Monthly Archives: May 2015

Rain, rain go away…

I feel like I might have said that very thing a time or two before. Today was a complete regression to the fall. Grey sky, rain all day, wind and not a moment of sunshine. I have no shame in admitting that today is not a day that we have left the house. The boys don’t even want to go out onto the terrace to write their pee-mail.

So what did we do instead? Read the paper cover to cover, including the extra Saturday sections, cleaned the kitchen and commanded the dishes into a semblance of orderliness, took a nap, practiced the banjo for a long time until George came up to me and put his paws on the strings as if to say “No more, Mommy, my ears are bleeding”. This time I even practiced at the dining room table so they wouldn’t have to be tortured like that. I was really struggling though, especially since I needed to retune to C instead of D which doesn’t lead to the best sounds if you don’t do it properly.

I fired up the rice cooker today for the first time. It’s not your usual rice cooker, you can also saute in it. Which is kind of a weird concept but useful if you want to throw in some veggies with your rice and not have to use a second pan. I freely admit I am a fan of one pan cooking. It was a plus to not burn the rice which I tend to do since I am not so handy with the gas stove for simmering.

I dreamed about my mom yesterday. When we lived in Seattle, there was a time that Dylan was commuting through Seattle from Bainbridge to the airport and once a week he would stop in for dinner. My mom and I always used to struggle with those occasions because you never knew what kind of mode Dylan would be in, which could make the evening either bearable or spectacularly unpleasant. We used to pep each other up for those evenings, usually by saying the worst things possible until we would begin to laugh at how ridiculous we were getting. Yesterday, I was so worn out from the social energy needed this week (including seeing Dylan at Schiphol) that I fell asleep on the massage table and dreamed about laughing with my mom over the Dylan experience. I guess you could say my brain was processing it out. I was glad to dream it because I was laughing with my mom, not crying or trying to find her as so often is the case. So, thanks, Dylan for bringing up all that residual trauma and giving me a good dream about Mom 🙂

Yesterday evening, I arrived early at the café for our party. I didn’t want other people to be the first to arrive and not see anyone. As I was sitting there in the midst of our reserved section, I started to get progressively more and more nervous. The barman had said that we were expecting 60 people. That set me nearly to hyperventilating. So, as you can imagine I was working myself up pretty well. As each minute passed, I was more and more convinced that I had the wrong night, that no body would come, etc. It was pretty funny actually because I knew perfectly well I had the right night and place and that people would be coming. I was just winding myself up because I was super nervous.

Eventually people began to trickle in, which was a relief. Blending your crowd is an interesting thing. For a long time, there was a very obvious social Iron Curtain hanging through the middle of the party. It reminded me of those awkward teenage years where at school dances, boys were on one side of the gym and girls on the other. Only the bravest actually mingled. Of course, now with Facebook and what not, that kind of thing is probably long forgotten. So you take small steps and you try to talk to people and make the effort. Or you pass the plates of fried snacks and look for a way to keep busy. Or you introduce a few people to each other – which is weird. I do this automatically but Dutch people do it themselves. For example, I would say “this is Marianne” to an existing group and then I would go around the group and introduce each person by way of saying “This is Paul, this is Astrid, this is Caroline”. That’s not how it works here. People introduce themselves and they are used to doing it so they don’t need an ambassador! I will work on remembering that for the next event.

I believe people enjoyed themselves, which was the goal. I think there is room for improvement in terms of mixing the groups together. Maybe that means hosting an outdoor potluck next year in one of the parks or other places. Or inviting everyone to do Silent Disco. That will surely break the ice!

Patterns and Practices

Do you ever have the feeling that you want to call someone and share a story with them? Sometimes it is a WTF moment or perhaps that something so incredible happened? With these sort of things, you automatically reach for the phone to call. And then it strikes you that they are not going to answer because they are not there anymore, for whatever reason that may be. I have had a couple of moments like that over the past few days.

