Monthly Archives: March 2015

From raindrops to full out wind

While I am a fan of great gusts of wind that nearly push you down the street and turn your hair into something rarely seen outside of Greek mythology, I have to admit that it doesn’t make me want to go outside very much. Instead it makes me want to hunker down indoors with a cup of coffee, music and wearing a fleece vest. I’m not the only one, minus the coffee, the boys are advocates of the same! Henry used to tuck himself inside my mom’s fleece vest. Once that vest finally got around to being replaced, it went to Henry. He would literally climb inside the vest, through the armhole or the zipper, whichever was open. Whenever I wear a fleece vest, I think of my mom.

I was thinking about her yesterday and how I am going to celebrate her 75th birthday in Maastricht. I am so looking forward to that, seeing Andre Rieu in the square and having that vacation feeling. When I think that it has been two years, that seems impossible. I wish she was here. It is Easter this coming week and we have a four day weekend. Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. I am reminded of my mom because Easter was usually the day we would eat the first asparagus of the year over baby new potatoes with hardboiled eggs and melted butter. Okay, not in any way shape or form healthy but really good. We didn’t feel the need to ruin it with ham. And then I would tease her about the timeย I wasย seven and very BAD on Easter. This resulted in me not getting my Easter basket. My mom still felt terrible about it 30 years later. Which, of course, I knew and that was why I would mention it ๐Ÿ˜‰ I remember that Easter basket had a new binder in it with grey tabby kittens on it. I knew this because I had looked already and found my mom’s secret stash of our Easter baskets. I did later on end up getting the binder and I have the pin of the laughing Easter bunny still from that year.

I had that with my mom. The button pushing relationship and the ability to be a smart ass. If you measure love by attitude, I would say my mom and I had more than our share and several other people’s portion as well. I miss that. I think that actions carry far more weight than words. People can say all sorts of things but it is their actions that really indicate who they are. I wandered away from that belief for a few years, I put more emphasis in people’s words than their actions. Fortunately, I have found my way back to believing in deeds.

Saturday night, I went to the film “Loin des Hommes” with Viggo Mortensen. Or as it would be in English “Far From Men”. I wasn’t expecting it to be in French – I had it in my head that of course, Viggo Mortensen acts in English. It was a good movie, very much on topic between the difference between actions and words. I am getting better at reading the Dutch subtitles ๐Ÿ˜‰

I also rode on the back of a scooter for the first time on Saturday night. Well, technically it was Sunday morning since I was returning home from dancing in the Rembrandtplein at 630AM. It was exhilarating! I can see why people have scooters. I am going to stick with my trusty Beatrix. I very clearly see the appeal. The whole time I was remembering what my brother Cedric says about riding a motorcycle “move with the bike, not against it” and he was right. It feels counterintuitive but it is the right way to do it. Kind of like when I play my banjo, if I just let go and play, the song comes outs. When I think about it too much and literally stop breathing between bars, it goes wrong.

Okay, time to go back to work…

Dodging Raindrops

It has been one of those days where it appears that spring is not really coming. There were about 10 minutes of sunshine this morning and then it has been grey, rainy and as my weather app calls it “Mistflarden” all day. The boys are not fans of this weather, especially not when it means that they are going to get their nails trimmed. In a few minutes, I will put their gear on them and we will go take our evening walk.

I am off to the movies tonight. Beatrix is at the bike shop, her back tire is in need of replacement. I won’t get her back until Tuesday since they are closed Sunday and Monday. That puts a cramp in my shopping plans. I usually haul the cat litter, paper towel rolls and really bulky items with Beatrix. Instead today I was walking around wearing my enormous bike lock and buying only the bare necessities for today – things like baby avocados from Spain, croissants from the organic bakery, a big bottle of mineral water and a kitchen roll.

