Monday, April 30
Saturday, April 28
Friday, April 27
I have to be honest from the start here. I cheated for this post. On my own I couldn't come up with 15 reasons I don't like living here. I had to go borrow from elsewhere to find some common expat complaints.
To be fair, I do have some gripes and I can join in moaning with the best of them, but my list is certainly not a long one; and there are no deal breakers on this inventory of grumbles. In fact, many of these things don't really pass muster as genuine grievances about life here, but are more like annoyances. I can make the same type of list about living in my home country of the U.S. too.
But I wanted to share some fair and balanced reporting about an expat life.
Perhaps you can regard this as Part II to the 15 Reasons I Like Living in The Netherlands post from the past.
Okay, it wasn't long past. Really only a couple of weeks ago, so you probably remember and don't need to go linking to it to remind yourself. But while we are on that subject, you could read this post which also points to my deep-seated happiness here. And while you are at it, why don't you read this post, and this one, and maybe this one too. Not that they have anything at all to do with the subject, but they are posts without any comments, and darn it they are feeling a little ignored. Share some love readers! Share some love.
And now we commence with the whining. (or as my British friends say: the Wingeing)
1. I get homesick. Not for things or comforts or any of the silly luxuries I used to think were crucial to life itself; but for people. The short of it is: I miss my sister. Fiercely. All the time.
2. The Dutch can be unkind, even rude. They explain away this tendency by saying that they are a "direct" people and "up front". But when that direct-up-frontness is coming straight at you with a "Your ass looks big in those pants", it can take a minute to catch your breath.
3. While I am whining about the people themselves I will add this. There seems to be an actual gene in the Nederlanders pool which dictates scolding. Direct, up-front, ruthless scolding. Of complete strangers.
Take for instance the time I got blasted at the supermarket for opening the door at the freezer section and (apparently) taking too long to look at the ingredients on the package. A woman moved across the aisle to let me know that what I was doing was 'ridiculously irresponsible and didn't I know that if I opened the door like that it would cause it to fog up and then no one would be able to see what was inside on the shelves?'
Uh... yeah. Didn't she know that I had to open the door in the first place because some other numb nut had done just that and I couldn't see what was inside? And doesn't she get that that's why there ARE doors, so you can OPEN them and look at what is poised behind? Sheesh. As you can see I am still a little tender about this one. I have other stories I can share to illustrate this point. Lots of others. ' Cause they do it, the scolding thing, a lot.
4. Hours of operation at the shops are limited. The specialty shops (cheese, butcher, pharmacy, clothing etc.) and the smaller grocery stores open around 10:00 a.m. and close at 5:00-ish p.m. every day. They are closed on a Sunday and also on a Monday morning. When we first arrived in Leiden this was a steep learning curve for me and I ran out of milk more than once on the weekend. Oops. That's one thing that I have just simply learned to adapt to and plan ahead for.
5. It also must be mentioned that you bag your own groceries at the supermarket. If you forget to bring your own bags, you can purchase one at the store for around 20 euro cents. When you are especially forgetful, soon enough you will have a full collection of grocery bags sitting in the kitchen closet. You can then just continue to add to the stack every time you return from the store with another, and another, and yet another 20-cent bag.
6. There is some intense pressure in the grocery line when you are hurriedly trying to pack your items into your newly purchased (crap! did I forget the bags again?) bag, and already the cashier is sending the next customers' items down the conveyor belt. It should be an Olympic sport really: speed bagging your own groceries. Dude! I would be a gold medalist!
7. Ah, and speaking of lines. The Dutch can't queue.
8. They are also extremely handicapped in the area of customer service.
9. Banking here has its problems. There are some silly protocols and procedures in place that seriously just don't make any sense. Like when you want to pay off the balance of your credit card earlier than the auto-scheduled payment date. You know, so you can use the card to pay the deposit on a car rental when you want to take a trip to say, Belgium. Using the online banking option to move monies from your savings account toward the credit card account seems like a time efficient plan. Right up until you find out that it will take NINE DAYS for the transaction to show up on bank records and bring your balance down to zero. And if in that NINE DAYS since making the transfer payment, your scheduled date for automatic payment should arrive? Well then, the bank will just debit your account again for the full balance showing on the last statement. Huh?
10. Speaking of dates, you must schedule an appointment weeks in advance for a dinner meeting, or a coffee with friends or neighbors. Dropping by or popping round for a visit is a bit of a foreign concept. Figure that out and you're in good social shape in The Netherlands.
11. Getting attention for health issues can be a long, convoluted process. Everyone here has a "house doctor" with whom you schedule visits for any of the common health concerns. If your situation requires additional expertise you are given a referral to a specialist. Getting in to see said specialist is where the long wait begins. Months can go by before appointments are issued and months in between appointments seems to be the norm. The upshot to this complaint though is that the costs involved with medical care are extremely reasonable, almost laughable, when comparing to what we paid for care and prescriptions in the states.
12. You have to pay for the silliest of things. Like a ketchup packet at McDonald's? 35 euro cents. Frugality is a national sport.