Speaking of patterns, I learned something about cows this morning. I was on the train to Den Haag and we were delayed because of a brake issue, the train couldn’t go faster than 80km per hour. Not a big deal for me since I was taking a nap. We were stopped near a farm and I was watching the cows come out of the milking barn. Do you know that they know precisely which meadow to go to that has an open gate? They were completely unattended and just walking about 50 meters apart towards the last meadow, which was the one that had the gate open. I was fascinated by this and I was hoping the train would stay a bit longer. The thing is, they had about 6 meadows to choose from. And they were only heading towards the one with the open gate, even the ones way in the back that were just leaving the barn. I need to learn some more about large animals!

Speaking of large animals, Dylan arrived at Schiphol this morning for a stopover on his way to Prague, Stockholm and Copenhagen. His flight arrived at 615 AM so I decided to transfer trains at Schiphol so we could have coffee in the Arrivals hall. And of course, to pick up the tortillas for the boys since neither of my two efforts so far at making my own have resulted in a success. I will see him again on his way back. Heh, he didn’t go for Starbucks this time so that’s a BIG step in the right direction of going to small and intense coffees.

Yesterday was a long day of booth bunny duty. By the time I got home last night, I could barely even talk to the dogs in complete sentences. Reading the paper was even beyond me, I was DutchedOut! Today has been intense as well, with more questions and more conversations. I am trying to drink less coffee today so I don’t trip over my words so quickly. I think yesterday I had around 10 cups.

I do like coming to Den Haag. It is a beautiful city and I plan to explore it some more. And who wouldn’t want to visit something called the Prison Gate Museum? And it is a real museum, meaning they take the museum year card as opposed to those Madame Tussaud’s style Torture Museums that seem to be in every big European city. On that note, back to booth bunny duty!

Gearing up for the social

Tomorrow I am off to Den Haag for a two day festival of tech. What this means is that I am really doing booth bunny duty and answering questions, passing out business cards, mangling sentences in Dutch and English and generally channeling a great deal of extrovert for a purpose energy.

In light of that, it seemed like a good idea to ride to work today and try to build up the necessary energy for tomorrow. I had a beautiful day for a bike commute, with only a light headwind and no rain. The airplanes were landing in the same direction that I was cycling so I had the steady soundtrack of jet engines. I cheerfully admit that I can sit on a bench in the woods and just watch the planes come in. The big meadow is directly in their flight path and it is fantastic to watch. I often stop on the way home for ten minutes or so and just get my airplane on. If I stopped there on the way to work, I would probably not end up making it all the way to the office.

Then Saturday is the birthday party. Marianne’s real birthday is today but we are having our joint party on Saturday. I had invited a few people and taking the lazy woman’s way out, I just used their address that autocompleted in my email. Which turns out to be their work email and they would prefer to not receive anything not work there. I have made a note of that in the future for issuing invitations. Three of my coworkers are coming, my favorite ones, so I am delighted. And Marianne should be delighted that I invited people 😉 I haven’t heard definitively back from the cousins yet so I am not sure if I should expect them. I don’t want to recycle my Trijntje outfit from last week’s party so I will have to think of something new.

Henry ran away in the park on Monday. George couldn’t find him and I went through the park asking people if they had seen a small brown and white dog. No one had. Turns out, Henry nearly left the park, he went all the way to the street. I only know this because he finally decided to return and a young Polish couple called out “is that Henry?” and I turned around to see him running as fast as he could all the way from the park entrance. Mhmm. And last night at 4am, he jumped out of bed which is very bad for his back. I am thinking that Henry is pushing his luck right now. Like he knows it will be a 1400km trip to Italy and he is trying to ensure he doesn’t get to go. Too bad I know that trick. At least we will be stopping overnight instead of driving straight through.

Early night for me, I have to be on the 630 train tomorrow so I am going to say goodnight for now.

