Happy Birthday, George

We are deep in the Ardennes of Belgium, at an old farm, complete with massive fireplace that George and Henry are currently curled up next to each other and snoring. It takes a lot of energy to run around like you are a young dog again.

George is 14 today. Watching him run through the grass here and start barking at a calf that was grazing on the lawn, it’s easy to forget his age. And GG has just spent the past hour trying to speak French to a local vet’s wife because we forgot George’s pills in all of the chaos of leaving. We are in a village with 10 houses and no lights. Which is the perfect place to get away unless you forgot something urgent.

So now we wait – to see if they can compound something locally. Otherwise, it’s back in the car tomorrow or via the high speed train from Brussels to go home and pick up his pills because a week is too long for him to go without.

We were hoping to have a peaceful week here with the dogs. Yet I brought my banjo so that doesn’t mean peace for the surrounding village. πŸ˜‰ We’ll pick Rupert up at Brussels on Wednesday night and stay a few more days.

During this week, I hope that Henry and George get a chance to run around, smell many new things, take naps next to the fireplace and generally get a chance to relax. It would be great if the people in their lives could do this is as well but my first priority is their relaxation. As easygoing as they are, I know that I generate a lot of stress for them to absorb. They always do that willingly but I do worry about the impact.

GG just said to me “And you thought you would have to relax on this trip.” Which is her way of poking fun at my difficulty with taking time off in general. πŸ˜‰


P.S. — turns out the vet left a message because he needed to check his compendium if he could make it and he heard that GG speaks Dutch. So when she called back to try and get through in English and he said that “Dutch was much easier for him.” Jesus Pete… this is after four phone calls in GG’s tortured high school French. We are laughing about that now. The good news – tomorrow at 830AM, we can pick up pills for George. Now it’s time to have a glass of wine!

Happy Birthday, Henry

It’s pretty overcast and the square outside is still wet from the rain from earlier this morning. Snoozing on the couch, under his bright red IKEA blanket and with his brother snoring away beside him, Henry seems to be taking his 14th birthday in stride.

He’s the first of the birthdays this week. Pickle and Olive will turn 1 on the 26th and George turns 14 on the 30th.

I love all my pets. Henry is my solid little rock. He tries and he tries and he keeps on going. This is one of the things I love about him. He’s shorter than George but does his best to keep up with his unusual little bunny hop. He’s also fully capable of setting his entire body weight in as resistance, which is always a surprise of how much stubborn can fit in a small dog.

Since we have been going to the new office location this summer, he’s eager to go in the mornings. He dances at the door if he sees me grab my backpack. He gets into elevators now and he is quite comfortable navigating his way around the coworking spaces.

He doesn’t see as well now so I take that into consideration. I leave more lights on for him to make it easier for him to see where the door is at night.

Next week, we are going to the Belgian countryside with my family. The boys will be coming too. I’m looking forward to seeing Henry run through the grass and lie in the sun. When I went to Italy a few years ago, Henry was very good at practicing vacation pose.

The thing I wish people would stop doing is getting that look when they ask me how old he is. They make a certain noise too like “Ohhhhermm” and then say something like “Well, that’s quite old, you know”. He’s a senior citizen, which is not necessarily the same as being one step away from the grave!

Tonight they will get something special for dinner πŸ™‚ And we will celebrate another year!

86 degrees

It seems that we still have some summer weather ahead of us. The square in front of our house is full with people spending their Saturday afternoon at one of the cafes. Right now, Pickle is lying upside down with his feet in the air taking a nap. Henry and George are stretched out and possibly dreaming about dog treats. Olive is nowhere to be seen, hopefully she is in the shade somewhere.

This morning, the boys and I went on a walk with Mevrouw Van G. She’s a sprightly 80 year old who we met one day while walking. She offered to give Henry a lift on on her walker since he seemed to be lagging behind. We ended up making our whole round of the city center with her and exchanged addresses. She doesn’t have pets anymore and the local shelters think that she is too old to have another one, so I invited her over for coffee and pets. She took me up on that offer and now we have moved on to walking together on the weekends.

Due to the weather today, we picked her up at 10AM and spent a good hour and half walking through the park and back around the windmills. She is tiny and can tell lots of stories about what it was like here earlier and in Rotterdam. She’s a widow now and today I learned more about the story of where she met her husband. He was a painter and journalist and she was a dancer. They met in a cafe in Rotterdam that was full of creative types. Apparently his creative tendencies were a big disappointment to his family, who thought he should be in business. She said that the first time she met his parents, she didn’t know who his mother kept talking about. His mother kept refering to this Adri person. That was her husband’s given name but outside of his parents’ house, he went by Pieter.

