When thinking about what to do for Thanksgiving as a couple of broads living abroad, of course the first thing to come to mind was to hop a plane and head to the Emerald Isle. Thanks to RyanAir’s recent kerfuffle, the tickets were ridiculously cheap, so…
After the staff meeting on Wednesday afternoon, our wonderful Scottish colleague drove us to the airport where we waited in a little airport pub and tipped back a couple of practice pints while chatting with the pimply-faced bartender.
Within a couple of hours we boarded, took off and landed in Dublin in the pouring rain. We quickly hopped the 747 bus that drove us to the College Green/Temple Bar stop, sloshed our way to the quaint Fleet Street Hotel (yep, I am a Sweeney Todd fan), dropped our bags and headed out for a brief, single-street pub crawl.
First we wandered just down stairs and sat for a spell in the hotel pub, O’Malley’s for a couple of pints of Guinness and Smithwick’s Pale. From there we found our way to The Quay where the music was thumping and the patrons were jumping. Betsy got a little ribbing from the bartender for ordering a mere 1/2 pint, but I made up the difference by waiting patiently for my perfectly poured pint of Guinness. With intentions to keep crawling, we figured a stop for dinner would be in order.
Not more than a block away we found The Old Mill, a second story restaurant where we indulged in matching baskets of fish and chips. And wow, these fish and chips were the absolute best, most mouth-watering fish and chips I’ve ever tasted. The batter was crispy and seasoned to perfection, the fish was flaky and the chips were both plump and crunchy. As you might imagine, after all that our bellies were full and our pub crawl ran aground as our eyelids began drooping.
Thursday we awoke with hearts full of gratitude for all that this life is giving us. After a great breakfast in the hotel canteen, we made our way to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells and visit the old library. There was no line, the Book was on display and the library was breathtaking! Happy Thanksgiving indeed!
By noon, we checked out and made our way to the Enterprise car rental at city center where we were taken care of by just the friendliest and most helpful Irishmen. Not only did we come away with a great car but a full list of places to visit in Galway. So away we went, continuing to marvel at the constant warmth of the Irish.
With Bets at the wheel and Siri+Kim navigating, we coasted across Ireland. Before long we saw signs for the Tullamore Dew Distillery and, with no set agenda, we decided a detour was in order. Hint: the actually distillery does not give tours, but the old distillery in town does – yes please! As we entered the small town of Tullamore, the glorious, sticky-sweet smell of peat fires filled the air. We enjoyed the truly creative tour, sipped some damn fine whiskey and wound up buying a 12-year-old bottle of The Dew.
Back on the road and we soon found ourselves in Galway for another bit of a pub crawl. This was really special for me since I had fallen in love with Galway years ago. We popped into my favorite places, Tig Coilis, The Quays and then stumbled into our first Christmas market of the season. In a twinkly light and mulled wine haze, we sauntered from stall to stall gazing at the glittering tchotchkes and paper stars. We ended the evening at Tigh Neachtain, packed to the gills with ebullient locals, expats and of course, tourists.
Next morning, up and at ’em for a beautiful drive along the coast to have visit Spiddal. After a warm breakfast in the tiny town, we walked to the little church and crawled through the age-old graveyard, along the shore rocks and eventually into the sanctuary where we lit three candles under a beautiful stained glass window full of fish and boats…one for Betsy’s dad’s 75th birthday that was on that very day. The other two flames we left flickering were for me, tiny prayers for sanity and peace to find it’s way back home.
While in Spiddal, we visited the town’s craft village, which is an outcropping of small colorful shops, each dedicated to a local artisan selling their local wares. We found gifts for family and friends and even a few treats for ourselves from a gifted glass artist, a friendly basket artist famous for his “royal rattle” and a very clever Celtic Coin Jeweler. We also came away with another helping of what money cannot buy, the joy of spending even a few moments talking with Irish folk. We even received an invitation to a house party for a CD release party happening later that weekend. Unfortunately we could not make that gig because we would already be on a plane headed back to Holland.
So we made our way back to Galway where we had an amazing day, picked up a few more nice things then walked around town where we “discovered” the only LGBT pub in town – Nova.
There was a single bartender behind the tiny bar and not another soul in the place. As we shook the cold off and stepped up to the bar we found smiling, young Sharon to take our order. Sharon began to “warn us” that a regular patron of the pub would be coming in soon. She told us that they were the only pub in town who would serve the elderly man because he was dying, dying of cancer and coughed so violently, coughing up the death that was in him, that most people found his presence repulsive. She told us that three months ago he had been given one month to live. We thanked her for her gentle warning, but ordered our pints and took a seat by the window to work on our stack of postcards.
Before long, the old man came into the bar, and as she promised, was coughing that cough I recall so well from when my own father was dying. My throat clenched, my heart ached, but we continued sipping and chatting and in a few moments witnessed a truly holy and tender moment in that little gay bar. Sharon greeted the man with a genuine smile, chatted with him a moment and then briefly came to our table to check on us. Then back to the shuddering man, sitting alone in the pub corner. After a few more minutes she seemed to be escorting him out. Instead, she stood with him in the damp vestibule, lit a cigarette, took a draw and then held it to his slack mouth so he could inhale tendrils of one of his last comforts.
His cough subsided briefly and Sharon came back to our table to check on us once again. With tears in our eyes, we told her we’d seen how tenderly she cared for her friend and she shared with us bits about her own life, snippets from her journey and plans for her future. Sharon – barmaid, pub-hospice chaplain, nurse and friend – may the road indeed rise to meet you, sister.
We spent the rest of our Galway evening wandering back to the Christmas market, picking up a nice bottle of Writer’s Tears along the way. And we ended the evening back in the warmth of Tigh Neachtain where we enjoyed sharing a flight of fine whiskey and chatting with locals who assured us that Galway is as special as it seems.
The next morning we packed up early and headed back to the east coast of Ireland for our flight back to Schiphol. We dropped off our rental car (where the attendant insisted on giving us a courtesy ride to our penultimate stop – the Guinness Storehouse tour). Though a bit overpriced and a lot over commercial, the panoramic view of Dublin from the top is stunning. If you go, buy your tickets online and skip the crazy long line. We recommend going straight to the restaurants a few floors up then visit the top-floor and then, if you really must, take the tour. We didn’t spring for the extra €€ to partake in the pouring class, but we did enjoy a couple of decently poured pints along the way. Try to avoid the gift shops if you can, or you’ll drop a pretty penny taking back swag for your friends.
So off to the airport we went with swift cab ride and dash through the terminals. Sitting in different rows, we met and chatted with more lovely people until an hour and a half later we were back on Dutch soil.
We are incredibly thankful for the beautiful whirlwind this trip was! Thank you, thank you, thank you, Ireland for your multitude of gifts.
Stay tuned for the next grilled cheese-off, a peek at a couple of Dutch Christmas markets and eventually, a post about going back to the States for Christmas.
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
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?
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.
“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.