sunrise, food and serenity in maine

Summertime in DC, a time I always wish I was somewhere else!  Since I just started a new job I couldn't go back home to the Netherlands for a visit this summer.  I'm therefore very much looking forward to a short trip coming up soon to one of my favorite places:  Maine!  We've been making this trip the past three years to drop off our youngest at college near Portland and this will be her last year!  My husband is the planner and he is very good at that.  Ever since our honeymoon he keeps most of it a surprise and I have never been disappointed!  

Last year we went to Bar Harbor, a town surrounded by Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island.  Everything about this trip was magical. We were staying in a place overlooking the Gulf of Maine and woke up to the most spectacular sunrises. Within a few minute timespan the view on the left, then on the right and then back to the left would be like this:

Usually, when we travel, we have a simple breakfast, some fruit for lunch and then feast in the evening.  My husband is the mastermind behind our dinner plans and finds us the most perfect little restaurants, shacks, diners and dives although I certainly have a say in that too (last photo in this series).

The ambiance at one restaurant in particular was spectacular.  Seafood being cooked in this shack, was brought up by runners (literally ) to the restaurant uphill or to the brave souls at the tables on the water's edge (it was somewhat cold!).  The food was mouthwatering good.  I had lobster of course!

It's all about seafood in Maine.  And  fishers start at a very young age!

I need peace and quiet at times.  Always have!  Growing up in the Netherlands I spent a lot of time on and by the water and so naturally I'm drawn to the serenity in Maine.  

I'll finish here with this final image that to me "speaks a thousand words!"




Thank you to these very special people!

Thank you to these very special people!

Mid-November last year marked a crucial point in my life.  I had just completed my “Outsider” project (exhibit in July) and was ready to start a new personal project.  Having regularly done assignments for Special Olympics Maryland (SOMD) I wanted to  create a portrait series of Special Olympians reflecting their beauty and unique personalities.  I did not want to focus on disabilities.  With the help of SOMD,  who sent out a social media and email newsblast about the portrait sessions, I soon received responses and started setting up appointments.  I asked each person to bring a few favorite outfits as I wanted to portray them in a way they would feel beautiful.  It didn’t necessarily have to be athletic portraits.

A little nervous and  self-conscious, I opened the door for my first appointment that day in mid-November.  A beautiful young woman, smiling from ear to ear, and her mother entered and were excited about a photo session.  We talked a bit, laughed a bit, and photographed a lot!  It’s possible the mother sensed that I was worried about saying or doing the wrong thing because in a very gentle way she guided the conversation and helped me understand her daughter. It was very uplifting and I don’t know who had a better time, they or me!  That same day three more sessions followed. And 24 more in the next weeks.  The ages ranged from 3 to 54.

Every session was different. Some people were a little shy, most of them were not!  Some were able to verbalize well and  some didn’t verbalize but were able to communicate in other ways.  Some people wanted to move around, dance or jump, and some stood still or lay down on the big red beanbag.  Some wanted to have music (sometimes we played the same song several times, especially Abba’s “Dancing Queen”) and some didn’t.  Some only wanted to stay a little while and some didn’t want to leave (I didn’t want them to leave either!).  Parents, caregivers and sometimes siblings stood by and offered support.  They were really the biggest cheerleaders!

These sessions became the highlight of my day!  And I was sorry if someone cancelled.  

Each and every person I met, taught me something new.  They taught me ways to communicate and interact.  They explained about hurdles, big and small,  and how they were overcome.  They talked about challenges, major and minor,  and how they were dealt with.  They showed pride in accomplishments, big and small. They taught me about persistence and discipline. They taught me to enjoy and have fun. They also taught me that happiness and joy can exist even under difficult circumstances. I learned about self-sacrifice and giving.  And about doing one’s best without making it about winning.  I learned about supporting each other and having each other's back.  And they showed me the meaning of unconditional love!

It was a life-changing experience for me.  My life has been one with personal struggles, doubts, lack of self-esteem and self-love. There’s been the fear of rejection.  And  there’s always been that nagging question:  “who am I?” This has been so as a child, student, mother, lawyer and photographer.  Although objectively speaking there were some accomplishments, these never really gave  me a sense of peace and true happiness.

