May Day

May in the Netherlands is a month that seems far busier here than anywhere else I have ever lived. Leading up to May is (now) King’s Day on 27 April. The first of May is Labor Day. The 4th of May is Memorial Day (for WW II victims and now expanded to all war victims) and the 5th of May is Liberation Day – for the end of the Nazi occupation. The 26th of May is Ascension Day.

Two years ago marked the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII. However, everything here was in a lockdown like in many other countries so all the activities that had been planned were cancelled or turned into remote viewing only. Then last year we were in another lockdown. This year, things are cautiously starting up again.

For the past two nights, we have been attending concerts in historic old churches of Jewish composers and musicians. Most of these composers were murdered in the concentration camps. Interwoven in their pieces of music being performed are readings about the experiences of their fellow citizen and how the two are interconnected. It’s really moving and interesting. At last night’s performance, I left with two books on the subject. There’s one more this evening, this time focused on the subversive music movement by the Jewish musicians or as the Nazis referred to it “entartete muziek” . The whole series translates to “Unleased sounds: Forbidden music in times of repression and resistance”. We have been, sadly, the youngest attendees by a long shot.

George is curled up next to me, snoring in time with the keyboard. I hear one of the cats in the kitchen, eating out of the dogs’ bowl. I suspect it is Pickle based on the volume and complete lack of discretion. Smokey has his back turned to us and is sleeping on his pillow in front of the fireplace. Henry is still upstairs in bed with GG. As for me, I’ve got my coffee and I am trying to figure out the chances of getting a refill without disturbing George.

We’re having to be a little more careful with Henry these days. His skin is quite fragile, just like it gets with very elderly people. There’s some special homepathic oil for horses and dogs that is coming this week and we will try that on him. In the meantime, he’s excused from going on walks as the harness irritates his skin. He has what are the equivalent to pressure sores, I think. He’s not really a fan of all the nursing treatment he gets as we work to find the right combination of bandage protection that fits on a small, stubborn dachshund. He’s patient up to a point but then he has had it. He does seem to like the liversausage treats he gets after his turn on the table. Thanks to Meredith for being able to provide us with a list of names of what kind of bandages we were looking for, which we could then translate into Dutch and find locally!

It’s hard sometimes, to watch him. It’s a gift that he’s still toddling along. He eats and drinks like a champ. He doesn’t always see everything so easily, like last night walking through the drinking fountain instead of around it. But he tries. I love him so much and he knows it. He is getting thinner and becoming more frail. I know that’s expected but it still sucks. Two weeks ago, we went to the beach and we walked down by the water. He was dancing along and we had a steady, mindful walk. 😉

With George, unless you get up close, you wouldn’t really see that he is a senior dog. People are always surprised that he is the same age as Henry. We take George out more places by himself now so that he can move at a faster tempo. George also still does well on the bike whereas Henry really hates it. Now I have them both next to me, yogurt has been served along with kibble. Sounds tasty, doesn’t it? I have also managed to refill my coffee. 😉

I’m doing a lot of work lately with young people who are returning to school after a prolonged absence. I spend the time with them teaching how to plan their calendars, develop good study habits, get them to read either aloud together or independently and then come back and discuss and a few other things. Mostly I want to be sure that if they leave the formal education system again, they will not stop learning. In all those years that I was working and not studying, I never stopped reading. I think that’s what really kept me going.

This means that my range of reading material spans from Percy Jackson and the Olympians to biographies of Dutch soccer players because I let the young person pick. I am learning more about professional soccer than I ever thought I would. 😉 Speaking of, I have many more chapters to go.

Our turn for Covid

It’s sunny outside and the temperature says it is 44 degrees with a real feel of 34. It’s the first Sunday of the month, which means the stores in the “village”are open. But that’s not for us this week as we are experiencing Covid.

