first impressions

It’s a very humbling experience to be here. Trenton described it as hitting the reset button, and he’s exactly right. More or less every day, I have to work up the nerve to leave the apartment to go to the store around the corner and complete a transaction in a language that I barely know. Crossing the street requires your full attention, and is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It goes like this: sidewalk, bike lane, car lane, tram lines, car lane, bike lane, sidewalk; with little islands of pedestrian sanctuary in between, about 3 feet wide. I’m grateful to have been such a dedicated jaywalker in the past, because those skills of timing and intuiting traffic are tested every time I want to leave the building.

I packed a magazine and a grapefruit in a bag and sat on a bench for a few hours today, looking over the canal (graacht) near our apartment. As stupid as it sounds, at one point I actually reached over to pinch myself. Just to bring me back into my body again. Do you ever catch yourself in one of those completely super-ego-less moments, when your internal monologue has been awed into silence, and then the sudden awareness that your self is miles away slams you back to Earth? It’s happening to me daily. I have these momentary minor panics where I wonder if I might accidentally be naked because there’s such a dreamlike quality to the feeling of walking around this city, having to constantly remind myself “I live here.

To me, everyone is tall. But the Dutch are, like, next level. Imagine if every tall person never felt out of place or unaccommodated and was allowed to grow into the fullness of their height without ever being made to feel like a freak or that they should hunch down just a tiny bit to keep from sticking out. Imagine if every tall person was among other tall people and lived in a world made to fit their shape. These are the fucking Vikings and Valkyries of Holland and they are an awesome site to behold. At once quiet and powerful, massive and unassuming.

To flush the toilet, you either press a large round button or a small round button, accordingly.

I haven’t had a decent cup of coffee since I arrived.

None of the 50+ hours of Rosetta Stone practice has prepared me for real conversation with real Dutch.

The cats are adjusting beautifully. They love looking out the giant windows that overlook the street and canals, and are already acclimated to the constant street sounds coming from the always-open windows (the Dutch don’t do screens).

Last night Trenton and I met some of his work friends for some drinks and then dinner. I shared a cheese fondue with Suzanne’s giant Dutch boyfriend, Jeffrey, and after dinner the group relocated to a table on the patio. I should have been prepared for this–we were told that going out to dinner is a massive, long-term affair with drinks then food then definitely more drinks and possibly if you’ve been there long enough, more food. But after drinks-food-drinks I was bushed, and Trenton and I made our farewells. On our way out, I tried a little Dutch, “leuk je te ontmoeten” and Suzanne and Jeffrey were delighted. It was after 10 when we set out for home, and we passed over lit up canals and cafes. All of a sudden, I stopped for a second in the middle of one of the squares, to look at the dozens of people enjoying what was sure to be one of the last warm nights of the year. Sitting in groups of 3 and 4 around small cafe tables, drinking, smoking, speaking a million languages–none of them English. I LIVE here.

Bored Housewife Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Cooking is a creative outlet for me, and after a week of unemployment I was itching to stretch my muscles a bit. I’ve made two disastrous pots of stuffed grape leaves, but had never tried cabbage rolls. I decided to wing it. Here’s the recipe, a combination of what I did and what I wish I’d done:


For the Filling:
cooked rice (made with olive oil and a vegan bouillon cube)
roasted cauliflower (break the florets into very tiny pieces and toss with olive oil, salt & pepper, roast on a cookie sheet at 400 for about 15 minutes, checking and turning periodically)
roughly chopped fresh parsley
finely shredded kale
some leftover peas you have in the fridge (optional)
dash cumin
dash cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground sage
1/2 tsp paprika

For the Sauce:
olive oil
onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
3 cans of diced tomatoes
salt & pepper

For the Cabbage Leaf Wrappers
~6 large cabbage leaves washed and cut in half, with the center rib removed–makes 12 wrappers

This is a beast of a multi-pot recipe, so if you already have cooked rice and/or roasted cauliflower on hand, use that instead. If not, start there. Put the rice on to boil and the cauliflower in to roast while you start on the sauce.

For the sauce, sautee the onions in olive oil until they begin to get soft, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic, salt and pepper, and allow to cook for another minute or so before adding the tomatoes, one can at a time. Cook on medium for about 5 minutes and then turn down to a simmer while you work on the filling.

