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Christmas 2021

It’s quite cold out, 1 degree C. It’s true fleece weather for Henry and George and as for me, even I wore my hood up today on our walk. The feel is about 6 degrees colder courtesy of that sharp wind blowing around the corners.

I’m listening to a Christmas classic, the Pogues album If I Should Fall from Grace with God and I have to tell you the snarky and sarcastic lyrics suit my mood to a T. Last year we were spending Christmas at a house by the sea with Nel (my fellow anti-Christmas companion) with plenty of jenever, Rummikuib, books and long walks on the beach. Her birthday is the 26th of December and last year we thought it was her 90th. Turns it was her 89th – a slightly awkward moment when you give someone a big gift certificate for a trip to their favorite art museum, dinner and round trip transportation for their 90TH birthday. It’s a good thing we did though as she didn’t see her 90th.

Our plans for 1st Christmas Day this year were to have GG’s immediate family and their kids for dinner. I was so organized I bought all the groceries last weekend and prepared double batches of everything. I had my former interns to dinner on Monday for our annual American Thanksgiving – never mind when it actually falls on the calendar. I was also determined not to wear my anti-holiday cranky pants. However, GG has a horrible, horrible flu. No matter how many tests she does, it’s still just the flu but a bad one. For the sake of everyone, we cancelled our plans.

Yet this left me with vegan tiramisu for 8. Yesterday I delivered the goods to her sister’s house for Christmas dinner. What absolutely shocked me is that both GG and her sister (this is clearly upbringing) asked me if I didn’t want to take out some for ourselves and then give them the rest. I could not wrap my head around bring a dessert to someone with a portion already missing. First I thought GG was crazy or at least badly mannered but then her sister asked me the exact same thing. Clearly I am in the minority 😉 I don’t think I will ever find my way to bringing less than a whole dish to someone. After dinner, different story, doggie bags for everyone but before?? No way!

We won’t eat Christmas dinner tonight since GG can’t taste anything. We’ll try for tomorrow. Fortunately, the Netherlands has first and second Christmas Day. As we are back in a lockdown, there is nothing to do outside the door. This one is planned through 14 January but I imagine it will be extended again. This time many cafes and restaurants are just closing. They are not even trying takeout as it doesn’t bring in enough to cover the costs. I begin to understand why people are going a little nuts.

Mom and I believed in going away for Christmas and if that was not possible, do everything opposite of everyone else. For example, go to the movies while the world is all eating Christmas dinner. When we were kids, she wanted us to open our presents at night instead of in the morning because she was against the whole pyjamas and bedhead look. That doesn’t really work with kids. I don’t think I made her job easier with my searching through the gifts each year and figuring out who got what – and telling my brothers in advance. 😉

I hope you are celebrating today in the way that you like most!


Yesterday, I won my own version of provincial bingo. I was also the only player so it’s not like it was a tough competition. There are 12 Provinces within the national borders and three more in the Caribbean.

When I first came to the Netherlands, I used to keep track of every trainstation I went through where I stepped out of the train. I would note in my digital notebook if they had toilets, a coffee bar, fantastic architecture, etc. Dutch people found this a weird and slightly amusing ritual. Of course, if you have lived somewhere your whole life and speak the language comfortably and have no problems peeing anywhere outdoors (aka Wild Plassen – Wild Peeing) then you spend your time complaining about your national train system instead of appreciating it. 😉

I saw a lot of the Netherlands via train. This brought me to my Provincial Bingo. I wanted to see every province in the Netherlands. I would have to spend at least a day there for it to count for the bingo. My last province was Zeeland. Yes, it’s where New Zealand gets it’s non-indigenous name from.

I never quite got around to Zeeland. Partially because every time we would look for a place to escape to, GG would say “Oh, the landscape is so boring there.” Or because everything was full. As it is very close to the coast it attracts lots of German and Belgian tourists. Or because it’s a part of the Netherlands that everything is closed on Sunday and deeply religious.

When we decided a two weeks ago to run away for the weekend with the boys, Zeeland was available. For the past two days, we have been wandering along the beach and in the dunes. It’s a bit hard because the last time we were at the beach, we still had our Nel (of the jenever drinking fame). She would have loved it here and they have done a good job of making things accessible here. Much more than in our province.