I’ve learned that is common in The Netherlands. People choose their own “roepnaam” which translates to “called name”. So an Anna Cornelia Herminus becomes a Ghislaine and a Johannes Hendricus Martinus becomes a Joop. A Mariette becomes a Jette. It can get confusing.

The next few days should give us more of the same type of weather. That will mean that the long walk of the day will be in the morning instead of the afternoon. Since I broke the big ice tea container yesterday, now I have to microbrew. πŸ˜‰ That’s what you get for cleaning something before you use it, you break it!

How is it possible?

That I haven’t written anything since the end of July? It’s already the 21st of August. Either I am getting old and not paying attention to the passing of time lately or I have been busy. Or a mixture of both.

For starters, the banjo and I have braved the world of playing in public. We’ve started playing weekly at one of the jam sessions at the local dive bar. It’s quite hilarious. Me and my banjo, surrounded by a collection of characters with amplified instruments and all looking like they were extras on the set of a Quentin Tarantino film. And all of them can play. It’s a super challenge for me: to concentrate, to play faster and actually try to play along with the rest. I wonder why I waited so long? But perhaps I was just waiting for the right group of people to play with, ones who are even less concerned with fashion and good taste than I am. πŸ˜‰

Tomorrow is one of my last three Groningen days. That means the 534AM train ride will come to an end for me mid-September. I am going to miss the people in my incubator, I am not going to miss the 6 hour roundtrip on the train every Thursday – if nothing is delayed!

On Monday and Tuesday, the boys come with me to the classroom, where they spend most of their time lying on their bed under my desk. Occasionally, they wake up to take a walk around the classroom and check in on all the students. Especially when lunchtime comes around. Going twice a week means that they know how to ride the tram now and Henry actually will get into an elevator now instead of pulling his whole body into resistance.

I’m having a hard time lately when people feel the need to ask me how old the dogs are, mostly Henry, and then make a comment about that’s a really old age. Kind of like I should accept the fact that there won’t be much more time. I have to keep reminding myself that the boys are healthy and well taken care of and there’s no reason for them not have time left!

Speaking of pets, Pickle has taken to waiting for us on the mornings that we leave. He’s pretty smart. He hangs out on the corner of the block where he can see the front door. He has 50/50 chance that we are going to turn in his direction. I used to avoid him by going the back way through the alley but then last week he found us from the rooftops and then started following us that way. I am trying not to help him expand his boundaries so usually what happens is we walk to the poop tree, the boys do their thing, I clean it up and we walk back to the front door and lure Pickle back inside. Which then means I need to bring him upstairs and then start the whole exit all over again. It takes an extra 20 minutes each time – which eats up the 20 minute gain we earned from feeding Henry some different food.

I’m starting to understand why I haven’t written since July. πŸ˜‰

As for our girl, Olive, she’s the least troublesome of the lot. She likes to be picked up and hugged but then she has a terrible drooling problem. Tip: don’t wear clothes that are not drool proof around her!

Okay, time to get my shit in gear for tomorrow. Until next time! πŸ™‚


Yesterday GG and I had a look at the calendar and realized that the arrival of the first of the fall season guests is a mere 44 days away. It might sound like a tremendous amount of time to prepare but with our schedules and our ability to be distracted by many more things, it is not much time at all. We agreed that today we would at the very least get the downstairs guest room in good order, including hanging the art that has been moved from place to place every time we want to get somewhere.

This morning, after two cups of coffee, we opened all the doors and headed downstairs. Of course, this meant that the dogs needed to be on the bed, so they wouldn’t have separation anxiety, which then meant that Pickle & Olive also felt the need to be present. Imagine the four of them on a big queen sized bed, while GG and I work around them trying to take down old curtains, hang up my Oma’s fantastic green ones from the 70s or earlier, measure the walls to make sure the art is hanging in the center (GG has a tic about this) and then going through the boxes of stuff that were in there.

While exploring a box of things that belonged to my Mom, including her old school agendas from the 50s, I discovered all of these letters dated from 1964. Mom passed her secretary training that year and apparently there was some sort of shortage in the Dutch labor market. There were no less than 10 letters from companies addressed to her inviting her to come to their offices for an interview. They could offer her many things from a 5 day work week to vacation pay and other benefits! They were also certain that she had many competitive offers and encouraged her to call Mr So and So to arrange directly for an interview at her convenience.

