A day in the life of a broad abroad: to Paris and back

A day in the life of a broad abroad: to Paris and back

At 5 a.m. the alarm interrupted my midwinter dreams and awaken me to the practically perfect day ahead. After tiptoeing through the morning to get ready while not waking my wife, I hopped on my bike to pedal through a still sleeping Leiden. Once my bike was parked in the jumbled stacks at Central station, I found my way to platform 4 to take the 6:28 train to Schipol where I would find the 7:35 Thalys train to Paris. With a warm kaasbroodje and a cold Coca Cola in hand, I jumped on the train and settled in for the three-hour ride across Holland, Belgium and France. Somewhere between Antwerp and Brussels a deep pink sunrise emerged across the frosty fields on our left. After a brief train-car change in Brussels, and little more than an hour later, I stepped off the train in rainy but ever beautiful Paris. A quick Uber ride to Notre Dame brought me to the cobbled Rue de la Bûcherie where a warm vegetarian restaurant had set a table for the surprise déjeuner with my daughter.
 
Absolutely priceless was look on her face as she realized that the woman standing in the doorway who looked like her mom was in fact her mom! We dined with delight surrounded by hugs and tears and laughter and champagne and friends and falafel. When we could linger no longer around the sumptuously set table, we made our way to the rented flat where Z was staying with the family who loves and looks out for her back home in the States. After a bit of truffle cheese generosity smeared on a baguette, a crisp glass of white wine and off again we went to enjoy a walking history lesson that revealed and reveled in both the opulence and downfall of French nobility.
 
Soaked to the bone with cold rain, we made one last pub stop, sipped a beer or two more, shared sweet hugs and kisses and said our goodbyes. Off again I went to catch the 17:35 train back to Amsterdam. Because parting was practically impossible, the rather late return Uber ride was a mad blur through the rain drenched, rush hour streets to Gare du Nord. With a slippery dash along platform six, lungs near to collapsing, I plopped down in carriage 15 for the ride back home surrounded by delicate French children ranging in ages from eight to fourteen, all possessing the sweet understanding of the etiquette and electricity of whispering among adults sipping wine and pouring over maps of Amsterdam.
 
Three hours later I was extracting my bike from the tangle of handlebars and spokes that is a Dutch parking lot. A city that was sleeping when I left was now wide awake and sparkling with the remaining nights of the holidays. The fragrance of sweet and savory food trucks wrapped around me as I coasted along the bustling streets of little Leiden. And what to my wandering eyes did appear as home drew near? The most beautiful, drafty 100-year-old home, warmly lit with candlelight and Christmas tree, my partner puttering in the kitchen, presently plating her homemade chicken paprikash.
 
With stories shared, dishes done, pups cuddled and a heart overflowing with the unmerited blessings that are mine, dreams of my practically perfect day welcomed me to sleep once more on a cold winter’s night in The Netherlands.
The grilled cheese off – part one: Cheese glorious cheese

The grilled cheese off – part one: Cheese glorious cheese

Every Saturday morning, after our first cup of coffee, we weave our way over and along the canals of Leiden to the amazing Street Market. Stall after stall offers an amazing array of fresh fruit and veggies (the 1€ bowls of avocados are our favorite), fish, flowers, clothes and spices from around the world…and cheese, glorious cheese! As we wander by the numerous cheese vendors, it’s practically impossible not to snatch a sample, or ten, from the piles of savory cubes. We’ve fallen in love with the truffle, mustard, cumin and other cheesy goodness we can’t yet pronounce.

As the days grow shorter and colder, and the rains keep us inside more than outside, we’re cooking up new ways to entertain ourselves. With all of these cheeses at out fingertips, it makes perfect expat sense to have a great grilled cheese cook off! The Dutch call these toasties, grilled sammies all buttery and pressed to scrummy perfection, invariably dipped in a sauce that is some variation of mayonnaise…fancy ladies call this concoction an aioli.

