Monday, February 21, 2011

A Different Invasion

Once the Holland trip was over, I haven't posted again because, well, the trip was over! The whole reason for that blog was so family and friends could see what we were up to during that three week trip.

So here I am again, over a year later posting about a trip to IKEA this past Saturday for some other members on the board I belong to. For those of you who may have subscribed to my Holland blog, please don't think I've lost my mind. It was just an inside joke kind of thing for the others! So you may just want to skip reading this! But for those three on my IKEA trip, here is how that little adventure went!

It was a pretty windy and rainy day and cold (for Phoenix anyway!). Here we are pulling up to IKEA!

Once we got inside, we all admired this kitchen:

There was a little monkeying around:

Trying out some furniture:

While checking out the art, Susan found one she really liked:

I really hoped to get more pictures at IKEA but that place on a Saturday afternoon is insanity! Too many people, too crowded and my DH just wanted out! After all of our shopping at IKEA, we stopped for lunch at Marie Callendar's. You guys wanted dessert first. I believe monica-m wanted banana cream pie!

After lunch, we stopped at Trader Joe's and I wanted to take pics, but you guys did not want to leave the car because it was pouring rain out! It was a quick trip and we were on our way back home shortly and the weather was atrocious as you can see:

Sorry this wasn't as fun and entertaining as you'd hoped and I wish I could have taken better pics in IKEA, but maybe during the week when there aren't umpteen people everywhere who might rip the camera out of my hands if they think I am photographing them!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Pack It Up, We're Heading Home!

January 4, 2010

Hard to believe just how quickly our time went by, but before we knew it, the day before we were scheduled to fly out had arrived. Unfortunately, this meant packing day for Bill and me. Luckily, I had started packing stuff up the night before, so the job wouldn’t be too horrible. The big concern was whether we could keep each piece of checked luggage to a maximum of 23 kg. (51 pounds). (Luckily we did. I think our heaviest piece came out to 22.4 kg!) Bill and I each had checked in 2 pieces of luggage. Now some of you may be thinking that is a lot, but it’s not easy to pack lightly when you are going to be gone for 19 days and it’s winter time. This wasn’t like our trip 3 years ago during the summer, when we could get away with packing shorts, t-shirts and a windbreaker. No, this required jeans, sweaters, long underwear, thick socks, scarves, boots, etc. And then there is the matter of taking a piece of carry-on luggage because you never know if your luggage is going to be lost. As I mentioned before, that happened to Bill on the last international trip and we didn’t see “Big Red” (the nickname we gave his luggage) for 3 weeks! Thankfully it was on the journey back home, and not on the way out there. So a carry-on piece was a must. I also had my laptop, because there is no way I could be without the Internet for that long! And besides, how else would I be able to write my blog and provide entertainment for all of my favorite people back home? So back to the subject of packing. As I said, Bill and I each had two pieces of checked luggage, one suitcase that had nothing but food that I was bringing back plus the little gifts we received during the Christmas Eve gift game, and we were each taking a carry-on piece of luggage. On our trip out there, we had two carry-on pieces. I had my small suitcase that had a change of clothes and my laptop, Bill had a small suitcase and my parents’ ashes. But all of that changed thanks to that jerk who tried to bomb that Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day. He made traveling even more hellish for everyone after that incident because we were now only allowed one carry-on bag. This meant I was going to have to figure out how I was going to be able to take everything with me that I brought and condense it down to one carry-on! Well, I did it. I had to empty my backpack into the small piece of luggage, put the backpack inside of that as well as my purse. Bill ended up putting my laptop inside of his small piece of luggage and we had our packing figured out.

