Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Decluttering books and clothes

The Summer Holidays for schools in The Netherlands is six weeks. Usually I tackle some big cleaning jobs like my bookcases (10 normal ones, plus the shelves in the bedroom and the extra bookcase in the living room). I also organize my wardrobe and clean that. This year, I also wanted to get rid of a few things, it was time to declutter and to clean out.

First: Books
I buy a lot of books and often I buy too many books. Often I do not buy books because I need them, or because I really want to read them, I buy them because I want to buy books. It makes no sense and it is really stupid, but I do it.

Sometimes I tried a shopping rule, like only buying a certain amount of books per month, but then I would also try to get around that rule, because a salary-month is not the same as a calendar-month.

That is how I ended up with books on my shelves I did not really want to read.

Last week I decided I would cull my books, and only keep the ones I really like. Hanging on to books just because I bought them makes no sense to me. I already spent the money and my life does not get better by hanging on to books (or other possessions) that do no enrich my life but instead take up space and energy.

This is what I did:

Books I kept:
-        Books I love
-        Books I love to re—read
-        Books I have not read yet, but really want to
-        Books that are part of a series that I love

Books I did not keep
-        Books I did not love
-        Books that were oke, but I would never re-read
-        Books I only bought because I thought I had to have them (certain classics for example), but I dread reading them
-        Books I just cannot be bothered to read and I do not know why I ever bought them

In the end I had five bags filled with books (and some dvds ad well), and I took them all to the thrift store the next day. I am quite happy with my new, decluttered shelves. Only I must remember not to buy books immediately to fill all all that newly found space...

Neat piles of t-shirts (3 piles, shortsleeved, longsleeved and
Second part of decluttering: clothes
I love shoes and handbags and I wish I had more money and more storage space, but I am afraid I have neither J. Especially the space in my closet makes sure I do not overbuy on these things, but I easily could!

I also love clothes, although I am not really fashionable. I never really knew my own style and usually tried out several garments in different styles. Not all of them looked good on me, but I bought them nevertheless. Often it happened I bought something only to find out it did not go with any of my other things. Or that it did not really fit me as well as I thought.
Result? A closet full of clothes and almost none of them made me (really) happy.

How to get rid of things in my closet?
Two years ago I wanted to change and to dress in what really suited me, not in what I thought would suit me.
Long live the world wide web, I must say, Everything you want can be found, somewhere in the world! I joined a website which gives styleadvice, MissusSmartyPanse. This is an American website with great advice, and I am really happy I joined (just joined up for the third year) The examples of clothing are from American stores we do not have over here, but that does not matter, the general ideas of flattering clothes are something I can use to shop in the shops over here.

I also took some coloring advice, to see if I wore the right colors for me. For example, I always wore a lot of black. I thought it suited me (being blonde), black always goes with black and it is slimming (or so I thought).
But when my color-advice came, black was not amongst the colors listed for me. And I now realize that black is too harsh for me, it makes me older than I am. My new neutral colors are grey and dark-blue, and I look so much better in them.
I also really like pastels, pale-pink, pale-blue etc. In reality, these colors wash me out, I look much better in stronger colors. I printed out the color-chart and laminated it and put it in my wallet. So every time I go shopping now, I take out my card to check if the color of the garment I want to buy is a color that will look good on me.

The past six month I took the next step and started to lose some weight (14.5 kilograms (2.28 stone/31.96 lbs)) (still losing weight, It is a slow process, but better slow than too quick and that you gain all the weight you lost back in a month or something like that. Better slow and safe, but steady, I think). But losing the weight means I can wear a different size clothes and the clothes look better on me.

As you can imagine all these things do amazing work for my self-esteem and I finally feel I am coming closer to being me. I wear clothes I love and I know suit me, and I feel so much better for it.

As for the decluttering of my wardrobe:
What went out?
-        Clothes in the wrong size
-        Clothes in the wrong color.
-        Clothes I do not really like
-        Clothes I kept ‘just in case’ (I had a hideous sweater in my closet for years, just in case I needed a sweater. I finally threw it out)

What could stay and what comes in?
-        Clothes in the right size
-        Clothes in the right colors
-        Clothes that suit me, my personality, my life and my body type.
-        Clothes I can wear at least in 3 different ways with the clothes I already have in my closet
-        Clothes that I need. I make a list of what I miss in my closet and I try to shop for that. Buying a grey top while I already have 5 grey tops in my closet is no longer something I do.
At least, I'll try no to.

Is this something you recognize? Do you also buy too many books or clothes? And do you declutter?

