Friday, 30 May 2014

Twenty five IV

2009: mozzarella farm in Italy
Change career or not, that was the big question yesterday. And I decided that yes, if changing my career would get me to Canada, I would give it a go. Once I had been established in Canada and was allowed to stay, I could go back to the best job in the world. So, I saved and saved and then booked a holiday to Canada. Seeing it beforehand, would be nice as well.

2010: making a snowman in Germany
In 2011 I touched down in Canada. I spent a few days with my new Canadian friend Kay and her dog Lindy exploring the Rockies (ok) and the Badlands (love at first sight) during my first week. The second week would be spent trying to find myself a job. I drove to so many hotels, near and far, dropped off countless resumés, spoke to several managers and left Canada feeling quite hopefull. The hope didn't last long.

2011: Badlands, Canada
After returning home nothing was heard. At all. I sent out more applications and resumés, but all hotels could get cheaper younger people who were living in the country already, so why get a 40+ person who wasn't even allowed to work in Canada yet. I had tried and I had failed. On to plan B.

2012: Stortinget, Oslo, Norway
Plan B had always been Norway. The downside of Canada had been work. There was plenty of that to be had in Norway. The upside of Canada had been the language, I speak both English and French. In Norway they spoke Norwegian. Which I didn't! A language course was in order. I learnt the language, went on holiday, got a job offer (which I declined), kept learning the language, went on holiday again, had an interview and a few months later I moved. 

2013: on top of Preachers Pulpit, Norway
It has been a year and a half since I moved to Norway. Another in a long line of jobs and countries since my graduation 25 years ago. Do I remember what I learned in school? Well, if it has to do with difficult math or chemistry: no, not so much. But, the languages I learnt in school (English and German) did come in handy. Over the years however, I have learnt a lot: the mundane things like learning a new language (French and Norwegian), cooking for myself and dealing with strange paperwork. But the most important thing that I learnt: stand up for myself and don't be afraid to try new things. 

Twenty five years ago I was 17 turning on 18. I was shy and quiet around people I didn't know. I am 42 going on 3 now. And even though some of that shyness still persists, to say I am quiet would be lie! I like who I was twenty five years ago. I love who I am now. 

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Twenty five III

1999: my first party as a busdriver, complete with duck
A clever idea from my dad and in January 1998, I took my first lesson in driving a bus. I payed for my lessons, which were expensive, with my commission from my work on the train and after a year and on my second try, I finally made it! I had my license and could now drive a bus. My mum (I have got good parents don't I?) then told me to go and find a job as a busdriver. I phoned around and there were a few companies that I wouldn't mind trying, but in the end I ended up with the company that offered me an interview only a few days later. A test drive a few days after that and I had a job. Albeit a part time one.

2003: a hands-on work course
Those first three months were not good. Lamp post, mirror, cars, sign posts. You name it, I hit it! Until my boss warned me that if there was going to be more damages done, my contract would not be renewed at the end of the six months! I certainly cleaned up my act after that. Only hitting and totalling a car a few days later. But that wasn't my fault. He had run a red light! My contract was renewed and I kept driving. And driving and driving. 

2004: in the Channel Tunnel
I met so many other busdrivers, all with their own (tall) tales to tell. The passengers were usually good fun too. After all, I drove a coach which meant most people who came on board were going to somewhere good. I started off with the school runs. Then the school trips. Adult day trips. After a course on how and what and where I was allowed to do minor trips abroad. And on and on I went. A London trip? Mara will do it. Ireland? Mara! Italy? Ask Mara. I met so many people and saw so many things and enjoyed almost every single thing about it. 

2007: me and Charlie Chaplin in Waterville, Ireland
Sometime in 2004 or 2005 the itch returned. The whisper in my head: something else, something else, something else. I wanted to move again. Canada this time. A whole new experience, a whole new country. Alas, Canada didn't want me. Not enough money (ie, none at all, I was actually waaaay below the line) and not enough education meant that Canada would be very hard to move to. But, I took it one problem at a time. Money first. I stopped spending it. No more holidays. Got rid of the car. Just get rid of that debt. Once I had, it was savings time. So, again no holidays, still no car and still no spending. 

2008: can't remember where this was
I finally got the money bit sorted and had in the mean time found out that Canada would allow me in. But in a different job than I wanted. I wasn't going to be a busdriver in Canada, I had to be a receptionist. A job I had had aeons ago and from which I had been fired because my English was too good. Did I really want to do that job again? Was I willing to change 'careers' again? 

