Monthly Archives: October 2013

Everyone is Alive

Just a quick note to let you know that everyone arrived alive. It was a very long day between leaving for the airport yesterday and arriving this morning. Let’s just say that we experienced plenty of not so helpful people and processes. In the end, it is a good thing that I had a slight case of mildly over preparedness.
We are all here in the hotel and fortified with coffee, good Dutch bread and cat littler thanks to Jo meeting us at Schiphol like our own personal “Welcome to the Netherlands” wagon.

Notes from the Unfinished

You know it is time to quit when you keep looking down at what is in your hand and you ask yourself “What the hell was I just doing?” So, I have set the alarm for 5AM in the hopes that I will manage to get everything finished tomorrow before leaving for the airport. And it is not that bad, one more last suitcase to pack with the items like frozen tortillas and Field Roast sausages. The dogs get a tortilla every night before bed and the ones in the Netherlands just don’t quite look the same and the boys are tortilla experts. They actually know what the word “tortilla” means. So, far be it from me to disappoint them – hence the 8 packs of organic flour tortillas in my freezer.

The trip down to the USDA outside of Olympia was a success. I have the necessary paperwork and official seals to leave the country with the pets. That doesn’t guarantee admittance into the Netherlands so I will have to have a talk with George about being on his best behavior when we are going through the customs hall. In hoping to impress the authorities with their citizenship, they had a bath today.

And I went to the Department of Licensing to get my new license issued within a year of moving to the Netherlands. I have read horror stories about taking the Dutch driving tests so I am eager to meet the conditions for just exchanging my license.

More goodbyes today. Yesterday it was my Coffee and Community goddess, Sibelle. Today the dynamic duo, Jan and Kerri. Yesterday was also Move Goddess but since she has bible study tomorrow, I feel it is my duty to prank her one last time with a goodbye theme. And another set of good byes today to someone who has been teaching me to look for the truth that is within. I want to roll everyone up into one of my many suitcases and unpack you all in Amsterdam. But I recognize that might be an uncomfortable way to travel so I will practice patience and wait for our paths to cross again.

If Mom was here, she would be awake all night. I thought about her a lot today, especially as I tried to practice being in each place in Seattle one last time. I wasn’t very good at it, I kept going back to my to do list and making progress against it. I was in Madison Park and I remember going to Cactus there with her for the first time and how much she loved the food. It was good to see that they are still in business. And as I drove through the Arboretum, I thought of her. She bought her 1989 Saab 900 Turbo SPG from a family that lived in Madison Park. I remember being so upset because I always wanted the SPG. And instead Mom found one and it was in perfect condition. She was so excited. I am glad she had it. It is in good hands now, with Lawyerella.

When next I write, it will be from Amsterdam. I miss you all, already.


Back in Seattle and down to a bed, some yard chairs, a desk that will be demolished and two stands. Everything else is gone. It is the last odds and ends that need to be packed. The things that somehow didn’t make it into a box but I want to keep like my Mom’s last hairbrush with her hair still in it, her keys and other little things. I anticipate that since they will all go in checked luggage, it will certainly be an odd x-ray. Of course, there is also the ever important pet suitcase, filled with familiar foods, leashes and poop bags. That’s not the luggage I want to have be delayed!

Tomorrow is the last full day here. When we leave on Wednesday, it will be one year to the day that we moved into the big house. I remember that day very well. I was simultaneously coordinating a move out of the rental house and busting Mom out of skilled care. Luckily, Move Goddess was on hand to keep the movers going and Lynn arrived to make the living room habitable so we had a place for Mom to be comfortable. The ramp hadn’t been installed yet so we hadn’t taken that into account. But with Mom’s determination and Lynn and I on either side, she made it up the stairs. And the first morning she woke up here, it was Halloween and she said to me “I am so happy to be waking up here in this beautiful house.” And I am so grateful that she did.

This time of year is marked with so many reminders of where we were last year. So, in a way, it is good that I have been busy with a relocation otherwise I might end up completely non-functional. Of course, nothing makes me happier than a project.

