Monthly Archives: July 2014

Too many hours in a chair…

It is the fourth day of training. We’ve changed locations to down by the airport, which is much more convenient to the Hotel Denzel. However, I am in a giant ballroom with 1000 people and the background music sounds like the soundtrack from Leisure Suit Larry.

I went to Cactus last night. I am not sure if it was a bad night for them or if they have changed for good. They didn’t want to seat me at first because I was by myself and they only seat whole parties. Which was dumb because I would have started ordering already. And then there were the rules about how I couldn’t order a drink for someone who wasn’t there yet because the law says it is forbidden.

There are a couple of things that I have noticed that really irritate me. The first one is the fact that there are tip jars everywhere. You are expected to tip for everything. I find this so annoying. I am not used to this anymore because in the Netherlands, people in the service industries get paid relatively well hourly, rather than being forced to rely on tips. And I do think it is the responsibility of a business owner to pay their employees properly rather than expecting them to earn their living from tips. I am not against giving a tip for great service but I am against the idea that your employee is more than dependent on tips to make a living wage than what you as the business owner are paying them.

The second thing is that things don’t seem to be set up to be enjoyed. For example, if you are not in a group or couple, then you are really made to feel as if there is something odd about you. By contrast, I am used to doing so many things on my own in Amsterdam and never having an issue if I go into a restaurant or a bar by myself.

The third thing is driving EVERYWHERE and the amount of time that you waste in traffic. Ugh. I would so much rather have the freedom of my bike. It seems like it takes at least an hour to get anywhere.

Other than that, things that I appreciate about being here are: wide parking spaces (such a luxury), seeing all the people I have missed and the beautiful views of Tahoma (Mt Rainier’s real name) , the city and the Olympics at sunset. Oh, yes, and going to my favorite veg restaurants.

Being here also makes me think about my mom. I guess that is an obvious conclusion. In a way, I feel like I took her with me to Amsterdam. Of course, collecting all the mail from the past six months, including what is addressed to her, is pretty grounding. I spent some time with Lynn on Tuesday afternoon, along with all of her pets. We talked alot about my mom. Lynn was so important to my mom. And for me, drinking kombucha in her house, cuddled by her dogs and talking about my mom and her passing was really healing. Yes, it is very tough to think about but I know that without Lynn, Mom might have had a very different passage. And I am so grateful that Mom had a very peaceful death.

I also had dinner with Mark. Have you ever met someone that you feel like they are you if you were the opposite gender? That’s how I feel about Mark. It took me a long time to figure out exactly what that feeling was. We ate at Plum, which is a super vegan restaurant. Of course, we had a lengthy conversation about everything. Ironically, now I am having difficulty with spoken English.

Most of this trip has been about conversations. Living in the Netherlands has really made me appreciate the directness and dialogue. And I am doing my best to incorporate that into every area of my life. And of course, trying to enjoy the moments rather than constantly planning.

Staying at the Hotel Denzel

One of the amenities of staying at the Hotel Denzel, besides Denzel, is the big yard. That’s where I am typing now, seated in the shade by the fire pit. There’s also a hot tub, which I might just try out later. How that hot tub got to be at the Hotel Denzel is a story in it’s own right.

Back and forth to Spokane today, with a trip over to Idaho to eat lunch at the Pizza Hut (unfortunately the one and only Chinese buffet was closed) and then on to the powwow. From there, a trip to the Sports Authority to get those long Speedo swimming trunks and a snorkel. And then back to say goodbye.

What I really want to share is the text of a letter I got today.

From R to a loving foster mom. Hi Caroline this is R. I love you very much.Thank you for staying around all these years. I wish I would of done better with you. You are still my mom on the inside. I hope you forgive me for all the birthdays I missed of yours. I noticed this is my first time writing to you. Thank you for all youv done.