It wasn’t until the third test on Friday that we were able to confirm that we had it rather than a cold. On Tuesday I started to feel like I had the onset of a cold, which would be weird since I was already sick in December. I’m fortunate to have an immune system that fights off most things so some years I skip even an annual case of the flu. I shrugged it off and went about my business. I selftested when I got home, nothing. Same for GG.

Wednesday I woke up with one of those cold voices and congestion. Nothing to it, just focus and get on with your day. By Thursday, GG was sick. And despite another round of self tests, we were both negative.

Friday we did round three after GG went to get a professional test at the health department. Suddenly, within minutes, there was a second dark line. No, it wasn’t pregnancy, it was Covid. Bah.

Like responsible adults, we cancelled everything we had planned in person for the next week. We ordered groceries – which we never do because I have this weird belief that as long as our legs are working, we can get ourselves to the store. We made plans to stay as isolated as possible. We notified everyone that we had been in contact with over the past week.

Technically you are not even supposed to walk your dogs but I don’t have another option. I can’t trust the cats to walk the dogs. I walk the dogs in the direction that we are the least likely to encounter other people. I am trying to keep them to their routine as much as possible which is why we just went out for a walk and I know how cold it feels!

It feels weird to have Covid. I am quite certain I have an extremely mild case. I was surprised by how each day seems to have a different symptom phase. My least favorite one was the muscle and joint pain. GG is a day behind me in terms of symptoms which is why I am downstairs typing and she is camped on the couch.

The whole mental puzzle of wondering how you got it and when is a first for me. I start wondering when did I put myself at risk and did I put anyone else at risk? It’s my first experience of being conscious of being an infector.

I’m looking forward to coffee tasting normally again. Right now, it’s still a little off. I realize too that we are fortunate that the case that we have is pretty light. We also have a home to be quaraintined in. Not to mention that if we need to order things, it’s possible.

Stay healthy!

Nine years

I want to know when does it stop feeling unfair? When does the anger that death came too early for my Mom subside? When does the sorrow go away that she isn’t physically there to share the big moments and the not so big ones?

I made the drive to Marum today, with the boys. At their age, I don’t take it for granted that things can be postponed. For them, if they sleep in the car or in the basket under my desk, they are happy to be near me – can’t imagine why, especially on the days that I am wearing Cranky Pants.

If you make the trip without stops, it’s 2.5 hours one way. If you make the drive with little dogs that get themselves wrapped up in their seatbelts and start struggling, it takes a little longer with all of the detangling stops. Not to mention the “OMG, who farted??” stops so they can take care of business. The whole way up, it was dark grey skies. Then just over the provincial line, the rain started.

When we got to the tiny church, I thought I would wait the rain out. I closed my eyes and tried to catch a cat nap. But that didn’t work as I was too agitated and the above mentioned doggy farts. When I saw the little old lady walking laps in the parking lot with her walker, I knew that it was time to stop trying to put off the inevitable and get out into the rain.

Dogs in all of their raingear and me, into the graveyard we went. There are a lot more occupants then there used to be. It’s still one of the most peaceful places I have been to and yet I still don’t want to be there. Unfortunately, that is not an option. We spent a good half hour in the rain, me talking to her stone and the boys endlessly twisting around and around waiting for us to move.

On the way back, the sky had a different sort of light. Still massive clouds, like walls, but this time with yellow white light above them. I was reminded of my Mom saying that the light in the north was different, this was the light of painters.

Today marks the end of the Annual Difficult Period (ADP). It’s the time between Thanksgiving and the 16th of January each year. All of my Mom’s lasts. When I wake up tomorrow, I won’t miss her any less but it will no longer be the ADP, which is a relief. Maybe tomorrow I can laugh again when I think of something that she said.

And George peed tonight directly on the bottle of Pet Stain Remover. Perfect target. The bottle did not disappear and nor did it magically absorb the pee. Tomorrow I hope I will find that funny.

Her spark

Today my Mom would have turned 82. For most of my life, I don’t think we actually knew her age. It was not our business as my Mom was fond of repeating when we asked. It wasn’t until she became sick and her birthdate had to be constantly repeated as a form of authentication that I really became aware of her age. The best way to describe my mother’s relationship to her age was she didn’t act it at all!

