A job well done

“Morning,” I burst into the bakery almost out of breath. “Just saw my mother at the doctor’s. She didn’t look too happy to see me. Or she just didn’t look happy. Maybe I should send her a message.”

I promptly take out my iPhone to send said message as I take a seat at a small round table near the window. “Ah she’s hurt her back. A slipped disk. Guess my tarot is pretty good.”

“The Ides of March…” Bakerman suggests as he places a cup of hot tea in front of me.

“Oooh what do you mean?” I want to know, nibbling the chocolate chip cookie I found lying innocently on the saucer. “Like things aren’t turning out well for her at all? It’s like you said, I dont think my brother Fatty is really helping her.”

“My name is Bakerman not Jesus,” Bakerman smiles as he takes a seat opposite me. “I don’t know.”

“She also seems to believe my blog, that Willem is my grandad reincarnated,” I tell him conspiratorially. “Sometimes you sound like Jesus. Or a see-er. Somebody with special powers and special insights.”

“True,” Bakerman holds my gaze. “Willem is not your grandfather reincarnated.”

“He is,” I cry defensively. “Why do you think he’s not? He loves eating nuts. He’s extremely handy and precise with his little fat fingers. He’ll make an excellent brain surgeon.”

“So do squirrels,” Bakerman adds matter of factly.

“Hahaha. For a baby he is really handy,” I argue. “And he builds towers with Lego blocks. He’s a little wonder child.”

“That’s great,” Bakerman leans forward to get a better lock on my eyes. “Wonder where he gets it from.”

“He’s got Marc’s little short fingers,” I point out haughtily.

“Or yours perhaps,” Bakerman teases.

“Marc had an uncle who was a renowned heart surgeon in Peru,” I start explaining. “He passed away some time ago. Nooo those are not my thumbs.”

“What does that have to do with it or are you desperate again?” Bakerman snaps with apparent disapproval.

“Nothing but genetics,” I give him a coquettish nod.

“I see,” Bakerman will not be put off by my show. “Professions don’t have much to do with genetics. A little perhaps but nothing really. Willem will have good motor skills or bad. It’s to do with his own development. In a few years the passed-on instincts will show up.”

“Ok,” I decide to chose my battle wisely and give up on this one.

“I am sure you will teach him all your fears,” Bakerman won’t let me off so easily.

“Hope not,” I grumble under my  breath.

“Teach him to do good business. Teach him to be nice some of the time a ruthless the rest of the time,” Bakerman tells me sternly. Then he gets up from his chair abruptly. “I am going to teach now. See you later”

I read somewhere that if you don’t want to be asked to do something again, to make sure you do an awful job the first time around. That was the lesson my mother taught me. I first figured this out when it came to attending to her needs as her personal servant. Not only was I the live-in mad-hatter tea maker, I was also the full-time nanny to occupy children. And when one day my mother requested I paint her nails, I saw another full-time occupation heading my way. So I did my utmost best to make it look horrid. She never asked me again. Those are the fringe benefits of successful failure.

However, what has it taught me also, to procrastinate. To not try hard enough. To keep going. To be competitive and really fight for something I want. So, that’s what can be said about the job half-done. It leaves you nowhere.

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Define your personal blueprint #reiki #energy

The flu left me just as suddenly as it had hit me the previous week. I feel refreshed, optimistic, excited and ready to live a full life. The Wizard cat comes floating into my kitchen on a bright pink cloud, so I decide to give him another update on my doings.

“Good morning again,” I smile at the Wizard. “Love the ‘Center for Inspiration’ idea. Last week I did 2 readings and 1 meditation. That’s 130 Euros straight in the pocket. Would like to add crystal healing to the list. So I’ve started a course on Reiki. What do you think about shamanism? Astral travel? Do you think psychics really exist? Wishing you a wonderful day.”

“Hi. You ask hard questions,” the Wizard swirls round on his fluffy cloud to face me head on. “Shamanism is good when true. Much the same as medicine women in South America. Met many and respect their skills. Psychics exist but are not common so there are many bullshit artists around. Astral travel is something you should stay away from at the moment. Again it is not an easy process to control and needs a strong mind and some other practices first. Knowledge is important here. Reiki is good. I am a master but don’t practice.  Crystal healing is bullshit in my opinion and has no statistics to support it except placebo cures. We live and stand on crystals all day. Yet we are still sick both physically and mentally. Read Zen books. A lot of people like this because it gives them a false sense of power over others. Most people are born idiots and you can fool them into believing you have a direct line to God. If so they will depend on you for their wellbeing and pay you too. Just look at the Pope, he is a master at this.”

