31 January 2009

25 Random Facts

I passionately hate chain emails. Especially the ones that promise you your every wish come true if you forward the email to at least seven other people. If you don't, the opposite will happen. Your life is going to suck. Forever. Or something to that extent. I always, without fail, break the chain. Live dangerously! (Maybe that is why I am living the American Nightmare at the moment, rather than the American Dream? Hmmm...)

There is this thing currently going around on Facebook where you write 25 random facts about yourself, tag the people that are somehow connected to those random facts (and have a Facebook-account), and then it's their turn to write 25 random facts about themselves. Someone was just telling me about it earlier this week. And what do you know? I log in to Facebook and I have been tagged. It's my turn.

What do I do now? I really enjoyed Sheila's list of random facts and it seems only fair I also make an effort. But is fairness an issue here? What about my hatred of chain mail? Who do I tag? I was thinking about the following solution. I will make my list, publish it, but perhaps not tag anyone. But that's silly, really. Then it's just a list of random facts. I have my weblog for that.

Oh, what the heck...!

So, aside from despising chain emails, what other random facts can I convey about myself?

1. The only time I came close to having a pen pal was with Mats Wilander's older brother. I can't remember his name, actually I think it might be Ingmar, but my dad dubbed him Pete. Whenever there was tennis on the television, he would ask me: "Heard anything from Pete Wilander lately?" He kept this joke up for years. Long after Mats Wilander's career ended.

2. I am a firm believer in love at first sight and listening to your heart. It doesn't make for an easy path necessarily, but most definitely one worth following.

3. Because Dutch is not really the most un-useful language to be fluent in, globally speaking, I was once determined to learn Gaelic. I even went so far as to purchase the book AND the cassettes for Teach Yourself Gaelic. When I moved to the US, they didn’t make the cut.

4. I am half a thesis shy of a Master’s Degree in Cultural Anthropology. And no, I can’t finish it because the Dutch higher education system has changed and I missed my window of opportunity. I am a wanker. (Two facts for the price of one.)

5. Amsterdam will always be the most beautiful city in the world, but I do not miss it. I really love living the country life. I want to have chickens! Of course, being a mere ten-minute drive from downtown Olympia probably disqualifies us as country folk. But I can pretend.

6. I once sang Battle Hymn of the Republic on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

7. The day of my 40th birthday lasted 25 hours. I met Ryan that year, got married, and conceived Lola. I am not too big a fan of ‘life begins at 40’ because it ignores the previous 39 years, but I cannot dismiss this. My life as I know it began at 40.

8. I can type with ten fingers. Totally self-taught!

9. I fantasize about one day having a great big house with a wrap-around porch and having our entire family come and spend the holidays with us. I would decorate each guest room with its own Christmas tree. Very Martha Stewart.

10. My first car was a 1969 Fiat 500L. Cream colored, very cute. Until my purse was stolen I actually walked around with a picture of my car in my wallet.

11. I fall deeper in love with my daughter every day. She is the most beautiful, cutest, funniest, smartest, sweetest girl I have ever met. There is no one like her. And I am NOT prejudiced.

12. I wish I were a better photographer. More specifically I would like to do more in black & white. But having a digital camera makes me lazy. It’s so easy!

13. I haven’t seen my sister and my nephews since I left for the United States. That is far too long. They have become dudes and she has become an aunt since then. It is so cool be an aunt.

14. One of my best friends and I owe our friendship to Bruce Springsteen.

15. We were also THIS close to becoming Huey Lewis groupies. If that had actually happened, you would NOT be reading about it.

16. I have never been admitted to a hospital in my life. (Knock on wood.) I was not born in one and I did not give birth in one.

17. Last week I succumbed to the pressure of working in a bead store and purchased beads, cord, and a kumihimo disk. This is a dangerous development. It can be very costly to work in a place where you really like the merchandise and get an employee discount, as my co-worker can confirm.

