Dec 22, 2013

2013: The Newsletter

2013  "In quotes"

"We did not come to Morocco to play video games!" 
-Donna, in our hotel in Marrakesh. Need I say more? 

"Mom, I wish I was in your heart...but that would be pretty gross." 
-Nate. Sometimes I wish I could peer in that kid's head, but that would be pretty gross. 

"Oh man, I just can't look at any more gold things!"
-Mia, in the middle of Versailles, just saying out loud what we were all thinking. 

Donna: "I just need you to be on my team." 
Mark: "But sometimes I just want to be on a winning team." 
I think this short conversation perfectly sums up our attempt at parenting this year. Better luck next year? 

"If you think about it, swimming pools are pretty gross; you're just floating around with other people's butt barnacles."
-Sam, in the perhaps the best mistaken use of barnacles, in place of particles, ever. 

"Actually, this is pretty cool." 
-Mia, in Budapest. She denied it afterward, but I had witnesses. Budapest for the win.  

"Why do we have all these emails?" 
-Nate, referring to a stack of envelopes. What kind of aliens are we raising? 

"You'll smell what I did later."
-Our 10-year-old niece, Nicki, with us on a train in Italy, and my vote for best quote of the year. 

Sam (8), Nate (5), Mia (10)
Cologne, Germany
Because we love old buildings now, right Mia? 

We wish all our family, friends and loved ones near and far a wonderful holiday season, and blessed 2014.

Dec 17, 2013

2013 Year End Review, Part I: That Day I Got Stuff Done

On January 14th, 2013 I was super productive. Seriously, I produced the crap out of that day. To-do lists the world over were cowering in fear at sheer tour de force of my task-squashing prowess. I probably got like 3 solid things accomplished that day. I even wrote about it in my journal. Which was another thing I got done. Bam. 

My children tried to get my attention, and elderly women in the check-out line thought she could derail my glorious efficiency streak by taking forever to load her frozen peas, but on January 14th, my mantra was NOT TODAY! The customer service rep was a formidable opponent, but when he heard the not-even-your-incompetency-will-stop-me-today-sir tone of my voice, he crumbled into a pathetic pile of failure.

The headlines ran: "Local woman writes grocery list, makes some phone calls, and finally recycles those old ink cartridges-- all in less than 24 hours."

That was the day I got stuff done in 2013. I've spent the rest of the year making up for it, but I'll always have January 14th. 

Dec 13, 2013

Lost in Translation

I think I forgot to mention that the kids graduated from the Dutch immersion school last December, and have been attending a regular public school for over a year. They're now fully fluent, and most of their friends are local Dutch kids who they run around with happily chatting in Dutch. Yes, even Mia. In fact, a while ago, she told me that she now thinks in Dutch instead of English. Mind blown.

Sam invited one of those friends over after school yesterday, and as we all rode home on our bikes, they were talking the whole time in Dutch. Though I understood very little of it, I did hear Sam say something about America and English, and then his friend replied something about President Obama and Benjamin Franklin. Then Sam started talking about (I think) the atomic bomb, to which his friend repeated the thing about Obama and Benjamin Franklin. I'm not even sure if they understood what they were saying.

Not understanding your children's conversations can be problematic. For Nate's 5th birthday this year, we took him and his two closest friends to a popular indoor play place on the outskirts of Amsterdam. Without a car, we had to take public transportation to get there. While waiting for the tram, trying to corral three rowdy and hyper five year-old boys whom I had no way of communicating with, it occurred to me that I hadn't fully thought the situation through. When I watched the boys point and laugh at the older man sitting across from them, I was horrified that I had no idea what they were saying, though I could guess that it was not a compliment. The boys probably spent that entire ride talking loudly about farts and poop, while the other passengers inwardly judged my overly permissive parenting. 

Since then, I've made sure to add potty words to my small Dutch repertoire.Which is appropriate because my Dutch is right about at a 2 year-old's level. I feel like my communication ability is stuck at the equivalent of me thirsty, mine, and you're a poopyhead.

In fact, earlier this year, in one last-ditch effort to learn the language, I started watching a lot of Dutch children's television. I don't know how much it helped my Dutch progress, but I made big strides with learning to share and count. My kids are really pleased. 

To get by, I rely a lot on Google translate, which I've written about before. But it's an imperfect solution, as the syntax and idioms don't always translate well-- which can also be hilarious. Just this morning I got an email from a parent in Mia's class, who, according to google translate, is a Mrs. Windbag.

This is from a review I read of a bike shop: I can always walk so the bicycle here are quite susceptible to female beauty; tip for the ladies so!  WTH? 

And this was a description of a Groupon vacation offer: Routine begins as a welcome rhythm of rest and regularity, but degenerates into an unguarded moment in a chubby syrup dripping from the bank, on television and through frosted mandatory family visits. It's almost poetic. 

My favorite though, is translation from a school website: Do you not live in the school area? Well, for that you can shoot yourself! 