She passed on the 2nd of October, between the checkin points of the nightshift and the dayshift. The last time I spoke to her was a few days before when she was so angry that it was taking so long to die. It was in the early hours of the morning and by 11am when the doctor came on his rounds, she gave him a very clear indicator of what she wanted. It didn’t take long and I am glad that I was there to listen to her. I’m glad also that she made through to George’s 16th birthday and the last things she heard from me was that we loved her and George was going to get his scooter license.

Her funeral was the best it could be under the circumstances. We had sent a lot of photos for the digital wall and many people were under the impression that GG and I were in our 70’s and more mobile than our Nel. They thought all the trips she made with us were senior excursions so they were quite surprised to see the adventures she had been on and how “young” we are. The boys were also in attendance and received much attention, including pieces of wurst.

As for today, it’s very early still and George is snoring away next to my chair in the basket. It’s still dark outside and I’m on my way to my second cup of instant coffee (the one downside of weekends away from home). Eight years ago, I was spending my first week here as a resident. We arrived just before Halloween and I was due to report to work on the 4th of November. Crazy. How full the past eight years have been.

Henry can drive

Today my handsome little dachshund is 16. Officially, he could apply for a scooter license here in the Netherlands. While I think he would cut quite the figure in his muscle t-shirts (to protect his mostly bald skin) and a helmet that said ” Speedy” on it, he’s going to have to settle instead for continuing to be chauffered via bike.

Today his tshirt was red and we matched. It seemed only appropriate to highlight to the rest of the world that we have something to celebrate. Aside from his baldness, he’s still very healthy. He moves a little slower and he definitely doesn’t see as well but that’s not a bad thing. We just adapt and practice Mindfulness with Henry.

He and George had a delicious dinner (for them) with organic raw beef. It’s a better choice for them at their age than a plain double cheeseburger from McDonald’s. They will have it again next week when George is old enough to get his license. For George, we already have a helmet ordered. 😉

I know how fortunate I am that they are both still here and healthy. After they digest a little tonight, we will go on a walk so they can pickup birthday cookies from the cafes that know them.

My mom was a huge influence in what special dogs they are. Every day that they are here, I am reminded of the love and time that she put into their care even thought she would frequently say “They are not my dogs!” Committment issues 😉

On behalf of the Small Dog Rodeo, wishing you good walks, warm blankets and good food (according to your dietary preferences of course).

Shifting again

Let me start by saying that Henry and George are heading towards their 16th birthdays this month in good health. This is something that I am grateful for. I know we will not have forever. Everyday that I can put them on the bike and pedal to work is a good one, no matter what else happens that day.

Our household has expanded. L is back. I learned my lesson from last time (Slow DOWN) and have been remarkably not problem solving as is my usual habit. It seems to be working for now and we’ll see where it leads.

On Monday my favorite walking companion and jenever drinking company entered hospice. This is really difficult for her as she has absolutely no desire to die. At 89, the medical decision is that there is nothing to be done with a tumor except make it a comfortable end. I understand the medical perspective although I don’t like it. I want to smuggle her out of the hospice and bring her back to her home. I’m not the only one as two nights ago, she tried to leave there in the middle of the night.

Her cat, Smokey, is now living with us. Circumstances considered, he’s adjusting really well. Pickle has become fast friends with him because he thinks “woohoo, another tail to play with.” Olive is still keeping her distance. George gives him a wide berth and I am not even sure Henry cares. We have found him to be a loving cat and as long as you brace yourself before he starts pushing his head against you, you can stay standing. 😉

I’m not sure what the right word is to describe my current state. Volatile is probably the best one. There’s so much grief and anger right under the surface that I am either avoiding people completely or when I do talk to someone, I get into fight mode. Partially because everything seems to insignificant in comparison to the loss that I know is coming and it feels really unfair. Like aren’t there some other people that could take the exit instead? I know it doesn’t work that way but I wish it did.

I feel helpless and I hate that feeling. That’s the toughest one for me to deal with.


Raven would have turned 21 today. The birthday that signifies the transition to real adulthood as far as benefits and privileges go in the US.

It’s hard for me to imagine at this moment what you would be like as a young man of 21. Would you still have loved pizza with strange combinations, the spicier the better? Would you have an idea of what you wanted to do with your life? What kind of hair products would you have committed to? What kind of music would you love? I hope it would not still be Justin Bieber!

Would you have been happy? Would you have fallen in love? Would you have fallen out of love? Where would you have worked already? And what amazing things would you have created?

