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!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

December 27

Our last day at the Scooby Dooby! As usual, we slept in until after 10:00. In fact, most of us did. We headed down to breakfast and noticed that “the young ones” were not there. This would be Carrie, Christian, Christian’s girlfriend Karen, Victor and Victor’s girlfriend, Geoff and Geoff’s girlfriend. We decided that they needed to get up and join us for breakfast, so someone (not sure who), supplied a few of the little cousins with a couple of stainless steel pot lids to go upstairs and use them like cymbals and wake them up! So off they went, the littlest ones following behind Quinten, up the spiral staircase. I really wish I would have had my camera to take a picture of that. They looked too cute, like the seven dwarfs, marching up the stairs, on a mission. Well, a few minutes later, mission accomplished because Carrie, Geoff and Renee came down to breakfast. The little ones were still upstairs, and we soon found out that they couldn’t get Christian and Karen up because once Christian heard them waking Carrie up, he rushed to push some of the beds up against the door to keep the little ones out! Well, eventually they made it downstairs as well. After all, the kids may not have been able to get inside, but they could still bang those pot lids together!
After breakfast we just worked on getting our things packed up so we could be out of the Scooby Dooby by 4:00. Some of the guys decided to take a quick trip to the site of a former concentration camp that was only about 30 minutes away called Westerbork. I passed on that trip, finding it to be too depressing. A few years back Bill and I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and that was depressing enough. I can’t imagine actually being at the site of a former concentration camp. While they were away, we packed everything up and we pretty much had it all finished up by the time they returned around 3:45. Once they arrived, we all helped load everything into the cars. By that time, the wind was really blowing and it was very, very cold. But we were soon all packed up and on our way back out of the middle of nowhere.

We made plans to all meet at my cousin Shirley’s house to have dinner before we all went our separate ways. I was wondering how in the world we would fit all of us in Shirley’s house. Most homes in Holland are small by U.S. standards and I just couldn’t see how we would fit 20+ people in her little living room! But then again, I forgot that my Dutch family does this all the time! Sure enough, since we were the last to arrive, I saw just how it’s done. There were simply many chairs lined up on the outside perimeter of the living room. There were even some people sitting on her stairs! But hey, it worked out, especially for the little girl cousins. Inez, Pascale and Anouk were busy dressing up in various princess outfits and dresses and came downstairs. Well, the way we were sitting on both sides of the living room, it resembled a catwalk. And those girls were all about walking down it like supermodels:

The first two photos are of Inez and the third is her younger sister, Anouk. I love these pics! They are too cute!

After dinner at Shirley’s and a little more visiting (as if we hadn’t already spent enough time together!), we all headed home. Of course I was up late again, because for some reason ever since arriving here, I just can’t get to bed early! In fact, as I type this up, it’s 12:51 a.m.! And so that was what happened on day 9 of the American Invasion 2009.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cabin Fever

The day after Christmas, and after two days spent completely indoors, I was beginning to suffer a little cabin fever. I could tell because my mood was changing to where people were beginning to annoy me! First of all, I am not used to spending 24/7 with my husband for nearly three weeks straight. Not that we are together every minute of the day while here, but we are still together way more than we are back home and when you aren’t used to it, it takes some getting used to. And then throw in about 28 more people that you aren’t used to, many of them kids, and then you can imagine the need to get out! I love my family, and don’t get me wrong, we are having a great time, but I also like to be able to escape for a bit and I definitely was feeling the need by Saturday morning. So we planned to get out for a bit and go for a walk since the sun actually made an appearance. Others wanted out as well, so it ended up being me, Bill, Ed, Joy, my other brother Andy, his wife Mary, my niece Carrie, nephew Geoff, Geoff’s girlfriend Renee, my cousin Theresa’s husband, Ewald, and my little cousins, Kim, Noah and Quinten.

Ewald led us on a hike, which I was thought was going to be a nice, leisurely stroll on the roads surrounding “The Scooby Dooby.” But no, our hike started in a field where we stopped to team up and have a snowball fight. I took one in the leg that actually hurt! But for the most part, I managed to dodge the worst of it aside from getting a bit of snow down my back. Thanks Noah! After the snowball fight we trudged on behind Ewald who was leading us on this hike. It was actually getting warm to me, being bundled up in my down ski jacket. I never thought I would say I was feeling warm here, but I was. As we went on with our hike, it did not turn into the nice, leisurely stroll that I was hoping for! Ewald took us through some rather deep snow, deep enough that at one point, poor little Noah got her boot stuck in the snow/slush and got her sock all wet! And then poor Joy fell and twisted her ankle. I was being extra careful about where I was stepping because I had jeans on, not waterproof pants, so if I fell, I didn’t want to be wet and cold! Finally we made it back to the road, a regular paved road, and made our way back to the compound. I believe that hike ended up being about 3 miles long. We were glad to be back in the warm, cozy house and just relaxed and had hot tea and coffee.