The photo sessions and meeting so many truly inspiring people made me realize that my life shouldn’t be about a search to the answer of the egocentric question: Who am I?  It shouldn’t be about me!  It should be about how I can, by simply being me,  be good and do good.  About doing my best.  About giving and empathy.  About enjoying the small things.  And about sacrifice and working hard.

So I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to everybody involved with this project.  Aside from the fact that it was such a pleasure meeting you and working with you, you showed me the way!

Thank you!



Here are a few photos from the portrait sessions.  The entire series is here

Portrait Special Olympian
Portrait Special Olympian
Portrait Special Olympian
Portrait Special Olympian
Portrait Special Olympian
Portrait Special Olympian
Portrait Special Olympian
Portrait Special Olympian
Portrait Special Olympian

This blog only contains a small selection of the series.  The entire series is here

Super Plunger Mary Kokosko

Mary Kokosko!

She's a teacher, she's an organizer and fundraiser, she's a smiler!  She's very involved with people with disabilities and has been since she participated in the best-buddy program during her high school years.  She's outgoing, charming and full of life!  But most of all she's an amazing Super Plunger!  

This weekend the Special Olympics Maryland Polar Bear Plunges took place at Sandy Point State Park , Md.  The events kicked off with a Cool School Plunge on Thursday, followed by a Police, Firefighter/EMS and Military Plunge and a Corporate Plunge on Friday and culminating in three gigantic Polar Bear Plunges for everybody else on Saturday.  

Mary didn't just do one of these plunges.  Not even two or three.  She  probably plunged more than 25 times this year (but I actually have to ask her because I think it's even more than that).  And she hasn't  done that just this year but she's been at it for 8 years!  

On Thursday, Mary plunged with 270 students and 12 teachers (that's 7 school buses full) of South River High.  She got them there, she inspired and recruited the kids, she organized many fundraisers, she took care of the required forms and waivers and she collected the money. This year the school raised $ 34,000 and were the #1 team (again).  In total the school, over a 7 year period, has raised about $ 250,000.  And then after the Cool School Plunge, she came back on Friday to start super plunging:  a plunge every hour during a period of 24 hours.

I met Mary during the Super Plunge in 2014;  the coldest plunge EVER, when the waves in the Chesapeake Bay kept bringing in ice through which the plungers had to find their way!  (For those interested, here are some photos: It didn't discourage her though.  This year was her 5th time as a super plunger (7th time overall, including the cool school plunge).  She teamed-up with South River High student and student liaison Caroline Boyd whose father, Don Boyd, is the captain of the Super Plunge Team.

This Saturday Mary and I sat down for a few moments to talk. This was after plunge # 23 at around 8:15 AM and she was tired!  Very tired.  The "dark side of the moon" plunges (between 1 and 5AM) had been hard. When I asked her if she was planning to continue being a super plunger in the next few years she was a little hesitant.  "As long as her body would let her", she said!  "It takes more and more time recovering..."

Mary, the following photos are worth a thousand words, all illustrating  what an amazing, inspiring, funny and kind plunger you are!  Thank you for all that you do!  I have a feeling you'll continue doing this for a few more years!

And to all super plungers:  you all deserve to be the subject of a blog.  You are all so, so special.  Thank you for showing me the way!  Your photos are here:

Polar Bear Plunge 1-27-28-17-3581.jpg





My Scheveningen

Scheveningen:  the most famous seaside resort in the Netherlands with a long sandy beach, an esplanade, a pier and a lighthouse.  It's a district of The Hague which, contrary to popular belief, is not the capital of the Netherlands but is the seat of the Dutch parliament and home to the United Nation's International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.  Between Scheveningen and The Hague's city centre is Madurodam, a miniature display of a Dutch city.  


For non-Dutch speakers the correct pronunciation of Scheveningen is nearly impossible.  The phonetic pronunciation is "skhey-vuh ning-uh n" although that doesn't sound entirely right either!  In World War II the Dutch used the pronunciation to distinguish between friend and enemy.  The Germans were simply not able to get the first sounds right and started the word with "sh".  


