Here in Haarlem – Week 4

It is 7:30 on a Sunday morning here in Haarlem. It is still dark outside and the house is silent. The radiator is making its soft clunking sort of sound. Even our talkative cat, JoJo, is still asleep somewhere in the house.

“Somewhere in the house” makes it sound huge. By lower-middle class, suburbs of GA standards it is. I don’t remember how many meters it is or what that would equal in feet. It’s much smaller than we’re used to but somehow exactly enough. And right now it is blissfully still.

So what’s it really like moving to a new country at the ripe old age of 150? It’s amazing and terrifying and exhausting and mind blowing. The history and beauty here is astounding. I know we have history and beauty in the US (and long before we barged in) but we didn’t live on a street Nazis could have stomped down. We didn’t bike down the cobblestone streets of a city established in the middle ages. These are the thoughts that baffle me as I’m standing outside Game Mania while my kid talks Fortnite with the clerk.

It’s true most people here speak English. And nearly everyone I’ve met has been incredibly patient and gracious when I sputter out “Sorry, nee Nederland.” Even the elderly lady in the pet food aisle of the grocery store immediately switched to English to chat about how she spoils her cocker spaniel with treats. But it is still scary. I still find myself mentally whispering, “please don’t talk to me please don’t talk to me” as I avoid eye contact with store clerks or stall vendors… terrified they will speak Dutch. OF COURSE THEY WILL SPEAK DUTCH, YOU IDIOT! And when they do, and I look at them like a deer in the headlights, they either gesture and smile until we’ve figured things out or they jump into English like it’s no big frigging deal. And yet, I panic.

So everyone here speaks English but guess who doesn’t… the street signs. And for a girl who has a terrible sense of direction anyway, I am quite literally lost most of the time. A good friend said, “You aren’t lost, you are on an adventure!” This is perfect. Unless the wind is blowing my bike backwards and it is raining and I’m cold and I just want to get home. Those are the times I want to click my heels and be back on familiar territory in my warm, dry, not-about-to-tip-over car.

You know who else doesn’t speak English? The announcer on the trains. Your ass better be paying attention or you will go right past Heemstede-Aerdenhout and end up in Vlissingen Souburg. So while everyone else is reading or quietly chatting (only the American tourists are loud on the (clean, comfy) trains as far as I can tell), I’m staring at my phone, watching the little blue dot slowly move toward my station.

On biking: It’s true that once you know how to ride a bike, you always know. The tricky bit is DOING it. I know how to give birth to a child. Doing it again might be daunting. Okay riding a bike is nothing like giving birth but … it can be difficult when you are 150 years old. And that’s just the basic riding-a-bike issue.  Now try doing it on narrow bike paths with a billion (or a handful) of people passing you or WAITING FOR YOU TO GET OUT OF THE WAY. *sigh* What seemed like a lovely bike ride to the store is now a nerve wracking game of Frogger or Pacman or one of those games where I’m sure I’ll be run over or eaten. It can be physically and mentally exhausting.

Once I’ve reached the store I lift my bike into the rack, lock the lock and tuck my key away. I enter Vomar Voordeelmarkt to find my favorite 3.00€ bottle of wine and know it was worth the trip. Until I have to translate which checkout lane takes cash and which accepts bank cards and I’m asked if I want a receipt and I freeze because … “Sorry, nee Nederland.”

See what I mean? Amazing and terrifying and exhausting and mind blowing. Every. Damn. Day.

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HOME!

Y’all … we did it. After a year of planning and researching and selling everything and being apart for 4 months as the big kid and I stayed behind to graduate from high school (early!) (the kid, not  me) and Tony and kid #2 paved the way across the pond, we are finally together in our new home in Holland. It feels a bit surreal. 

Less than good news: It took hiring a realtor and offering a truckload of money as deposit to secure this place. Then Tony had to install flooring and light fixtures and scrub the place this is the job for the new tenant, not the landlord. Side note: Our new career goals = become Dutch landlords. 

Good news: We have a lovely home in the “suburbs” of south Haarlem – which means it is a whopping 15 minute bike ride to city center. 

We also have a microwave/oven combo and a washer/dryer combo. I am not going to try to figure out what makes these magical beasts work. I just know which buttons to push and which to avoid so as not to knock the earth off its axis by mixing things up.