The piano that belonged to my Oma and Opa and came over in the container from the Netherlands in 2011 went to a new home today. It went to the Pacific Islander church across the street. Their pastor told me that they had been looking for one, not a keyboard. And he said that every time they would see it in their sanctuary, they would think of my mom and me. I am glad that it will be going to a place where it will be used to create beauty and bring joy to people. And it feels good to know that even if I don’t return here, part of my family’s history remains on this block.

I am exhausted and tomorrow is a full day of silly tasks like getting the USDA signoff on the health certificates for the pets so they can leave. For those curious types, my sleep schedule is even more disturbed and when I wake up, I want dinner. I love breakfast for dinner but dinner for breakfast is something new – I blame it on the time zone cha cha. Good night!

And Suddenly Sunny?

I heard it was going to be almost 20 degrees Celsius today and I didn’t quite believe that. It was and it was sunny. In the conversion to all of the metric measurements here, Celsius and Fahrenheit are the only two that I have memorized. Probably because they involve multiplication, fractions, division and then addition or subtraction depending on which direction you are going. After trying to keep all of those numbers in order, the rest don’t really seem to matter as much. Perhaps I can aspire to learning one conversion formula a week and practicing it until becomes second nature.

I’ve been going into the new office the past two days. It has been pretty great. There’s not much of a bigger thrill for me than looking up from my computer to see jumbo jets taking off for all kinds of exotic destinations. Amsterdam Schiphol really is a cross roads. I don’t think there are many places you cannot get to from here. I’ve enjoyed meeting lots of people and learning many key new phrases. My current favorite is “broodje aap” which means urban legend but actually literally translates to “monkey sandwich”. I predict that I will be using this expression ALOT.

Tomorrow is a full day of bureaucratic visits. It starts with Immigration and goes on from there. By dinner time tomorrow, I should be officially registered, barcoded, scanned more than once and perhaps even had a mental fitness tune up. I expect that I will also have been exposed to more three letter acronyms than are good for you. Luckily, Jo is coming along so I will have someone to either get me into or out of trouble depending on the language barrier.

I also signed the lease contract today so things are moving along smoothly there. I guess there’s no going back now! Of course, I still need keys. I have, however, already started window shopping for my Nespresso coffee maker. As I found out this afternoon, the one I want to buy is not only 90 euros off but if I wait until the 1st of November I get a 5% bonus back. And I won’t have to carry it back and forth in my suitcase.

It is a very Dutch thing to do your daily grocery shopping. My mom never changed this habit and when I would think about the amount of time and gas that went into it, it would drive me nuts. I am a big proponent of efficiency. Well, it didn’t take long after landing here that I too have ended up going grocery shopping every other day. I can’t quite get down to the daily frequency. And every time I grab my shopping bag and start walking to the local grocery store, I am pretty sure my mom would be smirking at me saying “Told you so”. And today I really went all out. After shopping for dinner tonight, I stopped and had a tiny cup of coffee, sitting down instead of taking it to go. I am learning also to accept that stores don’t get restocked every day or even every other day and then you just choose something else. This is definitely messing with my habit of routine menus. It reminds me of my mother saying that she didn’t even know what she wanted for dinner tonight so why would she shop for the week?


Sampling all the weather

It is 9AM and I can’t see anything outside. Even from up here on the 10th floor. There is a very thick fog this morning. This is grown up fog. In Seattle, I am used to the fog that comes in with the maritime layer and is a gentle distortion of the world and it usually burns off by lunch time. On today’s weather menu, this is apparently a full order of fog. I can hear the airplanes coming and going into Schiphol but I can’t see them. I can’t even see the building across the parking lot. I guess that I will just have to continue to enjoy my coffee and write away. Darn…
Yesterday was quite eventful. Apartment searching in the morning, work in the afternoon, waiting anxiously to hear about decisions for apartments. I am so happy to say that I found an apartment and the owners chose my bid. So, for all of you home viewers, there is now a place for you to stay when you come to Amsterdam. And it’s a very nice place to stay – with a great garden and two block walk to the shops and cafes. The best part is that it already has a built in pet door which I am pretty sure George could get through. Henry might be a little too broad to do it.
Mom always wanted to have a central meeting place for family and she struggled with the fact that there wasn’t this Martha Stewart Turkey Hill style location that everyone could come home to. While I was going through the garage with Move Goddess, I found a list of things that my mom was visualizing for her dream house. The one I liked the most was that she wanted it to be “filled with interesting people at Christmas”. I had to laugh when I read that because that made so much sense, she always liked to explore ideas. This is why I am so grateful that we were able to move into the big house last year and that’s where I took care of her. I remember her saying the first morning that she woke up there how happy she was to be in this big beautiful house. And for four months, I like to think she had her Turkey Hill. I know she would like this apartment and I know that she would already be meeting people in the shops and finding out their life stories.
I’m looking forward to seeing all of you in my new garden.