We speak English at home, as our kids absolutely hate when we try to speak Dutch, but there are some Dutch words and phrases that we've adopted into our everyday conversations.  My favorite is ja hoor, which means yes, of course! and is pronounced exactly like yah whore. Mark and I use it so much, I'm terrified that I will slip and say it to someone when we move back to the US. I'm imagining saying it to the principal at the kid's new school, or some elderly lady at church, and I'm preemptively cringing at the awkwardness of it.

Speaking of awkward, that word does not exist in Dutch, which is really unfortunate because it perfectly describes most of my experiences here. Especially the ones where strangers make an off-hand remark to me in Dutch, and I respond with a overly enthusiastic nod which I hope communicates, "I agree with everything you've just said, and since you said it so well, I have no need to verbally comment!" Then I chuckle and look away, hoping that they didn't just ask me a question, or tell me about the sudden death of their mother. 

In the last month, I've been yelled at by strangers three times. As they shake their fist at me and spew out angry Dutch words, I shrug and happily walk away, oblivious to anything they are saying. Sometimes it's better to not understand. 

Nate singing in Dutch for Sinterklaas to put candy in his shoes.

Now, I know many of you have also learned a 2nd language, or lived in a foreign country, and are dying to tell me your funny/embarrassing/awkward stories. And would I like to hear them? Ja hoor! 

Dec 9, 2013

This Week in Unintentionally Phallic Artwork by my Five Year Old

I have this semi-official goal of publishing more blog posts this year than I did last year, which I obviously have not been taking too seriously. (I did say semi-official, right?) This means I have until the end of December to post 12 more times. And we are talking about the craziest month of the year, so I'm going to have to go for quick, easy, and inappropriate.  You're welcome.

Recently, Nate's stick figures have taken on a new shape. A shape that happens to resemble male genitalia.

Here's the first one that caught my attention: 

And then there was this:

This self-portrait might be my favorite. When you see it, feel free to fall out of your chair laughing. 

This one was entirely INtentional. When I asked him if he had drawn 
his belly button, he said, "no, that's my penis!" 

We did see Michelangelo's David while in Italy recently. Perhaps it left an impression.

Dec 5, 2013

Get Me Off This Crazy Holiday Train

On November 11th, we celebrated the holiday of Sint-Maartens, originally a French holiday, now observed in various regions around the world. In The Netherlands, it's similar to Halloween in that it involves children going door to door soliciting for candy, but with more singing, and less sexy pizza costumes. Instead of dressing up, the kids carry home-made lanterns while singing songs about Sint Maarten (Saint Martin) and in return, get candy. Or maybe mandarin oranges. Or, if they're really lucky, peanuts and black licorice. We also celebrated Halloween a few weeks prior, and while it is almost entirely an American and British expat affair here, more and more Dutch locals are joining in each year. This made Mia furious. It's not fair! They shouldn't get to celebrate Halloween with us! But Mia, you get to celebrate Dutch holidays. I know, but we also have to live here! A 10 year old's life can be so tragic. 

Just a handful of days later, Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) and his Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes) arrived in Amsterdam, and the holiday festivities kicked into high gear. If you're not familiar with Sinter Klaas, it is not associated with Christmas in any way, and is instead an entirely harmless, joyful celebration of cardboard-inspired cookies, sweaty shoes stuffed with candy, obnoxious wrapping paper, and the timeless tradition of dressing up in black-face and then insisting that it's not racist. Every year there are heated discussions, and every year the use of hideous wrapping paper continues, with blatant disregard for good taste. I get that they're not trying to be offensive, but it's 2013-- we should be a little more evolved by now.

Sinterklaas parade in Amsterdam

This year we've learned more about other fun aspects of the Sinterklaas tradition: the Surprise, and what I like to call The Poetry Slam. The Surprise is a small, inexpensive gift that is given as part of a gift exchange, but it has to be wrapped in a creative and handmade way, reflecting the hobbies or interests of the person receiving the gift. So if the person enjoys online Gaming, for example, you might turn a box into a game console, but leave it empty to represent the sad, cavernous void they are trying to fill. And then you make a poem where you gently make fun of the person, such as: "You play so many online games, guess that makes you super lames." But you would go on and on until you've crushed their soul and extinguished every last flame of confidence and self-esteem. It's all in good fun. 

(Speaking of good fun: last year we went to a festive Zwarte Piet village, about an hour North of Amsterdam, located in an old fishing village-turned outdoor museum. Toward the end of the day we stopped in the Rhyme House, where two of the Petes helped the kids write silly poems in Dutch. We spent about 20 minutes in the cottage, just us and the 2 Petes, until a woman came in, seemingly alarmed, and asked what we were doing. Looking around, I was about to answer, well, we're just sitting here, writing poetry with two white women who are dressed up like black Renaissance pageboys. Of course, that wasn't what she meant-- as it turned out the village had closed 15 minutes earlier, and we needed to leave. Oh, right. We'll just leave then-- not like we were looking for a reason to get out of this entirely normal, and not at all awkward situation. ...)