Our plan for the day was pretty simple; stick around the house that day and in the evening, head to Amsterdam. Ed and Joy had planned on spending the night before their departure at a hotel in Amsterdam so they would be closer to the airport, especially since their flight was departing at 10:05 a.m. Well, as it got closer to our departure, it seemed like that would be a good idea for us as well, especially given the weather report; it was calling for snow all week long. If we stayed in Elburg, we would have to be up ridiculously early to make the drive to the airport. Since Ed and Joy were going to be our ride to the airport, they would then be spending two nights in the hotel. My cousin Shirley and Erik, my cousin Wendy’s husband, would follow us to the airport so that we could have help transporting all of the luggage we would have between Bill and I and Ed and Joy! So the plan was Shirley would be over around 7:30 p.m. to pick us up and follow us to our hotel in Amsterdam.

Bill and I decided to venture out that day to the old part of Elburg so we could do some last minute shopping for some gifts I wanted to get for some of the grandchildren as well as drive into T’Harde so I could get a picture of this boutique we had driven by numerous times, called Annemarie. I wanted to show it to my friend, Annemarie. So off we went in the rental car, first to a store called Hema, in Elburg. It’s a short drive into town. We had to drive by this large field/farmland and I realized that it was the same place that 3 years ago, I had bicycled to with Wendy and her family! In fact, I have a photo of me on the bike, in front of that field, with a cow in the background! If there had been a place we could have stopped the car and parked, I would have taken a picture of it because now it was covered in complete white, because of all the snow! Instead we headed on into town. Here are some photos I took of what Elburg looks like:

It was beautiful there with all of the snow. We walked around a bit so I could take these photos and then we had to get going so we would have enough time to drive to T’Harde. On the way back, I snapped these photos (check out the one with the ridiculously long street name! Can’t imagine having to remember how to spell that!):

Soon we were in T’Harde where I managed to get my picture of the boutique.

And this house that was for sale, which Bill said he wouldn’t mind living in:

We had to park far off the street where the boutique was located, in a residential area, then walk, in the snow, to where the boutique is. We didn’t stay long, just long enough to get my photo, then back to Elburg. On that drive back, it started to snow a bit. It was nearly 3:00 so school had let out. A lot of parents were there to pick their children up from school and this is not something I have seen a lot of!

It was funny to see these old style sleds, especially with parents pulling their kids home on them!

We made it back home and just hung out with my cousins until about 5:30, when we walked over to Theresa’s house for dinner. We had already managed to get my and Bill’s luggage into the rental car, so now we just had to wait for Shirley to arrive so we could get Ed and Joy’s luggage into her vehicle. Shirley arrived at Theresa’s on schedule and after a quick visit and getting the rest of the luggage loaded up, we were off. We did stop at my aunt’s house on the way out to say goodbye to her. That was hard, saying goodbye to her. She is such a sweet, kind woman, and a lot of fun too, so I will really miss her! We couldn’t stay long because we had a long drive to Amsterdam and then Shirley and Erik would still have the drive back and had to get up and go to work the next morning.

We arrived at our hotel with no problem. The hotel employee advised us to bring ALL of our luggage in, to not leave anything in the car because it would just be an invitation for a break in. So we got one of their huge luggage carts and lugged every piece of luggage up to the room we were sharing. Thank goodness this hotel room was huge! We were thrilled at the size of this room, especially after the tiny room we had in London when we had to spend the night at a hotel there.
We got everything settled in, then said goodbye to Shirley and Erik. We spent the rest of the night enjoying our hotel room and the free Internet! To have something free in Holland is a treat, because you pretty much have to pay for everything there!

Our plan was to leave the hotel in the morning for the airport by 8:30 or so, to give us plenty of time to get there and get checked in, especially since we had no idea what would be in store for us with all of the new heightened security. So it was early to bed for us so we could be up early as well.

Rotterdam scrapped, Utrecht in!