And inside the box was an interesting collection of things he had picked out to give me. From the important things like a fan he made himself from feathers, rawhide and beads to the things that remained a joke between us. For example, two bars of soap. The first time he lived with me, he would take a shower or a bath and never use soap. I had no idea that this was one of his ways of getting around the rules. After the pediatrician explained that the dark patches on his skin were embedded dirt and not the onset of juvenile diabetes, I figured out what was going on. So the next time we went to PCC, we ended up in the soap aisle and I said to him “Choose your flavor” and he picked some incredibly fragrant peppermint soap. And I said to him “Wow, I will always know when you have used soap in the shower” and that’s all I said. From that point on, the dirt patches disappeared and he went through soap on a regular basis. Similar thing with toothpaste and then he started getting cavities. So, I went with the same approach. In the box today was also a complete toothbrush travel kit.

We’re of equal height now. His shoe size is one bigger than mine. I noticed the teenage girls at the powwow checking him out. And yet he’s still that 8 year old that I ran into so many years ago. We also talked about my mom a lot.

It was a heavy day. Emotionally. And it was 101 degrees over on the dry side of the state.

Yesterday, I dropped in at Dog City to scare the bejeezus out of Jan 🙂 They are doing really well and I am so excited for them. They put so much of themselves into it. I always get such a thrill when I see people going out into their own ventures, whatever they might look like. But even more than that, there is no one that hugs like Jan.

Tomorrow starts the next week of training. I suppose I had better check where I need to be.


Buh bye,Hotlanta!

Sitting at the airport, waiting for the next leg. Can I just tell you that I can’t wait to go to Dub Sea and get a really good coffee? Or to take a walk in Lincoln Park with my loaner dog, Denzel (also the half brother of George and Henry)? Or to see all of you lovely people that I have missed these past nine months?

I am curious to see how much the Junction has changed since I was there last. I don’t think I will be doing any Bikram yoga while I am there. I have had enough of the heat to last me awhile!

Tomorrow, I am off to see the kiddo. Actually, since he’s 14 now I suppose that means he is not really a kiddo anymore. It will involve an airplane and a rental car. But I won’t have to worry about not being able to get good coffee 😉

I took one of my coworkers on the MARTA with me this morning to the airport. We got here in plenty of time and walked the concourses. Christian is off to join his family in Florida for three weeks of vacation. Plenty of people from our office are doing that. Since they fly all the way to the US, they might as well take vacation after the trainings. Christian’s partner is the one I accidentally introduced as “his old bitch” instead of his wife because I used the wrong word in Dutch. Fortunately, they found it funny.

I had a really good week if I think about the important things. I learned a lot, I am inspired and I had a very good time getting to know my colleagues. It was as they say gezellig. And even if I had to spend a lot of time sitting, I still managed to hit more than 10K steps per day walking everywhere.

I did a lot of dancing this week. What’s funny is that I notice that the dance music that is so popular in the Netherlands is something I got used to without even noticing. You hear the music and you just move. Doesn’t mean I am going to download it and listen to it at home but out and about, it just becomes something to move to. Before I moved to the Netherlands, you never would have seen me any where near a dance floor. I could be counted on to be anywhere but. A very obvious conclusion is that moving overseas has taught me to be a little more relaxed and enjoy the things in life that are seemingly without purpose, just for fun. HA, reading that sentence really makes me chuckle.

My mom had that. The sense of fun, of being in the moment, of being a clown. I hope I have taken a little bit of that from my DNA and turned it into something that I can nurture.

Going to board now. See you soon and thanks for reading!


Everything seems out of proportion to what I am used to now. From the massive portions of food, even when you order something that you think is regular to the huge buildings and the non walkable distances. I have to say that I am really looking forward to getting to Seattle, in hopes of getting good food. And they still use Styrofoam here, which really seems crazy. And don’t let me forget to mention that brewing flavored coffees is seen as delicious.