MissusSmartyPants can be found Here
And if you are in the habit of over-spending on clothes or are you even a shopaholic, then Recovering shopacholic Here will probably give you some very good advice.

Monday, 28 July 2014

How my love for Italy began

Looking over the Tevere and Rome from the Castel dell'Angelo
Photograph made by me
Italy is the only country I ever seriously considered emigrating to. I did not do it, for several good reasons, but that has not stopped me from loving it even more.

The first time I came to Italy it was March 2008. I was one of the teachers that accompanied our fourth graders (15-16 y.o) on their trip to Rome. I never visited Italy before, and I was very curious. The moment the bus crossed the Italian border, something happened. When we drove across the Apennines it felt familiar, somehow I recognized something, deep in my heart.
And when the bus entered Rome I knew I was home. This feeling never left me, never do I feel so at home as I do in Rome. I deeply, passionately love that city. I have been there seven times in total now, and I hope to go there again next Summer.

And when I came home from that first trip, this love stretched to all other things that are Italian. I liked Italian cuisine before, but now I knew how amazing it could taste, so I cooked more and more Italian dishes and I bought Italian cookbooks. I began to read about Italian history, culture, watched Italian movies and television-series and listened to Italian music. I even began to study Italian, because for me it is the most beautiful language in the world. I am not very good at it (I suck at grammar), but I really enjoy puzzling with it.

I often say that half of my heart belongs to Rome, but I think I can safely say the other half belongs to the rest of Italy.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Quote: Guiseppe Verdi

You may have the universe, if I may have Italy
Church in Venice, photograph made by me
Guiseppe Verdi (Italian composer, 1813-1901)

Friday, 25 July 2014

An officer and a spy, Robert Harris

Unfortunately it is not uncommon for mistakes to be made in the cause of justice. People are convicted for crimes they did not commit. When they are lucky, they will get a new trial and be declared innocent. But often this is not so easy, as the well known Dreyfus-case shows us.

In 1870 the Germans invaded France. This war became a nightmare and a humiliation for France and the French army. The Germans did not only annex Alsace-Lorraine, but also crowned their emperor in Versailles, what used to be the heart of the French power.
In the following years this war was an open wound. The occupation of Alsace-Lorraine and the fear Germany would invade France again monopolized French politics and the army.

In 1895 a French officer, Alfred Dreyfus, was accused of being a spy for the Germans, he was supposed to have given them crucial military information. Dreyfus became the most hated man in France and his punishment reflected that.
In a public ceremony, watched by thousands of angry people, Dreyfus was stripped of his military rank and his sable was broken. After that he was taken away to spend the rest of his life on a little island for the coast of French Guyana, in solitary confinement and under terrible circumstances.

Alfred Dreyfus

There was however a problem with the Dreyfus sentencing; the evidence was made up from circumstantial evidence and even forgeries. Because the trial was held behind closed doors and most of his file was not given to his defense lawyers, this was not known.
Dreyfus was a good candidate to be accused of spying, because he was Jewish. Anti-Semitism was not an exception in 19th century Europe and there were a lot of people who thought Jews capable of everything (in a negative way). After all, because they had no country of their own they did not know what loyalty was and betrayal was in their blood. That Dreyfus came from Alsace-Lorraine and spoke German also did not help his case.

Georges Picquart knew Dreyfus from the academy, where Picquart was a teacher when Dreyfus was a cadet. Picquart was also involved in Dreyfus’ arrest, although in a very minor role. He was promoted to be head of the intelligence department and was asked to conduct an investigation into the motives of Dreyfus, because that was the only thing that was unclear.

During his investigation Picquart found out the evidence against Dreyfus was based on nothing and even worse, somebody was still leaking information to the Germans. In other words: there was a real spy and Dreyfus was innocent. The army refused to acknowledge this and was prepared to let a real spy go, so they did not have to admit they made a mistake with Dreyfus.
Picquart’s superiors were not happy with these findings and made life more and more difficult for Picquart, they even demoted him and eventually imprisoned him. By then Picquart was not alone and other prominent people in France demanded a new trial for Alfred Dreyfus.
Georges Picquart

An officer and a spy by Robert Harris tells the story from the viewpoint of Georges Picquart, an ambitious officer, married to the army who did not like to become head of the intelligence department because he thought real soldiers should not work in such an underhand manner. He knew Dreyfus and did not really like him, but his sense of honour prevented him from turning a blind eye.