13. Bikes are a necessary form of transportation and oh-so-handy to have around, but they are pricey. There is a bit of sticker shock when you price bicycles. Average cost for a new bike is around 400 euros. It is not at all uncommon to see prices reaching to 1,000 euros. For a bike. That you have to pedal. We bought ours at a used bicycle shop and found suitable purchases in the 100 euro range. That will do for the likes of me. I kind of like that mine is a little rusty and has been hand painted to cover the signs of age. It's a good, sturdy, reliable bike. And the fact that it's old and used gives me a feeling of security that it's not likely to be stolen.
14. Housing costs are high. I have mentioned previously that land and space are limited here in Holland, so it follows that real estate is precious. And expensive. That goes for the purchase prices of a home as well as rental fees.
15. This one is as common a complaint with the Dutch as it is with any expatriate. All approach it with the same venom and vigor; you can consider it an international-equal-opportunity bellyache. Are you ready for it? I will lay it out for you. Winter sucks in The Netherlands. There is nothing at all redeemable about it; the winter months are cold and dark, dismal and depressing. The wind blows constantly. The rain pours continuously, except for the days that the temperatures drop below freezing. Then it's just windy and icy cold. The kind of cold that freezes the tears before they can sweep across your eye; and considering that the winters here are considered mild, that's actually saying something about just how cold mild can be. But it's the gray skies that take it out of you. A great yearning for a clear sky and some sunlight builds inside during the long months of winter. So much so, that as I have shared more than once-or even twice-on this blog, the return of the spring is nothing short of miraculous and everyone turns out to worship the sun and claim victory over another winter.
So, there you have it. And at the end of all of this, I am wondering if it's possible to beat the amount of shameless-self-promotion and linking to ones' own writing I achieved here today?
Let the games begin.
Thursday, April 26
Now that the deep inner workings of my rather warped brain have been exposed, this next thing I say may shock you deeply.
It shocked me.
My good and faithful friend Soccer Mom in Denial has awarded me the Thinking Blogger Award.
The gesture is touching and meaningful. Especially because I know the likes of the company she keeps, or rather reads. I am truly humbled that I warrant that kind of attention, and that she counts me among her friends. She is seriously just too cool.
The way this game goes is like this: Now that I have received one, it is my privilege to pay it forward and hand out the thinking award to other bloggers.
I get to pick 5.
How am I supposed to choose?
diving head first without looking into joining the blogging world I have been reading and enjoying many, many- possibly far too many- bloggers' sites. To name my favorites is like asking me to announce my favorite cookie.
It just can't be done.
But I am doing it anyway. In spite of the fact that I am leaving out several writers whom I
lurk by read regularly.
These are they to whom I bestow the Thinking Blogger award. And these are the reasons why.
Milk & Honey. I tripped onto this site and found this post a few weeks ago. The discussion which ensued through her site and with the others playing along was a total blast. It is a memories piece, and you may have discovered by now that memory is one of my favorite destinations.
The jolt to THINK about my grandparents was just a beautiful trip.
Desert Songbird came to my site early on and left some tender words in the comment section. I was touched and moved and thus got my fingers over to her URL as fast as they could fly. Her photographs are so much fun and her stories even more so. I enjoy her open, animated style. On top of that she lives in the Arizona desert, and reading her blog and looking at her photos makes me THINK of home. I am grateful for that daily trip.
Beaman and I swap comments occasionally on a Wordless Wednesday. That's how I found him. I actually spend a lot of time at his cyber-place because like a magnet his writing draws me in. He is a poet. And his photography rocks. When I am there I am always THINKING: 'gosh, I wish I could write like this'.
Gawilli is another one of those "just happened by" finds, but her humor and her candor keep me coming back for more. That we happen to agree on a certain politically charged issue is a bonus. Her recent piece about Service and Sacrifice was moving, especially her final observation in the post. Yeah, her writing makes me THINK.
There then is my list. I am sorry I couldn't mention EVERYONE. But you may not have stayed around to read ALL that blather.
Thanks for sticking to this point.
Award winners, I wish you Hartelijk Gefeliciteerd!
It's now your turn to play.
Wednesday, April 25
Tuesday, April 24
I write all the time. In my head.
All. The. Time.
Constantly on the inside screen behind the ridge of my forehead, words and sentences play by. I write continually, inspired by the things I see or the memories triggered by what I smell. Even when I am inspired by nothing, I am composing. My brain literally bubbles with ideas; ideas which pop and play and line themselves up into coherent thought; it is poetry and prose like you would never believe. It is profound, precise, perfect writing replete with moving imagery and powerful metaphor. Thoughts melding into striking sentences, with grammar, punctuation and spell checks complete.
The trouble comes when I ask those perfect phrases to make the journey from my brain- through my neck-across my shoulder-down my arm-and-out my fingertips. I think sometimes the thoughts dawdle along the way, like a toddler on his way to bed distracted by that last chance to play, and somewhere between formation and fruition something, maybe everything, gets lost. Instead of idyllic words fraught with wisdom what comes through my hands by way of pen or keyboard is merely a shadow of the original thought.
A small, dark, skulking shadow.
