Aug 17, 2015

'Merica: Four Years Later

You Guys.

In America, people say hello to you while out running on trails. For no reason whatsoever.

And they drive huge cars, and sit in traffic for hours, and live in gigantic houses. They're friendly and helpful, and they scare me when they randomly talk to me in English because I forget that I can actually understand them.

It's like some crazy foreign land. And the weirdest thing was how not weird everything felt, even after four years away -- like riding a bicycle. Which we did not do in America unless we were far away from cars, and securely wearing helmets and spandex. Just like a bunch of American dorks.

We flew to Seattle and immediately went to Chipotles, where we drank from cups as big as my head. Then we refilled them because of FREEDOM. (We're patriotic like that.) I consumed my weight in Barq's root beer. And as it turns out, free ice water at restaurants completes me.

Oh America, you do keep us well-hydrated.

We spent the majority of time in Seattle stuck in traffic jams, it didn't matter what time of day. Yes, I took pictures of it.
This is called: Tuesday, 11:30 AM
I drove for the first time in four years. My parents lent us their van, complete with mini-blinds, a built-in television, and boat seats like Lazy Boys. As far the kids were concerned, it was the lap of luxury.
It's smaller than the vans we had while I was growing up-- no bus driver's license required. 

We reacquainted ourselves with the suburbs of the Pacific Northwest, visiting friends and staying with family. I went for a run one morning and saw a bear. Yes, a BEAR. I debated saying hello, because that seemed to be a thing, but instead ran away as fast as I could. I hope it wasn't offended.

We were at Target within 24 hours, where my kids had aneurysms in the candy and snack aisle. Or so it must have seemed to anyone in proximity.
Don't mind us, we're just getting our America on. 

Not everything lived up to our expectations. Costco has changed its hot dog and churro recipes, and discontinued its Mango Salsa. For this, there is no forgiveness. Guess I'll just have to get my 13 lb bags of baking soda and packages of 24 Sharpies elsewhere. Wait -- damn it, Costco it is.

It needs to be said: American washing machines are nothing short of miraculous. American public toilet stalls are nothing short of the worst invasion of privacy ever. It's no wonder Americans don't care about the NSA. Europeans might bare everything at the beach, but they do not tolerate making eye contact with strangers in the middle of a poo. Thanks OBAMA. And MONSANTO. And VACCINATIONS.

We met Mark's mom in Montana, and spent a few days surrounded by bikers (the other kind) on their way to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, most of whom looked exactly like Gobber the Belch. But they're all doctors and lawyers who grow their beards out just for rally week. You think people on normal salaries drive Harleys? Ha, no.

We found American Way in Missoula, Montana. It had a China Bowl and Little Hong Kong restaurant, which seemed fitting.


We didn't even make it to downtown Seattle, or eat enough Mexican food, but we talked, and talked, and laughed, and talked, and laughed, and reconnected with so many people that we love, which I'm deeply grateful for. And 27 days was not enough time because we only went to four states and didn't get to see nearly enough of our peeps, which I'm deeply sad about.

I'm also sad that I didn't spend the entire time shoving my face with Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. Hashtag regrets.

Thanks for all the ice water America, and thanks for not giving us measles. Actually, for that, thanks VACCINATIONS.

May 20, 2015

Moving House or The Art of Avoidance

The number one thing on my list today is finishing our US taxes*. And hard as it is to tear myself away from that barrel of monkeys, my gut says it's time to write. So writing it is.

Too bad, tax monkeys.

Tax deadline for expats is June 15th, which is also moving day for us. Not back to the US, but to another place in Amsterdam. Our soon-to-be apartment has two(!) toilets, an adorably tiny office, steep Dutch stairs, a garden, and lovely high ceilings with those carvings and architectural details and whatnot (pretty sure that's the technical term). We'll have a dryer and a proper oven for the first time in four years.

We'll bike to school through Vondelpark, which will practically be our back yard. We'll be two doors down from a vintage furniture shop, and a few minutes walk from the only decent place to get Mexican food in Amsterdam. I'm a bit giddy. In short, I really think we might not ever move again.

Just kidding, we're totally moving back in a year. And everyone knows by now that when we say that, we MEAN it.