Eurovision Parties and more

Last night the finals of the Eurovision Song Festival took place. I freely admit that as an American, this is not something that I follow with the sort of dedication and enthusiasm that many people around the world do. Last weekend, Marianne invited me to a Eurovision Party at the house of Marius and Matthew, with a costume theme. The theme: dress like any one of the acts over the past 60 years. This was a tall order and yesterday I got progressively more nervous and overwhelmed by all of the people who had participated over the years, including Abba, Celine Dion and Conchita Wurst. Marianne simply told me to put on some wide black pants, a wide black top, some kind of black shawl/cape and black shoes. Those things I could handle. Turns out we were dressing as the Dutch entry Trijntje Oosterhuis who did not make it to the finals. But I really think you should see her performance for yourself so here’s a link to it.

The party was so much fun. Everyone had a form to score each entry on the following categories: song, voice, appeal, sex appeal,  points for butts, breasts or navels showing, and costumes/backup dancers/special effects. Then there was also the attempt to pick the top five and a contest for the three best costumes at the party. To show how serious they take Eurovision, it was broadcast without a single commercial break. There was lots of in room commentary and hilarity! I usually have to keep busy at a party, it is one of my coping tricks for being socially awkward or onhandig (Dutch for not handy). I was busy tabulating the data and the votes while Marianne checked my math and reading ability. Sometimes it is really great to be around someone who just gets your weird quirks 🙂 So here we are having finished the data analysis

The independent third party audit firm of M&C
The independent third party audit firm of M&C

Then of course, I had to present the results and prizes. Then the dancing began because what else can you do after watching Eurovision?

Things that I notice about living here is that at a party, you introduce yourself to every person as you come in. Seriously. You shake their hand and introduce yourself. Remembering their names is something else. Then during the course of a party, you talk to people. Like everyone is equal and you don’t just talk to the people you find attactive or who can otherwise add to your network. You talk with everyone. To me it is always a little bit overwhelming because I am rather shy and because I am trying to communicate in another language. I am also trying to work off my American social training and habits.

And as I was cycling home to let the dogs out, with my Trijntje cape flying in the wind, I thought about how much I valued being able to have experiences like the Eurovision Song Party. And that around 2 in the morning, it is perfectly normal to be on your bike.

Next Saturday is our joint birthday party. Marianne’s birthday is this coming week and then we will end May with having done our fair share of celebrating. Dylan also lands this week but goes on to Eastern Europe so I still have two weeks before he’s staying with us. Hopefully that is enough time to notify the cheese producers that they need to up their manufacturing because Dylan just eats blocks of it at a time.

Trips to the dentist

I have an incredible dentist. I have a competency crush on Dr. Jesse. By that I mean that I am so in awe of her amazing skills  that I want to grow up to have that same sort of confidence and steady hand. And I am not the only one that is impressed by her. I sent Marianne to her as well.

Today it was taking off the old crown and making molds for the new one. I have to say that during the hour that I was in the chair, I managed to keep breathing through my nose and not wiggle like a spastic disco dancer to get away from the noise of the drill. I only needed one shot which was nice. It is always so awkward when half of your face is numb afterwards and you try to function like nothing is wrong.

She asked me if I had Indonesian blood today. She said that my eye color is common in people who have Indonesian blood. I think we (the boys, Joanne and Sjoerd) are 1/16th if I remember Joanne’s math. However, since fractions and measurements have always been a weak point for me, I could be a fraction off. If Oma was half, mom was a quarter. Wait, that makes us an 1/8th. See what I just said about measurements…

Birthday card from my dad in the mail today, complete with stickers on it. Always nice to be surprised. As I have written before, Mom was my source of cards and I miss that alot. So any cards that come now are a bonus. Henry says the pets planned to get me a card but George convinced them to pool their allowance in the slot machine so they could buy a really big card and gift. Unfortunately, the slot machine won as usually is the case.