We spent the rest of the day just hanging out. I believe some of the guys were playing cards, the kids may have watched a movie. By the way, am I the only one who didn’t know that there is a Michael Jackson movie out called “Moonwalker?” That is what the kids were watching. Not exactly sure what the storyline is because I never watched it, but could hear him breaking out in song, like it was part musical! Anyway, the kids love it. Little Anouk tried her hand at moon walking and Pascale was begging to see it again the night before, on Christmas. Her mother kept telling her, “not now, later.” A short time later, Pascale, in a desperate attempt and last ditch effort to get to watch the movie yet again, told her mother who was in the kitchen, that “there is a woman out there who really wants to watch Michael Jackson!” Too funny!! These little cousins of mine are a constant source of entertainment. While I am on the subject of funny kid stories, I must relay this hilarious story about Anouk. She is almost five years old, and in Pre-Kindergarten. Like many kids, Anouk has on occasion had an accident because she has just been too busy to bother using the restroom and when she finally does realize that she has to go, she unfortunately has an accident and wets herself. This happened to her one time at school. Her teacher noticed it, but also realized that Anouk had not come to her to tell her. She decided to wait a bit longer to see if Anouk would tell her. A short time later, she realized that Anouk was crying, most likely after becoming uncomfortable in her wet pants. She then asked Anouk what was wrong and why she was crying. Anouk, being too embarrassed to admit she had wet her pants, then told her teacher, “My Oma (grandmother) died!” Her teacher was a little shocked and wasn’t sure whether this was true or not, but in the mean time, did help Anouk to change her clothes. When Anouk’s father came to pick her up from school, the teacher pulled him aside and told him she had a strange question to ask him and then came out and asked him if his mother had in fact passed away! Rudi quite happily told her no, that his mother was alive and well and then heard the story about Anouk and they all had a good laugh about it. Kids!!! They are too funny sometimes!

The only other thing going on that day was who would become the next victim of the little cousins. They love to pick one person to “attack.” This involves about seven of them going after one person and tickling them. Joy was the first victim and on this day, it was my niece, Carrie. I have some great pictures of that attack! Quinten is only 11, but big for his age, and strong. So he basically could hold Carrie down while the little girls tickled her. Poor Carrie. She couldn’t get away and finally someone rescued her after telling the kids to let her go! (Sorry Carrie, I had to get pictures for the blog, so I didn’t help!)

The day after Christmas was also my aunt “Ollie’s” 75th birthday. Her daughters had a nice surprise for her. They had booked a singing group to come to the “compound” to perform a little concert for her. I believe they mostly sing gospel, but at the performance they did for our family, there was a little bit of everything in there. They opened with “Because You Love Me” (Celine Dion), sang some Christmas carols and a couple of gospel songs and some other well known songs. They were quite good, and even sang everything in English!

My aunt loved it and it was great to see how happy she was. She cried, her daughters cried, and she made me cry when she said to my brothers and I how even though she misses our father (her brother), that she is grateful to be able to see him in all of us and that it means a lot to her that we were there to celebrate her birthday with her. She was so excited when we arrived and commented then how we are like her kids too! She is such a sweet woman and you can see how loved she is by everyone. She is kind, caring, funny and strong. She had to raise her three daughters alone after losing her husband when they were very young. She did a great job because they are wonderful people. I think it helped that my family is so close with one another. My cousins always talk about fond memories of growing up together and it’s evident, given how close they are now. And it’s going on now with their children as well. All of the little cousins get along great and love playing together, especially the three youngest girls, Inez, Anouk and Pascale. I love how we get along wonderfully with our cousins even though we never grew up together and only see one another every few years. Whenever we get together it’s like we have never been apart and we just pick up where we left off. We have a great time together and always look forward to them coming to the states to visit, or us flying here.

After the concert we had, it was more hanging out and talking. Geoff was tending bar and even dancing behind the bar a bit.
I have pictures of that too!

And of course, it wouldn’t be one of our family get togethers if there wasn’t food after midnight.

On this night, it was the leftover meat kabobs we had from dinner. We stayed up a bit later and then it was off to bed as we slowly lost the battle to stay up any longer!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

When in Holland . . .

Funny thing about being here in Holland is the things that I eat here, but never, or rarely at home. I have posted some pics of these. First, bread. I eat bread at home, but not anywhere near the quantity I’ve already consumed in the week that I have been here. First of all, bread is like a staple of every Dutch breakfast. Which brings me to what they put on their bread that would be quite the oddity back home. See the photo that looks like a piece of bread with chocolate sprinkles on it? Well, that is exactly what it is! Bread with butter and chocolate sprinkles! Or as it is called in Dutch, “chocolade vlokken.” Crazy, I know, but for some reason, I feel the need to eat it when I am here. Three years ago when we were here, I actually bought some and took it home with me. And then never ate it again! I just couldn’t do it once I was back home. Same thing with hot tea. I drink it on occasion back home, but not as much as I’ve had it here! Maybe because I am freezing my tush off here and I am always wanting something hot. I don’t know what it is, but it must just be the feeling of being back here again that makes me want to eat and drink these things! If anyone back home is game for trying the chocolate sprinkles on bread, let me know and I will bring home a box!