I have read some books set in ancient Rome by Robert Harris before, and I really liked them. They are thrilling and well written with an excellent historical background.
An officer and a spy is on an even higher level and that makes it impossible to put this book down. It is a combination of a good plot and excellent knowledge about the case and the historical period.
An officer and a spy is an amazing book about a case that puts everybody to shame about a case where political and military interests were more important than the innocence of one Jewish man.

Published in 2013

Thursday, 24 July 2014

New background and more Italy

As you can see, I changed the way my blog looks. I loved the pink rose-petal background, but I wanted something else. Sometimes it is good to see what you want to change, and I do love tinkering with my blog.

The content will also change a little bit. I suddenly felt again like I had to review every book that I read here, but I do not want to do that. There are some books that do not fit with the idea I have for this blog. So there will be books, at least one bookreview per week, but not all books I read will be reviewed here, even if there is an English translation.

I also thought about what I absolutely love, and that it Italy. I love all things Italian, to give you an example, I was upset when the Italian football team went home during the World Cup in Brasil, more upset than I was when The Dutch team was sent home.
I love Italy and it's beautiful cities, I love Italian food, culture, design, clothes, lifestyle, films, literature, language, music and history. I want my blog to reflect this love. So prepare yourself for more Italy on this blog, at least once a week a post will be dedicated to the country that has half of my heart.

Other things will stay the same, don't worry. On Sunday there will be a quote, and like I said there will be at least one bookreview each week. Photographs I make will also feature, as well as art, history etc. There won't be a lot of change, but the focus will shift a little bit.


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Ships passing

I live near a lot of water and about 5 minutes walking from my house I have a beautiful lake. There is also a little harbour/marina, so there are often a lot of ships. Yachts, fishingboats and sailboats. I am not a fan of being on the water my self, but I do like to watch from the (safe!)  shore.

Monday, 21 July 2014

The rise and fall of great powers, Tom Rachman

Brought up with lies, deceit and deception Tooly Zylberberg now lives in a little village on the border between Wales and England, where she owns a bookshop. To be honest she is regretting buying the shop already, because she was raised not to connect with people or possessions. She used to travel from place to place and now she finds herself here in this little village. The only person she speaks to regularly is Fogg, the young man who helps her out in the shop and who thinks of himself as a Parisian, even though he ever left the village.

The bookshop is a nice little world, but in the back of her mind Tooly always thinks it may lot last and she could go somewhere else, not bound by people, places or time.

The she receives an email from somebody she knew in New York, who tells her her father is very ill. Despite not wanting to, Tooly leaves for New York only to find out nothing she always thought was true, is true, and all the people in her life played different roles than she always thought.

The story alternates between three times. We see Tooly in 1988 when she is ten years old and living in Bangkok with Paul, her father. He works with computers for different American embassies all over the world so every year Tooly has to get acquainted again with a new home and a new school and new people.

In 1999 Tooly has moved to New York where she lives with Russian emigrant Humphrey, who somehow played a huge role in her upbringing. Venn and Sarah are also important for her, although they are not always there. Tooly crosses the entire city on foot and meets student Duncan, who becomes her boyfriend.

In 2011 she lives in Wales in her bookshop and she gets the email from Duncan. She does not know what she will find in New York, but what she does find is nothing like she expected.

In a masterly way Tom Rachman knows how to twist and bring the different threads of this story together. So slowly, bit by bit we get to know what happened with Tooly and which roles the different people in her life played.

Tooly is both strong and vulnerable and that is what makes her very likeable. Very well done is the way Tom Rachman knows how to make Tooly’s voice different at different ages, yet it stays recognizable. The woman in 2011 is not the same as the child in 1988, but the core is the same. That is well written.

When everything turns out to be different than Tooly always thought, she does not despair or collapse. She uses the debris of her life to built a new life for herself. Not based on the lies she always believed, but based on what she knows to be true and that is how she can continue.

I do not really know how to express how much I enjoyed The rise and fall of great powers. I loved it, the idea was interesting and the writing was beautiful and often very witty.

I think this book will end up in my top-3 of 2014, I will be very surprised if it does not.

 Published in 2014

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Quote: Rita Mae Brown

Happiness is pretty simple: someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to.
Rita Mae Brown (American author, 1944-)

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Mr.Penumbra's 24-hour bookstore, Robin Sloan

The bookstore in the title is a strange bookstore. There are customers, only they come to lend books, not buy them. There are more strange things going on, there is a group of weird people, like the bookstore owner, an unemployed web designer, a girl that works for google, a special effects designer and an internet millionaire. There is also a secret society that uses books to solve a certain puzzle, that will give access to ancient knowledge and perhaps even eternal life.