This is probably the reason I still have to think when I calculate her age. To me, she was simply a force to be reckoned with, an unearthly amount of forceful personality packed into a small frame with a fondness for wearing a particular brand of track suits (AKA “active leisure wear”) and sneakers. Coupled with a fleece vest and she was done with fashion. She did, however, have very distinct taste in bags. Which now that I think about it is probably where I get my search for the perfect bag from.

I still feel her life was too short. Nine years later and that hasn’t gone away. Nine birthdays later and I still miss her and as each year, we’ll be eating Mexican food tonight and I’m drinking a mighty strong margarita.

I knew today was going to be difficult. I slept poorly last night, waking up every hour and then oversleeping and having to run out the door. Which also meant that I had to skip meditating so you can imagine that I was a hot mess. When I did finally get to my classroom, the first thing I did was meditate. The theme was compassion for self and others. The practical activity would be to find something today that when I reacted today, I would do it with more compassion (for myself) then normal. Great, not something that fit with where I was already sitting today, feeling-wise.

GG had to bring the boys today as I was late and I wanted to have them with me. They came in their banana yellow raincoats except that Henry was wearing the one from George (and lost in it) and George was wearing Henry’s which was too short.

Having the boys there sparked a conversation at the end of the day with one of my best employees. She wanted to tell me about how much her life had changed in the past 18 months, including learning to like dogs. The boys were responsible for a good portion of that change from fear to feeling safe. Further, her work and her place in our community made her aware of her strengths and how she saw her future.

When she was telling me this, I realized that here it is – the spark that is my Mom and her legacy. That for every person that comes through the classroom and finds their path forward, that is my Mom’s impact and legacy. As long as that keeps happening, her spark remains. It’s not an insignificant light but rather something bright and never ending. That means that she remains present.

I wish that I could come home and tell my Mom this. I know she would probably react with something awkward and try to change the subject. I don’t know if my Mom ever knew how much impact she had on those around her. I do know that she was super uncomfortable with positive attention. I can relate. But today I tried to practice some of that compassion and I listened. That listening let me hold my Mom that much closer today.

Happy Birthday, Mom. Thank you for being the spark in my life, from the first day to my last.

Christmas 2021

It’s quite cold out, 1 degree C. It’s true fleece weather for Henry and George and as for me, even I wore my hood up today on our walk. The feel is about 6 degrees colder courtesy of that sharp wind blowing around the corners.

I’m listening to a Christmas classic, the Pogues album If I Should Fall from Grace with God and I have to tell you the snarky and sarcastic lyrics suit my mood to a T. Last year we were spending Christmas at a house by the sea with Nel (my fellow anti-Christmas companion) with plenty of jenever, Rummikuib, books and long walks on the beach. Her birthday is the 26th of December and last year we thought it was her 90th. Turns it was her 89th – a slightly awkward moment when you give someone a big gift certificate for a trip to their favorite art museum, dinner and round trip transportation for their 90TH birthday. It’s a good thing we did though as she didn’t see her 90th.

Our plans for 1st Christmas Day this year were to have GG’s immediate family and their kids for dinner. I was so organized I bought all the groceries last weekend and prepared double batches of everything. I had my former interns to dinner on Monday for our annual American Thanksgiving – never mind when it actually falls on the calendar. I was also determined not to wear my anti-holiday cranky pants. However, GG has a horrible, horrible flu. No matter how many tests she does, it’s still just the flu but a bad one. For the sake of everyone, we cancelled our plans.

Yet this left me with vegan tiramisu for 8. Yesterday I delivered the goods to her sister’s house for Christmas dinner. What absolutely shocked me is that both GG and her sister (this is clearly upbringing) asked me if I didn’t want to take out some for ourselves and then give them the rest. I could not wrap my head around bring a dessert to someone with a portion already missing. First I thought GG was crazy or at least badly mannered but then her sister asked me the exact same thing. Clearly I am in the minority 😉 I don’t think I will ever find my way to bringing less than a whole dish to someone. After dinner, different story, doggie bags for everyone but before?? No way!

