Monthly Archives: January 2015

Quarter to five in the morning

So, here we are again. Wide awake. Little Denzel just looked at me as if to say “What is wrong with you?” It helps that I fell asleep finally around 9pm yesterday – big Saturday night for me clearly! I am wide awake now, armed with a strong cup of Nespresso and in the same predicament as yesterday, that everything is still closed!

I have big plans for today. I am going to get a real pedicure, pick up a new e-reader and stock up on things from Target or as we like to say “Tar-jay”. Tonight I am going to dinner at the house of a family that is lots of fun and practices Agile methodologies in their family life. Which is the ultimate blending between work and home for a process nerd, which David definitely is. Their family is so much fun, they are all super sharp witted so it is Zinger Central. I am also going to walk Lincoln Park and visit my favorite coffee shop – that’s the regular kind of coffee shop, not the Amsterdam kind of “coffeeshop” to be clear!

Yesterday, Denzel and I were exceptionally productive. I got everything done on my Saturday list and then some and he got to ride in style in the rental car. And last night I went to bikram yoga with Jan and Kerrie. It was like old times, me ignoring Jan when she tries to make you giggle, falling out of various poses and then walking from the studio soaked in sweat and chatting away. It was the first time in more than a year that I had practiced bikram. It made me realize that every now and again is okay but I really like being on the bike better. It did give me the benefit of falling asleep, wrung out, so to speak!

West Seattle has changed a lot since I was last here. The big 8 story buildings have gone up on the Junction and they look terribly out of place and change the entire welcoming character of the Junction. Now they make everything look lopsided. They keep building them and I think that in a couple of years, it will look very different. It was always busy before and now it is super busy and with everybody in cars, that doesn’t help either. People in Seattle don’t give up having cars because they live in an apartment. That is wishful thinking of the politicians. The Farmers Market is this morning and I would like to go but I am afraid it will be so changed that I will have trouble remembering it the way it was. They start at 10 so if I am there on the dot, it will be okay. Of course, that is five hours from now. I would like to get some tulips and they are the best place to get them.

Time zone cha-cha

So, here I am in Seattle. It is still dark outside and Denzel is snoring on the couch next to me. I am working on my second Nespresso of the morning. I would be doing more things outside of the house. I have a tremendous list of things to get done this week but the city is still asleep. So I will have to wait another couple of hours before things begin to open and I can get through my task list.

I slept for twenty minutes on the plane yesterday. It was very full and the guy next to me slept with his face in my direction and he was a mouth breather. It was rather uncomfortable sensation. Every time I breathed through my nose I could smell his breath. Luckily he hadn’t eaten garlic or anything but it was a little past the barriers of personal space!

Customs took 90 minutes yesterday. The “improvements” in Seattle are not that. Now you go through four separate lines instead of one. In the name of technology, they have installed kiosks, which can’t think or converse only analyze. Next time, I think I will choose a connecting flight and go through customs elsewhere in the US where they have a bigger facility. Within 40 minutes, they have flights landing from Beijing, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Dubai. And they don’t have the capacity for more than two at a time at most.

On the super plus side, Lawyerella and I went to Cactus last night. I really needed that infusion of Mexican flavors. As matter a fact, I think I am going to finish my leftovers for breakfast. I had the roasted squash tamales full of chipotle peppers and spicy apricot and pepita sauce. Oh, and a big bowl of guacamole. Just describing it made me go get it out of the fridge. Yum! It is good even cold. Ole!

It is rainy here. Warm compared to Amsterdam. I was surprised to see how many people bring their children and infants to the restaurant. I had gotten used to not seeing that in Amsterdam. Funny what the things are that you notice.

Denzel is recovering from surgery on his long back so today he will be spending quality time with me on my errands. He loves to ride in the car and as long as he has a blanket, he can stay there for hours. Sometimes when he would stay with us, my mom would put him in the car in the driveway in his blanket. He loved that because George and Henry can be over stimulating for a dog that prefers to rule his domain by himself. He would always go to my mom and let her know that it was time for his “meditation”. The bond between the two of them was very special. And while Denzel loves me too, it is a different bond than he has with Lawyerellla and what he had with my mom. He’s pretty happy that he got a hard boiled egg with his breakfast about an hour ago.

Wow, time flies, it is 730am already. Bummer that it is still dark. And I have 90 minutes before anything is open. I have already fed the cats, Harper and TC. They would like me to bust out the canned food but I am not falling for that trick. Canned food is for dinner!

Seattle feels different this time. So large geographically, of course. Less like home, less painful than last time and still really beautiful. We will see how the week plays out in terms of what it feels like being here.