Again awake at 4AM

This is the second night in a row that I find myself awake at this hour. Last night, I was awake from 2AM through 630AM CET. And tonight, again, here I am. There is this small window right after I wake up to make sure I fall back asleep. It feels like I have less than a minute to make that transition. Otherwise, I start actively thinking and then you see where that gets me… I would like to say that I blame it on too many cups of good Dutch coffee but that is not the cause at all. It is my own hamster wheeling brain to blame.

According to the Fitbit, yesterday was a 16K day in terms of steps. I still haven’t made it to the 25K in a day but I am working on it. Yesterday was a day of independent apartment viewing and neighborhood scoping. Today we’ll go with the person from the relocation services so it will probably be a different experience all together. I found an apartment yesterday that I could see myself living in and I put in an application. The market here moves VERY swiftly so I will need to continue to look at the other 12 on the list today and tomorrow.

I had a lot of difficulty today, searching for apartments. I kept trying to not to think about my Mom so I could focus on the task at hand but the sadness was right there, just out past the determined boundary. It wasn’t until we came back to Amstelveen that I let myself go a little and had a bit of a cry.

Things I learned today – there are some very beautiful neighborhoods here that are just too dignified for my sense of self. The first apartment was in one of them. It was beautiful but I realized that if I lived there, I would always feel like some sort of imposter. That I didn’t really belong. That sounds like a strange thing to be aware. I didn’t feel like I could just be if I lived there, rather I felt like I would always be having to justify why I chose that apartment, that neighborhood. And I couldn’t imagine my friends and family visiting there and having the kind of experience I would like them to have. After all, if you are going to send someone out in the world because you need some time to yourself, you want them to have a place to go – cafes to choose from, shops to browse, bicyclists to dodge. You want them to be able to be occupied while you work on trying to find a reason to miss them!

The second neighborhood was much more my style. It had a great blend of places I would want to frequent in my day to day life and is close enough to other parts of the city that I’d want to visit when I felt like leaving my postal code. And while there was some very shi-shi blocks, it was much more modest and more of a cross section of people who live and work in the city. The neighbors on one side were pensioners and on the other a young woman. Today’s search with the relocation person is across several different neighborhoods including the one I liked today. And it was a neighborhood that I could see my Mom getting lost in for hours as she would be finding out everyone’s life story.

I was thinking about that tonight, as Joanne and I ate more of the curried pumpkin soup and really dark Dutch bread. Why is it that Amsterdam draws me so much since my childhood experiences were in the Hague, where my mother grew up after the war. I was my mom’s tour guide in Amsterdam. The first time she ever stayed in the city was with me. And she was fascinated by it, she loved it. There’s a huge divide between Amsterdam and the Hague in the Netherlands. They are different capitals, cultural vs. governmental and have very different styles of almost everything. For my mom, Amsterdam was this unknown other than for quick trips through it on the way to the airport or with her parents. So the first time she stayed here, she stayed with me. And we had an amazing time, staying in the tiny Hotel Delphi and getting sick on sandwiches from Albert Heijn. And I do mean the kind of sick that even yesterday, as I walked past the prepared sandwich shelf in the AH, I gave a shudder. And we went to Marum, where she and Oma are both now in the churchyard. And the Van Gogh museum and everywhere on foot, ducking the bicyclists. From that first stay, Mom wanted to keep exploring Amsterdam and we went from staying in tiny hotels to renting apartments when we would come to Amsterdam. And she loved it, and she would dress up – which really meant that all of her layers of fleece would be on the inside rather than visible. I think the thing I liked most about being in Amsterdam with Mom is the sense of possibility it gave her. She would walk past all of these buildings and if there was something she liked, she would say “Oh, I could live there”. That was for sure a trademark Mom phrase, she was always excited by the dream.