We won’t eat Christmas dinner tonight since GG can’t taste anything. We’ll try for tomorrow. Fortunately, the Netherlands has first and second Christmas Day. As we are back in a lockdown, there is nothing to do outside the door. This one is planned through 14 January but I imagine it will be extended again. This time many cafes and restaurants are just closing. They are not even trying takeout as it doesn’t bring in enough to cover the costs. I begin to understand why people are going a little nuts.

Mom and I believed in going away for Christmas and if that was not possible, do everything opposite of everyone else. For example, go to the movies while the world is all eating Christmas dinner. When we were kids, she wanted us to open our presents at night instead of in the morning because she was against the whole pyjamas and bedhead look. That doesn’t really work with kids. I don’t think I made her job easier with my searching through the gifts each year and figuring out who got what – and telling my brothers in advance. 😉

I hope you are celebrating today in the way that you like most!

Bingo

Yesterday, I won my own version of provincial bingo. I was also the only player so it’s not like it was a tough competition. There are 12 Provinces within the national borders and three more in the Caribbean.

When I first came to the Netherlands, I used to keep track of every trainstation I went through where I stepped out of the train. I would note in my digital notebook if they had toilets, a coffee bar, fantastic architecture, etc. Dutch people found this a weird and slightly amusing ritual. Of course, if you have lived somewhere your whole life and speak the language comfortably and have no problems peeing anywhere outdoors (aka Wild Plassen – Wild Peeing) then you spend your time complaining about your national train system instead of appreciating it. 😉

I saw a lot of the Netherlands via train. This brought me to my Provincial Bingo. I wanted to see every province in the Netherlands. I would have to spend at least a day there for it to count for the bingo. My last province was Zeeland. Yes, it’s where New Zealand gets it’s non-indigenous name from.

I never quite got around to Zeeland. Partially because every time we would look for a place to escape to, GG would say “Oh, the landscape is so boring there.” Or because everything was full. As it is very close to the coast it attracts lots of German and Belgian tourists. Or because it’s a part of the Netherlands that everything is closed on Sunday and deeply religious.

When we decided a two weeks ago to run away for the weekend with the boys, Zeeland was available. For the past two days, we have been wandering along the beach and in the dunes. It’s a bit hard because the last time we were at the beach, we still had our Nel (of the jenever drinking fame). She would have loved it here and they have done a good job of making things accessible here. Much more than in our province.

She passed on the 2nd of October, between the checkin points of the nightshift and the dayshift. The last time I spoke to her was a few days before when she was so angry that it was taking so long to die. It was in the early hours of the morning and by 11am when the doctor came on his rounds, she gave him a very clear indicator of what she wanted. It didn’t take long and I am glad that I was there to listen to her. I’m glad also that she made through to George’s 16th birthday and the last things she heard from me was that we loved her and George was going to get his scooter license.

Her funeral was the best it could be under the circumstances. We had sent a lot of photos for the digital wall and many people were under the impression that GG and I were in our 70’s and more mobile than our Nel. They thought all the trips she made with us were senior excursions so they were quite surprised to see the adventures she had been on and how “young” we are. The boys were also in attendance and received much attention, including pieces of wurst.

As for today, it’s very early still and George is snoring away next to my chair in the basket. It’s still dark outside and I’m on my way to my second cup of instant coffee (the one downside of weekends away from home). Eight years ago, I was spending my first week here as a resident. We arrived just before Halloween and I was due to report to work on the 4th of November. Crazy. How full the past eight years have been.

Henry can drive

Today my handsome little dachshund is 16. Officially, he could apply for a scooter license here in the Netherlands. While I think he would cut quite the figure in his muscle t-shirts (to protect his mostly bald skin) and a helmet that said ” Speedy” on it, he’s going to have to settle instead for continuing to be chauffered via bike.