I have to say that the Within Temptation concert was incredible and I cannot wait to go again! The people watching was easily an 8. Haarlem is beautiful, especially in the old town. Seriously, I could live there. If I get tired of Amsterdam, I might. All day yesterday, I was at the office, headphones on and rocking out to Within Temptation all over again. Yesterday, there was a giant power failure here in the Netherlands. It made for an interesting couple of hours. And it turned the train system upside down. I did rather enjoy it but I didn’t have anywhere to be, I could run on battery power while sitting in the office with no lights on. Marianne left for Curacao yesterday morning and I think her plane made it out just before the power failed at the airport. She and Joris went to take a break from the cold, I think. They are not the only ones. Rupert and Meredith are apparently in Cancun, thawing from the Chicago winter. I am jealous of all of the guacamole they are eating and probably excellent tortillas.

Speaking of tortillas, we did get some FedEx’d to us through a connection of Marjo’s from the US. It fulfilled the emergency shortage and the boys are very grateful. However, longer term we need to find a better option. I am going to learn to make them myself. It cannot be that difficult and I know the boys will eat any practice tortillas that I make.

It has been a very busy week. I am still coughing. I have my voice back though which is helpful. I have seen a lot of people I don’t talk to regularly enough because they are always travelling. And Thursday evening, before the concert, the folks from my living room gave me a giant photo album full of pictures they had made of the Indonesian dinner we had in December together and of them clowning around in their various locales. And they adorned the pages with their thoughts and comments. I love it! I was so touched by it. It is sitting up on the book shelf so it doesn’t accidentally get splashed by cat barf. Chances are if you come to my house, I will show it to you before I serve you coffee. You know, like those neighbors that always want to show their vacation slides!

Okay, off to see how many raindrops I can dodge with two small dogs in tow! Tonight we go to Daylight Savings Time, so that’s an extra hour of sleep I will encourage myself to take to get prepared for the dramatic time change ๐Ÿ˜‰ and that means much longer lit evenings – hurrah!

Paying the travel tax

with a headcold and alot of coughing and snot. I know, just what you wanted to visualize. Never let it be said that I don’t share the highlights ๐Ÿ˜‰ I will tell you that I am profoundly grateful that when I was leaving JFK in November, I paid 8 dollars for a box of Alka-Selzter Cold and Flu. At the time, I remember kicking myself for not going to a drugstore before going to the airport and paying airport prices. Yesterday, when I opened the box and listened to the first familiar fizzing sounds, I knew I would have paid far more than 8 dollars for the relief!

I really enjoyed exploring Bern. The city is a mix of my favorite styles of architecture, Federalist, Gothic and Medieval. I also like the way the river Aare flows through the city and you can see the working water courses. Several times I sat on the edge of fountains that I knew had been in use for at least 800 years. Itย made meย think about how much I have in my life and that fundamentally throughout the centuries, we are all still connected. Whether that is through DNA, stone, the artsย or the natural world around us.

The thing about Bern is that it feels a bit like a movie set. I feel like no one lives in those buildings. I know they do. However, you could walk down streets and not see another person. This is definitely something that I am not used after the density of Amsterdam. I would like to visit it again in the summer, I have a big desire to go swimming in the Aare, like so many Bernese do in the warm weather.

I like the Swiss sense of orderliness and cleanliness. Everything is very precise. However, this doesn’t leave much room for flexibility. For example, their rules about fondue. Minimal 2 people, no exceptions. I ran into this rule everywhere I tried to get my fondue on. So tonight I will go to Cafe Bern here in Amsterdam with Marjo and get my fondue finally!

The coffee was also a bit of a miss. Pretty watery and definitely not what I expected. I did learn alot about Ovaltine, which was a Swiss invention and how Toblerone came into being. If you can’t tell, I spent a good deal of time in the Bern Historical Museum which also houses the Albert Einstein Museum – he lived in Bern and wrote the first draft of the Theory of Relativity there. The museum was so cool. I learned that Einstein was quite a ladies man. I also noticed that he had incredibly kind eyes and in the morning, my hair resembles his hairstyle. Also seeing the Swiss view of their famous concept of armed neutrality was interesting, especially in relation to the WWII question.