And the Hague had become a city of loss for her, after my Oma and Opa and then their house was gone. I remember our last trip there very well and it was so hard for her. Amsterdam gave her a chance to start a new connection to the Netherlands that was her own, not one associated with the loss of family.

I’ll be thinking of Mom again today, especially as the relocation person tries to efficiently convince us of which apartment is the most suitable. I’ve read her comments on the ones I have submitted so I have a pretty good guess on which ones I think she will push me towards. I look forward to seeing if I am right. And in the end, I’ll be listening very hard to hear “Oh, I could live here”…

Somewhere in Amstelveen

Joanne and I have nearly made it through a whole bag of Provencale flavor borrel nootjes. One needs fuel to tackle the apartment search that awaits us tomorrow.
I arrived here with an amount of baggage that I consider to be indecent. After so many years of carry-on only, checking two bags and carrying two one made me feel like I was taking an airplane for the first time and wasn’t sure if they would have toothpaste in Kansas or wherever my final destination turned out to be. When I come back here at the end of the month, I’ll have even more baggage, since I will have four kennels.
It is raining and cold. It is the perfect soup weather. Fortunately for me, Joanne is busy reheating the curried pumpkin soup she made from scratch so the first night here would be able to be relaxed.
Just a quick note for now, to let you know I have arrived safe and sound.

Leaving the big house

It is still dark out, somewhere just after 6 AM. The boys are under the covers, snoring and my brain is already going at half speed. I have a Nespresso so I will get to full speed soon. We’ve been sleeping in Mom’s room the past couple of days because I left it set up for the house sitter and also because this is the bed that I spent so many nights next to Mom in when she was sick. I remember one morning I was getting her up and ready to go and she kept talking about how she needed to be ready to go to Rotterdam and we needed to be at the ship on time. At the time, I reminded her that an Atlantic Ocean crossing in winter was not the time to do it and we would take a better sailing during a calmer time of the year but that we would go and I would work on the details. And this made sense to her, my mother who had spent so much of her life on ships, steaming up the rivers in Borneo and going from Indonesia to the Netherlands and back. After all, she was a sea captain’s daughter and then married to a Navy man. And then she was calm.

In retrospect, I know two things. From the reading that I did after she was gone, journeys and talking about going places and travelling is very often an indication that someone is in the stages of leaving. And two, that all things going to the Netherlands via ship go via Rotterdam and so will all of our household goods. So, maybe even then I was right, I would work on making it happen.

I am a bit weepy this morning. That’s probably why I woke up with this need to write. The past couple of days have been full of last minute things. The chair is beautiful and I did cry both all over it and the upholsterer. Bill from White Center Glass will be my hero for quite some time. He’s 74 and creating his art. He showed me some things on the chair that he fixed and then he told how my mom did certain things which sounded so much like her and I could see her yanking on the fabric, trying to get it perfect. And when I really miss her, I have something to hug, this great big purple arm chair. It isn’t a subtle purple, it is a disco purple.

They also picked up the Vanagon to haul it to my brother in NC. That was really difficult to see it go. It reminds me so much of my mom. She loved that Vanagon. There were so many times I wanted to sell it and get her something new but she didn’t want to let go of it. And now, Cedric and his dog Charlie will be able to use that 90 HP/8 miles to the gallon engine to have gypsy adventures like Mom did.

Yesterday they came and picked up Astrid. She will be trucked to Baltimore and then loaded onto a ship to Rotterdam. Next summer, I am going to drive her to Trollhattan, Sweden and we will see the production line where she was “born”. I am reminded of what a joy it is drive a Saab (a pre-GM one). I drove her down to Olympia to get some last minute documents their necessary apostilles and I was reminded of all of the times that Mom and I were in the car together.