January 10, 2009

Yes, I have been home from the trip for 5 days now and am sitting down right now to try and catch up on the blog since I only have a few more days left to cover. The jet lag has affected me in a completely different way than it did while I was in Holland. The night we arrived home I stayed up until midnight and then went to bed, but was up at 5 a.m. Since then, I have been getting extremely tired and sleepy by 10 p.m. which is really unusual for me since I normally go to bed around 11:30-midnight. I have also continued to wake up at around 5:30 a.m. I have managed to just get up then and stay up all day without napping and then going to bed around 10:30 or so. When I start back to work tomorrow, that really would be ideal for me to keep on that schedule. For one thing, if I were to wake up at 5:30 that would give me 2 hours in the morning to get ready before I even have to leave for work. Prior to the trip, I only had an hour to get ready because I just couldn’t drag myself out of bed before 6:30. So in a way, I kind of hope I do stay on this schedule. Anyway, here is what happened on January 3, 2010.

Getting up on Sunday was pretty much the same as any other day. Bill and I got out of bed around 9:30. Our original plan was to take the train to Rotterdam because we were eager to explore a city we hadn’t yet seen in Holland. That plan got scrapped after all of the snow that fell the night before. The roads were icy and we didn’t want to risk driving in those conditions. We, as in Bill, Ed, Joy and I were still eager to explore somewhere, so we decided to go to Utrecht instead. I had heard it was a nice little city and we could still take the train there and it was closer than Rotterdam. I called my cousin Justin to let him know we’d be going. Justin was going to be our tour guide in Rotterdam since he is familiar with the city. He also knows Utrecht well because that is where he goes to school. He is a graduate student at Utrecht University. He would also be our tour guide in Utrecht! I spoke to Justin and told him we would take the train into Utrecht from T’Harde, where the closest train station was to where we were staying in Elburg. He would meet us there so our plans were set.

Once we were all ready to go, we made the ten minute drive to the train station. This is what I photographed on the drive there, after the snowfall from the night before:

The train system in Holland is extensive and you can go nearly everywhere by rail. We had already taken the train to Amsterdam so we were looking forward to another ride on the rails. You can buy tickets right there at the station from the computerized kiosk, so this was going to be easy enough. Or so we thought. We got to the train station about 15 minutes before our train would be there to take us to Utrecht.

We found the kiosk and went to buy our tickets only it wouldn’t let us because it would not take our VISA debit cards! Now before we even left American soil, we all called Bank of America to let them know we would be using the debit card out of the country so that they would be aware of any international purchases while we were away. If you don’t, then the bank will think this is unauthorized activity and will shut the account down in a heartbeat. Well, as it turned out, we barely used it in Holland because we couldn’t even find many merchants that would even accept credit cards, aside from BP, every time we needed gas!!! And now this stupid ticket kiosk at the train station was denying us as well. And this isn’t a large station where there are people who work there that can sell you a ticket. All that was there was the ticket kiosk. It was just as well because the prices of the tickets were much more than what we expected they would be. It would have cost 21 Euros each to ride the train. That is when we decided to just drive there. As always, it would be about an hour drive and since the roads had been cleared of snow, it was safe to drive. As we made our way back to the parking lot, I snapped a photo of the train we SHOULD have been on!

We quickly made our way back to the car and then we were on our way to Utrecht. When we got there, we called Justin who was visiting our other cousin, Reza, who was working that day at a department store called V & D. He told us to park in a parking garage nearby and where he would meet us. We found it, parked and then made our way to trying to find Justin. We waited outside for him and he soon found us and then took us back to V & D. We had already been in another V & D store when we were in Zwolle at the beginning of our trip. In fact, we had lunch there. This store also had the same set up and we were all hungry, so we decided to have lunch there. Unfortunately for Justin, he was feeling sick. He didn’t look well, so we told him to go ahead and go home. He told us where to go once we left V & D, and then we parted ways. We had our lunch, and then stopped by to pick up some goodies. In this case, chocolate, because this particular V & D not only had the little restaurant, it also had this:

This is only a part of what they had. There was much more chocolate to be had! We bought some white chocolate (my favorite) and some dark chocolate. YUM! After we left there, we went outside to find the main city square. It is beautiful in Utrecht as well, with old churches like this:

Old houses like this:

The cobblestone streets that are all over Holland:

And my favorite:

The canals!