“So it’s not the right path to take,” I muse internally revising my plan. “You are really good and you are a true healer. Why don’t you use your gift? I was wondering whether good things happen because we talk about them… Would that be like Reiki in words. Or am I dangerously becoming co-dependent?” I pause for a moment to mark the drama in my assessment. “But all good. Maybe the magic lies in not really knowing where the energy comes from and where it will go next.” I am not too sure about all this magic mumbo jumbo, so I am quick to change the subject again. “Another thing, I find tarot readings really hard when the client is scattered or in a bad place. It makes the reading scattered and unclear and it just drains my energy. Any ideas how to deal with such situations?” I ask the Wizard. Without waiting for his reply, I go on with all I have been wanting to tell him in an entire week: “Another funny thought, I used to adore Marc the guru shaman. And I sometimes still find myself wanting the Knave of Hearts to come back. Is that my unrequited love addiction playing up? Or just nostalgia?”

“So many thoughts,” the Wizard’s eyes twinkle with excitement. I am giving him food for thought. This is the kind of stuff he does like talking about. “Ok… Number one. The path you are on is good but it is not the answer to problems and won’t give you power over anything or anyone. Astral travel is not for you yet. Everything else is ok so long as you only exchange value with your client and not use it to hold a power over someone. I use my gift whenever I can and in different ways. For some reason people think they need to compete instead of enjoying healing with me. Some believe framing your thoughts brings results, like with NLP. I believe you must immerse yourself instead and become the role you want to play. So if you are interested in this dress the part and talk the talk, but also walk the walk. Reiki chanels energy from the universe through you so your client can relax. In so doing so they heal. The more they can relax the better for you and the client. Like Reiki you need to do a prayer of protection and understand it is not about you, nor do you need to prove your readings. Tarot is about the person you are reading for. Never make the claim something will definitely happen. The reading is a prediction of past, present and future based on how your client feels now. Tomorrow that could change. In doing this your prayer must include the removal of negative energy being passed to you. When they are confused you draw three cards separately and read those first to get direction. If still confused return the client’s money and offer a cup of tea and fifteen minute chat. Tell them to come back in a day or two. The reading will be clearer. Your desire for the Knave of Hearts to come back I would assume is your desire for a stable family, a happy home and a partner to be spoilt by and to spoil. Something you have never had. While you hang onto your past this can’t enter your life. You have too many back doors open. To many escape hatches. One is called Wim.”

“Wow long answer, a lot for me to take in,” I finally say as I had listened in awe at everything he had to tell me. “Well I don’t want power, nor power over anyone. I like doing readings. It makes me feel very happy. Bonus is I get paid for doing it. Plus I can do it from home. Very happy. Regarding me holding onto the past, I don’t really see it, though you obviously do. Or is the Knave of Hearts the past I hold onto? Is there a chance he will come back? After all I have his son.”

“Yes do more,” the Wizard encourages me. “Focus on Reiki and energy healing too. You will have a balanced life if you appeal to your clients.” The Wizard pauses for a moment to make sure he has my full attention. “There is no chance he will come back. He is busy with his life. Men don’t have emotional fantasies like women do. Sorry but we are penis driven.”

“Oh okay,” I sigh. “That’s clear then.”

“Penis and power to dominate are some of our basic drivers,” the Wizard explains the strange species men are to us women. “Like food, feeling needed and wanted, feeling important and of value. Stuff like that.”

“What is the problem with Wim that I don’t see?” I demand to know quite defensively. I don’t like it when the Wizard has a dig at Wim.

“Lack of comitment,” the Wizard repeats the same old answer.

“Oh okay,” I sigh again. Same question, same answer, what had I expected?

“Not much effort to bond two families I don’t think,” the Wizard says too nonchalantly for the situation. “Of course this is just a guess. Maybe it’s lack of commitment by you too.”

“It could be,” I admit. “I have no clue what it should look like. Bonding. Commitment. Being spoiled. Do you have an example? Or a couple as an example of how it feels and looks like?”

“Look at couples that are together for more than ten years and still hold hands,” the Wizard nods at me as his cloud has started bopping up and down merrily around my kitchen. “You see them window shopping. This cloud does its own thing.”

“Can’t think of any…” I trail off. “Wim and I hold hands.”

“I will think of examples for you that you might know of,” the Wizard promises. “I guess so. You make a great alternate week couple.”

“My yoga teacher,” I list one example of what looks like a happy couple. “Perfect body, perfect kids, perfect life. Never seen my parents holding hands though. Little Miss Muffet maybe…”

“The problem is most couples forget ‘thou shall not covet’,” the Wizard won’t let me off easily.

