Thanksgiving Weekend

It was a really fantastic weekend. It was so relaxed with a busy undercurrent, but not at all stressed. I think it was what we all needed. Kaeden didn't even leave home after his Judo lesson Friday night and in fact stayed in his pyjamas all day Saturday. So did Jari. We played games, got started on our Thanksgiving dinner preparations, and when bedtime rolled around and I told them to get ready for bed, they both laughed and told me their PJ's were already on. Erwin spent Saturday alone shopping, which was also a nice break for him. He had a list, but also time to just wander around and get his holiday shopping done without too many eyes seeing his surprises. I didn't even shower on Saturday.

Sunday was busier, but also very calm. It felt good to have a house full of guests arriving to celebrate the traditions of our American holiday and not be running ragged trying to get everything done. Jari had soccer and won the game, but came home telling me about a fight between the ref and his coach. He was amazed when the ref threw his whistle at his coach. I wish I could have been there...makes soccer exciting, even if it was stressful for my son and he told me he was worried and confused about how to play. It really shouldn't have happened at this level, but Erwin reiterated Jari's story with enthusiasm, even telling about our team delegate getting kicked off the field. And, according to Erwin and Jari, the ref was really being a PITA....calling for the other team (biased? In this case, it seems not).
Jari also had his Sinterklaas celebration at school, and we didn't go with him this year. I felt guilty about it when he arrived home telling about singing for Sint and showing me his bag of candy. But, I had to get dinner ready, the house ready...a mama can't do it all. Kaeden chose not to attend the Sint celebration and stayed home to help me get things ready. And helpful he was. More so than I could have imagined. He had a terrific weekend.

Our family began to arrive for Thanksgiving dinner and to celebrate Erwin's birthday. It was nice to have a house full of guests to bring the spirit of love to the air. We made a menu and asked everyone to write something they were thankful for about each person. Though the task got a few groans, it was fun seeing everyone sitting at the dinner table lit by candle reading what we had all written about each other. Some read their thanks immediately, while others let it sit waiting to savor it for after the meal. It was so nice to take a few minutes of life to really consider what each person means to us.

The meal was fantastic. I was really happy with the quality of the food this year. Still, the most difficult part is getting everything served warm all at once. But, we had a delicious meal with many choices and few leftovers...just enough for one more nice meal this evening. I love doing up the whole shebang. Making it really feel like how I would celebrate at home. The Dutchies in my life think I am nuts, but even as they say it, I *think* they enjoy it as well. I have found that over the years they are much more open to trying new things, and have even loaded plates full and gone back for seconds and even thirds. They love the effort of the holiday and it makes it all worthwhile to me.

After Kaeden said grace, which he asked to do this year and did so beautifully, opa read a poem he had written for the ocassion, and what has become somewhat of a tradition and one i love. His words always hit me to the core, knowing though I may not be with my American family, I am still surrounded by love and support. His poem is beautiful in Dutch, but the words in English are just as meaningful:

Thanksgiving 2009

The years are threaded together to bring us to this day
Where we come together to give thanks
That we have food and drinks with a smile and a tear
And a safe and warm place where we can rest
Together at the table we forget our worries
Because who knows what the future may bring
Live for this day and think about tomorrow
Forget the cares that you heard or saw

As a family, happy to still enjoy each other
Young and old together at this table
Wherever we are in this world, here or in the States
Cherish your family, for you have only one.
Happy Thanksgiving.

And that my friends, sums it up beautifully.


Thanksgiving Surpries

Thanksgiving. A strange concept when you aren't living in a place it is typically celebrated. I give thanks daily for all I have in my life deserving of my thanks. But on a special day dedicated just for this purpose, it was strange to find the rest of the 'world' going on with business as usual, when all I wanted to do was help prepare turkey dinner, enjoy family, play some games, and maybe head to the mountains with my dad like we did when I was a kid.

So, because we always make certain to make a celebration of Thanksgiving honoring American traditions, but also knowing this year it falls on Sunday, I took celebration into my own hands (with a friend of course). We, the Americans in Holland. We, two expat women looking to find some tradition in a day just like every other.

I went into Holland with my husband after dropping Jari off at daycare. He dropped me off at the train station and I took it into the shopping center where I had one hour to do my own version of Black Friday before catching the train again to meet up with my girlfriend. When I arrived in Helmond, I had this excitement wash over me...it was Thanksgiving, and I was celebrating...with someone special in a non-traditional way.