Today his tshirt was red and we matched. It seemed only appropriate to highlight to the rest of the world that we have something to celebrate. Aside from his baldness, he’s still very healthy. He moves a little slower and he definitely doesn’t see as well but that’s not a bad thing. We just adapt and practice Mindfulness with Henry.

He and George had a delicious dinner (for them) with organic raw beef. It’s a better choice for them at their age than a plain double cheeseburger from McDonald’s. They will have it again next week when George is old enough to get his license. For George, we already have a helmet ordered. 😉

I know how fortunate I am that they are both still here and healthy. After they digest a little tonight, we will go on a walk so they can pickup birthday cookies from the cafes that know them.

My mom was a huge influence in what special dogs they are. Every day that they are here, I am reminded of the love and time that she put into their care even thought she would frequently say “They are not my dogs!” Committment issues 😉

On behalf of the Small Dog Rodeo, wishing you good walks, warm blankets and good food (according to your dietary preferences of course).

Shifting again

Let me start by saying that Henry and George are heading towards their 16th birthdays this month in good health. This is something that I am grateful for. I know we will not have forever. Everyday that I can put them on the bike and pedal to work is a good one, no matter what else happens that day.

Our household has expanded. L is back. I learned my lesson from last time (Slow DOWN) and have been remarkably not problem solving as is my usual habit. It seems to be working for now and we’ll see where it leads.

On Monday my favorite walking companion and jenever drinking company entered hospice. This is really difficult for her as she has absolutely no desire to die. At 89, the medical decision is that there is nothing to be done with a tumor except make it a comfortable end. I understand the medical perspective although I don’t like it. I want to smuggle her out of the hospice and bring her back to her home. I’m not the only one as two nights ago, she tried to leave there in the middle of the night.

Her cat, Smokey, is now living with us. Circumstances considered, he’s adjusting really well. Pickle has become fast friends with him because he thinks “woohoo, another tail to play with.” Olive is still keeping her distance. George gives him a wide berth and I am not even sure Henry cares. We have found him to be a loving cat and as long as you brace yourself before he starts pushing his head against you, you can stay standing. 😉

I’m not sure what the right word is to describe my current state. Volatile is probably the best one. There’s so much grief and anger right under the surface that I am either avoiding people completely or when I do talk to someone, I get into fight mode. Partially because everything seems to insignificant in comparison to the loss that I know is coming and it feels really unfair. Like aren’t there some other people that could take the exit instead? I know it doesn’t work that way but I wish it did.

I feel helpless and I hate that feeling. That’s the toughest one for me to deal with.

21

Raven would have turned 21 today. The birthday that signifies the transition to real adulthood as far as benefits and privileges go in the US.

It’s hard for me to imagine at this moment what you would be like as a young man of 21. Would you still have loved pizza with strange combinations, the spicier the better? Would you have an idea of what you wanted to do with your life? What kind of hair products would you have committed to? What kind of music would you love? I hope it would not still be Justin Bieber!

Would you have been happy? Would you have fallen in love? Would you have fallen out of love? Where would you have worked already? And what amazing things would you have created?

I keep a picture of you on my desk, right in front of. Of you, that last Easter in Seattle when we were a whole family. The one of you looking at Miss Mary with one of your gummy worms hanging out of her nose. And I use your clipboard, one that you had decorated with all kinds of stuff as the place I write down all of things that need to be done or explored further.

Day in and day out, I still wear the Raven pendant that I got when you were 8. The cord is starting to fray so I have ordered a new one. Who knew that how we were going to become part of each other’s lives that day? I know I didn’t.

I still don’t understand why you took your life. I know I never will. The anger of the left behind, the guilt and all of the “What if I had” questions has transformed. It’s much quieter now. Instead I hold more of the love and the good memories in that part of me that has to do with you.