Merry Christmas, Prettige Kerstdagen, Joyeux Noel, etc.!

I started to write this on Christmas Day, about 10:00 p.m. when Joy and I had retreated to our room to enjoy just a little quiet time and to write about the past couple of days before we forget what happened!

Yesterday was Christmas Eve and this is the day we were heading to Friesland to a place called De Schaopedobbe, the name of the place we would be staying at for Christmas. As you can see, it is a bit difficult to pronounce, which is how it came to be nicknamed “De Scooby Dooby” by my brother! After asking my cousin what “schaopedobbe” means, it basically translates into “sheep pond.” Schaope means sheep and apparently “dobbe” is a word in a local dialect, meaning pond, and from what she said, they used to wash the sheep in the pond. Hmm, I kind of prefer “De Scooby Dooby” myself!

On Christmas Eve, we slept in again, not getting up until after 10 a.m. It has been like this since we arrived and I just know I will be paying for it the first time I have to wake up for work at 6 a.m. We spent the morning packing our things up for the weekend and were on the road by 2:30. We had a caravan of vehicles making the drive. I think there were about 5-6 vehicles It is only about an hour’s drive away so the drive wasn’t bad at all. We stopped along the way to take some pictures in the snow. I could tell as we made our way closer that there was much more snow on the ground.

Finally, we arrived at De Schaopedobbe, and got our things unpacked before it got dark. You can imagine just how much food we had to take to feed 30+ people for 3 meals a day for 4 days. Actually, it’s more like 6 meals. My Dutch family likes to eat. A lot. All the time. We will barely have finished a meal and they are on to planning the next. I’m not kidding. Since we have been getting up so late in the mornings we have been having brunch instead of breakfast but they will still be ready to eat not too long after. Or you may have just eaten two hours ago and they come out of nowhere with snacks. It’s crazy.

Once we got our things unpacked, we headed upstairs to lay claim to the rooms we would be sleeping in. Just like three years ago, this place reminds me of summer camp, only indoors or a dorm. There are several rooms in this place, sleeping anywhere from four to eleven people to a room. There are bunk beds as well as single beds set up. Bill and I ended up bunking with my brother Ed and his wife, which is nothing new because we have done this many times before when traveling. The first room we were going to sleep in was ice cold when we first walked in. My cousin Wendy’s husband Erik showed up how to turn the heat on in the room, so we left it figuring it would have time to warm up before we headed to bed. Soon we had all of our rooms picked out and on each of the chalkboards outside the room, we wrote who was where. Our room was called the AZ Crew, the littlest kids were kept together with their parents, there was another room called “The Kidzz” which had the older kids, ages 10 and up, then there was another room for “The Young Ones,” which was my niece and nephew and older cousins, 18 and up. Finally, the oldest aunts got the more luxurious, spacious rooms.

Once we were all settled in, we just hung out and then decided to wrap the gifts we brought for all of the kids. I brought one medium size suitcase that was filled with nothing but Christmas gifts for the kids. Joy and I wrapped those gifts and then hid them away so we could put them under the tree after the kids went to bed. Once that was finished, we headed back downstairs to just hang out with everyone. With so many of us here, everyone just disperses around the room, doing their own thing. Some of us are watching a movie, some are hanging out at the bar talking, and the kids will be hanging out playing somewhere. But more often than not, wherever the kids are, you can probably find Bill! He is like the pied piper, with kids following him everywhere. The funniest thing to watch was Bill with my little cousin, Pascale. Pascale will be 5 years old in January and she is a little pistol. You can’t let her looks fool you! She is adorable, with the cutest face and beautiful long, dark hair. While she is very much a “girly girl” who enjoys playing dress up, she is also very willful, stubborn and can just as easily karate chop you (just ask Bill!) as bat her eyelashes at you. Her favorite game to play with Bill was to make him lie down, take off his glasses and watch, then order him to go to sleep by yelling “Slapen!” which is Dutch for sleep. She would then cover him up with every sofa cushion. A minute later, she would make this cock-a-doodle-do sound and then yell “Opstaan!” which is Dutch for “wake up!” She would then uncover him, put his glasses back on and his watch and then he would have to be awake!

We have about 8 little cousins, ages 11 and under. The oldest is Quinten, 11 and Pascale is his younger sister, who I mentioned will be 5 next month. Their parents are my cousin Sandra and her husband, Wil. Then there is Noah who is 10 and her younger sister, Carmen, who is 7. Their parents are my cousin Wendy and her husband Erik. Kim is 9 years old and an only child and her parents are my cousin Donna and her husband, Jean-Pierre. Then there are sisters Inez, who is 5 and Anouk who is 4. Their parents are my cousin Shirley and her husband, Rudi. Finally, there is Tara, who is 3 years old and her father is my cousin, Fabian. All of these cousins are on my father’s side of the family. There are also the older cousins, Victor and Christian, who are in their early 20’s, and their parents are my cousin Theresa and her husband Ewald. Theresa, Donna and Wendy are sisters and their mother is my father’s younger sister. Sandra and Shirley are also sisters and their mother is another younger sister of my father. Fabian is 32 and his brother, Raymond is 30, are the sons of my father’s younger brother. Anyway, that is a quick rundown of the family. I am sure you have lost track already! We have a huge family, as my dad comes from a family of nine children. My mother’s side is even larger, as she comes from a family of 13. We will be seeing them very soon.