Here, it's common to use a realtor to find rentals (we didn't), as well as negotiate rental terms as you would buying a house. We viewed the place and bid on it in the same day (did I mention it has whatnots?), in an effort to show how serious we were even without a realtor. Which is also why we very carefully cut out the magazine letters for our offer letter and put "This is a serious rental offer!!!!!" on the top with a heart dotting the i so they would know we were just the right mix of responsible and cute.

Actually we did it all the negotiating via email while traveling, and in our desperation to snag a place with a garden, we brushed off the tiny detail that the new place is unfurnished while our current apartment is furnished. Ha ha, didn't seem like such a big deal at the time.

That's OK, because to avoid thinking about all the things we'll need to buy, I've been distracting myself by arranging all the furniture that we don't have in my head. Avoidance is fabulously therapeutic.

Go away tax monkeys.

Maybe we should renew our vows and do another wedding registry. Coincidentally, we just had our 17th wedding anniversary, which according to the anniversary gift list, is the furniture year. Convenient! We'll go to Ikea together and see if we can make it to 18.

To celebrate our anniversary we went out for a rather bland brunch, where an American tourist sat with us and then joined us to view an exhibit of the 2014 World Press Photo winners. That's right, we celebrated 17 years of marriage by looking at disturbing photos of war zones and human atrocities with a complete stranger. There's an analogy there, I know it.

Oops-- no time to think about that anymore. Time for taxes.



*If you didn't see my Facebook post: when I opened up our tax return from last year, I saw that I listed my occupation as "Lady of Leisure," and now I'm trying to decide what to put for this year. So far I've got: Avoidance-art Specialist, Homecoming Queen Runner-Up, and Barrel and Monkey Facilitator. Hit me with your best suggestions. 


Apr 15, 2015

Blimey, Time for an Update


Funny how my "write every day" resolution resulted in the opposite. Next year, I will resolve to not write a single word, and see if my rebellious soul decides to write a novel instead.

A rundown of the past few months, give or take four:

1. After 3 1/2 years in Amsterdam, I FINALLY got to send the following text to a friend about her son: "Ummmm, so xxxx just fell in a Canal. Mark is bringing him home." Xxxx was just fine, but this is the reason why the Dutch school curriculum includes swimming lessons, where every child learns to swim fully dressed, and getting your first Zwem Diploma is possibly a bigger deal than graduating from college.

The canal episode happened in the nearby park, on our way to bury Squeaky the hamster, who crawled under his hamster ladder and died on Mia's 12th birthday. Because that was the kind of day it was. RIP Squeaky, in your pizza-box coffin. Not cool the way you made me cry though you were smaller than a grapefruit.

2. We revisited our decision to move back to the US this Summer. The days have been so gorgeous lately, we had no option but to extend one more year, despite the utter foolishness of it. There is just something about riding your granny bike along the canals of Amsterdam on a bright Spring morning that breaks your heart wide open and whispers to you that you will only ever leave this place kicking and screaming. I wonder what would happen if we tried to make this decision in the bleakness of a Dutch Winter, fighting on our bikes against a bitter headwind...

3. Mark turned 41. We started a new tradition: cake apologies.




4. As I was coming home one night, I was stopped by two young men trying to drive to the city center. Our street is currently a mess of construction, and the intersection was entirely blocked off. As I was thinking of the best route to tell them, an older woman walked by and with zero hesitation or timidity let us all know, "There's no way to get to Centrum. The whole place is a mess. You just need to turn around and go home right now." This was, of course, not true, but I just loved the unapologetic gutsiness of it. Definitely one of the top 5 Most Dutch things I've ever witnessed.

5. This is our friend Aaron, giving 12 kids a ride in a mega bakfiets while wearing a kilt. Just one of those things that might happen here any given Sunday.
Some people just like to blend in. 


6. A Dutch friend invited Nate to join his baseball team, which was when we realized Nate probably has no idea what Baseball is. As we were explaining it, Sam piped up: "Oh, I know that game! It's where you try to hit a ball with a stick." 

Oh, sometimes we suck at being American. However, word has it the American kids are infecting the poor British kids at our school with their alarming American "twang"-- like a virus. Which is why I'll be teaching my kids to say, "dude, no taxation without representation!" 

What will happen to us when we ever move back?
I'll think about that next January. 

