Monthly Archives: April 2014

Headed to the Big Windy

Tomorrow I am off to Chicago. One of our few cousins on the paternal side is getting married on Saturday. We’re of course making the most of our thrifty sides and also using at as a reason for the siblings to get together. What I am trying to keep top of mind is by birth order I am the oldest. And now that we are all adults, I don’t need to manage the rodeo or make sure that everyone gets along or stays out of trouble. I think this will definitely require a conscious effort on my part. I remember Rupert saying to me last summer that he didn’t need me to be his big sister anymore, he was full grown. This really stopped me in my tracks. It was one of those moments where your self defined identity gets a shock. I don’t know that I can quit being the Big Sister. It reminds me of something my mom used to tell me, that no matter how old I got, she would always be my mother. And being mom, I believe she followed that up with the words that I would just have to accept it. We’re also going to be seeing my dad. This will be the first time that all four of us siblings and my dad will be in the same orbit since high school. Again, not my role to make sure everyone gets along. If I just keep repeating it to myself, maybe I will remember!

George totally knows that something is up. He refuses to fall asleep, just keeps watching me with his pop eyes. I haven’t even packed my suitcases in front of them but he still knows. Right now, Henry is wedged against my leg and George is lying on top of him, stuck to my leg even closer. Moortje is staring at me from the arm of the sofa and Lientje is running around chasing things that only she can see. They will be in good hands. Renee is coming to stay with them and they all like her very much.

I would have missed my flight if I hadn’t checked the times today. I had the arrival time in Chicago as the departure time at Schiphol. Whoops! All straightened out now. I am flying on a 747 combi, which means that they board 90 minutes before departure time. I haven’t flown on a 747 in a long time so I am kind of excited.

I debated with Meredith via text today if I should eat refried beans for breakfast in order to create my own inflight entertainment. These are the things that go through my head before I travel. I also thought about bringing my banjo so I could practice and offer others inflight entertainment. I had a really great banjo lesson today and I am going to be sorry not to have it for a week. However, I have already scoped out the Chicago music stores that carry banjos so I plan to visit them and practice under the guise of shopping for a banjo. Today I really had to pick up the pace of the picking and my hand is a little sore. I have to increase the speed so I can get to that classic sound. And I really have to memorize my rolls because I have one down, but there are four total and when I switch to the other three I start thinking about which strings I am picking and then it all falls apart. My banjo teacher has learned that he has to not tell me when I am doing something right because then I immediately fall out of the music flow. Just like with yoga, I could be holding a really painful pose and if the instructor said my name and commented, I would fall right out.

The power went out in our neighborhood today so I had to go and sit on a terrace. I know, but somebody had to do it 😉 I had a nice glass of wine because they couldn’t serve coffee. And when the power came back on, I headed back home.

I have cheese for my brothers, stroopwafels for Meredith and a collection of homemade mustards for Rupert. And for me, I am bringing a loaf of Dutch bread because I know I am headed to a bread desert of sorts. Not a carb desert, because of all of the pizza but definitely a bread desert. Although I will look forward to having a bagel. Pizza, of course.

Tomorrow also marks six months in Amsterdam. It means the diplomatic clause in my lease is now up and the owner can’t move back in before the end of the lease.

Beatrix was super useful today. I had my bike bags full of cheese, the basket full of dog food and cat litter. It is amazing how much you can cram into a bike. My next goal is to get some straps so I can strap my suitcase to the rear and ride to the train station. That won’t work this time so I will take the bus. But I know where we are headed 🙂 I see people carrying their suitcase in their hand while riding their bike but that makes me a bit nervous so I will get some straps.

I had a little bike accident in the woods on the way to work on Monday. I mistakenly thought I could just hop the curb with Beatrix but failed to angle the front wheel so we took a big slide followed by a crash. I skinned my shin and knee but Beatrix is okay. And I learned an important lesson about riding a bike and getting up over a curb. We also made most of the commute in 4th gear. Which feels much more effective than 3rd gear but is a lot harder work.

I wonder what it will feel like to be back in the US? And to hear English all over the place? Right now, I am always listening because there’s so much Dutch and English. If I was surrounded by people speaking Chinese, I would be able to give my brain a rest because I would have no idea what they were talking about.