Anyway, as for the rest of Christmas Eve, we had dinner together and then all got together to play a game after the kids went to bed. My cousins had a huge pile of wrapped gifts that they put into a pile in the middle of the floor.

Chairs were all arranged in a circle around the gifts and we sat down in the chairs. There was a huge pair of dice and the premise of the game was that if you rolled a six or numbers that added up to six, then you got to choose a gift. If you were lucky enough to roll two sixes, then you got to choose two gifts. The rest of the numbers also had some kind of instructions to them. For example, if a five came up, then everyone had to move over one seat to the right. If you had accumulated gifts by then, you just left them there and moved on. If you rolled a two, you might have to pick two people and swap one of their gifts with the other person. Or if you rolled a one, you might be able to pick one of your gifts to swap out with someone else’s. Some of the gifts were gag gifts, like a silly looking bug light and a pair of red, lacy panties. My brother Andrew was the first to get the bug light and upon seeing what it was, made the mistake of making sarcastic comments about it, such as how great it was and how nice that it would only work in Holland, (due to the different voltage and type of plug it has!) Well, after that, the rest of the family made sure the gift stuck with Andy! If the gift ended up out of his hands because we had to trade seats, then somehow they made sure it always got back to him! As for the pair of red, lacy panties, they first ended up with Rudi, my cousin Shirley’s husband.

It soon made the rounds and ended up with my nephew Geoff. The other gifts were little Dutch souvenirs, or tea, chocolate, etc. It was a lot of fun. Once all of the gifts had been handed out, my cousin Theresa announced that there was a little catch to the game. First we all had to move over one seat and then whatever gifts were there, we had to keep on our lap to show what we had. And then the final announcement and final “catch” to the game was that all of the gifts were to be given to the “American family!” So everyone divided their gifts among my brothers and I and the rest of our family! It was a lot of fun and I got some great gifts out of it! We of course ended up staying up late watching a movie. This is where the never ending eating comes in. At 1 a.m., my cousins are bringing out a platter of croquettes! I haven’t eaten these since the last time we were in Holland 3 years ago and that is probably a good thing because they are sooo good, but also so bad for you. They are these little breaded snacks with this meat filling, like chicken or pork, only the filling has a very creamy texture. I LOVE them. But at 1 a.m.? Everyone kind of moaned and said “What? Croquettes at 1 a.m?” But by the time we went to bed, there wasn’t one left! I’m telling you, if you are visiting here, it is like a 24 hour fat fest!

We finally headed to bed around 3 a.m. Well, this “compound” where we are staying has bathrooms and showers on the first floor. The second floor has all of the sleeping rooms and also has a big sink and a couple of toilets but the sink upstairs only has cold water, not hot. I was not about to wash my face in ice cold water because then I’d be awake the rest of the night! So I made Bill trudge back downstairs with me so I could wash my face where there was some hot water as well. When we got back upstairs and went in our room, holy cow, it was like a freezer! The heater/radiator thing wasn’t working in there, so we ended up moving to the room next door where it was warmer. By the time we got all of our beds made, it was nearly 4 a.m. Of course I was the last one to fall asleep, which meant I had to listen to Bill, my brother Ed and Ed’s wife Joy snore! Now Joy had taken a muscle relaxer so that was her excuse for snoring, but Bill and Ed just snore all the time! It wasn’t fun or easy getting to sleep, but somehow I managed it. We didn’t even get up until 10:45! But it was wonderful to be able to sleep in and then come downstairs and look outside to seeing it snow on Christmas morning! It was just beautiful outside and very excited after only experiencing Christmases in Phoenix!

Now while it’s great being able to sleep in that late, the problem is that it sure makes the days go by really fast. First of all, the sun doesn’t even rise until about 8:30 and then it’s 4:30 when the sun goes down! It makes the days seem like they go by twice as fast here compared to back home. But I suspect that is also because we are at work and work always makes the hours seem like they are crawling by!

Anyway, we took our showers after breakfast, which brings me to another thing I was not thrilled about. While this “compound” was great, I didn’t care for the showers. First of all, you could not control the temperature of the water. There was just one button you pushed to turn it on and that water never got warm enough to my liking and the water pressure wasn’t the greatest so it took me forever to rinse shampoo out of my hair! Also, once you pushed the button, the water would only stay on for a certain amount of time, then it would shut off and you had to push it again! It was frustrating! Once showers were done, it was just hanging out again downstairs until we were all ready. We had put our gifts under the tree after the kids went to bed so that they would be there when they got up Christmas morning. And boy were they excited when they got up and saw them. They were crawling around the floor all around the tree, trying to see which gifts were theirs! They were so excited and of course, impatient. We finally had them sit down on the floor while Bill played Santa and handed out the gifts. The kids were ripping them open as fast as they could and had a great time. I loved being able to see the excitement on their faces. I got some great photos. They were too cute!