I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to retrace the path, hoping to find the birthplace of my perfect, precise, exquisitely formed inspiration so I can get it on paper, as it were.
My gaze casts to the distance, my brow knits in concentration and my lower lip gets tucked into my teeth. I search and reach and long to remember just what it is that I am trying to say.
My kids are learning that to interrupt me from this comatose stance is to risk a flash of the eye, much like the pupil of a frightened bird; and a heavy sigh just like a... well, like the tired mother that I am.
"Oh, I see you're writing. I'll come back" I hear them say.
Right now it is these words always in concert inside my mind. The dancers who usually occupy that space have had to make some room. Although I am on a virtual hiatus from teaching right now, it is apparent that my brain didn't get the memo, because the dancers who have been in my head since before I can remember are still there. I hear music and in my head, the stage lights are burning, the curtains rise and my dancers make an entrance. Leaping, spinning, stretching, these graceful dancers play out the steps choreographed in my heart and magnificently performed in my head.
This is how it has always been for me. Music makes my head dance.
I have been teaching dance, excluding mini-breaks like this one, for the past 25 years. I love the work. It is the most honest part of who I am; to be in a studio classroom with children moving and creating together is simple paradise for me. When I work with students preparing for performance, this is generally how it goes. The music is selected and I listen. And I watch. The dancers in my head take off into such stunning movement that often I am breathless. I take notes. I listen to the music again. And I watch. And in my head there is dancing.
I know when I stand in front of my class, frozen to the spot with my brow furrowed and my lip tucked in, it is an odd sight. But even with notes in hand, sometimes I just have to watch the dancers in my head run through the combination or the formation one more time, so I can translate it onto the bodies standing in front of me.
Standing still, eyes cast to the distance, eyebrows crowding eyelids and begging to share space, teeth marks in my lower lip, I have often heard:
"Shhh! Quiet. Miss Jenn is thinking"
Because my students are in on the secret.
I see things in my head.
If I could, I would publish directly from the gray matter and skip the variations and mutations of the perfect paragraph as it resides there. And then, the dancers in my head could don their costumes, move onto the stage, and interpret the words; dancing with passion and grace in a spectacular improvisational performance. It well could be an artistic wonder.
If only I had the necessary plug-in.
Monday, April 23
"Hey Mom. Do you know who Nelly Furtado is? "
"Uh-huh. Of course."
"Do you like her music?"
"Yeah. As a matter of fact I do."
"Me too. Maria went to her concert in Amsterdam. She said it was really good.... Have you ever been to someone's concert before?"
"Yes. I have. Lots of 'em."
"Wow! Really? Who have you seen in concert? I mean is it anybody I would know? Is it anybody, you know.... good?"
Saturday, April 21
Friday, April 20
Thursday, April 19
I am going to confess something here. I like to talk. I know this comes as something of a shock to you as there is no evidence to support that statement. I mean, it's not like there are already close to 80 posts on this 50-day old blog. No, wait. There ARE nearly 80 posts here. I must have been thinking of somebody else.
But since we are on the subject of me, let's just linger awhile.
My new mentor and greatest cyber supporter Soccer Mom in Denial has recently been interviewing friends and fellow bloggers. I have so enjoyed reading the answers to her questions and actually have been tickled by the questions themselves. So much so, that I just couldn't stand it anymore and I asked if I could join in and play. I like to be included in what all the cool kids are doing. She happily complied and sent me the following questions.
Here is what I have to say.
1. If you could go anywhere with your family (and money and time were not a factor) where would you go?
At the very moment I am typing this I am listening to my youngest son squeak and grunt as he cavorts around the living room attempting to elude the ride to bed in his daddy's arms. My oldest son is gyrating through an impromptu Napoleon Dynamite dance on the rug in front of me; and my daughter is asking if she can have 30 Euro for a lunch card at school. So in answer to the query, if I could go anywhere right now, (and the return time were not a factor) it would be WITHOUT my family. To anywhere.
Seriously, my answer is anywhere. And everywhere. I have an incredible wanderlust and I absolutely love to go. Go and see. And there are myriad places to go and see in this big, wonderful world.
Where shall we meet?
2. What is your typical Friday like?
It seems so trite to respond this way, but my Fridays are complete TGIF days. Friday is the one day of the week that I don't have a destination first thing in the morning. No school for Andrew, no dancing class, no coffee groups, no Mom/Tot meetings. It's a day made just for me and my special guy and our pajamas.
There is NO SCHEDULE on a Friday and after the morning wake up ritual of munching breakfast in front of the BBC, we make it up as we go along. The big kids are out the door by 8:00 to cycle to school and Don leaves shortly after that for work. Andrew and I indulge in watching The Tweenies and checking email (you can make your best guess about who does which) and just take the day as it comes.
Friday nights are reliably date night with my husband. I never turn that down. He's a great guy to hang out with.
3. Why Arizona before the Netherlands?
Why Arizona? Because I was born to be barefoot of course.