For five weeks, Betsy and Kim will each pick a different cheese, prepare a sandwich and present them to the esteemed judges…our hungry friends and neighbors. The rubric is random and solely based on the tastes of the judges. Bribes of beer and chocolate are encouraged.

Last week we had our first cheese-off as a test-run – we were both the cooks and the judges and here’s what happened. In an effort to clean the fridge we limited ourselves to the cheeses left over from the progressive dinner. Betsy chose the risky red pesto option, while Kim settled on the mustard cheese, sadly the slightly moldy brie and dried up parmesan did not make the cut. We used the same freshly baked bread from our neighborhood grocery store, the Dirk.

Slathered in fresh butter and piled high with cheese, each chef pressed the thinly sliced bread to golden perfection. While Kim’s mustard grilled cheese was pungent and delicious, both judges agreed that the rich color and striking flavor of the red pesto grilled cheese won the night! Betsy is sure her grilling technique is also responsible for the superior slice of heaven. And though we may or may not have been enjoying a little fruit of the vine, we both agree that cheese is integral to the grilled cheese experience, here’s looking at you, Hannah Hart, lol.

Tonight, with fresh cheeses and a loaf of local sourdough acquired yesterday, we’ll present this week’s toasties to Louke, Dani and their son – the first victims, uh, friends, willing to be our judges.

 

Three months in and we’re lovin’ life!

Three months in and we’re lovin’ life!

In one sense, I should be over the moon about the fact that I haven’t written a post in over three months. As I look back over the span of my work, I see vast portions that were fueled by pain, fear and, truth be told, 32 flavors of frustration. Now I find myself in the fortunate conundrum of re-learning how and what to write as a deeply content woman living a life beyond my dreams with the woman who is my soul mate.

It’s true that while settling in over here I’ve done my dead level best to ignore the swirling shit-storm that is The US at this point in time. I’ve seriously curtailed my consumption and engagement of social media, but more than that, in the past 90 days I’ve seen little more than about an hour total of news from any corner of the earth other than what is going on within a 10 mile radius around me. Yep, this is negligent and must soon come to an end, but it has been life giving to step back and live, really live, in the here and now.

So before I start blogging regularly again, I thought I’d catch y’all up on what we’ve been up to the last little while…

Walking and Riding

Everywhere. We get everywhere a gal’s gotta go on foot, bike or public transportation.We ride our bikes about 9 miles two and from work most days, unless it’s piss-pouring rain, which as it turns out happens far less than the expat guides scared us into believing. Of course Betsy still splashes into work, poncho a’flyin.

Early on, I had a nasty little splat when I misjudged the physics between bicycle tire and concrete curb. But over weeks and months of getting back on the horse what threw me, I have come to adore sailing all over town on my trusty blue bicycle.  Now we are learning how to be really Dutch by trying to carry far more than is reasonable as I peddle through town. Five bags of groceries, sure! Dog food bag the size of a love-seat, no problem! Modest haul of produce from the market + new broom + fire pit (some assembly required) – you got this, babe!

Working and Playing

Betsy and I spend our weeks fully immersed in the life of the school where we both work –  Betsy as a 9th and 12th grade teacher and I happily splitting my days as an admin in the athletics and communications/marketing departments. The work is wonderful and the culture is fantastic. We’re making good and true friends and find affirmation anew each day that we have indeed chosen wisely.

Nearly every Wednesday we enjoy happy hour at a different pub in Leiden with a little crew of faculty and staff who live in our college town. Some of our favorite stops this fall have been Cafe De Bonte Koe, Lot & de Walvis, Waag, The North End Pub, Café de Keyzer (where I will be co-hosting Pub Theology on Nov. 17!) Olivier’s and Grand Café De Vriend.

