Monday Notes: About Europe

Disclaimer: I realize all European countries are not alike. The entire continent is not a monolith. However, I have visited six European countries over my lifetime, and there seem to be a few commonalities.

TEENY-TINY THINGS

Europeans like things small. This ranges from coffee to living spaces. Our Zagreb Airbnb was 400 square feet; that’s the size of two dorm rooms or a garage. Maybe I’m set in my big-ass American ways, but even if I was alone, that wouldn’t be enough space. I’m a little over five-feet tall and around 135 pounds; the showers in both rentals were too small for me to wash my hair or shave my legs. I found this interesting, especially in the Netherlands, where the tallest people in the world live! How does the population function in capsule-like spaces? 

SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS

A Dutch Uber driver found out we were from the States and shouted, “Yay, Trump! Yee-haw!” in a facetious way. In our Rotterdam Airbnb, the owner asked us to use the heat sparingly, because “it’s not that cold outside, because of you know…climate change.” We met a thirty-year-old biracial woman from the UK who wants to visit the US, but is afraid because she “doesn’t want to get shot in the street, minding her own business.” And a Croatian Uber driver began a conversation with me about the “race” and “gun problem” we have. According to him, he wouldn’t even know how to obtain a gun in his country. He would have to “find someone in the underground, like the mafia, and even then, know exactly who to speak to to get a gun.” 

FRESH BREAD AND MEAT

If you like bread, then go to the Netherlands. The bread is freshly made, and it is evident. One time, we bought a loaf of bread on a Monday and by Wednesday or so, it was moldy. When we’re home, bread stays “good” foreva…and that’s probably not a good sign. If you like meat, then go to Croatia. That’s all we found in the grocery store: red meat and chicken. I had fish when we went to Hvar, which is off the coast; otherwise, meat is what’s for dinner there. But be careful of fillers. We bought some ground beef, and you could literally see and taste the filler. Well, that’s what we think it was.

SALADS

Both countries offer salad, whether it is breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The Dutch seem to really enjoy arugula, in particular. I don’t mean a spring mix with arugula, I mean…that’s the salad—arugula. In Croatia, the salads are a mix of shredded varieties, like iceberg, romaine, and arugula. Croatians also have a fresh, light vinegar and oil dressing. However, if you want something other than salad, then you will probably have to buy it at the grocery store or market, and even then, especially in Croatia, it is hard to find other types of green veggies. 

HANGING CLOTHES ON THE LINE

I know I’ve spoken ad nauseum about this, but hear me out one more time. Hanging clothes on the line seems to be cultural. When we were in the Netherlands, everyone in the apartment hung their clothes out. They even had special contraptions that allowed the clothes to hang out further and be brought back into the house. When we toured ruins and other places, I noticed surrounding areas where residents hung their clothes on the line. And when we got to Croatia, that again, was the expectation. If any of my European friends want to enlighten me about this, then please feel free in the comments. The only place I saw a dryer was at the laundromat.

WASHING WITHOUT A WASHCLOTH

Years ago, when I visited Spain and England, I learned that washcloths weren’t a thing. But I totally forgot about this on our trip. The owner of the Holland Airbnb had hand towels, but they were really too big to use as washcloths. When we visited Belgium, it was the same; there were hand towels but no washcloths. By the time we flew to Croatia, I was prepared and had purchased some smaller towels (but they weren’t washcloths). I looked this up to find out why some people, not necessarily Europeans, don’t use washcloths, and the answer is because it’s seen as unsanitary to repeatedly use a washcloth due to bacteria buildup. Who knew?

SMOKING

The Dutch and Croatians smoke…a lot. I legit thought I was going to get an illness from second-hand smoke. Whether it was when we were at home, relaxing or out and about, eating, cigarette smoke wafted through the air and into our nostrils. Europeans smoked so much I thought maybe no one had told them that it was bad, until I saw an empty pack on a table that said, “Smoking kills.

