Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Open the Door

Cheese tasting/filming in the Leiden market
  After months of agonizing anticipation (kinda-sort of, but let’s just go with the dramatic flair – it suits this post), we finally have our House Hunters International episode air date!  Set your DVRs America, for Tuesday, December 3rd at 9:30 p.m. CST (or for any of those night-owls out there, it also repeats later the same evening at 12:30 a.m.)  A Lengthy List of Demands in Leiden is the title of our episode (Seriously, we wanted 4-bedrooms with a pee-space for the dogs. If you call that lengthy, fine. There are worse titles out there. I checked.)  Consistent with most big events in my life, I haven’t actually absorbed the fact of what is going to happen.  Maybe it will hit me the day-of/night before.  Am I seriously going to be on international television?  Nah, that it just too crazy to comprehend.  
  Considering the Netherlands does not have HGTV, we originally were going to have to wait until the network will sent us a copy of the DVD 3-4 weeks after the original airdate.  V is much more motivated than I am, and recently posted a S.O.S. to our friends in America for streaming options.  I think we’ve got a solution.  Considering he (we) stayed up until 2:00 a.m. last weekend to watch the LSU-Texas A&M game, we’ll probably be able to manage a 4:30 a.m. wake up call to check out our debut. 
   I have no idea what to expect.  The film crew was here for four very long days the weekend before Memorial Day. It seems like forever ago.  (Cue icy strong wind, dreary rain-soundtrack, and blurry picture – prompting flashback). 
   May 2013. We received our very intensive schedule a few weeks before the film crew arrived.  (Wardrobe 1, 2, 3, 4. Switch back to wardrobe 2. Wardrobe 4. Introduction scene. House tour 2. Meet & Greet. With kids. Without kids. House tour 3. Switch to wardrobe 4. Etc., etc. etc.) After my initial I excitement, I realized that I was in serious trouble. I had been “making do” with my American-imported wardrobe for a year for a few reasons: A. Business for profit, considering the customer, and other fun commerce-driven habits are seriously lacking in the Netherlands, thus shopping an absolute chore.  B. the Netherlands has a target-market of 6-foot tall women. C. Confusing European sizes. D. A double-stroller in tiny European stores. E. Two kids in the double-stroller.  I realized I was in trouble.  I needed clothes.  My daily wardrobe of an Abominable Snowman t-shirt I stole from my sister 8 years ago was not going to cut it.  Neither was my dusty Corporate America suits and heels.  My husband gave me a handful of cash with a promise to keep the kids entertained, and I set off for Den Haag/The Hague.  Thank goodness for Lady Sting.

  Next, we all had to get our haircuts.  Again, I had been avoiding the issue with my children.  After failed attempts at cutting her bangs, Baby Girl’s bangs were grown out.  Little Man’s hair was a disaster, and although it suited him, record goes to show that his first haircut was prompted by a film crew.  My Mom was visiting us and witnessed the occasion.  His beautiful blonde curls didn’t fall to the ground as the Dutch woman snipped.  His curls became tighter and more pronounced.  The first haircut photos showed a happy (and confused) Mama.  Perhaps the curls are a tribute to his Dutch genes.   

Flower purchasing/filming
The morning of the first day of filming, V and I dropped the kids off at daycare at the end of our block.  (For all those parents out who beg the question – where are the kids during all these house tours?  They’re with the daycare/sitter, for four days straight.)  We headed to the hotel to meet the film crew.  It was a freezing cold, blustery day.  We saw a friend struggling, leaning as close to his handle bars as possible and squinting against the wind as he pedaled by on his bike. “Hi, Vincenzo!” we waved.  He was on his way to work and waved back.  That’s one thing I love about Leiden.  I only know about 20 people, but it’s small enough to run into my friends on a daily basis.  Our waving hands clasped each other’s and V and I headed into the hotel to meet “the crew”. 
They were scoping out locations for the ‘interviews’.   The interview is part of the show where they ask you about how you met, why you’ve moved, etc.  I liked the entire team, instantly. The cast consisted of (In my accountant-lingo):  a sound guy, a video guy, and the on-scene-director-lady.  There was also a local-liaison guy.  He was responsible for talking Dutch to everyone we had to deal with, scoping out restaurants for lunch and/or filming, and buying snacks to keep our energy level up.  They were all friendly, personable, and relaxed.  More importantly than all of this though, was that most of them were parents of small children.  They understood naptimes, bedtimes, dinner times, etc. – which, as silly as it sounds, helped immensely.  I had to pick my kids up by 6. I couldn’t be filming around town at 8:00 p.m.  While the people in London proposing and changing the schedule may not have understood these little fun facts, the people I was working with did. 
V with the Go-Pro camera
After scoping out ‘the specs’ we moved our entourage from the IBIS to the Golden Tulip in Leiden.  It’s an old-school-looking location.  The management had promised cooperation. (Fun fact: when filming, you have to have total and complete silence – if you’re outside and a plane is flying overhead, you have to stop filming)  In the middle of our “interviews” in the restaurant, background music suddenly starts playing overhead Another Fun Fact: in the Netherlands background music in any store is nearly non-existent. I’m sure we’re known around Leiden as the woman with the lion-imitating children. Everyone has heard them with piercing clarity. (Overhead music is yet another marketing tactic stores haven’t embraced.)  But nevertheless, we’re in the middle of filming, and the background music for lunch starts playing over the speaker system.  The director’s jaw drops in disbelief.  She signals liaison-guy to go have a chat.  Liaison guy, who is Dutch, comes back with no solution.  There are rules.  The rules are, the music starts at 11:00 a.m. in preparation for lunch.  Everyone shrugs (including me and V – we’ve been here long enough to understand the stubbornness).  The British director-lady is irate.  We go to a very long lunch, complete with happy dance to get the waiter’s attention to take our order.  After lunch the liaison-guy is run down and ticketed by a bike-riding policeman.  Liason-guy had walked through the crosswalk when the light said ‘do not walk’.  There are rules.    
For the next few days, we walk all over the Netherlands. We view multiple houses. We film in lots of locations. We learn how to get ‘miked-up’, the inside secrets like – how they actually get those scenes when people are driving their cars, and lots of other fun truths about the show.  We act naturally the first time, but then they say, in their lovely British accents “Alright – that was brilliant but now can we get it again so we can get the opposite camera angle.” And then it’s questionable acting (I mean, come on, we’re two business majors).  They took about 10 hours of film and condensed it down into 22 minutes – we’ll see how it goes.

V and I with the crew outside our house
After the final edits, we received an e-mail.  Our casting director in London called our episode “a cracker”.  My American response was “tee-hee-tee-hee-OMG-what-does-that-even-mean?!?!? “ Nervous, I looked up the term on-line.  Cracker: “insane, bonkers, and unhinged”. Huh.  At least my ‘authentic self’ has been documented appropriately for all of the world to see.  Enjoy, America and I hope our sling-box option works okay.       

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Diamonds and Dust

Moonshine Road - Kix Brooks

West Texas (TheSeafarer, Flickr)
   I landed in Dallas greeted by a warm, bright Texas sun after being in transit for over twelve hours.  My body felt like it was 2:00 a.m. and the happy energy radiating from the balmy globe in the sky was not returned.  The jet-lag headache felt like a hang-over but I hadn’t even had a drop of alcohol. (U.S. carriers, unlike their European counterparts, do not have free drinks on international flights.)  I eyed the other passengers at Dallas Love field waiting at the shuttle stop. It was October, but most everyone else was dressed appropriately – in shorts. My boots, jeans, and jacket were overkill. I made friends with the Hungarian rental car shuttle driver.