I’ve just finished with my last conference call for the day. It is time to make the boys their dinner. After my super excellent dinner last night, I am still not very hungry. Although I did eat the cake this afternoon as a sort of delayed breakfast. Tomorrow it is on the bike to work.

We have a long weekend again, due to WhitSunday. I have no idea which one that is but it is a extra day off so I am happy to observe it 😉

Food coma…

I am having a wonderful nerdette birthday. I am sitting here on the big orange couch, secured by the dogs and installing the new Windows 10 preview on my tablet. While digesting a supremely delicious dinner from Betty’s. Of all the vegetarian restaurants I have been to in my life, Betty’s ranks high up there on the list, along with Sutra in Seattle. I couldn’t eat all of my dessert, so it is happily sitting in the fridge waiting for tomorrow morning’s breakfast.

Busy day today. I thought I could get away with no one knowing it was my birthday. Especially since I didn’t bring cake to work like you are supposed to you on your birthday. During my second meeting of the day, the partner outed me to everyone else in the meeting. Which then of course lead to the questions from colleagues as to why didn’t I tell anyone? I ended up mumbling my lack of cake story. How awkward. It just goes to show you that if I think about doing something not quite upright, I get an instant punishment, as my mom would say.

Lots of text messages and some phone calls today which was really nice. It looks like my dad has discovered the emoticon pages on WhatsApp 😉 And of course, I still have my mom’s voicemail message for my birthday in 2009. Which I just listened to again. The boys were really surprised to hear her voice.

Tomorrow it is back to the dentist for a replacement crown. I was there today for a cleaning. Yeah, you can say I sure know how to schedule fun ways to celebrate birthdays. Good thing I am not a party planner 😉

More birthdays

Today is Joey Ramone’s 64th birthday. Another significant person in my life who went too young. I remember my mom calling me to tell me the news that he was gone. I didn’t have a TV and she knew I would be devastated so she wanted to tell me instead of finding out via the paper or the old days of American Online chatrooms. Some of my best memories of the Ramones involve my mom transporting me and my friends in the Vanagon with all kinds of posterboard signs in the window with slogans like “Follow me to the Ramones” and “This Vanagon stops for the Ramones”. I don’t think other people were as fortunate to have a mom who supported their obsession with their favorite band ever.

Of course, my mom would also put my Ramones t-shirts in Cedric’s clean laundry pile and he would take this as free permission to wear them! I think my mom knew very well they weren’t Cedric’s, she just wanted to make a comment on the single-mindedness of my wardrobe! The last Christmas that we had with mom I gave Cedric one of my vintage Ramone’s tshirts, all wrapped up. When we exchanged our presents in front of mom, she got my point 🙂 and Cedric was over the moon, finally a shirt that he could wear without worrying about his big sister smacking him and taking it back out of his laundry pile. I am not sure his girlfriend (who we were meeting for the first time) was very impressed.

I went to an open house today. It was a disappointment and I have discovered now that real estate agents the world over use glamour shots for houses they are advertising. I am sure they will do fine, since there were alot of people there. As for me, I left with a renewed conviction of what I am looking for and won’t settle on. In that case, it was productive. I am thinking ahead to when our lease is up in a little less than six months. Hah, who knows, maybe Italy will so charm me that I move there instead 😉

Last night, on the way to Utrecht, we passed all of these great big old land houses, some even for sale. Talk about inspiring architecture but so much more space than I would ever need. I can see the pets getting lost and having to wear little tracking beacons. Your real estate euro goes alot further outside Amsterdam. But then again you are outside of Amsterdam and that is not a jump I am ready to make, even if it comes with a barn!