“Little Miss Muffet never liked Wim,” I am still desperately trying to think of happy couples who hold hands.

“Little Miss Muffet must have been into you,” the Wizard believes he has unearthed another truth.

“It’s not that hard. Really,” I stop to think about resisting temptation now. “It’s a slight moment of ego when someone shows interest but not really worth it.”

“No its not,” the Wizard confirms happy to note my progress on this level.

“I like being with Wim and I like being alone,” I repeat what I have said so many times before. “Don’t think I’ll close that back door yet. My life is pretty good when I am not panicking. With a bit of work and adjustments it might even get better.”

“Ok. Keep going,” the Wizard encourages this line of thought. “Build your practice. Maybe Wim will heal your families next year.”

“Maybe,” I smile warmly. “Or maybe it is something I should focus on and direct my energy to.”

“Yes you need to get involved too,” the Wizard insists.

“This year be courageous and focus on being a mom and a good friend,” I repeat what my cards had told me in a recent auto-reading.

“Thats a good place to be,” the Wizard smiles at me. I flash him a huge grin, happy to be feeling on top of my game again. “Be grateful too and give charity will help a lot too. Now go make a blog about this please. Share the love….”

“This would help many people,” I reflect on all we have shared in the past hour or so.

“Yes,” the Wizard coaxes me.

“My blog is the only missing piece in the magic puzzle right now,” I suddenly notice a bit taken aback.

“I am going back to my task now,” the Wizard’s cloud starts humming and floating towards the door. “You are a lovely distraction.”

“We’ll see,” I decide to let it all go for the moment. I remember to surrender. “In the meantime I really love it.”

“Figure it out,” the Wizard warns me that surrender is not the same as just sitting back waiting for a very long time.

“Yes go bake your daily bread,” I blow a kiss after him as he leaves.

* Disclaimer : Any resemblance between the fictional characters in this story and any persons, living or dead, is a miracle by chance more than by choice.

Feeling like cowboys in Senegal #travelwithkids

We woke up on our fifth morning under the African sun of Senegal, feeling totally relaxed and ready for another day of adventures. It was going to be a lazy day today and we were really looking forward to that. We also still had the spider in the toilet problem, so we hurried to get ready and headed for the restaurant toilets to place a number two. There is only a limit to what you can help yourself with by using the shower instead of the toilet.

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After breakfast and a leisurely swim in the pool, we headed off to the local town for some shopping. Now brace yourselves, ladies. The shopping street is nothing to what we are used to. There are fresh fruits and vegetable stores. Also stands selling clothes donated by people from Europe. Yes, selling those clothes which you put in the dumpster. Anyway… It is also possible to be checking out a store but having nobody there tending to the store. Just come back later. We trust you won’t steal anything.

 

Anyway, all good fun because the main aim of today’s shopping was to find material and fabric to have dresses made. Each purchase is also a skill of tried and tested negotiation. Luckily our travel guides could drive a hard deal and get us the best price.

Having your clothes tailor made in Africa is really a fresh take on holiday dressing. If you’d rather not spend another holiday season turning to the same obvious pieces buried deep in your closet, then carefully choosing your fabric and describing exactly what you want definitely beats the trusted, overdone little black dress. I was surprised how this small tailor business managed to deliver a suitable party-ready alternative outfit for me and my children, plus the other children of our party by the very next day. Outfits that feel fresh yet aren’t completely over the top!

 

After shopping, we headed to a little café down by the river where we got some refreshments and enjoyed an aperitif before having lunch. Our guide took the baby off to wash his feet in the water, allowing me a few minutes of down time to relax with my gin & tonic and exchange some adult talk with my fellow travellers.

 

We had lunch with a local family which is a brilliant way to jump-start any kid’s imagination. This family also lived down by the river, in a community of several families together, reigned by the big old mama of the clan. Us women were required to go into the kitchen, which was nothing but a square room in a cement concrete building, no glass in the windows. Yet there was electricity wiring across the wall connecting to a very modern looking refrigerator. We later learned that this clan was family of the wife of the owner of our charm hotel, the Souimanga Lodge. Makes sense.

 

We wore a sarong wrap and dished up rice, then covered this with sauce and watched how big, old mama wisely distributed the chicken meat evenly between the seven large silver platters. Then we carried out the platters balanced on our heads, whilst the men were relaxing down by the river and the children were playing. The baby had immediately been adopted in the black community. I had my duties to see to and the baby was being fully entertained with all the other tiny littles.

