Jun 13, 2014

Let's Catch Up or Blogging as an Avoidance Strategy

It's about time for an old school blog post where I talk about "what I've been up to lately" and "when was the last time I cried in the produce section" and "how I feel about owls."

Because, I had a terrifying realization the other day.

Summer break is almost here. 

{Cue the music from Psycho.}

It's just my kids home for 6 weeks straight, no biggie. I'm not developing any nervous ticks or anything. Probably my heart palpitations and difficulty breathing are related to something else.

Which is why it's better to ignore reality, and spend a few moments remembering happier times. Such as last night, when I finally finished filing our US taxes. Wait, no.

How about a few weeks ago then, when I attended a super hipster storytelling night in Amsterdam, and felt a bit out of place for not being 23, and for not having a mustache. And yes, yes it was in a squatter's house, complete with a naked, mangled mannequin hanging from the window. And yes, they did serve homemade, organic lentil soup. How did you know?

Actually, it was an enjoyable night. Especially when I overheard the kid behind me tell his friends, "Yeah, I have a friend who's 35."

Did you hear that? He doesn't have anything against people who are middle-aged. In fact, he has a close friend who is openly 35.

So that was fun.

Speaking of fun, I had my own storytelling night back in May, and it wasn't a big flop like I feared. We had some wonderful participants, great music, food, and just the right mix of humor, emotion, and potty talk. Admittedly, it was lacking in the facial-hair department, but we're going to do it again anyway. Soon. Because that's the kind of courage it takes to be 36.

Thinking of the past month, here are some things I've said recently that I more or less regret, yet feel the need to immortalize on my blog:
  • "3 of those avocados were a real disappointment." 
  • To my 6 year-old, who wanted to play on the wii for 20 minutes: "Fine, have fun wasting your life away."
  • "Just gotta support my peeps." 
  • "Crap, is it already time to plan our next vacation?" 
  • On a facebook post about all-natural shampoo: "literally everything on earth is made of chemicals." 
  • Let's just add to that everything I've ever said on Facebook ever. Social media is just a big anxiety-fraught place for some of us. 
  • Oh, and how about complaining about my kids being home for Summer vacation? Yes, let's add that.
And now for the photos:

Mark and I went to the Cinque Terre in Italy, without the kids (should I add that to the list?):

1st King's Day (formerly Queen's Day), aka The Great Crap Exchange. Also, my favorite day in Amsterdam-- except that my phone was stolen this year-- and probably the biggest experiment in sensory overload ever.  If there is anything in existence, you can find if for sale on King's Day. The best are the things that kids do to make money: everything from dancing, singing, and playing a musical instrument, to drawing a unique monster or giving a "homemade" compliment, to 3 minutes on a hammock or the chance to smash a head of lettuce with a hammer. Who wouldn't pay 1 euro to beat the crap out of a head of lettuce-- don't say you haven't thought about it. 

The Annual Avondvierdagse for Primary schools: walking 5k in the Amsterdam "woods" with thousands of other families, 4 nights in a row, while sucking on a homemade lemon/mint pop. And like most inexplicable things, is actually very enjoyable.

                                                                                                                                                                    Nate turned 6, and I think this sums him up perfectly (I guess I can make GIFs on my phone now, though I have no idea how I did that):

And, we went to Barcelona (You hate me now. That's OK, I kind of do too):

So that takes care of what we've been up to lately. To answer the other questions: it's been a while, thankfully, and the owl thing needs to stop. Please now. Except for this, which I just read, and enjoyed. But that's the only exception. 

Jun 9, 2014

A Story of Bike Theft: This Time Vengeance is Ours

On Tuesday, we woke up to find Sam's bike missing. More precisely, we woke up to find Sam's bike keys missing. After a small amount of searching, we went outside to see if they were still in his bike.

That's when we discovered that his bike was stolen, if that's what you still call it when you leave the keys in your bike for the taking. (It's not hard to put two and two together with this kid.)