UNITED STATES IS A MICROCOSM OF EUROPE

If you’re familiar with any United States’ history, then this should be a no-brainer, but sometimes you have to see something to fully understand. When I visited parts of London, Manhattan’s setup made sense. New Orleans reminds me of parts of Spain. On this trip, I learned more about where specific cities, ideas, and people originated. For example, do these cities sound familiar: Breuckelen, Haarlem? Yeah. They originated in the Netherlands, so did the stock exchange. Neckties came from Zagreb, Croatia (as well as Nikola Tesla), and lace was invented in Bruges. Finally the Belgian waffle, which we (or I) love so much, is not Belgian due to its shape; it is Belgian because of the ingredients, which by the way, is not pancake flour.


Overall, this trip has broadened my perspective of the world and myself. I think it’s important to see how other people live, and traveling, whether it’s for a short or extended period of time, provides that. I’m grateful we were able to take this trip, and I’m looking forward to the next one.

Monday Notes: Non-Attachment

Unlike other blog posts, I don’t have a clear definition/citation for the Buddhist concept of non-attachment. Instead, what I’m going to share is what I’ve gathered from reading articles, having conversation with my husband, and living life. What follows is literally my interpretation:

Non-attachment seems to be one’s ability to simultaneously care and let go.

Here’s what I mean.

CAREER

When I began my job as a community college professor, I took a twenty-thousand dollar decrease in salary. This pissed me off the entire first two years. I couldn’t believe I had a doctorate and decades of experience yet made far less than my peers and far less than I did my first year of teaching high school in 1996. How little my paychecks were clouded my vision.

Unlike at a university, I couldn’t negotiate my salary. My choice was to either find a new job or accept what I was bringing home, so I chose the latter. It wasn’t until I released worry about how much money I was making that I was able to develop a creative solution that didn’t involve quitting. Two years later, I began a small editing business. While my salary affords me basics, like food and shelter, my editing business helps me to afford the lifestyle I desire.

Do I care about making money? Of course, that’s how we live in this capitalistic society that commodifies people and their talents. However, letting go of the worry that comes with being low paid in my field is what led to the lifestyle I currently have, which I’m still not attached to because I know it could cease to exist tomorrow.

ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP

Dwight and I have been together for nearly three decades. I’ve written before about how attached I was to him when we first met. There was an inherent fear that if I lost him and our relationship, then somehow, I would be nothing. Our relationship was attached to my self-worth.

After healing unresolved trauma, I was able to see the flaw in my perception. If Dwight and I separate, I will not die. I will be fine. Don’t worry. He feels the same. I once asked him if he needed me. His response was no, and so was mine. I mean, think about it. It sounds a bit desperate to say that you need someone, like in a life-or-death way. In our relationship, we’re happy because we both want to be with each other; we’re not together out of obligation or desperation.  

Do I care about Dwight? Of course, care is a part of love. However, I know at any moment, this relationship could end for any reason, and I’m at peace with that. This not only applies to my romantic relationship, but also familial and friendship ones.

BLOGGING

Like many bloggers, when I first began, I was concerned about gaining readership. I participated in WordPress’s Blogging 101 and Blogging 201. I religiously followed Janice Wald’s advice. I begged family and friends to subscribe to my blog and felt bad when people didn’t. You know where all of that got me? Worried with a side of hurt feelings. I was so attached to what it meant to have five, ten, eighteen more followers that I was ignoring the creative part.

I had to stop worrying about who was following my blog and who wasn’t. I had to become unattached to the outcome of blogging. One day, I received one of those WP automated announcements about having 500 followers or something like that. I was surprised because I’d been focusing on just creating meaningful content, not gaining readers.

Do I care about blogging? I think most of you know the answer to that. However, I am not attached to how many likes or comments I receive. I rarely look at statistics, because I’m happy to engage with whoever happens to stop by.