After opening gifts, I went around the inside of the compound and made a video tour with my new little Kodak video camera. I hope to get it posted soon as well as the many, many photos I took over the past few days.

Update! (1/16/10) I finally am posting the video tour of "De Scooby Dooby!" Check it out!

Soon we were on to Christmas dinner, which was quite different from our usual American Christmas dinner. My cousins decorated the tables beautifully and we had what seemed like a five or six course dinner topped off by a very yummy dessert which was assorted mixed fruit in a waffle cone bowl topped with whipped cream.

So again, we stuffed ourselves! In between courses, my cousin Theresa played the guitar while our little cousins, Quinten, Noah, Carmen, Inez, Anouk and Pascale sang Christmas carols. They stood on the spiral staircase and sang Jingle Bells and some other Christmas carols. What is the funniest thing to me is that the little cousins do not speak English, except for a few phrases and little Anouk can even count to ten in English, yet they sang these Christmas carols in English! The rest of us accompanied them, but we didn’t do that great of a job I’m afraid to say. But the kids were just too cute and definitely made up for our lack of talent! I have a couple of videos of the kids singing which I also need to post. (Here it is! 1/16/10)

We finished up our dinner, cleaned up, and then hung out as usual until Joy and I headed to the room early for a change, which is where I started this entry into the blog.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Prettige Kerstdagen! (Merry Christmas!)

I am writing up my last post until Sunday as we will not have Internet access at the "compound" we will be staying at for our family Christmas weekend. Gasp! And from what I heard, no television either! There is a TV, just not cable or satellite, so we will probably be watching a lot of movies. I will still have my laptop so I can at least continue to write and blog and have something to post on Sunday, when we will be back in wireless internet heaven!

But for now, I would like to wish everyone "Prettige Kerstdagen" which is Merry Christmas in Dutch! May you all have a safe and wonderful holiday!

Jet Lag is killing me!

Okay, this jet lag thing was no problem for me back in 2006. In fact, I never even suffered jet lag on the trip to Holland. On the other hand, it kicked my butt on the way home. But this time, it is kicking me now. I thought I was fine seeing how I slept 7.5 hours straight through the night on Monday night. Last night however, just about did me in. I went to bed at midnight but awoke at 4 a.m., as did my husband. I tried going back to sleep, but was wide awake. So I turned my laptop on and spent some time online and had planned to try and get back to sleep since we had to be up early to meet everyone at 9:30. But by then, Bill had fallen asleep again and was snoring horribly. I tried to go back to sleep, but who could sleep through that racket? I kicked him several times but he didn’t quit. Somehow, I managed to fall asleep but only for about 2 hours before my alarm went off at 8 a.m. Needless to say, I started the day out pretty grumpy. My brother Ed and his wife Joy picked Bill and I up at my cousin Wendy’s house and then we were off to go meet up with our brother Andy and his wife, who are staying at our aunt’s house in a nearby town. Once we were all together, we then headed to the town of Zwolle, where our cousin Shirley lives. We made plans to meet up with her and do some shopping and have lunch together.

My niece Carrie and I at lunch

We did all of that and then headed to the town of Hardewijk where our other cousin Donna lives. I had been to Hardewijk before, three years ago, and loved the little town. It’s near the water and it has a very touristy feel to it with all of the shops and restaurants, but there is just something about it you can’t help but love. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s so old and charming. My cousin Donna’s house is over 300 years old and is smack in the middle of all these shops. In fact, there is a bakery directly across the street from her house, and when I say directly across the street, I mean just a few steps out of her front door and into the bakery! Next door to her on one side is the freezer for this bakery and on the other are the large ovens where they do all the baking. Now imagine waking up to the smell of bread baking every single morning and being able to have the freshest bread whenever you want! And to have everything you need within walking distance. There is every type of store imaginable there, plus a movie theater, ice cream shop, lots of restaurants even an aquarium! It’s an amazing place to live. I did a little shopping there myself, picking up a new, warmer scarf and mittens and some yummy food from one of the other bakeries.

Yes, I was walking around in that 30 degree weather but let me tell you, it doesn’t seem cold to me at all. Let’s just say I am very thankful for the Columbia snow boots I bought that are rated for -32 degrees, the long underwear I bought to wear under my jeans to keep the wind from going through them, and the great down/feather ski jacket I bought online from Burlington Coat Factory! I can’t even feel the cold through these things!

After our shopping and visiting with Donna and her family, we all headed to a restaurant to meet up with about 20 other members of the family for dinner. This restaurant is a “Pannekoek” restaurant, which literally translates to “pancake.” But these pancakes are not like IHOP pancakes or the pancakes you normally would find in the U.S. They are more like a very heavy crepe and you can order it with different toppings, like cheese, ham, or whatever other meat you might want, or you can have it like a dessert pancake, with fruit topping or chocolate. They set up this pancake buffet for us that was quite tasty. We were stuffed beyond belief after leaving there. I had to roll myself out to the car!