I keep a picture of you on my desk, right in front of. Of you, that last Easter in Seattle when we were a whole family. The one of you looking at Miss Mary with one of your gummy worms hanging out of her nose. And I use your clipboard, one that you had decorated with all kinds of stuff as the place I write down all of things that need to be done or explored further.

Day in and day out, I still wear the Raven pendant that I got when you were 8. The cord is starting to fray so I have ordered a new one. Who knew that how we were going to become part of each other’s lives that day? I know I didn’t.

I still don’t understand why you took your life. I know I never will. The anger of the left behind, the guilt and all of the “What if I had” questions has transformed. It’s much quieter now. Instead I hold more of the love and the good memories in that part of me that has to do with you.

What categorized our life together most is that it was never boring. Being first your “Dementor” (as you used to introduce me to people) and then your mom and always your biggest fan, I was able to experience so many new things. While I wasn’t your first mom, you were definitely my first kid. It gave us a freedom to try new things, to see how well you could thrive when you were given the chance to – most importantly by giving yourself permission to. I know it was hard for you, to settle in, to attach, to believe that you belonged. You did belong and you still do.

I am, to this day, so proud of the life you led. I wish there had been more of it. When I woke the dogs up this morning, the first thing I said to them was “It’s your boy’s birthday today.” Then I spent some time telling them that I hoped you were with Miss Mary and that you would be there waiting for them when it was their time. I hope you will be there waiting for me too. In the meantime, I will keep looking at the Easter photo. I will think of the two of you together.

You are missed and loved, Raven. Your life inspires me every day to keep fighting for a different system and outcome, for all.


On silent feet

I’m sitting at our big kitchen table, the dogs have had their dinner. The cats came by for their drive-thru meal and then ran out the kitchen door again to explore all the scents on the wind. GG is off for the weekend and the house is still.

We’ve had a curfew for several months now. Cafes and restaurants are only open for takeaway, non essential stores are closed and pretty much your whole life is meant to be lived inside your house unless absolutely essential. This has been a long grind.

What had made a difference to the days blending into each other and the boring routines was the addition of someone to our household. LB had started coming by to use the spare computer downstairs, since all the public libraries and computers have been inaccessible. Eventually the unpredictable weather storms brought LB in to stay. This was a positive change.

As anytime you begin to live with someone new, there are all of the small steps of getting to know one other, learning habits and rhythms. Sometimes you learn through conversation or marathons of games like Scrabble in Dutch or Rummikub. Neither of which I was particularly successful at. There were nights of shared meals, building up gradually from once a week to every night. There were experiments with making homemade risotto, upside down leek tart and a number of other recipes that I would previously have classified as “For a Real Cook”.

Throughout it all, there was energy that something was being built, something positive and hopeful, like a growing plant. Selfishly, I know I needed this. It brought me perspective again and hope that after this long period of lockdown, things could still be done. It felt like possibility.

Last week, I felt unsettled. I felt like things were in danger of changing direction and it wouldn’t be a good outcome. I tried getting to the root of it. You know, as a problem solver I can’t sit still when I could be thinking about a solution. I couldn’t solve this one.

Between Sunday night late and Monday morning early, LB left on silent feet. Everything perfectly in it’s place as if it had never been disturbed, keys in the mail slot. Just now, I went down and saw that all of the things that had been given were perfectly lined up in a bookcase next to the bed. The site of those objects there feels like a confirmation of the rejection I have been feeling and not putting a name on.

The feeling of rejection is something that is at the core of what hurts. Logically I know that I cannot know what LB was thinking or feeling. I have done the “What If” laundry list with myself 100 times at least this past week. With GG I have done it 25 times.

But I don’t know. It’s unlikely that I will find out any time soon. I might never. There are lots of unanswered questions with regards to people that have been part of my life. What I do know is that if we do see each other again, I hope that we will be able to talk. I hope that the time that LB was here was a place to recharge and feel safe, despite the departure. I hope that LB understands that the door is always open. I sent an old fashioned SMS saying so, so far unanswered.

Until then, we’ll have to adjust to the missing. I’ve thought about how I attach to people as well. Thanks to all of the experience with Raven, it’s something I have not been afraid of doing for years. I grab hold quickly and I hang on. I am okay with that 🙂 When I was younger, I thought it was much more important not to be attached. It was also safer, I thought. People can’t hurt you or can hurt you less. Over the years I’ve figured out that being hurt is not something that you can avoid but you will survive it. There are things you can learn from it. The risk of being hurt is far outweighed by the benefits of being open, caring deeply and showing it. Right as I typed that sentence, Pickle came running out of nowhere to stand next to me long enough to purr deeply and then move on to seeing if there was something to find in the dog bowls. Seems like a good moment to close on.