We’ve – lost miserably at Astronomy on Tap bingo, been to a beer festival at Brouwerij de Molen in Bodegraven, celebrated Leiden’s Ontzet on Oct. 3, enjoyed brews and burgers at The Jopenkerk (brew pub in a church) in Haarlem, taken in a few flicks at The Leiden International Film Festival, enjoyed walkabouts in Amsterdam and a slow stroll through the Van Gough Museum and even climbed to the top of a windmill with a friend visiting from the States.

We recently participated in progressive dinner that had us traipsing all over Leiden to a few  homes of our colleagues. Creepy Cocktails and simple snacks began at 5:30 at our house then we moved on to sample delicious dishes in some truly covet-inducing apartments around the city. Since it was the weekend before Halloween, I may or may not have been donned costumery for our roving affair (and I may or may not have been the only one sporting a costume).

We’ve also introduced a handful of new friends to a bit of American culture with our NFL Sunday nights (complete with wings, sliders, chips and buckets of beer) and an evening of pumpkin carving with a neighboring couple and their little boy.

But we’re not just social butterflies flitting about the local environs…

Nesting and Traveling

We spend a lot of time making this house, street, town and country our new home, just the two of us, ever astonished that this is the life we get to live. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t turn to one another and say, “Wow, I love this life.”

The house is our pride and joy and the time we spend together continues to be sacred and central to our happiness. Many an evening approaches where we’ve planned to go visit a new pub or take in a sliver of Dutch life, when the urge to snuggle up in our home, light a few candles and fire up a bit of Netflix wins out over traipsing about our beautiful city.

Nearly every Saturday we take a couple of hours to stroll through the Leiden Market to shop for yummies for tummies. Holding hands, talking about all the things and taking in the sites, sounds and smells of a bustling Dutch market, is our chance to start the weekend right – fully present to one another and the gifts we’ve been given. And one of my favorite moments has been sitting in the park on our little wooden beach chairs, enjoying a snack of local cheeses and a sip or two or local beer on a warm Sunday afternoon. Sabbath indeed! How odd (and satisfying) it was to be the leisurely locals spied by the flotilla of tourists gliding past on “our” canal.

But wait, there’s more! We’ve also had a chance to travel beyond the borders of Holland since jumping across the pond! We flew to Budapest over fall break and stayed with friends (and former colleagues) of Betsy’s. We rode busses, trams and trains all over the city, saw beautiful sites, ate amazing Hungarian food, soaked in the warm waters of the Széchenyi Bathhouse with hearty locals and sleek tourists and were utterly gob-smacked by the beauty of the magnificently lit parliament house as we floated by on our candle lit dinner cruise.

We have another fun trip planned for Thanksgiving break, so watch our Facebook page for posts. First to guess where we are wins a postcard sent from our destination!

Missing and Not Missing

Y’all, for real, I miss very little from The States apart from family and friends. I do not miss:

The near constant presence of visceral and aggressive homophobia
The perverted marriage of capitalism and health care
The celebration of unhinged materialism
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The glorification of busy
Fear based everything – religion, politics, commerce, relationships, eating…
The religious industrial complex that commodifies our relationship to God, self and others

I DO miss my daughter with an increasingly physical ache that sometimes wakes me in the night. I know she is thriving in her own life and that this is the season where she’d naturally be living into her own trajectory, but I still wake some mornings wishing I could make her breakfast or snuggle under piles of quilts while sipping hot beverages and reading important thoughts to one another. Betsy too misses her parents and siblings with whom she is very close. She’s a tender soul and being an ocean away from her folks can bring tears to her eyes, especially when there is so much of this chapter of her life she’s bursting to share and so much happening back home that she only hears about through phone calls.

I can safely say we all miss a yard for the pups. Though beautiful Plantsoen Park is little more than 20 feet from our front door, we miss the lazy days of Sookie and Louie lolling about on the back deck with the freedom to muck about, off-leash, around the sizable old Florida landscape.