 

We ate with our hands. Our right hand, to be exact. Before sitting down to eat, two buckets were brought out. One with soapy water and one with just clear water. After each washing our hands, we sat down and ate. You were supposed to squish the food together into a ball and then pop it into your mouth. After dinner, hands were washed again in the same buckets of water as before dinner.

 

Then there was the after dinner party dancing. If you’re wondering why you can’t see my eldest son in these pictures, it’s probably because he was hiding behind a tree. He really didn’t want to participate in the dancing. We all joined in of course, but with our typical European reserve. Never would we dream of letting ourselves go and dance like true African queens. But such fun to see how free those people express themselves. I’m slightly jealous not to have the same enthusiasm and not give a flying fudge what people might think.

After lunch, we headed back to our Lodge for some down time by the pool. By now I was sick and tired of having a gigantic spider in my toilet, so I complained again to our travel guides and shoved a picture of the big beast under their nose. So two of them came to get the animal. I repeat, it took two men to come and get the damn thing. They were also intrigued to know where we went to toilet if we were refusing to enter the toilet in our room. My eldest son Winston told them with certain reserve: “We go somewhere else.” That was that, our honour was saved.

 

So two of our travel guides entered the toilet. One armed with two cans of insect killing spray and one armed with a broom. It took them ten minutes to chase and kill the damn spider. But they finally got it and brushed him carefully outside. I did notice how they didn’t want to pick it up. So I thought smugly to myself I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like spiders. I thanked our guides for their heroic work in saving a single mom and her three littles from such a horrid monster. At which one of the guides looked at me, smiled and said : “Now you can stop using the shower.” We had been outsmarted.

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That evening we headed out to yet another remote little village by horse and cart. You have to see the picture of what “horse ‘n cart” actually means in Senegal. It is literally a piece of wood with wheels attached being pulled by a meagre horse.

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We arrived in a village where people live in huts, and small houses. Sand roads and basic necessities. We watched how a local show-off climbed up high in a coconut tree and chopped down a bunch of coconuts with his machette. The kids were unhappy because in chopping down those coconuts, a birds nest got thrown out of the coconut tree and little birds were killed in the fall.

 

By now, I had fallen in love with the warmth, with the friendliness of the people, with the simplicity of life, with no stress and beauty all around. There was no way I wanted to come back to cold gray Europe where deadlines and obligations await each hour of the day. I found this trip to be my golden ticket to opening myself to new horizons and new ways of feeling and thinking. And at the same time I was hoping this experience would entertain and encourage my kids’ future paths.

 

The memory of slave island

“Fancy taking the baby for a walk?” I ask Dorothy one sunny warm bank holiday.

“Yes, good idea.” Dorothy is always up for a brisk walk, especially if there is the promise of a glass of champagne somewhere along the way. Unfortunately for us, the café at the local park was closed, and won’t open until evening, despite summertime. Business logic, sometimes. “Did you do anymore research on your trip to Senegal?”

“Yes I have.” I tell her rather pleased. “I was reading up on one of our excursions to the Island of Goree. The island used to serve as assembly point to ship off the slaves from Africa to America, across the Atlantic.”

“Oh my, a whole lot of colonial history gone into that place.” Dorothy acquiesces.

“Yes, not one to be proud of.” I admit. “But just like the story of Anne Frank, this is one to be remembered. It’s a story not only about slave trade, but about humanity. The things we take for granted in our welfare society.”

“A luxury indeed.” Dorothy is deep in her thoughts. “Somehow our freedom is something we undervalue. Or we should be more grateful.”

“True, we’ve come a long way.” I go on. “And just to think, women’s rights, that’s even more recent. Women didn’t have voting rights till the 1950s.”

“I’ve been told the Senegalese are a very beautiful race of people.” Dorothy has been doing her homework too. “Colourful, merry and very likeable. I’m sure your kids will be very impressed.”

“And so they should. They’re going to be exposed to a totally different way of living. Something so different from what they know. I’m hoping it to be an eye opener for them.” I tell Dorothy. “I think they’ll be impressed most by the hospitality and optimism of the local population. Somethings we’ve forgotten too much in our Western civilisation.”

“Not to mention the African music and dancing.” Dorothy muses on. “Quite the opposite to the tight-laced ways of our society. Do you know whether you’ll have the opportunity to mix much with the locals?”

“Apparently, we’re going to visit villages, schools and families in their homes. So we should get quite an authentic impression of what life is really like there.” I tell her what I’ve been told by our travel agents.

“So you’re not going to cancel this trip?” Dorothy looks at me amused.