Ultimately, what I’ve learned is that worry is a type of fear and it is linked to an attachment of some sort: I was attached to my pay because I feared being broke; I was attached to my husband because I was afraid to be alone; and I was attached to accumulating likes and comments because I was scared of not being a “good” blogger.


But in each example, when I released worry, and subsequently the fear associated with it, then that’s when the magic happened. I still cared, but I was also able to let go, and eventually, reach some level of non-attachment. Let me know what you think. Can you be non-attached to people, things, and circumstances?

Postscript: Non-attachment is not detachment. Detachment is not a healthy coping mechanism. Non-attachment is not a lack of care and concern. Not caring and being concerned with people is another form of detachment, which is not a healthy coping mechanism.


Monday Notes: 4 Weeks in the Netherlands

On Friday, May the 13th, Dwight and I ventured off to breakfast. I checked my workout pants pocket: phone, ID, no debit card. 

“I left my card at home,” I said.

But when I returned home, my debit card wasn’t inside the deep pocket of my travel backpack where I’ve kept it since we’d left the States. I’d lost it. 

I checked my bank account: 

$-52.67 (Spar City Witte)

$-52.67 (Spar City Witte)

$-39.60 (Spar City Witte)

Someone found my card and had repeatedly used it at a corner store (where I probably dropped it). It had only been an hour. 


This incident describes part of how I’d felt while vacationing in the Netherlands for four weeks. 

It was an explicit balance of stress and relaxation. 

The stress began week one when I found out there was no clothes dryer. I would have to hang clothes on a five-foot clothes rack. This may not sound stressful to you, but for someone like me, who successfully washes, dries, folds, and puts clothes away every Sunday, this immediately interrupted my carefully organized routine that I maintain to avoid stress. By week two, I realized it would take three days to use a small European washer and several clothes hangers to achieve what I usually did in one day. 

Stress compounded week two when we didn’t grocery shop for the week. No groceries meant no food, and no food meant buying food at restaurants for breakfast, lunch, and dinner or multiple runs to the grocery store. Consequently, because Dwight worked from one to ten at night, if I wanted groceries, I’d have to do it alone. Shopping by myself wasn’t an issue; fitting this into my existing schedule was.

These new stressors occurred in between finishing Spring semester, starting Summer semester, agreeing to be on a work committee, and taking on an editing client—all manageable tasks when I’m completing household tasks under normal structured circumstances.

But these weren’t normal or structured circumstances.

I needed to rely on strategies so the stress wouldn’t build up in my body and turn into uncontrollable anxiety. I immediately scheduled a virtual yoga class with a studio in Jacksonville. Unlike being in Costa Rica, where the serenity of the mountains calmed me, in Rotterdam, I needed an organized practice once a week. 

Because I’d been working hard on balancing my microbiome in relation to my digestion system, I noticed when I was eating too much sugar or too little fiber. Unlike in Panamá, I didn’t have to wait until my belly was bloated to know when I’d gone too far. Instead, I began no-weight workouts with an exercise app; I had to meditate to stay calm; I had to journal. I had to work hard to be balanced in this new environment.

Without these practices already in place, it would have been easy to spiral when I lost my debit card, and I almost did. I was angry at myself for being careless in another country. But you know what? I first settled something in my mind, and then, out loud:

“I am not about to let this f**k up my day!” I said to Dwight but more so to myself. “I’m going to get my nails done.” 

Did I choke back tears when the bank representative asked me where I was located and then the country and then my zip code—twice? Yep. Did I wallow? Nope. 

Instead of spiraling into an abyss of anger after playing twenty-one questions with customer service, I thought rationally. I am not without. I have another bank account to transfer and use money. I am not lacking because of a mistake, and I’m not some sort of dolt because I made an error. 


