27 February 2009

It Was Not A Dog

Pam and I were comparing Dutch and American sales tax systems this afternoon. The US have a horrible system where not just every state but every county within every state charges a different tax percentage. And then every city within every county within every state adds a little bit of tax of its own. An online retailer must accommodate this administrative madness. Sales tax is based on where the merchandise is shipped to, not from. The Dutch just charge the same outrageous amount everywhere. Low taxes but enormous hassle versus high taxes but easy collection. We're not sure what we prefer.

Meanwhile, Shelly was outside trying to keep the dogs from charging the biggest coyote she had EVER seen. "Seriously, it was HUGE," she said. It might have even been a wolf. (That's highly unlikely though, since there's only one known pair of gray wolves in Washington and they live on the other side of the state.) When whatever it was realized it had to take on two dogs, though, it decided to take off.

"Didn't you hear me screaming at the top of my lungs?" she asked, panting.

"No, we were engrossed in sales tax talk."

We all went looking for it, camera in hand, but of course it didn't show itself. We did find a large hole under the fence and perhaps a den just outside the property. Never before have I gone looking for wild animals while at work. How cool is that?

26 February 2009

Expat And Anthropologist

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the definition of expatriate is: to leave one's native country to live elsewhere. That's me. I have left my native Netherlands to live in the United States of America. I am, technically, an expat.

For me however, the word is synonymous with the superficial, arrogant, British banker or stock broker in South East Asia I once saw in a documentary on expats. He lived like a pig. He asked his maid to iron his clothes naked because "that's how she likes it." She didn't look like she liked it. This inhuman being made my skin crawl. And whenever I hear the word expat, he pops into my head. I therefore always refer to myself as The Dutch Girl, never as an expat.

Besides my negative connotation with the word, I don't feel like an expat either. Most likely because I lived in the United States as a child. I went to an American elementary school, an American junior high school, and for a whole year, I was part of an American family. It may not be in my genes, but there is definitely a little bit of American blood flowing through my veins. And when Ryan and I go shopping together, HE is asked the question: "Where are you from?", not me. Okay, that happened ONCE. But it happened, much to his dismay.

Nonetheless, it's time I face the facts. I look at my surroundings through Dutch glasses. (Proving it immediately, I realized upon rereading this post. The correct English expression is through Dutch eyes. The Dutch use the term glasses.) I compare my new country with my old country all the time. Classic expat behavior. Or is it? I am, after all, an anthropologist too, albeit without degree. I guess I am both. When it directly concerns me, my expat-side surfaces. When it's an observation on American culture, the anthropologist in me sets the tone.

For a while now, I have been thinking about the direction in which to take this blog. It is, first and foremost, a way to bring my daily life back to the people that were a direct part of it, not too long ago. And to include my (new) friends and family that live in different time zones. I do not want to change that. But I do not want to turn it into Lola's blog, either. While she is an adventure of olympic proportions, that is not what I meant when I titled my web log. (It is tempting, though. She is such a funny little person at the moment. Very helpful and loving, yet independent and exploring. Learning new words everyday. "Hoppetee" is the word for today. She loves it, repeats it over and over. But I digress. Focus, Hannes!)

Yesterday, I looked into spreading the word about my blog. I submitted it to a few websites for approval. I was asked under which header to file it. So far I have filed it under Family or Life. But online magazine rack Alltop provided the category Expats (where you can now find me). That got me thinking. I have a little extra to bring to the table here and I should make use of it. And since I did not finish my anthropology thesis, Expats it is!

Hanneke N. - Expat and Anthropologist. Cool business card. It really is a shame about that thesis.

25 February 2009

The Party Sink

It's called a party tub. Ours is bright red, oval shaped, and made of plastic. Its purpose is to be filled with ice and drinks at parties. For us it is a sink. It holds our dirty dishes until we are ready to clean them. And sometimes, like yesterday, it doubles as a wash tub or a bathtub.

Lola has obviously beaten the bug.

24 February 2009

The Bed Bug Bit

Lola was felled by a stomach bug this weekend. It started with loss of appetite - not even strawberries could entice her to eat, followed by the fun diapers, and last but certainly not least, projectile vomiting.

I had heard her cry a little bit after I had put her to bed Sunday night. But while she is by no means a fussy sleeper, it is not unusual for her to protest a little. I therefore didn't think anything of it and ignored it. After a couple of minutes she was quiet and I assumed she had gone to sleep.