“Hell no!” I exclaim. “Although I must admit I’m rather reserved about my own emotional reactions when visiting the former slave island of Goree, and the orphanage in Mbour. Those kind of things always get to me, you know.”

“You’re too soft!” Dorothy teases me. “You always get all emotional and teary eyed. And what for? You can’t save the world. You’re not Mother Theresa, you know!”

“I know, I know. It’s just that I find that everything in life is an exchange of energy.” I try to explain. “How can a trip that’s going to be so life-enriching for us, also leave an equally beneficial mark on the people we reach over there?”

“What do you mean, sweetheart?” Dorothy asks.

“Remember the saying: give a man a fish and he will eat one day. Teach a man how to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life.” I start out.

“Yes, that’s an Indian proverb and you’re going to Africa.” Dorothy is still laughing.

“I’ve looked up the orphanage and even asked the travel agents how I can help support charity and empower the local economy.” I tell her to truth. “There are options to donate money, to buy supplies or to sponsor a child monthly.”

“That sounds great!” Dorothy enthusiasms.

“It does a bit, but it’s not exactly what I had in mind.” I mutter. “I don’t like just giving money, because you have no clear indication of where that money will go to, or whose pocket it will end up in. It’s a bit silly for me to fill my cases with old stuff to give away. I could buy it there, thus supporting the local economy and also helping the orphanage. Or I could sponsor a child, but still same option as the first.”

“Well what other options are there?” Dorothy wants to know.

“I don’t know, darling.” I tell her irritated. “But I’m sure it has to do with empowering women. It all boils down to getting the locals to be able to set up a thriving business, and to empower them digitally, so that they can reach a global audience. I do believe that’s the way forward.”

“You’re right darling, it probably is. But maybe people aren’t ready for that. And surely it’s not something you can accomplish in your very short trip over there. Not unless you manage to make a few contacts beforehand.” Dorothy brainstorms with me.

“I’ll have to do some more digging on WordPulse.” I resume. “See who I can reach out to there.”

“Right, and in the meantime, would you please focus your research on something more light and fun, like which wildlife you will see on your safari.” Dorothy urges me. “Do they have elephants in Senegal? I just love elephants.”

“What do you mean, more fun?” I ask her.

“Darling, I love you dearly, but you’re overdoing it for the moment with all your courses and certificates.” Dorothy pauses. “You’re not as fun lately as you normally are.”

I think she’s right. Although I am getting much gratification from a sense of accomplishment, maybe my mind and body do need to take it a little bit easier.

 

What do you think? How do you manage to let go and recharge your batteries? Let me know in the comments below.

 

The land of Teranga

I’m busy in my kitchen putting the grocery shopping away when my mobile pings.

“Fiona, are you there?” It’s a message from Dorothy.

Sigh, why doesn’t she just call me? So I answer: “Yes, hello!”

“Are you home?” She’s testing the field.

“Yes, with boyfriend and baby.” I answer to truth. “Why, what’s up?”

“I’m cooking bolognaise sauce but I need a mixer.” Dorothy sends me a picture of a big pot full of bolognaise sauce. “Can I borrow your mixer?”

For a moment, I’m wondering why she needs a mixer for her bolognaise sauce, but I decide to just stick to the subject at hand: “Yes, sure. But it’s called ‘return’.”

“I will bring it start back but I need to mix the days.” I suspect there’s something wrong with Dorothy’s auto-correct. She needs to mix something. What exactly, I’ll just leave that in the middle for now.

“Yup yup, come pick it up.” Always a good excuse to see Dorothy. She’s such fun.

Five minutes later the doorbell goes and we open up to a very happy Dorothy wearing a pink frilly apron, her hair pulled back in a messy bun.

“Hello darling!” She kisses me hello.

“Care for a drink?” I ask her in good humour.

“OK, why not. Do you have anything non-alcoholic?” She asks looking around the kitchen.

“For a matter of fact I do. A friend of mine bought me this bottle of non-alcoholic cocktail drink. You should try it, it’s delicious.” And I show Dorothy the bottle filled with a pink fizzy looking liquid.

“Looks like that’s full of sugar.” Dorothy says, but she accepts a glass of the bubbly nontheless. “When are you off on vacation again?”

“End of August. Taking the littles to the Dutch coast.” I remind her.

“Oh I love the coast line in Holland too.” Dorothy dreams off. “My ex-boyfriend took me there and it had these high sand dunes and a little café where we could stop for lattés.”

“Mmm, delicious isn’t it.” I nod at her. “And then end of October, I’m off to Senegal.”

“You’re going where?” Dorothy’s eyes are almost popping.