To be continued tomorrow...

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Twenty five II

1992: Yep, that's me in front!
I left off yesterday at the point of working in Tignes in the French Alpes. Another Club Med experience. Or bubble is probably the better word, since not much penetrates from the outside world. So, instead of another season for Club Med, I decided to go elsewhere and do something else as well. I was moving to England.

1993: Quite boring this receptionist lark
I arrived in England and made my way to the other side of the country. Or so it felt at least. My first month in my new job was downright horrid. I didn't know anybody, not many people lived in (basically, only the foreigners) and the job as a receptionist was difficult. Let me rephrase that. The job was fine enough, the things surrounding it were difficult. Ten different ways of saying to change. Talk of Christmas crackers and wellingtons. Rooms that didn't have numbers, but names and were all totally different. When I celebrated my 21st birthday, I didn't have a penny to my name, my parents hadn't called in the morning and I felt very very alone. 

1994: being a waitress
After about 8 months in the job, I was fired. The reason (which I think is still one of the best reasons ever)? My English was too good! But, I could work anywhere else in the hotel if I wanted to. I moved to the restaurant and became a waitress. The fights I used to have with the head chef. The left over food we ate (it was better than what we got by a mile). The late nighters, who came when we were about to close. 

1995: me and my goddaughter, born a few months after I left
But, eventually, despite or perhaps due to the promotion, I had had enough. I wanted something else. I wanted to go home. I had been away for about five years. So, I asked an advance on my wages so I could buy a ferry ticket, loaded up the car and made my merry way back to the Netherlands. I was going Dutch again!

1997: on holiday
Even in the Netherlands however I had to work. I lived at my parents, but they were expecting some money for my keep. I worked as a temp in restaurants, kitchens and canteens, a milk powder factory, the sorting station at the post office. Even as a cleaner, although that was a one off! A year and a half in, due to a stroke of good luck, I found a place to live. By that time I worked in a biscuit factory packing biscuits and cookies. However, when they didn't want to take me on as a proper employee instead of being a temp, I got another job. Again. 

1998: no comment
The new job led me to the trains. No, I wasn't driving them. No, I wasn't even checking tickets. I was selling coffee and tea and such. Tiring, but fun. I thought so anyway. Already during my stint at the biscuit factory I had been harbouring this wish to join the army. I was already quite old compared to most who applied, but I wanted this and I was going to get it. I was going to be a driver. Well, I tried twice. Failed twice on the physical test. And then my dad gave me the best piece of advice (jobwise anyway) he has ever given me: why not become a busdriver?

To be continued tomorrow...

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Twenty five I

1988/1989: Ehm, yeah...
After having written my post about graduation the other day, I realised it is 25 years ago that I did so. Graduate that is. Twenty five years in which I changed from a fairly shy Marja (pronounce the j as a y in yellow) to an outspoken Mara. That didn't just happen overnight. It took some time you know. I mean, the basis was always there, because at home I could chat until the cows we didn't have would come home. But that was at home, where I knew the people and they knew me. With strangers however, it was a completely different matter altogether. 

1990: Oh, that figure...
My first job was as a children's entertainer in sunny Yugoslavia. Well, apart from Tuesdays, when it rained. I changed my name upon arrival (easier for all you abroady types you know) and set about to make a fantastic version of myself. Ahem. I had some run-ins with some of the other employees (mainly the Yugoslav ones), but in general I think I was well-liked. However, as soon as it was October, my contract was fullfilled and I headed home. 

1991: Camille, me and Jean
Three months later I moved to Brussels. A nice (read wealthy) neighbourhood, where I would be the au-pair to a little boy called Jean. And the first time I actively set out to meet people by joining a badminton club. But, since it only lasted three months, the people I met were soon forgotten and replaced by new colleagues from my new job. Children's entertainer for Club Med on Sicily, Italy. 

I grew up here. I finally came out of my shell and all because of my boss. He was a nice man, very French and after only two months had given me deputy status to himself for the youngest age group (4-5 year olds). This was much to the dislike of some of the French who although getting a similar job for other age groups, didn't think it a good idea that a Dutch woman with not much French knowledge at all should get that job. But I did and I think I did a good job. Right up to the moment where I had to think of a dance that would fit to a number out of 'Les Misérables'. A musical I had never seen or heard of, with songs in French that I didn't understand. Add to that the fact that my age group that week was sorely underpopulated and I was facing a major problem. 