The first night I was there, I was in the vegetarian restaurant Tibits. I was enjoying my meal, with my grown up coat over the chair next to me. All of a sudden I hear a crash and feel a splash. Turns out someone behind me lost control of his overly full plate and his raw onions, olive oil dressing and other aromatic dishes landed all over my coat. Not even an apology from him or his dining partner. I was frantically trying to scrub his dinner out of my coat because it was the only one I had and I needed it for my interview on Monday. Unfortunately, I was not successful. And rather than smell like a walking food cart, I went without a coat over the weekend. That probably didn’t help with staying healthy.

Tomorrow night it is the Within Temptation concert in Haarlem. Woohoo, time to get my rock opera on. I just bought Henry Rollins tickets for next January when he comes to Amsterdam. Next week is Easter which means we get Friday through Monday off. Hard to complain about living in a country like this ๐Ÿ™‚

Bern from the Bridge


Sitting upstairs on the train, waiting to leave Bern. I passed my interview and no more painfully long Customs experiences! I am so relieved because that is time in your life that you never get back.

Switching to air at Basel and home to Amsterdam tonight. The boys will be hungry but I think they will forgive me.

I had a great long weekend in Bern and have some funny stories to tell. Those will have to wait until I am not typing from my phone and incurring the corresponding data costs ๐Ÿ˜‰

Hank Williams III

Someone today asked me if I had listened to Hank Williams III ever. I hadn’t and boy, what have I been missing! I am listening to him now and I can’t believe I have gone all these years without this music. There is a t-shirt that I really want that has the slogan on it “Banjo is the new Punk Rock” and this music is the perfect example of it.This is definitely getting loaded into my music collection!

Yesterday was gorgeous, 60 degrees and clear blue sky. I missed out since I was in an all day meeting that was being held in the old sugar factory in Zwanenberg. It was cold and dark inside, in clear contrast to the gorgeous weather outside. I have made considerable strides in my ability to meditate. Yesterday we had a meditation activity and I was so deep in my head, I fell asleep sitting straight up sitting at the table for ten minutes or so. No one at the table knew me so that was extra embarrassing. Half of them wanted to wake me up and the other half were against it. So, not only am I the unfashionable American, now I am also the sleeps anywhere unfashionable American ๐Ÿ˜‰

In contrast, today it is misty and chilly. Luckily, there is sunshine forecast for this weekend in Switzerland so I am looking forward to busting out my 10 euro sunglasses and playing tourist. I got them at the HEMA on Saturday. The HEMA is like Target but better. You can always find things at the HEMA that you had absolutely no idea you wanted, let alone needed. I believe in the theory that the more expensive your sunglasses, the quicker you will lose them. When I saw the big movie star style tortoiseshell sunglasses for a mere 10 euro, I knew I had to have them. If my theory holds true, I will probably still have them in three years! Of course, if I don’t have to wear them because there isn’t any sunny weather, they will last even longer!

I am excited to be going to Switzerland. Perhaps one day I will be ready to ski the Alps, maybe next winter. I am not there yet so I will look at this as an acclimatization step. I am planning to rent a bike while I am there. I have looked up the vegetarian places and that’s as much preparation as I am going to do.

The boys are asleep in their car seat next to my desk and they are so cute. I can hear them snoring so they are really out. I am so grateful that I have them. The cats as well. I read something today that “happiness is something we create within ourselves”. Interestingly enough, it was a book on the art of negotiation. I turned that thought around a bit in my head and I realized that I can agree with it. Which just might explain why I might be more aware of things that make me happy. It can be a strangely liberating way to look at the world. Don’t worry about busting out the love beads and patchouli just yet ๐Ÿ˜‰ check back in with me in a few years.

I’d like a side order of sleep, please

Right, I know I have only myself to blame if I stay out dancing on Rembrandtplein til 5am. I could tell you I was doing important research to understand how music affects the movement of the body so that I could be a more impactful banjo player. You might believe me for a few seconds. The real truth, it was just fun and for fun! And surprisingly, with 4 hours of sleep, my banjo lesson this morning went pretty well.