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet are beloved by the Dutch, and when I say beloved it is in an excessively-enunciating-all-three-syllables kind of way. BELOVED. It is associated with fun and frivolity, and all things happy and silly. Most every adult in the country has such happy memories of it from their own childhoods, there is an shocked outcry when outsiders throw out accusations of racism. There's no denying that the tradition has racist origins, and continues to propagate those stereotypes in an alarming, if also a bizarrely well-intentioned, way. Criticizing Zwarte Piet is similar to suggesting to Americans that apple pie tastes like communism, or more realistically, that Thanksgiving can be a painful and unpleasant day for Native Americans. But, but-- carbohydrates!! will be all they can say in an outraged stupor. And besides, it's not like we continue to propagate hurtful stereotypes of Native Americans. Now, shhhh, the Redskins game is on.  

I love the Dutch people, and I'm sure that, thanks to their commitment to inclusion and the Polder Model, eventually they will find a way to uphold the spirit of this unique holiday while modernizing the implementation. And by the time they do, I promise you, America will still be cheering for the Washington Redskins.

Speaking of Thanksgiving-- here is how you might celebrate Thanksgiving if you are an American living in Amsterdam. First you will have to find a poultry seller, whom you can order a turkey from in advance, and then pay the equivalent of $70 USD for it. When you pick up the bird, it will in no way resemble the prepackaged, sanitized, vacuum-packed meat lump you have bought previously in America, but will look exactly like what it is: a recently slaughtered animal carcass, which you will schlep across town on your bike and drop off with your friend, who will have to remove the remaining feathers and other tidbits before cooking it. You will then make a run to the local American import store to pick up some exorbitantly priced canned pumpkin, and where you might not be able to resist the allure of Reeses Peanut Butter cups, even at almost $4 a package. You will spend the day cooking and baking in your compact European kitchen with your compact European appliances. Then you will load up your family and half of a Thanksgiving dinner on your bikes, and ride to your friend's house while hoping she doesn't hate you for the turkey carcass. The evening will be spent in the celebration of simple carbohydrates, with friends who have become your family abroad, while thanking God for your innate ability to happen to live in a country where you are blissfully unaware of anything having to do with Black Friday. But the next morning you will arise at 4 AM anyway to head to your favorite discount store, bang on the doors until it opens 5 hours later, and threaten to beat the crap out of anyone who gets in your way. Ahhh, traditions. 

That's how it might have happened. Who knows really? Glutenous holiday binges leave me a bit confused-- we may have started celebrating Hanukkah somewhere in there too, for all I know. However, I do know that Sinterklaas has his last hurrah tomorrow, December 5th, and on the 6th, Christmas in the Netherlands will officially begin. At which point I will blast some holiday music, pull out the decorations and my to-do list, and in the true essence of Christmas, stick my head in the dryer and cry. 

And because I'm me, there isn't a single picture of the turkey, but here's a bunch of astoundingly amateur cell phone pics from the most of the recent festivities. 
Sint Maartens with friends, lamps, and one blinding reflective decal. 

Oh yeah, we took a short trip to Germany and stumbled on a Christmas Market in Bonn.
It was while I was trapped in an ornament store for 10 minutes that I realized I hate
Christmas stores. Bah humbug.

So worth it.

Thanksgiving Amsterdam Style, served at 7 PM with nary a green bean casserole in sight. 

Mia's Disco Club surprise box. I told her it was amazingly accurate, based on my extensive clubbing experience. 

Singing to their Dutch clogs, complete with carrots for Sinterklaas' horse. (If I wanted to be accurate, most Dutch children leave out regular shoes, not clogs-- but then, when have I ever wanted to be accurate?) 

Enjoying the Holidays so far?

Oct 11, 2013

Aversions: Technology Edition

It's laundry day today, which means I'm sniffing a lot of detergent.

Do you want to know something? There is nothing, nothing, nothing that makes me happier than finding my kids voluntarily reading, and this is not just because reading is a known deterrent of being strangled by your mother.

So when I found some of my kids reading on their own this week, with no bribes or threats in force, I ran to document it with my camera, and then immediately opened my windows and announced it to all of Amsterdam.

Hey, you people on the bikes! My kids are reading books-- I think it might be an emergency. What should I do? I need an iPad or some kind of electronic device, STAT! 

Crappy cell phone pictures, and proof that two of my children are still alive. 

Speaking of phones, my phone up and died a while ago, and when it was finally fixed, all my photos and contacts were lost.

I know what you're thinking: why didn't you put all your crap in the cloud? 

And my response is: your mom puts all her crap in the cloud.

Because I'm really mature like that. Also because I'm a technologyphobe and I don't even know what "the cloud" is or how to "put" all your crap "there."

In fact, there is nothing like techie stuff that makes me want to drive the nearest ice pick right into my eye, and it's the main reason why I don't keep many ice picks around. The lesser reason is because I don't know what the actual intended use for ice picks is, besides for murder and eye gouging.

However, ice picks are very low-tech, and therefore place higher on my list of favorites than just about anything with a cord. A big plus is that they don't require understanding anything about platforms, apps, cookies, widgets, gluten, or why Miley Cyrus and her tongue have invaded the internet. Some of those things might not be technology related-- I don't really know, I'm just covering my bases.