The canals are so neat to see with the homes lined up beside it.
We just walked around the city, exploring everything and checking out the shops. Eventually we made our way down one of the streets and I came across this shop, which I found particularly ironic. I mean, I never would have thought I would find one of these in Holland. Of course I had to take a photo of it because it would be so hard to find any of what this store sells in Arizona!

Yes, a bit of sarcasm there! On the other hand, I am POSITIVE you will not find this in the window of most stores in the U.S.! (Yes, Amsterdam isn’t the only place you can find things like this!)

I thought of my good friend Kim, who also makes cakes, and thought this might be one to add to her shaped cake pan collection, but I just didn’t want to risk going through U.S. Customs on the way home and opening my luggage to this!
Once it started to get dark, we decided to head back to Elburg. Another hour long drive back. We made our way back to the parking garage and just as we were headed to the car, our cousin Reza called. We forgot that we were going to stop back by where he works at V & D to see him. He had just gotten off work and wanted to see us. So he also happened to be in the parking garage so he drove down to the level we were parked on and we talked a little to Reza before we all headed home. We had seen Reza at the Stook family reunion two days earlier, but prior to that, the last time we saw Reza was when he was about 12 years old, when he and his parents came to the states. Now he is 25! It was nice to see him again and we told him he needs to come back to the U.S. again. Reza remembers a lot about his trip to the U.S. when he was 12. He remembered our old house and that we had a basketball hoop out front and he remembered our dog, Eddie, who we still have! (Yes, Eddie is pretty darn old. He is 16 now!) He remembered things I have long forgotten! Anyway, we said our goodbyes and headed back to Elburg after another day gone by much too quickly!

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Geeraths Family Reunion

January 4, 2010: At this moment, I am sitting in this wonderful hotel in Amsterdam. Wonderful because it’s huge, which is a good thing because we are sharing it with my brother and his wife. We are happy that we decided to stay in Amsterdam, close to the airport for our final night because it will make getting to the airport much easier in the morning. And I’m thrilled to have free internet at the hotel too! So I will use this opportunity to catch up on the blog. Here’s what happened on January 2nd:

The day after the big Stook Family reunion, we had our third reunion to attend. This time it would be for the Geeraths family. This is my maiden name, although as I have mentioned before, my maiden name was spelled G-A-E rather than G-E-E. This reunion, however, was not just my family; this was a reunion for all of the Geeraths’ in Holland. There is a gentleman named Reg Geeraths in Holland who has a website about the Geeraths family name and apparently, all of the Geeraths’ are all related to one another somehow. He has researched our genealogy and knows a lot about the family and family name. My brothers and I were all excited to attend this reunion and see other family members we have never met. One of my aunts, her three daughters and one of my uncles would also be attending. We had to drive to a town called Diemen, where the reunion would be held. Of course, like everything else, Diemen is approximately one hour away from Elburg, where we were staying. We left the house about 12:30 to make the drive. Diemen is very close to Amsterdam and also happens to be one of the stops that the train makes on its way to Amsterdam. When we got to the place where the reunion would be held and walked in, I thought there would be more people. I’m not sure why I thought that, maybe because when you think of every Geeraths in Holland, you are thinking a lot of people. I met Reg, who I had only been in contact with by e-mail up until now. I also met his daughter Annemarie who also helped a lot with putting this reunion together. There was a slideshow of photos of different Geeraths family members and I was surprised to see a photo of my Uncle Hans, who lives in Mesa, with an old family friend who passed away several years ago. And just like we have found since we first set foot in Holland, food was abundant at this get together! I LOVE the French fries they have here. And instead of serving them with ketchup, in Holland it is served with a kind of mayonnaise. Not mayonnaise like you would find in the U.S.. It just tastes different, as in better. Here’s a pic that Jack snuck into showing the fries we had!

