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.

Jan 15, 2013

2012, We're Not Done Yet

 I figure as long as I'm still accidentally writing 2012 every time I write the date, I can legitimately post about things that happened in 2012, right?

You know all those people who are so embarrassed that they are just now getting around to posting about Christmas, which was a full 3 weeks ago? Well, this blog knows no shame, and people, we're going all the way back to May.

Specifically, I think the warmest weekend we had the entire year here in the Netherlands.  This was one of the 6 days last year that we wore short sleeves. Ahhh, memories.

Anyway, we rented a car that weekend and took a road trip around the Netherlands. It's not the tiniest country in the world, but I'm pretty sure it could still fit within the entire state of Washington. In 4 days, we were able to hit 3 of the 4 furthest corners of the country. The reason I'm dragging us all down memory lane is because I found a bunch of pictures that Mia and Sam took from that weekend. Such as this one:

 Here's the view from the back seat. Why are the lights on? I don't know. 
It'd been a while since we'd driven a car. 

There are about 126 pictures that look more or less like this one. 

Or this one:

OK, you get the idea.

 This one is actually in focus, and has a good story to go along with it. We stopped at this tiny bakery in a village just North of Amsterdam, specifically because (and stay with me here) it is the original family bakery of some people who immigrated to the US and started another Dutch bakery in the exact city in Washington that we used to live. That made no sense. 

So we lived in Washington and used to go to this wonderful little Dutch bakery, and when we told the little old Dutch lady who owns it that we were moving here, she told us that her relatives still own a little bakery in a tiny town in the Netherlands and that we should go visit it. Got that? So we walk in to this bakery, and I start explaining to the woman behind the counter that we used to live in America and went to the Hillcrest Bakery all the time. She gives me this awkward smile and indicates she is waiting for our order and has no idea what I just said. We place our order, and before leaving I again tried to explain why we had stopped by. Again, awkward smile, this time with a nervous laugh. I think I honestly expected that they would throw us a big party. "Hey!" she would call out to the rest of the family in the back, "these people come from America! They know Oma Leida!"  Then there would be an outpouring of joy and the whole family would come out, give us big hugs, show us the kitchen, demonstrate their secret recipes, take pictures with us, invite us to their family reunion, something like that. Instead we just slipped out with our apple turnovers, got back in the car, and after a while, laughed hysterically. True story. 

This is us driving over one of the really long dikes that the Netherlands is famous for. You may not know that almost half of the country used to be under water. This demonstrates a crucial difference between the Dutch and most other people. Most people look at picture like this and think, "ahhh, the ocean." Most Dutch people look at a picture like this and think, "ahhh, future real estate."

It's always good to know how mean I can look while eating fries in front of old cathedrals. 

What I love about any random picture you can take in the Netherlands is that there will most likely be a few bikes in it, give or take 50. 

We ended up in a part of the country known for its ancient megaliths, and managed to find this small one (you can see it behind the trees, to the left). There were no signs or markings-- we had to ask some locals and they directed us to a completely unmarked trail. And when we found the megalith, there wasn't even a historic marker. It's just sitting out in a field, you know, all nonchalant.

 It was a beautiful, sweltering day. Perfect for complaining loudly about dumb, old rocks. 

 The kids may not have cared about thousand-year-old burial mounds, but boy did they love this sign. 

A typical Dutch house. Lots of brick. 

 We stayed in three different hostels, all in historic buildings. One was a castle and it looked like this:
But on the inside, they all looked like this. 
The kids thought they were the nicest places we've ever stayed. They also like bad Chinese food, and think that stick figure drawings make fine art.  

These next few pictures are ones that Mark took early one morning out in the Dutch countryside. The first night was ridiculously hot, and Mia and Sam both woke up at 3 in the morning and would not stop messing around. At 5:30 Mark took Sam out for a drive to separate them, as well as to spend some quality time with the AC. This picture is time-stamped at 5:45 AM:

Beautiful, yes? 

This is my trying to get a picture with both the old windmills and the new windmills in one shot, which for some reason I thought would be pretty cool. Then I remembered how much I suck at taking pictures. 

Mark has some decent photo skills and he snapped these two, They're my favorite from the trip. 
This may the world's most adorable picture, but I promise you that at this exact moment they were talking about poop. Such sweet angels. 

Jan 3, 2013

Green Bikes and Mint Tea

In 2012, we celebrated our 1 year anniversary of moving to the Netherlands. It was also our first full calendar year that we spent living abroad. People often ask me what I love most about living here, or what I miss most about the US, and honestly, the answers to those questions change on a daily basis. But here are two things I absolutely love here, almost every day of the year:

Bikes. Bikes. Bikes all around.

Specifically green bikes. I take pictures of them all over town. Though lately I've been developing a thing for orange bikes as well. Biking in Amsterdam is a post in and of itself that I'll have to save for another day. For now, I'll just say that the bike culture is like nothing I've ever seen, and it's what made me fall head over heels for this crazy little city. 

This is something I've been meaning to tell you about for a while. My favorite beverage here: fresh mint tea. Did you ever think about just taking fresh mint sprigs and sticking them in hot water with some honey? No? Well, now that you know about it, aren't you wondering why you never thought about it before? Exactly. Try it, and tell me how much you love that I took a picture of it even though you secretly think it's obnoxious.

So go ride a bike today and have some tea. Maybe even at the same time if you're feeling adventurous.