If I had been alive 100 years ago, I would have been the one eyeing the newfangled "washing machine" with distrust and saying, "get thee behind me Satan!"

Eventually, I come around-- I'm now a washing machine proponent, though I would describe myself more as pro-hygiene. And if you happen to be my 8 year old son, you might think I am the biggest supporter of clean socks and underwear around. You might think I am on some sort of crusade to make you change your dirty socks and underwear every day. And you would be right, though you would probably use more descriptive terms, such as "the poopiest, worst mom ever." And then I might respond "no, your underwear is the poopiest, worst-smelling thing ever, so take them off right now so I can put them in the washing machine."

In that sense, I am a very outspoken supporter of technology.

Back to sniffing detergent.

Aug 19, 2013

Post Traumatic Summer Disorder

You might be surprised to know that every so often I get very motivated blog-wise. It's exciting for about 2 days while I have an all-caps inner-dialogue: YES! I WILL BLOG! BECAUSE I DON'T KNOW WHY, BUT I FEEL LIKE I SHOULD! THERE WILL BE WRITING AND COMMENTS AND PICTURES AND MAYBE I'LL FIGURE OUT WHAT A GIF IS. IT WILL BE GLORIOUS! WHY AM I YELLING AT MYSELF??

Then something happens, such as my kids going on Summer vacation. And as much as I try to put them in front of the TV for hours on end, they always seem to be so needy. They're always like we need to get fresh air! We need constant emotional nourishment! We need healthy food! We need mental stimulation, so can you take us to the library or something?! Another play date? But we're getting along so well with each other! We're tired of video games, isn't there something educational we can do?*

But all that is over now. School started today, and I'm trying to remotivate myself blog-wise, though not with so many capital letters and exclamations points. My psychological state is a little fragile.

For example, as soon the kids walked out the door this morning, I sat in my dark, silent room for 2 hours, for no particular reason. After that, I scoured the internet for the perfect floor plan of the dream house that I absolutely never intend on building. Those are things that healthy, well-adjusted people do, right? No? Well the voices in my head say yes, so I'll go with that. I'm hoping some blog therapy and a little Nutella will salve the wounds of the last 6 weeks. Make that a lot of Nutella.

School has been in session for exactly 6 hours and 10 minutes, and since I'm one of those people who likes to plan things way in advance**, I'm already making plans to survive next Summer. So far it mostly involves sending my kids off to stay with different relatives. Any takers?

*Some details of this blog post might be exaggerated, misremembered, or otherwise completely made up.
** See above.

Jun 17, 2013

CSI: Amsterdam: My Neighbor's Apartment

Is it just me or is it always fun to wake up at 5 AM to what sounds like a sledgehammer slamming against the wall behind you?

Just me?

It's that kind of sound at that time of morning which gets you flying out of bed, wide awake and heart pounding, thinking, Should I be calling the police, because what else could that sound mean right now except that someone is being murdered? Now, I'm not up to date on sledgehammer protocol, but I'm pretty sure people don't use sledgehammers for other reasons at 5 AM.

Then you find out it that sound is the police, and they're busting down your neighbor's door. You know, just your friendly early-morning SWAT team raid. I'm talking police in full gear, with helmets, shields, and harpoon-like door-busting devices, along with a street full of identical unmarked police cars and undercover agents trying to act like it's totally normal to be milling about at the crack of dawn. Just blending in with all of the other people not awake and outside at that time of day.

At that point, there's not much to do besides trying to go back to sleep, but only after sticking your head out the window and yelling "hey, is this a covert operation? Are you trying to be stealth? Is David Caruso here?" Then you can go back to bed, and not sleep while you think about hardened criminals living in close proximity, and the things people might do with sledgehammers. However, big bonus: you've already had a full cardio workout for the day.

Three hours later, when you're taking your kids to school and you bump into the detective team finishing up, carrying out bulging garbage bags, and looking quite pleased-- what would be the proper greeting? "Good morning! I saw you busting down my neighbor's door a couple of hours ago. So that's cool." Or,  "Good morning! Wachya got there? Dead bodies?"

Thinking about it now, I'm pretty sure it was a drug raid. We don't know this particular neighbor very well, and it's really too bad-- I could have been getting my crack right next door this whole time.

So kids, take note: Your criminal lifestyle might hurt your neighbor's sleep habits. And that might make them want to hurt you, possibly with a sledgehammer. Who knows where they get these ideas from-- it's just an inexplicable part of the crime cycle. Take it from someone who sometimes catches CSI shows while flipping through channels knows.

The sum of everything I know about crime scene investigation.

ps- We found out that the police initially entered the wrong the apartment-- so our other neighbors, an elderly couple, woke up at 5 AM to police swarming their bedroom with their guns drawn. Ummmm, oops? 

