Dutch Dental Hygiene

Amidst the very real emergencies of the world these days (of which there are many), I had my own a few days ago. Long story short: I got a third of a toothpick (so the point + some) stuck in between my two snaggle teeth.

The whole house went into a panic. The pain was real and the wood was lodged in. How do you get a toothpick out of your teeth? With another toothpick? My husband was going to come at me with some tweezers, but that really didn’t feel right. Eventually, with the help of many implements, I extracted it. Crisis averted.

But Dutch dentists insist this is a better option than floss, to aggressively jab a wooden pick three times into your gums. I am unsure.

To make matters worse, we opted for the cheap low budget off-brand toothpicks a couple months ago, and I am really regretting it. No more cheap, carpenter scraps are going into my mouth. We are now splurging on the higher end picks with more durability so my teeth won’t be full of splinters. The least I can do. 

Travel Dreams

Today it snowed in The Netherlands, and all the adults went out to take pictures and the kids went out to scream.

The last time it snowed here we were also in a Dutch suburb on a wacky vacation in a conference center hotel in the middle of nowhere.

We found ourselves there, strangely vacationing, due to a former hobby of mine – recklessly and endlessly booking hotel vacations in places I hadn’t been or wanted to go. Or sometimes places I knew nothing about, but simply liked the pictures.

For a few years after I moved here, this was my passion. I was so excited to live in the vicinity of so many holiday destinations. I had a running list of all the places I needed to go. I would endlessly scroll travel websites into the night, and reserve, always with free cancelation: villas in Spain, bed and breakfasts in France, lodges in Germany. Most of the time, I would keep them just long enough to cancel free of charge. But sometimes, instead, we’d book a ticket there and fulfill whatever dream I had booked.

These dreams were sometimes closer by to accommodate my preference not to fly too often. So the last time it snowed here in The Netherlands, a rarity in this green land, my husband and I found ourselves in a business conference complex nestled in the Dutch woods. We were the only visitors not in suits and business casual wear. Not there for work, but there for free breakfast in the woods. In reality, we were only 40 minutes from home.

It is so nice to take walks in the woods in the snow. The silence snow brings reminds me of home, of the peace that comes with a fresh fluffy blanket covering the world and hiding its imperfections.

Today, I think we all needed that blanket. Something to remind us that nature can still be beautiful, no matter where you find it.

In this second storm, I realize we live even closer to that strange conference center we once visited. And even though traveling is nice, staying close to home gives magic too.

30th!

Today marks my thirty day streak of blog posting!

For my thirtieth birthday, I went to Lisbon and Cascais to eat my way through the land.

It was an amazing trip, full of both urban and beachy walks, great fish and quaint streets. To make the experience even more grand, we received a complementary carafe of port from our fancy beach front hotel. It was the perfect thing to drink after a stroll in the sand, wrapped in our fancy high-end robes, looking out over the Atlantic as the sun set.

Upon checkout, we debated splurging and buying the fifty dollar bottle, but reasoned it was too expensive and passed.

I have now spent my thirties (almost 5 years!) searching again for that port. Nothing that I try tastes as good. I have looked, scouring dive bars and high end liquor stores alike, in search of a memory. The truth is I have likely been successful, unknowingly trying a glass, and rejected it for not being the one. Nothing compares to how it tasted when I was there. It remains elusive. Unknown.

30 is a good number. Good for port and Portuguese beach walks.

There is always more to come. The wine may taste good now, but there are other drinks to try.

In the meantime, seize every moment you can. Buy the bottle. Treat yourself. You may not have the opportunity again.

Happy 30th, my friends!

The Yellow Legal Pad

You never wanted to be on the receiving end of one of my dad’s yellow legal pad letters.

They were notorious, if only just in our house – usually a ranting scrawl of illegible words in his classic cursive (always using his special blue ball point pens) with a bit of his humor as a conclusion or an aside.

These letters were the result of some injustice he encountered by a large corporation, usually related to a clerical error that consumed his time or his money. I loved my dad’s rants. When computers came onto the scene, it was my job to transcribe them from yellow legal pad into something legible and properly spelled. But before this, he’d sit in our living room and read them aloud as if he was an animated playwright reading a masterpiece to his adoring audience. He always got a laugh.

The yellow legal pads were my dad’s solution to most things – when we’d start humming and hawing, he’d tell us to wait, get a pad from his desk, and sit down with it before we could continue. It’s here that my sister and I worked out our problems. All decisions scribbled onto the pad.