This photo story, however, is not about Scheveningen in general, its history or tourist attractions, its restaurants, beautiful sights, entertainment or casino.  It's about MY Scheveningen.  The place I moved to almost 30 years ago after completing a Fulbright sponsored Masters in Law in Boston. The place where so many good things happened to me:  my first real job as a lawyer, my first own apartment, my first few years of a reasonably care-free life, my first truly amazing dining experiences, getting married, hosting family and friends from all over the world and the birthplace of my first two children (two more to follow in the United States).  It's not about beautiful Scheveningen but about the Scheveningen I remembered when I recently went back to visit - memories interwoven with feelings of nostalgia and longing!  More about my Dutch life here and here


Let me take you on the stroll I took one day last summer while I was visiting my family. The weather was, well, let's say, really Dutch: rain, wind, cloudy and not very warm and kept most people indoors.  I started out at the beautiful dunes of Meijendel and crossed over to the beach passing many bunkers built by the Germans in World War II. 

Photo edit by Jim Colton.

Photo edit by Jim Colton.

Walking on I looked for the nudist beach remembering the man wearing just a red wool sweater and nothing else, who walked  there  every single day, rain or shine, while I lived there.  But the nudist beach was empty and I turned around at the sailboat area.  Sailing is huge in the Netherlands.  In fact (going to exaggerate a little) I learned to sail at about the same time I learned my multiplication tables!  I went on to master windsurfing on a big, heavy, cumbersome board which made it easy not to fall off and to do some tricks like sitting on the edge while surfing, which I have been bragging about ever since. My children made me prove that I could do this a few years ago and much to my relief, I succeeded! Fully dressed!

Continuing on the beach I stopped in front of the building where my first apartment was. Still looks the same: beautiful to me but very unattractive for everybody else.  It's the yellowish building three  down from the Pier and Kurhaus with the flag on the steeple. I cannot tell you how much time I spent on the beach, not really sunbathing, but using it as an extended office space working on legal documents or doing creative projects such as beading or painting hangers for the nursery!

As I couldn't get in the building I ventured up another building and took this photo of the view I had from my apartment of the red roofs, tiny but well-kept gardens and the dunes. When I emigrated to the United States my law firm gave me a painting of these dunes.  They also gave me a bicycle!

Back to the beach I walked to the far end of Scheveningen with the harbors and the old fishing town.  That's where I always did my Saturday morning shopping.  I was glad to see that there were still family owned produce stores, butchers, bakeries, fish markets, brown cafés and little-hole-in-the-wall eateries.

Errands were typically done by bike.  And it's not a Dutch bike if there's not something hanging on it, be it a child seat or two, a cargo trailer or, in my case, a big wicker basket.  The Dutch are very creative that way.  There must be more bikes than people in this small country and bike traffic safety is one of the utmost priorities.  There are special bike lanes everywhere with their own traffic signs and lights and there are bicycle parking lots where bikes are stacked in several levels.  More about that here

Here I must go off-track a little.  The pavements in the old town of Scheveningen are decorated with the coat of arms of Scheveningen: three herrings with a three-leaved yellow crown floating above the head. Herrings are big in Holland.  The arrival of the Dutch herring in the port of Scheveningen is celebrated each year during the Flag Day.  You ain't Dutch and you ain't much if you aren't among the first each year to eat these raw slippery, silvery creatures holding the fish by its tail, dipping it in onions and letting it slide into your mouth!  It's THE traditional food in Holland and I know foreigners think it's the most disgusting thing ever!

Back to my stroll and continuing through old town Scheveningen I made my way through the main street with its many bicycle stores to end up at the old lighthouse dating back to the 16th century and renovated in 1875.  It's sitting amongst unattractive buildings and houses, hence only a photo of the bottom part.

As time was running out and it got colder and wetter, I turned around and walked back through the busy streets of Scheveningen.  I was tempted to take the tram just for old time's sake.  Trams are everywhere and it's a challenge driving a car on, over and around their tracks. Public transportation is big in the Netherlands.  People bike to the tram or bus, take a train and then walk to their destination.  It's not uncommon to see people dressed to the nines in their suits, short skirts and beautiful Italian leather shoes or heels undertaking such a commute.  

The photo below shows that Scheveningen is an eclectic site of old, new, dingy and tacky!