Yesterday I had a fantastic orange and lemon sorbet from the ice cream maker on the corner. It was amazing! Next time I am going back for the red grapefruit! I had been wanting to stop there for some time but there’s always a line out the door and I am not that patient. I was walking back from the garage yesterday and there was no line so I made the most of it! He makes ice cream too but I was all about the vegan sorbet!

I think we’re going to sleep now since George and I will probably be up 10 times in the night out of nerves. Always good to have a companion in your anxiety.

Another moment

A year ago today, we landed at Schiphol. Tomorrow will be the year marking the day that Mom’s ashes were placed with Oma in Marum. I was there today, on my way back from Groningen and I couldn’t do much more than cry against their marker. I didn’t have words today. Normally, I manage to spend some time talking while I am there but today I just couldn’t stop crying.

I had been in Groningen yesterday for work and since I knew I was going to be in meetings until 9pm, I decided that I would be better off staying in the north and then coming home today so I could go by Marum. I stayed at the mineral springs again and early this morning before checking out I soaked myself and tried to meditate. It is not very handy to meditate in salt water because you keep floating up every time you try to sit properly for meditation. The springs were mostly empty this morning, unless the rush of nude German wellness seekers like last time. Of course, last night I also stopped in at the little café to check out how things were going in the town. It was nice to see people again and hear the latest newest. I also had some good strategic discussions about going into business for yourself and what is necessary. Sometimes it surprises me that I know those things considering that I don’t really run my own business.

Tomorrow is Kings Day. Picture orange everywhere. I myself have a smashing orange hat with orange flowers that promises to be very sweaty on my head. I already had orange clothes as a regular part of my wardrobe. I am not going to the centrum to celebrate, that’s a bit too many people for me. It is also the first Kings Day since before Willem Alexander, it was 100 plus years of queens.

I don’t feel much like writing tonight. I am pretty exhausted emotionally. I think I am going to watch some Netflix with the boys. They got a bath today because George smelled like a sushi roll so they both got a bubble bath. And now they smell delightful.

Rough patch

I am feeling pretty all over the map right now. I left work early on Friday because the cough was getting far worse and I still had to make it home on Beatrix. It took longer than usual but I made it. As soon as I got home though, I collapsed into bed. I spent the next 48 hours only getting up to feed the pets if absolutely necessary and to drink orange juice. I couldn’t do much else except sleep, sweat, freeze, cough and have nightmares. This is also how I discovered that my tried and true Alka Seltzer cold formula had an expiration date of 2011 and who knew the date would really mean something? I thought I had gotten to the point that I was immune to the Alka Seltzer. It was a really bad 48 hours. I left the door open to the terrace the whole time and every so often would throw the boys of the bed with the instructions to “Go potty” . At least I think that’s what I was telling them.

Sunday afternoon, I realized I was out of food for the boys which meant I would have to get to the store. And I was trying to get myself moving which was really hard because I was sweating up a storm and freezing and getting winded walking to the bathroom. This is when I realized that there are times that not having a partner really sucks in the most practical of ways. If you are someone who has a partner, regardless of all of their annoying points, etc – I am going to bet that you do know that when the shit gets bad, at least you can count on someone to go to the grocery store or walk the pets or just call 911 if it gets really bad. To be fair, I have two amazing dogwalkers so the longest I would have laid undiscovered was another 24 hours until Monday (Kate’s day). But walking a block to get dog food was seriously beyond me. But it needed to be done because your pets don’t understand when they don’t get food. So, with the dogs, I managed to make it to the EkoPlaza to get their food and everything that goes in it. It was a close call, I almost passed out waiting for the cashier. He told me that I didn’t look so good.

When I got home, there was a text. From Renee, our other fabulous dogwalker. She wanted to know if she could take the boys out with her dog because she figured I was probably not with it. What do you say to that? Other than to be grateful that someone would do that and thought of it. I was so relieved. And in ten minutes, she was there to take the boys out and then bring them home good and tired.

I had alot of nightmares. It makes sense since I slept most of the 48 hours, waking up when I was freezing or drowning in sweat. Most of them were about my mom and how I couldn’t find her or I was just missing her a few minutes and in the wrong place. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what they were about. It was really hard.

And today has been better from no more fever now just horrible coughing and nausea. But i have spent alot of the day crying. I also was sorting through some papers today and found alot of cards from my mom. It really really sucks that she’s gone. We’re almost at the year mark of when we were here to place her ashes with Oma.