For some context, within just the past month, Sam has:
  • left his backpack, with his camera and wallet inside, at a park in Barcelona-- where it was stolen. (Barcelona is the theft capital of Europe, and when we inquired about a Lost and Found at the Park Information Center, they almost laughed at us.)
  • left his nice rain jacket at the Barcelona Airport. 
  • lost his bike keys at a park in Amsterdam, delaying us for an hour on a busy day, while we waited for Mark to bring the spare key.
  • had to leave his bike at the train station because he couldn't find his keys, which happened to be in one of his pockets.
That's just in 1 month. There simply isn't enough time or space to list everything before that.

But that morning there was no time for lectures, as he had to hop on the back of his dad's bike and rush off to school. Later, when I picked the kids up from school, the first thing I noticed was Sam not wearing his jacket. He had left it at the playground.

After retrieving the jacket, we went to get on our bikes, and Sam said, "hey, where's my bike?"

"Um, it was stolen because you left your keys in it, remember?"

"Oh yeah."

Sometimes, I find it amazing he remembers to breathe.

While he was perched on the back of my bike coming home from school, I listed all the ways he could earn money to help pay for the bike. And in the middle of my lecture, I spotted something unbelievable: Sam's bike right there on the sidewalk, just blocks from our house.

We screeched to a halt, and stood there for a few minutes, staring in disbelief.

The keys were gone, and it was locked. Oh, did the thief think that was going to stop us?

We zipped home to pick up Sam's recently-copied spare keys, and returned to steal his bike back-- if that's what you call it when you use your keys to take your own bike back.

Such sweet, sweet euphoria. So, on behalf of every victim of bike theft in Amsterdam, we offer you this:

Jun 3, 2014

And the Envelope Please...

Decision 2014 is made.

It was easy once we found out that Costco changed its mango salsa recipe. And now, I've discovered a place in Amsterdam that serves it, with a pulled-pork salad no less.

The salsa gods have spoken; we're staying in Amsterdam for another year.

After weeks full of fretting, discussing, diagramming, coin flipping, list making, over thinking, hand puppeteering, Buzzfeed quizzing, and Universe imploring...it all came down to the path of least resistance. Which is to say, I took a good, long stare down the barrel of a do-it-yourself international move and thought yeahI can just continue to get solid deodorant imported, thanks. 

Because sometimes procrastination just feels right.

So, one more year to ride bikes in all kinds of weather.
To muddle my way through conversations in broken Dutch.
To dread the awkwardness of the three-kiss greeting.
One more year of missing people who are so far away.
One more year to further explore this part of the world without jet lag.
One more year to not deal with the piles of stuff we've accumulated here.
One more year of this adventure.

Best not to blink.

Apr 24, 2014

21 Reasons You Should Go to My Storytelling Night for Parents (if You're in Amsterdam)

One of the side effects of insomnia is getting crazy ideas at 2 AM, and then in the light of day, you're so sleep deprived that you actually think, hey I'm going to go ahead an follow through with that crazy idea. 

And then you tell this idea to another sleep deprived friend and while her eyes say I should have a good nap before giving any advice, her mouth says yes! Let's do this thing! 

And that's the birth story of a little event I'm hosting, along with my friend Catina, aka The Amsterdam Mama. We're proudly presenting The Witching Hour: a storytelling night for parents, and you're all invited.

Yes, even you, blog readers who I've never met. Please, actually. 

The format is simple: food, drinks, cozy venue, live music, a bunch of people who are willing to read or tell a true story about parenting, a bunch of other people who will cheer and be supportive, and absolutely no whining allowed.

It's simple. It's 100% natural.  It's on May 17th,  at The English Bookshop in Amsterdam. 

We made a logo.