I have, however, been able to see some very cool things. Right after I wrote last, I went out and walked through an older part of downtown. I ran into a total stranger who moonlights as a tour guide and offered to give me a walking tour from a civil rights perspective. His name was Sergeant Gary and we spent 3 hours on foot. We saw Dr. King’s birthplace and the Ebenezer Baptist Church among other historical landmarks. We also went to the old market, still in use, and he pointed out all kinds of things that I would never eat. That was all in the meat and fish aisle. However, in the vegetable section there were plenty of amazing looking things. Walking through the city with a local gave me a more layered perspective than reading the historical markers. We also had a very random, topic jumping type of conversation. I can attribute going on this adventure to living in the Netherlands. The Dutch are super curious about everything. I think previously I would have politely declined. But this time I did something that surprised myself and said “Yes”.

After all that walking, I switched gears and checked in properly for the conference and took a long nap. I also went and got an American style pedicure – bliss!!!

I have been spending most of my time with my Dutch colleagues. Yesterday, we sat together in the stadium and it was difficult to be enthusiastic and celebratory when we all knew that it was a day of national mourning in the Netherlands for the MH17 passengers and crew. We were next door to the CNN center so we went to the food court and watched the coverage as the airplanes arrived into the Netherlands with the first 40 victims.

I accidentally poured myself some sweet tea today and took one sip. I could feel my teeth crying out in protest from the sugar! I poured it out. One more day of sitting in the stadium tomorrow and then Saturday it is off to Seattle.

I’ve heard from Renee, the boys are behaving and luckily I have back up keys in the neighborhood because her key broke off in the lock today. That could have turned out badly if I had the only other key.

When Joanne and her mom were visiting me and my mom in Seattle, I tried to explain Claim Jumper to her and I had her look online for images of the portions. She seems to suffer from the belief that it is my favorite restaurant. Here’s my public avowal that I am have eaten in a Claim Jumper exactly once and I promised myself then to never repeat the experience 🙂

Welcome to the USA…

Customs yesterday was a Drama. To be fair, I brought some of it on myself and some of it was just sheer refusal of people to listen. Atlanta has the new automated systems for passport checking and customs forms. The topic of how poorly designed they are in terms of user experience is for another discussion. Anyway, you have the option to choose the language you want to answer the questions in and since my spoken Dutch is stronger than my written Dutch, I choose Dutch. And I made the mistake of answering one question incorrectly – yes, I had purchased things outside the Netherlands to leave here, but it was not over $800. The only reason I even answered it is because technically it could be considered food and the following question wants you to declare the kind of food you have. Well, this caused a proper tilt with the CBP inspector and after a very one sided (me) and unwelcoming (him) conversation, he finally gave me back my passport and my little receipt.

I march steadily on to wait for my luggage and then proceed to exit. By this time, I could really use a coffee and I am not quite firing on all cylinders. But this is the USA, so you have to exit Customs first before you can have any kind of enjoyment. As opposed to Europe where you can coffee away and take your time before moving through the process. As I get to the last exit lane, I get told that I don’t have the right stamp and guess what, I have to go back and get one. But I need to go through the secondary inspection area for that. So, off I go through some more double doors into another area where they do all of the inspections for smuggling, forbidden foods, etc. And technically, all I need is a stamp that the first agent failed to give me. Right. An hour later and it is my turn. After a proper questioning over why I would choose to live anywhere other than the USA, they go through my luggage, still certain that I have alcohol. Guess what, I don’t. I wasn’t kidding when I told you that all I had was chocolate, Mr. CBP agent. When they can’t find the alcohol that I don’t have, they finally give me a stamp and I can leave.

All my colleagues have long since cleared customs, as a matter of fact, they are already checked into the hotels. So off I trek to the shuttle to the domestic terminal so I can catch MARTA. The shuttle ride seems extremely long, almost as if we are going to another airport entirely. Once there, I buy my transit card and get on the line to downtown. I am all checked in by 630PM and somehow it feels a lot longer than the 2.5 hours it took from the time I got off the plane.

I had dinner at the Hard Rock Café last night. Wow, it was really not tasty. My fault since I chose it, remembering that years past their food had actually been pretty good. But now it is massive quantities and minimal flavor. I had dinner with three of my coworkers and it was fun at any rate, all kinds of juvenile Dutch humor and clowning around. They also gave me a crash course on which food courts have the best options for the lunches for the next week and what to look out for. Useful information since they have been coming for years. And they call the water here that is served in glasses “swimming pool water” and that took me a minute to mentally translate. Of course, it is chlorinated. And it is not in Europe. You can smell it right away. They all found it very strange that I would willingly drink it.