Jun 12, 2013

That One Time in 2013 When I Actually Finished a Blogpost

There was this one time this year when we went to Morocco, and then came back, but I didn't blog about it for 3 months and everyone thought we had died. As it turned out, we did not die in Morocco. But that doesn't mean we didn't try. And it's going to take me a while longer to blog about it, as I still have to sort through the 761 photos (and that is an exact number) that Mark took, many of which were snapped even after I repeatedly asked him to PLEASE hold Sam's hand while we were walking through the insanely busy maze of streets in Marrakech. Oh look, here's one such picture:
 Do you see Sam? He's the blurry little blob jumping out of death's way, barely
 missing being run over by that guy on the moped. Such precious memories.
So glad we got that on film! 

There was also this time during my blog hiatus, when we got hit with a horrible flu, aka the 8th Plague. It may have been the first time in our marriage that both Mark and I were knocked out with an illness at the same time. 36 hours into it I was crying like a baby. On day 3 and 4 I just sat around with kleenex stuffed into my nose. By the 5th day I had developed an ear infection and actually put a clove of garlic in my ear, because I read about it online and by that point I was desperate enough to believe anything on the internets. Coincidentally, did you know that Barack Obama is a Muslim?

Then there was the time we experienced the icy, cold Hell otherwise known as Spring in Holland. This coincided with the time I became addicted to french fries dipped in mayonnaise, and began to fear for my sanity. No further comment on the state of my sanity. Please defer to my lawyer with any further questions. 
This kind of weather can make good people do bad things with condiments.

There was the time we took a short weekend trip to Den Haag (the Hague in English- yes, it's a city in the Netherlands, not it's own country. It's confusing, I know). As the headquarters of the UN, it's known as the International City of Peace and Justice. That is, until we showed up and it was more like the International City of Warmongering and Hellish Family Trips. We had our own reenactment of the Cold War in front of the Peace Palace,  and had to make use of diplomatic tactics, such as bribery incentives and threats sanctions. Eventually, we established a sort of treaty: my kids agreed to listen to some boring, stupid stuff, and I agreed to buy them some overpriced, touristy crap. So everyone was happy in a very begrudging, passive-aggressive kind of way. Let's hear it for peace and diplomacy!
Reconciliation at last.

Then there was the time we celebrated Queen's Day. The Dutch are not big on overt displays of Nationalism, except for on the day they celebrate the Queen's birthday, and then-- holy gratuitous public displays of orange affection (orange is the color of the royal family). Basically, on Queen's day, the entire city of Amsterdam becomes one huge yard sale. Everyone adorns themselves in orange, sets out a bunch of stuff to sell, and enjoys an enormous city-wide street party while buying and selling all their wares. I call it the Great Crap Exchange, and I could not love it more.
"Get your cookies and other crap right here."  

Just getting started.
This year was extra special, as Queen Beatrix abdicated the throne to her son, Willem Alexander. (Next year we will celebrate King's Day.) My friend picked up this poster-- it's a mash up of Willem Alexander and his mother's hair, and is possibly my favorite thing I've seen here in the Netherlands.  

Then there was the time we went to Budapest for 5 days, and taught our kids all about posing inappropriately with statues. Again, a blog post for another day. For now, I'll just say that Budapest got 2 thumbs up from a certain picky discerning 10 year old that I know, which may only be because we did not go to a single museum. So, victory?
That's right, ride that cherub on a fish(?). 

There was the time when Sam developed a strong aversion to other people chewing. The kid can sense even the most discreet mastication from distances of up to 10 feet, and it sends him into a rage. Are you wondering if it's an actual thing? Yeah, I was too. It is.

Then there was the time that Mia asked if we could just stay in Amsterdam and not move back to America, and I couldn't speak out of shock for a full 2 days.

Also, there was this one day when we went to a carnival and this same anxiety-ridden, shy, and introverted little girl was determined to do a zip line that went over a canal. And she didn't back out, didn't get scared, stood in a 30 minute line, and was absolutely dead-set on doing it. It was a time that demonstrated how children (and everyone really) are so complex and contradictory. Makes life, and parenting, so interesting. And baffling.
This is not the zip line, but it is at the same child-safety eschewing carnival.

There was the time Nate turned 5, and I dug out his photo album to show him pictures of his birth, only to find there were no pictures in his album at all. It was totally empty. So, happy birthday neglected third child. Did you bake yourself a cake? I hope so. 

Then there was the time we spent 4 evenings in a row walking through the woods with thousands of other Dutch parents and their children, many of whom were sucking on lemon and mints wrapped in handkerchiefs. It's a Dutch tradition called Avondvierdaagse (Evening Four Days), and not a single person could explain it to us (or the lemon thing either), but in the end the kids had walked 20 kilometers each, got some nice medals, and had no enamel left on their teeth.
Nothing like licking a minty lemon through some cloth. 

There was also the time when Sam threw his bike keys in the sand at the playground (yes, 7 year olds have amazing decision-making skills), and they were immediately buried and lost. According to some reports, this happened at the worst possible time (IE right before dinner) and I got *a bit* upset. Luckily we found a spare key at home, and the day was saved. That is, until the next day, when I dropped the spare key somewhere in Amsterdam while running errands. So, instead of Sam having to pay for a new copy, I had to pay for the old lock to be cut off and replaced. So, go me.