  I entered into the Avis rental car place and was heartily greeted by a large woman with a strong Texas accent. I reached into my purse to get my wallet and pulled out souvenirs and placed them on the tall countertop. “Oh mah’ goodness! Are those pe-caaan praaa-lines!?” she hyperventilated, her pudgy hands waving.  “Uh. No.” I said slowly. “They’re stroopwafels. I live in the Netherlands. They’re for my friends.” Between the sun and this lady, I was having trouble shielding myself from the balls of energy being thrown at my head.  Her eyes grew wide. “The Netherlands? That’s where you live? But you don’t have an accent?” she scratched her head. I sighed. “No. No. I used to live in Dallas, but now I live there, but I’m back for a visit. Here. Here’s my husband’s credit card.” Throughout the next ten minutes the overly friendly conversation flipped as she explained the rules about matching names on credit cards, drivers’ licenses, and reservations. A Dave Ramsey graduate – I have no credit card in my name, my Dutch bank card was unacceptable, cash out of the question, and so I blew dust off my ancient and nearly empty American debit card.  The final blow was a lecture on how my maiden name lingered passively on the card, although my married name is hyphenated.  The correspondence left us both sour. Keys were exchanged, a credit check scar on my otherwise pristine credit record, and I huffed out of the car rental place with my head throbbing even more.  Welcome to America. Geez. (Yes, I realize now that credit cards to rent a car is standard policy around the world. . . but it did make me miss my bike and public transportation.)            

As I exited the Avis rental car parking lot, the man in the booth asked if I wanted a map.  “Oh no.” I scoffed. “I used to live here!” I headed west in search of 114.  I missed it by a block. Zooming up I-35 I marveled in the wide lanes, the excellence of my stereo system, and was thankful the sun was finally starting to set. My mind a jumble of confusion, I became repeatedly lost. Exits have changed, lanes widened, and my mental map of DFW in my head was rusty like a bike chain in need of WD-40. 

The Groom's Dad & Brother (not) calming Nikki's nerves before the ceremony
Eventually, I arrived at Nikki’s.  We smiled, dined on pizza delivery and wine. She took photos of me, covered in plane-funk and all, and posted them on Facebook. I quizzed her on all her family members who I would see that weekend at Cody’s wedding. She was determined to make me stay up until at least 10:00 p.m. in efforts to get over the jet-lag. “How are the wedding plans going?” I asked and she groaned. “What. What’s going on? Is there some drama or something?” I pried.  “No, no. It’s just – I’m so nervous. If I mess up you know my family is never going to let me live it down. They’ll tease me about it forever.” She shook her head and sighed.  Nikki, a licensed attorney in the State of Texas, was going to officiate Cody’s wedding.  I wish I could offer her condolences, but I knew she was right. She has a large, rambunctious, playful Hispanic family.  If she tripped over her words during the ceremony, they would tell stories about it at her funeral.  I smiled sympathetically and shrugged.  “You’ll do great.  I know you will.” 

I first met Nikki’s family in our apartment in Waco in 1997. She and I were roommates at Baylor University and in the marching band together.  Eleven of them had come into town for a football game and as we were wrapping up things at the stadium – packing up water coolers and other band equipment - she informed me that they were already at our house, hanging out.  “Oh, okay! They didn’t want to wait for us?” I asked. The mysterious Rubio clan had arrived into town during the game. I hadn’t actually seen any of them yet. “Nah, I just gave them a key and they let themselves in.” 

I parked in our broken parking lot in front of our apartment with blue carpet, wood paneling, and bars on the windows. Two large Hispanic men were squeezed on to the cozy white swing outside (Management’s attempt at making the ghetto cozy, I guess.) They both held bottles of Coors light in their hands.  I uneasily stepped out of my car and started walking towards my own apartment. They smiled and introduced themselves.  After a little more small talk they asked me, “So. Is Waco dry?” It caught me off-guard. “Well, it rains here quite a bit.” I answered, confused. They exchanged glances. Later, Nikki explained that they were asking about alcohol. 

“Where are they all going to sleep?” I asked her. Eleven people were snuggled into our tiny two-bedroom apartment. “Oh you know, here, there, wherever.” My junior year in college, I learned the carpet is a suitable place for sleeping when hosting a large family get-together. I slept at my boyfriend’s house that weekend.  

After that initial awkward meeting and my first trip home with her, I realized what I had inadvertently stumbled upon – a new culture. Growing up in a suburb of Dallas, I was immune to a truly Texas lifestyle much less a Hispanic one.  I took off my white-girl suburban glasses and observed, learned, and started to embrace.  Her family is so big. So close. So welcoming! They have their quirks and squabbles like any other family, but they also joke, tease, drink, and dance. Over the years, I became a regular attendee at her family’s functions and her family would often come and visit us in Waco

Her cousin Cody is about my brother’s age, four years younger than me.  He spent a high school spring break with us in our apartment in Waco.  Nikki worked at Red Lobster and had scheduled “babysitters” for him each night when she had to be away.  Each of us had our own itinerary and I decided to play off Waco’s and my own strengths: a trip to the Waco Zoo and a home-cooked meal!  It was the first time I’d really spent any time with him. We laughed a lot and he appreciated my cooking (and he at least pretended to like the Zoo.)  He was artistic and creative – something an accounting major found fascinating. He played football and had plans to go to Texas Tech. I spent years on in the stands watching football games.  My Grandmother lived in Lubbock.  He is easy going, has a quirky sense of humor, and a genuine interest in the people around him. Over a dinner of fried chicken and mashed potatoes, it was apparent that he and Nikki were very close.  Cody quickly became one of my favorite people in her family.   

Cody and I, 2008
I attended his high school graduation ceremony in West Texas. He went off to Texas Tech, graduated, and I danced to rap, Mexican, and pop music with his family at the celebration party in Big Spring. He moved to Dallas and we spent more time together, especially after Nikki moved back to Texas after graduating from law school in Kansas.  The best times we had together though, were in Big Spring, that magical place away from everything and everyone. It’s a tiny town, run-down and seemingly lonely.  But I found it to be the exact opposite.  His Dad turned 55 and everyone came into town for the party – more dancing, more laughter, more stories told.  Thirty people crowded into Nikki’s house after the party and lay sprawled and sleeping wherever they could find a spot – bedrooms, living room, even the dining room.  It was fall, football season.  When West Texas sports is at it’s finest – homecoming mums, football helmets, and school colors.  “Celeste! Celeste! Wake up!” Cody was shaking me awake – whispering as to not alert any of the other sleeping family members around me on the dining room floor.  He puts his finger to his lips as my eyes pop open. He then points to the window.  I raise myself up on my elbows for a better view.  A fireball, as large as the sun, is alight across the road.  I jolt upright and we head out past the screen door and onto the porch.  The crackle is loud and the heat can be felt from where we stand.  The wind whips across the plains, rearranging dust.  It rustles the trees in front of the tiny house, which sits on an acre of land.  The sky looms above us and is speckled with thousands of stars.  My mind races – I see headlines “Fireball Smokes Out Thirty Sleeping Hispanics!” (and one white girl).  I grab Cody’s arm for reassurance. “What is that?” I whisper.  “It must be Cahoma, the rival high school.” he calculates. “Forsan High, where Nikki went, built that bonfire a few days ago for the homecoming game this weekend. Cahoma students must have found it and decided to burn it before the festivities.” Amazed, I stare at the profile of Cody’s face as he spoke.  The light from the fire glows on his cheeks and I smile.  I know there is nothing to be scared of, now.  The fire will burn itself out.  Together we watch the glowing orb.  My cultural education continues. 