In front of nearly 200 children and about 30 of my co-workers, my boss started yelling at me. And something snapped. I yelled back that there was no need to yell, it wasn't ready and yelling wouldn't make it ready either. I didn't understand, I didn't have the children and on and on I went. I think my boss (and my colleagues) were quite shocked, since I had never answered back in my life. Then again, I was shocked. What had I done? WHAT HAD I DONE? But, fortunately it didn't turn into a dismissal. I got help, I got more children and after that my boss never yelled at me in front of everybody. Which was a plus in itself!

1992: My partner in giggling crime (and yes, that is me on the right)
After nearly seven months on a sunny Sicily, I moved to a snowy Tignes in the French Alpes. New people again, new friends to make. My boss was intent on giving me a stupid nick-name which I cured him of pretty fast (I called him (albeit silently) something not so nice in front of a guest, he was furious, I stood my ground). I learned to ski, was told I would be great in a wet t-shirt contest, saw some of the Olympics and was told off by the big boss for chatting with my colleague too much during a staff meeting. Which led to the both of us having a fit of the giggles and being told off even sterner that if we didn't stop now, we would both be asked to leave. 

To be continued tomorrow...

Monday, 26 May 2014

Talking cat

Jeg må på do!
Books are bad for you. Especially if you haven't got a clock that will tell you exactly how long you have been reading. Which in my case turned out not to be just one chapter, but about five (or six or seven, I lost count) and instead of it being only 11pm, it was an hour and a half later!

Needless to say therefore, that I had some severe difficulties only a few hours later when I was due to get up and go to work. Very severe! But I did wake up. And got out to the hallway. Where Oswin sat and told me (in Norwegian if you please, despite me only talking Dutch to her) that she needed potty. Upon which I told her to go of course! 

Then I noticed the laundry. Hanging over the drying rack and the radiator. When I got downstairs, Oswin was eating plasticy thingies of the Christmas tree that she had found in the basement (she told me) and taken up to the living room. When I got back upstairs (I needed stuff), the baby was talking to me. 

I woke up properly after that. But I do think I don't need to tell you it was not the best of starts today!

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Photo on Sunday 2014-16

Having a 'pusekatt' in the house means there are plenty of interesting things to explore inside. Yesterday I decided to give Oswin her first taste of the outdoors. Not loose, she will have to wait several more weeks for that, but I have a harness and some rope. 

A mixture of delight at being outside and terror because this thing was holding her back got me to take her in again after only a few minutes. We will try again soon though, because I could see that she would love to explore those trees and bushes. The bugs, the grass, the weeds, the birds. For now however, she will have to be content by sitting in the upstairs (warmest) window and watching from there.

Saturday, 24 May 2014


Our school trip to London. And yes, I do wear shocking colours!
When I was in my fourth year of high school, I didn't do much. Which is probably quite an understatement, since my grades started dropping faster than a parachutist who has forgotten his parachute! By the time I got negative grades (ie below 6/10) for German, I knew I was in trouble. Not that I minded that much. I just continued doing nothing, since I had to take the year again anyway!

The second time in my fourth year went a bit better. I applied myself a bit more, got better grades (even for German, which was my best subject) and by the end of the year I was allowed to go on to the fifth and final year of my high school experience. 

That final year does not stand out for me. I studied, I got good enough grades, I took oral exams, written pre-exam exams and was getting along nicely. 

On holiday after graduation
Then, after having taken my final exams (in Dutch, English, German, Biology, Science and Math), I relaxed. Waited for the summer to come. Waited for that piece of paper which would tell me that I had passed. Because even though I might not be top of the list, I knew I had passed. No worries there. 

The evening of graduation arrived. All the children in my year had shown up in their Sunday finery and with their parents in tow. Every student was addressed personally by the principal (I had been a shy girl on arrival, but had grown up to be a quietly confident young woman. Or something to that effect). I was top of my class in German, but had to share with another girl (only 0,01 points off a higher mark, I am still furious with that teacher). 

I just wished (certainly at the time) that my parents hadn't thanked the principal for all his good care of me! How embarrassing!

Second Blooming
This memory was prompted by Spin Cycle. Thank you Ginny Marie at Lemon Drop Pie and Gretchen at Second Blooming.

PS: I just realised, I graduated 25 years ago this year! Well done Spin Cycle for this timely prompt!