Here are a few other pics from the reunion:

From left to right: Bill, my brother Ed, my brother Andy, my cousin Wendy, my nephew’s girlfriend Renee, my nephew Geoff, my niece Carrie, my cousin Donna, my aunt, Olly, and my cousin Theresa. They were looking at old family photos.

Reg also provided a family tree, so we could see how we are all related. A lot of the family members were the children and grandchildren of my grandfather’s brother. It was a nice little get together and I am glad we decided to attend. Before we left, we took a group picture just as we did for the Stook reunion:

We left Diemen around 6:00, and made the drive back to Elburg. It ended up taking us just over two hours to get home because on our way home, it began to snow and it was pretty heavy at times. I believe we were only driving 20 mph in some places. You can imagine how nerve wracking it would be to be a “Zonie” driving in heavy snow! My brother did a great job though.
This photo is of driving back home, but you can’t really see just how much it was snowing.

We were worried about our nephew Geoff, his girlfriend Renee and my niece Carrie because they had left the reunion and taken the tram or train into Amsterdam. They were going to have to make the drive back to Elburg as well. I called Geoff and told him to be very careful driving back in that snow. They did get home after 11 p.m. and it took them about 2.5 hours to get home. Driving in snow on slippery roads is pretty scary when you aren’t used to it! Thankfully we all did well and made it back home safely.

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year's Day: The Stook Family Reunion

It is strange to be writing 2010 now. Unbelievable that yet another year has passed. Here’s hoping that 2010 is a much better year than the past two has been for me and my family. I have great hope that since it began while we were still in Holland, that it will be a good one!

It is four days into the New Year and I need to catch up on my blog! So here goes, beginning with January 1st!

After our late night with the party at Wendy’s and the fireworks, we tried to get to bed at a more reasonable time than we had been because we knew we would be up and moving again in the early afternoon in January 1st. We had a second family reunion to attend. This one would be for my mother’s side of the family, the Stook’s. This family is even larger than my father’s side as my mother came from a family of 13 children. There are ten of her siblings that are still alive, three of which live in Australia, but the rest are in Holland. I also have many cousins in both countries as well. The reunion was being held in Zoetermeer, about an hour away (it seems that everything is an hour away from where we are!). My Uncle Paul had rented the little community center of a church. It has a kitchen, which was great since the Stooks like to cook as much as the Geeraths’! The reunion was scheduled from 3:00-11:00 p.m. We made the drive with no problems, with our usual caravan. Thank goodness my brother Ed brought his GPS with him because it has been the saving grace for us trying to get around out here! When we arrived, there were already a lot of family members there. I had cousins I would be meeting for the very first time, and some were in their 30’s! It was pretty exciting! Here is one of my cousins that I met for the very first time. Her name is Sarmah, and she is named after our grandmother, who passed away when her children were very young (my mother was only 9). She is 30 years old and married to Andy, and they have a 13 month-old son named Sem. Here is a picture of Sarmah and Sem:

And here is one of just Sem:

More little cousins I haven’t met (the two older boys, Kevin and Matthew, with the twins we had already met, Lyndon and Rodney)

An older cousin I have never met is here, talking to Bill. Her name is Rowena and she is 26 and she is the second oldest of four children (Ramona, Rowena, Charlene and Justin) of my Uncle Bertus and his wife, Anna. Bertus is my mom’s younger brother.

Rowena and her older sister Ramona were both rhythmic gymnasts for the Dutch National Team. Ramona actually was the Dutch National Champion in the mid 1990’s or so. She now coaches other gymnasts.

There was, of course, a lot of food again. Just a sample:

We spent most of the night eating and visiting with all of this family we haven’t met and catching up with the others. Before we knew it, it was time to go. I had to take a photo of two of my mother’s younger sisters (Bea and Thea) because they look so much like my mother, especially the sister on the right, Thea. I had a hard time looking at her because she reminded me so much of my mom, and I found myself getting teary eyed at the sight of her.