When I saw her come walking toward me I forgot for a moment that it was Thanksgiving, and we started laughing and chatting, as friends are akin to do. Suddenly we both looked at each other and chanted: Happy Thanksgiving! We both laughed waiting for our bus to take us to her home. We were together, even as we were both mourning the loss of our holiday in our homeland with our family surrounding us. We were both homesick, but after a spell talking and relaxing, that feeling started to subside. I realised that though I wasn't surrounded by my family, I was surrounded by people I care about and who care about me. Here, I have created an extended family for myself, with special friends I treasure. And I was sharing this day with one of these people I remembered a wooden sign I had brought back for her once from the states saying: Friends are the Family You Choose For Yourself. Or something along those lines.

It is so very true. Family is family. Our expectations are that they will always be there in our lives, and often that doesn't turn out to be the case. And it devastates us. But friends whom we choose, those we aren't expected to give our heart, those we decide are worthy of our love, they are the ones who sincerely stand by your side.

We sat eating turkey sandwiches and then watched a movie (Twilight...I FINALLY got to see it...yeah!) and then chatted some more before I headed back to the train station in the rain. But I wasn't hiding tears streaming down my face as the rain mingled with them...I was feeling completely fulfilled with a gladness and thankfulness different thqn I expected to have on Thanksgiving. I had spent the day being reminded what I really have to give thanks for. And as I climbed back in the car when my husband collected me from the train, I knew that my family has grown since my move to Europe. My family includes some very special friends.


Happy 40th Hon!

Dear Ehr-Win,

I remember back to when you turned 29. It was just after we had met, and I wasn't even aware it was your birthday. I had sent you a few ICQ messgaes, wishing you sunny days, and when later we chatted and you told me it had been your birthday I remember thinking: Wow, he's 29. After your 29th, the wheels started spinning. It was shortly thereafter that I truly fell in love with you. It was then that I still didn't know your name. When I told my friends I was "seeing someone" I told them your name was Ur-win. I didn't learn your real name til months later, and found it unbelievable that I could be falling in love with someone whose name I couldn't even pronounce. But I was...I did.

When you turned 30, I had met you face to face, and the reality of my love for you was apparant. It was no longer just a 'thing', but the real thing. On your 30th birthday I called your home, knowing you were having a gathering with friends. The time difference was huge back then. I tried to call to wish you my love on your birthday before the arrival of your friends, but I didn't make it. I remember hearing your voice on the line and all the voices in the background and being so jealous that they had you there, while all I could do was call from afar. As I told you to go and enjoy your party, what I really wanted to say was: Can't you just stay here and talk to me all night? But I let you go and we talked the following day (everyday back then, remember the phone bills?)and you told me you had fun....but that you wished I could have been there with you too. And then you reminded me that it was just a few short months til I arrived in Holland and we'd be sure to celebrate then. And I was happy, knowing I'd have you all to myself.

When you turned 31, we had started our little family and were just beginning life in our new home in Rijpelberg. I was so happy to be there with you, so thrilled to be living the European dream. I wasn't yet homesick, wasn't yet in culture shock, was just enjoying all the cool newness of my life with you. Kaeden was just our sweet little kid without all the issues yet to encounter, and we were sincerely enjoying life as a family. Learning about each other as we celebrated not only you, but being together on such a special ocassion.

When you turned 32, I had given you the best gift any woman can give a man. A son, a tiny little replica of you. Even today, as I watch you father our son, I am in awe of the information you know and your love of the world you share with him. He was a replica of you then, and he's growing to be a replica of you now, but in interests and knowledge. If there is something I love most about you, it's the passion with which you parent our little boy, the excitement you bring into every experience. Not just with jari, with all of us, but most especially Jari. I love watching the two of you interact. 32 and a baby boy to nurture and love. A role you have pursued with grandeur and continue to excel at.

33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39,....each of these birthdays was celebrated with me by your side, whether on a ship to England or eating turkey dinner with Sinterklaas as our special guest. You give me the courage to pursue the things I love, celebration! Celebration of you, on your birthdays, celebration of my husband, the man I love, the man I treasure.

Today you turn 40. 40, somewhat of a milestone year. You don't want any surprises, you don't want it to be more than just another birthday. You want the peace of just being you, a man on your birthday, a father and a husband, a lover of history and world happenings. You want to be recognized as the man you are, sharing pies with your colleagues at work, a quiet celebration at home with family. Blowing out your candles, opening your presents, settling in with your computer to relax after providing all of us with all the goodness in our lives after a long day at work. 40. And here I am, still standing next to you, still reveling in the magic of being called your wife, still in disbelief that we have each other to fall back on, to laugh with, to discuss this life we have created. And as I watch you age, from that jongen in size 32 jeans with curly hair going op stap with friends, to the man with greys shining through the curls and you belt a few notches bigger, I can't help but bewonder you. Every year, I have fallen more in love with you. Every year, I am more attracted to you. Every year, I feel more confidence in what we have reached together. Every year, I know you are someone I can count on and turn to. Every year, I wish you a Happy Birthday.