Why Arizona before The Netherlands is a longer story. Our convoluted path since we married began in Southern Utah, and then a stop in Las Vegas, Nevada. Both were education related moves. Most of our moves have been education related, as a matter of fact. With undergraduate school tucked away we were faced with some choices for Don's law school education. Initially we were set to return to Utah for that three-year course of study but then a letter arrived from the University of Arizona, with an offer we couldn't refuse. We moved to Tucson with our Honda Civic and a 10' trailer which held EVERYTHING WE OWNED and became desert rats for essentially the next twelve years. Eight of those years we spent in Phoenix.
4. Do your kids have the same life-is-an-adventure attitude as you?
Uh... yes. Maybe. And no.
My daughter is one of the most adaptable people I know. She seems to take anything and everything in stride when it comes to moves and changes and adventures. I have joked that we could move to Mars in the morning and by evening she would have found alien playmates and would have already scheduled her first sleep over.
My youngest of course doesn't seem to mind whatever it is we are doing or wherever it is we are. As long as he can "do it myself-okay?" and count on his peanut butter, then it's all good for him.
My oldest is my most routine oriented child. He just likes things the way he likes them, and though he has adapted beautifully to this experience and has grown immensely, I believe his preference would be to settle and stay somewhere. I picture him years from now, living a stable life IN ONE PLACE while he rolls his eyes to the top of his head as his parents pull up to his driveway in a ramblin' RV. We are a little on the flitty side and he is deeply rooted.
5. What were you in high school (e.g. jock, dramaclub, studious)?
I was a drama clubbing, madrigal singing, poetry writing social butterfly. And by the butterfly part I mean that I was (and still am) able to find a comfort spot with all kinds of people. Like a chameleon I can blend in with my environment. The bottom line is I really like people and I believe we all have more in common than what we sometimes perceive. It's all about spending time with each other and finding out just what that may be.
6. What did you expect when you started blogging?
I expected that I would find it to be cathartic and a worthwhile creative exercise. I hoped it would help me hone my writing skills. I also hoped it would help me process and record some of the experiences here. Both of those hopes are being satisfied as I blog. What I didn't realize was that it would bring me such deep satisfaction to write and share all of this every day. In addition I have been most surprised by the sweet support out there from readers and other bloggers. I didn't expect at all to find a group of terrific and loyal friends because of it. But I did. And that is a perfect sweep of icing on my blogging cake.
Tuesday, April 17
The three of them arrived in early June and camped with us for the first part of their spontaneous European tour. They had packed lightly and arrived with a spirit of high adventure. Probably the most important items they brought along (other than the peanut butter, macaroni and cheese, ranch dressing mix, and chopped green chilies they carted across the ocean for us) was a EURAIL train pass and several travel guides on what to see and do while on the continent.
The one thing they wisely did not pack along was a tidy itinerary with a regimented schedule. No, these two bohemian souls were determined to live out this dream flying by the seat of their pants all summer. If I could have dropped everything and traveled with them I would have. Most definitely.
At each stop along their route last summer (The Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and Italy) they generally managed to find accommodations like they had with us. They stayed with friends, or friends of friends and even once in the apartment of a friend of a friend who was out on holiday of their own. Without going into arduous detail about the free and easy summer they spent, I just want to give a plug for traveling the way that they did. Taking off and taking it in is how I like to phrase it. Resolute to make a trek worthy of memory these three covered the continent with a one-day-as-it-unfolds attitude, thoroughly enjoying the eight week trek through Europe. And oh, do they ever have stories to tell. Happily for me, they ended their trip by staying with us once again and so I got to hear those stories. And see the pictures. It was a marvelous experience to host them and our families blended beautifully. Before the trip I had never met this partner of my friend, nor her daughter and as a result of having them spend that time among us I not only had a chance to cement a relationship with Friend #1, but I connected strongly with my New-Best-Friend and her firecracker kid. You've heard me say it before, friendship is a priceless treasure.
Now something which my friends didn't end up using but had signed on with and researched was a web-based group who call themselves Couch Surfers. The service at the website, in a nutshell is a housing exchange. You can sign in with either intention; to offer a place for a traveler to stay or to look for a place to crash during your own travels. You can do both if that suits you. The idea is that whether you are hosting travelers or striking out on adventures of your own, the network of support is available to create new friendships and to see places in a new light. Hosts can be as involved with or as absent from their surfers' itineraries as they please. Travelers can pay back the hospitality by helping around the house or offering to make dinner one night. But the benefit from it all, which was precisely what my friends gleaned from their summer of wandering, is the connections you make and the friendships that are formed with people whom you otherwise may never have crossed paths with in this big wide world. And that is seriously something humanity could use more of. The inspirational mission statement of couchsurfing.com is
Now honestly, isn't that about the freshest most pleasant sentiment in the world?
Today I emailed my friends to get a reminder from them about the places they visited last summer, I also asked if they had any best memories of the trip. New-Best-Friend replied with this:
If that's not a stellar reference for Hotel Huis van Taylor, I just don't know what is.
Sleeping space now available for visitors.
Monday, April 16
I posted this photo of my daughter on our family website last week, and my mother-in-law responded saying, among other things, "...I have always loved dandelions and thought they got a bum rap from society at large...."
I couldn't agree more. I love dandelions; the little bright spots of color popping out of the grass. Cheery little bits of sunshine. Explosions of summer on the lawn.