It also helped that it was sunny this morning and walking in this city in the sunlight is a special treat. You feel like only good things could happen with your day! I have had three or four cups of coffee today so that I could work but other than that, it has been okay. I don’t seem to be making any obvious mistakes ๐Ÿ˜‰ Tomorrow is another all day event, like Friday’s, so I will have to refill my social energy battery again!

Yesterday, I was in the park with the boys and while I was watching them run, I realized how much I enjoyed seeing them do that. I think maybe I am finally starting to appreciate all of the little moments in life like my mom did. If this is true, then moving here was worth it for that alone. I am grateful that I am able to continually explore different things about myself and my ideas. My life is so much richer for being willing to take the risk to do that.

In Seattle, it was easy to fill all of my hours with work, to define myself by my work. Here I work just as hard but I set strong fences around it. I still read my work email on weekends but I don’t respond until Monday morning. And when I start to get anxious about that, I talk myself through that until I can let the anxiety go. Sometimes it doesn’t work and I fall back into the send a response trap. Then I climb back out of the trap, without “shoulding”on myself – i.e., that I shouldn’t have done that, etc.

Golly, at this rate, I will be able to take proper vacations with relaxation and everything! It sounds frivolous, I know. It has taken me 18 months to get to this point. It is not a dismantling of my old self, rather it is an exercise in priority setting. What is important in life to me? How do I want to make sure that I am living with purpose and with a clear understanding of what is important to me?

End of this week and it is off to Switzerland. I remember that when I scheduled the appointment, I thought it was so far in the future. Here is finally. I am looking forward to exploring. Which reminds me that since they don’t use the euro, I need to figure out what that a Swiss franc will buy you. Everyone keeps telling me it is horribly expensive. Not going to worry about it, just going to go and enjoy the experience. Perhaps I will even acquire a proper Swiss fondue set. Perhaps I will like it enough to add it to our summer vacation plans. I think I would like to go somewhere with Astrid so that I can take the boys.

Oh, it is terrace time! ๐Ÿ™‚ Sunshine, yay!

Savor Flamenco

That’s the name of the Gipsy Kings album that I am playing right now. It is a new one to me so hurrah! The boys are tucked into their car seat, next to my desk. Really, there’s room for 1.5 small dogs in there, not two but they somehow manage to make it work.

It's a rough life around these parts...
It’s a rough life around these parts…

I have tried to stop reading English books since I wrote last. Which seems to mean that I end up speaking more English instead. It has been a busy week in terms of finding social energy. Last night, there was a nerd dinner for approximately 35 people. They had chosen a restaurant in my neighborhood which was great in terms of travel time. It was a buffet place, the easiest way to feed 35 people. There aren’t many buffet places here. I can say that it wasn’t really delicious food. That’s okay because I was too busy circulating and working on interesting people in my plans for community building in Africa.

Tomorrow there’s another work related event with around 100 people. Hopefully, I won’t have to talk to every one of them individually but I have a list of 15 “must talk to” names. It is an all day event, complete with presentations and theme tables at the lunch. I think I better take a supplement of social energy! I am kind of tired just thinking about it ๐Ÿ˜‰

Shortly, I am going to head out the door and sit on a terrace. It is sunny and about 55, not exactly heat wave weather but good enough for short sleeves! Yesterday I was walking around in search of my fresh nose and ran into some people that I knew and promptly we found a terrace and spent the next 90 minutes enjoying the sun and conversation.

Last night after the nerd dinner, I went out with Marjo. It is always nice to meet someone who can drop knowledge on you in areas you know nothing about. Last night I learned all about the process of how bacteria is cultured on burn victim’s skin and where the samples come from, etc. I was relieved to hear that there is no animal testing involved. We traded many book tips especially sinceย I now am only supposed to be reading Dutch. Turns out both of our families have roots in Indonesia.