Tonight I am off to the sauna with a friend from work. There’s a complex of saunas and all the sort hot and cold pools in the woods near here. Tuesdays are bathing suit required days so that is the day we decided to go. In some ways I will always be American and I am okay with that even if it makes some people laugh. When people are wearing bathing suits, you don’t have to worry about where to look 😉

I heard a rumour

that somewhere in the world they are experiencing summer weather. It is not here. It is grey, chilly and rainy again today. Which is prime weather for writing a book or reading one. I am just glad it was still dry this morning when I went to my banjo lesson. While I carry my banjo in a case on my back like some sort of broken down cowboy, rain is generally not good for it. Tonight I am going to a bluegrass performance in Utrecht. It does not look like we will be sitting outside listening like we did last year.

I have goosebumps at the moment, thanks to the weather. This is why I haven’t yet turned off the radiators for the year. I transplanted my tomatoes to outside over the weekend, thinking the weather was finally warm enough at night for them to be out. Of course, the first nights I was still covering them up with cardboard. Until it started raining and the cardboard became messy.

Yesterday, we went to the Hermitage Museum to see the Napoleon, Josephine and Alexander exhibit. Since convincing Marjo to get a museum year card, we’ve started competing in the Olympic sport of museumgoing. I liked the second exhibit more, Holland in the Golden Age. It made an interesting case for how modern day Amsterdam and the Netherlands came to be. Especially interesting was the idea that nothing could disturb trade hence the religious freedoms that were found here, the basis for the tolerance, the social care systems, etc. It also talked about the dark parts of the history, that even with slavery illegal inside the Netherlands, the Dutch were responsible for transporting 575000 people from Africa to the US for the purposes of slavery.

I never made it to the Rollende Keukens festival but that is okay. My taste buds aren’t completely working yet so if it isn’t really spicy food, it is just kind of blah right now. I hope this resolves before Wednesday evening since I have plans to go to Betty’s, the well known vegetarian restaurant! We went to De Vliegende Schotel over the weekend. Luckily, he cooks with alot of spice power so I could taste it. It was really good. The only unusual thing were the people at the table next to us. One of them was not wearing shoes. Fine if you live in the wide open country but I would think that walking around barefoot in Amsterdam is not the smartest thing.

Time to make some tea and see if I can convince myself that this weather is really 65 degrees and sunny 😉

Happy Birthday, Rupinder…

Today, our youngest sibling, Rupert, turns the ripe age of 37. I can’t blame Rupert for changing my life for the worse, that happened 6 February 1976, when the twins were born and I went from the paradise of being an only child to being the oldest of three. I think it is fair to say that our brother Rupert was born impacting people’s lives.

From my earliest memories, I can remember my mom telling us “Don’t give him an audience, he will only get worse”. It seems that Rupert was born with the belief that because he was last in the birth order he had to move super fast to do everything we were doing only louder, better and faster. Even worse, we were all responsible for Rupert. In many of the family photos from our youth, one of the three of us is holding onto Rupert for dear life. He developed his talent for running away early. And he would do it with this devil’s smirk on his face. His getting into trouble face, if you will.

Rupert is also the only one of us who had to wear a kinder harness. The sort of chest harness that you put on your child and it remains attached to the parent or responsible sibling. Growing up, we didn’t know what to make of Rupert, only that he was more than the three of us combined. More trouble, more outgoing, just more.

The battles were epic. In part because he was determined to surpass us all, having no respect for his place in the birth order. And also because of us all, he is the best parts of my mom when it comes to connecting with complete and total strangers. There is hardly anyone who fails to respond to his curiousity and doesn’t share their life story with him. He gets this from my mom. Meredith, his wife, said at my mom’s memorial service, that in Rupert she sees my mom’s clown tendencies. The rest of us don’t have that to the same degree.

Fast forward through lots of rocky years and bumpy times and our littlest brother has grown up. He still really wants to have a bite of whatever you are eating. He still wears his favorite tie dye and flip flops. And he believes there is no problem that cannot be solved without an application of pizza. And he is someone that you can nerd out with and do deep analytical thinking and then in the next breath talk about how that makes you feel. I cherish this about him, that the hyperactive boy has grown into a thoughtful, compassionate, funny man with a deep concern for the people around him.

