Saturday, July 17, 2010

Fall in The Netherlands

After six months abroad, I can say that we are finding a sense of routine here in Holland. We are adjusting to small town life where you might see an acquaintance three or four times during a single day as we all run our errands. I’ve grown accustomed to buying my meats at the butcher and my bread at the bakery and reading store labels in Dutch. The kids assume we will be traveling everywhere possible by bike. We’ve learned to plan ahead in a country with no fast food, no convenience stores, and where almost everything closes from Saturday night to Monday afternoon.

Jack has started saxophone lessons with his soft spoken Greek teacher. Jordan has started ballet with no less than five of her little girl classmates.

Jordan asked me the other day how long it will be until she is fluent in Dutch. I said I didn’t know, but why was she concerned? She stomped her foot and complained, “I’m the ONLY one in my class who speaks just ONE language!”. She is not, of course, but she is one of just three.

Walt has become the seasoned traveler. He just returned from a week long adventure in Nigeria. His itinerary this Fall includes: Qatar, Oman, Siberia, and Florence. He’s had to request extra pages for his passport as well as a whole second passport to ease the logistics of acquiring new visas.

As normal as this strange journey has become, there are still days that remind us that we are VERY far from home.

There was the day I took the kids into an innocent looking gift shop in Amsterdam to purchase some postcards. Down one side of the shop was a selection of bongs, down the other was a selection of sex souvenirs. At the counter were lollipops. This is when the kids decided they wanted a treat. “We have not had a treat all day!”, they complained. Looking closely at the suckers, I realized they were cannabis lollipops…. The saleslady rescued me. She assured the kids, “Oh those? They taste TERRIBLE”.

There are pleasant surprises, as well. We have recently discovered the town of Leiden. This little gem of a city is only two miles away. As beautiful as Amsterdam, it is filled with 15 century architecture, antique drawbridges, and rings and rings of canals.

On October 3rd each year, they celebrate the liberation of their city from the Spanish occupation in 1574 with the making and eating of Hutspot. The Spanish had laid siege to the city. At the brink of starvation, the Leidener’s breached their own dikes, flooding out the Spanish armies. According to legend, the citizens found a huge cauldron in the deserted Spanish camp filled with three ingredients: parsnips, carrots, and onions. They created a soup or mash called Hutspot eaten to this day. This year they have a pot where they hope to cook enough Hutspot for 13,000 people. A world record!

If you have read the book or seen the movie, “The Tale of Despereaux”, you know the tale of Leiden celebrating their soup!

One or two days a week, we bike to the local dairy farm to buy milk, cheese, and eggs. In the little farm house shop they speak no English, but are patient with me as I point to what I need and gesture how much. It is a beautiful ride to the farm. The girls love to stop and visit the calves, goats, kittens, and swans. Jack, on the other hand, complains bitterly that we have to go to the farm again and we couldn’t just go straight home from school…. Some things never change.

Since the loss of our Casey-dog this summer, we have been a pet–free family. The kids have been begging for a pet to love here in Holland. I have been resisting, knowing what all mother’s know, that this pet will be my responsibility. As if in an answer to a prayer, a neighborhood cat started visiting our back garden. This lovely Siamese is painfully shy. The kids talk to her and coax her with milk and (of all things) hamburger, but she only flees from their affections. Lately, though, she has become more bold. She approaches our patio doors and looks in. One night we looked up from the living room to see her standing in our kitchen waiting for us to notice her. And so, in a way, we have a pet. The children plan what to put out for her to drink or eat. They watch carefully for her arrival. They celebrate any attention she might pay them. Everyone, even the cat, is happy.

I should go. My house is in painful need of attention.

Please write to us. Another wave of homesickness is upon us, and at one time or another in the past week, the children and I have been lost in longing for things familiar.

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