Stories to tell

With Leonard Cohen playing in the background, I feel it would be only fair for me to advise you that I have a lot of stories that seem to want to come out today. So here goes and maybe at the end it will all make sense. Or as one of my favorite Dutch expressions puts it “Achteraf je kijk naar de kont van de koe” . Which literally translates to “Looking back, you are staring at the cow’s ass”. Which is a fairly descriptive way of saying that hindsight is 20/20.

When I was in first grade, we lived in San Diego. There was a family up the street with two teenagers. The daughter would babysit the four of us. The parents were a good support for my mom, especially when my dad would be deployed to sea for six months at a stretch. I remember the dad always used to call me Peppermint Patty after the Peanuts character. I didn’t understand why because I was not a redhead then. I figured it out later on that Peppermint Patty was kind of obnoxious, definitely a tomboy and socially awkward. I definitely think he was on to something. My family has a long history with Peanuts. Especially Rupert and Snoopy. I used to think Lucy was the most annoying twit on the planet and still sort of do. Except lately, I have begun feeling very much like Lucy with her whole advice booth with the signboard saying “The Doctor is In, Advice 5 cents”. Somehow that’s not so annoying anymore.

I suppose better Lucy than Dr. Phil. Over the past week, as Lucy, I have been very busy. Being seen as Lucy is actually quite a compliment I think. If people want to tell you what they are struggling with, that means two things – they trust me enough to share and they think I will listen. Both are characteristics that I was not always known for. I do have sort of rapid fire let’s go straight to the solution streak. I think over the past five years, I have been trying to listen better and solve less. Of course, it could also be that I just come across as so mature and grown up and I remember the world before the internet that could be creating this impression of safety 😉

My mother had this gift of people wanting to tell her their stories. Rupert has it in spades. My mother would also listen. Okay, maybe not to her daughter that often, but when people wanted to talk to her, she would. And she would be very direct with her thoughts on the subject. She said what she thought people needed to hear, she spoke the truth. Trust me, I know some of the things she said about me to other people 😉 When I was talking to her yesterday, I thanked her for teaching me the importance of listening and that I would keep practicing.

Speaking of yesterday, there are stories there all on their own. I took the day off because I knew I wanted to have the freedom to go where the grief would take me. Of course, at 930 in the morning the phone started ringing for work. I was surprisingly steadfast and did not answer. Around 1030, the boys and I left Amsterdam to go to Marum. We were lucky, it was clear, windy and sunny. I took the A7 the long way across the Afsluitdijk this time. It is definitely the longer way to Marum but I had driven that way a time too before with Mom and with Joanne when I was here to make the arrangements for Mom and Marum. I feel like driving across the Afsluitdijk is like being in the middle of nowhere, on a way to an adventure.

By the time we stopped in Friesland for gas and for the boys to run wild in the wind next to the sheep pasture, I realized over my cup of gas station coffee (channeling my inner Dylan) that I hadn’t begun to cry yet. This felt good. Usually, I take the A1 to the A6 to the A7 and I am usually starting to cry at the beginning of the A6. Of course, when I crossed the border from Freisland into Groningen, I did begin to cry. There isn’t anything wrong with crying, that’s not my point. On the anniversary of her death, the last thing I wanted to do was think about her dying. Rather, I wanted to think about all of the things that she did as she was living. That included yelling “Keep your pants on, jackass” at the guy that was really angry at me in the traffic circle. And he was in the right but I wasn’t going to admit that!

George saw his first pony yesterday. Before we went into the churchyard, we went for a walk. There is a meadow that butts up against the memorial garden of the cemetery. George stopped in his tracks (he was off leash) and spent a good five minutes staring at the pony. I could almost hear his thoughts “Hmm, what are you? We’re about the same size but you have a lot of  hair in some strange places. And why do you smell so weird, like grass?” George rarely focuses that long on anything!

On our way home, we stopped at the McDonald’s where the A7 meets the A6. I decided that the boys would get a cheeseburger, I would use the bathroom and we would remember the times that Mom would be gone on all day trips to the peninsula and the boys would end up getting her ice cream cone. I have never seen a McDonald’s with a conference room. Playground, yes, birthday party room, yes, conference room, no. I had a coffee and they had the Groente Burger on the menu – the Green Burger. So, we all sat in the trunk of Astrid and ate our lunch to the amusement of the people in the parking lot. I am not sure what attracted the most attention – the boys in their coats or the fact that they were eating at McDonald’s.

Yesterday was definitely a fleece wearing kind of day with the wind. I have a shockingly bright coral vest (it was a closeout size and color and price). The Dutch call a vest a “bodywarmer”. Which makes sense but doesn’t immediately bring to mind the visual of a vest. I am 99% certain my mom wore a vest year round. Henry would always try to burrow inside her vest. His idea of paradise is being next to a human being surrounded by fleece with no expectations for exertion. I also realized yesterday that wearing a vest is like wearing a hug. I am wearing it again today, with an orange tshirt underneath. I suddenly panicked yesterday thinking I had given Mom’s vests away. But I realize now that I didn’t. I packed it away in the things I wanted to save.