Exceptional weather

Today it’s 8 years ago that Mom passed into the light. On the day that it happened, Seattle was experiencing a strangely beautiful winter day. The day was cold, clear and sunny. When she left, it was with the sunlight shining down on her face through the windows. Later, it was as if she chose the most beautiful moment of the day to go since Seattle in January usually consists of grey, plus more grey, plus rain.

Today it’s snowing. I didn’t believe it would happen since I think most weather forecasts follow the CYA Forecast Methodology – the Cover Your Ass kind. When they say “There will be a chance of showers, some breaks and a light wind may occur in the evening. And there’s a chance of some sun.” Everything in one forecast, take your pick and you will always be partially correct!

It started snowing in the middle of our walk this afternoon. I didn’t think it would continue or pick up in intensity but it has. After all, we’re too much of a city, it’s too warm, etc. It also started earlier than they said it would. Then again, why shouldn’t it today?  Mom wasn’t known for her “go along with crowd” personality.

Where snow is concerned, I have some really good memories of my Mom. For example, the day we went to pick up George at 3 months of age from the shelter in Yakima, it was snowing. He and Henry first met each other in the snow. When I surprised her with a trip to the Yukon Territory (CAN) for her 72nd birthday, there was so much snow that if you stepped of the path to to your cabin, you would be standing in snow above your knee. I remember her stepping off the path by accident and how much we laughed then. WP_001021

We were the only guests during the time and the toilets were in the main building. If you left your cabin at night, the only light was from the sky and the snow.

As it snows today, there won’t be the chance of seeing the Northern Lights or hearing her laugh. Instead I’ll make soup out of all of the leftover things in the kitchen and think of her doubting if all of those things really belong together in one pan. And I will miss her When the snow stops, I hope the world outside will be as magical as my Mom was.

Having a hard time, Mom

I really tried today to have a brighter mindset. Riding my bike this morning, I tried to find the freezing cold weather and harsh wind out of the NE as a way of bringing my Mom closer. She used to say that all of the cycling in the rain and wind is what made her tough. I tried to use that wisdom this morning to keep missing her at bay. Not particularly successful.

By the time that I got to the classroom, there was just no salvaging it. Today was going to be hard and I wasn’t going to be able to get away from the feeling of missing her and still being sorry that she is gone. And yeah, still feeling angry – too early. I wasn’t ready not to have my Mom at my side anymore. Or more realistically, standing behind me and giving me a swift kick.

The thing I want to yell most is “IT’S NOT FAIR.” It’s not and it won’t ever be. That doesn’t make me unique, it makes me one of the billions of people who have lost someone that they loved. It makes me mad that there are so many things I didn’t get to share with her, all of the energy and determination she had that didn’t get to start as many shitstorms as she had a right to and a capacity for and that sometimes I think that all of my strength is not my own but came from my mother.

It’s that last one that I have spent a lot of time with today. I know that the wild and stubborn will of my mother is within me. As is the anxiety and the fear that I am not doing enough. But how do you know that you will have enough endurance to keep going?

When I think about her life and all of the things that she experienced, I wonder if I would also have had that strength? Would I have made it through like she did? Would I have continued to be myself and not fade away into some type of people pleaser? Because if there was one thing my Mom was not, it was a people pleaser!

I can try to wrap it up in sentences, to see if I can make sense of what I am feeling. The reality is I know what I am feeling. Today, when we should have been going somewhere to eat really good Mexican food and drink a margarita, I am instead missing her deeply. I’d like to say “Happy Birthday, Mom” and have her look at me over the top of her glass with that spark of mischief in her eye.

Code Yellow

It’s Code Yellow today for the coastal provinces. That means that with the storm that is due, wind on the coast will be up to 90 km per hour but not more. If it were higher, that would move to Code Orange. For those homeviewers on the non-metric system, that’s about 56 MPH winds. While I have enough body mass to not get swept out to sea, there are two small dogs who could find themselves taking off with that kind of windpower.

To make sure we would get enough beach time, we went out earlier this morning while the skies were grey and the wind was okay. Everytime the boys are off leash, they shed years. Although Henry does get many comments from passersby ranging from “Should he still be going out at his age?” – clearly not dog owners – to “Well, that must take a while to get places”. He also gets more of his fair share of “Oh, look at that little cutie.”