Friday, 23 May 2014

In a jam

Do you remember the plum jam I made last year? If not, you might want to (re)read this post. The thing is though, I don't eat a lot of jam. Never have. And even though my own plum jam is of course the yummiest, I still don't eat a lot of it. Which leaves me with a lot of jam still in the basement. Now, that wouldn't be such a big problem, it will keep for a while yet, but the plum trees have already flowered again. And pretty soon there will be fresh plums again. Plenty of them. So, plenty more jam!

Mixing the batter
In the foreground you can see some of the waffles
As I was lamenting this fact a week or so ago, a colleague of mine had a brilliant idea: why not make waffles at work and have them put the plum jam on it! Well, today I had a split shift, I got the ingredients, mixed the lot, put it in the waffle iron and a few minutes later the first customers colleagues were out and about and eating my waffles with home-made plum jam!

One pot is empty now, another half empty and yet another pot is promised to a colleague, who will pay me with a hug. 

Yoghurt with plum jam is good as well I have heard...

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

One sheep, two sheep, three sheep, four....

Yes, that white blur is sheep! 
Last night as I was sitting at my computer doing something or other (probably the other, I don't often do the something), I heard a drumming noise. Next thing I knew, a flock of sheep came running past and scooted into the field next door. I then heard a whistle and saw a farmer and his wife and their dog. The dog rounded up the sheep and shepherded them into the side road and probably into some field round there.  

In my back yard
Fast forward a few hours and I am getting ready for bed. I stand in the bathroom brushing my teeth, when I see some sheep and hear the drumming noise again! Sheep? At 11.30pm? Well, those sheep liked my garden apparently and made their way into it, eating grass, dropping droppings and then getting spooked and running out the other end. But since there were so many sheep this time, the house was surrounded! Oswin was transfixed: all these big white things that moved!! This country living might actually be something!

In or out? 
Anyway, when I drove to work this morning, I saw the sheep. Only about 150 meters from my home, by the side of the road, the whole bunch was standing and lying and whatevering. 

I love living in the country!

Monday, 19 May 2014

Miss Oswin

Miss Oswin is settling in very nicely. From the beginning she has used the litterbox and the scratch pole (although my couch has some heavy attraction for the scratching as well). In the morning she will not eat before she has had some severe cuddling. She does not sleep on the couch or the arm chair, instead opting for my dining chair or the floor or a box or a windowsill. 
Typical, a photo of Oswin asleep on the couch!
She hasn't tried to get outside, even when I was hanging out the window to get the flag back in. She doesn't stand waiting at the frontdoor hoping to escape. She is just an all-round good cat. Although, there is one thing that I miss. She doesn't like to sit on laps. She will be close, like on a box behind the couch, but not on my lap. But she is starting to loose her skittishness and this morning I had her on my chest for a few minutes. We will get there, she and I!

Going Dutch

When I first moved to my little red wooden cottage in the Norwegian countryside, I had to get a satellite dish to be able to watch tv. The guy who came was a very friendly man who turned out to live on the same road. Not only did he live on the same road however, so did his neighbours, who happened to be Dutch. Would he be allowed to tell them that I (being Dutch as well) lived in this little cottage just here? Of course. I later learned that several other Dutch families lived close by as well. 

Last Friday it was busy in town with everybody trying to get home early so they could get their May 17th stuff in order and I decided to take another route home. Via a large shopping center. Because I had to get some last minute things as well. As I stood in this huge supermarket trying to figure out whether I would get a pin or some napkins to celebrate the upcoming day, I heard something familiar. Now, when you live abroad you quickly realise that sometimes it's tourists speaking, other times it's new natives speaking. This time it was new natives. Speaking in my own language: Dutch! 

And then, after only a few words spoken between us, he asked me where I lived. And when I told him where, she exclaimed that she knew who I was! And then I knew immediately who they were. We all lived on the same road! Sometimes the world is a big place. 

Later that evening, when I was at home, there was a knock on the door. Which is a rarity. It was the Dutch lady. They would be having a gathering at their house on Saturday evening to celebrate May 17th. Would I like to come as well? Ehm... yes! I would love to. 

The evening was great. Met some new people, amongst which the satellite installer and his wife, the vicar and his wife, a gentleman I never caught the name of (or spoke to) and another couple who were really nice as well. Most of them had seen me somewhere but couldn't quite place it (the newspaper article of a few months ago). It was a really lovely evening. 