Finally, there was the time when Nate stood like a boss in front of a huge skull. 

The end. 

ps- there was also this time.

Feb 13, 2013

Cursing and Weeping (But Not Really)

We leave for Morocco early tomorrow morning. Insanely, unreasonably early. I just scheduled a taxi to take us the airport and I stared at the 4:30 pick-up time with dread for a very long time. It didn't seem so bad when I initially purchased the flight, but tomorrow morning around 4 AM, there will be cursing and weeping, I can promise you that.

Sam told a friend at school that he was going to Morocco, and his friend said, "your mom is weird." Then, after school yesterday, I heard Sam telling another friend, "we're going to Morocco this week-- it's very dangerous." I'm not sure where he got that idea, but now the other friend's reaction makes more sense. I can imagine Sam bidding farewell to his classmates today: Goodbye friends. I'll probably never see you again, since I'm going to Morocco tomorrow and I'll most likely be eaten by a wild animal or get lost in a street market and die. If so, I bequeath my eraser collection to Willem. Shed no tears for me-- If I perish, it is only because my mom is very weird. 

Other than that, I think we're all pretty excited. One of the reasons that we are able to travel so much here is because the vacation allowance is amazing. 5 weeks paid leave is the norm. 5 WEEKS people! I was recently talking to a friend here, and she was trying to figure out how to arrange their vacation schedule for the year now that their son is in school and will have 6 weeks of Summer vacation, and she and her husband can only take so many weeks off in a row. I told her that in the US, our school vacations are even longer, and paid time-off much shorter. More like a 9:2 ratio. This was something that her Dutch brain was simply not able to comprehend. She was flabbergasted. Flabbergasted I tell you!

I don't think I mentioned that Mark switched jobs in January and now works for a Dutch company. Despite just being 6 weeks into a new job, he was still able to get an entire week off this soon. Another benefit for working at a Dutch company? 36 hour work week. And what's sad and bizarre, is that it actually took Mark a while to adjust to this. The difference in attitude toward the work-live-travel balance is remarkable. I tell you, when we move back to the states, there will be more cursing and weeping. Why do Americans hate themselves so much?

Are you starting to hate us now?
If it makes you feel better, it's very difficult to get solid deodorant here. And, there are no Targets. And, I spent the morning translating insurance paperwork. Feel better?

Also,  I just checked the weather, and it's 34 degrees here.

But not in Morocco.

Goodbye friends. I'll probably never see you again because I'm going to Morocco tomorrow and I'll mostly likely get eaten by a wild animal or get lost in a street market and die. If so, I bequeath my unmatched sock collection to Science. Shed no tears for me-- if I perish it is only because we get an absurd amount of vacation days here. 

Feb 7, 2013

For the Record

Oh people.

We all know by now that I don't shy away from TMI.

That is, until I have to come home early from an all-by-myself-at-a-5-Star-Spa-Resort-in-a-Chateau-getaway last weekend, for reasons that even I find too embarrassing to mention.

I will just say that it was the stuff movies are made of. Specifically, the movie Bridesmaids.

You know what scene I'm talking about. Except without so much taffeta.

I know, sorry to be vague, but there are bodily fluids whose existence should never be validated. (Ooh, that sounds like a good name for an archenemy: He/She Whose Existence Should Never Be Validated. Copyright pending.)

Anyway, here is an embarrassing moment I will go into detail about: In the 6th grade, I recorded myself singing "Nothing Compares 2 U" at the end of a mixtape. Now, I probably don't need to tell you that the majority of people don't sound as good out loud, as we think we do in our head.* And I think that the gawd-awfulness of it must have shocked me into a tiny coma, in which I instantly forgot the entire traumatic experience. Because, some time later when I had a few friends over, I put on what I believed was a super rad mixtape to listen to while we hung out. I left the room briefly to get some snacks, and walked back in to hear this... horrendous noise, which at first I didn't recognize.

Is there a cat dying in my boom box? 

Ohhhh. Ohhhh noooooooo. 

The dying cat was, in fact, my voice trying to be as awesome as Sinead O'Conner; the recording I had obviously erased from my memory, but (why God, why?) not from the tape. That was happening. And then there were my friends, sitting there in the most awkward pause in conversation ever, listening to it.

It was in that moment, that I became a liar.

Me: "What's going on? Oh my gosh, my sister must have recorded this! She loves this song, it's like, her fave. Wait, did you think it was me? What?! I barely even know the words to this beautiful, haunting ballad." (Approximate quote)

Sorry, Suzy, totally threw you under the bus there.

They made me swear it was my sister, and I made them swear they believed me. And we all kind of knew we were lying through our teeth. I immediately destroyed the mixtape, and lived awkwardly ever after.

But wait, there's more that I'd like to get off my chest, thanks to recent events in the news.

In High School, I once argued in an English class that women shouldn't be allowed to serve in military combat because they would be "too worried about breaking a nail or messing up their hair." I guess that was during my misogynist-curious phase?

Embarrassing revelations don't stop there, folks. For the record, I just crawled out of the blanket fort that I'd been hiding under all morning, simply because I couldn't face another day of parenting and having adult responsibilities.