We finally left the reunion after 11:00. But before we all left, we got in a group photo, although this wouldn’t be all of the Stooks since some are in Australia and there was one missing since he or she took the photo:

By the time we got home, it was another late night. And on January 2nd, we had reunion #3. This time, it would be for all Geeraths’, obviously the majority of who live in Holland. Somehow we are all related and at this reunion is how we would learn how!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Amsterdam and Den Haag, December 29 & 30

Not too much went on these two days. On Tuesday, December 29th, Bill and I along with Ed and Joy decided to go into Amsterdam. We just wanted to get out for a bit and spend some time just hanging out, exploring the city a bit. We saw a good amount of it back in 2006 when we were there, so this was going to be more of a people watching, walking around and some shopping type of trip. We drove about an hour to the train station in Weesp, then just took the train from there. It was just a short trip into Amsterdam from there, about 12 minutes I think. It’s just so much easier to take the train in rather than drive there, so that’s what we did. Once in Amsterdam, we just walked around, took photos of some of the old buildings like this church:

We also saw many of the famous Amsterdam "coffee shops" where you can buy treats like this:

And no, I did not sample one!

We had lunch in the city and looked around some of the souvenir shops as well. We only spent a few hours there and then headed back because our cousin Christian warned us that after it gets dark, the roads can be more dangerous because of the ice. It was another hour or so drive back to Elburg, and of course, I passed out in the car. Bill makes fun of me because I fall asleep in the car every time, like a baby! I can’t help it; I think the motion has the same effect on me! Needless to say, I am not the one you want to be with on long road trips! Which is kind of strange because I actually drove across the country way back in 1991 from California to Pennsylvania. It must have been my youth that enabled me to do that!

Once we got home, it was just time to hang out, get on Facebook and catch up on my blog. Of course I couldn’t get to sleep early, even though we were going to have to get up and drive off again on Wednesday, this time to Den Haag and then to Zaandam.
That was the plan for Wednesday. We were going to drive to Den Haag so Bill and I could visit with an old friend of my mother’s, a gentleman named Fred Kamphuis. Actually, she was the friend of this gentleman’s wife, who was my mother’s supervisor way back in 1959-1961 when my mother worked for the Department of Defense in the Netherlands. In 2008, Fred had sent a Christmas card to my parents, unaware that both had passed away. I ended up calling him after finding his name in my mother’s address book and told him about the loss of both of them. He was very shocked to hear this news, and very sad for us. His own wife had died in 2004 and he was now living alone. In October 2009 I wrote to him and told him we would be visiting Holland so we made arrangements to meet up while we were here so we could meet and so he could tell me about my mother and show me some pictures, letters and other things that his wife had saved all these years.

We made the drive to Den Haag which is about 1.5 hours away. It is a very large and busy city and thank goodness we have a GPS system in the car that my brother brought from home. Well, sort of. It did take us to the correct street that Fred lives on, however it didn’t take us exactly to the correct destination. Fred lives in a more modern apartment building than what you normally would find in Holland. In fact, the homes across the street from him were built in the early 1800’s whereas his building was built about ten years ago! It was odd to see the modern architecture vs. the old architecture across the street! Anyway, Bill and I got out where the GPS said to, but we later found out that we were still a good five minute walk away from where we really needed to be. Not fun when it’s cold and windy out and you have no idea where you are! But we made it to Fred’s apartment which is on the third floor of this building. I wish I had taken photos of the homes on both sides of the street, but I was too cold to take off my gloves and go digging for my camera.
Fred reminded me of a very proper British gentleman, except that he is Dutch. He was very kind and even at 77, is still in rather good physical shape and his mind is sharp as a tack. He remembered a great deal from when my mother lived in Holland and worked with his wife. I suspect this is because he worked as a museum curator in Den Haag for 47 years before retiring. He oversaw some sort of stamp collection at the museum. This also explains his meticulous organization. There wasn’t a thing out of place in his apartment! He also told us of his many travels all over Europe and to more exotic places like the Canary Islands. He said he has many photos and slides of these trips and he wasn’t kidding. He opened up this locked storage cabinet and inside were shelves upon shelves of photo albums all lined up neatly and labeled and organized. He also had boxes and boxes of slides, each lined up as well and labeled with a description of the contents! Yes, I am sure that is because he worked in a museum all those years!