And it sucks that I am never going to get another birthday card from her or one that she would write on behalf of the boys. And it is so fucking unfair that she is not here. And nothing is going to make that right or convince me that there is a good reason for it.

Back on the Train

It is early, just past 7:15 and I am on the way to Ede for the Dutch Testing Conference on the train. The sun is steadily climbing and the weather looks like it is going to be much nicer today than it was yesterday! Of course, yesterday was the day I rode 45 kilometers on Beatrix in the rain, hail and an obnoxious as hell head wind. It would have been fine with either rain or headwind. Well, not fine but more manageable but I couldn’t seem to get that to happen. What matters is that I did it and even though by the time I got home last night I resembled someone who had fallen into a swimming pool, there don’t seem to be any ill effects today. Which is good because I will be walking around the conference all day today speed dating over software testing.
I am sure you are dying to know how Boy George was… I don’t really have enough words to describe how unbelievably fabulous it was! It was 2.5 hours of delight! He had a ten piece band, no fireworks or costume changes. It was just pure music and interaction with the audience. I really enjoyed myself and I sang along as loudly as everyone else. It is funny, he’s 52 now which is 12 years older than me. It doesn’t seem as drastically old as it did when I was 10. The concert hall was full and people were very enthusiastic. Apparently, he’s got some Dutch fans. I was surprised that no one was dressed up in 80s era Boy George. Slightly disappointed as well, I suppose. Of course, I wasn’t either. I dressed for comfort and height so I could see and not be worried if someone spilled beer on me. Didn’t happen either. I just had a great time dancing and singing and being amazed all over again for the range of his voice. He’s going to the states after this, I would recommend going if you get a chance.
We’re just pulling into Utrecht Centraal. No worries, I am not done yet. We have another half hour on the train. It was 55 minutes by train and 52 minutes by car so that was a no brainer.
On Saturday I have been invited to dinner in Den Haag at Anna and Trevor’s. Anna was my relocation person assigned for my move to deal with all the registration tasks and finding an apartment, etc. She was also subject to driving Joanne and I around to look at places and generally our chaperone. She kept us firmly in check when we got overly enthusiastic and I think I can speak for both of us when I say that hanging out with her was lots of fun and full of that very important Dutch concept of gezeligheid. We’ve kept in touch and she came to the house warming party. They invited us to dinner but Jo can’t make it so I am going solo which means I will be 50% better behaved than I am when I am with my cousin 😉 And the boys are coming too because they were invited as well. Here in the Netherlands, there seems to be a two week lead time or longer for invitations. Fortunately, I am only half Dutch so I can work with a much shorter lead time like a Tuesday invitation for Saturday!
I am hoping to see the Titanic exhibition this weekend. It ends in about six weeks so I would like to check it out.
When it gets to be utter crap on Beatrix, I talk myself through by replaying my Mom in my head. She used to talk about how she went on the bike regardless of the weather. There wasn’t another option and I can hear her laughing at the idea that a little rain and headwinds would make someone stop riding the bike. Even when she was sick, she had amazing strength in her legs and the PTs used to comment on it. She would proudly announce that’s because she had spent all those years on the bike. When I was riding home yesterday, in the midst of the rain, across from the runway was a massive rainbow. I kept looking at it until I had to pay attention again to the path because I was wobbling all over the place.
Okay, off to try to get my head in the right space for today. Wish me luck with the speed dating!