18. I am eleven years, four months, and four days older than my husband. This is only apparent when we talk about music. Whether it’s about my awesome eighties record collection or Ryan lecturing me on the proper way to flip a record. “Honey, I was flipping records when you were sh***in’ your pants.” (This is not my line. This is what Ryan thinks I should have said that time, and I agree.)

19. I prefer driving a car with a stick shift, rather than an automatic. It’s just more fun that way. As long as you’re not stuck in traffic.

20. Occasionally I give in to my inner dork and google myself.

21. The most decadent thing I have ever done was fly from Amsterdam to Miami for the weekend to join three of my American Junior High School friends and celebrate our birthdays in Key West.

22. I would kill for a dishwasher. No, a washing machine. No, plumbing. No, …

23. The way Ryan and I got together is double cliché. We were set up at a wedding. Best thing that ever happened to me. Hands down.

24. To prepare for Life In The Barn, we watched Braveheart. Now those were rough times! I am pretty sure my Gaelic would have been better than Mel Gibson’s, though.

25. I do not count my blessings often enough. And they are plentiful.

Tag! You're it!

Mr Positive

Last night, right before we went to bed, Ryan was looking around in the barn. When I asked him what he was doing, he said he was looking at the wall, at the structure of the barn. I get that. I like to look at the structure too. It will be a shame almost to cover it up eventually.

I especially like the ceiling. The beams, the cross beams, and the studs that hold it in place. The only thing I am not too sure of, aesthetically speaking, is the ceiling boards. They say 'This Side Down' on them. Quite clearly. When I mentioned this to Ryan, he replied: "At least people will know we got it right. It would be so much worse if they said 'This side up'..."

24 January 2009


I speak Dutch with Lola, everyone else English. As a result Lola speaks Denglish. She says "ja" in Dutch but "no" in English. She says "bye-bye" in English but "hallo" in Dutch. Actually it's "hawwo." She has some difficulty pronouncing the L. She calls herself "Wowa." S’s are also pretty problematic. At least when they are located at the end of a word. She can say "I see..." but not "poes". I thought "Sandman" would be a bit ambitious so I call the cat "poes" around her. Whenever she sees him, it's "Ha poef." His cue to take off. She loves him so, he still doesn’t feel the same. Alas.

Lola repeats everything I say these days. In the morning we drink a "kopje koffie" (a cup of coffee) - well, I do, she drinks milk. She can't have coffee until she's four. But she can say it. (I don't know where the four comes from; you'll have to ask my mom about that, it’s her rule.)

We have funny conversations with each other. I told her during a diaper change "You stink," to which she replied "I know." Ryan feels I give her more credit on her language skills than she deserves. He will often ask her silly questions just to emphasize that her answering the question correctly does not mean she actually understands it. He claims she says "Ja" to everything.

"Are you going to climb the Empire State Building?"


"Are you going to party with your friends?"


"Is dad funnier than mom?"

My girl cracks me up.

When she drops something or makes a mess, it’s "Oh Lola!" In a painfully high pitch. When she finds something it's "A-ha!", "Boing..." when she falls. "All done," she'll declare when she's had enough of whatever it is she's doing or eating. Occasionally, when I point out there's a big pile of food on the table rather than on her plate, she'll act all surprised. Where did that come from? We are currently working on "I love you."

"I wuv you."
"I lllllllllove you."
"I wuv you."

Those darn L’s.

For a long time I was convinced Lola's first words would be "Bless you" because of the amount of sneezing going on in our house. No. When she started talking, she said the usual first words for a child; da-da, ma-ma, aardbei (Dutch for strawberry). But this morning, when I sneezed, she said it. It may sound different than when I say it, but I heard it loud and clear.

"Bwev you."

20 January 2009

Hail To The Chief

With tears in my eyes I am watching history being made as I write this. Barack Obama's inauguration as the 44th President of the United States stirs up strong emotions. The election of the first African-American president is a 'gloriously wonderful' event as I overheard a woman say to a reporter this morning. It inspires, brings joy, and gives hope. It makes me believe that change is possible, that adversity can be overcome. I am so very proud of my new country.