Wow, it is 615AM already. I woke up at 430. There was no hope of staying asleep. I am drinking some very bad coffee that you make in the bathroom coffee makers. However, it is not bad enough to stop me from making a second cup. If you put less water in it, you can sort of convince yourself it could be espresso. Okay, you also really have to use your imagination!

It was a luxury to have the whole bed to myself without four little creatures who manage to take up an enormous amount of room when they sleep. And there’s air conditioning, which I promptly turned down to 65 degrees. Whoop Whoop!

Well, I think I might as well go out and start exploring Atlanta since I am awake and it is probably the coolest weather it is going to be all day.

Mostly packed

There are always the last minute items but I can finish those in the morning. I had to pack around the dogs.I threw them off guard by doing laundry all day and reorganizing my closet so they didn’t get disturbed the piles of clothes. Of course, we woke up this morning to the sound of George’s stomach in revolt so he knew something was up. He spent the day eating grass every time we went outside and finally after a good run in Beatrix Park, he was his usual self for dinner except 3 times as hungry.

Yesterday, we went to the beach at Ijmuiden. There is a section of the beach that allows dogs all year long. Most beaches are off limits to dogs between the hours of 10am and 7pm during the May to October season. We took Eliza with us and had a good time. It was almost 96 degrees. And even Henry went in the water voluntarily. However, we were not in the dog beach area but no one gave us any trouble and we had the plan to let Eliza do the talking if the beach police came by.

There are a lot of invisible boundaries here. For example, the mysterious line where the beach is dog okay and where it is not. There’s no sign, you just end up looking for other dogs once you get to the landmark of the Beach Inn. There’s also no sign alerting you that you have crossed into the naturist area of the beach. The first sign you get is someone walking in front you out of the sea wearing only seawater. Which, like any sensible person, you just look only at their eyes and say Hello and keep on going! You also hope that they are going to ignore your dogs.

It is raining now, which is great. The temperature has dropped to 76 which seems very nice in comparison. I have finished up almost everything regarding household chores. I haven’t done much grocery shopping, knowing I would be gone so the past week has seen some really creative meals as I was only using what was in the house. I am not really sure that I am mentally ready for the enormous plates of food that they serve in the US. I have a feeling that Atlanta is all about abundantly large portions. And of course, sweet tea. Ick. I think I will pick tomorrow as the day to start a detox fast 😉

I don’t think I will sleep well tonight. My mom always used to give me a hard time about it. The night before I travel I am wide awake or as she used to put it so kindly “you put your girdle on the night before”. And I won’t sleep on the plane either to make up for it. It will be fine, I am just going to practice meditating. But of course, not in an overt way that might make a fellow passenger uncomfortable and lead them to looking for a flight attendant.

Time to go charge up all the electronics so they can go on the plane with me tomorrow. When I write next, it will be from the land of sweet tea, bless their hearts…

Without reason…

I am talking about Malaysian Airways flight 17. It is so surreal, especially as each side goes on a damage control campaign. I woke up at 3 AM this morning, thinking about all the families left behind. After that, I couldn’t fall back asleep. I can only hope that it was instantaneous and no one onboard knew what was happening.

I have spent most of the day thinking about these interrupted lives and families. Not only because so many people were from the Netherlands but also because our office is at Schiphol and lots of my coworkers have partners who work for KLM or otherwise at the airport.

A great many of us are due to fly out on Monday and I am sure I am not the only one who is somewhat uncomfortable.

I love being around and in airplanes. However, fundamentally you are sitting in a very fragile piece of equipment and I am always grateful when we land safely.