Mar 5, 2015

How Do You Say First World Angst In French?

We spent last week in the French Alps for the kids' midwinter break. Which sounds much more sophisticated than it is. Not that it was a bad trip, but the sentence we spent last week in the French Alps for the kid's midwinter break just really doesn't convey the reality of family travel, which has plenty of reality in it, even in the French Alps.

Cue the battle with pretentiousness that is blogging whilst expatting, embodied in the use of the word whilst. 


Cue Gwenyth Paltrow: "Oh, we've just returned from skiing in the French Alps, and darling, it was just lovely. You've been of course? By the way, I'm a perfect perfectly normal person and totally get what it's like for the peons. I was just telling that to my 24-hour-on-call eyebrow stylist the other day." 


Cue me just telling an amusing story and calling it a day. 


We spent our last night in France in a tiny village near the Belgian border. For dinner, we drove down to the McDonald's by the highway. The official story is that there was nothing else around besides a Chinese Palace. The unofficial story is that after a week in France we were not even a little bit disappointed. We were giddy at the thought of familiar food, and a place where French kids do, in fact, throw food and get fat. 


The best part of McDonalds is that the sandwich names are all in English, even in France. So I approached the counter and started off our order with "un McRancher, s'il vous plait." Blank stare from the teenage girl. I pointed at the large "McRancher" sign, and she says, " ahhh, le Meeghraaahnshay?" 


[At this point, it takes the slightest second for my brain to register what just happened. Then there is a short pause while I'm sure we were both controlling the urge to laugh each other out of town.]


Oui. Le meeghraaahnshay.  


Yep, that happened. Tarantino totally nailed it


This after driving all day through French countryside that wasn't so different from the drive from Seattle to Portland, just minus a few Toyotas and volcanoes, and plus a few more Renaults and castle ruins, but still with plenty of whining, fighting, and poking from the backseat, amid stops for bad truck stop food (that's right, even France has bad truck stop food, a teaser for our bad American fast food dinner.) 


So when you're on your US road trip this Summer, and maybe feeling a little deflated that you're not traveling around Europe, just remember that even Europeans dream of visiting American National Parks. And when you stop in McDonalds for lunch, you can order a McRancher, and say it with a big nasally a, and curl that r like you're sneering at some pretentious expat writing her snobby travel posts. 



OK, kids, just act cool. Self-aware, not too pretentious, still grateful, not braggy. Like you're not at all complaining about having to vacation by a beautiful lake in the Alps, with random castles to take pictures in front of. Then we'll go to McDonalds, I promise. 





Jan 8, 2015

#CrazyNewYearIdea

Guys, I just had a brainflash: since it's a brand new year, let's all think of new things we're going to do this year! Kind of like things we're going to resolve to do. Seriously guys, I don't know where I come up with things. Rev.oh.lut.ion.ar.y.

I'll go first. In 2015:

I resolve to stop making fun of hashtags. #somuchmorethantictactoe #hardresolutions

I resolve to take more high-def photos with blurry backgrounds of homemade drinks in mason jars. I didn't take nearly enough mason jar beverage photos in 2014, and this needs to be remedied. #ASAP

I resolve to do nothing lest it is hacked. Figuratively, literally, technically, ironically, emotionally... I'm going to hack the crap out of 2015. #hackityhack

I resolve to send all my mail in felt envelopes with felt heart stamps and zig zag stitches where the address should be. #reallyusefulpinterestideas

I resolve to high-five anyone I see wearing rolled skinny jeans with no socks. I will high-five them with anti-fungal cream. #hipsteroutreach

I resolve to put little pirate flags on sliced melons. #pirattitude

I resolve to improve my facial expressions in five easy steps. #selfiestickforchristmas

I resolve to make tiny bows to adorn all my paperclips, which I'll put on reminder notes that say Time is precious, don't waste it.  #wisdom #papercliphack #adorn #yolobow

I resolve to finally learn the 13 things my camera wishes I knew. #2014regrets


Any you?
Happy New Year. 

Dec 22, 2014

2014: The Newsletter

...even though it's not actually a newsletter... Wonder when the kids will figure out that I do this every year? 

2014 "In Quotes"

"Can you just walk in a straight line? Please? Just walk straight?"
-Donna's constant refrain to Sam and Nate anytime they are walking, ever.