He showed me some photos he had of my mother back at her old work place and then he showed me all of the correspondence his wife had saved over the years: letters, Christmas cards and believe it or not, she had saved the birth announcements that my mother had sent her when my brother Ed was born, when I was born and when our nephew Geoff was born! I had never seen them before and Fred was kind enough to give them to me as a keepsake for us. They were all in perfect condition as well! I was grateful that he gave those to us to keep.

The plan while Bill and I were visiting Fred was for Ed and Joy to go find some huge shopping mall in Den Haag. Unfortunately, they spent the entire time driving around the city because the traffic was so horrible there! I felt bad for them not being able to see anything else before they came to pick us up just after 4:00.
We had to make the drive to Zaandam to have dinner at my Oom (Uncle) Paul’s house with his family: his wife Mary, their son James, James’ wife Sandra, and their three little boys: Jayden who is 5 and 17 month old-twins Lyndon and Rodney.

My other cousins, Justin and Reza were there as well. I had never met Justin until he met us at the airport when we flew in. Justin is now 22! Reza is 25 and the last time I saw him, he was about 12 and he had come to Arizona with his parents (his mother is my mother’s younger sister). Now he’s all grown up! My other brother Andy was there with his family as well as my nephew and his girlfriend. It was a lot of fun visiting with them and of course, just like my father’s side of the family, they cook enough food for the entire neighborhood and aren’t satisfied until they stuff you full, which they did! We left there about 10:00 p.m. because we had the long drive back home. I think it was around 11:30 when we arrive back home. Of course, it was another late night for me, not turning in until about 2:30 a.m. again! I was grateful that New Year’s Eve would just be spent at home, not doing anything except waiting to ring in 2010!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Left Behind

December 28, 2009, the entire reason that my brothers and I are in Holland in the first place. This was the day that we buried my parents urns in the cemetery in Zwolle, Netherlands, the same cemetery where my grandmother and great-grandparents are buried. A bittersweet day because of the sadness of missing them, the reminder that they are no longer here, and knowing that when we leave here on Tuesday, we will be leaving them behind. On the other hand, we are happy knowing they are in a beautiful place, in a country where they began a new life and had lots of good memories with family and friends.