I know master gardeners and lawn aficionados do not join me in the applause for the happy little flower. I understand that in the book of great gardens, a dandelion has no place. I get that it's a weed. But darn it, it's the prettiest little weed on the planet.
As a matter of fact, if you had told me that dandelions were weeds when I was a young'un, I would never, could never have believed you. I used to spend hours in the fields near home picking gobs of dandelions and then sitting in the grass with a lapful of flowers while I patiently, methodically weaved stems together to create perfect dandelion crowns. Adorning my head in the decadent yellow actually made me feel like a princess. I loved it immensely.
In the late spring months in Salt Lake City, Utah when the dandelions were out in full force my friends and I used to make dandelion jewelry during our recess breaks at school. Given the decade, our youth, and the State I grew up in, we knew little of piercing anything other than ears so our jewelry weaving was limited to decorating heads, arms and ankles. To my knowledge no one among us ever tried to thrust a dandelion stem through a nose or a tongue. There may well have been a belly button decoration once or twice, after all we were a generation raised on I Dream of Jeannie. Once fully bejeweled we entered the world of our imaginative play. The group of us had concocted an elaborate game about ANCIENT ISLANDERS who WORSHIPPED the ancient gods. One of us, usually me, would be the goddess and the others would assume the role of humble goddess worshipper. The being of greatness would sit on a rock or a tree stump looking down on the humans and they in turn would prostrate themselves on the ground, gyrating in undulating motion, arms waving and chant "O Holy MOON-SUN god". But to be totally honest about it we were all a little nervous about the sin attached to using the name G-O-D and thus opted for the wholly benign "O Holy MOON-SUN Gosh" instead. This satisfied all players that the ancient goddess would understand the substitution and we would avoid offending the big guy upstairs or more likely the eavesdropping third graders who were bound to report us.
We played other games too. My older brothers taught me the tortuous rhyme "my mama had a baby and it's head popped off" which we would chant after picking up dandelions and upon the "head popped off" line would place a thumb just under the base of the flower and with applied force flick the top of the dandelion from the stem. The flower would fly up with a satisfying force before succumbing to the gravitational pull of the earth and land with a thud at our feet. My mother ALWAYS protested this game. I didn't get that at the time, but it comes to me clearly now just how morose and macabre the silly play was. I have never passed on the tradition to my kids. I wonder if my brothers have to theirs?
The greatest joy of course was finding a wishing flower; the dandelion gone to seed and forming a perfect sphere of fluffy whiteness. Tenderly I would pluck this treasure from the ground, being very careful not to upset a single seed and send it flying before its time. I then would close my eyes, squeezing them tightly, and WISH. I can't tell you what I wished for, because if you tell a wish it doesn't come true. But I wished for some glorious things every chance I got. Wishing complete, I would open my eyes and BLOW; the tiny seeds released from the center post gracefully floating, swirling, sweeping through the air. Off and on the way to retrieve the secret desires I had placed among them. Oh, how I loved to watch these gatherers of my hopes dancing away.
To this day I remain a big fan of the dandelion. I suppose it would still be a difficult sell to convince me that they are anything other than brilliant spots of inspiration and sweet memories. And while I am on this point, I should mention that I take my hat off to the resilience of the wonder weed. More often than not, I see the plants making their way up through the cracks in a sidewalk or a bursting out of a brick fence. To flourish like that under difficult circumstances is something that absolutely commands respect.
Truly, something to aspire to.
Sunday, April 15
I wanted to write about our evening out last night but I am reticent to do it. I am feeling sensitive that it may come across as "rubbing it in" to those who have implied that I live a charmed life.
Since it was a charmed evening.
I also am not certain I can do in justice in words. Meaning the magic of the moment may get lost as I retell any stories or attempt to portray the players.
But mostly it's that first thing.
Now that I have some readers and commenters (thank you all for coming!) I am feeling a little pressure to perform well. Knowing that there are friends out there who are likely looking for some consistency in the worthiness of my writing, or my subject matter makes the butterflies in my tummy twitter. On top of that I don't ever want to come across as a Pollyanna. You know, the perky personality who never shows the secrets of the darkness in her days. As a matter of fact, I do have some of that. I just don't tell it very often.
Okay, really not at all.
I suppose you could say never.
Except I try to never use words like never. I don't actually believe never ever happens.
At any rate if I tell this story will you also believe me when I say that there are moments, loads of moments where nothing very cool happens over here? And that there are even times it is ugly and yucky and icky and I don't like it at all?
I really can't help the positive attitude; it just leaks from me like water from a soaker hose in a desert garden. Positive is how I am designed and manufactured. A little bit on the perky side, its true. Even though that makes me gag a little even to myself. But this blog world is a take me as I am kind of place, isn't it? If you don't find me interesting then there are lots of other URLs you can insert in the search bar. I can recommend some if you would like.
Well, now that the whole lead in is out the story itself may look a little lame.
We met some friends for dinner last night at a local Japanese restaurant. She is a work colleague of Don's and up until very recently He worked in the same office. He has since stepped out to pursue his PhD, studying in Milan. They are newlyweds. He is Italian. She is Japanese.
