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:

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


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.

Dec 10, 2014

When I Grow Up (I Should Really Have This Figured Out By Now)

In the 2nd grade, I wanted to be a stand-up comedian.

By 3rd grade, I predicted in an essay that I was going to be a "computer whiz" while married to a prince, and running my own clothing store.

Pretty big dreams for a young girl in America, whose only computer experience involved Typing Tutor and making greeting cards on Word Perfect.

Eventually, I went through a mid-childhood crisis, lost all sense of direction in my big bangs phase, and at some point thought I might be an actress. Toward the end of high school I was briefly fixated with Music Therapy. Problem was, I couldn't ever figure out exactly what Music Therapists do.

In college, I started out in Psychology, at one point dabbled in Biology, thought about Geology, Interior Design, and finally ended up with a degree in Performing Arts. By the time I graduated, I was working as a personal trainer at a women's gym, while managing the apartment complex we lived in.

Mia came along, then 2 more children, and it's now been 11 years since I've been in any paid employment position. So what now? Computer whiz?

What were you going to be when you grew up?

Fun fact: Francine Pascal, author of the Sweet Valley High series, didn't go to her own prom, and wasn't that into High School. She preferred writing political commentary.

Dec 5, 2014

I Have a Reading Disorder

My "Oh I didn't know I was taking a picture of myself" selfie.*

Literally, my reading is disordered. Specifically, it happens in this order: beginning, end, middle.

Yep, I skip ahead and pre-read the end of every book I start. I never read the end last. Never. And, yes, every single book. Doesn't matter if I'm enjoying the book or not. Doesn't even matter if it's non-fiction.

Are you freaking out now?

When you see a spoiler alert, you probably cover your eyes and run away? Not me. I love them. In fact, please do tell me how your favorite book or movie ends. Actually, let me guess: he gets the girl? The beloved dog/horse/mythical creature dies? The world is saved? They figure out the secret code just in the nick of time? She becomes a vampire and has vampire babies?

**Spoiler Alert** I'm going to go ahead and tell you how this blog post ends: I kill off the character you've grown to love. Sucks, but that elf on the shelf had it coming. And then I ask a question, like all good blog posts, and that question is: can you believe how much more complicated the actual US criminal investigation and prosecution system is than its TV counterpart?? Guys, I feel betrayed.

Back to the reading thing-- I know, you are horrified. You think it's wrong, unnatural, immoral maybe. And I tell you I was born like this. I can't help it; I'm chronologically challenged. Even as a child I couldn't understand why Grover didn't just peek at the last page to get a glimpse of the monster. Why, Grover, why?

You know what's horrible and unnatural? People reading an entire book that they hate, just to see how it ends. Recently, my husband was reading a terrible book**, and he complained constantly about how awful it was, how it was literary assault and battery. And then he would pick that book right back up and read more of it, groaning and writhing the entire time.

Me: Why do you keep reading it?

Mark: Because I have to find out how it ends. No matter how painful it is. What if the end makes it worth it?

Me: Maybe you should just peek and see.

Mark: WHAT???!! That would be a crime against literature! I'm just going to have to suffer for... 157 more pages.

Me: You're sick. You need help.

Endings don't save books. An unsatisfying ending might tarnish, or even ruin, an otherwise good book, but if the middle (i.e. the plot and characters and conflict and development) is bad, then it's just a bad book. End of story.***

It's not just that I peek at the end to scandalize civilized people, or to see if it's worth it to keep reading. There's a bigger, deeper reason: I skip to the end, because once I know what's going to happen, I can relax, and enjoy how it gets there. Provided I think it's a book worth finishing, of course. (Guys, stop feeling obligated to read bad books!)

So it all comes down to suspense. Suspense, and my supreme aversion to it.

You might say that it's in human nature to enjoy suspense-- isn't that the point of all entertainment? To keep us in suspense until the end?

I say no. Think about a book or movie that you love. I mean, your house is on fire and you grab it before your children and pets LOVE. Chances are you've watched it or read it a second time or more, even though you already knew what was going to happen.

And once you know how it's going to end, by definition the suspense is over. But there is still tension, created by conflict. And that's what's in human nature to enjoy-- conflict and resolution. And we can watch or read that over and over, knowing full well what happens in advance, and it's actually very satisfying.

Like this:
Feels good, doesn't it? 

So after the many conversations I've had with people about my reading disorder, I've decided that there are two kinds of people in the world:

Those who will never skip ahead, and those who always skip ahead.

If you're in the first category, you are in the majority, and quite frankly, you probably waste a significant amount of time.

If you're in the second category, we are soul mates, and chances are you also hate click-bate with a passion.

So, which one are you?

*Crap, selfies are hard. Props to Kim Kardashian.
**OK, not the actual book he was reading, but I couldn't resist.
***Mmm-hmmm. Pun intended. 

photo credit: Michael Kappel via photopin cc