (low heat, about 10 min) and then add the mushrooms. Add some salt and pepper to the pan and let it simmer for a bit (10 more minutes).

In the meantime, prepare the pearl couscous according to the instructions on the package. Make sure to use vegetable stock and not just plain water to cook the couscous in.

Step 3 – mixing the lemony lactose bomb

Mix the ricotta with the pecorino cheese, the lemon zest and the lemon juice. Add in a sniff of salt and a generous amount of pepper.

Step 4 – bringing it all together

Decide which of the two pans is going to be the cometogether pan. I suppose this depends on the size of the pans you have and which one is your favorite.

Add a tablespoon of butter to the appointed pan and then throw it all together. You can keep some ricotta and some of the herbs separate, as a garnish (but I usually don’t care much for that).

My boyfriend doesn’t like his dish as lemony as I do, so I usually hold some zest behind for my plate.

Don’t feel disheartened by the way it looks, I assure you it tastes really good!


This recipe of my favorite Comfortfood is a contribution for my own personal A-to-Z challenge, which I will be adding to once a month.

Alphabet so far:

Resilient Light

Back in the days when I used to work at the office, I walked up and down to flights of stairs multiple times a day. The kitchen, the toilets and the mailroom were downstairs. My desk and the printer were upstairs. I suppose all of those things are still where they’ve always been, but what can you be sure of these days…?

The distance from my bed to my workspace has been reduced to six footsteps. The toilet is somewhere in between the two.

When I realized how small my world had become I decided to take small walks through my neighborhood during my lunch breaks.

In March, the blossom from the nearby cherry trees drifted sweetly through my empty street. The trees themselves were locked behind the closed gates of Leiden’s museum of ethnology. It was like the scene from a dystopian Japanese animation film.

When the museum started allowing people back onto its terrain, I immediately knew where my next walk would lead me. I sniffed the spring air and stared at the cotton candy trees for a while, fully realizing it would be gone in a few days.

I continued my walk around the museum building, towards the back exit that would lead me back to my home, my desk and my ringing telephone.

And that is when I stumbled upon the museum’s stunning mural. It is hard to believe I hadn’t seen it before, but there was no denying it now. It was like an explosion of light, color and static motion. It stopped me dead in my tracks.

There was so much going on in that painting, I did not know what to make of it but I was certain it meant something and I wanted to know more.

The wallpainting was signed: Yatika Fields.

Luckily, Yatika Starr Fields was quite easy to find, so I decided to contact him. I received an elaborate mail shortly after, in which he answered all my questions and more.

He let me know he had made the piece in September 2019 and named it “Resilient Light: accommodating strength, our land, our hearts”. 

foto: Peter Hilz

Being a Native American artist, he incorporated a lot of elements in the mural from his culture, such as sage and cedar, to symbolize a moment of inner reflection, of purification and of healing. This applied to the physical space the art piece was made in as well as the place in time.

By adding these elements in the mural I am creating a space where this is a metaphor to the healing past, but also to bless the mural and the space in occupies.

Coincidentally, the museum building has been a place of healing ever since it was built in 1873. At first this was the case in the most literal sense, as it was designed to be a hospital. It served for this purpose for half a century, but being an academic hospital they soon desired more lab space, as well as more comfort for the patients.

The Museum of Ethnology moved in in 1935, just a few years before the beginning of the Second World War. I can imagine any study of cultures or ethnology would have required quite some sensitivity during that epoch.

It would be interesting to see what the exhibitions looked like in the museum in the period before, during and after the occupation.

This year, 2020, marked the 75th anniversary of the end of second world war for the Netherlands and we are only now starting to reflect honestly and truthfully about where we went wrong, what we could have done differently and who deserves an apology (and then some).

All though 75 years may sound like a long time to come to terms with major historical events, Yatika Fields’ mural demonstrates that scars from the past can stay open for centuries.

The piece he painted was in fact “in commemoration of 400 years of colonial presence in America”, as he put it in his e-mail response. The museum will shine its light on this occasion in its own way, as well as many other institutions across the globe, as part of the Mayflower 400 celebration.

As a Dutch citizen I could say Native American history and modern day US policies have nothing to do with me, but if the past few months have taught me anything it is that everything and everyone is connected.

Decisions and choices made by one individual have consequences that ripple out in every direction and continue to be felt 400 years later.

Yatika Fields even expresses this in his piece, as he explained to me:

The light in the mural is a metaphor to strength. It’s leaving the hand of one figure and in a manner of projection is being caught and illuminated by the others.

This is significant in the distribution of resources, tribal identity, cultural knowledge to keep us sustained spiritually to persevere in all the difficulties we face as a people in the county we are from, from the colonizers.

We still face these issues today, in the light of COVID19. Native communities and communities of color are being targeted with lack of federal and government aid.

The shells and nautical reference relate to early trade in the Americas and thus reasons of expansions. The ocean and water between were a catalyst to change, just as the tides change with time.

In a way, the shells and nautical references in mr Fields’ piece are part of my story too.

I am the child of a development worker, the grand daughter of a naval officer for the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army and the great grand daughter of a preacher who sailed to the Dutch colonies, with the bible in hand.

It’s not up to me to apologize for the choices of my forefathers. It’s not up to me to defend them either.

All I can do is shine a light on my own actions.

I hope to be able to keep my sense of wonder and take in what the world has to tell me; be it through the blossom of a Japanese cherry tree, the symbolism of a mural or the conversation with a fellow human being.

Bring in the cedar and sage. Let’s talk. Let’s heal.

UPDATE: See how the mural was created on Yatika Fields’ own website.