Need some cajoling? Coaxing? Ego stroking?
Well, you should definitely come and tell a story, or just to listen, if:
  1. You're a parent and you just need to get out for a few hours. 
  2. You're a writer and you just have all these words that you need to share with other people. 
  3. You're a parent and a writer, and you just have all these words that you need to share with other people-- preferably with adult people who understand big words. 
  4. You're the type of person who likes to support local writers, bloggers, quirky people, and parents who may or may not be using this event as a form of therapy. 
  5. You have a good story, and it's selfish to keep it all to yourself.
  6. You've thought about trying stand-up, or an open mic night, or just talking to people who will actually listen to you.
  7. You like talking about yourself. 
  8. You've listened to every episode of The Moth and now what are you going to do? 
  9. You're a good listener. (It's true, you are.) 
  10. You need to work on being a better listener. (And that's OK.) 
  11. Because commiseration. 
  12. You're all about helping people fulfill their dreams. 
  13. You're generally pro-enjoyment, and anti-boredom. 
  14. You believe stories are powerful ways to connect people. 
  15. You enjoy hanging out in lovely independent bookshops. 
  16. You like food. And drinks. And folksy guitar music.
  17. You remember that time you sat around with friends, swapping stories about parenting, and you laughed and cried and loved it because thank god you're not alone. 
  18. You appreciate a good free event, though you're not opposed to chipping in a bit for some drinks and snacks.
  19. You're amazing and pretty incredible and you've learned that being cool isn't about the thickness of your mustache or the irony of your oversized eyeglasses, but about the degree to which you can go out in public with snot on your shirt and not care.
  20. You've memorized every word of every song from Frozen, and for the love, you need to fill your mind with something else.
  21. Because pretty please?? Come to my storytelling thing? 

RSVP to be a storyteller or listener here:
See you there? 

Apr 11, 2014

Dear Babysitter: We Definitely Know What We're Doing, But if You Have Any Helpful Tips Let Us Know

Thank you all for your advice and encouragement last week. We still haven't made The Big Decision yet, but (and get ready for the sappiest thing I might ever say on this blog) every comment  felt like a hug or high five from all the people I care so much about. It was very grounding, and made my heart swell and all that good stuff.


We are getting ready to go on an early anniversary/Mark's 40th Birthday trip to the Cinque Terre in Italy. Without the kids.


A young hipster couple we know will stay with the kids while we are gone, and I've been thinking of all the things I need to tell them about.

Which leads me to a bit of a conundrum: should I tell them about all our parenting strategies that don't work at all? And should I tell them about the ineffective strategies that we like to pretend are helping, but really just make things worse? Or should I just show them where my chocolate stash is?

This reminds me of a panel discussion I went to once, where one of the panelists gave a single suggestion, and then said to the audience I don't really know, do any of you have any ideas? 

I don't think she understood how panels work.

But I'm not judging because I don't think I really understand how parenting is supposed to work, and that's why I'm hoping the hipsters will come up with some solid parenting strategies to help us deal with our kids.

I'm imagining we'll have an email conversation like this, about 24 hours in:

Mrs. Hipster: Hi! So, what do you normally do when Sam and Nate make kissing noises just to bother Mia, and she starts screaming, and then they do it more, and then she screams louder, and nobody will stop, and now they're all trying to kill each other? 

Me: Well, what would you normally do in a situation like this?  

Mrs. Hipster: What do you normally do in a situation like this? 

Me:  Ummm, I personally believe that Super Nanny because Love and Logic and the uh, attachment parenting out there, such as, uh, Talking and uh, the Feelings, everywhere like such as, and it should help the Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up a future, for us. 

Mrs. Hipster: That's not really helpful, or even a coherent sentence. 

Me: Oh, you want a solution that works? Yeah, I don't have any of those, but there's a large amount of chocolate hidden behind the sauce pans in the kitchen. 

This is why we need to get away.

Apr 2, 2014

Stay or Go?

Definitely two years, three years at most. 

That's how long we said we would live here. Two years for sure, no more than three. It's funny how, at the time, three years seemed like an eternity. I never would have thought that it wouldn't be nearly long enough.

We've been in Amsterdam for two years and eight months, and now it's decision time: stay in Amsterdam for one more year, or move back to the US (mostly likely right back into our old house). The good news is that it is almost entirely up to us. The bad news is that it is almost entirely up to us.

Making quick, good decisions is not a life skill I've mastered yet.

For months this has been weighing on my mind, and I've been jotting down little reasons to stay or go as they come to me, hoping to stumble upon The Magic Thing that will decide everything so I can get some sleep at night. Or at least so I can lie awake worrying about other decisions.

Here's what I've come up with so far, in no particular order.

