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.
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.
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
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?
Experts tell us that there are four stages to culture shock. The Honeymoon, Frustration, Adjustment and Acceptance. Most of this post smacks of the honeymoon stage, though there are some signs of the frustration stage creeping in…
My wife and I moved to The Netherlands one month ago and as far as we can tell, everything is going better than we’d hoped. Sure, we’ve had the occasional hiccup and headache, but day in and day out we can honestly say that life is good and getting better every day. It’s been so good that we’ve decided to slow down and soak it all in, the fun and the foibles, without the constant pull of social media. So this will be our first true update in a few weeks. The bad news is, it’s a rather long post. The good news is, we have a LOT to share!
When we arrived we had a couple of weeks to cool our heels in an Air BnB in The Hague, a city a few miles from our rental in Leiden, because our new home was not quite ready for us to move in. At first this seemed like a pain in the patoot, but we quickly came to appreciate the opportunity to explore a city that we would not otherwise see if we had moved right in to Leiden. Beyond the near constant sensation of utter astonishment that we were starting a new life in The Netherlands (I may or may not have wept with joy every few minutes that first week), we were struck deeply by how right everything felt. From the kindness of the people to a mind-bogglingly beautiful environment and the perfect pace of life, it is becoming clear to us both that we are home.
Are are a few highlights from the past month:
The kindness of strangers that seems to know no end is wonderful. It was so startling at the beginning that it felt like we were suffering from a bit of PTSD coming from the cray cray of the current American landscape. From day one we have been embraced by so many locals!I am falling in love with the Dutch – from friends we met before we ever got here to our Air BnB hosts (they are coming to our house for dinner this weekend!) to passers by in a train station who gently asked “how can I help” upon hearing Betsy say “I don’t know where…” Now don’t get me wrong, they are not all warm and fuzzy, some folks experience the Dutch as abrupt. But this gal rather likes their directness far more than the superficial shenanigans masquerading as southern manners.
Our house in Leiden is practically perfect in every way. We are very fortunate to have snapped up a home listed on B’s school’s intranet. Owned by a former teacher, this three story, 19th century house is quite possibly the most charming house I’ve ever lived in. The spiral staircase was a challenge at first, but now we are all bopping up and down the stairs as if we’ve done so our whole lives. The rooms are small, but cozy. The refrigerator is about the size of a dorm-room fridge and there is only one brick (and no insulation to speak of) separating us from our neighbors. But – we are totally in love with the space and location. Located on quite street just on the edge of the historic center of Leiden and mere steps away from any and everything we could want, well, this is where we belong!
Rather than posturing and hollering about freedom, people here just are free in so many ways. Have you ever been to a dinner party and sat next to someone who told you over and over how cool or smart or sexy they are? Correct me if I am wrong, but if you have to say it (to convince others or yourself) it quite possible ain’t so. Furthermore, I got to thinking about the tired old American slogan “freedom is not free” and to be perfectly frank, I’d rather pay more money in the form of taxes for our shared freedom than with the lives of other people’s children turned soldiers. Oops, sorry for the tangent, this is supposed to be a post about all the crazy cool we are experiencing over here!
The canals that wind through the city where we live are a constant delight. Whether walking across a bridge, sitting at a canal-side cafe or floating along the canals of Leiden with our landlord, I just cannot get enough of these silverly slips of heaven.
The parks, especially the expansive Plantsoen that is just one block from our house. Not only is it a treat for us, but with no yard and two big dogs, it is our lifeline to sanity and sanitation! Having to walk the beasts every time nature calls has been a big adjustment from our big yard in Florida, but we all love the strolls (for now, in the summer) and they certainly love all the new smells to explore. We also really dig cool off-leash dog park we found just a few blocks away that is a tiny island where the pups can run like the wild beasts they are in their hearts.
And of course, bicycles! We are loving our car-free life and truly adore the cycling culture here. Bikes outnumber cars and there are trails everywhere – and we mean everywhere – to make riding a preferred and safe mode of transportation in the city. We are learning the rules slowly (no international incidents…yet) and are thoroughly enjoying getting around, running errands and commuting to work on two wheels.