What categorized our life together most is that it was never boring. Being first your “Dementor” (as you used to introduce me to people) and then your mom and always your biggest fan, I was able to experience so many new things. While I wasn’t your first mom, you were definitely my first kid. It gave us a freedom to try new things, to see how well you could thrive when you were given the chance to – most importantly by giving yourself permission to. I know it was hard for you, to settle in, to attach, to believe that you belonged. You did belong and you still do.

I am, to this day, so proud of the life you led. I wish there had been more of it. When I woke the dogs up this morning, the first thing I said to them was “It’s your boy’s birthday today.” Then I spent some time telling them that I hoped you were with Miss Mary and that you would be there waiting for them when it was their time. I hope you will be there waiting for me too. In the meantime, I will keep looking at the Easter photo. I will think of the two of you together.

You are missed and loved, Raven. Your life inspires me every day to keep fighting for a different system and outcome, for all.

 

On silent feet

I’m sitting at our big kitchen table, the dogs have had their dinner. The cats came by for their drive-thru meal and then ran out the kitchen door again to explore all the scents on the wind. GG is off for the weekend and the house is still.

We’ve had a curfew for several months now. Cafes and restaurants are only open for takeaway, non essential stores are closed and pretty much your whole life is meant to be lived inside your house unless absolutely essential. This has been a long grind.

What had made a difference to the days blending into each other and the boring routines was the addition of someone to our household. LB had started coming by to use the spare computer downstairs, since all the public libraries and computers have been inaccessible. Eventually the unpredictable weather storms brought LB in to stay. This was a positive change.

As anytime you begin to live with someone new, there are all of the small steps of getting to know one other, learning habits and rhythms. Sometimes you learn through conversation or marathons of games like Scrabble in Dutch or Rummikub. Neither of which I was particularly successful at. There were nights of shared meals, building up gradually from once a week to every night. There were experiments with making homemade risotto, upside down leek tart and a number of other recipes that I would previously have classified as “For a Real Cook”.

Throughout it all, there was energy that something was being built, something positive and hopeful, like a growing plant. Selfishly, I know I needed this. It brought me perspective again and hope that after this long period of lockdown, things could still be done. It felt like possibility.

Last week, I felt unsettled. I felt like things were in danger of changing direction and it wouldn’t be a good outcome. I tried getting to the root of it. You know, as a problem solver I can’t sit still when I could be thinking about a solution. I couldn’t solve this one.

Between Sunday night late and Monday morning early, LB left on silent feet. Everything perfectly in it’s place as if it had never been disturbed, keys in the mail slot. Just now, I went down and saw that all of the things that had been given were perfectly lined up in a bookcase next to the bed. The site of those objects there feels like a confirmation of the rejection I have been feeling and not putting a name on.

The feeling of rejection is something that is at the core of what hurts. Logically I know that I cannot know what LB was thinking or feeling. I have done the “What If” laundry list with myself 100 times at least this past week. With GG I have done it 25 times.

But I don’t know. It’s unlikely that I will find out any time soon. I might never. There are lots of unanswered questions with regards to people that have been part of my life. What I do know is that if we do see each other again, I hope that we will be able to talk. I hope that the time that LB was here was a place to recharge and feel safe, despite the departure. I hope that LB understands that the door is always open. I sent an old fashioned SMS saying so, so far unanswered.

Until then, we’ll have to adjust to the missing. I’ve thought about how I attach to people as well. Thanks to all of the experience with Raven, it’s something I have not been afraid of doing for years. I grab hold quickly and I hang on. I am okay with that 🙂 When I was younger, I thought it was much more important not to be attached. It was also safer, I thought. People can’t hurt you or can hurt you less. Over the years I’ve figured out that being hurt is not something that you can avoid but you will survive it. There are things you can learn from it. The risk of being hurt is far outweighed by the benefits of being open, caring deeply and showing it. Right as I typed that sentence, Pickle came running out of nowhere to stand next to me long enough to purr deeply and then move on to seeing if there was something to find in the dog bowls. Seems like a good moment to close on.