“I’m off to Senegal. That’s in Africa, you know.” I tell her again.

“What, with the kids?” She asks me looking incredulous.

“Yes, with the kids.” I answer, and I emphasize: “Just me and the kids.”

“Your boyfriend isn’t going?” Dorothy looks at me like I’m from some alien planet. “Why isn’t he going?”

“Wim doesn’t like to travel.” Is all I can say about that. “And it’s going to be just great. It’s a guided tour. A vacation organized by a tour operator uniquely for families with children. We’ll be going all around Senegal, on a safari, and visiting a crèche, and the kids will learn to sing songs with the local kids.”

“What do you know about Senegal?” Dorothy is still giving me that look as if I’m crazy. “Have you even started to research this?”

“Well I know we need vaccinations against yellow fever and pills for malaria.” I start to sum up. “I know that the people there speak French, and that we should drink only tap water.”

“That’s all you know?” Dorothy’s turn is turning a little condescending now.

“Well no, I know much more than that.” I’m defensive now, because I’ll admit I haven’t done much research to date. But still plenty of time. “I know that Senegal is known for it’s hospitality. That’s why they call it the Land of Teranga. People will just come up to you and talk. They will want to touch too, because they haven’t seen many white people. They’ll probably want to touch our blonde hair. And they’ll be intrigued by our body hair, like on our arms, because they don’t have that.”

“Yes, and be careful. They’ll always want to sell something to you.” Dorothy the expert adds on. “And black men will want to do gigolo stuff with you, because you’re a rich European cougar woman.”

“Yes, yes, I know all about the gigolos.” I have been warned. “I also know that certain people are scared of white people, because we look like walking zombies. When black people die, they lose their colouring slightly. Which makes us look like the walking dead.”

“And then be careful of thieves.” Dorothy warns. “They’ll pull off your jewelry in plain daylight, you know.”

“I don’t wear much jewelry.” I point out. “And yes, I’ll be careful not to flaunt the abundance we live in in our Western society. I was hoping the contrast would get my children thinking how lucky they are and which differences there exist around the world.”

“Just try to blend in with the locals.” Dorothy advises.

“Oh yes, like that’s going to work.” I burst out laughing. “I’ll blend in really well, being all blonde haired and blue eyed. People won’t even notice me with my three blonde babes.”

Dorothy giggles in reply.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the Baobab trees, and the women who are using these products to drive business and change.” I tell her. “Those are the things I’m interested in. Empowering women. Giving them the chance to take advantage of the digital landscape.”

“The baobab tree, that’s like the Tree of Life in those Disney films.” Dorothy remarks. “I think I’ve seen it in the Lion King, the tree that monkey lives in.”

“Rafiki, the monkey.” I confirm. “Yes, and it’s also the Tree of Souls in Avatar. And there are baobab trees in Madagascar, the cartoon film. And it’s mentioned too in the Little Prince. You know that classic, don’t you.”

“Of course I do.” Dorothy sounds offended. “So trees. Anything else?”

“I’m hoping we’ll go to the Saloum-delta and see birds nesting there.” I’m starting to dream about the wonders of nature and a whole new world I’m about to discover.

“Darling, you know I’m going to have to go.” Dorothy finishes her drink and looks at her watch. “My bolognaise sauce needs seeing to. Are you home tomorrow?”

“Yes, tomorrow after work is fine.” I beam at her.

“You’re fantastic.” Dorothy kisses me goodbye. “But you’re still crazy to be going on such a vacation with three kids. Especially the baby.”

 

What do you think? Would you be concerned about traveling the world with a toddler? Let me know in the comments below.

Touring Amsterdam with kids

The next morning we all awoke fresh and replenished after a wonderful night’s sleep. Excitement buzzed in the air as kids and single moms got ready and dressed. We tripped off downstairs for a copious breakfast. And that must be said of the DoubleTree by Hilton hotels : they do a wicked breakfast !

Being guests having booked into a suite, we were entitled to privileged access to the executive lounge. Breakfast is no laughing matter in our family. We love to indulge in a copious serving after a night’s fasting to make sure our sugar levels are balanced for the day.

“Holidays are made for eating sugar and cake.” Dorothy remarked as she popped her third cupcake into her mouth. The big kids followed her example.

“How many times have I told you that you should not eat any more sugar ?” I was about to exclaim, but then found myself digging into the next cupcake and candy bar in sight. I am apt to experience sugar cravings. And sometimes I feel like I have no “willpower” when it comes to sweets. Occasionally I’ll even feel guilty after eating something sweet. Well, guess I’m not alone.