Tomorrow we have our morning free to pack up our stuff for a 4 day, 3 night stay in a part of Holland called Friesland (also called “the middle of nowhere” by my cousins) where we will have about 35 of our family members staying to spend Christmas. The place my cousins have rented is this huge place that is used for corporate retreats and private parties. It has a lot of rooms, a huge kitchen/dining area, a bar that apparently has beer on tap at our disposal (I can only imagine what that’s going to be like!) and even a sauna! If you want to see what it’s like, here is the website. It’s in Dutch, so you’ll only be able to see the pictures to get an idea of what it’s like!

Anyway, that is the latest update and when I get these photos downloaded and resized, I will send them along. Until then, goodbye!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More delays

Monday night we were awaiting the arrival of my nephew Geoff and his girlfriend Renee. They were expected to arrive around 6:45 p.m., but given that this has become the Gaeraths/Owens equivalent of a Griswold European vacation, of course they didn't arrive on schedule. Just like us, they were stranded in London, in the plane, on the tarmac. Except in their case, it was 4 hours. Added to the 5 hour layover they already had in London. So my experience of being stranded pales in comparison to theirs. My niece Carrie and cousin Christian just headed off to the airport so those two were stuck waiting at the airport for them. Geoff and Renee were renting a car, but Carrie and Christian went there to meet them in case there wasn't enough room for all of their luggage. About 10:45, Christian called to say that the rental car counter was closing at 11 and there would be no way Geoff would make it in time to pick up his rental car and he wasn't sure that there would be enough room in Christian's car for all of the luggage and four people. So off to Schiphol Airport went Christian's father Ewald, my brothers, and Erik, my cousin Wendy's husband. It's a good trek to the airport from my cousin Theresa's house, at least 1 1/2 hours, and that's in good weather. Finally, at 11:16 p.m., Geoff & Renee landed in Amsterdam and a about a half hour after that, they called to say that they were able to fit all of the luggage and the people in one vehicle. Luckily, Geoff & Renee are in the Air Force and probably have learned how to pack light! Soon they were on their way to Theresa's as were the guys, who were on the rescue mission. They had driven about halfway there and then had to come back!

Bill and I stayed at Theresa's until about 12:45 then walked on home. Can I just say that walking home at 12:45 a.m. in Holland is pretty darn cold! Thank goodness the walk to Wendy's house is only about three minutes! Once we got home, I still wasn't that tired so I ended up staying up with Wendy until about 3 a.m. It still took me a while to fall asleep, but once I did, I was out and didn't wake up until 10:45! All I could think about was how incredibly messed up I am going to be once I get home keeping hours like these! Good thing I have six days off before returning to work.

So at this minute, I am now back at Theresa's house. Everyone has gone different places with a few of us here at home: Bill went with Christian to the luxury car dealership that Christian once worked at (think Ferrari's)so Bill will think he has died and gone to heaven; Ewald took Geoff, Carrie, Renee and Victor to the Army base where he works, and my cousin Sandra went with Wendy back to Wendy's house to get a sled for the kids. It's hard keeping track of everyone. There's too many of them!

I haven't had a chance to post any pictures on the blog, but that is what I am going to do now.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The first 96 hours

Friday, December 18, 2009 & Saturday, December 19, 2009

I couldn’t believe the day was finally here! We’d been planning this trip for nearly a year and it always seemed so far off but here it was. And I was barely ready! I took the day off from work and we weren’t scheduled to fly out until 9:05 p.m., so I figured I’d have plenty of time! But no, I still wasn’t completely packed and my house still needed to be cleaned up a bit more, at least presentable enough for our house/pet sitter Alex to stay. Thankfully I had asked Juliana, a young woman who has come to my house before and cleaned, to come over and help. So I spent the day doing my last minute packing and cleaning some of the house up and running last minute errands. As it got closer to the time we had to leave for the airport, I was stressed beyond belief and I could feel it because every now and then I could feel my heart suddenly race and I just couldn’t think straight. I made a mental note to myself that the next big trip I plan was not going to go like this!
My brother Andrew and his wife and daughter were flying out with us on the same flight, but they had to drive out from California. They had left just after noon and should have been into Phoenix around 5:30 or so. I say “should” because of course this couldn’t be an uneventful trip. It started with poor Andy and his drive to Phoenix. He had called me the first time around 3 p.m. or so, to say they were stuck in some traffic jam and not moving. He would keep me informed as they went along, but unfortunately, it didn’t get better. They were soon directed off the main highway and sent somewhere between Ehrenberg and Parker. It was also apparent to Andy that there was no way they were going to make the flight! In fact, it took them three hours to finally get back on the highway. We later learned there was a fatal accident on the highway which was the reason for the traffic jam and the reroute of traffic.