Cody and I on his wedding day
Fifteen years after our trip to the Waco Zoo, I enter into the sweeping grandiose of the Magnolia Hotel in Downtown Dallas.  Energetic smiles are exchanged with Nikki’s aunts. Hugs are given to her siblings. My beloved Uncle Oscar helps me with my hair.  Everyone thanks me for coming.  I’ve been excitedly greeted by Nikki’s entire family at the hotel, all except one.  My palms are sweaty when the hotel shuttle drops us off at the wedding and reception venue.  I take a deep breath of the warm air and walk down the worn brick stairs to the old speakeasy in Downtown Dallas. I’m excited and nervous, and the fact that I’m even there seems like a dream.  As I’m distractedly observing the family photos on display, I see Cody enter the hallway out of the corner of m eye. The fabulous cake display is between us. I stand upright and smooth my dress. He sees me and I smile the smile of a girl who’s just traveled five thousand miles to see her long-time friend get married.  He looks great, relaxed as always. We embrace and then he holds me back at arms length. “Thanks for coming,” he smiles and pats my shoulder. “No problem.  I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.” I shrug as if it was nothing. 

The ceremony is beautiful, heart-felt and warming.  Nikki’s delivery of every line is perfect, erupting in congratulations and tears from everyone. The bride, Kristy, a native of New Orleans, is smashingly beautiful. The reception, like all of their parties, is an outrageous success – complete with cocktails, music, and laughter.  I took tons of photos, danced, and met significant others and children previously known only via Facebook. 
Cody and Kristy dancing a New Orleans tradition - The Second Line
   In the dim lighting of the speakeasy, I reflect on the glowing faces around me. It’s a strange half-life I lead – embracing culture while holding on to your own. I have to thank Nikki and her entire family for embracing me and my naiveté. Reason stands to chance that if my eyes hadn’t been opened at such a young age, I might never have braved a leap to the Netherlands

  I’m in the middle of answering questions about House Hunters when the jazzy sounds of Second Line stop my conversation with Nikki’s aunt mid-sentence.  My eyes alight with recognition and I grab the closest napkin and join the parade. I giggle as Cody, the groom from West Texas, waves his umbrella awkwardly next to his New Orleans bride.  I smiled with appreciation. Texas and Louisiana – just like me and V, is a cultural fusion that makes for some good times ahead. We’re all still learning, adapting, and embracing.    

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Some Things Can't Be Written On a Page

Thinkin' - Back City Woods

December 2011. Plano, TX. Days before our departure my family, friends, and I lounge in the dim of the fireplace and Christmas tree. Leftovers are in the fridge. Twelve stockings hang limply from the hearth. Painstakingly sought for Christmas presents have migrated from shimmer-status beneath the tree and are now clumped in small piles around the room – naked and awkward after the festivities of the morning.  My 20-month old daughter and 2-month old son are sleeping upstairs, for now.  I take a sip of wine and nervously smile at everyone around me.  My brother, Jonathan and his girlfriend will fly back to their home in Los Angeles in the morning. My sister, Ginger and nephew back to Colorado the following day.  We all live separate lives, getting together briefly a couple times a year.  We grew up in Plano. I went to college 2 hours away. I returned a few years after graduation. My husband and I had settled happily in an affordable home with a huge yard and live across the street from the community clubhouse where my sister had her 12th birthday party. V and I weren’t opposed to going somewhere else it was just that no place ever seemed worth the hassle of uprooting and leaving. “If we’re going to move, we’re going to move big!”  I always said, “Or to Austin. I really like Austin.”

V and I have hosted Christmas in our hometown for the past few years and as I eyed my family, the reality that I too, would join the ranks of my siblings and move from home, was still intangible.  The movers were coming in less than four days, but even knowing that, the thought has still not cemented itself in my mind.  We were moving. To the Netherlands. I felt like that awkward glasses-kid with in the Ally Bank commercial – “What does that even mean?”  I eyed the glittering Christmas tree and started slipping. The lack of sleep from the newborn baby, the excitement of being surrounded by my family, the utter panic of knowing I was leaving everything, everyone, every holiday for the next two years behind made my mind race. I was starting to mentally drown as my innocent by-standing siblings chatted about bowl games or concerts they wanted to attend.  My breathing shortened as fleeting thoughts scrolled. What? What could I possibly expect in the next couple years? What could connect me back to this life I was leaving behind? Grasping wildly, I looked at my brother and his beautiful, smiling girlfriend and like a branch reaching across rapid waters, I grabbed it. “If you guys get engaged while I’m overseas, I promise I’ll come back for the wedding!” Record. Scratch. The room went silent and stared. “Oh honey,” V said. My brother hung his head and quietly excused himself from the room. His girlfriend started patting me on the knee like the mental basket-case I was. “What? I mean, oh geez – I didn’t mean anything, I’m just saying. . . you guys have been dating for like. . . years. . . I mean. . . I just really. . . like her, Jon!”  Deflated, I was finally ready to pack up my bags.

I learned my lesson. I really did. But it didn’t prevent me from spouting off the same exact phrase to my best friend, Nikki’s cousin, Cody on New Year’s Eve.  Fortunately, he rolled his eyes, shook his head, and took a sip of his beer.

Fast forward to less than a year later: October 2012. I’m at my Mom’s house in Texas for our annual visit. My sister, Ginger had come down as well and we’ve just had a lovely lasagna dinner with my cousins. My mom’s phone rings. “It’s Jonathan!” she exclaims. I grab the phone before she can open it. “Oh! Hi Celeste. . .” and he tells me his news. I start screaming and hand the phone immediately over to my mom.  She starts screaming and asking questions. Ginger sits dismissed, in a rocking chair, “Hello?!? Can someone hand the phone to me? I’m right here!” Days later a date is determined. November 2, 2013 Jonathan and his beautiful, smiling girlfriend, are getting married.

Fast forward six months later to April 2013. Cody and his girlfriend head for a beach vacation in Puerto Rico. Facebook photos reveal a promotion and an engagement ring in the same week. I like, comment, then try to call him on Skype. Days later a date is determined. October 4, 2013 Cody and his New Orleans girlfriend are getting married.

Huh. Two promises. Two weddings. A month apart. What to do?  Unlike a lot of my expat friends, staying a month in America just wasn’t feasible by myself with my two small kids. Taking V (as he’s still on the American vacation policy) wasn’t really an option, either. Even if we could, the price (financial and emotional) of leaving the dogs for a month would be too much, anyway.  So, after V was in America for two weeks straight in July – the decision was made – our family would head to Jonathan’s wedding, but I would go to Cody’s wedding as our family representative.

As the time neared, the reality that a solo trip home to Dallas for a week could possibly be the best vacation in the entire world was solidified. I knew where to go. I knew what to do. I had the currency I needed. I knew the language. Not to mention. . . I was going to be able to sit, see, and talk to my friends and family that I hadn’t seen in a year! No chasing children, no naptimes – grown-up meals with grown-up conversation. Even the 12-hour plane ride in which I had nothing to do but read, write, or watch movies sounded like heaven.  It sounds like a simple fun-filled get-away, but this trip held more importance.  It represented a life vest to me, my decision to move away from Dallas, and a chance to firmly (without other agenda or distraction) grab on to the life, friends, and family I had left behind.      

It was time. As I sat on the plane and poured words old-school-style onto a piece of paper, I felt relieved.  With Schiphol becoming a speck below me, so did the weight of a year of facebook likes, emails, or the occasional Skype phone calls.  My multiple but nevertheless, electronic efforts of connecting with people I loved had piled onto a scale which resulted in occasional feelings of total inadequacy.  

The hardest part about being an expat is not leaving home. The hardest part is that you can’t be in two places at one time. As I sat in my living room that Christmas night in 2011, I was overwhelmed with the unknown. Grasping on to the few happy moments I could anticipate, the thoughts of the unhappy ones didn’t have time to surface.  During my absence from Texas I’ve missed surgeries, chemo treatments, hospital visits, funerals, chemical plant explosions, and divorces.  I’ve also missed 1st birthday parties, new houses, promotions, new girlfriends, engagements, and new boyfriends.