Southern fried food. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of fried food here, but it’s just not what my mama made. I was raised in a family that friend anything that stood still long enough – brined, dredged and cast-iron fried is what I’m talking about! The fried bits and nibbles of the Netherlands don’t quite cut it for this southern gal with a tad too much buttermilk running through her veins. And don’t even get me started on the great biscuit fiasco of naught 17!

Whew! Now that we got that out of the way…stay tuned for our regularly scheduled programming of posts.

Next up – the great double Dutch grilled cheese cook-off where Kim and Betsy go head to head fusing an American classic with the cheeses of Holland! Do you know how to pronounce Gouda?

But who’s counting?

But who’s counting?

So here’s how the next 31 or so days are supposed to play out…

In three days we will move out of our home so the lovely couple who is renting our nest can move in and start their own new adventure.

For the next couple of weeks we’ll be living on the love and goodwill of our family staying in family-owned rentals and crashing in guest rooms – 140 pounds of pups in tow.

In about 11 days we’re hoping to say our “until we meet agains” to Kateand Michael who both happen to be visiting Florida for the same weekend in July.

In 14 days we’ll hug some necks, laugh through some happy and sad tears and otherwise say our farewells to family and friends who we know will be holding us in the light as we take our leave.

In 15 days we’ll drive to Miami (stopping for one last picnic in a state park) and spend our last night in America (stuffed into a pet-friendly hotel room and eating our picnic leftovers).

On July 14 we’ll all board planes (beasties on one, we on another) and soar through the night skies to the next chapter in our lives.

On July 15 we’ll set foot in Amsterdam, be greeted by the folks at B’s school and driven to our temporary home where we’ll stay until our new home-away-from-home is ready to receive us.

My Zoë, fresh from woofing in the south of France, will join us at our Air BnB in The Hague somewhere around the 23rd. Our dear friend (and Z’s “host sister” from her high school study abroad days) Sarah will join us a few days later and exploring we will go!

Then, on July 29 we will be handed the keys to our sweet home away from home on Rijnstraat (just one block from Plantsoen) in Leiden.

Y’all, I don’t know how or why I get to live this life, but right now, on the cusp of it all, I’m so grateful for what ever this is – blessing, luck, insanity…and my family – wife Betsy and my daughter Zoë – for being the radiant beings they are – the sun and moon in this crazy world of mine – by which the compass of my heart finds its true north.

And y’all for being out there for me to share this cray cray with. For real – thank you.

Behind the busy and the bluster of leaving

The movers come in less than a week to pack and ship about half of our remaining earthly possessions to our home away from home in The Netherlands. What we are not shipping, we are either leaving in the house for our tenant or stuffing in our luggage and hauling all over kingdom come. We make lists every morning and every evening and still we’re sure we’re forgetting to do or pack something absolutely essential. I check my countdown app incessantly and post some version of “ugh, I can’t wait to get out of here” on Facebook every day.

Before the sun had set on my last day of working in the US, I sold my car for just enough to make the final payment. Instead of selling most of our things, we are carefully boxing hundreds of items and taking them to the local thrift store that benefits SunCoast Humane Society.

Though such a move is easier than a lot of folks may think, I am fully aware that a lot of lucky stars have aligned to make this happen for us. I am lucky to have a partner who is a highly skilled teacher who’s been invited to teach abroad again, lucky to have found such a wonderful partner in the first place, lucky to have friends and family who will love us no matter how far away we go, lucky to have a daughter at just the right age to celebrate a mom with a home in Europe…this list of luck goes on and on.

But percolating beneath the surface of all this busy and bluster is a growing sense of the enormity of what we are doing – and not doing.

Contrary to the optics, weighing quite heavily on my mind are the tasks we are leaving at loose ends. I’m not talking about forgetting to wipe clean the cabinets or fold the load of laundry languishing in the dryer. A large part of what’s knitting my brow is the fact that we are abandoning ship at a time when America needs every voice, no matter how small and trembling, in the chorus of the resistance.