Nederland 8-11-16-0616.jpg

On my way I stopped at the Kurhaus, an old beautiful, ornate building housing a hotel and several amazing restaurants.  It is stunning inside with ceiling paintings by the Belgian artist Van Hoeck.  While living in Scheveningen I attended many functions there and had dinner a few times at Kandinsky. I quickly walked in to feel the ambiance.  Yes, it was still there!

Back out and a few steps further I stopped to admire my old apartment building again.  Yes, I know it's not a pretty sight but it was home!  I had to go in to check out my old mailbox.  Strangely enough I have many recurring dreams about that mailbox but standing there didn't help me figure out why.

Almost at my car I was surprised to see this little jewel of a house  still hidden amongst the unattractive buildings and houses.  The reason I included this photo is to show the garden.  No matter when, where, how and why:  the Dutch know how to garden and large and small places alike always have some kind of landscaped garden done tastefully and colorfully.  Flowers are big too and they are sold everywhere for peanuts!  The Dutch have a saying, "Say it with flowers," and they give flowers to each other at any possible occasion.

After I picked up my car I drove back to the harbor. I joined the little fisherman's wife watching over the sea and remembering the fishermen taken by the sea and spent some time with her in solitude and to do some soul-searching and reflecting. But that's for my diary and not for this blog.

A cup of coffee in my very favorite, more than 100-year-old little restaurant (Weduwe Van der Toorn) was a very welcome stop.  Several times a day fresh fish is delivered here straight from the boats so I had myself a plate full!  The interior of the restaurant still looks exactly the same with its large mural depicting the fisherman's wife of the monument previously mentioned and her many adventures.

One cannot be in Scheveningen without going to the most famous fish market in the Netherlands, "Vishandel Simonis," and purchasing some of its offerings.  This is a grainy image of the market taken on another occasion with my mother in the red coat buying some of my favorites to take home. 

PS.  Map of Scheveningen.

Nederland 8-11-16-0654.jpg

St Patrick's Day Festivities

I couldn't have had a better St Patrick's Day.  Two wonderful morning assignments:  the first one in Reston, VA,  photographing the Lucky Leprechaun 5K for Potomac River Running.  Then off to the St Patrick's Day Parade in Rio Washingtonian in Gaithersburg, MD for the City of Gaithersburg. The atmosphere, the cheerfulness, the sportsmanship, the camaraderie, the spirit of the day and all the thousands of costumes/outfits were incredible.  All morning I just couldn't stop smiling!  Here's a small selection of photos!


Ben and Kirk

Ben is a Special Olympics athlete who has competed for many, many years in almost every sport the organization has to offer.  Ben is legally blind but once again that didn't stop him from participating in the Special Olympics Super Plunge at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis, Md. this year:  plunging every hour for 24 hours, thereby raising money for this incredible charity.  

Ben lives with his mom and he has a cat.  He commutes every day to work in Washington, DC by metro.  He has an incredible memory and can tell you the day of the week for any calendar date.  He is a very strong advocate for people with disabilities.

This year Ben's handler didn't show up at the plunge.  Super plunger Kirk from Tampa, Florida offered to be Ben's eyes and ears for 24 hours.  By all accounts Kirk is considered a true hero.  He guided Ben to the water to plunge and took care of Ben between the plunges.  It was very touching to see the interactions between them and it still warms my heart.

I have seen Ben plunge in previous years but I have never seen him this happy.  Thank you Kirk!  (See Kirk's comments below the photos.)

After this blog was published Kirk wrote this in reply to several comments on his Facebook page:  "Thank you Marleen Van den Neste for the beautiful pictures and write up. I truly hope that Ben was happy, even if he was half as happy to plunge with me as I with him,  I'd be content. Also, the athletes are the only heroes.  I was just doing what every other super plunger does... Folks like Darryl Lee Despeaux who is the Rock and always there for Ben, and Rick Huether and his son Zack who would dig in anytime asked to help anyone - or the king of the plunge tent Don Boyd who gives countless hours of his time to support all - athlete and non-athlete alike. I happened to be at the right place at the right time and was so honored to get to spend time with the real hero Ben Collins."