Keukenhof Gardens

We didn’t have much sun today. I had plans to go to Keukenhof Gardens with my English friend, Eliza. At the last moment, I checked to see if dogs were welcome and this being the Netherlands, they were! So long as you agreed to keep them leashed and use poop bags. So, we piled into Astrid and headed off to Lisse, where the gardens are. We spent a good three hours strolling through the gardens. I had my mom’s camera and attempted to capture the right pictures. But in reality, I was just snapping away. The gardens are beautiful even though they aren’t in complete full bloom. They are open approximately two months out of the year. The overcast weather didn’t stop people from coming but the crowds were slightly less than if it had been sunny.
The boys did very well. Henry found an entire stroopwafel and ate it up before George could even notice. And they really liked the portion of the park that recreated an old fishing area where there were plenty of bits of herring and beenham that people had let spill as they sampled them. And we had some fun moments posing by the oversized klompen, much to the delight of several other tourists who asked if they could take pictures of the boys inside the giant wooden shoes.
Tomorrow night is the Boy George concert! I am super excited! Of course, I have to go to work first. Tomorrow starts my mindfulness course. They are offering at work for 8 weeks to help build mindfulness skills. It is good to know that among my colleagues, many of us have to learn this through a training session 😉 smart people need help with things.
The boys are snoozing after their mega walk today. No signs of needing Pepto Bismol yet. Although George is snoring pretty heavily. He sounds like he might be talking.
My toaster oven was delivered yesterday. Finally, after a month! I tried it out to cook one of my Tofurkey quiches that I brought back from Seattle and it works very well.
Friday was the bike commute today. Beatrix and I made the trip in 61 minutes each way. And I had a great time listening to my headphones and singing out loud through the park. It was fun to notice the reactions of the people passing me on their bike while I was singing along to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis at a pretty loud volume and no doubt, off-key. I didn’t notice a large number of birds falling from the sky so I think I can say that no wildlife was harmed during my commute.
Mom and I talked about visiting Keukenhof. And I am sorry that we didn’t get a chance to do it. She would have loved all of the gardens. However, I can also hear her clearly commenting on the arrangements of the flowers and how she would have staged them differently. And if she had been there, I wouldn’t have been anywhere near the camera, for sure!


Belasting. Or as we say in English “Taxes”. I am waiting for my call to do my US taxes tonight. I have the privilege of paying taxes to the Dutch government and the US government every year. And having just added up all the expenses I can document from 2013, I am slightly dreading the outcome of this conversation. The Dutch taxes had to be filed by the 1st of April so that’s out of the way. To recover from my in depth Excel skills, I am having a small glass of wine and listening to the new Boy George album in preparation for Monday’s concert. Henry and George are giving me their tax advice. It seems to consist of sleeping back to back and letting the human worry about every thing. Oh wait, I think they do that all the time 😉
I had a really great banjo lesson yesterday. We have moved to up to chords. This means that I am trying to coordinate both hands at the same time. It will take a lot of practice. The hardest part is that I can’t seem to relax my left hand, which I need to do so I can reach the frets in the right places. I know, what is this ridiculous word “relax”? I have a super great teacher, which helps. But I also am starting to get it, which surprises me because I wouldn’t have thought I would be able to make sense of reading music. But they are patterns and I am really good at patterns and discipline. I think composing might be exceptionally difficult for me. Luckily, I have a book of classic banjo tunes. Just you wait and I will be happy to perform them for you…
Today marks 23 years since Oma passed. In some ways I can remember it like it was yesterday. I still remember my mom feeding her beets and other nourishing foods in the hospital, trying to get Oma’s strength up and encourage her to go for another day. That’s how I learned to care for my mom, by following her example. I have been thinking a lot about them over the past few days. Partly because you can really smell the manure on the fields since the weather is warming up and I can only imagine what they would be saying. My mom and my Oma could fool you with their ladylike behavior but I really got my oddball sense of humour from them. My Oma is the one who taught me to stand on the sidewalk, in my pretty handmade embroidered dresses, slapping my knees with laughter every time I passed a pile of dog poop on the sidewalk. My mom who would always set me up to catch the blame. Like when we were walking around Green Lake and she tripped over her shoes and promptly and very loudly said “Now why do you have to hit me so hard? Don’t you know I am delicate?” and everyone stopped to look at me in horror. I am lucky no one called Elder Protective Services!
In addition to the manure, the cows are back outside and the lambs are everywhere. I drive past these vast green fields and think of how much I would love to walk them with my mom and Oma and the boys. Or passing a smaller farmhouse and hearing my mom say “I could live there, let’s see if it is for sale”. I wear the bracelet that my Oma wore first, then my mom and now me. So, I do carry them everywhere. And I have the name as does Joanne – her’s is in the middle. But all the same, I really miss them both. I hope I can live up to their examples.
I have observed an interesting phenomenon in myself. I am starting to lose words in English. Especially when I write. And some times when I am talking, I have to search for the words. Which is not to say that I know them in Dutch either. It is an interesting transition place. Perhaps I won’t be able to communicate at all soon! I will only be able to play banjo and people will have to guess what I am trying to express. That could be alarming.
Tomorrow will be time for the bike commute to Schiphol again. I am excited. I especially want to see how much time I save when I don’t go the wrong direction twice and have to double back! I am pushing for 51 minutes. I’ll let you know if I make it in that time.