But the most wonderful part is that this is Lola's normal. And that is as it should be. And to prove just how normal; while watching television this morning, she spit up on me, fell off a chair, and fought me ferociously during a diaper change. Life is good.

17 January 2009

Modern Technology

My child likes to practice her fine motor skills. She loves playing with all the tech devices we have in the barn. The phones, the remote controls, and the digital thermometer – she prefers these over her toys. Our keyboard has to be put back together on a regular basis. Put them away, I hear you thinking. We do, but she’s quicker – and taller – than we anticipate. Obviously Ryan and I are much slower learners than Lola and have to suffer the consequences. Our keyboard is missing the H, for instance. This is pretty darn inconvenient if your name is Hanneke van H. and you’re from Holland. But even for Ryan N. from Wisconsin it is a pest. The English language has an awful lot of words with an H. Fortunately I can copy and paste my name (Thank You, Matthijs van H.!).

There is a lot we do not have in the barn. Some might even say too much. But we do okay, really! It’s funny, the things you learn about yourself when your circumstances change. A person doesn’t need that much. What is perceived as a necessity is often a luxury. Our luxuries are a burden at the moment because we cannot use them and have to store them. I thought the bucket would be hard. But no, it’s the kitchen sink I miss most. I want to pour things down the drain! And I wouldn’t mind being able to wash my hands and look out a window downstairs. All in good time…

What we do have, apart from our health and each other, is modern technology. The internet has proven to be much more important to me than I would have ever thought. I am happy our landline is up again, and I do enjoy watching CSI, but I would have no problem giving them up if I have to. But not my internet connection! I’d fight for that one. It’s my way to apply for jobs, to keep up with the news, to stay connected. I love blogging my story, finding friends on Facebook – I have even started to use the ‘chat’, getting back in touch.

Now, if only I could find the mouse. Lola!

13 January 2009

The Truth And Nothing But...

When I embarked on my Olympic Adventure, I expected something different. I cannot tell you what exactly but certainly not the situation I currently find myself in. The thing is, we’re broke. Not a little broke, no, Broke with a capital B. I guess Ryan and I felt that after having survived the first year of our life together – with a whirlwind romance, an international wedding, immigration, and a baby – we needed a new challenge.

With me not being able to find a job, our financial situation was not great to begin with. Then Ryan was offered a wonderful job with Siemens Building Technologies and things finally seemed to be going our way, the operative word being ‘seemed’. In this country privacy is a hollow phrase and insurance companies rule the world. On his last day with Comcast while he was briefing his replacement, Ryan received a phone call from Siemens HR in Chicago, telling him there was a problem with his driving record and he was deemed unemployable. “You’ll understand we have to withdraw our offer. Have a nice day.” Seriously, that’s what they said.

As it turns out, two and a half years ago, Ryan was late paying a speeding ticket. They are very straightforward about that sort of thing here; you don’t pay your ticket, they suspend your driver’s license until you do. He has long since paid his ticket but not until three years have passed, is an insurance company willing to insure an employee with a suspended license on his record. Or so Siemens claims. The credit-scoring type points system they use for the hiring of new employees tells Siemens Ryan is unemployable and if the computer says so…

Do I sound bitter? Perhaps a little bit. Where I come from, driving records are not available to employers. Being four weeks late paying a ticket results in a fine, not unemployment. We pulled out everything we had trying to persuade Siemens to put people ahead of policy but to no avail. Policy is policy! And they were so happy to have him on board. We’re talking 10,000 dollar signing bonus, company car, the works.

So, one moment you’re trying to buy more property, the next moment you’re bending over backwards trying to keep the one you have. Since that glorious day in June we have made a few interesting decisions that so far are not really working out too well. Underestimating the difficulty he would encounter finding another job, Ryan pursued his dream. He built a barn in our backyard. He has put everything into it; blood, sweat, tears, and quite a bit of money. We wanted it as a guesthouse at first, or perhaps a rental, but we quickly decided we were going to live in it ourselves and rent out the house.