Clay is the unemployed wed designer and he gets a job at the bookstore. His boss, Mr. Penumbra is friendly, but a bit secretive. During the long nightly hours Clay discovers that the visitors (you cannot really call them customers) lend books in a certain pattern. With a little help from his friends and a ton of technical stuff and computers, he solves the puzzle.

Mr. Penumbra is enthusiastic about it, he sees the possibilities to combine this new knowledge with the old form of knowledge, but unfortunately the secret society is less enthusiastic. Especially the leader sees nothing in this new fancy stuff and even threatens to throw Penumbra out of the society.

Clay calls in the help of his friends and the clients from the bookstore and unites them to work together, in the hope they can solve the final problem in the puzzle to know the secret it contains.  

Some combinations are so weird you do not think they can possibly end up as a good story. But when all these strange elements do become a successful mix, the result can really surprise you.

I was not sure what to expect from this book, and I was afraid it would be a bit Dan Brownish (with the secret society and the ancient knowledge etc). I was glad to find out this book has nothing to do with Dan Brown.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore is a joy to read, written in a very easy and often funny way. Despite all the weird things it never becomes too unbelievable and the final solution of the puzzle is also a bit different the society expected.

I really liked Clay, because you can relate to him. He has no special skills, is not very bright, does not have a good job and would be the first to admit he never managed to do anything and therefore he is a bit of a loser. At the same time he is also persistent en creative and he knows how to unite people and make them work together.

I would have liked to know more about the secret society and the people who came into the bookstore, but that is the only little point of criticism.
I found Mr. Penumbrá 24-hour bookstore light and entertaining and a great read. It may not be great literature, but that is not necessary. I thought it was a really fun and good books and I thoroughly enjoyed myself with it!

Published in 2012

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Dordrecht in the rain

Last week I went to the town of Dordrecht, to visit an old colleague and a friend. I used to work in Dordrecht, before I got a job in Amsterdam.
Dordrecht is in the south-west of The Netherlands, just under Rotterdam. It is a very old town, with a great historical centre. This town also played an important role in Dutch history, because it here in 1572 the provinces of the Netherlands decided to hold a meeting without the king of Spain, the beginning of the independence for The Netherlands.

I made some photographs, only it rained the entire day (it poured!), so the photo's do not look as sunny and nice as I wanted them to. Oh well, you'll just have to imagine the sun.

A statue for Johan and Cornelis de Witt, who were murdered in 1672 by the groupies of stadhouder Willem III. The brothers were born in Dordrecht.

The town hall

As you can see, it rains and everybody is carrying an umbrella.

In Dutch towns is it almost impossible to make a photograph without getting cars in the picture as well.

The entrance to the Dordrecht museum, where we met and had coffee and walked through the exhibition with beautiful paintings mostly from the 19th century. The museum has a garden/park with some beautiful trees. Because of the rain, the light was dark and green and I always love that kind of light.

 The entrance of the museum, inside the gate.

 Part of the garden of the museum.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

The green kitchen, David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl

Last week I spotted another good cookbook and of course I immediately bought it
I always enjoy learning new recipes, especially vegetarian ones. I do not eat totally vegetarian, but try to do so as much as possible. I can always use some inspiration for good vegetarian recipes.

Well, there is more than enough inspiration in The green kitchen. David is Swedish and Luise is Danish and together with their daughter they live in Göteborg. They have a blog and now a cookbook.

The green kitchen is full with delicious and relatively easy to prepare dishes, all of them without meat or fish. They do use other animal products like eggs, cheese and milk, but often they give tips on how to change the recipe to make it fit for vegans. Most of the recipes are gluten-free.

The book starts with advice about the cupboards (always a good thing) and some basic recipes like vegetable stock. Then there are recipes for breakfast, light meals, snacks, family dinners and deserts.

Most of the recipes look absolutely delicious and I cannot wait to start cooking. I also checked out their blog, and that is also full of great ideas.

David, Luise and daughter Else
Published in 2013

Friday, 11 July 2014

A new notebook

I just wanted to share the new notebook I started in this week. I use these notebooks as journals, and I write in them almost every day. This is a very beautiful one, I think. The cover is a painting by Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh and it is called: Starry night over the Rhone.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Flowers, bees and tomatoes

 A little bee is enjoying my new plants as well.

The beanplants are growing really well. I also saw little white flowers, so in a short time I will be able to pick beans.

This funny little thing is supposed to become a paprika, (a red pepper). I hope it will.