Being in their company is an easy thing. We fell immediately into conversation catching up on personal news and events since the last time the four of us were together.
"How was the trip home to Japan?"
"When is your next trip to Italy for your studies?"
"How are the kids doing?"
We covered the basic niceties and discovered new topics between us as the time rolled by and the sushi rolls arrived at the table. We talked. And laughed. And talked and laughed some more.
Generally when I find myself in a dialogue with three attorneys and me, I have little to contribute when the banter turns to the intricacies of International Criminal Law. I then willingly assume the role of 'person-in-the-conversation-who-nods-her-head-and-murmurs-an-occasional-'ah-I-see' at the appropriate moments. It's not a bad role and I don't begrudge it in the least because I know when the tables turn and the topic becomes 'what is the best way to tie shoelaces so they won't come undone' (it's NOT a double knot) or ' is there a good homemade remedy to eliminate killer diaper rash?' (Mylanta and corn starch) I will be the only expert at the table.
Yes, I know who I am and I know what I have to contribute.
But that's not exactly what I wanted to say either. This is.
With the chatter flowing smoothly and the food tickling every taste bud, I was once again struck by just how freakin' cool it is to belong to an international network like we do.
Between his hilarity in storytelling punctuated with the absolute stereotypical talking with his hands sort of Italian way; and her occasional "Waaa?" with a quick self correction to put the "T" onto the end of the word "what", I was in giggles most of the night.
Big, loud, brash AMERICAN giggles.
My loudest outburst spluttered forth at his declaration that he was learning to speak Japanese as part of his JAPANIZATION which had begun at the commencement of the "occupation" otherwise known as their marriage.
I remember as a kid being highly disappointed when I queried my parents as to where we came from. My best friend and next door neighbor had a grandmother from Norway. Other friends down the street were the product of an Italian papa and a Mexican mama.
"Where are we from?" I wanted to know. The succinct answer "From America, princess" was probably designed to instill a great sense of pride that my family had been part of the USA since its beginning. As a matter of fact it does bring me pride. But at the time I took it to be a total smack down to my desire to be something exotic; something amazing; something international.
Sometimes here, that feeling rises anew. Nevertheless, since I cannot claim it in my own DNA, I lay claim to it vicariously by rubbing shoulders with some of the finest people in the world. That those people also happen to be exotic, amazing, international folks is simply the sweet cream in the coffee.
Hours passed and then with a belly full of Japanese delicacies and ears still ringing with the jubilant conversation, I saddled my sturdy Dutch bike and pedaled toward home. Riding tandem with my husband down the bike path I took a deep breath, and filled my lungs with the luscious night air. I then sighed and whispered "This really is the life.... I can't believe it's mine."
Saturday, April 14
Friday, April 13
There can be challenges in living an expat life, and I have been known to whine and yes, sometimes complain about living in Holland. Nevertheless there are also some keen benefits to life here and I occasionally need to sit down and count those out.
Today is a good day for just that.
1. I love Spring in Holland.
I love it. I love it. I love it.
2. The Chocolate is divine.
I don't know that it is specifically Dutch chocolate, but whatever it's origin, it beats Hershey's. Hands down.
3. I live on a fabulous street in a fabulous area of The Hague.
This neighborhood is called Bohemenbuurt which translated is "Bohemia". And if you know me well then you understand just how incredibly apropos it is for me to live here.
4. I have fabulous neighbors.
Yesterday I sat in the front garden with my neighbors two doors down and visited for awhile. I like that. Just sitting, talking and enjoying company. We discussed everything from caravan travel to the crimes in Srebrenica, while the afternoon sun shone down and warmed our skin.
5. I live a much slower paced life here.
Without a car as transport, the speed of my life is dictated by just how fast my own feet can carry me somewhere. In truth, I do not miss one thing about car ownership and the stresses that accompany driving. I should post about that sometime. I have a lot to say about that.
6. My house is a 5 minute bike ride from the beach.
I am looking forward to lazy summer days playing in the sand.
7. We are ensconced in an International World here.
We have friends from all over the world. Literally. If we play our cards right, our future globe trotting travels could have us sleeping on the couches of acquaintances the world over.
8. The International School for the kids is great.
The international flair at school is strong and I love that my children are in the midst of that. Their teachers and friends hail from countries around the globe (the school boasts over 70 nationalities) and most of them speak more than one, more than two, some more than three, languages fluently. Attending school here is a full experience in diversity. This is something I have always longed to offer my kids.
9. Travel is a snap.
The Netherlands conveniently neighbors Belgium, Germany, and France. The United Kingdom is just a short ferry ride away as well. The location serves us well to take weekend travels to some pretty cool places. Seriously, when was the last time you could say "let's pop down to Paris for the weekend"? (Readers who are fellow continent residents don't get to answer that!)
10. Four seasons.
Living in the Arizona desert for around twelve years, I had misplaced the memories of seasons which change with dramatic impact. Of course, you know how immeasurably I appreciate the spring, but I have similar feelings about the moment the crisp bite of cold air announces the beginning of fall. I can't say with impunity that I like the winter, though I can testify to my joy at its end and the contrast it offers the season following. And I must give full props to summer. See #6 above.
