Please Send Drugs

Thanks to my amateur ass trying to ride a super-cute but way too heavy bike in Dutch traffic and failing spectacularly, I’ve visited my GP, an orthopaedist, and a knee specialist along with getting x-rays & an MRI. And soon …. ACL surgery!

Here’s how it’s gone so far:

🌷 Like nearly everyone in this country my GP is tall, blonde, & straight forward. She looked at my knee for approximately 20 seconds before telling me I was fine. Nothing was torn. Just ice it and take paracetamol. If your limb was dangling off your body by a tendon this would be the GP’s diagnosis. The Dutch are efficient and do not want to muck up with works with crybabies. Suck it up, go home, and stop wasting everyone’s time.

🌷 3 weeks later I worked up the nerve to again request, nay (politely and in broken Dutch) DEMAND a referral to a specialist. She audibly sighed as she wrote the referral. But I got it, dammit! Victory!

🌷 My orthopaedist was a grumpy older man who seemed annoyed by patients in general. Mid-conversation he told me to take off my pants and get on the table. No paper gowns or sheets. That would be inefficient and wasteful and very un-Dutch. It was just me in my barely theres trying desperately to tug my shirt down to cover my lady business.

🌷 Grumpy Doc sent me for an MRI. I was thrilled to learn it was NOT the claustrophobic, casket-like contraptions I was used to in the US. It was a GLORIOUS extremity MRI! I was so happy I would have hugged the tech but once again, I wasn’t wearing pants.

🌷 The MRI results lead me to a knee specialist who, when he smiled, looked a bit like Hugh Grant. When he told me to take off my pants and get on the table I was like, “Oh, hell no!” This was not my first rodeo. I pointed out that I wore flowy pants that were very easy to lift. Thank you very much, Mr. Grant. During the exam he tugged and twisted until my knee popped and I gasped. He asked if that was the problem I was concerned about. I said it very much was. So he twisted and popped it about 150 more times just to be sure.

I’m now on the waiting list for ACL surgery. Because it is essentially elective and I am not in pain, it will take 1-3 months to get it scheduled. Please send drugs.

I Wish You Lived Next Door.

I am even more scattered than usual. I feel like I can’t sit still. But my fitbit says I’ve taken only 600 steps today. So now I feel like I’m not moving enough. I’m tired all the time – could be the pollen? But this beautiful spring weather makes me want to go do all the things I am not allowed to do during a pandemic.

And I really want a cookie. And a prosecco. Also, flat abs. And another episode of Ozark. Ruth Langmore says all the four-letter things I want to say.

See what I mean? Rambling. Here’s a smattering of more random thoughts:

  • Dutch winters suck. But the spring…? Holy crap. Totally makes up for it.

  • We spent all winter saying, “when the weather is nicer we will do _______.” Then the plague arrived and laughed in our general direction.

  • I love that I can hang laundry on the line on our tiny balcony. I can also see/chat with about 5 different neighbors from there. All of this makes me ridiculously happy.

  • We have a neighborhood bunny. He is enormous. And is probably tired of hearing me say, “BUNNY!!!!!!” whenever I see him.

  • We planned to go to Italy, England, and France this spring. Again, the plague laughed. Instead of traveling, I now spend my days pleading with airlines for refunds. It’s not the same.

  • Just as I was adjusting to the lower speed/stress of Dutch life, it is now even more so. I have no idea what day it is and it wouldn’t matter if I did. *sigh*

  • I am 4 weeks into my exciting new job teaching Dutch to my 6th grader. Also, I don’t speak Dutch.

  • My favorite word is winkelwagen. W’s are V’s. G’s are H’s. J’s are Y’s. I may never be able to say Gelukkige Verjaardag (happy birthday).

  • I am getting better at understanding Dutch. If it is spoken slowly. And at a Trumpian education level.

  • Speaking of the dystopian world of US politics, we feel incredibly grateful to be in the Netherlands. I just wish everyone I love could live next door.

That’s it. It’s the best I can do. I’m going to pour a glass of wine and watch Ozark after I write Thank You emails to my kid’s saints/teachers. Does that count as writing? Maybe?

Stay healthy, y’all. And wash your hands. And if the virus or Trump get you down, curse like Ruth. I think it will help.

 

 

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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April is Coming!