"That's right, I'm a contrarian!" 
Mia, gleefully discovering a label she can fully embrace. Tweendom, we have arrived.

"So we're staying? Moving? Which is it again? ...Have we decided?" 
-This was more or less the bulk of all our conversations from January through April, indicating our prolonged indecisiveness about returning to the US. Looks like we'll be moving back in the Summer of 2015. Right Honey? We're sure about that?

"Mom, look how brave I am."
-Nate, sitting on the couch, picking his nose.

"Can I get a drone?"
-Sam, moments before his first crushing disappointment.

"In my defense, they were very heavy pancakes."
-Mark, attempting to justify tearing his rotator cuff while lifting a serving platter full of pancakes.  

"But I have really bad goosebumps." 
-the reason Sam couldn't get off the couch to set the table.

"Missed my flight from Budapest (haha). Send cc#, urgent." 
-Donna, in a text sent to Mark at 2 AM outside of the central train station in Brussels. Long story. 

"What's a twinkie?"
-Mia, Sam, and Nate's unison response to an offhand comment. Not sure if we're failing or winning as parents.

"He doesn't like to hear people chewing. It's a thing." 
-Our explanation to guests as to why Sam sits in another room wearing earphones while we eat. Good times.

"That's OK Mom, we all know that you just say 'mmm-hhhmmm' when you're not really listening." 
-Mia, after Donna was caught not listening to Nate go on and on and on about Star Wars. Just one of the billion times Nate went on and on about Star Wars this year. And on and on and on...

"I think we've lived in Europe too long. I was eavesdropping on an American couple with Southern accents, and I couldn't understand a word they said."
-Donna, shocked to realize that after three years in Amsterdam, American accents now sound foreign. Win? 


Not technically a quote, but no annual review would be complete without Nate's sweet dance moves:


We wish you all, near and far, a wonderful holiday season and a joyous 2015. 
Donna, Mark, Mia (11), Sam (9), and Nate (6) 

Dec 18, 2014

Let's Not Talk About Christmas

This post is not about Christmas.

But I bet Christmas is going to think it is. That's just like Christmas, you know? Thinking everything is all about it.

I'm not really on speaking terms with Christmas right now.

I mean sure, Christmas acts all sweet and innocent, like everyone's darling, but in reality, Christmas will borrow your favorite sweater and then return it with a big stain. Like we're not going to notice. So there, Christmas, everyone knows now.

But I'm not talking about that.

Instead, you know what is way more interesting than Christmas? Dutch bathrooms.

That's right. Just about every Dutch house has a WC (pronounced vay-say)-- a small room with only a toilet and an adorably tiny sink. There is an entirely separate room for the shower and vanity. Again, Europeans seem to understand bathroom needs so much better than Americans.

Exhibit A: our WC. Sorry, I didn't clean it for you. 

Oddly, however, the Dutch use their WC as the display spot for the family birthday calendar. Why? So you can always associate the birthday of your loved ones with pushing out big turds?

This is why I love Dutchies.

The Dutch love modern bathrooms, or at least, Amsterdammers do. You don't see French Country bathrooms, or Craftsman style, or shabby chic. It's all ultra-modern, sleek, and minimal. I've never seen so many open showers and Ikea cabinetry.

My husband broke the toilet seat on our ultra-modern, hidden-cistern, square-shaped toilet recently. You can imagine the nicknames we have for him now. I assure you, they are all exactly what you're thinking. We looked into the replacement. 220 euro.

Two hundred and twenty euro for a toilet seat. And it doesn't wipe your bum or do your taxes.

I don't even understand the world anymore.

By the way, did you know you can buy used toilet seats on Amazon?

And let's just add to all the potty talk with this tidbit: if you're putting together a puzzle of the Sistine Chapel, chances are absurdly high that on any given puzzle piece there is going to be a penis. I'd say at least a 75% chance, from personal experience. Just really makes you think of the Sistine Chapel in a different light.

Take that Christmas. And guess what? On Christmas Eve, we're going to Istanbul. Not many people care about you in Istanbul,  if you can imagine. And when we come back, I'm going to put away all your stuff, and not think about you again for at least 11 months. Maybe 10 1/2, because dammit I need to get started earlier next year.