I always used to text my mom right before the doors closed and right after we landed. Sometimes it was practical, as in “Pick me up at departures so we can miss the traffic at arrivals”. Most often I would get the reply that she hadn’t left yet and I should go to the bathroom and get a coffee and work out any cranky pants behavior before she picked me up. I miss that. I miss having someone want to know where I am and that I have arrived safely. I think it is coming up again too because for the next two weeks, I will be spending a lot of time sitting in trainings and I will still be looking to my phone to see if I have rude and funny text messages from my mom. Even though I know they won’t be coming in, I can’t stop looking.

It is 91 degrees F right now at almost 9 in the evening. Let me tell you that taking the bike to work today was hard work. I am proud that I made the whole commute in 4th but in the heat it felt like it was never ending. You know it is hot when I make ice cubes and actually use them. The pets are all stretched out as long as possible. The benefit is that it looks like the Jurassic zucchini plants are going to flower in the next day or so. All of a sudden, there are buds!

My coworker gave me a ton of organic tuinbonen (fava beans) from his garden today. Tomorrow I am going to make pesto out of them. I will let you know how that works out. They were my mom’s favorite bean and even the dogs like to eat them. I know, what gourmands.

I don’t have many plans this weekend. Mostly try to survive the heat and pack as discreetly as possible without upsetting the pets. They will be in good hands for the next couple of weeks but I will miss them. Maybe I will go to the movies, since they might have air conditioning. It is not that common here, much like Seattle. And of course, I will be ferociously practicing my banjo before my two week hiatus.

Lookout for that hittegolf…

No,it’s not some kind of deranged form of golf, it actually is the Dutch word for heatwave. I suppose it started yesterday and it is planned through the weekend. It is not unpleasant. However, you do work up a sweat on the bike and it makes me reluctant to greet people with the Left Right Left kisses when everyone is sweaty. I hope that the uptick in temperature will finally set my zucchini plants to blooming. So far, they are growing up and out but not blooming.

The warm weather is bringing out the weirds. Yesterday, while I was busy cooking their sweet potato pieces for their dinner over a hot gas stove in the heat, George decides that he’s not going to wait and proceeds to get his bag of dry dog food out and spill it across the floor so he and his brother can have a kibble party. Of course, George should have been named Eureka for the speed at which he inhales, I mean eats. In the midst of turning to get as much food off the floor as possible, I splashed a lot of boiling water down my leg. So now I am also trying not to yell “Shit. Shit. Shit” because it hurts and not spill water on the dogs or anymore on myself and still try to salvage some of the spilled dog food. Of course, the day started with George peeing on the laundry basket twice even after he had been outside. As Eliza puts it “George is in disgrace”.

To be fair to my wretched little George, I think he knows something is up and it is making him uncertain. Or perhaps that’s just my wishful thinking. As I sit here typing this to you, Henry has his head inside a folded fleece blanket, rest of his body sticking out and George is curled up on top of another fleece blanket. And it is probably 85 degrees. I think Henry is hiding himself from the disgrace label.

Monday it is off to Atlanta for the week and then on to Seattle. It will be strange to be gone from home for two weeks. I will be without my favorite mode of transportation. My banjo playing will definitely suffer. I will miss the pets. Yes, really. I will miss my Nespresso and small cups of coffee rather than tall drinks. I will miss fresh bread and going grocery shopping every other day or so.

What will I look forward to? Seeing friends, eating pizza, having really good Mexican or Southwest food, getting pedicures (the Dutch look at as mostly a medical procedure for diabetics so you can imagine it is not very relaxing), climbing hills and being above sea level.

See you soon 🙂




Not as in the final frontier but as in that bubble we call our own personal. Like most people, I get uncomfortable if I feel like someone is a close talker or otherwise just too nearby when in social settings. I think I read somewhere that Americans in general have the largest personal space expectations. Kind of fitting when you think about how large we are as a nation – in everything from distance to food portions and our number of big butts. I think I have always been a very good “space reader” knowing how far away to stand from someone and how to minimize the personal space infringement.