In four short weeks, (April 2nd!) Little Taco Truck will be in stores! Target, even! Now when I go there to hide from my family and drink a Starbucks, I can linger in the book section and swoon.

In five short weeks, (April 7th!) the book launch/story time happens at Little Shop of Stories. This is HUGE, people! Not only is the store amazing and incredibly supportive of local authors but I will be signing books at my FIRST launch. And, we will have a “taco bar” which means I will spend April 6th up to my eyeballs in sugar cookies and green-dyed coconut. Not so bad really.

AND, as my husband had to point out because my head is elsewhere, it is our 18th wedding anniversary the day of the launch. I wonder if he’ll take me out for tacos?

In six short weeks, the hubs heads to Holland to chat with realtors and our immigration attorney, explore neighborhoods, visit schools, schmooze business folks, and catch up with friends. I’d hoped to have our documents apostilled by then but … that’s a rant for another post.

And in seven short weeks we need to have the house close to ready for market.

April will be an exhausting, amazing, crazy month. Please send coffee (or wine).

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Please wait…

As I struggle to get our birth certificates, names changes, marriage certificate, and adoption records apostilled (the secretary of state has to say the signatures on our documents are legit. Soooo many hoops to jump through for each state. Also, don’t ask me how to pronounce it. Apparently the obvious way is incorrect. Anyway …), and we slowly Marie Kondo-on-steroids every inch of the house, I have discovered a new (and embarrassing and ugly) thing to stress about. I want to get to the Netherlands before anyone else gets our spot.

It’s a tiny country, y’all! And I belong to many awesome Expat FaceBook groups. But each time someone posts that they are moving there I am insanely jealous and worried that there is only so much room and by the time we get there, we will find a Closed sign on the door. This is not pretty or kind, I know. But if everyone else planning to hightail it to Holland could please just wait a few months, I’d really appreciate because this stress does not spark joy.

An (overly analyzed, well researched, cautiously approached) Adventure!

What I didn’t expect when we made the decision to move to The Netherlands was the sense of dismay and worry that washed over our family’s faces.  Our friends thought it was an amazing idea they wished they’d had the nerve to do. Which doesn’t make it sound like the best plan (needing a lot of nerve and all) but at least their brows didn’t wrinkle when we talked about packing up.

After much thought, I wrote our family a letter of explanation to help ease their worries. It went a little something like this:

As we wrap our minds around our upcoming move, I wanted to share some information to help you understand why we’ve decided to take this leap. We spent months investigating opportunities and life in Holland before visiting 5 different cities there. 

Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • Although Dutch is the first language, English is widely spoken.

  • Expat kids can attend Dutch Language Immersion schools (for free) to prepare them for public school.

  • Because of DAFT (Dutch American Friendship Treaty), it is very easy and relatively inexpensive to move MightyPants there.

  • It is also possible to work as freelancers for a Dutch company.

  • Universities in The Netherlands offer degrees in English. European undergrad degrees are only 3 years long and will cost us (for public schools) substantially less than US universities. 

  • Although housing is more expensive, we will save THOUSANDS of dollars a year on health insurance/medical costs each year and will not have to worry about going bankrupt if we get sick.

  • No car payments/car insurance.  Everyone bikes/walks/takes public transportation. The country is very small and it takes very little time to get from one end to the other.

  • For “hippy/liberals” like us, The Netherlands will be a place with very little-to-no racism/sexism/religion-based laws (with the exception of Zwarte Piet, of course).

  • All of Europe is at our doorstep.

  • The main crime in the Netherlands is theft (watch this!

  • It’s easier and cheaper to qualify and apply for Visas, less cold, and closer to Italy than Canada. 

Being away from family will, of course, be difficult. But giving the kids (and ourselves) this adventure means the world to us. 

P.S. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll come home… and bring stroopwafels!

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365 Days …. But Who’s Counting?

My current situation is much like trying write a publishable book. It’s a daunting,  terrifying, one-in-a-million, unlikely sort of thing until…  you walk into a bookstore and see shelf after shelf lined with gazillions of books by people just like you who were brave enough to take the leap.

This is how I feel about my next adventure. It’s an insane, overwhelming, what-the-hell-are-we-doing sort of thing. But then I see how many have succeeded in making it work and how happy they are with their choices and I think Why can’t we?

So here we go. We are doing the thing.

365 days from now my husband, two kids, the cat, and I will be living in the Netherlands.