For those of you who have kept up with my blog and who know how the beginning of this trip started, then you will understand that of course what I am about to write about is just par for the course for us. Unfortunately, “left behind” had another meaning early Monday afternoon. We had all decided to meet at my cousin Theresa’s house in Elburg before heading to Zwolle to meet up at my uncle’s house and then to the cemetery. First of all, the urn we had chosen for my father is made of metal and therefore could not be taken through airport security since it cannot be x-rayed. I had to purchase a temporary urn for his remains to travel with. We had no problems with this however we were going to have to remove the bag with my father’s remains and put it back into the metal urn since that is the one we planned to bury. My brother Andy took on this task, which wasn’t easy because the ashes are in a heavy plastic bag that was secured with basically, a zip tie (cable tie). He had to basically try and get one end of the bag into the narrow opening of the metal urn, then slowly shake the bag so that the ashes would settle and fit the rest of the way into the urn. He was careful doing this, but I have to admit I still had this awful fear that the bag would accidentally be punctured and that my father’s ashes would be all over Theresa’s leather couch. Fortunately, this didn’t happen! It all went in and we secured the top of my father’s urn. My mother’s urn is a beautiful wood urn so that wasn’t a problem with airport security. Her urn remained in the travel bag that the funeral home provided to us to transport the urns on the plane. Bill took charge of my father’s urn because he did not want to put it back in the bag with my mother’s wood urn for fear of scratching the beautiful glossy finish. So he hand carried my father’s urn. When all of us were finally at Theresa’s house, we again had a caravan of vehicles going to my uncle’s house which is about a twenty minute drive. We arrived at my uncle’s house and spent some time visiting before having to head to the cemetery for the 2 p.m. service. At some point my very observant niece Carrie asked where the bag was with my mother’s urn. We thought that my brother Andy had it and he said no, he thought we had it. So we looked in the back of the car and to our horror, it wasn’t there. My nephew’s girlfriend Renee said the last place she saw it was sitting on the sofa when Andy was trying to get our father’s ashes back into the original urn! Yes, in all of the commotion, we left mom behind on Theresa’s sofa! By the time we realized it, it was about 1:30 p.m. Theresa’s husband was then sent back to his house to retrieve mom! Just one more thing to happen to us! It all worked out in the end with the service only starting about ten minutes later than we had planned and it was a beautiful service. My cousin Theresa has a paternal cousin that I believe is a pastor and he did a wonderful job with the service. Andy spoke a bit as well and a few prayers were said. My cousin Theresa and Wendy sang as did my uncle. In attendance were family from both my mother and father’s side, so the turnout was quite large. At the end of the service, after we had placed the urns in the ground, everyone at the service put a handful of dirt on top of the urns then laid a rose down beside the grave.

Finally, I have to mention the cemetery. This cemetery is unlike any I have ever seen. It looks more like a beautiful forest, with lots of trees, grass and flowers. Here are a few photos. My parents urns are buried at the same grave site as my grandmother and a brass nameplate was added to the headstone with my parents names on it. If you are wondering why my parents names are spelled differently, it is because the last name was misspelled on my father's birth certificate and the error was never corrected. That is why the first three letters are G-A-E instead of G-E-E, which is how it should be.

The graves are all kept up immaculately and it is truly a peaceful place to be. I was also thrilled that the weather was great because the night before it was raining well into the night, but by morning the sun was actually out and it wasn’t too cold outside. It remained that way throughout the burial service. Maybe my parents had something to do with the weather that day!

After the service, we gathered at my uncle’s house to visit, and enjoy some coffee and food. It was a full house, that’s for sure. My little cousins were there, of course, and they sure have taken a liking to Bill. When we first arrived at my uncle’s house before the service, Inez, Pascale and Anouk immediately ran to him and all were saying “Bill!” and then ran to give him hugs. As they walked to the front door of my uncle’s house, I managed to snap the most adorable photo of Bill holding hands with the girls as they walked. I love this photo!

Bill walking with those little girls is just too cute! And of course Pascale just loves to make friends with everyone. I snapped a picture of her with my maternal cousin, James. She had first met him at the airport when they came to welcome us and just enjoyed playing with him. At my uncle’s house, she really took a liking to him, sitting in his lap and talking and playing with him.

Of course Bill is still a favorite of Pascale’s as well. She still enjoys showing him her karate chop moves but unfortunately, she tried it on him while he was eating a bowl of split pea soup that my aunt had made. Split pea soup (thankfully it had cooled down) all over Bill’s nice sweater, dress pants and oh yes, ME! I was sitting next to Bill so it was on my sweater and dress pants as well. The second after it happened, Pascale just had a look of horror on her face and must have felt pretty bad because she was hugging Bill like crazy and once the aunts brought him a damp towel to clean himself up, Pascale was helping as well! Of course we couldn’t be mad at her then, because she’s just too cute. So she just got a warning from her mother to be more careful with her karate moves!

We stayed at my uncle’s for a little while longer, then everyone headed back home. We did as well, and once there, made our plans for day # 11, Amsterdam!