“Has everyone had enough sleep ?” Dorothy throws a motherly grin over the tribe of littles looking for our guidance.  “Where are we off to today ?”

“Aha, I wonder…” And I pause to intently look at each child. “I think today is a great day to visit the zoo. Artis is a renowned animal park. An oasis of nature right in the city centre.”

“Are we going there by bike taxi again ?” My eldest son looks at me expectantly.

“You liked that, didn’t you ?” My son nods at me. “No sweetheart, today we’re going to travel like the locals. We’re going to take the tram. Now be good little darlings, and grab a soya drink out of the refrigerator before we hit the town !”

And with that, all kiddos jumped up and scooted off to fill up their rations for the morning ride.

The tram to Artis zoo

We casually walked over to the central station where we were faced with several tram lines. I thought I’d buy our tickets first and maybe then find out which platform we needed to be on. The ticket kiosk was in dire need of some UX make-over, so after a few unsuccessful attempts, I asked for the aid of a kind looking Chinese lady.

The woman was very friendly, yet spoke to us in a broken language which was hard to discern at times. She got us to buy adult tickets but kept telling us to get the kids’ pass from the “so four”.

“What does she mean, the ‘so four’ ?” Dorothy whispered to me.

“I don’t know what she means.” I whispered back. “Can you see any signs looking like ‘so 4’ or anything like that ?”

Dorothy and I kept scanning the surroundings for a sign indicating ‘so 4’ whilst the Chinese lady kept talking to us pleasantly. “You’re off to Artis ? I take you to platform. You leave from platform 3. You need tram 9.”

“That makes sense.” Dorothy whispers from behind me. “Would never have found that : tram 9 leaving from platform 3.”

“Here you go.” Said the Chinese lady arriving at platform 3. “If you get on at the back of the tram, you can ask ‘so four’ or the conductor for kids ticket.”

At that she gave us a warm smile and went off on her bike. We stared after her.

“So four… She means the chauffeur !!” Dorothy exclaimed and we both burst out laughing.

“See that, children, what a wonderfully kind lady. We’ll remember her in our meditation tonight when we give gratitude for all the wonderful things in our life.” I say with warm feelings in my heart. Kindness is such an amazing gift.

Exploring Artis zoo

What can I tell you about the zoo other than it truly lived up to its legend. It is huge, extremely clean, loads of green open space where families can sit in the shade and enjoy a picknick. There are little restaurant places, but not too many, so it’s not too commercial and in your face. The animals looked happy and well looked after.

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We saw a herd of elephants in their domain, with an artificial lake where the elephants bathed at ease. A baby elephant trotted around too and was pleased to join in all the splashing in the water.

We saw sea lions swim around in the water. They were magnificent. We had the opportunity to see them swim from above. The same place where the penguins got fed fish from the caretaker. And then when moving back down to the ground floor, we could see the sea lions swimming around deeper down in the aquarium through a glass wall. Magically entrancing to watch.

We visited the butterfly garden where the atmosphere was warm and humid. Big wonderful butterflies flew all around us in the most bright amazing colours. We saw several big blue butterflies which has flown straight out of Alice in Wonderland. It was Absolem. The butterflies even landed on us to rest and to check us out.

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I’ll never forget these dinosaur statues. To start, the kids were all over them. I have to admit that even seeing a play statue was enough to trigger my curiosity about the creatures that walked the earth millions of years ago. Seeing your kids climb the scales of this statue is amazing. It gives a more complex picture and context of how this type of dinosaur once looked and lived.

Huge snakes and crocodiles in the reptile house. Gigantic spiders and scorpions in the insectarium. Wherever we went, wherever we looked, our gaze was rewarded with spectacular views and beautiful creatures.

I probably forgot to mention the giraffes and the monkeys, the lions and the tigers, and the enormous gorillas, the birds of paradise, and many many more animals who live in this magical kingdom. A delightful visit, not to mention the extraordinary food. Fresh smoothies and artisanal pizza’s made right in front of your eyes with bio-products.

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Making our way back.

“I think we’ve deserved an ice cream now.” Sighed Dorothy as we left the park in the early afternoon. The littlest one was getting tired, and our feet were heavy too after touring the park for hours. So we grabbed ourselves a delicious ice cream before heading back to the tram.

“That will be seven and thirty.” Said the lady behind the counter when each child had received his ice cream and gone to sit nicely outside on the bench in the shade of the warm sun.

“I beg your pardon ?” I stuttered. How could a couple of ice creams amount to thirty seven euros ?!

“That’s seven euros and thirty cents.” The lady repeated louder and clearly articulating with her plump lips. The misunderstanding had immediately been cleared. Thank goodness.