Ben's personal donation page is:

Kirk's personal donation page is:

More Special Olympics Polar Bear Plunge photos here:

Polar Bear Plunge

This past weekend I volunteered once again at the Special Olympics Maryland Polar Bear Plunge at Sandy Point Beach near Annapolis, MD. Fortunately Winter Storm Jonas producing prolific amounts of snow was behind us and we are all just barely plowed out!  Remains of snow and ice covered the grounds and it was definitely cold but that didn't keep  thousands of brave souls to take the plunge.  

Events took place over a period of several days.  On Friday the Super Plungers started their 24 hour stretch of hourly plunges.  Later that day the police, firefighters, EMS and military took the plunge.  And finally a large group of corporate plungers took a dip!  On Saturday morning the super plungers finished their 24 hour stretch, followed by a family plunge and two general public polar bear plunges.

The ambiance was absolutely wonderful:  music, food, festivities, costume contests, family fun activities, laughter and cheers and excitement abound.

Over two million dollars was raised for Special Olympics Maryland and money is still coming in.

Here are some photos of the events.

Bruges, the small Venice of the North

Bruges, Belgium, "the small Venice of the North", where I spent a lot of time, as a little girl not always happily visiting museums, then shopping and eating mussels as a teenager, then later on trying all its beers, then having the "parents-meet-the-transatlantic-parents-in-law" and finally a little while back with my mother and sister.

Early morning market at the square with the Belfry (Belfort) towering over a bi-weekly market.

Just off the Blinde-Ezelstraat (which translates to "Blind-Dunkey street") on the Groenerei canal boats are waiting to embark on a spectacular tour through the city which we did later that day.

View from the boat on the Verversdijk, a 13th century street.

Colorful store entirely devoted to my most favorite exquisite fruity candy called "neuzen" (noses) or "cuberdons".  They are only available in Belgium.  

City Hall and Old Civic Registry (a pearl of Flemish Renaissance) photographed, to the bewilderment of a little child, lying flat on the Burg Square.

Interior of the Basilica of the Holy Blood, a church and pilgrim site, built in the 12th century.

The facades on houses in Bruges are spectacular.  In Dutch there are specific words for all the different facades but I'm lost in the translation. Let's try:  shoulder facade, snapped twin facade, stairs facade, neck facade, clock facade, point facade, frame facade, spout facade.  

The building on the right seems to be a combination neck, frame and stairs facade.

Aside from the many (as in really many) chocolatiers, there seem to be an similar amount of interior decorating boutiques.  This photo shows the reflection of the beautiful houses in an equally beautiful store window.

Back to the market square at dusk looking for a nice place for an aperitif!

A Tiny Village Fair in Belgium("Kermis")

"Kermis":  A small fair on a market, near a church, in s small old and charming village in Belgium is certainly one of my happy places. It's the ambiance, the friendliness,  the community sense and camaraderie, the delicious smells, the colorful market stalls, the innocent mischiefs, the joking and laughter, the thrill and the memories.  Hope this may bring a smile to you too!

A Small Glimpse of the Netherlands

The Netherlands:  a tiny country, very flat, some parts below sea level, water, boats, clouds, open markets, fries and croquettes, bikes, flowers, old dike houses and modern structures...

This past fall I spent a few weeks there.  It's where I was born and raised but I didn't think much of it when I was growing up. I see it through different eyes now! I travelled the same routes travelled long ago by bike, boat or hike.  All very Dutch!

Here's a small glimpse.

Threatening clouds and rain showers don't get in the way of a friendly chat!

Threatening clouds and rain showers don't get in the way of a friendly chat!

Rainy day during the weekly market in Oud-Beijerland.

Rainy day during the weekly market in Oud-Beijerland.

Ultra new market hall in Rotterdam.  The ceiling consists of 4000 painted panels, printed on metal sheets in the United States.

Ultra new market hall in Rotterdam.  The ceiling consists of 4000 painted panels, printed on metal sheets in the United States.

Sky-scrapers in Rotterdam, a city that was almost completely destructed in the second world war.  

Sky-scrapers in Rotterdam, a city that was almost completely destructed in the second world war.  

Dike houses ("dijkhuisjes") in Oud-Beijerland.

Dike houses ("dijkhuisjes") in Oud-Beijerland.

Very old harbor in Puttershoek. Not visible:  an old cafe overlooking the river.