Besides the wedding, I had lunch, dinner, and afternoon tea plans with various friends and family over the next few days. Still questionably insignificant, but on the grand scale of things, an hour or two gift of time was all I had. Armed with a rental car and a flexible schedule I fully anticipated not letting any more sands of time slip through my fingers. I'd be there. Hugs would be given. Tears would be shed. Smiles would be exchanged. After all, there’re just some things that can’t be written on a page.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

You Won Me Over, You Did

Ode - Room Eleven

“Success is the other side of frustration.” I read that somewhere, you know – one of those motivational quotes that pops up on your Facebook feed with a romanticized photo of a sunset, beach, or mountain.  Cheesy, but sometimes, it hits you at the right moment. 

I didn’t think we were going to make it. I don’t know if that came across in my blog, but last summer, after it rained for thirteen days straight in July, I was about to lose my mind and give it all up. All the Expat blogs I had read, the people I had talked to, all pieces of advice were consistent – “it takes about six months to adjust” - and I just wasn’t feeling it at all. “It’s supposed to be better by now, I thought to myself,” as I looked in the mirror and I knew we weren’t even close. I started to panic, my confidence wavering. V’s work was hectic, too hectic. I looked out the bathroom window at the endless drizzle flooding my Texas-bred sunshine soul. At the library, in between chasing my kids around, I spouted off to a fellow Expat Mom that I wasn’t lonely – that we were always so busy back in the States – that it was nice to focus on my nuclear family for a while, do the things I always wanted to – go to museums & the park with the kids, cook, clean, read, write, while still being able to travel.  I told her that I didn’t mind the isolation, or at least I didn’t think I did.  I was never alone and I was constantly busy with the tasks of taking care of Cosette, Holden, and our dogs Tyler & Dash. In reality though, I was still getting the hang of becoming a full-time Mom, and Vinny and I were on edge. Holden was a horrible sleeper – some nights up at 10 p.m., 11p.m., 12p.m., 2a.m, 4a.m., & 6 a.m., so the 24-hour care was intense and took a toll on our sleep, our time together, and our sanity. I was tired. Tired from the lack of sleep, but also from biking the kids around, pushing the double stroller everywhere we went, etc. We had a car, but I was afraid to drive it, not that it mattered – very few places in Leiden even had parking available. Vinny would come home spent – mentally exhausted from his job and I’d be at the end of my rope with the kids screaming, trying to get dinner ready, the dogs barking to be fed as well.  Both of us were individually facing the hardest jobs we had ever had. We were both drained and needed each other’s support, but neither of us had a lot of energy left to give. There were a few occasions where we threatened to throw in the towel and just move back to Texas

We drove. We ate Chick-Fil-A three times within two days. We shopped at Target, spent $75 in 20 minutes and found everything I had been searching fruitlessly for in Leiden over the past nine months. We saw everyone we ever knew in ten days. Our house was still there. Our friends and family were still there. Five Guys Burgers still there.  Holden was still up at night. V and I were still stressed.  I realized that it didn’t matter.  It didn’t matter where in the world we were, there would always be happiness and stress as a family. We had been given an amazing gift of time and it was up to us to make the most of it. As I said a tearful goodbye to my best friend at DFW, I knew, in my heart that I was ready to go to my ‘other home’ in Leiden. There was work to be done.          

After my visit to Texas, my thinking shifted – continents, time zones, and perspective. I didn’t reflect as much about what was happening in America or even compare this to that – I was beginning to find my way, as an Expat – a strange identity that’s neither here nor there, which can be really, kind of fun. Like Dutch pannenkoeken with Duncan Hines chocolate frosting, I started incorporating the best of both cultures. I felt like I was able to appreciate both, have frustrations with both, but ultimately mesh the two into something new, something mine. I hosted a Christmas Party for my Book Club, and for any reader that’s ever met me – you know that hosting parties is one of my most favorite things to do. In my attempts to isolate myself and focus more on my family, I started to fill my calendar – book club, writing group, birthday parties, trips out of town, dinner guests, date night, friends visiting, etc. And as I started to run (or rather bike) from here to there, to meet this person, or coordinate that girls night out, (and recently) working evenings and weekends. . . I realized, that I had come full circle, reflective of the ridiculously busy life I thought I wanted to escape in America. . . and I couldn’t be happier.    

We decided to try and extend our rotation. Before we moved, my dream was to stay three years.  I knew the first two years were going to be tough with Holden, since he was only three months old when we arrived and the thought of moving when he just turned two (supposedly, when things got a little better) made me sad.  It wasn’t until Vinny had his review with his manager a few months ago, that he learned that they actually kind of liked him, appreciated him, and wanted him to stay past December 2013, our original departure date. We took this information and ran with it. Conference calls, approvals from Dallas, correspondence with rotation coordinators in New Jersey, all of Europe being on holiday in August – and we finally found the answer a week ago – we’ve been approved to stay until October 2014. 

There’s more work to be done. The inevitable task of renewing residence permits, leases, and creating Target list for our next trip to Texas, but we’re excited. I’m proud that we’ve made it thus far – when I didn’t think I could make it one more day, I’m now excited about another year.      

I was never too hysterical
I thought myself too smart
But I loved your music
Words right from the heart

Well, sometimes I changed them
Into what I want them to be
But you changed something
You changed me

- Room Eleven, Ode.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sweet Child of Mine