These could be, and often were, related to what step to take next in life – where to go to college, what job to do, what major to have, what path to take. We made endless pros and cons lists. When I look back on them, they all appear more or less the same – I want the freedom to determine my own time, I want financial independence, I want to do what I am passionate about, but I don’t know what that is, even now. I am passionate about so much and nothing at all.

When we were young, when my dad had an uncommon day off from the 3-4 jobs he did to keep us afloat, we would have him all to ourselves for a “dad’s day.” I learned in the Netherlands this is an actual thing, usually on Wednesdays, in a country that supports men taking days off to take care of their kids, but ours had no such formal or scheduled regularity. It was a treat, my absolute favorite day when it was managed.

We would always start the day with a yellow legal pad, making a huge list of every possible thing we could do on that day. Anything was allowed. We added the most ridiculous things and then always picked the same: visiting an arcade and going out to Chinese food afterwards. The possibility of doing anything was what made it special. I loved the ability to choose.

With the quiet and stillness of pandemic life, I am re-energized by making lists of possibilities. My husband was sad this morning, and I told him we needed the yellow legal pad. We needed to make a long list of all the things that make us happy in this moment, so even with everything closed, we still have choices in terms of what to do today, tomorrow, and for what sometimes feels like endless months ahead. I told my husband there are still options – smaller things for sure- but there is still an important list to be made. Walks in nature, our new puzzle, countless online communities for creative endeavors or for working out. I can follow an aerobics class in South Korea now. My friend in The Netherlands signed up for a Scottish women’s writers group. I took a yoga lesson last night with my high school friend, she based in NYC and the instructor in Chicago. There are still options.

This is comforting to me. The yellow legal pad still acts as my North Star in times of confusion, like a weighted blanket whenever I am feeling overwhelmed, my dad guiding the way through his methods. Long lists of possibilities, of pros and cons.

I found my latest pad this morning: a list of what to do in The NL during my uncle and aunt’s very first European trip together in 2018, my husband’s list of Thanksgiving foods (with assignments attached) from our 2019 celebration feast with 20+ people, our requirements for a new 2020 apartment, and most recently, a list of tasks to do before we moved.

Now as I sit here in my fancy new apartment looking out at the birds by my desk, I realize the pad has helped pave the way to this moment. To all the special moments up until now. Yellow legal padding through life.

Lockdown

The Dutch PM came on TV last night and told us we’d be locked down until my birthday, February 9th. I don’t have much faith it will be over by then.

I’ve decided to stop telling people ‘I am fine’. I am officially tired, depressed and no longer handling this well. I am going to be like my 2 year old friend: just shake my head no when asked “are you okay?” with a heart-felt frown.

The end feels too far away.

2021 is the year of the puzzle. The year of the coup. The year of the disease, still.

We got our very first puzzle delivered today. I must admit: it beats screen staring and doom scrolling.

But how many times can we all talk about the same thing? What if I am running out of smiles and phrases like “we’ll see”? Today, I went outside for the first time in three days. It was beautiful. I forgot that it was. Leaving the house to go for a walk sometimes seems like so much effort, too much to coordinate before it gets dark or starts to rain.

It shouldn’t be this hard.

I guess this is what life is right now. Putting together pictures of places you can’t travel to and have to visit on your kitchen table instead. Messaging people you can’t see. I will adjust. I will adapt. But today: no silver lining. I am sad, and I don’t want to do it like this anymore.

The Truck

The last thing I gave away before moving to the Netherlands was our family’s 1994 Ford F150 black truck with maroon leather interior, a tape deck and a ripped out glove compartment.

I learned how to drive with my dad in that truck, going back and forth with him to work at a country club about 30 minutes from home, he as the gardener and me as the new overdressed and underconfident pool snack bar attendant.

As a lanky teen with poor posture, the truck enveloped me and every curb I ran over. It was as clumsy as I was; the companion I needed but was not sure I wanted to have. When I got my license, I would barrel into the high school parking lot and struggling for twenty minutes to fit it into a spot.

My dad also used it for his business which meant every time I opened the door, a spade or a set of gardening shears would fall out. It had endless packs of gum, Q-tips, wintergreen pink mints, and bungie cords on the floor. The back carried a wheelbarrow, rolling forward when I stopped at a red light and whacking the back window as it came. Neither my dad nor I ever bothered to move these things. They were just part of the truck, part of the experience of driving it to the supermarket or to the gym. Whenever I had passengers, I would simply sweep everything off the bucket seat onto the floor and tell them to hop in.