He’s more than capable of making the walk and judging by his enthusiasm, he likes it. By the time we reached the 2 kilometer point on the beach, things were getting a little more stormy so I thought we would cross back over the dunes and take the path along the dike (which is built to hold back the water in case it makes through the dunes). It’s an elevated path, with a speedway for bikes and a lane for walkers. There’s a grass strip of about six feet wide between the two asphalt paths which is used for horses.

I thought that using the walker’s side would give them more time to be offleash. I underestimated how much traffic there would be and how much George would either not hear me for real or how often he was practicing selective hearing. George kept crossing over the grass and into the bike paths because it was so much more interesting over there.

After a near miss with two riders – who saw George in plenty of time due to his orange sweater, I decided he was going back on the leash. I figured Henry would continue to follow along with us. Until I noticed that I didn’t hear his little collar music anymore. I turned around to look for him only to discover that at some point, Henry had turned around and was walking back to the beach.

Off we go after him. His hearing is slightly better than George’s but not by much. Once again, we start on the path back to the beachhouse, George on the leash out front and Henry following along. Did I mention that by this time, I really have to pee and there’s nowhere to do this anywhere?

With Henry, I tend to stop every 25 feet or so to make sure he’s within six feet of me. The next time I stop, I see blood on his paw. I pick him up right away and see that quite a bit is coming out. I can’t let him walk on that so under the arm he goes and I tell George that we need to hurry it up. George is happy to hear that and starts up his turbo.

Now you can imagine, I have George pulling on the leash in front of me and Henry tucked under my arm like a baby pig with his leash around my neck so I don’t trip on it. It’s raining and yes, I still have to pee.

The last thing I wanted at that moment was a delay. I knew that GG had gone to town to restock on supplies and I was hoping she remembered not to lock the door as we only have one key. This is also about the time that I discovered that I didn’t have my phone either. With a sprint down the last hill, we crossed the bike highway and made our way to the house. GG was already back so immediately it was triage Henry. He’s okay and now they are both napping in their basket while it rains outside.

And they say that vacations are meant to help you relax. 😉

By the sea

My best moments and memories of being deeply connected with people who are important to me involve the sea. Given my habit of living near cold water, it’s usually a case of walking by the sea instead of being in it, with a few exceptions like Bonaire.

There’s something about the environment, the waves, the wide open space that brings a sense of freedom and openness. Somewhere that I can either talk about the things I am feeling, challenges I am facing, listening to someone I love or just being in the moment and discovering all of the things that are thrown up on the shore to admire and wonder.

I was walking along the North Sea today with Henry and George, letting the wind clear my head and turn my ever unruly hairstyle into something even wilder, when I started thinking about other walks in the past. I thought back to the first time my mom, Raven and I took a trip to the Pacific coast of Washington state. We spend the weekend at Kalaloch, in the cabins perched up on the bluff.

No one knew really what to expect of that trip. It was the first time the three of us traveled together and we were not really a family unit at that time. Henry and George were quite a bit younger then and still chased balls on the beach. My mom had no patience with slow walkers and wasn’t about to wait for a somewhat surly 9 year old (Raven) and her daughter, who pretty much knew a whole lot about some things and almost nothing about being a parent.

But the beach was our common ground, somewhere where we all felt at peace. I remember that there was a fish that washed up on the shore, still alive but somehow stuck. Raven was fascinated but not going to get to close to it. My mom reached down and picked it up and threw it far back into the water without even hesitating. It needed to be done. Raven was a mix of shocked (because girls didn’t do that kind of brave thing and my mom was still a girl in his category system) and more than a little impressed by her bravery.

My mom, knowing more than a little about being a parent, acted very nonchalantly as if it was something she did everyday, wrestling mysterious creatures from the deep and returning them to their rightful place. Looking back, there are two very clear things in that moment – my mom’s deep love for animals and her sense of taking immediate action.

While I was thinking about that day, I suddenly noticed that I could really hear the waves. They had stopped being background noise and really sounded like proper waves. In case you are wondering, there’s a difference between the waves of the North Sea and those of the Pacific Ocean – namely size and volume. But today, their sound was the same in that moment. I hope that was a sign that all of the invisible signals that connect us to those we love are working properly, even if we don’t always notice them.

We are here until Monday morning and I plan to spend a lot more time walking along the North Sea, listening and being listened to.