Very old harbor in Puttershoek. Not visible:  an old cafe overlooking the river.



Biker crossing a bridge called the Swan by locals in Rotterdam.

Biker crossing a bridge called the Swan by locals in Rotterdam.

Bicyclist in Rotterdam.

Bicyclist in Rotterdam.

Typical polder dike in Strijen.

Typical polder dike in Strijen.

Colorful fields in Heinenoord.

Colorful fields in Heinenoord.

Fall foliage in a garden center in Numansdorp.

Fall foliage in a garden center in Numansdorp.

Sunset from my childhood home.

Sunset from my childhood home.

There's no logical reason to include the following image in a blog about the scenery in the Netherlands.  Only the Dutch would understand!  It's just that one cannot go anywhere in this country without seeing, smelling and/or eating "friet en een kroketje"!  

Fries and a croquette.  Missing:  mustard and mayonaise.

Fries and a croquette.  Missing:  mustard and mayonaise.

How the Dutch Park Their Bicycles

I'm back for a visit in Holland.  My daughter commissioned me to take an artsy photo of a very common sight here:  bicycles!  So far I haven't succeeded.  It's not that there aren't enough bikes. Believe me:  there are!  It's feeling the pressure to create something stunning and possibly overthinking it.  

Yesterday I decided to try my luck in Rotterdam, the city where I was born and home of the very best Dutch soccer club Feyenoord.  I thought that for sure there'd be many bicycles at the train station "Centraal Station".  When I got there I saw a brand new, ultra modern, striking building but NO bikes!  That just couldn't be right!

I walked around the building and definitely saw many people with bicycles. What did they do with them? Curious now, I followed them to this escalator specifically designed for bicyclists.

And the mystery was solved.  I had never seen this before: an entire, huge space devoted to a bicycle-parking-garage with numbered lanes, arrows, mirrors, signs stating number of free spaces and two-tier bicycle racks.

It was an amazing sight! 

I spent a wonderful day photographing the rest of Rotterdam. Unfortunately I still haven't produced a beautiful, artsy photo of bicycles for my daughter to put on the wall of her new apartment.  Unless she thinks this will do:

Labor Day Parade

Labor Day!  Sigh!  Bigger sigh!  Huge sigh!  

For all of you who experience the Labor Day blues:  here are some photos of the Gaithersburg, MD Labor Day parade that might evoke a little smile, a warm feeling, a fond memory or just a moment reprieve from the daily routine that has us all in its grips again at the start of a new cycle of seasons.


The Firecracker 5K...raining cats and dogs but still such a fun and festive (and competitive) race!

July 4:  the best American holiday!  It embodies everything I envisioned about America and its people before I moved here from The Netherlands. What's made it even better the past few years is photographing =PR= Races' Firecracker 5K and Fun Run in Reston, Va. Imagine thousands of runners, dressed in the colors of the flag or sporting a similarly cheerful patriotic outfit with little or big hats, glued-on mustaches, gigantic colorful glasses, tutu's, necklaces, etc.  Imagine beautiful American songs over the loudspeakers and later live charging up the athletes.  Imagine face-painting, food and lots of activities for the crowd that came out to cheer on the runners.  Imagine kids and adults alike waving little american flags on short sticks.  Imagine all the military groups good-naturedly participating in the "Battle of the Branches" competition.  And imagine beautiful blue skies and nice warm temperatures (well: a little hot and humid maybe!).

All that was true last Saturday except for the very last part!  It was raining and not just a nice little summer sprinkle.  It was pouring rain or in the words of the British:  it was raining cats and dogs!  But it didn't damper the atmosphere nor spoil the fun.  Indeed, like always it was yet another fun and festive morning. 

My job is to photograph the runners and take some candids.  When that's done I go home for the post-processing part:  download to a photo software program, apply rough edits and upload to Potomac River Running's flickr account (which takes hours).  When that's done I leave  the photos on my computer and go about my normal Saturday routine.  A few days later I go back to the photos and look at them one more time before deleting them forever.  But that's never easy.  I always get attached to them and I compromise by keeping just a few.  I just want to show you the photos I kept from this last race.  I don't have a specific explanation about this selection but I think they resemble the spirit and the gist of a typical July 4th Firecracker 5k!