With every faith-based Facebook group I leave and each political email list from which I unsubscribe, I feel the creeping vines of guilt inching up from the ground which I will soon no longer claim as my own. I’m sure beyond the shadow of a doubt that this is the right move for us, but I worry about the difference we might have been able to make if we stayed.

We actually speak daily about the little and large things we would do to resist the overall culture of fear, greed and loathing that has been carefully engineered all around us. Gardening not mowing, increasing our chicken flock, working only for non-profits, attending every local and national rally against the regime and even fostering children in need, all top our “if we stayed” list. Because we have the capacity and will to make a difference in our community and country, but choose instead to leave, I worry.

But for now, I keep packing, knowing that some of my baggage will travel with me unseen, hoping that the weight will not be lifted from my shoulders, but rather remind me to keep watch from abroad, stay connected to the conflict at home while making the most of this amazing gift.

Among my most ardent hopes, is that my voice that has grown hoarse with hollering at the machine will have time to heal and, with time and distance, I’ll rediscover what called me to the keyboard in the first place – hope.

Are we there yet? 10 ways to be here now…

Are we there yet? 10 ways to be here now…

“Life is available only in the present moment” – Thich Nhat Hanh, Taming the Tiger


Liminal space; it’s one of my favorite phrases, a notion I find rather fetching, but as it turns out, it’s a space I do a miserable job of inhabiting.

In less than 60 days Betsy and I will hop on the plane that will be taking us to our new life in Leiden. We have so much yet to do – paperwork for us and our two rambunctious dogs, check-ups for us and the aforementioned fur babies, sorting and selling and packing all the things and saying a host of “until we meet agains.”

And we are SO stinking’ excited. And yes, also freaking out a little bit.

Nearly every evening, we watch YouTube videos filled with windmills, tulips and boats puttering along quaint canals. Sometimes we unfold the rumpled photos of the house we’ll live in over there and talk about what of ours we’re taking and where it might sit in the scene. We take turns reading aloud from a handful of books about our soon-to-be home while one of us cooks or does the dishes or tries to sneak just one more decades old t-shirt into the Goodwill bag.

I have a countdown app on my phone that I peek at every day, as if I’m not keeping track in my distracted head. When we are with friends and family, nearly every discussion turns to our expat plans. More than a few invitations to hang out have been declined in favor of getting ready to go. With all the planning and packing, googling and gawking, we have little time to walk the 1800 steps to beautiful Manasota Beach.

Yeah, we are having a blast fiddling with the future, but I’m keenly aware that I’m not giving myself fully to the present moment of the rapidly waning days in America. Some days I want to crawl out of my own skin to hurry up and get there. I wasn’t sure how to settle my spirit, so I sat down to make this list:

1. When I wake up, sit still with a cup of coffee and look, listen and languish in the fleeting darkness.

2. Drive to work in quiet, notice the landscape of Florida, especially the bougainvillea, the Spanish moss, sand everywhere all dotted with lizards, spindly legged birds and post-card palm trees.

3. While at work, give my full attention to each task, even to the things everyone knows I won’t care a whit about in just a few days.

4. Go out to lunch and eat at my favorite pizza joint, taco stand or greasy spoon.

5. Stop at the grocery store on the way home and pick up a disgustingly, deliciously American snack.

6. While making or eating dinner with Betsy, share what did happen during our individual days, not what is going to happen over there.

7. Spend an hour or two a night mindfully going through stuff – linger over old photos, flip through a book or two slotted to give away and take time remember to why I loved that thread bare t-shirt in the first place.

8. Go on a few dates with my amazing wife – dine out, goof off at the pool hall, dance like fools at a concert by our favorite band or catch a blazing sunset with our toes in the sand.

9. Spend as much time as possible – in person, on the phone, via Skype or even in private messages online – with every single person I love. Be fully present to their lives and listen deeply to their stories.

10. Hug everyone who is a hugger.