But I did finally decide to come out and shirk my responsibilities even further by ignoring them and writing instead. And since this blog post is starting to sound like a sad, sad eulogy, I might as well take the opportunity to give some instructions for my funeral.

Let it be known:
I want to be remembered for how awesome I was at finger crochet when I was 9. I totally rocked the yarn chain.

Furthermore, my archenemy will be referred to as She Whose Existence Must Never Be Validated. If I don't have an actual archenemy at the time of my death, then I appoint C. Jane. Damn her and her beautiful writing.

Tangent: What does one do with an archenemy? I mean besides the whole ruthless destruction thing? Should I invite her for some passive-aggressive tea? I'm assuming there are rules to this sort of thing, like in fencing. It is a gentleman's sport after all.

Hmmmm, I'll think about that next time I'm brooding under some blankets.

Back to my funeral. I think the emotional climax should be a dramatic reading of the notes I saved form Jr. High. Just have your tissues ready people. There'll** be blanket forts for everyone.

A few pictures from my weekend in Maastricht (a lovely city in the very South Eastern tip of the country), before everything went spectacularly awry.
 Very old church that my kids would have killed me to see.

 Green bikes make me happy.

Maastricht is an old Roman city. This guy is just adorable. 

Oh Rapunzel, let down your haaaaiiiiirrrr. 

 City center. That roof line was much cooler in person, trust me. 

 Oldest city gate in the Netherlands, from 1229.

The Chateau. Beautiful setting for such horrible memories. 

*This is a scientifically proven fact, thanks to the clinical studies known as the auditions for American Idol.
** There'll-- technically not an actual contraction? Too bad.

Jan 29, 2013

The Post in Which I Don't Rehash a Recent Vacation, But Do Rehash My Angst Over Vacation Planning

OK, does it seem like all we did last year was go on vacations?  I promise, there were a few moments last year (when we weren't busy with laundry/grocery shopping/wasting time online/mediating fights/ignoring whining children/translating Dutch paperwork) when we were busy with other incredibly amazing non-vacation things but I can't remember the exact details. And, I can't find my master to-do list, so I can only assume that we got around to all those projects we'd been meaning to do. Again, fuzzy on the details, but I'm sure we did it all while sporting some super awesome products and while listening to indie bands that no one else has heard of yet. And there was this one time I dreamt we couldn't stop laughing at all our inside jokes and the world declared us the Happiest Family of All Time.

So, as far as I remember, it was a pretty spectacular year.

And then Mia was like, why did you move us here and ruin my life? And I was like, did you miss the memo that we're the happiest family of ALL TIME?

Ahem, so what else is new?

I saw Les Mis over 2 weeks ago and I only just barely stopped weeping. True story. Can't decide if it's because of how painful it was to listen to Hugh Jackman sing, or because of how incredibly sad Anne Hathaway was. Very close call.

I biked to the movie theater in central Amsterdam on a Friday evening, and the temperatures were below freezing. The bike lanes were packed, and the trams were empty. This is why Amsterdam rocks my world.

However, a few days later, Amsterdam turned into this:
By the way, I love this picture all because of the green heart graffiti. 

Then I fell with my bike when some girl merged into me and I swerved into the snow. It was just like in the cartoons when the world slides out from under you and you are instantly horizontal, except that I'm an actual human being and it really hurt. 

The girl didn't even stop, and for a few days I was like, jerk-girl didn't even stop. But then I remembered that I'm also a jerk-girl at times, and then I was like, see, I'm not as much of a jerk anymore because I'm so understanding of that jerk-girl who didn't stop. 

Anyway, the snow is gone now, but my knee still hurts. And kind of my pride too. 

I'm in this whole trying-to-figure-some-things-out-about-myself-midlife-crisis-cliche, which is all very melodramatic, and involves a lot of wistful staring off into space trying to figure out what music would be playing in my life-movie, and which actress should portray me, and would she be as sad as Anne Hathaway? 

Because Scarlet Johansson could maybe capture my beauty, but can she handle the emotional complexity? I really don't know. 

Speaking of other things I really don't know, how is it possible that I have a 10 year-old now?

 She got a homemade present from a BOY in her class. No, I am not ready for this. 

Back when she was only 9, Mia told me, "I wish that all adults had to go to school, and that kids could just stay home writing blog posts and sending their friends messages on Facebook all day."

Is that what she thinks I do?

Well, I'll have her know I also plan vacations.

At least that's what Mark told a coworker that I do now that the kids are in school all day.

Are you sensing where some of this midlife identity issue is coming from?

OK, my life-movie will be directed by Wes Anderson, and it will be a whimsically dark comedy about-- wait, no I definitely want Joss Wheadon involved. However, now there's Lena Dunham on the scene, and I couldn't possibly leave out Amy Phoeler and Tina Fey. I'm sure they're dying to be in my movie.

I've got it: all of the above, plus the entire cast of Arrested Development, plus Bill Murray. That is the dream team that can capture the gagging absurdity of my angst and guilt over being 35, privileged, living in a foreign country where I plan vacations all day and don't know where I'm going with my life. Also, my husband has a man-crush on Zach Galifinakis, so he should be in there somewhere too.