If our buses start to look like this, I will quit!
Now, I mentioned before that the world is a big place. It can be a small one as well. Since the Dutch couple who had invited me actually hail from the place I lived in for nearly fourteen years prior to my move to Norway! I mean, as coincidences go, that is not a bad one!

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Photo on Sunday 2014-15

The first outing of my Frysian inspired outfit! It took a while to get the whole thing on, but i managed in the end. My worries about using a toilet proved to be well-founded. And as it turned out, I should also have been worried about using stairs and steps. I found out when I nearly came down head first while going up some steps!

I must admit I didn't realise the shawl wasn't on straight and I wasn't told by the photographer either. But, the orange tulips and me in my outfit was too much of a nice photo not to use it. Nobody knew it was Frysian/Dutch and I only got asked twice where my 'bunad' actually came from. I did get plenty of stares though. 

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Row row row!

This year's team in perfect unison
As you may remember, last year I was the cox in a rowing boat on May 17th, Constitution Day in Norway. We had trouble with some buoy and lost a fair bit of time. In the end we came in second. Which out of five and it being our first time ever, was quite good!

But, being quite good is not good enough of course. So, this year we decided to enter once again. One person had left Haugesund, one person was recovering from surgery and one person decided it would be nicer to have a bit of time to oneself. We had to find three new ones! Which we did. Plus some spares, just in case! And we trained and we trained and we trained. But never in the team that was due to race. Always with a spare substituting someone or other and never with a full boat. 

On Thursday however, we finally managed it. After a week of training, we finally got everybody in the boat that was due to race. We practiced starting, we practiced turning. We rowed. Well, they rowed and I steered the boat. 

The cups
Last year's time was 6'23. This year's time was (drumroll please) 6'02. No buoy trouble, no unbuttoning of shirts half way through, just plain old go go go, or row row row! Would our time be good enough however, after all, last year's winner clocked 5'41. 

Well, last year's winner either wasn't there or rowed slower than we did, because (another drumroll please) we came in first!! We got to bring home the big cup!! Yeah us!!!

Friday, 16 May 2014

Got the t-shirt

You may remember that I was quite busy last weekend. I was going to the Norwegian Military Tattoo, I was hoping to see the Eurovision Song Contest and I was going to pick up Oswin. Well, I have told you about Eurovision and I showed you the first photos of Oswin. However, I haven't yet mentioned the Tattoo. 

It's all in the bricks!
The Tattoo was to take place in the Oslo Spektrum. Like most purpose built concert places of later years, it was quite a boring brick place. Or so it seemed at first glance because in fact the brick was artwork and covered in artwork. And since I was early, I walked around the whole place taking plenty of photos. Especially since I wasn't allowed to take photos inside. Nor did I really want to, I just wanted to enjoy the experience. 

Anyway, we finally made our way inside, I got (well bought really) the t-shirt and then I had to find my place. Which, once I was in it, I was sure was the wrong spot and very soon somebody would come and chase me away. I was in the fourth row, on the corner and had a fantastic view over the whole place! But nobody came to chase me away and I realised I had picked this fantastic spot myself!

There were military bands from several different countries; Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Russia and Japan. And of course Norway itself showed with both a 'normal' band and a band and drill team. Then there was an American drill team and an Estonian gymnastics troupe. Now, the photo in the program I had received showed a large drill team, but on the day, only four were on stage. Plus a skinny woman in boots standing in the middle. I thought it was a bit disappointing, especially since I had been expecting so much! 

The Estonian gymnastics troupe was something that I knew was going to be disappointing, but I could not have been more wrong. They were brilliant. No wonder they had been asked back! Brilliant. Really they were. Brilliant. I hope to see them again. 

But of course the music is the main event and that didn't disappoint. I loved the Japanese and their singer. The Dutch showed a collection of photos from our former queen: Princess Beatrix as she is now known. From birth to now. Plus some good music of course. My favourite of the afternoon however, must have been 'His Majesty the King's Guard Band and Drill Team'. Great music, great drill team. And a large drill team at that. Loved it. 

The gold and blue with the large bear hats.
That's the Royal Netherlands Army Military Band 'Johan Willem Friso'
The finale was good as well. By an enormous stroke of luck, the Dutch band was standing directly in front of me. I couldn't not take a photo (or two or three), so I did. After the show I went into the lobby. I wanted to get one of the cd's the Dutch were selling, but unfortunately they only took cash, I only had a card! In the end though, telling them about me having been a driver for them (which is true), I got the cd completely free. I was a very blessed woman!