I was told that there is a favorite phrase of the Dutch – “It is not possible” – and I have found this to be true in dealing with banking, cell phone service and the post office. At first, the number of confounding steps required to accomplish seemingly simple administrative tasks was quite frustrating. But when I took a step back and thought about it from different perspectives, I was able to relax and go with the Dutch flow. If dealing with the headache of bureaucracy is the small price I have to pay for this amazing new life, well I think I can afford that. More importantly, I found myself imagining exponentially harder it is refugees from war-torn countries to settle into a new land. Devastated by violence, forced to flee from their homes, many with little to no possessions, many more injured or ill or dying…how on earth do they ever make it? So yeah, a little hassle over paperwork is certainly nothing to get my privileged white knickers in a knot about.
Being a dumb American who only knows one language is not exactly my favorite persona. Communication is so very important to me and being currently unable to conduct conversations, or even ask simple questions like “where are the toothpicks” in the grocery store is incredibly frustrating. Most of the Dutch speak English, but not all, so there is that. So I am working hard and fast to learn the language, emphasis on hard, no so much the fast. I have some essential words and phrases down such as ja, nee, alsjeblieft and dank je wel. And just this weekend I was able to ask for kaas met zwarte truffles at the grocery store. Okay, I was almost able to ask for it, but chickened out because I could not remember how to say “do you have”. One day at a time eh? Duo Lingo is my friend and rumor has it there are some bas ass Dutch nuns running a program where after two weeks of intense immersion, students come out fluent! Side note: this has also opened my eyes and heart even more to immigrants who are treated reprehensibly when they struggle with the language of the land (I’m looking at you, America). Ahem.
An after dinner candy that was offered as a caramel and tasted distinctly like vomit still has us puzzling over who on earth would find that flavor appealing!?!
Seagulls! One of our first days here we witnessed a seagull deftly pluck a whole baguette sandwich from a lady’s hand! The feathered fiends are a plague I tell you, from eviscerating trash bags filled with stroopwaffel wrappers and bitterballen crumbs, to their ungodly screams outside our window (yes screams – I swear they sound like slasher film victims) every morning in giant flocks starting just before the sun rises.
Last week I was sipping a tasty brew and enjoying a generous helping of frites and mayonnaise at a canal cafe when a massive seagull (and a few of her friends) swooped in to try and steal my meal. With only A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway as my defense, I finished my snack by swatting at the persistent pests without much grace or shame.
Who’s the cable guy? I am! When we subscribed to our new internet and cable provider, we had no idea that a box would arrive in the mail with a “good luck with that” sticky note on top! For real y’all, they shipped us all the equipment and instructions (in Dutch) for how to install and activate our own internet, wifi and cable. I’m thoroughly impressed with what this says about the intelligence and competence of Dutch citizens. Not only do most folks know two or more languages, but apparently everyone has an IT degree to boot! After a few hours of Google translate, a couple of helpful videos and following wires around this old house, maaaaybe a Kwak or two, we are happily surfing the web and watching TV in Dutch!
Well, that’s all I’ve got for now. We’ll try to post a little more frequently so future posts are not so dang long!
Content warning: Be careful what you ask for, this post is a doozie!
About 12 years before I met Betsy, she stepped off a plane in Florida, jet lagged and hungry after a 12 hour flight from Budapest. She had just returned to the states after teaching abroad for ‘round about 7 years. For the first five, she taught IB and GCSE English in Singapore, the two after that she taught IB English in Hungary. In these years she worked, coached, played and developed life-long bonds with some extraordinarily lovely people who would go on to serve and lead international schools around the world. (I’m sure it’ll come as little surprise to y’all that this period of her life formed her into the beautiful human that swept me off my feet a couple of years ago).
Fast forward to Nov. 8, 2016, just 4 months after the proposal and 4 months before the wedding, we sat stunned and sobbing in our old Florida home. After the sickening reality of who and what had just happened sank in, Betsy began reaching out to everyone she knew abroad to find out if there might be any openings anywhere but here. There were, in fact, positions at a few schools and a few positions at one school in particular that happened to be located in the first nation to legalize same sex marriage – The Netherlands. Throughout the fall and winter she submitted her resume, letters of recommendation and participated in a flurry of Skype interviews (final interview was early in the morning on January 21, inauguration day). A few weeks later, after about a dozen sleepless nights she got the call – “you’re hired!”
In the months between Nov. 8 and Jan. 21, we’d talked to a lot of folks – each other, friends, family, acquaintances and complete strangers – and we kept coming up with the same conclusion; we want this.
Some of y’all have been following this journey and have asked for more insight about the logistics of what we are doing. Lordy be, there are so many moving parts!