Around 11 o'clock she cried again. There was something about it that made me go upstairs. She was still sleeping. But when I moved a stuffed animal to the side I could feel the cold wetness. Then the stench hit me and I turned on the light. My poor shivering baby! She must have been laying in her vomit for a few hours.

Oh, the guilt.

We had been reorganizing the upstairs earlier. It was Lola's first night in her new room. While I changed the sheets on her bed, Ryan held her. He told her about his first night in the barn when he too projectile vomited. On the wall. It was a bonding moment in a smelly sort of way.

For the first time, I felt VERY frustrated by not having warm, running water.

23 February 2009


Rather than resorting to a ball and chain, we macgyvered a little something out of cardboard and coat hangers to keep Lola grounded. And then decided to go for a slightly sturdier piece of wood.

Now opa can stop threatening us.

21 February 2009

Scrumptious Crocuses

The crocuses are back! In the fall of 2007 we planted hundreds of bulbs around the evergreen in the front yard and in between the bamboo. We have daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, grape hyacinths, lilies, and crocuses. Last year I noticed the yellow crocuses seemed to die quicker than the purple ones. My dad explained to me that was because the birds ate them and they like the yellow ones better than the purple ones. I thought he was kidding.

He went on to tell me how back in the seventies, there were hundreds of crocuses in the garden surrounding the lab where he worked. My dad and his colleagues also noticed the yellow crocuses looked ragged. They realized the birds were devouring the yellow crocuses but they left the purple ones alone. Being scientists, they had to put that to the test. One of his co-workers went outside, picked one of each color and ate them. Sure enough, the yellow ones were tastier.

So, we will just enjoy the yellow crocuses until the birds are back too. They should be here any minute now.

20 February 2009

Friday Funnies

Lola whacked me on the head this morning in bed. She does this quite often. (I am surprised she hasn't broken my nose yet.) But this time she gave me a kiss on the ouch spot and said: "Sowwy." It was the first time she did that. Needless to say, the pain magically went away. Instantly.

Carla already had a house full of kids when I dropped Lola off. Dylan (4) had spent the night and was in the bathroom getting dressed. When my daughter tried to enter the bathroom, Dylan popped his head out and declared: "Lola wants me."

They grow up so fast.

18 February 2009

Yah Or Nay?

15 February 2009

Milestone Mania

Milestone One
My child made her first sentence yesterday. We were on our way home, taking the scenic route, when I heard her in the back seat: "Papa home." When I told her papa was at work, there was no-one home but Sandman, she was quiet for a little bit and then she replied: "Sandman home."

I know. It's only two words. What can I say, I am her mother. It's my maternal duty to proudly report these events.

Milestone Two
We have started to use the lock on the fridge. Lola no longer needs us to feed her. She is perfectly capable of doing it herself, thank you very much.

Milestone Three
Papa is proud, mama is in denial, opa and a whole bunch of other people are going to have a heart attack. I don't think they make gates for this sort of thing. Oh God...

13 February 2009

Moment Of Clarity

The pills are kicking in! For the first time in a week my head does not feel foggy. I should take advantage of that feeling and clear something up.

Whenever we can't find something in the barn, it is because Lola took it. This is probably true in less than half of the cases. And whenever I am having a bad day, it's because Life In The Barn is getting to me. But I have had the occasional bad day all my life. Everybody does. It is just nice to have circumstances to blame. That doesn't necessarily mean that they are.

Thank you for the virtual hugs, though! It feels good to be loved.

12 February 2009


Oddly enough, I felt much better after posting the last entry. I did not even have to resort to actual screaming. Which is a good thing because my head still pounds, though not as hard.

There wasn't really one event in particular that got to me, more a series of tiny little things: headache, sore throat, uncooperative child, bank closed even though it was past nine o'clock and they were not being robbed, too many cold medications to choose from... The usual minor irritations. Nothing to warrant a bout of screaming or running away.

Some days the weight of our situation just seems to be heavier than other days. That's all.

Some Days...

...I just want to scream! Or get in the car and keep driving. Things are NOT going my way today. And my head is pounding due to a severe sinus cold. What's a girl to do?

Take two aspirins and keep breathing. It'll pass. It always does.

11 February 2009

Blind Blogging

When I blamed Lola for the missing mouse a few posts back, I was not joking. She really did take the mouse. And killed it. Of course, this was no ordinary mouse. This was a very sophisticated mouse, with matching keyboard missing an H. And one of the ALT keys but that is not as inconvenient. The set is rather expensive to replace. Fortunately we have more than one computer and I have been using Ryan's laptop the past couple of weeks. But all my documents and pictures are on the desktop and it is starting to bother me that I cannot get to them.