11. Stroopwafels. Poffertjes. Appeltart.
12. My home.
I love my house. I love it's character and charm and its history. We actually found our house in a book about The History of The Hague as Don and I lingered in a bookstore after a lunchdate. It was once a tax accounting office, back in the 1930's. I also love the way Andrew walks along our street, pausing at every garden gate to chant "Is this my house? Nope!" as we stroll past the long road of row houses which all look the same.
13. Flower shops.
I find it perfectly quaint to be able to stop at the flower shop on the street corner to buy flowers for my house. An actual wooden shack with doors flung open for business with buckets, baskets and bushels full of fresh cut flowers for sale, it is a complete sensory delight. Flowers are also incredibly well priced, as in inexpensive. Buying flowers in Holland has spoiled me forever to the overpriced bouquets available in the states. That is something I will really miss when it's time to leave here.
I will miss that too. I know to find it elsewhere I will be paying a premium for it. I am willing to budget that in. It's too good to miss out on.
I really like that life here is something new and different. It's hard sometimes, yes. And ocassionally I ache for the comforts of my own culture, but in truth I wouldn't want to be anywhere else than where I am. Here. Right now.
Wednesday, April 11
On the phone with a friend last week I was working up to the punchline of this Andrew Anecdote when the line went dead. We have that trouble sometimes. Thus, the multiple attempts at getting the cable line repaired. To this date three technicians have arrived at our home and have done whatever it is they do and have declared it fixed. Your conjecture that we have called back four times to request another service person to come back to the house and really fix it would be dead-on correct.
You may suppose that it is only because I lack butt-crack views in my daily life that I want or need a repairman to hunker down in the corner by my television/internet/phone line. But you would be forgetting that I am a privileged Mama who gets to change diapers every day. Every. Day. Therefore I see more than my fair share of butt-crack. Cute, adorable, precious butt-crack that it is.
But I digress.
Since this pal of mine whom I
so rudely unwittingly hung up on arrives here regularly to read (Hi M!) I thought it would be a good place to finish the account. I will begin at the beginning for your benefit.
We live in a very typical Dutch style house; a row house as it were. Land and legroom is at a premium here in the low lands and the Dutch in their ingenuity have always made the most of the limited building space in the country. Though there are large estates and family homes with land and barns in the villages and countryside, the cities are densely populated and the majority of residents occupy a spot in a flat building or like us in a street of houses which are all connected together.
To be fair I have seen housing developments in Arizona where the houses may as well be connected as row houses are, since you could shake hands with your neighbor with a simultaneous reach out of bathroom windows. Houses are that close together. And it just seems silly to make believe that you have a side yard when what you really have is nothing but the twelve inches of space between your outside wall and the wall next door. The way I figure it if the developers took a page out of the Netherlands book on building they could squeeze in an entire other house if they took out the mini-spaces they leave between and forget trying to sell the Arizona suburbanite on the idea that there is a privacy yard on both sides of the home.
I am on a tangent again. Pardon.
So we have a typical Dutch home. Three stories high, steep spiraling stairs, shared walls on both sides of the house. It takes a little getting used to the scuffles and sounds surrounding you when you live like this. On more than one occasion Don and I have flown off the couch upon hearing someone stumble down the stairs, or called out in answer to a question, only to realize that the step thumping or the voices didn't originate in OUR house, but in one of the neighbors'.
The house is also decently old. As in built in the 1930's which is WAY older than ANYTHING IN EXISTENCE in Phoenix so we find that quite impressive. But being an older house it has it's structural issues. For instance, the windows tend to shake whenever someone parks on the street and slams a car door. Also, when the wind blows, the french style doors bow inward and threaten to sever locks and swing open. And the floors vibrate when Andrew jumps or runs.
Andrew jumps and runs a lot.
Our living room/dining room is one long room spanning the entire length of the first floor. If you stand in our front garden and peek through the window you can gaze straight through to the back garden. There are no sub walls or decorative screens or barriers of any kind in place. The floor is a finished parquet; it is smooth and shiny and invites running.
A lot of running.
Even with furniture strategically placed so as to curtail a full house-length track, there is still a good stretch down the center which apparently just begs to be run upon.
And he does.
Andrew loves to run this room. He runs from the dining table straight past the couch and slams into the radiator standing underneath the front window. From there he spins around and repeats the path in reverse. If he can pull it off he likes to slam his body into the french doors overlooking the back garden. I have tried to halt this particular body slam as every time he does it all I can see in my over-worked-macabre-imagination is shattered shards of glass showering down upon my baby boy. Generally now he stops himself just short of the reverberating slam. Then he turns again and takes the path afresh.
Run. Slam. Run. Stop.
Run. Slam. Run. Stop.
Run. Run. Run.
During the onerous winter the run-slam-run game was a daily favorite. Too cold or too rainy to go outside and let off any steam we found ourselves relegated to the constant deep echo of Andrew's diversion.