I found these letters really fantastic to read, not just because they were addressed to my Mom. She didn’t take any of these jobs but she clearly had options. Also because they were a look back into time. How things were and what was considered important, especially with the focus on what was also good for the employee. I think that is something that with the constant focus on globalisation and maximum shareholder value that has gone missing. I think it is something that more focus needs to be placed on.

In addition to all of these little things, there were more of my Opa’s navigation tools and his souvenir ruler from the Apollo 11 launch. A few fantastic pictures of the boys from their younger years which I hope they will want to have. Going through these boxes is still a big emotional thing. Luckily by this time GG starts agonizing over whether or not the picture is 3 centimeters off from center and I can shift into being Captain Logic.

We finished the guest room and we think that it might actually be a working fire place in there. However with the heat wave we have had lately, we were not going to try that out. Next project is go back into the front part of the downstairs, what has been the company HQ. We’re going to reclaim that a bit as living space, now that the company has space in Rotterdam. πŸ˜‰ Now it’s the Executive HQ downstairs!

Sniffle, sniffle, snotter

You would think that I would have learned to listen by now… you would think. πŸ˜‰ The past couple of weeks have been packed full. I’ve had a new group start, the boys and I now go to the classroom three days a week. Around the school part, I’m busy heading every which way to network and potentially find future employers for our new group. That means certain things fall by the wayside. I’ve skipped yoga, skipped on sleep and skipped meals. All some how feeling that it was saving me time.

Until I woke up this morning with a runny nose and a fever. Damnit.

For most of today, I’ve read two chapters of my latest book and fallen asleep. Wake up and get some more tea and say 5 sentences to GG and open the book again. Repeat. The dogs are alternately happy with the fact that they have a dogsbody keep them warm and looking for me to get up more often to provide them with some kind of excitement.

I had a long talk today, during one of the awake periods, with my mentee in Kenya. Our last conversation was pretty tough. He’s going through some hard times and the experiences I had to share weren’t the answers he was hoping for. He’s a deep and reflective thinker so I was curious to see how our conversation would go today. Hearing his observations and his thoughts from the past ten days was such a gift. He’s a fascinating person and I hope that one day we meet in person.

If everything goes as planned, tomorrow will be the closing. I sold the house in Seattle. I knew that if I ended up moving back to Seattle someday, I couldn’t see myself living there. Still, while logically it all makes sense, it is bringing up a lot of memories. I remember going through it with my Mom and how much she loved it. I really thought we were going to have a fantastic life there. The time that we did have there, I am very grateful for.

The last time I was in there, I still flinched in the living room. I still looked for her, even amidst all of the furniture of the tenants. Then I grounded myself by reminding myself that she’s with me all the time, according to what we have been told. I carry her words daily with me.

After all, my Mom was really good at being in motion πŸ˜‰ Laughing Henry

The big bells…

We live on a square that is anchored by The Big Church – this is a literal translation from what it is called in Dutch – De Grote Kerk. While it is known to host dance events and parties, it is still a church in service and Sunday mornings the bells ring to call people to the service. They have just finished ringing for this morning. I love this sound, even when it goes on for 10 minutes in a row.

When I get on my bike in the morning, I always look up at the church tower to see what time it is. When I am at my favorite little bar, I can see the tower clock if I look down the alley. Then I know if I have time for another drink or not πŸ˜‰

When the hour strikes, I love the steady big bell sound. On the half hour, it’s a single bell. I keep time this way when I am somewhere away from a clock – like reading under the trees on the terrace.

This is why I have a hard time understanding why some people move to a house near a working church tower and then complain about the bells. Most of them want them silenced or muffled and I am like “You didn’t check before you bought that house? It’s called due diligence, jackass.” I get very heated on the topic of people moving somewhere and then feeling like things should be changed to suit them – whether it is church bells or more recently in the news, the case of Maurice the Rooster in the French countryside that apparently makes too much noise for the new “second home, escape from the city couple” that has filed a lawsuit.

This is what I saw happen in Seattle. People come to a new area and want to recreate all of the experiences that they had in their previous home without regard for what is available to them in the new setting. Β Understandable but defeats the purpose of moving somewhere new. Live in and experience the differences of where you are. Contribute positively by making a difference – I plan to someday open up a vegan diner in the region πŸ˜‰ and leave your entitlement behind at baggage claim.