At 6:15 p.m., my friend Annie arrived to take us to the airport. We were out the door by 6:30 so we’d make it to the airport by 7:00. We got to the airport with no problems and just as Bill and I wheeled our luggage over to the check-in line at the British Airways counter, we were met by one of their employees who informed us that the flight would be delayed until 2 a.m. because there was a lot of snow in London, which delayed the incoming flight to Phoenix. I was not about to get stuck waiting at the airport until 2 a.m., so I hurried and called Annie and asked her if she could return to pick us up. Thankfully, she did and since we only live 25 minutes from the airport, it would be nice to just go home and wait it out. We were able to go ahead and check our luggage in so once we did that, we just went on home. Of course, as we were checking our luggage in, the British Airways employee then informed us that once we arrived in London, that there were no more flights that day to Amsterdam, meaning we’d be stuck overnight in London! On the other hand, this delay would turn out to be good news for Andy and his family because now they would be able to make the flight! I called him with the news and to say he was happy was an understatement!

My brother Ed came to our house around 11:30 p.m. and drove us back to the airport. By then, Andy and his family had made it into Phoenix and were already waiting at the airport. The five of us waited it out and finally, thankfully, we boarded the plane around 1:30 a.m., right on time for our 2:00 a.m. departure.

Passing time by taking pictures of Jack while we waited for our flight to depart.

Needless to say, I was exhausted, but still did not fall asleep on the plane right away. At 3:30 a.m., they were serving breakfast! I finally managed to sleep after that, although I am not sure for how long. When I got up, I decided to watch a movie and was thrilled that Slumdog Millionaire was playing. Unfortunately, I was only thrilled for about fifteen minutes into the movie, because that is when my TV decided to just turn off in the middle of the movie and reset! It continued to do this, so out of all the seats on this ginormous 747 jet, I get the bum TV. Thankfully I brought along my portable DVD player and watched the movie The Kite Runner. I had read the book last year and bought the movie about six months ago and finally had a chance to watch it. Excellent book and excellent movie. It’s probably the only movie I have ever seen where the story did not divert from the book.

About 7:00 p.m. London time, we finally arrived. It was a long taxi from the runway to the gate due to all of the snow but at least we were here. We got off the plane and had to make our way to the British Airways desk to find out where they were putting us up since we were stuck in London overnight. That turned out to be a line like Space Mountain at Disneyland. We waited in line for nearly two hours before we got our hotel, meal and transportation vouchers.

We also were able to check in for our flight to Amsterdam. The woman at the British Airways counter asked me where I’d like to sit so I just told her an aisle seat would be fine. She said she would put us in the exit row seats where there would be more leg room. She then glanced behind me at Bill, who was waiting for me. She then said, (think British accent voice) “this is an emergency exit row and I suppose your husband is quite capable, isn’t he?” Now while I know that she probably was asking this because he’d be responsible for opening the door in an emergency, the way she said it, in her British accent, sure sounded more like a come on! I wanted to reply, “why, yes he is!” but I didn’t. I just said yes, he’s in good enough physical condition to remove the emergency exit door if needed. Once that was done, it was time to wait in yet another line, this time to go through the U.K. Border. As we waited in line, I decided I should start documenting for my scrapbook, so I took a photo of the sign that said U.K. Border. The second the flash went off, some guy that works for that agency was running over yelling “Hey!” No pictures!” then stood over me while I deleted the photo! Great, that would have just topped off the night if I had been hauled off for photographing something I wasn’t supposed to be! We finally made it out of the airport and onto the shuttle that took us to our hotel about ten minutes from the airport. By this time, it was 10:30 p.m. and we got ourselves checked into the hotel, dropped our luggage into the room and headed downstairs for dinner. By 11:30, we were back in our room, took a well needed shower, then crashed.

Sunday, December 21, 2009

We had to be back up and ready by 5 a.m. to catch the shuttle back to the airport for our 7:25 a.m. flight to Amsterdam. Good thing we were in jet lag mode because both Bill and I were up around 3:30 so we didn’t have to worry about getting up in time! We made our way back downstairs and waited for the shuttle which we were told runs every half hour. Well, at 5:00 a.m., there was no shuttle to Terminal 5. On the other hand, in the next half hour, we saw a shuttle for Terminals 1 and 3 drive by about three times! My sister-in-law finally asked the driver when our shuttle was coming so he had to call one in!

Carrie and I in the lobby of the hotel in London, waiting for the shuttle.