Holden - At Keukenhof, one of the  most beautiful
 botanical gardens in the world.
  “Weeeell, Cee-laa-ste.  Yeew knooow.  Howlden ez jus ful o’ life,” my Dad, in his distinguished West-Texas-slow-as-molasses-slang speaks through the waves of invisible technology across the Atlantic Ocean into my headphones.  A tiny fuzzy microphone hovers inches from my smiling mouth.  Guglielmo Marconi is rolling in his grave at the ease of communication in the 21st century – thank heavens for Skype.  My Dad and I have been talking about my absolute exhaustion of chasing after my little baby boy.  For months.  “Yew knoow?” my Dad said, after his visit in March, “Ah D-cided that whut Howlen needs is a backyaaarwd.”  Thank you for the keen assessment, Daddy.  I’ll just order one of those off of Amazon – the UK site is in English, thus more user-friendly, but has free shipping?  Ah, I wish the solution was so simple.
  My Mom visited a few months later.  My entire life I’ve heard about what an exhausting child my brother, Jonathan, was, at least, his first 4-years of life.  “I walked out of every restaurant in Plano with that boy. . .” she always said, with a tension in her shoulders apparent years later  – her vivid recollection of her screaming 3rd born child were never shaken.  In the days of pre-child-proof vehicle door locks, it was my job, as passenger in the front seat of our conversion van at the ripe age of six, to hold down the lock to make sure my screaming toddler brother, who had wriggled his way out of his car seat and was now throwing a tantrum on the floorboard, wouldn’t open the door as we barreled down Parker Road in Plano towards home. 
  In April, exhausted from her long flight, I was just as excited about my Mom’s first visit to The Netherlands! – A family reunited, we attempted to sit in the airport lounge and drink a cup of coffee.  It didn’t work.  I held Holden.  I put him on my lap while sitting uncomfortably on the plastic seat of the Burger King.  I let him walk.  I watched him run out of the low barrier of the fast-food seating and into the large pedestrian area.  I chased after him.  Passengers sporting countless nationalities smiled.  Some stared.  Luckily, all dodged him as he blindly barreled his tiny body willingly and recklessly towards their rolling luggage.  I held my miniature kamikaze pilot and flashed universally-accepted apologetic smiles.  He fiercely wriggled out of my arms and I involuntarily let him down.  I chased him again.  He runs.  I chase. He runs. I chase.  He runs.  He’s so fast.  He’s. So. Fast. I. Keep. Chasing and chasing and chasing. Fifteen minutes after arriving in the country to visit the grandchildren she hadn’t seen in six months (and thus prior to Holden’s mobility) she says to me, with a knowing smile and at least a little sympathy – “You’ve got a Jonathan on your hands.” 
   I agree.  But my mom got through it – as strong and as determined as she is.  My brother (ahem, after age 4) was awesome, and still is.  My mom and brother are close and he was always the kid who most easily made her smile and laugh throughout our childhood.  They are a good match. 
  A few weekends ago, my family took a day-trip to Belgium.  We near Gent and Holden starts to wriggle and scream.  Within seconds, his Houdini-like maneuvers have him free of the shackles of his car seat and he pulls on my husband’s driver-side headrest, attempting to free the lower-half of his body.   In our tiny European car, I’m easily able to reach into the backseat, and visions of my mother driving our van involuntarily enter my head.  The flashing images trip through my mind, while a chanting mantra of “ignore negative behavior” mesmerizes and desensitizes me.  It’s a strange playback of jumbling and uncomfortable thoughts - like that horrible boat ride in the Willy Wonka movie. 
  We arrive in Gent safely.  The kids are in awe of the parking garage we’ve entered.  I sigh.  I’m worlds from where I was, but at the same time, find myself reconnected to my past, as always, in really funny, unexpected ways.  
  We load the kids into the double stroller and go into town.  We find a nice sidewalk café to have lunch.  Within two minutes of ordering, Holden screams to be let out of the stroller, and for the next 30 minutes V 
Cosette - before being served her Jack Daniel's apple juice
and I take turns eating and chasing Holden around the adjoining castle/square/fish market because there’s just no way we’ll subject the other diners to the screaming he amazingly exerts from his tiny body.  In the meantime, Cosette asks what’s floating in her drink.  I gaze out at my husband, who is chasing our son around the ancient stone fountain.  I admire the buildings around us, with labels such as 1640. . . this place is so. . . amazingly historic. . . and I turn to her, wondering how we’ve gotten here  – “They’re ice cubes, honey!  There are ice cubes in your glass.”  My American baby doesn’t know what ice cubes are.  Her apple juice has been served to her in a tall glass with a Jack Daniels slogan on it.  I’ve been here long enough to shrug at the glass, but not-long-enough to just take a sip to make sure it’s really apple juice.  Vinny continues to chase Holden through the cobblestoned-square and I find myself thinking of my mother managing my little brother.  At least a square in Gent is more scenic than the parking lot of the Black-Eyed Pea.  
   Holden is now the age Cosette was when we moved here.  He’s crazy, unruly, and more often than not, refuses to sit still more than a handful of minutes no matter if it’s in a high chair, stroller, car seat, or willingly to read a book.  At this age, she knew and spoke many words, whereas he’s not quite as advanced.  There’s the fall-back excuse of ‘well, he’s a boy!’ but I can’t help but also wonder if there’s something more ominous at work here.  Cosette was enrolled in daycare full time her first 21-months of life.  At her American daycare they sat.  They ate together.  They sang songs.  They had story-time.  She had the full-time attention of many women – split between other classmates, but still - no one was trying to clean house or cook meals (or ahem, check Facebook or e-mail, hopefully) while she was their responsibility.  I don’t worry too much about Holden’s socialization - he has Cosette to play and eat meals with.  As far as education and activities - we spend countless hours at museums, the library, playgrounds, and playing at home – it’s not the same as the highly regulated curriculum and tightly-focused similarly-aged classmates Cosette conversed with everyday back in Texas.  Even now that Holden is enrolled in Dutch daycare once a week and I’ve seen a few samples of artwork, I get the feeling they primarily focus on letting “kids be kids.”   
   So, with that – I cannot say with certainty what the American daycare did for my daughter as a jump-start to life vs. my son’s upbringing with a full-time Mom in The Netherlands.  Girl vs. boy. Work vs. stay-at-home. American vs. Dutch.  Or perhaps it’s genetic – Holden is a spitting image of my brother?  There are just too many variables, but in the end, I guess it doesn’t really matter.  Holden is Holden, my rambunctious baby boy, with a smile and laugh that attracts an international crowd.

V and Holden standing next to our lunch locale in Gent

Friday, August 2, 2013

Hang on Little Tomato

  I’ve had a month of shocking Wednesdays.  We enrolled both kids into all-day daycare on Wednesdays a couple of months ago.  A whole day all to myself usually resulted in a 5-hour dusting, mopping, vacuuming, laundry, bathroom-scrubbing, glass-cleaning, yard mowing, porch sweeping, and sheet-changing spree. . . to be followed by a couple hours of grocery shopping, errand-running, dinner-preparing, and if I was really efficient, maybe. . . I’d do something crazy, like. . . sit down.  Once V returned back from his trip to America, we decided he’d take every Wednesday in July off, so that we’d have the date-days we hadn’t had in. . . well. . . years!  I was excited.  I wasn’t sure when a week of chores was going to be completed, but I knew that we’d squeeze them in here or there. . . like I did before my sweet baby tornado was enrolled in school one-day a week. 
  The first Wednesday, after a morning of brunch and coffee, we received the mail.  That horrible letter sealing our fate shook in my husbands’ sweat-drenched fingertips.  “Celeste,” he said, and I knew something was wrong.  This was not a ‘honey’ conversation.  “What?  What is it?” he was pale and clearly upset.  This was bad, bad news.  I knew from the look on his face, our first ‘date day’ was ruined, with no hope of redemption.
  The doomed letter in his hands was correspondence from Eneco, our electric and gas provider.   I learned something very important that day - The Netherlands utility companies bill customers using an estimated monthly rate, which is calculated by reviewing the prior 12-months usage.  At the end of the yearly cycle, the actual and billed usage is compared and the customer either owes money or gets a refund.  Because our rental house was empty for years before moving in, the monthly rate we had been paying was a little over half the appropriate amount. We had no idea our monthly rate was under-budget - compared to our Texas utility bill, the figures were already the rate of an electric bill in the heart of summer with 100+ degree heat beating on your roof.  The reconciling bill and it’s despairingly large lump-sum total made me cry for an entire day.  I contacted the landlord, and apparently, he completely agreed with the rates – I guess he just shrugs at his ridiculously inefficient home.  I was shocked, heartbroken, and despondent.   I also matter-of-factly-concluded that if utility rates and corresponding taxes were as high in the U.S. as they are in The Netherlands – Americans would be a hell of a lot more energy efficient. 
   It wasn’t necessarily about the money – it was the principal of the bill.  I felt like I had traversed strides above the nuisances of living in a foreign country.  It had been months since the Dutch-ways had really rocked my boat.  Over the past 18-months, I had charted the waters, I was rolling the waves, I was sailing with the wind in my hair and this letter blindly sunk my battleship.  I was beyond upset.  I felt helpless.  I felt out of control.  I felt out of tune with my own destiny.  I felt victimized and unappreciated.  I felt like a fool.  And what do I do when I feel all these things?  I apply for jobs. 
  I’ve actually applied for quite a few jobs since I’ve been here – with fruitless results.  I usually just do it to amuse myself – to confirm that the universe has sent me here to be a full-time Mom. . . and to prove that accounting just really isn’t my thing.  I had applied for numerous accounting jobs and after sending my resume (in English), all applications were met with the same response – “We serve our clients in our local language, you need not apply.”   The day after we received the electric bill – I felt a determination like I hadn’t before.  This wasn’t about the fact that 90% of my mind-numbing daily conversations with my son can be summarized in two phrases: “Sit Down!  And Don’t Touch That!”  This wasn’t about my complete feeling of inadequacy as a mother to convince my daughter to put her ‘dirties in the toilet,’ after months of trying.  Oh no.  This wasn’t about a need to escape my daily routine, this was something more.  With diligence and purpose, I perused the Expat websites for jobs. 
  I applied for a few accounting positions like usual and without gusto, but then. . . something caught my eye.  It was a part-time job – mostly work-from-home, with a requirement to visit the office in Haarlem once per week.  They wanted a writer, preferably a communications or journalism major, someone who could edit photos & videos, among other requirements.  There was no mention of needing to know Dutch -   Their main purpose was to provide information, in English, to Expats, something to which I could definitely relate.  Throwing caution to the wind, I sent an email.  I explained that while my resume has 10 years of auditing & accounting experience, for the past 18-months, I’ve been putting all my auditing documentation skills to good use by writing stories of our adventures here in The Netherlands.  I added a link to our House Hunters International casting video, and of course, the link to my blog.  I didn’t even tell V I had applied for it, because I was so sure that I would never hear anything back from them about it.  
Last July - at the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden
  A week later V and I pretended to be Leiden tourists for our 2nd Wednesday date-day.  We took a canal cruise through town, complete with headset explaining the history and the sites.  We ate lunch at the botanical garden and strolled among the blooming plants afterwards.  This botanical garden is a little special to me – as strange as it sounds, it has provided me guidance in the past.  As I held V’s hand, admiring the blooming roses, the burden from the week before still bruised us.  We passed ancient trees and inside my head, I asked, please, what are we doing here, what direction is next? But the botanical garden gave me no answers.  Not until the phone rang when we got home. 

