Monday, December 1, 2014

Gratitude, even when you don't feel it

Apparently I am only capable of blogging semi regularly when I have no free time. The past few months I have had more time on my hands than I have had in literally YEARS and yet I don't seem to accomplish anything semi productive. Since I've done a terrible, terrible job of keeping in touch for those who are wondering what I'm up to: I graduated end of August and am currently still living in Amsterdam doing research part time (in Delft) on frugal innovations in Africa for a joint research center between three Dutch universities. My contract runs until February 1st and soon I may be doing research very similar to my master thesis topic for another professor. The research center applied for funding that would include a PhD position. So far it looks like the money will come through which means I can probably start a PhD around March if I decide. Otherwise, I am mostly attempting to figure out how to deal with having so much time on my hands and survive off a two day a week salary (going well so far). And applying for jobs. So I suppose my main excuse for not blogging is simply having nothing interesting to blog about.

But in the spirit of Thanksgiving and after a lovely evening with dear friends sharing food, wine, and laughter I felt it was time to express gratitude for my current place in life. Some days thankfulness comes easily, but oftentimes when I stare out at the endless grey skies, or step into the wind and rain and cold and feel depressed about not knowing exactly where I will be or what I will be doing in the upcoming months, gratitude is not a word I would easily use to label my emotions. However, I'm slowly learning to be thankful when it isn't easy, and express gratitude for things or situations that at first glance don't seem thankfulness worthy. Although cultivating a spirit of thankfulness is not always easy, I'm discovering that expressing gratitude even when I don't feel it can slowly change my mindset. So in honor of one of my favorite American holidays, I am thankful for:

1. Dutch weather. Yes this is a shocker. I have notoriously complained about cold, grey, rain, snow (pretty much anything other than beach weather) for most of my life. I would be lying to say that if I could have everything I want in life I would not choose to live in a cold weather climate. BUT, this year I have been learning to appreciate the weather. Whether it's sunny and warm, cold and grey, bitterly windy, rainy, humid, hot, whatever. I am thankful for Dutch weather because when it's sunny, I appreciate it more. My heart truly sings when the sun bursts through after weeks of grey. I'm grateful that unlike many places in the world, having enough water is not even remotely a concern in this tiny country. I'm grateful for the wind when I'm cycling because it makes me work harder and makes up for the lack of hills in the this country. And I'm grateful for the evening light just before the sun sets, that colors and illuminates the many clouds in the Dutch sky. Sure, most days I can't say I'm thrilled to ride my bike through a torrential downpour only to sit soaking wet on the train. But I do think, the inconsistency of the Dutch weather makes me appreciate the sunny days, and allows me to slow down and not obsess over not getting enough exercise on a particular day, but instead sit instead with a book or good company and enjoy a cup of hot tea.

2. Working part time and being able to support myself. This is also a blessing in disguise. For most of my life I have obsessively saved, scrounged, skimped and become over-involved. I have a mortal fear of missing out on opportunities so rather than strategically saying no to preserve my sanity, I say yes to everything and forget about myself and people. I don't have any regrets, I'm also immensely grateful for the opportunities I've had. But it's actually a remarkable gift to be able to work two days a week and pay all my bills (barely). There's something deeply satisfying about living simply (maybe I'm strange in this way) and just being content that rent is paid, I have food in my stomach and am surrounded by good people. Although, I haven't figured out how to be productive and only work two days a week and not think and read myself to death with all my free time, I think this period of living extra simply and not having a massive to do list is a huge gift after years of working myself into the ground. And more importantly, the fact that I have health insurance, a room, and food while only working two days a week is a remarkable gift. I hope I can work more soon since saving is also important. But in the meantime, I am slowly accepting the gift of this period of waiting.

3. My friends, particularly my best friend. In December of 1996, my parents drove me to the neighbors house of the house we were temporarily renting for the supposed one year of living in Michigan. There I met Rebecca, we awkwardly attempted to get to know each other in what initially felt like a forced friendship (for the first day that is). But eighteen years, and six countries later I haven't managed to get rid of this girl. Whether it's making and selling cards in the "craft room", overly competitively playing games and hating each other afterwards, waking up at 6 am on weekends to go running, camping under the stars to avoid paying for a campsite, riding horses, biking through tulip fields, running in Cape Town South Africa, having a picnic in fairytale like woods in Altenkirchen Germany, hiking mountains in Uganda, or cooking over a charcoal stove in the Rwandan rainforest; this girl won't ever be out of my life. And for that I am thankful. Sometimes I hate her more than I love her, but I'm thankful for our random adventures, strange habits, her consistently inconsistent communication habits, and her lifelong support. Besides Rebecca, no matter where I go, I have been fortunate to meet sincere, open minded, smart, generous and kind people who challenge me and support me.

4. My family. I'm thankful that I was the only girl with four silly and unique brothers. I'm thankful that being surrounded by guys my whole life helped me to never seek out attention from men (perhaps to a fault ;) ), taught me to respect myself and demand respect from others and perhaps also gave me a very strong dislike for excessive drama. I'm thankful for a childhood where I was allowed and encouraged to play in dirt, to create, to explore, to learn, to read, and to be creative even if it meant doing ridiculous things. I'm thankful for parents who actively encouraged my travels and attempt to have a global mindset even when it means me living halfway across the world. I'm thankful for a family that has encouraged my questions and determination and goals even when I'm bull headed, stubborn and opinionated. And I'm thankful for the lessons of hospitality and generosity.

5. Healthy food. I'm grateful that I live somewhere, where I have the ability to create delicious and healthy meals and I'm thankful that I was taught good food habits from a young age so I never had to relearn my eating habits. Finally, I'm thankful that I was taught to think about where my food comes from and participate in growing my own food (even though I mostly kill anything that grows).

Finally, I'm thankful that in just three weeks I get to see almost my whole family in a corner of the world with perfect weather (sorry Dutch weather, I'm not THAT thankful for you)!

Small business owners in Uganda

Market in Banda, Rwanda

Avocados in Rwanda

Post charcoal stove cooking in Rwanda

Climate KIC friends in Valencia Spain

Fresh farm food just outside Milan, Italy

Graduation in Delft. My dear friend and former roommate.

Rollende Keuken (rolling kitchens), Amsterdam. 

Rwandese dancing at a wedding. 

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