I didn’t fully appreciate the deep, foot-sized stairs we had in the US. I apologize, stairs. Dutch stairs are very steep, narrow, and slippery. But my knight in shining armor added stair treads and if I move slowly, gripping the rail for dear life, a thousand years later… I make it to the ground floor. Then immediately remember what I left on the top floor and begin the climb once more. 

I am surprisingly comfortable with few/no curtains. This is a Dutch thing I thought I’d hate. I quickly realized I’m not that interesting. No one is looking. And as I write this, I can see windows light up one by one as our neighborhood wakes and that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Speaking of our neighbors, they are lovely and welcoming and worldly: Poland, Spain, Italy, Ireland, the US and, of course, The Netherlands. This, above all, makes me happy we’re here. I hope we get to stay for a very long time.

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Help me, Sweet Baby Amphictyonis!

Everyone: How’s the move to The Netherlands going?

Me: Closing on the house, selling almost everything (except Tony’s polyurethaned frog souvenir, Ben’s “One and Only Ivan” book, Charlie’s slingshot and my coconut monkey head), packing everything else, acquiring a billion suitcases for said treasures, figuring out how to ship them, getting temporary housing, getting rental insurance on temporary housing, registering kid #2 for one month of middle school, figuring out the appropriate amount of supplies to buy for a kid going to one month of middle school, scheduling last-minute physicals/eye exams/dentist visits, attending school open house x 2 kids, delivering donations, taking kid to sleep away camp, cleaning house for the new owners, finding an affordable and available Holland apartment, convincing Dutch landlords that we are awesome and should be their tenants, submitting change of address, cancelling utilities, driving the big kid to/from work, driving myself to/from work, picking kid up from sleep away camp, visiting every friend and family member possible because we are going to miss everyone something awful, and … remembering to breathe.

Everyone: Um … may I offer you a glass of wine?

Me: You pronounced bottle wrong.

 

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It’s the Happy/Sad Last Time Club!

We’ve finally crossed the line. The “Last Time” line. Technically, after 10 years here, last Christmas was the LAST Christmas we would have in this house. The house where Ben learned to walk. The house where the boys shared a bedroom just like their dad and uncle did before them. The house with Charlie’s name etched in the new driveway cement. But last Christmas was too early to make it official. Anything could have happened between then and spring. We were still in the, “You know, this might be our last time …” stage. So it didn’t feel real.

By early spring we’d moved into the “This is probably the last time…” stage. By then the kids were too old for Easter egg hunts anyway. And elementary school “graduation” parties seemed silly. After a decade here, milestones were changing. The kids were big enough to waffle between looking forward to a change and wishing things would stay the same. We were still floating in the probably stage.

Last week we drove from Atlanta to visit family and close friends in Florida. On the way home it dawned on us. As we cursed our way through northbound Atlanta traffic, we realized this was (99.9999% most likely) the LAST TIME we’d make this drive. This idea was met with mixed feelings. Love the family and friends. Hate the drive and traffic. Ready for a change.

Then we spent the weekend sweating our way through the final, most dreaded bits of Getting-The-House-Ready-For-Market chores.  We happily reminded ourselves this would be the LAST time we __________.  Fill in the blank with every nightmare chore from cleaning gutters to battling pine straw to staining the big-ass deck for the 3rd time. Done. Final. No more. NEVER EVER.

Ben was SIX MONTHS OLD when we moved here. There have been many “Last Times” already that we wandered through without blinking. I’m sure there will be a bunch of emotional “Last Times” knocking the wind out of us in the coming months.

However, like gutters and traffic and pine straw, there will most certainly be some pretty amazing ones as well. And that feels pretty damn good.

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Now That The Dust Has Settled…

… and Little Taco Truck is out in the wide, wide world, I’ve taken some time to recover from the book launch.  I have some thoughts.

  • I’m blown away by the support I was/am surrounded by at the launch: Friends from high school, friends from work, family, other writers I’d only seen at conferences, neighbors, and friends of my kids…. are you kidding me?!?!?!  TEENAGERS took time out of their weekend to drive to a kids’ bookstore to celebrate with me!?!?!?

  • Even if they are too crispy around the edges to bend or too gooey in the middle to stay together, taco cookies are kind of amazing and no one seemed to care or notice that they were wonky. I should not have stressed.

 

 

 

  • RSVPs are important. Having a general idea of  the number of attendees would have meant (1) the store staff didn’t have to scramble to add more chairs and (b) we would not have run out of books mid-way through the event. I’ll pay more attention to this next time. My bad.

  • Oh – and expect attendees to buy more than one copy! I did not see this coming.