This year, I wish you a Happy 4oth Birthday. May it be just what you're hoping, and the beginning of more wonderful adventures. I love you, man of my dreams (even more than way back when...)!


Sinterklaas Magic

So, Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) has arrived and with him, excited smiles and a feeling of goodness. Sinterklaas is a time that, for me, feels like the wonder of Christmas I knew as a child. I have had to learn this feeling as it isn't something I grew up knowing and feeling (For me, we had Santa, which in our home is still a wonder and treat, but Sinterklaas? Never heard of him til I met my Dutch husband). It isn't one of the traditions that has been passed down to me. But it is, nonetheless, a time I have come to treasure with children of my own, and a family who has always known this time to be the best of the year.

Sinterklaas arrives by boat from Spain sometime in the middle of November, with all his Zwarte Pieten (Black Pete) helpers in tow. They come bearing gifts of little ginger cookies called pepernoten (pay-per-no-ten) and candies, checking on good girls and boys the entire month while we all await Sint's birthday on December 5th. After his arrival, children are encouraged to make him pictures and sing him songs, which they do with a hearty lust. They leave their pictures in shoes set by (in our house) the front door, and sometimes include carrots or sugar cubes for Sint's horse, and sometimes water as well. As they head up to bed, they belt out songs dedicated to Sinterklaas, hoping he hears them and will in return for their music, leave something special for them to find in their shoe upon awakening.

Sinterklaas, the good, holy man. He brings out the best in all of us. With his cross decorating his hat and his red cloak with a spiral staff, his long white beard and a ruby red ring, he looks the part. And on his birthday, he surprises us with gifts. The gifts are left by the door in jute sacks all wrapped in colorful paper. His helpers knock on windows and doors, creating noise to let us know of his arrival, and as we sing songs to ask him to come, we eventually hear them overpower us, running to find what he has left for us. The excitement is grand, as we have a month to look forward to this moment.

Since living in Holland, and now Belgium, I have come to treasure this time of year as much as I do Christmas. I can't imagine our evenings not being spent coloring and crafting, singing, and the thrill as each little gift is pulled from a shoe in the morning. I can't imagine cool evenings without pepernoten and speculaas to munch on while watching tv. I can't imagine not having the excitement of 10 sleeps, 4 sleeps, and then just one sleep til his arrival. I can't imagine not watching his arrival on the boat followed by a parade through the town. I can't imagine shopping without having a Piet come fill my hands with goodies as they also wander the city streets. I can't imagine life without Sinterklaas.

Last night while we were making our pictures, Jari piped up: Know what? Someone said Sinterklaas isn't real.

My heart stopped beating for just a nano-second. I don't want this magic to end. I'm not ready to give up the excitement. Jari believes, and that adds to the wonder of this holiday time for me. And yet, I know the complete magic and wonder will end with the passing of this year of Sinterklaas excitement. Too many children will discover the truth, and comment that Sint isn't real. Too many parents will be ready to surrender. But Jari will always hear these words from my mouth: The spirit of Sinterklaas will always be alive if you believe in the magic.

And it isn't a lie. The magic doesn't have to end if we continue to desire the good feeling that comes from something such as Sinterklaas. We can carry on, knowing the truth, but choosing to give into the feeling rather than the reality.

And then, as we were finishing up our little crafts, Jari asked me if I knew what Sint's cloak is called. "Yes, it's called a tabbaard," I told him. "Uh uh," he answered. "It's called a tabbaard-aan!"

Erwin and I looked at eachother and laughed as we started singing the song...doe je beste tabbaard aan... (Put your best cloak on...but Jari thought it was called a cloakon :-))

This is what magic is made of.


Tera,a look inside

It's me, Tera here. I've been feeling a change in myself lately. A kind of energy that plows through me and makes me wonder just who has overtaken my body. I am much more aware of things I don't like in myself, and things I love. I have found myself getting harder as I age, but with the hardness comes an appreciation for being able to state my opinions and my feelings without feeling self-conscious about it. I'm a nice person, from inside out. I find myself smiling at strangers and wondering about them, who they are, and my smile isn't forced, but genuine. I am not a dumb person, but find myself wishing I was more knowledgeable about the world, history, simple things I take for granted. And wishing that when I did learn something new, it would stay with me instead of claiming me for a day and then being once again forgotten.