  V is at his computer (even on vacation days he still must at least send a few emails).  It’s about 3 in the afternoon and I’m sitting on the couch, reading a book.  The phone rings, which is unusual.  Our phone rarely rings.  He gets up to answer it and with a confused look, he hands it to me.  “Hello?” – I’m just as puzzled as he is.  There is a man on the phone.  It’s a Dutch man on the phone.  As silly as it sounds, I’ve never talked to a Dutch man on the phone – well, except for my father-in-law.  Then.  I realize WHO it is.  “Ah, yes – see. . . you are quite an unusual applicant. . .” and he illustrates the requirements of the job in detail.  He asks if I’m still interested, and if so, if I could come in for an interview.  Next Wednesday would be fine.  I place the phone carefully back on the charger and stare at it with disbelief.  “Who was that?” V asks.  His voice breaks me out of my trance.  I turn to him and smile. 
   Third Wednesday date-day. . . after dropping off the kids, V and I spend the morning sipping coffee, researching the company, and talking about the job.  I climb to the top of my closet where my high-heeled shoes have been collecting dust for the past 18-months.  I dress in one of my Limited suit skirts and blouse.  The outfit is a stark contrast to my typical house-shoes and jeans wardrobe.  Unaccustomed to the heels/skirt combo – I practically fall down our steep Dutch stairs on the way out the door.  Click, click, click, my heels hobble on the well-worn sidewalk and I see my daughter’s teacher having a lunch break in the grassy field next to the train station.  I wave and she smiles back.  I can practically read it on her face, “What is that crazy American woman up to now?”  V and I hop on the train to Haarlem and traverse through the town towards the office.  He kisses me good-luck, I ring the bell, and he scurries around the corner.  I have a Cookie Monster figurine in my purse.  I’m greeted and led to a large table which is apparently used for lunch, meetings, and interviews.  I’m alone in the room for a few minutes and I notice bread crumbs on the table.  I nervously brush them off the table with my red file folder.  I eye the roll of paper towels, but calculating the distance to the closest trash can – I resist the temptation to use one to clean the table properly.  I’m playing Teri Garr’s character from Mr. Mom  - the Mom who goes back to work, who is embarrassingly scolded for cutting her boss’ meat into bite-sized pieces and for cleaning-up her co-workers lunch. . . I laugh at myself.  As I reach for my pen out of my purse, Cookie wishes me luck.  Minutes later, I’m in the midst of an interview. 
  An hour later, I call Vinny, who has been wandering around the Haarlem Grote Markt.  “Well?” he says. . . “I have a job!!!  Where are you?  I’ll meet you there!” We sit in the afternoon sun and have a glass of wine in celebration.  “When do you start?” he asks.  “Next Wednesday!” I am glowing.  Then I remember, “Oh.  We were supposed to have date-day in Amsterdam next Wednesday. . .” I trail off.  The impossible has happened – I have somewhere to be.  He waves the comment it away, he’s so proud of me.  Date day week three turns out to be more successful than either of us could have imagined. 
Grote Kerk van St Bavo in Haarlem's Grote Markt
  The following Wednesday, I drop off the kids at daycare, board the train, and head for my 1st day of work.  It feels like such a long time since I’ve done this, but yet, it feels (almost) natural once I’m there.  I talk a little too excitedly and nervously to my new co-workers, but I guess that’s expected for your first day of work, no matter where you are or what you’re doing.  The fourth Wednesday of July, after one full day of work, I traverse the cobblestone streets of Haarlem.  On my way back to the station, I pause to admire the Grote Markt church, bikes flying by me, hundreds of people enjoying a cocktail or dinner in the warm late-afternoon sun. The amazement of it all – a job, in social media, in The Netherlands, that allows me to still spend time with my kids – each item individually would have surprised me, much less all of them combined and I take the moment to appreciate everything.  I feel proud of what I had accomplished thus far, and I know this is just the beginning of another journey.

   July:  A month of stress and action, wonder and hope, acceptance and excitement.  I’m ready for August and everything it will bring.  When a door closes, a window opens. . . Hang on, Little Tomato, things will be alright . . . and happily, all that other stuff.        

**In celebration of my new adventures as social media coordinator, you can now follow my blog on Twitter (@CourageCrazy)!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