For the banjo, I now have Goodnight Ladies memorized! I can actually play it out of my head and it sounds like a song!!! I think the neighbors are delighted that all those weeks of fractured chords and rolls are finally paying off. I have a second song also memorized. It is the classic “Bile dem cabbage down”. You might have missed it on the Billboard Top 100.

On Monday, I get to vote. I only get to vote for members of the Water Council but since Water Management is kind of an important topic for a country that is mostly below sea level, there is a list of about 100 candidates. I need to do some research on their positions and pick my 7. I don’t get to vote for the regional representatives yet. That comes with the next election when I will have been 3 years in Amsterdam. After 3 years, you are allowed to vote in local elections, even if you are not a citizen because you live in the city itself and presumably are affected by who is in charge. It is kind of exciting ๐Ÿ™‚ It makes me feel like part of society rather than just as an ex-pat.

Off I go, the terrace is calling my name ๐Ÿ™‚

Always grab your tortillas with both hands

I am reminded that we have enough tortillas to get through the end of the month and then it is time for me to learn to make them. Unfortunately, last month I didn’t grab the tortillas for the dogs when I should have. I thought I would have plenty of time to do it over the next week. Turns out things didn’t really go that way.ย  As I counted the tortillas last night and realized that I couldn’t recharge my toothbrush since I had also lost all my US to EU power converters, I made a promise to myself to never again believe that there might be continuity in experiences. In other words, grab your tortillas (or other experience) while you can.

Lovely weather again. At this rate, I will be riding to work again soon. I am looking forward to that! At the office today and at least four people had birthdays which means there is cake everywhere. That’s the Dutch thing again, you bring pastries on your birthday. I am managing to avoid temptation.

I had my intake interview for my language course. Yesterday, I had to finish the pretest and it was heavily writing and I gave up. I turned it in and thought “to hell with it, they will obviously see how frustrated I am with my writing ability”. Well, it turns out that their system failed and threw out my test ๐Ÿ˜‰ Of course, I ruined it for myself by saying I hadn’t finished it anyway. I got an extension so that helps.

It reminds me of a story that my mom used to tell. For the job in the department of the Dutch government that ended up being where she met my dad, she had to do a typing test. She was convinced she had failed it. However, it ended up never reaching the people that would have seen it and said “No” – it was lost along the way by the courier. She used to blame the wayward test for the reason that she met my father because she never would have had that job if they had seen her typing ๐Ÿ™‚

Rocking out to “Rebel Heart” again. Well, rocking out is a relative term considering I am wearing earphones. It wouldn’t do for all the other grownups to hear my crazy musical taste.

One thing that came up today in the intake is that I have to stop reading books in English to take my written Dutch to another level. I really don’t want to do this since I love reading so much. And if I have to read in Dutch, I get frustrated. Per suggestion, I am going to start with a book that I already know in English. So it will be the first book in the Game of Thrones series. I could get it as an e-book from the library. Guess it is time to pull up my big girl pants and go through the painful humiliation of not being able to read at the speed and comprehension that I am used to. I am serious about learning to write properly in Dutch.

I also want to make the transition to dreaming in Dutch. The English speaking dreams I am having lately are not that conducive for aย good night’s sleep so I would like to switch over to Dutch pronto. They say that once you are dreaming in a language, you have really made the transition to thinking and communicating in that language.

Vacation feelings

Yesterday was beautiful weatherwise so I popped the boys into Beatrix’s basket and we rode off through the city and then took the ferry over to Amsterdam Noord and met a friend and her daughters in big park. Sunshine, feeding the ducks, running loose in the fields and then stopping for ice cream on the way back made it feel like a getaway. George and Henry’s favorite part was being secretly fed french fries with oorlog (war) saus on them by the twins (they’re not quite three). Oorlog saus is a combination of sate (spicy peanut) sauce and mayonaise. It is actually really good especially when you throw raw onions on it. However, for dogs, it has some unfortunate effects!