As spring approached and we began to emerge from our cave to greet the sun I stepped out into the front garden one morning. My neighbor was also out front in his garden and we began to chat. He asked after our welfare during the long winter. (No one lingers to talk much in the winter so it is something like catching up with fellow Grizzlies in the den after a shared hibernation) He inquired about how Don liked his job and whether we were we all enjoying our time in The Netherlands. We spoke for several minutes and exchanged our pleasantries.
Then Andrew joined me in the yard.
And my neighbor's cheerful grin fell from his face.
"Ah." he said. "There's the little boy"
"Yes. Yes. This is our Andrew" I replied.
"He likes to run"
"Uh... yes. He does"
"We hear him often"
"Oh. Yeah. Sorry about that". I am sure color rose to my cheeks giving away my utter dismay.
He sighed heavily and muttered "I suppose it can't be helped."
Sheepishly I slunk back into the house with my toddler in tow before erupting into laughter. Cuz Dude! If you think it's loud over at your house? Welcome to my world.
Thankfully Mother Nature has wakened the sun and has sent her back to play with us now so we can be outside for our necessary daily running allowance.
I am not sure how the neighbor is going to feel about the masterpieces in chalk we left on the footpath in front of his house this afternoon.
But at least the drawings are quiet.
Tuesday, April 10
My family and I spent the holiday weekend in the city of Brussels, capital city of the European Union. Just in case facts like that interest you. Brussels is really a magnificent city; the skyline is stunning with ornamented towers and a city hall on the Grand Place square that inspires awe and reverence. I was delighted to spend some time with my new lens for the Canon. Detail gazing took on fresh meaning as I focused the zoom.
I couldn't ask for more than hours of wandering a historical city with camera in hand.
Though they are delicious at any time they touch your lips and slide into your stomach, the delight of eating a Belgian waffle in Belgium takes on meaning beyond explanation. It is extraordinary eating. A taste bud treat.
Of course, if waffles don't suit you then there is always this:
And while we are on the subject of things flowing, no trip to Brussels is complete without a visit to The Mannekin Pis. In French he is called Petit Julien, but please. Mannekin PIS is just so much more fun to say. It kinda feels naughty and that alone pleases someone like me immensely.
The legend behind the little man goes something like this. Back in the day of 1619 a nobleman lost his son and was distraught. During the search for the little guy he declared that he would erect a statue in his honor wherever he was found. And when he was found? Uh-huh. He was peeing. Thus the creation of a tiny little man whose fountain now flows 24/7/365 and people like me line up to take pictures of it.
Often he is naked, but this weekend he was in scuba gear. Word on the street is that he has a wardrobe of 600 outfits so the statue can be changed at a whim to reflect whatever his dressers please on the day. Bring on the paparazzi! Hollywood celebrities have nothing on the petite peeing man of Brussels.
The Easter Bunny managed to find us in our hotel rooms on Saturday night. When the kids woke on Sunday morning it was to the sight of baskets on the nightstands and dozens of foil wrapped chocolate eggs decorating the room. Specifically, Andrew woke to the sight of eggs scattered in the room; Emma reports that her first vision of Easter was a close-up of Andrew's cherubic face as he sat poised over her begging her to wake up. As she peeled back an eyelid, he popped a newly unwrapped chocolate egg into her mouth and said "Look Emma! CHOCOLATE!"
Now, that's an enviable wake up call.
Saturday, April 7
Friday, April 6
Eaten them all. Most of them more than once. Several could indeed be called favorites.
a deep fried concoction of beef or potato or vegetables. always available at the automat slots in the train station or at the snack stands.
a minced meat sausagey thing. like a hot dog, but not at all.
3. Patat or Frites
technically Belgian. thick cut fries served in a paper cone or box. dipping sauces include mayonnaise, curry ketchup, or pinda saus (peanut sauce).
dutch apple pie. crust is more cake like than the american version. also has raisins. served with fresh cream.
5. Sausage broodje
sausage inside a pastry. served warm or cold.
6. Nasi Goreng
indonesian fried rice. also must haves at a rijstafel: Bami Goreng, Satay, Babi Pangang...
another food not necessarily Dutch in origin, but totally Dutch by adoption. a spicy shaved meat served with pita bread, garlic sauce and hot chili sauce.
waffle type cookies with caramel filling pressed between. best hot off the grill at a market stand.
nothing better than this. any flavor, any time.
vietnamese egg roll. fresh off the loempia trucks with hot sauce or sweet sauce. my 13-year old can't keep money in his pocket if there is a loempia stand nearby.
split pea soup. i have learned to make a killer pot of my own. very yummy when it's very cold outside.
chunks of white fish, deep fried. served with a choice of dipping sauce. perfect market shopping day treat.
potatoes, onions, carrots. mashed together.
little poofy pancakes. best when served fresh off the grill with dripping butter and powdered sugar.
you may think it's a drink, but here in holland coffee is a form of sustenance. the Dutch run on the stuff. it is always served hot and strong. a cup of coffee is available anywhere from the cafes to the snack bars and you can find a free cup at the grocery store. but don't wander into a Coffeeshop and ask for a cup. you won't find koffie there.