The engine driving this hover craft is Betsy’s job. Without this, I have no idea how we’d have the privilege of making this leap. Betsy’s connections, commitment and skills as a devoted high school literature teacher is how we got this ball rolling.
Because of her job and sponsorship, I, her wife, will also have a live/work permit for our life in Leiden. I do not yet know what I will be doing – that search will be infinitely easier once I am there and have my work permit in hand. I am hoping for something new, something that draws on my seminary education while still utilizing my decades of website design and social media marketing experience.
Thank goodness for our sponsor, Betsy’s school, and the folks there who are handling most of the puzzle pieces that would otherwise baffle us in this transition. The paperwork is significant, though not ridiculous. We had to provide serious, double plus, pinky swear proof that we are who we say we are. That meant we needed to both provide birth certificates with an Apostille seal procured from our states of birth. Then, once in hand, for me to be able to live and work there, we had to provide our marriage certificate (thanks Obama) with the Apostille seal. Bets had to submit an FBI background check (thankfully the Panamanian noodle incident was stricken from her record). Our fur kids would require their own reams of paperwork, but we will get to that in a second.
Here, too, we got all flavors of lucky. We were told that a lot of incoming faculty wait until they arrive to spend a couple of weeks searching for an apartment. Everyone we asked advised us to rent for the first year or two and then if we decided if this was our forever nation we might look to buy. I was intensely comfortable to nail down our rental as quickly as possible so we watched the school’s intranet closely for posts about rentals, while also spending countless hours on sites like Funda and Pararius. Pretty early on we saw a posting on the intranet for a place owned by a former teacher that was exactly where we wanted to live (near a park in Leiden) and after a couple of weeks of emails we had signed a one year lease on a perfect place on Rijnstraat just a block from Plantsoen Park.
Stateside, we decided pretty early on that we wanted to keep Betsy’s house that is just a five minute walk from Manasota beach. So we had months of work to get it ready and within a few day of posting it on Craigslist, we hit the tenant jackpot! We moved out of our home on July 1st and have been living on the goodwill of family and Air BnB hosts for the last two weeks. When we get to Holland, we will be staying in a groovy Air BnB in the Hague before we get to move into our for-real home in Leiden.
Quarantine is not required to ship our fur babies to The Netherlands. However, there have been five bazillion hours of paperwork, two extra-large, airline approved crates, 15 digit European chips (in addition to their already installed, 9 digit US chips), a whole new round of shots, a USDA certified health certificate (which had to be government approved within 10 days of the dogs arriving in The Netherlands – thanks FedEx for the paper routing to and from Tallahassee), an embarrassing pile of Benjamins to ship two, 60+ pound boxer-bulldogs the 4,624 miles from Miami to Amsterdam, not to mention a flurry of frantic phones calls to check and double check just about everything. Because our fur babies are of the snub-nose variety, there are only a couple of airlines equipped to ship them safely. With the (required) help of an official (and wildly helpful) pet carrier, we’ve made all the arrangements for Sookie and Louie to be dropped off at their pet terminal on Friday morning, after which we will head over to our own terminal and each take our day-long journey to Holland. We will arrive at Schiphol about an hour before they land.
We have too much stuff….no, really, we have way too much stuff. We still have too much stuff even after jettisoning and storing lots and lots of stuff. After a big old yard sale, about 13 trips to our local thrift shop (NOT Goodwill), selling our camper and cars and recycling what was left of the product from our business, we STILL have too much stuff. About six weeks before our scheduled flight, movers arranged by the school where B will work arrived to pack up our allowed 8 cubic meters of stuff. We are also hauling four huge suitcases, two small suitcases and an unauthorized amount of “personal items” through the airports and city streets of The Hague.
We are still Americans. We will still be Americans when we get there. We will always be Americans. We are not, nor are we required to renounce our citizenship. We will carry our American passports everywhere we go. One day, if all goes as my heart of heart hopes, I hope to apply for dual citizen ship. But that is years off and for another post further down the road.
Whew, that’s all I’ve got for now, y’all. We still have a few more days State-side and about 12 days of errands yet to run!
Feel free to ask about anything we’ve left out..like all the insurance papers (especially those in Dutch), sim cards for our iPhones, shutting off utilities and picking them back up over there, consolidating bank accounts and opening accounts abroad. Bets and I will both do our best to respond. Your call is important to us…please stay on the line.
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.