On Friday, we went for a walk with the dogs in the afternoon and while we were walking along the walls of the church, GG pointed to a cat that stood right in the middle of our path and said “Isn’t that one of ours?” Β Guess what, it was Pickle. He apparently found his way over the rooftops and followed us. He clearly hadn’t been out that way before because he wasn’t very good at dodging things like bicycles. So we walked back home, calling him to follow us. He did, for the most part. There were a few open doors that he ran into and quickly ran out of again. I think it was definitely by accident. We escorted him inside the house and then went back to taking a walk. While it would be ideal if he would just follow along on a walk, I am worried about him getting too used to cars, scooters and traffic in general.

The next generation…

Today was the first day of our new program. We are doing it entirely ourselves this time, without any other partners. I was naturally in a high state of anxiety overnight – worrying about whether or not anyone would show up, what if I overslept, what if it was terrible and everyone left, etc. All those kinds of questions.

Most of which turned out to be unnecessary. Only one person dropped out due to difficulty with finding a place to live. Everyone else showed up, nothing bad happened and I did not oversleep. πŸ˜‰

I am much more relaxed about tomorrow. Much to the relief of the household!

Yesterday, after getting everything ready for today, GG and I went with the boys to her parents house. Her dad’s birthday was yesterday so we drove to the “village” and sat in the garden with the older generation πŸ˜‰ Much to the delight of the boys, the whole bowl containing slices of liverworst fell on the ground. However, it was picked up too fast for them to get the whole thing. They did manage to get a slice a piece… ick. That’s also when I realized we could never leave the boys with GG’s parents for petsitting because we would come back to two very chubby dogs full of people food!

I feel good today. I am exhausted – probably from all the unnecessary anxiety. πŸ˜‰ When I think about the experience today, I realize that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. That sort of certainty is a gift. I like to think that my Mom would have enjoyed today. She certainly would have fit in with the stories and the laughter.

George is having a deep dream while Olive is curled up next to him. Apparently, his dog dream yips don’t disturb her rest at all! Starting next week, the boys will come with me to the new office. I even have a dog bed for them under my desk. Can’t wait :).

Winter’s coming…

It’s Midsummer today, the longest day of the year. My Mom would always say that was the last day before winter started. πŸ˜‰ Same thing with December 21st but then in reference to summer.

For some reason, the 21st of June also seems to be a milestone moment. I find that I have been calculating how many days of long daylight were left over the past week. Over the past week especially, I’ve been sleeping only when it was actually dark which has been progressively less each day. Strangely enough, it hasn’t made me tired. Which makes me wonder what light really does with our internal clocks. For the pets, it doesn’t seem to make a difference – they sleep when and where the want to. Although George is a big fan of a breakfast that is earlier and earlier each day. πŸ˜‰

Yesterday we had to go to Groningen. I didn’t have anyone to walk the boys during the day so into the car they went and to class with me. They did a great job and didn’t pee in the classroom. Although they were at exactly the right height to stick their noses into people’s laptop bags, looking for snacks.

GG has been away this week on some secret training. What does this mean? Besides the fact that I am even more certain that we will never have a smart home? It means that the kittens are allowed to sleep upstairs!!! They have gotten much better at only running around for the first 15 minutes and wrecking the place. After that, they settle down and start sleeping, usually with their paws wrapped around each other or one of the boys.

We got the good news last weekend that Rupert and Meredith have a dog! Stella is her name. We saw pictures of her and I think that she probably already rules their house!

Okay, time to feed the pets and enjoy the last day of summer πŸ˜‰


Today is your 19th birthday. Yesterday, I stood in line at the paint counter and was so struck by the young man mixing up the paint. He reminded me of you, at your most awkward self. And as he made conversation with me, I found myself stuttering and answering in sentences that didn’t make any sense at all. What I wanted most was to ask him where he was from and who his people were. But I didn’t. Because I felt like I didn’t have the right. And I didn’t want to burden him with the sentence “There’s something about you that really reminds me of my son.”

I ate two pieces of pizza for lunch today, in your honor. They weren’t very good. I am experiencing that repeatedly this week. Things that once meant something don’t really seem to anymore. I don’t mean memories of you. I do mean things like plain cheese pizza from a particular store.

What would you be like now? Would you be hip and happening? Or would you still be slightly awkward and goofy? How tall would you have grown? Would you be a decent bicycle rider or would you be better off on foot? Would you still have that sudden laugh that always sounds like you were being surpised? That’s how I knew that something had really gotten to you, the laugh that came out of nowhere and the one that always made you look around like “Where did that come from?”

What would you be doing? You might have been working fulltime or going to school. We used to talk about your choices and which ones were you going to make. Either way, the rule was clear – work or school, no sitting around the house. What music would you have been making? And dance, you loved to dance.

We love you, Raven. Still. Always.