And that’s what we have been doing since December of last year. Unfortunately, we ran out of money before it was finished. We have no running water (unless you consider a garden hose running from the well running water), no plumbing (we highly recommend Cabela’s Luggable Loo), no downstairs windows (not installed anyway), no insulation, and no stairs. There are a few other things not yet ready but you get the picture, I’m sure. Basically, we’re camping with all our stuff. We try to laugh at ourselves and our situation and not give in to self pity too much. And most of the time we pull it off.

On a positive note: the chimney is fixed and the barn is warm and cozy again. Of course, when we moved back into the barn, the storm had knocked the power out. I kid you not. Life is an adventure indeed!

08 January 2009

How Is The Weather?

Talking (read: complaining) about the weather is the #1 pastime for Olympians - something they have in common with the Dutch. The beautiful winter wonderland pictures I have posted so far do not provide an accurate impression of Olympia weather. This is the 24th wettest city in the United States! Winters in Olympia are wet, not white.

It has been raining hard the last couple of days and almost all of the snow is gone. We are back to dreary, gray (I have finally figured it out! Gray is US English, grey is UK English) skies. The snowfall we had earlier was exceptional and the response by city officials accordingly. I believe there are at best three snowplows for all of Thurston County and road salt is considered not environmentally friendly and therefore not used. No exceptions. After all, people grow faster than trees, so why preserve them? It took the city ten days to get to our street. And then they dumped it all in our driveway. I came home to a 4' mountain of slush. It took us a while to shovel our way out, now I had to shovel my way back in...

The falling rain and melting snow are causing rivers to overflow. Western Washington is a mess! The interstate to Portland is closed. Even our basement is flooded. And for the fourth week in a row, my Wednesday yoga class was canceled. I was taught that temperate climates were moderate climates but the Pacific North West seems to go from one extreme to the next. They need to update the brochure!

05 January 2009

Daddy's Girl

It was not exactly love at first sight for Ryan and Lola. This father - daughter relationship needed a little time to develop. Both the experts and amateurs assure us this is quite normal. More often than not, squirming and screaming babies do not render men weak in the knees. Now Ryan and I will never agree on just how much Lola cried (not that much) but we do share the opinion that she was - and is - loud. We never had to use a baby monitor. But Lola getting older and the two of them hanging out a lot this summer has greatly improved their relationship. That, and they both like to wrestle.

Interestingly enough, she listens much better to Ryan than to me. She can whine and fuss when we are alone but when she's with Ryan, she is much more pleasant. She'll be playing and having fun until I enter the room - then it's 'Dee, dee, dee!' (she is saying the Dutch word for 'that' but spelled properly it looks like 'die' and I don't want to give the impression she's evil), pointing at whatever it is she wants. And she just won't stop until either Ryan says something or I raise my voice.

Ryan is not so secretively rather proud of this. I am a little confused. Why is this? It's like she saves it all for me. Is it a compliment in disguise, do I baby her too much, is it because I usually feed her? She's always pointing at food. Do I not feed her enough? She's growing well and still at the top of the charts according to her pediatrician.

Carla tells me Dylan is the same. He'll be happy as a clam until his mother comes in, then the fussing starts. This does not comfort me. Lola is not yet two, Dylan is four years old. I am hoping this is a phase that will pass. But two and a half years seems a bit long for a phase.

Fortunately there are experts that write books about this sort of thing to help reduce the constant second-guessing that comes with motherhood. I am currently reading The Happiest Toddler on the Block. I like it so far and its predecessor The Happiest Baby on the Block made sense to me. And of course I have Ryan. Between the two of us we will tackle this. In his case, literally.

04 January 2009

If It Ain't Broke...

There is a piece of our chimney pipe that needs replacing. The chimney works just fine but it's crooked and chimneys should be straight, both for technical and aesthetic reasons. In order to do that, we need to let the fire in the wood stove go out completely. However, it's cold in Olympia at the moment and the wood stove is our only source of heat, burning twenty four hours a day. But yesterday morning when we got up, the stove had gone out and we decided to seize the moment.