Before she bought her Saab (the SPG), Mom and I shared Astrid. I was working three jobs and so she would take me from job to job so she could use the car otherwise. In a year, we put 70K miles on Astrid. Mom used to hate the smell of my feet. It wasn’t just my feet. It turns out that stinky feet run on our paternal side – just ask my brother, Rupert previously known as “Swamp Foot”. When Rupert was in high school, he had to keep his shoes outside. And because I wouldn’t wear leather shoes, inevitably I was wearing some kind of plastic shoe to go with my uniform for my airline job. So, you can imagine the aroma. We would be driving late at night because my shift ended at 130 AM down the back way from the airport to Seattle. And I’d be mid conversation with Mom. At the top of the hill, I would take off my shoes without pausing a beat in the conversation and just wait. And by the time we were at the bottom of the hill and the First Ave S bridge, Mom would have caught the wave of stink. And she would frantically open all of the windows, regardless of the weather and yell at me to put my shoes back on. Which would send me into protestations of denial that it couldn’t be my feet, it must be coming from outside until I couldn’t stop laughing. She would tell me that I had burned her nose. I would tell her that she was lucky to have such a beautiful aroma.

I bought this house a year ago. At that time, it was perfect for what we needed and Mom loved it. I am really grateful that I was able to do it. It is a beautiful house. And it is a strong house, for despite the sadness that is here, it still remains a place of light. And I hope the next family that lives here can celebrate that. For me, it is time to find something smaller. Tomorrow I leave for Hawaii and when I come back on Friday, this house will be different again. In a way, I am glad that Mom lead such an unusual life, because I don’t feel that I am leaving her behind if I leave this house. Maybe it’s different if someone you loved spent 50 years in a house. Of course the person and the place would be interwoven. My mom lived so many places that I think more of her when I see a skirt that she wore during the years we lived in Florida or I find one of her pages of notes about what her perfect house looks like or when I sit at the dining room table that was in my grandparents house and I know my Mom ate there too. I guess what I am saying is my Mom is portable.

George is waking up so that means my day has begun.

Last day with furniture

I am going through my desk right now. Well, I was until I started typing. The movers are coming tomorrow so today is the day to finish things like sorting through my office, the downstairs bathroom and the tubs that have my mom’s clothes in them. Oh, and let’s not forget the mess that is the dining room table!

Yesterday was a flurry of activity and the biggest accomplishment was finding someone to finish my chair. Mom had been recovering my favorite armchair as an upholstery class project and it was big secret deal. Every week she would load the chair into her Vanagon, take the ferry to Bremerton and go to upholstery class. I never peeked at the chair because I wanted to be surprised and also because I wanted to annoy her. One of my mom’s favorite stories to tell about her daughter was my inability to not discover what gifts were coming. I was compelled to investigate and discover what was hiding in the closets. But to make it worse, I also would tell my younger brothers exactly what they were getting. So, when Mom was working on the chair, I was determined not to look because I knew she was expecting me to. We had a relationship like that, oppositional in the best of ways. This was a class that Mom took two years ago, when she was 71. Not your average senior activity.

The chair has been in the garage, exactly as she left it. For the past week, I have been trying to find someone to finish it so it could go. Upholstery is labor intensive and a dying art. But the chair is now in the hands of Bill the upholsterer. And he thinks it will be done by Friday. And even if it’s not, it will still be further along than it is right now. He was reassured after I told him that I didn’t want him to redo my Mom’s work, just finish the back and the side pieces. That I wanted her imperfections as they were because this was her work and that’s what means most to me. Hell’s bells, I am crying again.

George’s 8th birthday was Monday. So, he and his brother got their plain double cheeseburgers from McDonald’s. It is amazing how such a smelly, steamed and soggy thing can give two dogs such happiness. It’s a good thing it only happens on their birthdays!

I’ve been realizing something over the past few days. I am really fortunate to be surrounded by people of power. I’m not talking weightlifters but rather the strength that comes from the truth of being one’s self. As I go through this process of moving, I am humbled by the enormity of heart that my friends have. This makes me realize that I do have really good taste when it comes to surrounding myself with people. But more than that, the people that are in my life are there precisely for the reason that they need to be. I don’t have to wonder if this move will break friendships, I just have to know that it will give us new places to meet and ways to connect. Like a blog, for example. Or a terrace café near Park Frankendael. Or the stroepwafel vendor in the Albert Cuyp market.

And back to the sort since I can hear the OCD Move Goddess in my head (even though she is not here today) saying “Purpose or memory? Neither, then recycle, donate or garbage. Keep moving.”