Reasons to stay in Amsterdam:

  • 5 weeks paid vacation 
  • travel opportunities 
  • wonderful friends we've made here
  • cousins in England
  • neighborhood shopping (the nearest store takes me 90 seconds to walk to)
  • good Dutch schools
  • Hema, my little European Target
  • 1 more year of Dutch for kids (since they will probably never speak it again)
  • children are statistically happiest in The Netherlands (US ranks 26 out of 29 countries by the way)
  • Belgian waffles at the grocery store for .79 cents
  • boating on the canals
  • Dutch cheese shops
  • best playgrounds ever
  • The Nine Streets, Spui, Tuschinsky Theater, Vondelpark, Van Gogh Museum
  • tipping is more or less optional
  • stupid US politics
  • fresh mint tea
  • fries with mayo (it's just better here)
  • there are opportunities for me that are just starting to open up (writing, possibly starting travel blog...)
  • could be advantageous to have one more year with Mark's current company
  • we might never be able to do anything like this again

Reasons to go back to the US:

  • Craigslist 
  • family close by
  • wonderful friends we miss there
  • curbside recycling
  • free public libraries, all in English (with the tax rate here, it is a CRIME that anyone has to pay for library memberships)
  • Costco Mango Salsa (without which my life is incomplete)
  • Target
  • solid deodorant 
  • Lake Washington, Burke-Gilman Trail, Mt. Rainier, ferry rides on Puget Sound
  • having a yard for the kids (and they're old enough to do yard work now)
  • education in English for kids (so I don't have to play Grammar teacher each Summer)
  • TV: Parks and Recreation, Community, Jimmy Fallon, Saturday Night Live
  • Reeses Peanut Butter Cups
  • my slow cooker 
  • 40 minute wash cycles
  • root beer
  • national parks/wilderness
  • camping/ hiking
  • mail and paperwork in English
  • being able to understand people talking around me
  • financially responsible thing to do
  • time to move on to whatever is next?

Of course, it's more complicated than all that, and the decision will probably be determined by important things like "logic" and "money" and "Cafe Rio." But because I can't handle complexities and nuance, I like to imagine that it all comes down to fresh mint tea vs root beer.

People who are good at making decisions would probably say that imagination and sugary beverages shouldn't have much weight in major life decisions. To those people I say, so Reeses Peanut Butter Cups vs Belgian waffles then?

This is why I'm terrible at decisions. 

Mar 29, 2014

Anarchy in the UK: Family Tour

Earlier this week, our apartment buzzed with the reverberations of President Obama's helicopter procession flying overhead en route to the Rijksmuseum. Over 50 world leaders were in The Netherlands for the nuclear summit in The Hague, resulting in the largest security operation The Netherlands has ever undertaken. Tensions were high. Mark was unable to go to work for 2 days due to public transportation disruptions, and police and security forces swarmed all over Amsterdam and The Hague. Although it went off smoothly, I think we were all a bit on edge.

And all the apocalyptic doomsdaying reminded me that I haven't written about our semi-recent visit to the UK.

Actually, I didn't need a reminder. Some family vacations can't be written about until much later, after the emotional trauma has dimmed, and you can uneasily laugh about it. And by emotional trauma I mean that we rented a car, and drove around England for a few days. You could also call it The Reason We Won't be Getting in a Car Together Anytime Soon.

Hahahaha, yeeeeeaaaaahhhhh.

On New Year's Eve of 2013, we spent the day driving from York, England to Coventry, where my brother lives. The journey is about three hours by car, but my husband's ancestral town of Bardsley was just a few hours detour, which would also allow us to take back roads through scenic Derbyshire.

Here's a tip, if you are ever thinking of going out of your way to visit little towns in Europe that your ancestors once moved away from, first visit them virtually via the Google Maps street view setting-- you might find out the reason the ancestors moved away in the first place.

Also, when driving on the opposite side of the road than you are used to, and on the opposite side of the car with the stick shift in the opposite hand, narrow back roads are the exact kind of roads you want to avoid. Wide, open highways, with few turns and intersections-- those are the ideal conditions for driving when everything is backwards.

So we made it to the town of Bardsley, where my husband had been dying to go, because I think he had been imagining that we would be welcomed home by all the locals with open arms. When we arrived, it was so small and indistinct, we had already passed through it by the time our GPS informed us that we had reached our destination. The only thing around that let us know we were in the correct place, was the garbage can in front of the old church that said "Bardsley Church" on it.  And the only person around to welcome us was a foul-smelling man who knocked on the car window to ask if we had any cigarettes. When we said no, he informed us, most unnecessarily, that he was drunk, and went on his way.