California Stars

USA Day in Voorburg, The Netherlands
 July 4, 2013.  Back in Texas, Independence Day festivities are kicking off under a canopy of fireworks, fireflies, and fire-like temperatures.  In The Netherlands, I sit in my kitchen wearing the same full-time Mom uniform I’ve been wearing for ten months: jeans, an aging long-sleeved shirt, and an Old Navy hoodie. The noisy space-heater is running at my feet and clouds hang dismissively outside my gritty window.  Grey:  the color of too many days in The Netherlands.  I search for hope.  The information is usually inaccurate.  (I imagine an eager, but incompetent 22-year-old-meterology intern updating Europe’s forecasts daily).  I also turn to the Dutch weather website, and cross-reference.  Both 5-day forecasts promise glowing orbs of yellow and numbers creeping up the scales in both Fahrenheit and Celsius.  My mood correspondingly brightens.  Besides festive Facebook posts and the New Orleans calendar hanging by my fridge (which, I happily found at the American Book Center in The Hague) – there’s no real indication that I should be celebrating my home country’s most important historical holiday.  Like most of the holidays we’ve celebrated since we’ve been in The Netherlands, I feel like a solo cheerleader trying to arouse an audience of a few, but there is a certain freedom in our isolation.  I ignore the actual July 4th date and plan to celebrate when the weather was more conducive to a commemoration remotely similar to one I’d attend at home.  I matter-of-factly decide that my family is going to celebrate July 4th, on Saturday, July 6th.   To further my quest for recreation of all things authentically American - I peruse the American Women’s Club newsletter and find, to my confusion and excitement, that a USA Day is being hosted by Voorburg, a small town on the outskirts of The Hague, on Saturday.  I’m not entirely sure what that means. . . but it’s perfect timing for my delayed Independence Day plans!  (It must be a sign!)  I am in an over-committal mood fueled by the promise of a kiss of sunshine, and also decide to invite a few American friends over on Saturday night.  Although V has grilled multiple times in the rain, I was looking forward to a drizzle-less BBQ complete with burgers, watermelon mojitos, and tiny plastic American flags I spotted at the junk store in Leiden.
  E-mails sent to friends, visions of my sunny Americanized Saturday dancing through my head, I decided to further research the USA Day on-line.  I soon discovered that Voorburg was celebrating a 20-year sister-city celebration with Temecula, California.  “Temecula!!” I say outloud to myself.  (Or to the dog - the kids are having naptime).  I practically hyperventilated under the cloudy pillow that was incessantly smothering my excitement.   My dog, Tyler looks at me quizzically.  Temecula is home to Ponte Winery.   It’s a beautiful place (which I’ve visited before) but more than that - Ponte Winery is where my brother is getting married in just a few months!  Temecula, California (when you’re living half-way across the world) is like. . . referencing your family’s backyard or something. . . What the. . . how. . . what???  I can’t wait to see what this USA Day has to offer.  I start finalizing details such as attire and train schedules. 
   July 6, 2013.  The intern may be receiving a full-time job offer.  The weather, as predicted, is gorgeous on Saturday morning.  My family arrives in Voorburg dressed in red, white, and blue attire (well, Baby Girl insisted on wearing her pink tropical flower dress V recently purchased in the States.  I shrug, and figure she could represent the Hawaiian Islands).  We meander through the early-morning mingling and I instantly feel at home in the little town.  Maybe it was because of the red, white, and blue bunting hanging across the pedestrian road (it certainly wasn’t the mechanical bull on the sidewalk) but it feels like a small-. 
town American downtown.  Store-front windows dressed to attract, brick streets, and a cozy garden in front of the government buildings all made me think I had stepped back in time to America: 1950
Dutch girls attempting to spin cotton candy
  We stroll down the road eyeing the vendors popping popcorn and attempting to spin cotton candy onto a stick (and later laugh at discarded fluffy cloud sticking to and out of a sidewalk trash bin. . . I guess the Dutch, for all their love of candy, are not fans of the disintegrating pink sugary mess . . . )  The town baker sells doughnuts and apple pies.  We clap along with the marching band, and then, to my utter excitement – a colorguard team, languidly waving their flags, lead the band through the streets (Look, Baby Girl!  Mama used to do that in high school and at Baylor!)  The marching band is followed by a parade of antique American cars including a Cadillac Sedan de Ville 1956. 
  A small stage is set-up in front of the church and Voorburg government buildings.  We listen attentively to speeches from representatives of Temecula as well as the Ambassador of the U.S. located in The Hague.  We snap photos of V and Baby Girl along side the antique army jeep (driven by a nice young Dutch man wearing a U.S.A. army uniform). 
U.S. Ambassador & Voorburg Mayor
    The sun is reaching a quite-warm stage of the day.  My entire family is starting to sweat and I relish the unfamiliar beads of moisture appearing on my arms as if they were photographs of my childhood.  To further my quest of a synchronized, long nap time (we’ve got to prepare for the BBQ!) I spot an array of small American children’s games nestled inside a hedged courtyard.  Plastic horseshoes fly through the air while bean bags are hurled toward small plastic cans set up on t.v. tray.  With this blog post in mind, I put on an imaginary reporter’s hat and start to chat to a couple of the teenagers entertaining the children.  I quickly discover that a large part of the sister-city relationship is a student exchange between Temecula and Voorburg every two years.  50 students from Voorburg (and surrounding areas) submitted a motivation letter and were interviewed.  The beaming girls I was speaking to were two of the 24 students who were selected for the program, which meant they would be visiting Temecula in June 2014.  She excitedly continued to explain that 24 students from Temecula would be visiting and staying in their homes during next March. (My first thought – oh my goodness, those poor California kids are going to freeze.  But second thought – well, their adrenaline and excitement of a once-in-a-lifetime-trip might keep
Classic Car Parade at USA Day
them warm, too.)  Their enthusiasm for the program was contagious.  I couldn’t help but gush to them about how beautiful Temecula is and to share my personal story of my brother’s upcoming nuptials to this audience who (at least pretended) to care.  I congratulated them both on their acceptance into the program and again, expressed my appreciation for this fantastic travel and cultural experience hosted by the two cities.  Little Man is knocking down all the red, white and blue plastic cans out of the corner of my eye.  He’s not using the bean bags though – he’s bulldozing the TV tray.  Another privileged Dutch student is trying to corral the disaster while V helps her.  They seem to have everything (relatively?) under control.  I’m hyper with excitement as I shout over to V – “I’m going to try and catch one of the representatives from Temecula!” and he raises a hand and nods distractedly. 
  I find an approachable red-headed woman smiling and standing off to the side as the Ambassador and Voorburg Mayor chat to each other.  I feel a bit like a goofball, but I also know what it’s like to stand in a sea of Dutch-speaking people.  I introduce myself and like I thought she might, she lit up with happiness at
meeting another American in a foreign country.  She told me that she wasn’t with the government stuff, but rather, she was in charge of the exchange program.  We swapped a few stories and she invited me to call her next time I was in Temecula, which I thought was really sweet.  My kids’ (and husband’s) energy levels fading, I wished her good-luck with thanks for the conversation and my family departed USA Day complete with an (American) patriotic feeling.
   Once settled back at home, between putting the kids to nap time, prepping the mojitos, and starting the grill, I quickly researched Voorburg day in Temecula:  October 26, 2013 (the weekend before my brother’s wedding).  We will probably just miss the festivities, but I hope that there’s at least one Dutch person who has been to Voorburg wandering amongst the crowd. 
Baby Girl, V, and Little Man in Voorburg
  Although the fireworks didn’t blast, the entire day was one of the most memorable Independence Day celebrations I’ve experienced.   I’ve put the American flags away until next year, but I am happy to report that the sun is still shining.        
For more information about the Voorburg-Temecula Sister city associations and how to support education and cultural awareness – please see the following:


Monday, July 8, 2013

Rise To The Sun

  The consequence of a month’s non-stop carousel of activity was apparent.  My head unfocused, my body sore from miles of walking with children strapped to my back, and the dirt on my un-mopped floors created a film on my needed-to-be-laundered-slipper-socks.  I shuffled around my kitchen in a daze, sipping coffee, opening the fridge, eyeing the dishes in the sink, asking the contents of the pantry for advice as to where to begin to start my regular routine, but half-heartedly listening to the answer.  Like a sleepy child who had over-exerted herself at a State fair – I was still soaring with the memories created over the past month.  On the flip side, I was also like the parent, facing the mounting tasks of housework and administration neglect.  It was Sunday morning.  The house, in direct contrast of the recent weeks, was quiet.  Although the kids were eating breakfast in the next room, I felt alone.  V was gone.  The heavy front door sighed after V shut it.  He solemnly rolled his suitcase down the sidewalk, leaving his family behind, en route to Amsterdam Schipol Airport.  Destination: America
   We had recently hosted three rounds of visitors: A two-week visit from my Mom, four days of film crew, and then 12-hours after the House Hunters film crew said goodbye, two long-time friends from Waco met V at the airport – extremely excited about their first (ever!) visit to Europe for two weeks.  I matched each visitor’s giddiness armed with train tickets, guidebooks, self-created walking tours, insights into ‘life in Holland’, and a menu plan of home-cooked meals.  I could not believe my luck and good fortune to have a month full of festive daily events and friends from home living and experiencing the day-to-day and with me.  Between my Mom and my friends from Waco, we did it all – the Eiffel tower, tulip gardens, Bruges, the Jumbo grocery store, canal cruises, Amsterdam, Anne Frank House, Delft, the beach, train rides, brunch, canal rides, the library, the Paris Metro, The Dutch Resistance Museum, Baby Girl’s preschool, souvenir shopping, stairs, laundry, the Rijksmuseum tunnel, naps, squeezed into Paris apartment elevators, Amsterdam Centraal Station, home-cooked, delivery, more stairs, De Burcht, dishes, and much, much more.  V’s business trip resulted in him leaving 24-hours after mania-month ended.  I was exhausted, a little sad, and more than a little weary of my 2-week stint in single-motherhood looming before me.  I had no doubts about my ability to get through it alone.  It was the little things he does for me everyday to just make life better that I’d miss the most - like how he makes coffee for me every morning.  With a deep breath, I turned back to the contents of the pantry: the peanut butter in the cupboard told me I was nuts, but things would smooth out in the end. 
  Night 1:  I decided to start things out on a good note:  Go to bed early.  Little Man had other ideas for my strategic planning. Up at 11 p.m., 12 p.m., 2 a.m., 3 a.m. and then the dogs were up with the sun.  Being mid-June in The Netherlands, that would be 5:00 a.m.  Side-note: There are two things that people just can’t understand unless you’ve been through them:  1. The mental and physical anguish that comes with hearing your baby scream through the middle of the night due to teething (and in turn, not only does your heart just reach out to your pained sweetie - your sleep is limited to 2-hour increments if you’re lucky, which kind of jacks with your mental well-being as well).   2. The exhaustion that comes with a sun that sets at 11:30 p.m. and rises at 5:00.  I get it.  I do.  On paper, it’s like, what’s the big deal?  But really, it’s weird.  The yin-yang, the rest-energy cycle, or whatever it is, is  All.  Out. Of. Whack. Too much light is too much energy which means not enough rest.  Animals feel this energy imbalance, so while the clock may say one thing, reasoning with dogs is about as effective as reasoning with a 20-month-old.  Yeeeeeaaaahhh.  The next morning at playgroup, I was about as social as a floor lamp. 
Meanwhile. . . .  (Side pan to V arriving in America with two Dutch co-workers).  Dutchmen: “Oh no! Our luggage has been lost!  What’s this?  A voucher to go buy clothes?!  But it’s Sunday night at 8:00 p.m?  Oh, you mean stores are OPEN at 8 p.m.?!?  Even on a SUNDAY?!?!  What is this wonderful place you speak of where you can get anything you need including business attire?  Kohl’s?!?  Whoo-hoo!  We LOVE AMERICA!” 

Pan back. . . the rest of the week was fine.  Quiet.  I replaced our usual background noise of ESPN America with a host of my favorite feel-good movies – You’ve Got Mail, Can’t Hardly Wait, Sabrina (the original – with Audrey Hepburn), and threw in Swingers for good measure.  I took care of the kids.  I took care of the house.  I made dinner.  I took the kids to the park, the library, the museum.  I invited girlfriends over for dinner.  I even booked a sitter and went to Book Club. . .

Meanwhile. . . (Side pan to V eating at Friday’s with two Dutch co-workers)
Dutchmen: “What is this?  Spinach-Artichoke dip?!?  This is AMAZING. . . Yum, yum, yum. . . What do you mean ‘you’re sorry it took a while to bring us the appetizer?’ yes, perhaps it took more than 5 minutes. . . this is ‘a while’?  Oh okay. . . what is this FREE word you speak of?  FREE SPINACH ARTICHOKE DIP?!?!?  Whoo-hooo!  We LOVE AMERICA!” 

Pan back. . . I decide to get brave.  Or desperate.  After going to the market by ourselves on Saturday, I just felt a little sad.  It may sound silly, but buying cheese with Daddy is a Baby Girl and Daddy tradition, not a Mama and Baby Girl thing.  After a week of broken sleep and trying to make the best of things in Leiden and after being a bit jealous that V was hanging out with my Dad in Dallas on Father’s Day, I reminded myself to make the most of it.  On Sunday, I finally gained enough courage, after a year-and-a-half decided to put the double stroller (and two kids) on the train by myself, and we headed to Amsterdam. . .

Meanwhile. . . (Side pan to two Dutch co-workers hanging out a hotel pool with Texas girl they met at bar during previous night.  V, is off-stage, hanging out with my family) Dutchman: “Hallo my Texas Angel – you’re quite sociable! You actually talk to me and make eye-contact.  What is this, go-to-bar-and-meet-girls-thing I’ve fallen into?  In The Netherlands we just go-to-bars-to-drink-and-talk-to-guy-friends. . . this is so EASY and you are SO tan and SO friendly!!!  Whoo-hooo!  I LOVE AMERICA!!!!”

Pan back. . . Amsterdam was cool. . . let’s keep on this get-out-of-town-thing. . . let’s go to Utrecht kids! Let’s check out the Music Box museum and have a picnic in the park. . .

Dutchman Pre-Boomstick consumption
 Meanwhile. . . (Side pan to V with two Dutch co-workers at a Texas Ranger’s baseball game with my best friend, Nikki and her cousin, Cody)  Dutchman: “What is this?  A Boomstick?  This is a 2-foot long hotdog covered in chili and cheese?  What do you mean you will buy me a beer if I eat this whole thing, Cody?!  Oh okay – I am up to your challenge (munch, munch, munch)  Ugh. . . I ate this whole 2-foot-chili-cheese-dog-that-was-so-lekker-but-now-I-feel-like-crap-where’s-my-beer?”
After Boomstick consumption

Pan back. . . I’m losing grip on my momentum.  The floors I have not mopped in six weeks are screaming for a clean.  I don’t have any swiffer refills (it’s different here, yes, they have Swiffer, but no bottles.  You buy pre-wet pads and stick them on your mop.)  I decide to old-school it with a pad and a bucket.  Things I learn. . . when it’s 93% humidity and you mop your floors in an environment without central A/C (a.k.a. without any air circulation. . . ) it will take HOURS for the floors to dry.  I feel like Meg Ryan in French Kiss (which of course, I’ve recently viewed in V’s absence) who cleans out her computer keys with a Q-tip while her fiancé is overseas. . . totally. . . lame. 

Dutchman Bull Riding in Uptown Dallas
Meanwhile. . . (Side pan to V living it up in Dallas Uptown Bars with more of our mutual friends. . . without kids. . . ) Actually, I don’t even know or want to know what happened. . . I’m happy he got to hang out and see everyone. . . he was glowing sunshine every time I talked to him on the phone. . . it’s good for him.  It really was.  Yeah.  I’ll keep telling myself that. . .   

Pan back. . . It’s Saturday morning.  Months ago V signed Baby Girl up for dance class, with the intention of taking her every week.  He wanted it to be their bonding-time together, while I stayed at home with Little Man, which is endearing and cute.  Unfortunately, if he’s out of town, that means I’m rushing around before 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday, trying to get three of us out the door so she’s there in time before the class starts because girls running around speaking Dutch kind of freaks her out if we’re not there on time. . . “We’ve got to move it move it!” I chant as the front door closes with a sigh. . . and I hear the sound of a suitcase being rolled down the sidewalk.  V appears a second later, in front of our house.  I smile, relieved.  “Hi.  I missed you.  I’m so glad you’re here.  Drop your bags and jump in the car – it’s time to go to dance class.” I fire rapid instructions to him.  “The coffee I made this morning was horrible - it’s the color of iced tea.  I was doing ok, making it for myself, but I added more water because I knew you’d be here soon, but not enough grounds.”  I throw Baby Girl’s ballet slippers into the car and snap Little Man into his car seat.  I’m a machine of efficiency at this point.  “No problem,” he shrugs, “Let’s take her to dance class and go to Starbucks,” he shakes his head with an undertone of arrogance in his voice. “What?  Starbucks?  You know how overpriced that is?  Oh wait. . . where have you been for the past two weeks?”  He smiled.  We dropped Baby Girl off at dance class and indulged in the Starbucks coffee at the train station.  A nod to the present and past – time to get back to routine in our Alternate-Reality.