When the pandemic hit, I missed this truck with a sudden intensity that surprised me, not having thought about it for years. I suddenly missed the freedom it allowed me in my teens and throughout my twenties. Something that was at times an inconvenience had become a legacy. The truck from ’94. Still there, still reliable, still inefficient. I could go anywhere, with anyone, as long as it was at a country-road pace. My dad drove it with a lazy comfort and diligent dad carefulness that it had grown accustomed to. The truck always took it easy. Later in life, it liked to take things even slower.

And having had a good long easy life, the truck has since retired. It now lives in a hippy commune upstate, in New Hampshire. I gave it to a friend when I left, and her son drove it there, realizing as he went that it would not make it back. It will live out its final days amongst the hippies, not far from where it started. Perhaps it will become part of a garden like the ones it helped to build.

Family Art

My husband and I finally put up my dad’s artwork today, about two months after moving into our new apartment.

He was prolific in his drawings – all of masks or faces of different unknown figures, usually done in pastels. When he first passed away and my sister and I were sorting through his things, we had one of our biggest fights to date.

She had put aside some drawings she particularly liked out of the endless newspaper pads full of them created throughout my dad’s lifetime. After noticing this stack, I became irate, convinced that she had selected the family masterpieces and left me with nothing. We screamed at each other for what felt like hours, both crying and feeling hopeless about who would inherit “the best ones”. It went on and on until one of us (I can’t remember who) got in the car and drove away, exhausted and unable to find a compromise.

A day later, or maybe even an hour later, she called back and said “you can have them.”

I realized immediately then that I didn’t want them. I didn’t care. I didn’t remember why it had mattered so much to me in the first place. In thinking of retelling this story, I can’t even remember where the ones we fought so viciously about ended up.

The reality was my dad had a tremendous amount of these drawings. There were enough to go around. Maybe even too many. We had no where to store them. We were leaving Massachusetts to go in two opposite 6 hour plane rides from where we were – she to San Francisco and me to Amsterdam. Many of these drawings still sit on a table in my uncle’s spare bedroom, untouched and unseen since that call.

But that fight with my sister was about so much more. Grief, primarily, and the overwhelming burden of what to do with the things left after loss. Where do they go? What is valuable vs. important? What is worth keeping and what needs to be thrown away? What is a master piece, and what isn’t?

I don’t think either of us know. We are not art critics. My father is not a famous artist. But we are still a family, despite him being gone. I like looking up on the wall, and knowing that when I visit my sister in California, she has very similar drawings hanging in her apartment, all in the same style, all of the same value and all appreciated with the same amount of love.

“Wanna drive around?”

Last night, I had a nightmare about driving. These aren’t uncommon and always seem to involve me losing control of the car, or forgetting how to drive.

I was never a good driver. When I got my license, it was so surprising to my parents that my mom refused to get in the car with me for a full year and a half after I passed. My dad used to joke that my sense of direction was so bad that I had to drive to the mall to orient myself before driving anywhere else. It acted as my North Star. Even then, in the earlier days of my driving life, on a rainy day with poor visibility, I accidentally turned left out of the mall parking area into a two lane highway of oncoming traffic. Sometimes I think back on some of my driving adventures and am indeed surprised I made it through. When others got “prettiest eyes” or “most likely to succeed” as senior superlatives in the high school yearbook, I was nominated by my peers for a new category, complete with picture: worst driver.

I received the award with a certain amount of honor, and I will add: I have never been in or been responsible for a car accident. Just an occasional bump into a parked car (always leaving a note!) or a curb.

Nowadays, I don’t drive, and my biking abilities have vastly improved in Corona times since I don’t use public transit anymore either. But at the start of this pandemic, I missed driving more than anything else. I grew up in a town where that was the main past-time, driving around in circles, stopping at the convenience store, listening to music, breathing in teenage second-hand cigarette smoke. There is nothing that relaxes me more than a 90s soft rock song blasting on the radio as I wiz by trees on an empty suburban road.

But perhaps, at least for now, the world is better off without me behind the wheel. Now I listen to these songs at home, and think back nostalgically on my younger years. It’s strange what people idealize from their youth. I suppose my dreams remind me of a reality I choose to forget.