Last night, I sat on a bench next to someone while we talked and ate. At first, it was very disconcerting to not be sitting across the table but rather directly next to someone. After awhile, when neither of us got our eyes poked out or other disastrous happenings from being too close, I settled down and realized that sitting next to someone on a bench was the most powerful physical sensation of friendship that I had ever experienced. It was a change of perspective. Normally, when you sit across from someone, there’s a give and take but you are both looking at things from your viewpoint. But when you are sitting next to each other, you are facing the same direction and it is that moment that you feel like it is the two of you against the world. I was still thinking about it this morning when I was riding through the woods to work.

The Dutch custom when you greet each is other is three kisses. To help you, it is left, right, left. Meaning you go left first. And hopefully the other person is also going left, otherwise concussions can result. For most part, I buy into this practice. This is a little different from what I am used to since I normally prefer to greet people I am close to with strong hugs. But I recognize that’s a bit much for a small country like this so I fall in with the Left Right Left method. However, just like the Dutch language with it’s uitzonderings (exceptions) I have one. Marianne doesn’t mind my habit of American hugs and I am grateful for that. I think if I didn’t have someone I could give a big hug to every now and again, I would probably have to go join the Hare Krishnas and get my hugs out that way. Of course, that would also include buying into the fashion style, giving up my banjo for the drum and wearing patchouli. I don’t think I can do that.

Over the weekend, I went to a coworker’s anniversary/birthday/daughter’s birthday/it is summer party in one of the old, old houses out in the country that you can now rent out. I went with one of my coworkers, the other Caroline on my team. It is so odd to live somewhere that your first name is really common. I have never experienced this. Last name, oh yeah! Here is the exact opposite, my first name is very common and my last is not. It was a big party, I think easily 100 people. After that, I caught the last few minutes of the Brazil – Netherlands match.

Sunday afternoon, I was back in Utrecht to hang out with my non profit group. In two hours, we had a really excellent vegan lunch and I had them set up with an action plan for expanding their group and their capacity. I have to say, I really get a charge out of empowering people. I like to think I encourage them instead of direct them. They are a lovely family and I really want to see them succeed in their quest. But they need to toughen up their thinking and I think I managed to help them see how and why.

A week from today I am off to Atlanta. So, if you want something from the Netherlands, be sure to get your request in before I leave I:) Schiphol is an amazing airport but they don’t carry everything. I think it will be strange to be without a bike for two weeks.

And now back to normal

or as they say here “normaal” with an extra a pronounced so you really get the emphasis. Yesterday, it rained and rained and today it was more than 80 degrees and sunny. And today all the orange bunting, flags and soccer balls are nowhere to be seen. Eliza and I watched the game around the corner at the Vliegertje. Eliza is a bit of a sports statistics freak – her complaint that unlike cricket the stats available in football (soccer) are not readily collected and so you are missing half the point of the game. I just watch because it is fun.

Yesterday afternoon I got to hear the memories of Marianne’s father and the way he touched their lives and his expressions. I spent most of the service trying not to cry and not succeeding. I felt very much like a sponge. But I examined afterwards on the ride home and it wasn’t grief about my mom but rather the awareness of what grief feels like and how it would affect their entire family. Perhaps the way to say it is that I was grieving for them.

In thinking about it, it also helped me let go of a “should”. As in “you should hold yourself together to be supportive for others”. But in reality, that has nothing to do with the empathy and support you can give someone. I know that grief is intensely personal and I don’t know all of the ways my friend will struggle with it. But I do know that I will be able to meet her where she is at and just being there instead of thinking about how I should be supporting.

On the way back yesterday, I passed a field where there were some young cows. In the pouring rain, two of them were head to head trying to push each other around. For some reason, it really reminded me of my twin brothers. Living here, I get a lot of opportunity to see cows. If you have never seen a cow run, it is fun to watch. Especially when they are together. I am always surprised that they can get that much weight up into the air. And some of the sheep have had their first shearing of the year so they are suddenly looking much slimmer. I like living in the city but there is enough of me that finds the idea of a small farm so appealing. It is on my list of things to do this year to find out what a cow smells like up close. I wonder if they smell like horses or have their own special cow fragrance?

Going to bed early tonight, kind of worn out. The dogs are super happy to hear that.