Ryan is in Chehalis at the moment, making music with his buddies. I was kind of looking forward to doing a bit of writing and surfing the web while he was gone. After I had put Lola to bed, I settled onto the couch with a cup of tea, only to find Ryan had taken the laptop with him. Shoot! Now what? I was not in the mood for watching television and I have no idea where the books are. I could play with my kumihimo disk but my heart was set on something else. And since I remember the pre-mouse days, I thought I'd give the desktop a whirl.

So far I have managed to fix the internet connection, download the emails that were piling up on a distant mail server, send out a few emails, and empty the memory card of my camera. All with the TAB, the ALT, the ENTER, and the arrow keys. Not bad, huh? Bursting with confidence I decided to go online. That was a bit more challenging. I got stuck on Facebook. Not too key-only friendly. After a few attempts I gave up. There are limits to my determination. I surfed to Olympic Adventures instead.

There is a line in the Brett Favre post that bothers me. I want to change it. According to my self-imposed editing rules, heavy textual editing is only allowed on the day of posting. A post should really be finalized before it is published, but things always look different in print. Even in virtual print. I often find myself doing some tweaking after I publish. Sometimes quite a lot. Once the date changes though, the words are set in stone. Only typos and grammar errors can be corrected. This means I have two and a half hours to edit my post.

However, when I tried to sign in to Blogger, I accidentally changed the language to Arabic. Oops. I did not mean to raise the bar quite that high. It felt like I was stumbling around in the dark. I could not find my way out until I finally realized the web page should be read from right to left. Now that things are back to normal, I can go ahead and make my changes. I wonder if I am also able to upload photo's without a mouse. Hmmmm, let's see...


Go Packers!

Breaking News! Brett Favre is retiring. Again. Let's hope this time things go a little bit more graceful.

In case you are wondering “Brett Who?”, I am talking about football. American football, of course; twenty two overdressed men and a rugby ball. With Ryan being from Wisconsin, our allegiance is to the Green Bay Packers. Wisconsinites, also known as Cheese Heads (just like the Dutch!), really love their Packers. I was THIS close to being one of those wives with a portrait of former Packers quarterback Brett Favre (it is pronounced Farve) hanging above the mantel piece, were it not for two things:

1. Brett retired last year too, and then pulled a Heintje Davids (Dutch singer who kept coming out of retirement). It turned rather ugly when the Packers didn't want him back. Very embarrassing incident in an otherwise very impressive career.

2. I no longer have a mantel piece.

Brett was relocated to the New York Jets in real life and his Packers portrait to the laundry room. He was left behind when we moved. Ryan informed me this morning the renters have relocated him again. He now resides over the stove in the kitchen. Nice and warm, albeit greasy.

To say Americans love sports is an understatement. I wonder sometimes if their love of competitive sports accounts for their competitive nature or if it is the other way around? Either way, it pales in comparison to their love of sports statistics, most of which involve Brett Favre these days. The result of a very long career.

I must admit I love to watch the game, too. (So does Lola. She walks up to the television and tells them off if they're not playing well. I think. I don't understand her but she sounds like she means it. Hand gestures and all.) I understand the basic rules and that helps a lot.

And it's fun to root for a team. I miss watching the speed skating championships in the winter and cheering on the Dutch. Even with Americans in the competition, there is just no interest here. It's not broadcasted on any of the dozens of sports channels. The only occasion I had to root for the Dutch was during last year's European Soccer Championship. Which I did, once I got into the habit of watching early in the morning.

Sunday before last was Super Bowl Sunday. No Packers though, they did not make the play-offs. (But Bruce Springsteen was there for half-time entertainment! I was happy.) The last game of the season was played by the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals. With Ryan's parents trading in Wisconsin for Arizona during the winter months, we adopted the Cardinals.

The Steelers won. They are now the Champions of the WORLD. Modesty is a vastly overrated virtue (JKG).

10 February 2009

Groundhogs & Other Reliable Forecasters

I guess the Punxsutawney Groundhog, the most famous of groundhogs (no idea why), was right after all. Six more weeks of winter lie ahead of us. It was supposed to be a LITTLE snow mixed in with the rain today. At least, that is what the weather guy told us yesterday. And it was repeated on the radio this morning, on my way to work. You probably don't believe me anymore when I insist snow is rare in Western Washington, do you?