And that was Bardsley.

Amazingly we managed to spend much longer there than we had intended. We soon realized that half of our scenic drive would be spent in the dark, thanks to the short winter day-- rendering the scenic drive part rather pointless.

This is the part where I should remind you that everything about this drive was backwards to us. And that the country roads in England are unbelievably narrow-- with almost no shoulder, and traffic passing uncomfortably close on the side of the road my husband keeps instinctively veering into. And, that navigating complicated roundabouts in this situation is probably considered a form of torture by some more progressive governments. And, there was the backseat situation, where my children were infuriatingly close to each other, for many hours-- also a form of torture. And most importantly, it needs to be mentioned that even the best GPS systems are not marriage therapists (though how amazing would that be?-- Garmin, call me).

You could say we were a bit on edge.

After stopping for a some snacks, we reluctantly climbed back into the car, with the sun setting and three hours of driving ahead of us. The GPS was still powering up as we pulled out of the parking lot and entered a roundabout, so we guessed at which direction to go. Clearly, the stress of the day had taken it's toll, and we were not in our right minds.

We guessed wrong.

20 minutes down the road the GPS prompts us to turn right.

"Wait, where was I supposed to turn?"

"Um, I think there was a little side road. It was hard to tell in the dark."

"What? That thing that looked like a cattle trail? What the?"

"Let's just turn around and see."

"Mom, how much--"


Turning around required an 82-point turn in a muddy driveway, and 5 minutes later we were sitting in front of the world's tiniest road, listening to the insistent prompts from the GPS to turn left.

You know that episode of The Office where Dwight and Michael drive into a lake because their GPS told them to? Yes, it was exactly like that, except instead of driving into a lake, we drove into the icy cold waters of being tired, hungry, and lost while married.

Words were said. Words were yelled actually. Words like FINE! and HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW?! and MAYBE I WANT US ALL TO DIE OUT HERE and DO WHATEVER YOU WANT BUT JUST GIVE ME THE PRINGLES. All in front of the children, who were suddenly being very quiet in the backseat.

So, we did turn left onto that road that was barely a road, and eventually it wound it's way to civilization, we made it to my brother's house, and barely spoke to each other until January 3rd. The End.

The moral is: always travel by train.

Actually, apart from every time we got in that car, the rest of the trip was not so bad. Here's the quick photographic version:

We took an overnight ferry across the North Sea in the middle of a severe wind storm. 

After 24 hours of traveling, we arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was cold, windy, bleak, and also pretty cool. 

While we could barely stand to be outside for more than three minutes at a time, this bagpipe player stood outside for much longer with bare hands and bare who-knows-what-else. 

You do not want to mess with these Vikings. 

At this point we rented the car, and drove down to York with only a few near-death experiences. York is lovely, though we took almost no photos, except this nativity scene at York Minster: 
Do you see it? That brontosaurus is my favorite thing ever and just might have healed my strained relationship with Christmas.

We spent a few days with my brother and family, washing our clothes over and over again just to experience the healing softness of machine-dried clothes. And home-cooked meals. And Costco. 

Yet, we couldn't resist putting ourselves through another test of human endurance and fortitude: a 1000-piece Thomas Kincaid, Painter of Light (TM) puzzle. All I can say is, burn in hell, Thomas Kincaid, you sick SOB.

Ah, the old how-many-cousins-can-you-cram-into-a-red-phone-booth-before-they-pass-out-from-the-stench-of-urine game.

While at my brother's, I ordered the best souvenir from Amazon UK: a box of 48 Cadbury creme eggs. And I never told the kids. It was such delicious therapy. Then we picked up the worst souvenir: the all-purpose family stomach ailment.

We headed to London with our fingers crossed, and spent the day with my old college roommate.  Everything was fine, until Sam threw up just as our train was leaving Liverpool Street Station. Everyone on the train politely ignored his ralfing, which was just so British of them.

After another ferry, more trains, and thankfully no more barfing, we arrive home with a fair amount of emotional scarring, but an almost-full box of Cadbury eggs. So worth it.