Before returning to Amsterdam, we stopped in Almere and went walking along the beach. Strangely enough, for all the signs that say “Dogs are prohibited” there were a lot of dogs. Apparently, the dogs couldn’t read. We joined right in. My mom loved the beach. She could walk hours along it. When we were in Mexico, she did.

And on a day to celebrate my mother, Marianne and I had dinner at Frankendael. The dinner was, of course, incredible. The house is still beautiful and I still hear my mother saying she could easily live there. I think it is impossible to have a bad meal there. I also think it is hard to be sad there. And those are things that I am so grateful for, that I have the memories of my mother in so many places. I would trade all of those memories to have her here in person to be doing things with. But it will never be that way again. And the memories that I make now are the emptier because she is not part of them but she remains part of me.

Looking at the cow’s ass, I think what I realize most is that honoring my mother means taking the strengths and gifts she gave me and making sure I put them to use every single day. Most especially not taking those days for granted. Being afraid or sorrowful is okay, being static is not.

Someone else’s teeth

Well, that is what it feels like anyway! I went to the dentist today because after my initial visit last week, she was concerned about the serious wear and tear I have on my molars. I have been grinding my teeth since I was in high school and apparently, I do it pretty consistently. So consistently that I have worn my way through three industrial strength night guards. So today the effort was made to fill in some of that wear and tear and give me a whole new platform to grind through 😉 okay, well maybe not the second part! I didn’t get any anesthesia. They don’t freely give shots out for things like that here. 75 minutes later, I can totally relax my jaw and don’t feel like I constantly have to keep it clenched. Wowsers! I had forgotten what that could feel like!

I go back tomorrow but that is for the second half of the cleaning. And then next month, they want to see me to talk about the tooth that was built up when I got my karate belt tangled in my bicycle wheel and flew over the handlebars. I think I am pretty lucky to have found a very good dentist. Actually, it wasn’t luck. Anna, who was my relocation person, recommended her because she knows one of her sisters. And Saturday my dentist was in the paper, they mentioned her and her practice. So, I think I am in good hands.

I took tomorrow off from work because it is the 16th. I will go up to Marum in the morning with the boys and see if they can’t run wild in the pasture next to the cemetery. Tomorrow night, Marianne and I are having dinner at Frankendael. Which seems fitting because we were introduced to Frankendael by Marianne. There is also a gypsy music festival, Django Amsterdam, tomorrow and Saturday. I think I will go there too and think of my mom dancing and causing trouble.

It is about time to make the boys dinner. Actually, I am ten minutes overdue and George knows this because he is sitting next to me with his front paws placed just next to the keyboard. A very gentlemanly way of saying “HEY LADY, I’m starvin’ over here”.


When I got home this afternoon, I really had the urge to look up the next time Andre Rieu was performing in Maastricht. For those of you who are not rabid PBS watchers, during every pledge drive they have Andre Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra (street name JSO) concert specials on. The one that draws in the most is the one from Maastricht where the concert is performed in a giant outdoor square. I think his Tuscany special is also popular, but I digress. Mom used to talk about wanting to see the fabulous AR and his JSO in the square in Maastricht. We did see him together in Seattle at Key Arena from the tenth row on the floor and I went there with her ashes when he played again. But Maastricht was always the goal.

Anyway, a little of bit of web surfing and the next thing you know, I am looking at the schedule for 2015. Fortunately, he will be playing in Maastricht this year. Guess on which date, among others? The 4th of July, her chosen birthday. Of course, I couldn’t ignore that! This year, I’ll be taking my little memento heart with Mom’s ash to Maastricht.

Considering that this Friday will be two years, I needed a little pick me up this week. I already took Friday off work because there just isn’t any way I want to deal with that stuff in the workplace. And when I say I took Friday off, I mean I also actually cancelled all my meetings. Sometimes I put in for a vacation day and I still do a conference call or two. I know, it is a filthy habit.

Super windy weather over the past few days which suits my mood but not necessarily the boys. They really dislike having the wind whistle in their ears!

I broke my thumbnail right down into the meat of my thumb so banjo is not happening for a few days. I suppose it would be really tough if I said “I played my banjo til my fingers bled”. I guess I am just not that dedicated 😉

I have only myself to blame…

Some time on Sunday, I decided that I would instead make my own Mexican food to celebrate Mom’s birthday rather than settle for a version of Mexican food that might end up being disappointing. I had a stash of emergency “in case you really miss the US” supply of kitchen essentials. This cache includes things like Field Roast Apple Sage Sausages, Amy’s Organic Refried Beans with Green Chilis, nutritional yeast, ancho chiles and really good all purpose chili powder from PCC. It is a small stockpile, one of each so if things get really critical, I have some resources. I decided to make vegetable fajitas like they do at Cactus only without tortillas since all the tortillas in this house belong to the boys. It was really good. Not as good as Cactus but way better than anything I would have found here. The boys also benefited from the avocado and the rice before I added the spices.