Of course, they also got quite alot of attention on the ferry since they were in the basket and shamelessly looking at all of our fellow passengers for attention. And they did enjoy barking at passing dogs as I did all the hard work of pedaling us through the city while they sat on their blanket in the basket. When we got home, we were exhausted, just like coming home from a real vacation!

I bought my ticket today to go to Chicago. I am waiting for the weather to get a bit warmer there to go and visit Rupert and Meredith. I am looking forward to seeing them and practicing the important art of “chillaxation”that they are so good at. I also want to see them because being around them makes me happy and grateful that they are my family. Of course it helps that both of them are always game for walking around so I can collect steps on my Fitbit and having good conversations. That’s how you know people love you, when they go walking with you so you can get the 20K steps badge in a day!

Last night I got a call to come to my Living Room because someone was looking for me. It was someone I had spoken with a couple of times and really enjoyed talking to. We had another good conversation last night, more about the US since she really wants to go there. I guess I am doing my part to provide cultural differences lessons ๐Ÿ™‚ She reminds me a bit of Eliza in terms of conversation, wine goes with. Some people are not conversation with wine but rather conversation with coffee people. Mario is a wine person.

Friday night I was out far too late for a ten am appointment on Saturday. I walked home from the last cafe and it was 4AM when I walked in the door. Important lesson learned – all Saturday appointments are now booked for noon or later. It was a really nice evening. It was warm enough to sit outside under the heat lamps and talk and laugh with a bunch of people. It is also a pretty great benefit to be able to walk home through your city by yourself around 4AM without worrying about anything.

Tomorrow is my intake interview for my second week with the nuns. I didn’t finish the pretest which should tell them enough about how far behind I am with my writing ๐Ÿ˜‰

Madonna madness

The fun continues… I have ended up with two other people to go to see Madonna with. It started out with me saying I had bought my ticket and then the two of them inviting themselves along. I like that, it is very direct. There was no doubt that they really wanted to go. These are the things that I find so much easier to understand and work with.

In the meantime, playing “Rebel Heart”and the rest of my Madonna catalog. I think Shuffle in terms of music players was one of the greatest things ever invented. So simple, but so useful. I have to say I have found some lyrics on the new album that really appeal to my mindset at the moment.

Lunch yesterday with Luc was so fun. He showed up in a Ramones t-shirt (one that originally belonged to his mother) and had the whole Twilight Edward look going on. I swear, he must rarely see the sunlight which makes sense since he works nights. I discovered a new favorite combination of feta, mint, celery and olives wrapped in a very thin dough and quickly fried. I need to learn to make those. It is the Turkish equivalent of fried cheese, I guess. Which means I immediately thought of my brother, Dylan, who is ridiculously possessive of anything that he orders containing cheese and my sister in law, Meredith, who advocates for fried cheese on a regular basis. Next time each one of them is here, I will have to introduce them to the Turkish version. Dylan will be here in the begininng of June. He did ask if those dates would work for me this time ๐Ÿ˜‰

Moortje is sitting here on the desk, huddled up next to the computer. I think he likes Madonna, he seems to be purring in time. The boys are snuggled up next to my desk since they have just had lunch and come home from their outing with Kate. When you are a small dog, you need a nap after navigating the woods for 2 plus hours.

Went into the office this morning early. Since it is Friday, I wanted to get stuff done before everyone else came in. I have made a concerted effort not to work on the weekends, now that I live here. I still scan my work email but I don’t get wrapped up in work stuff. Sounds minor, but it required a very concious mind shift on my part. I am hoping that being able to do this means that I will soon be able to take vacations in the Dutch manner ๐Ÿ™‚ completely disconnected. Less than two years ago, I would have not even been able to think about that. I remember getting so irritated during the interview process when everyone was unavailable for three weeks in August due to the annual vacation period. Haha, how far I have come ๐Ÿ™‚

Okay, going to finish up a few things and then drop some packages in the mail. Happy weekend!