I am a mom. A mom who gives her all to be the best I can for my children. Giving them my time and energy and love. But wishing I could give them even more, knowing that I also allot myself plenty of me time, even though I don't take full advantage of what I could be doing with that time. My kids are certainly offered the comforts life has to give. They have never had to worry about who will be there to care for them, or have clean clothes, or food. Their shelves are over-filled with kid stuff, both dollar store junk and precious costly toys. They don't often play with any of it. We are a very computer-oriented family, and as much as this has positive aspects, I sometimes worry about the negative effects it has on our relationships, with ourselves, and as a family. I worry about my children's health, probably because of all the health issues Kaeden had as a young child. But I also worry about their weight, knowing that my being overweight could have lasting effects on them as well, yet I still give in far too often when asked for cookies and candy. It's a battle within a battle. My boys both have less respect for me than they should, or than I deserve. Sometimes I feel that they treat me as their servant, and I too often let it happen. But I love them with all my heart, and in the deepest place inside of me, I know I am a good mom.

I am a wife. I have had this title now for 6 years, and still to this day it makes me feel strange to say it. I have this combined feeling of ecstasy and disbelief, also proud that I found a man who loves me and provides for me. I enjoy being a wife, but worry that I could be more loving and more giving in our relationship, while in the same breath thinking how very much I do for my husband and our family. He doesn't complain, and seems to just go with the flow of the home we have created. He eats what I cook, he attends events I plan, he lets me be my own person as long as I am also available for all our family adventures. But, he still knows how to push my buttons, sometimes in the best sense, sometimes in a way I wish I never had to deal with. Him and I, we are a good couple. We get along well, but take each other for granted too much of the time. We don't allow ourselves to take advantage of 'us' time, and sometimes I worry that that could be something that becomes the breaking point for us. Not now, now everything is good, but will we still find each other appealing and attractive years from now when we look at each other and wonder who the person we've been married to all these years really is?

I am a teacher. When I say that, a hard lump gets stuck in my throat and nearly chokes me, knowing that the profession I chose, the work I love, is no longer in the cards for me. My husband and I argue incessantly about the value of this profession, and I stand strong in my views that teachers are worth more than they are given credit for. I love children. I love their honesty, their passion, their innocence. I love their energy. When I play with Jari's friends, it establishes for me all over again that I was right to become a teacher. I have a special bond with children when given the opportunity. I love opening their eyes to new adventures in life, providing them with opportunities they don't normally encounter. I love having children come to play and asking if we can please bake cookies like last time they were here, or begging to get out the craft boxes filled with all kinds of treasures most people throw away in their junk garbage. I love pulling blankets out of cupboards and telling them they can build a tent, and seeing the glee in their eyes as they ask, "Can we really do THAT?"

I am someone who loves the feeling of things being cleaned up, but who despises cleaning myself. I love wearing fresh-ironed clothes, but hate pulling out the iron and ironing board. I love to cook and experiment in the kitchen, but have little patience for things that take too much effort or too many pans. I am somebody who can't stand plannning too far in advance, can't stand lists or a schedule, yet realise how much easier life is if you plan, schedule, and check things off. When it comes to travel or vacation, I don't need to hear it twice before I am in search of a good deal for new adventures, whether they be in foreign countries or in the comfort of family. I love holidays, all of them, and do everything in my power to celebrate them with flair and extravagance. I am somebody who needs the sun to feel alive and healthy, and dreary winters put me in a foul mood. I am somebody who cannot overcome a small cold without it bludgeoning into something big, and I manage to attract every little virus that comes in my path.

This is me, hello Tera. I may seem like a nobody faced with the greatness of this huge wide world, I may not be important when it comes to world news, but I am me, and I am happy with who I am. I have so many facets to the face everyone sees on the outside, and very few can look inside to learn the real me. But this is me, little pieces all wound up to be this woman I have become. And looking in from the outside, looking from the outside in, I am okay.


BigHugeLabs: Do fun stuff with your photos

Here's a link to a photo journey of our Fall Break in Holland and Germany. We had a terrific week. Too bad it always seems to go so fast...

BigHugeLabs: Do fun stuff with your photos



The flat land is calling our names. I'm hoping it will have healing powers and remove this demon beast living inside my head and lungs and allow me to enjoy a break from reality too. We'll see you back on the other side when we return from a break among colorful and dancing leaves, hopefully 100% healthy again?