I can walk with my brother and have farting contests. I can talk with him in my deepest bouts of grief and shame. I can listen to him share his stories with others. I can admire his faith, seeing it’s evolution from sheep think to deeply grounded and practiced. I am grateful that he had the good sense to find Meredith and bring her into our family. I know that in the midst of sibling drama he can be counted on to ask the difficult questions to all of us. I trust and respect the man he has become.

So, as you turn 37, Rupinder, know that even though you told me you don’t need me to be your big sister anymore, I always will be. More importantly, I will always been willing to kick ass on your behalf (just like in the Marcello years). No one messes with my little brothers! I wish you a year full of happiness, that you receive even half as much joy as you bring to those around you. I am so grateful for the times you have listened to me cry and even in our fights, because I have learned a lot about what it means to be adult siblings instead of only childhood ones. I can’t wait to hang out with you again and compare foot odors and have long discussions about the state of the world and our roles and responsibilities in it. Most of all, I can’t wait to give you a big hug and feel at home again. With lots of love, from your Big Sister.

Rupert and Meredith 5-14 Chicago

Buongiorno, bella…

Yes!!! We are going to Italy! I heard back yesterday from the owners of the little agriturismo that they have space for us at the end of August! I am very excited to be going and I know I will want to cancel at least seventeen times between now and the 19th of August (our get in the car and go date). For now, I am happy to say I have booked a vacation for two weeks, not including travel time.

I was counting the number of vacations I had been on over the years. Since 2008, I have been on five. Never longer than a full week (including travel time). Prior to that, the answer would be 1. Here’s the thing, if it hadn’t been for my mom wanting to not be in Seattle for Christmas (in 2008), we never would have made that step. She didn’t want to worry about playing Martha Stewart so she was joking that we should go to Mexico. We did and we got stuck there for Christmas due to the snow in Seattle. Prior to that first trip to Mexico with Mom, I had only been on vacation once in my early twenties to Australia when I had flight benefits and I went with my best friend from high school.

We travelled alot when I was growing up but never for just the pleasure of travel or vacation. Our travel was carefully coordinated with a move to the next base that my dad was transferred to. We saw alot of the US that way, from the lumbering safety of various model year VW Vanagons with 4 kids, rabbits and a big dog. When I reached 13 or so, my parents were deeply concerned with my bad attitude and unacceptable math scores (B’s). So, I would get shipped off to the Netherlands right after the moving truck left our old house and six weeks later fly into a new city in time to go to a new school with a head full of math. I know I lucked out 😉 I think my dad still thinks this was a punishment. But it so wasn’t. I had my Oma and Opa to myself and I had  “job” in the local stable – shoveling manure in exchange for daily riding privileges. This was organized by my Opa. I had three glorious summers like this until my Opa and then my Oma passed.

Over the years, I developed a mindset that travel should be effective and efficient and if you go somewhere new you should maximize the time you are there and be active. See as much as you can, take as many photographs as possible, etc. Better yet, combine this travel with something serious like work or school. There’s not point in just doing something to have fun. I think you can connect the dots and understand why this vacation thing is something I needed remedial instruction in. I have 25 vacation days per year. This is not including public holidays or days like today that our office is closed in order to make a long weekend. As you can imagine, so many days to use is a pressure of it’s own. It means that my habit of combining travel with work isn’t necessary.

Some of my best memories of my mom are from the two trips that we took to Mexico. And some of my best photos of the two of us. My mom had booked a trip to go to Rome to learn to photograph stuff for September 2012. Unfortunately, she couldn’t go because we had just gotten the diagnosis. While I won’t be going to Rome, I will be celebrating in the spirit of Mom’s other habits such as wandering without an itinerary or with any concept of time, asking questions about everything, playing the “I could live there” game, spending hours window shopping and being outside.