To add insult to injury, now I am sick. Because the continuous sneezing was wearing me out, I decided to make it a short workday today. That was probably a wise decision, considering the amount of snow that was coming down. Slipping and sliding I slowly made my way home. I had to make a little d-tour half way there because my car would not oblige when I wanted to make a right turn onto South Bay Road. Too much snow. Had to make a left turn instead. Or end up in a ditch.

The snow forced me to ignore every single STOP sign on the way. The downhill ones because I simply couldn't stop, the uphill ones because I needed to keep my momentum going. I am getting better at driving in the snow, though. I no longer move like a little old lady. I just keep telling myself to drive at a steady pace, not too fast, not too slow. Just pretend you're riding a bicycle through the sand. Let the car find its own way. And that works. I made it home safely.

And now I am going to bed. With a great big box of tissues to keep me company.

08 February 2009


Twice now have I turned on the television and found myself transported back to Holland. The first time was a little over a year ago and a nasty surprise. Picture this: you're working out at the gym, pushing your own weight with your legs. You look up at the row of television-sets suspended from the ceiling, when all of sudden, without warning, Peter R. de Vries appears on screen! Dutch self-proclaimed crime solver and reporter. Very annoying man. He claimed he had solved Natalee Holloway's murder and was advertising his show during which The Truth would be revealed. Right.

Yesterday morning was a much more pleasant experience. Nijntje! Or Miffy, as she is known here. Lola loves Nijntje, we read her books frequently. She didn't feel the same about the cartoon though. After the initial happy recognition, she quickly became bored with the bunny and moved on. She doesn't care much for watching television. She prefers playing with her nipples.

07 February 2009

Who Am I?

Earlier today I went to the bank to make a deposit into my account. It's a joint account, in the names of Ryan J. and Johanna V. N. Johanna V. N. does not exist. The bank knows this. But our checks and my debit card say so anyway.

All my life I have been Hanneke van H. I was never that crazy about Hanneke but it has been a part of me since birth. My mom loves the name. I was named after my paternal grandmother and things could have been much worse. I could have been called Annie.

The Dutch tradition of giving a child a so-called 'calling name' is unknown here. I find that most Americans do not see how Hanneke has its roots in Johanna, my official name. I am not sure why. It seems obvious to me. And if you have no trouble saying Jack to someone named John, or Dick to Richard, why is Hanneke instead of Johanna so strange?

Another problem is the fact that I have two middle names. The second name rarely makes it because most automated systems only allow for one middle name. Sometimes I can squeeze an M in there, mostly I am Johanna A. Americans don't do initials only like the Dutch. They always write your first name in full. I like that.

Of course, I had to go and make things extra complicated when I got married. I hyphenated my name. I opted for Van H. - N. I should have gone for straight up N. Even remaining Van H. would have been easier than adding N. to my name. And not in front of, like the old days. No, I had to be all emancipated and attach it behind Van H. Johanna A.M. Van H. hyphen N. doesn't fit in ANY computer system.

But the greatest difficulty concerning my name is its pronunciation. Whenever I use my supermarket club card, for example, my name is printed on the receipt. The cashiers have been instructed to thank you for your business using your name.

"Thank you, Mrs..." and then it goes quiet. "How do I pronounce your name? Would you like carry-out service?"

I even changed my name on my resume to Johanna N. - Van H. Just to ensure fear of mispronouncing my name does not scare potential employers off. A thoughtful albeit unsuccessful strategy.

Mostly I go by Hanneke N. these days. And that works fine although quite a few people believe my name is Monica. I tried Johanna N. on for size once, but it didn't fit. I answered the phone with it, hoping it was an invitation for a job interview, and my sister burst out laughing on the other end. Haven't done it since. It just doesn't roll off the tongue right.

I did attempt to change my name. I went to the Social Security Office to request an official change of name. They cannot help me. Because I am a resident, not a citizen, Homeland Security has to okay it first. And since Homeland Security is not even convinced I entered my marriage in good faith - evidently having a child does not count as proof - I am not going to bother with a name change. I am too busy gathering evidence of my legitimacy.

Maybe that's the reason they are requiring additional documentation. I didn't lose Van H. and that caused suspicion. Or perhaps just confusion.

06 February 2009

The Tour - Part I

Ryan and I do not entertain much at the moment. I am sure this doesn't come as a surprise to anyone. Consequently there are not many people that have seen The Barn. I have been receiving more and more requests for pictures of the inside. Time for the Grand Tour, in petite form.