Finally, around 6:00 the shuttle arrived to take us to the airport. We arrived and then made our way through the horrendously long line through security. At this point, I didn’t care because I knew it was just a 45 minute flight to Amsterdam and that is all I cared about. Once through security we grabbed a quick bite to eat then waited to board our plane. I was in a pretty good mood now anxious and happy to be on our way. I should have known it was too good to be true.
We were on the plane, the engines started up, and the pilot came on to tell us that we would begin our flight as soon as a couple of other planes made their way out of Heathrow. Fifteen minutes later, my happy bubble had burst. The pilot came on the PA system to say that due to the snow in Amsterdam, it might be another 45 minutes before we could take off because there was only one runway at Schiphol Airport that was open because they were working on clearing the snow off the others. Great, more waiting. And so we sat there, in the plane, just sitting on the tarmac. Waiting. And listening to the toddler behind us scream bloody murder. 45 minutes later, the pilot made his way to the front of the plane (not just a voice on the PA system this time) to say he had updated news, but it wasn’t good. At this point, Schiphol Airport had been completely closed because of the snow. He had no idea when we would be able to take off. I wanted to cry. I did not want to end up stranded in London another night! And so we sat in the plane, on the tarmac, to just wait until the pilot got updates from Schiphol. The crew served us drinks and food like we were in-flight! Then I napped, since I had nothing else to do. We sat on that tarmac for just over two hours before the pilot came back out to say he had good news. The airport had opened up again and we would be taking off in SEVEN minutes! I was soooo happy at this point. Before we knew it, we were in the air and on our way! It was a nice short flight, although there was some bad turbulence at one point that had me saying some prayers on our way down! But we made it and soon we were off to go wait for our luggage. And wait we did, because that took another 45 minutes before we collected it all. Thankfully, there was no luggage lost this trip (last trip on his return home, Bill’s luggage was lost for 3 weeks before he got it back!). While we waited, Carrie and I walked over to the glass wall that separated the luggage collection area from where people wait for passengers where we could see our family. I joked that it was like looking at animals at the zoo! I took some pictures of them.

We finally made our way out of the luggage collection area, to the other side where family awaited us. Lots of family. Family from both my father’s side of the family and my mother’s. You can imagine how many people this could be given that my father comes from a family of 9 kids and my mother from a family of 13! There were aunts, uncles and cousins there to greet us. Cousins I have never met before and they are in their 20’s now!
After we finally left Schiphol airport, we made our way to my cousin Theresa’s house where we would all be gathering for dinner. We had a rental car so it was my brother Ed and his wife and Bill and I in the car. Now imagine driving about 60 miles in the snow, with a manual transmission car! Ed was driving, and he hadn’t driven a manual transmission since about two cars ago (in other words, several years!) He did pretty good though as he followed the caravan of vehicles to Theresa’s house. Meanwhile, Joy, Bill and I all passed out in the car! Poor Ed, no one to keep him company while he made the drive! I did manage to take this photo before I passed out!

We made it safe and sound to Theresa’s house where more family awaited us. We had dinner, visited a bit then all parted ways. My cousin Wendy just lives around the corner from Theresa so it was a quick drive home (normally we’d walk, but we had too many pieces of luggage to take over there). We visited a bit more at Wendy’s house with her and her husband Erik, trying to stay awake a little later so we wouldn’t end up waking up at the crack of dawn. Bill passed out before us and I made my way up to bed about 11:30.

Monday, December 21, 2009

I was sound asleep until 4 a.m. when I woke up. Bill was awake too. (I later found out that both my brothers and their wives ended up waking at 4 a.m. as well!) We talked until about 4:50, when we decided we would try to sleep for another hour or so. When I woke up, I looked at my watch and it was 9:45! Guess we needed the sleep. The rest of the day we just sat around and talked and I got online for the first time since Friday. I was having Internet withdrawal, so I was a happy camper. Around 4:00 p.m., both Bill and I hit a wall and started to doze off! We decided to take a nap and made our way upstairs and passed out for about an hour. We then headed back to Theresa’s house for dinner, where we still are as I write this. We are now waiting for my nephew Geoff and his girlfriend Renee to arrive. My niece Carrie and cousin Christian drove to Amsterdam to pick them up. Unfortunately, their flight is also delayed. They were supposed to arrive at 6:45 p.m. and now the British Airways site has the flight coming in at 8:34 p.m. It’s going to be quite late before we see them since the drive back to Theresa’s house is at least an hour and fifteen minutes away and that is in good weather! So there you go, my first four days! Hope everyone is well! I’ll be keeping you posted on our further adventures!

This isn't how it was supposed to be

As I was packing and preparing for this trip, all I could think was that it wasn’t supposed to be like this, that this trip was supposed to have gone differently.
On February 5, 2008, my father was admitted to the hospital to undergo bypass surgery. He wasn’t thrilled about it, but he was told by his cardiac surgeon that if he didn’t, that he would die within a year. Just before the nurse was going to take him away to the operating room, I kissed him and told him that he’d be well again soon and that we would all take another trip to Holland again (we had all gone to Holland in July 2006). Two days later, my father passed away from complications arising after his bypass surgery. Over the next several months, we grieved, especially my mother, but we eventually planned to take this trip anyway, with my mother to bring our father’s ashes back to Holland. Nine months to the day after my father passed away, my mother had an accident and we lost her as well. It wasn’t fair to lose them both so suddenly and so close together. Eventually my brothers and I made plans to still take the trip to Holland, but this time, to return both our parents’ remains to Holland.
While it will be sad knowing that one part of this trip is to bring my parents back “home,” on the other hand, this trip will be spent with my brothers, their families and so many more members of our extended family and for that, I am grateful. What follows over the next two weeks will be an account of our adventures, what I call American Invasion 2!