Yes, I think Zach Galifinakis should be the creepy/wise tourist we meet on vacation, who unexpectedly teaches me a profound and touching life-changing lesson. And Morgan Freeman will narrate the whole thing. Also, Jennifer Lawrence will come in and kick butt, and no one in the muggle world will know how close they came to total annihilation.

Hmmm, what else?

A couple of days ago I reread a bunch of blog posts of mine from back in 2008-2009. 2 things immediately struck me:
1. I survived life with 3 little kids? Reading all those posts made me wonder if everything about my life since the baby/toddler phase can be explained by PTSD.
2. Remember when everyone and their dog and their dog's blog had a dog, I mean a blog? It was surprising to read who used to leave comments-- people I haven't heard from in years, people who used to have blogs and abandoned them for Facebook, or people who went private back in the big Private Blog Epidemic of 2009. (Which means that I probably haven't read your blog since. Sorry, I just can't keep up with private blogs. But I'm glad your pictures have never been stolen.) Anyway, for a while there it was one big blogging frenzy, and now my google reader is a ghost town, and even I only blog like twice a year, and get comments from random guys in India and spambots trying to sell me shoes. But I'm not fishing for comments. Actually, yes, I am. I did mention how pathetic I've become, right?

Oh, and I've been busy planning our trip to Morocco in a few weeks.
(cringe) (why is my life so awesome?)

So, when did blogging die, and which actor should portray you in my movie?

This is for my husband:

Jan 18, 2013

Biking in Brittany, the Exclusive Photos!

I'm continuing to sort through our photos from last year, and realized that I never mentioned our cycling trip in October. Face Palm! Given my penchant for meticulous blogging, how did that happen? 

For the kid's October vacation, I found this biking company that will outfit your whole family with bikes for a week, and provide an adorable cottage to stay in, in the Brittany region of France. I figured with all the biking we do now, we could pass off as "sporty" enough for a cycling holiday. And what's more, I watched a few minutes of the Tour de France once, and used to own some spandex. So you could say I'm pretty hardcore. 

So off we went. 

 Here's the lowdown:

  • We quickly learned that biking short distances in the flat world of Amsterdam (motto: "we're not just being dramatic, molehills are our mountains)" is a little different than biking for hours through rolling hills. Just a tad. Also, that people's definitions of "gentle incline" varies widely. Thank goodness we were doping the whole time. Am I right, Lance? 
  • After the 2nd day, I offered to pay the kids 10 cents per kilometer that they didn't complain or whine. Amazingly, I instantly had the most cheerful, willing children, who couldn't wait to get on their bikes and ride all day. It was a vacation miracle, that only cost me 15 euros.
  • We didn't see the sun the entire week, until the last morning as we were packing up and leaving. It was a cold, dreary week and I began to despair that there was nothing to live for but biking through the French countryside while feasting on fresh croissants. I'm telling you, Seasonal Affect Disorder can really mess with you. 
  • Brittany is a beautiful area of France, with ancient megaliths scattered about between tiny, weathered villages seemingly built entirely out of stones and slabs of butter. 
  • We hardly saw any other people, as it was not high-tourist season and most of the locals were either traveling themselves or holed up inside with the shutters closed. There was an eerie, deserted feeling everywhere. Very different from bustling Amsterdam where most everyone leaves their curtains open in a brazenly Calvinistic "we have nothing to hide, not even the fact that we're watching TLC" attitude. 
  • Eating was somewhat problematic as most of the bakeries, stores, and restaurants kept sporadic hours. One day we showed up at a creperie at 3:30  in the afternoon and indicated that we were interested in having some crepes. The owner looked around all shocked and said, "I can't be expected to just sit around here all day waiting to feed people." Why, of course, why should you be expected to do that? You know, being a restaurant and all. 
  • We had no TV, and no Internet access for the entire week. But we did have a fireplace, each other, and a whole lot of love. Just kidding, we played a lot of Stratego and barely avoided WW3. You all have no idea how close you came to being blown up.
  • This is the second time I've left France with only mediocre crepe experiences. I tell you, France, if you ruin crepes for me, I just might never forgive you. 
  • Oh, but the baguettes and the croissants and the butter and the cheese and the-- wait, what was I saying about the crepes again? I forget, but, oh, the pastries, and the jams, and...
  • On our way home, we stopped at Mt. St. Michel, and then Utah Beach. Hot tip for Mt. St. Michel: pay for the audio tour, and then tell your kids that they each get their own cell phone. They will listen intently to details about architectural history for an hour, the whole time thinking they're having a private, fairly one-sided phone conversation. Hot tip for Utah Beach: Just flat out pay them to go to WW2 museums with you. Hot tip for France: look for the baguette vending machines. And if you see one, try to find the phone number of the distributor; I need want one for my house. 

And here are the photos, which you'll only see here. Unless you want to swipe them and put them on your family calendar for 2013. Just saying. 

Vive la France.