Now unless we really know what we're doing, Ryan and I should not do manual labor together, it hardly ever goes well. And with our stress levels the way they are, now is an even worse time. But the Dutch IRS had finally seen the light and deposited my 2006 tax return in my account and we were feeling optimistic. So we grabbed the replacement piece, climbed the ladder and started pulling on the chimney pipe.

It did not go well. What started out as a chill Saturday morning ended as a chilly Saturday morning with temperatures and temperaments just above freezing. There was yelling involved (both of us), throwing of wood (by me), thrashing of uncooperative chimney pieces (Ryan), tears (me again), talk of dolphins (Ryan - long story).

Unfortunately, replacement pieces cannot be bought at stores but have to be purchased online. There is shipping time involved. It will take up to a week to fix the chimney. And all that time we cannot use the stove. Our living room is quickly becoming a frozen tundra.

So, after blowing off some steam at the gym and defrosting in their hot tub, we bought a bottle of champagne, packed a bag, and moved into Shelly's house. She's still in Hawaii. Her cat Bubba was excited about having company until he realized we brought our cat Sandman. Bubba has been glaring and growling at him all night but Sandman is pretending not to notice and looks all innocent while he walks around the house as if it's his. He is very comfortable here. I am sure that will change as soon as he realizes he cannot go outside but has to use the litter box...

02 January 2009

The Job Hunt

So, what have I been up to the past twenty months or so? Two things mainly; adjusting to being a wife, a mother, and a US resident, and looking for a job. I think I am doing okay at adjusting, but finding a job? Not so much. I cannot get a foot in the door in this town! I must have sent out at least one hundred (100!) job applications, the vast majority for jobs I am actually qualified for, and I have had four (4!) job interviews. Sad, isn't it?

And what's really annoying, is that for the most part, companies don't bother to say "Thanks, but no thanks." I hardly ever hear anything back. Local government is the one exception. They have consistently turned me down, but at least were kind enough to tell me almost every time.

Of course, the economic times are not in my favor. The Governor has called for a hiring-freeze for the State of Washington and the City of Olympia does not appear to be hiring either. Only essential positions are being filled. And like in The Netherlands, communications and marketing positions are not considered essential when money is tight. I should have become a teacher or a nurse.

Instead I have diversified into beading. The beading business is booming in this country and I am happy to be a part of it. I work at Bello Modo, an online store for beads and jewelry-making supplies. We work out of my boss Pam's house – actually, the business has grown out of her basement and is now located in its own separate building on the property – on the other side of Olympia. And while I continue to look for a job that matches my resume a little better, I am enjoying this one in the meantime. Being the organized counterweight for my creative colleagues, I get to reorganize things a little bit, both in the store and on the web. Meanwhile Pam and Shelly, my friend and co-worker, are off to Hawaii to do a show.

I have only done local shows so far because of Lola. Who spends the time that I am working with a wonderful woman named Carla and a four year old named Dylan. 'Dina', she calls him. Sounds like 'dinner'. She loves him. He likes her too, if only she would keep her hands off of his trains!

01 January 2009

Happy 2009!

Since I've quit smoking a while ago, I need to find new New Year's Resolutions. How about these? Be better at keeping in touch with people. And, this is a new one for me, lose weight! Once and for all get rid of the baby fat. I like 'em. I am going to stick with 'em.

The result of the first resolution is Olympic Adventures - the blog. Since Lola was born, I have made a few attempts at writing another newsletter, but I have never managed to actually send one out. It's not that I didn't have very good excuses: newborn baby, motherhood, job hunting, job finding, household, etc. There was always something getting in the way of sitting down and jotting down little notes on life in Olympia.

But no more! From now on, I will post regular updates on The Life and Times of this Dutch girl and her American family in this blog. I have chosen to do it in English since half of my family and friends has great difficulty reading in Dutch and the other half is basically bi-lingual. Bear with me during my ESL (English as a Second Language) moments. I am still struggling somewhat with finding my style and expanding my vocabulary. Fortunately a picture is worth a thousand words...