We will start off with the kitchen. We originally considered a SIEMATIC kitchen, but we changed our minds. Instead we went for a genuine 1935 Wedgewood Gas Stove, with the original spice jars included, readily converted for use with a propane tank. An awesome yard sale find!

It has four burners, an oven that we don't know how to use and two warming drawers if you can get the oven to work. I am very happy to be cooking on gas again. And I love the look of it. We think it fits the barn perfectly. It is in very good shape, considering its age. If you click on the pictures, you can take a closer look.

I found a nearly identical stove online, completely restored, and called the seller for information on the oven. I wasn't very smart about it, though. Rather than expressing an interest in buying the stove and requesting information, I explained I owned one too but did not know how the oven worked. Too honest for my own good. The seller was not very helpful. And there are not too many manuals from 1935 around anymore...

The open shelving unit serves as a pantry. Unfortunately my daughter knows exactly where on the shelves her favorite foods are (at the moment dried cranberries, multi-colored goldfish crackers, and pretzels) and simply squeezes in behind the trashcan to grab them. Of course, I have moved them out of reach, but that does not stop her from wanting them. We will at some point need to invest in closed shelves. Or cupboards.

To complete our vintage kitchen theme, we found a 1920's icebox on Ebay, made by J.B. Van Sciver, descendant of Dutch immigrants. It leaks however, and we turned it into storage instead. Our friend Royce offered us the use of his spare fridge and freezer which we gratefully accepted. It has locks on the doors that will undoubtedly come in handy when Lola figures out how to open the fridge. She already knows, but she respects a closed door still. Not for long, I am sure.

This concludes the first part of the tour. Give us some time to reorganize and clean, and we will show you more in the near future.

04 February 2009

Company Benefits

The advantages of working in an online store are plentiful. Flexible hours, flexible office, and every day is Casual Friday. And, if you happen to own one, you can bring your dog to work. Ryan and I are cat people, and our cat doesn't care for dogs. He therefore never accompanies me to work.

However, Bello Modo has a Company Dog, Chewy. On days like today, when I am at the store all by myself because Pam and Shelly are in Arizona for two bead shows, he checks in on me on a regular basis. He is a very gentle dog, a bit needy even. A typical case of a 'my bark is worse than my bite' dog.

Until he gets a ball. Or a stick. Once he has it, he does not let go. He totally loses himself in play. You are in great danger of losing a body part, I have been told. So earlier today, when he wanted to play outside, and I wanted to be outside too on account of the glorious weather we're having (the Groundhog got it wrong, it almost feels like Spring!), I was very careful not to put my hands anywhere near his mouth. Fortunately, all you really have to do is pretend to make a move for the ball. He'll take off and run like he's being chased by the Devil. And since he's a little out of shape, he wears himself out in no-time without too much effort on my part. Which is good because I am a little out of shape too.

Afterward, Chewy passed out in his bed in the back of the store where he snored up a storm. And occasionally farted. He's such a charmer.

03 February 2009

Rough Night?

I have been going back and forth between two photos and two titles. I just can't make up my mind. So you get them both.

Happy Bad Hair Day

02 February 2009

In Sickness And In Health

My child has the sniffles. I picked her up at daycare last Thursday with a runny nose, a sore throat, and a mild fever. Aside from the copious amounts of snot coming out of her little body, her symptoms have passed. Straight onto my husband. Now he suffers from a sore throat, a mild fever, and a runny nose. Between the two of them, they have gone through four large boxes of Kleenex with Lotion in four days. The occasional complaint about his aching body notwithstanding, Ryan is dealing with it pretty well. For a guy.

Lola has been very good about it too. Until this morning. I understand me attacking her nose with a baby wipe to get the crusty bits off, was not pleasant. But every time I wiped her nose, she would have a meltdown. When I ran outside for a minute to get some firewood and wouldn't take her with me, she had a meltdown. When I turned my back to do the dishes (no small feat in the barn, I tell you), she had a meltdown. Mommy was about to have a meltdown of her own. All I wanted to do this morning was get the dishes done and start dinner before I went to work.

I finally gave up. I told Lola, in English for some reason, I had had enough and I was taking her to Carla. I would drop her off, return home and do my darn dishes in peace and quiet! When we got to Carla's house, she was happy again. Inside she took off her boots and her socks and walked up to Carla with her face tilted, inviting her to wipe her nose. After Carla had cleaned it, Lola said: "All done!" No protesting, no crying. I could not believe my eyes. The Big Faker! I told her so, too. Then I bent down to give her a kiss and say good-bye. Do you know what she said to me?


She gets that from her dad.