We took our happy bunch back to our luxurious hotel, where the baby slept and the children watched TV and played quietly on the electronic entertainment we had packed. I myself was in need of a nice cooling shower. I was already looking forward to some more snacks in the executive lounge and planning what else we could do to entertain our offspring for the remainder of this enticing day spent together as a close and loving family tribe.

How to make Amsterdam with kids easy

“I want to go to Vondelpark.” I clearly told Dorothy. She snorted as we set off on foot, starting at our hotel, DoubleTree by Hilton right next to the Amsterdam Central train station.

“How far is it ?” Dorothy inquired, already looking tired.

“Oh let me check.” I said as I got out my phone and checked on Google Maps how long it would take to get there. “Oh no, it’s just under 5 kilometers from here. With all the kids, that will take us at least an hour and a half !”

“Like there’s no way I’m doing that.” Dorothy looked alarmed. “You can’t seriously be thinking of going there on foot. Can’t we get a taxi?”

“No Dorothy, we’re in Amsterdam and we’re not taking a taxi.” I retort.

“Why not ? We do it all the time in Brussels. What about an Uber then ?” Dorothy suddenly gets creative.

“Dorothy dear, we’re in Amsterdam. The Dutch are very green-minded and eco-friendly. It’s just not done.” I explain. “Oh okay then, maybe Amsterdam is a bit like Barcelona and we’ll find some quaint little parks dotted around the city with play areas for the kids.”

“You’d be lucky. But okay, if we’re just going to be leisurely walking around the town, then I’m up for it.” All of a sudden, Dorothy is energised again.

So we set off walking down the little streets in a general south looking direction. Vondelpark seemed to be south to central station, so anything near where I originally wanted to be will do. We’re casually walking down the little streets which are filled with tourists. All youngsters out to have fun. They’re a noisy crowd. Laughing and jeering, running around thinking they’re funny. There’s also the youngsters sitting out smoking their joints. They look grey and pale and not like there having much fun.

“Oh my, I didn’t realise that’s what it looks like from the outside.” Dorothy looks alarmed.

“Well what did you think you looked like when you’re smoking a joint ?” I put the question to her.

“I don’t know. I think I looked kind of cool.” Dorothy answers defensively.

“Well there you go, that’s what cool looks like. Fun huh?” I’m being little miss goodie-pants now and I know Dorothy can’t stand it. I feel I need to make up for hurt feelings so I offer : “Oh look at that ! Bike taxis. That looks fun and it’s very green. I’m sure the Dutch would approve.”

“Oh goodie, no more walking.” Dorothy sounds relieved.

We approach the bike taxis and ask them to take us and the kids down to Vondelpark. The perfectly foldable Mountain Buggy fits perfectly between our legs. We’re on our way to check one item off my wish-list. Or so I thought.

The ride in the bike taxi was exciting, to say the least. Amsterdam is chock-a-block with bikes, pedestrians and cars. All of them making their way criss-cross through the city. The bike had a little electric motor and reached a relatively exciting speed at times too. Despite the fact that I did almost wet myself, and Dorothy looked all cross-eyed, we arrived safe and sound at Vondelpark. The bike taxi driver was super friendly too. He offered to come pick us up again when we were finished with our walk. A quick phone number exchange arranged that.

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We fully enjoyed strolling around Vondelpark. It’s a huge park right on the outskirts of Amsterdam center. It’s filled with both locals and tourists, all enjoying some quality time in the grass, pick-nicking with the kids, talking with friends. There were plenty of little stands offering light refreshments, ice creams and hotdogs. And all that for cheap !

We found the little Melkhuis where we stopped for some coffee and cake. The kids played. We stopped by the open-air theatre where a band was playing live music. We curiously eyed the various statues throughout the park. It was a great way to stretch our tired legs from the train ride, to get in some fresh air and to spend quality time together.

When we found we had finished our tour of the park, we called our bike taxi and he faithfully came to pick us up. The ride back home to our hotel was just as adventerous as the one getting to the park. Yet we arrived safely and the driver couldn’t help himself laughing at our worried discomfort.

“Well that sure got my adrenaline going.” Dorothy beamed. “What on the planning for tomorrow ?”

“Hmmm let me see…” I pondered for a moment. “I’d like to go to the Artis zoo. Apparently it’s very good. And I’d like to go for a boat ride. And maybe do a few museums too.”

“I think you’re being too ambitious there.” Dorothy yawned. “We’ll see tomorrow morning.”

And with that, we took our tired babes to bed and all slept soundly.