Tonight I decided that I would eat the leftovers. I don’t have a microwave or as they call it “a magnetron” so I have to reheat things on the stove. Fine and dandy, used to it by now. Except I was also trying to avoid stepping on George, light the gas flame and not spill hot water. This means a good portion of the rice (but now with lots of spices added to it) fell out of the container and on the floor. Faster than you can say “upright vacuum” George was there to gobble it up. I am not sure what the effects of chili powder will be on a dog but I have a feeling that I will be finding out shortly. The good thing about George is that his entire existence, including his digestive system, is instant gratification oriented. So, if we are going to see unpleasant side effects, they should be happening just about any time. At least there won’t be any surprises in the middle of the night!

I guess I should be grateful that I didn’t spill the beans, so to speak!

Had a banjo lesson today, the first one since early December. My teacher could tell I had been practicing 🙂 Okay, I still can’t sing and play at the same time but I am working on humming. At this rate, if I continue on, I should be able to bust out all the Christmas carols on the banjo by December! Not sure that is necessarily a plus. Sort of like “Have yourself a banjo little Christmas”.

I think the following photo gives a little example of how big the boys are vs how big they think they are.

Henry and George with their big friend
Henry and George with their big friend

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”

What a classic line. Yesterday I finally saw “Gone with the Wind”. It was in 4K which doesn’t mean much to me other than we didn’t get any special glasses like they have for 3-D. It is playing at the Eye which is a beautiful theater that sits across from Amsterdam Centraal. You take a little ferry across from the back of the station over the river IJ (pronounced eye). Even though it is a 5 minute ferry ride, it still feels like a holiday. I had never seen the film actually. I first read the book when I was 9 and then reread it every year afterwards until I was about 15. And now I am going to go back and read it again. It is definitely not for the weak of cheeks. At just shy of 4 hours of sitting time, you have to be determined. And here, when you go to the film, you don’t get up to leave to pee or refill your 64oz soda.

I have been getting good use out of my movie pass this week. Tuesday night, Marianne and I went to see “Aanmodderfakker” which roughly translates to “Slacker”. It won the Golden Calf prize this year. Of course the movie awards in this dairy crazy country are going to be cow themed! I couldn’t follow the half of the dialogue which was unfortunate because that was the best part but I did get the important points. I will try it again in another year and see if I can follow the dialogue any better. Marianne was not up for 4 hours of sitting for GWTW however!

New Year’s Eve was quiet for us. I closed all the doors and curtains. I started giving the boys the anti anxiety homeopathic drops around 6pm. Then we hunkered down into the big orange couch and I read about 500 pages of a library e-book that was due to expire at midnight. The fireworks were crazy. The boys did the best they could. We did end up with one accident in the house but all things considered, they did their best. Around 1215, I gave up trying to concentrate on watching “The Killing” season 2 because I couldn’t hear anything over the fireworks and we went to bed. I think fireworks were going off until well past 2am.

We started the New Year bright and surly and went to the park. It was lovely and still. The only people in it were other dog owners so we had a very long walk.

I wanted to start the New Year with making stuffing. I am not sure why, perhaps because I associate it with Christmas. However, I transposed the numbers and proceeded to fill the pan with 6 cups of water and 1 and 3/4 tablespoons of olive oil. Luckily, I caught myself before adding the stuffing. It was 1 3/4 cups of water and 6 tablespoons of olive oil. However since I had also put together all sorts of vegetables and spices in that 6 cups of water, I couldn’t bear to throw it out and instead made hutspot in the pan and then had a really good vegetable stock base for making pea soup or snert as it is called. My mom used to give me a hard time about my measurements when cooking. When I was 11 or so and making brownies for school, I refused to believe that 1 cup was not 16 oz. We argued about it and I was so stubborn and refused to admit I was wrong. Well, you can imagine how those brownies turned out… When my mom wanted to make her point, she would say “how many ounces are in a cup again?”

Kind of a grey day this morning. Actually it is raining, which puts a crimp in our outdoor plans. Oh darn, I guess that means I have an excuse to read and play banjo while I am doing the laundry and feeling super multi tasking.

Tomorrow is Mom’s birthday. I have agonized over the choices of Mexican restaurants here. And instead, I decided that I will go to a good vegetarian restaurant I know, the Golden Temple. They have two Mexican main courses. And I will eat there and find a margarita on the way back to toast mom. The taste of the food is more important than the décor.

Okay, I am going to make myself some breakfast now since no one else will do it if I don’t. The boys can’t be trusted with knives nor am I entirely sure that that we would have the same idea of what a good breakfast was! 🙂