  • But if you DO run out of books, shoppers can order more, ask the shop to have to sign them, and pick them up when they are ready. At least that’s what Little Shop Of Stories is doing. Genius.

  • Enlist help. The store staff was incredibly supportive and helpful and clearly wanted the launch to go well. But don’t forget to ask friends and family to help out too. My son manned the cookie table (with NO ulterior motives, I’m sure) and my husband took a billion pictures.

  • Have a GREAT time! The launch felt like any other huge, terrifying, exciting, long-awaited event – a wedding, the birth of a child, finally losing that last 10 lbs (I’ll throw a party when that happens). Do your best to breathe and take it all in. You will never have another First Book Launch.  This is a HUGE deal!

P.S. – It’s been nearly a month since the launch and I am finally finishing this post. But … this is a good thing because I have come to learn that the launch is more than that day. I didn’t quite get this. It felt so important that all social media and book sales and the hoopla happened on launch day. But there’s so much more to it. Since the launch:

      • Friends ordered and ship BOXES of books to my house for my signature.

      • Photos of adorable kids fwith Little Taco Truck arrived in my social media feed almost daily!

      • I have a radio interview scheduled. Want to be interviewed? Ask your publicist to make it happen. If I can get an interview, you can too.

      • For their Dia de los Ninos celebration, a library in Texas featured Little Taco Truck complete with a pinata!

So expect post-launch awesomeness and enjoy the ride.  Now get back to writing so you can make the magic happen again!

 

 

 

This Was No Small Feat

Everyone has their own way of navigating the labyrinth of moving abroad but the first step is probably paperwork.

Someone somewhere said we’d have three months to live there before our paperwork was due.  That we didn’t need to do it ahead of time.  It was probably a blogger.  Probably a carefree, single, childless blogger. Anyway, I did not listen to this mysterious idiot. Thank goodness.

I began requesting and submitting the following in December:

  • Birth Certificates x 4

  • Adoption Certificate

  • Name Change Judgement

  • Marriage License

Each of these 7 document needed to be ordered, notarized, certified, and/or exemplified by the state where they were created.  Each state had different hoops to jump through and often staff with DMV-style people skills.

Once I’d received the crisp new notarized, certified, and/or exemplified certificates, they had to be sent to their Secretary of State’s office for an Apostille stamp.

Today I feel like a champion. Today I sent the 7th certificate away for its Apostille stamp.

I won’t celebrate until the stamped certificate arrives at my doorstep but …. this feels like a win and I’ll take it!

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SCBWI is The Bomb

I took a day away from the office and my pre-move to-do list to attend SCBWI’s Springmingle Writer’s Intensive yesterday and I cannot express how incredibly supportive and informative this organization is for writers of kidlit.  Every now and then I’m asked for advice from people – okay…women. It’s always white women. 🙂 – who hope to publish children’s books. The first thing out of my mouth is JOIN SCBWI! And the second is GET OFF YOUR BUTT AND GO TO A CONFERENCE! The third thing I say is something like AND TELL ME WHAT YOU LEARN BECAUSE THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING TO LEARN AND I REALLY DON’T KNOW ALL THAT MUCH IN THE GRAND SCHEME OF THINGS!

After slogging through the rain and spending the day in a tiny room in the back of the Decatur Library, here’s what I learned:

  • Ellen Hopkins’ conversation about the author’s platform forced me to suck it up and attempt to figure out frigging Instagram.

  • Shanda McCoskey shared ideas about successful class visits and doing the robot with an auditorium of elementary school kids – which sounds AMAZING!

  • Sucheta Rawal encourage me to email Rose Scott and ask to be on NPR. It could actually happen. For reals.

  • Jen Swanson assured me that a crappy Kirkus review is nbd. Many brilliant and successful authors have been Kirkused. Wear it as a badge of honor. Nameless, not necessarily qualified reviewers who may be related to The Soup Nazi can suck it.

  • Alexandra Penfold reminded us that stories are all around us just waiting to be told. Also our kids are goofy, loveable book characters waiting to be put on the page. We are also Food Truck Book sisters. ❤

  • Aubrey Poole’s enthusiasm and joy reinforced what I already knew: Kidlit authors, agents, and editors rock.

  • Heather Montgomery, Cathy Hall & TK Read are just a few examples of SCBWI friends I am thankful to call on for help, encouragement, and support when I am wondering why I think I can do this writing thing anyway.

It was a great day.  Now… back to my to-do list.

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