The aubergine plant (eggplant) has no fruit yet, but it has a first beginning with a little white flower, so I have hope I will get an aubergine this year.

Two tomatoes already! Two!! Still very green, but a little sun should turn them beautifully red.

And here some plants I keep on my balcony because I love the colours and the flowers. You also need those. (Silvia agrees)

Monday, 7 July 2014

Dear writer, dear actress, Anton Chekhov and Olga Knipper

Anton Chekhov and Olga Knipper met in 1899, became lovers in the Summer of 1900 and got married in the Summer of 1901.

She was an actress who lived in Moscow for most of the year and he lived in Yalta due to his health. Often months went by without seeing each other, because he was not fit to travel and she had contracts in the theatre and could not get enough free time to undertake the long journey to Yalta.

During these long periods when they were apart, they wrote letters. Jean Benedetti selected and edited these, and translated them from Russian to English.

In her letters Olga worried about his health, Anton Chekhov wanted to know how things were in Moscow. Often their letters just crossed and sometimes some got lost for a while, making the other one worry about what would cause the delay.
They did try to meet up, but often these plans came to nothing, because Chekhov became ill, or Olga had a contract for a new part in a play.
Communication was often difficult under these circumstances, as becomes painfully clear when Olga has a miscarriage in Moscow and Chekhov is unable to come to her.

When his health got worse, her quilt over not being with him grew. She wanted to be with her husband, but also wanted to be an actress. Chekhov tell her not to worry

My darling, you write that you have pangs of conscience because you are living in Moscow and not here with me in Yalta. But think about it: if you spent the whole of the winter in Yalta with me, your life would be ruined, I would feel bad about it, and things would be no better. I knew I was marrying an actress, I mean, I knew perfectly well when we got married that you would spend your winters in Moscow. I don’t feel in the least hurt or neglected.

Anton Chekhov and Olga Knipper
In 1904 Anton Chekhov would die. Olga Knipper became very popular with the new regime after the Russian Revolution and they never bothered her.
Fifty-five years after Chekhov Olga also died. She never remarried.

Dear writer, dear actress is a beautiful book to read, because the letters were never meant to be published. It gives you a glimpse of the private lives of two people who loved each other, but could not be together due to the circumstances.

A must for every Chekhov-fan.

Full title: Dear writer, dear actress, The love letters of Anton Chekhov and Olga Knipper
Selected, edited and translated from Russian into English by Jean Benedetti
Published in 1996

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Quote: Anonymous

Happiness is not the absence of problems, but the ability to deal well with them.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Summer vacation

I used this image of Marilyn Monroe last year as well, but I love the idea of
vacation that comes from this photograph!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

The Snow Queen, Michael Cunningham

A celestial light appeared to Barrett Meeks in the sky over Central Parks, four days after Barrett had been mauled, once again, by love.

This is the beautiful first sentence of The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham, a story about the two brothers Tyler and Barrett.

Tyler, the eldest, is a musician, why tries to write a song for his girlfriend Beth, who is dying. He hopes drugs will give him the inspiration and the talent he needs for what he hopes to accomplish, but he also thinks he will be able to kick the habit soon.

Barrett did all kinds of studies and had all kinds of jobs, and now he works in the boutique that is owned by Beth and their friend Liz. He is waiting for love and the moment life will finally begin.
The light he sees, even though he also doubts if it was real, changes Barrett. He lost his faith when he was a child, but now he goes to church again. Not that he participates, he sits in the back and that is all, but somehow he hopes he will receive another sign, telling him the light was real and there is more to life.

The story begins in November 2004, on the evening before the election between Bush and Kerry. It then takes it to New Year’s Eve 2006 and it ends in November 2008. By then the lives of Tyler and Barrett have changed, probably for the better, although both of them also think it can go wrong again at any moment.

The fairytale The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen is the basis for this story, but that is done in a very subtle way. It is not a retelling of the story, only some elements are mentioned throughout the story.
Other themes are also done in such a subtle way, like the politics that are mentioned and the light Barrett sees. That is never heavy-handed or mentioned constantly, although it does become clear it had quite an effect on Barrett.

In a very beautiful way Michael Cunningham manages to describe the lives of Tyler and Barrett, their fears and doubts, the things they do ad the changes they experience, making them come very close to the reader who can relate to them.

I previously read The hours and By nightfall, and after The Snow Queen I firmly say: I am a fan!

Published in 2014

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

It's a beautiful day

When I go into the centre of the city on my bike, this is one of the views I see. It helps I took this photograph on a very beautiful day.
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