The reality is in between dealing with the stress of unexpected events, I’ve done the following:

  • eaten authentic Belgian waffles in Brussels, the way Belgians intended, 
  • tried premier chocolate from a chocolatier in Brussels,
  • visited Gieethorn, a wealthy town built around a canal, 
  • watched sex workers solicit clients in Amsterdam, 
  • drank shots at the nine degree below Ice Bar
  • viewed Jesus’s (alleged) blood captured in a capsule, 
  • toured the city where In Bruges was filmed, 
  • eaten at a myriad of outdoor cafes, 
  • photographed tulips on the last day of tulip season, and
  • walked an average of six miles per day. 

It’s super easy to get caught up in one or two bad events, right? But we can’t let a few negative encounters dictate our entire experience. Overall, I’ve enjoyed living in the Netherlands. Sure, there were unexpected cultural shifts for living our lives; however, there were more “good” days than “bad” days. Was washing clothes half the week a pain? YEP! Was eating an authentic Belgian waffle worth it? ABSOLUTELY!

I’ll check back in once we leave our next destination: Croatia. Until then, I hope you enjoy these photos.



Monday Notes: Compromise: A Definition

Dwight enjoys watching Marvel movies. Me? Not so much. I’ve written before about how as I learned what I liked and disliked, sitting through the same superhero trope was one of the first things to go. However, Dwight values these movies and sees them as a way to introduce me to something he used to enjoy as a child—reading comic books and seeing them come to life in film. Because I recognized this, I told him I would watch one a year with him. 

This, according to Collins dictionary, is a compromise, a situation in which people accept something slightly different from what they really want, because of circumstances or because they are considering the wishes of other people.  

For the past eight years or so, I’ve been declaring that I no longer compromise in relationships, but this isn’t true*. A compromise implies that both parties get something out of an agreement. In this case, I watch fewer Marvel movies with my husband, but he knows I’m fully devoted to at least one per year. We’ve both compromised what we want to happen. 

Here’s what I actually no longer do:

Acquiesce

Collins dictionary says if you acquiesce in something, you agree to do what someone wants or accept what they do even though you may not agree with it. In my Marvel example, acquiescing would mean I say, “Alriiiight. I’ll go,” and not only watch Spider-man: No Way Home, but also Shanghai and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. That’s not a compromise; that’s giving in, and in this scenario, only Dwight would get what he wants.

Prioritize Others’ Desires over My Own

If I prioritized Dwight’s wants over my own, then I would continue watching Marvel movies even when I’d rather be reading a book or writing a new blog post. That wouldn’t be a compromise because I would be either ignoring my needs or putting my desires last (and also sending a message that what I want doesn’t matter as much as what my husband wants). Again, only Dwight would be benefitting in this situation.

ONLY Prioritize My Wants

Doing what you want, regardless of what others want implies a type of selfishness. I care about my husband, his values, and desires. If I didn’t, then I would’ve told him I’m bowing out of all Marvel movies, at the theater and at home. But sometimes he’ll say, “Hey Bay! I really think you’ll like this one,” and I’ll listen to his reason and make a decision. That’s how I ended up watching Doctor Strange in 2016. And he was right. I did like the movie and its concept. 

A Final Word

A lot of us think we’re compromising, when really we’re acquiescing to someone else’s desires or asking someone to give in to ours. Although I’ve based my example on a romantic relationship, these ideas also apply to familial relationships and friendships. For example, family members seem to think you’re supposed to prioritize their needs over your own a disproportionate number of times and innumerable ways (i.e., calling, visiting, spending time), simply because they’re family. And friends oftentimes have selfish requests where one person’s wants end up frequently prioritized with no regard for the other person’s time or circumstances. 

True compromise, however, is a win-win for all parties involved. It shouldn’t involve manipulation, selfishness, or crossing of boundaries. It should feel as if you and the other person have met in the middle. So, what do you think? Do your relationships include compromise or something else?

*Thanks to Rob over at Friends without Borders for prompting me to think about this a little deeper.