For the filing, combine cooked rice, shredded kale, chopped parsley, roasted cauliflower, and whatever else you feel like tossing in (we added some leftover peas). Mix it all together and then add the herbs, mix some more.

Nuke the cabbage leaves for about 3-4 minutes, until they’re tender and flexible so they’ll wrap around the filling without cracking.

At this point, I wish I’d blended the tomato sauce in the food processor, so if you’re feeling extra ambitious, go ahead and pulse the sauce a few times in the processor.

Now for the fun part! Put a couple dollops of sauce in the bottom of a baking dish and then make little cabbage packets by putting a healthy spoonful of filling into the center of a cabbage leaf and folding closed. On most, I wasn’t able to get them totally sealed on all sides, so they ended up looking more like cabbage burritos with one end open, but still turned out just as good. Place your cabbage packets side by side on top of the sauce dollops in the baking dish, jamming them in pretty tightly. Once you’re done, cover the whole mess with the rest of the sauce and bake at 400 for about 20-30 minutes, or until you get tired of waiting and are ready to eat already.

Goodbye Party Black Bean Soup

Trenton and I hosted an open house yesterday. From 10 in the morning until 2am, we had a steady stream of family and friends stopping by and I made some soup. I don’t really have the words right now to tell you what it meant to me to share so many hugs and say goodbye en masse, so instead, here’s the recipe:

1 TB olive oil
1-2 onions, diced small
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
dash cayenne pepper
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 vegan bouillon cube (highly recommend Edward & Sons Veggie or Not Chick’n flavors)
2-3 drops liquid smoke
2 carrots, sliced
3 stalks of celery, sliced
2 cans diced tomatoes
4 cans black beans, drained
salt & pepper

diced green onions
shredded cheese (Daiya is great)
roughly chopped cilantro

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot on medium-high heat and add the chopped onions. When the onions have cooked 2-3 minutes and have become soft and translucent, add the minced garlic, cayenne, cumin, and chili powder. The onion mixture will become sticky; keep stirring so it doesn’t burn. When the onion mixture is completely combined with the spices, add chopped carrots and celery. Allow the mixture to cook for a few minutes (some sticking to the bottom of the pot is fine) and then add the canned tomatoes, about half a can every 1-2 minutes. Add the bouillon cube and mix well. Add the beans, stir well, and cook for about 5 minutes on medium-high before turning the heat down to low. Cook on low uncovered until the celery and carrots are tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Keep diced onions, cilantro, and “cheese” on-hand as toppings.

Adventure Begins Today

Today marks Day One of my voluntary stretch of unemployment. I’d meant to spend the day at Bernheim Forest, hiking the Millennium Trail, but I didn’t get my backpack together last night and didn’t want to set out this morning unprepared. It’s going to be hot, and take at least 6 or 7 hours, so I don’t want to attempt it half-cocked. I’ve got my backpack ready now, and my water bottles in the freezer, so I should be ready to go tomorrow. Hoping to get an early start so I can beat the heat.

Instead of the epic cleansing journey I had planned, I spent today running errands, including selling a few more loads of shit to Half Price Books and Plato’s Closet. A few years ago, I’d taken a pile of used clothes to Plato’s Closet and they rejected the lot, telling me the styles were too “mature.” I was so humiliated that until today, I’d avoided the place. Today, though, after having been rejected from Clothes Mentor (a different consignment place where I’d actually had some luck selling a few dresses a couple weeks ago), I gave Plato’s Closet another shot. And the suckers bought two shitty club dresses and a coat that’s missing a button! I got a little under $10 for all three pieces, but the vindication was priceless.

Trenton and I are still slogging through a fair amount of paperwork and bureaucracy in preparation for our move. Visa applications, insurance policies, lease agreements, blah blah blah. With all the forms to fill out, agents to call, and details to arrange, I’m totally in my element. Last week in a grand romantic gesture, Trenton and I met up at Metro Hall to get certificates from the County Clerk verifying our Single Status. I’m assuming it’s something to do with my visa application. Trenton is sponsored by Genscape for his working visa, and I think I’m sponsored by Trenton under a Family Reunification thing. Since we’re not married (and have no marriage certificate to present), we have to have our Single Status verified, proving that we’re not running away from American marriages or planning to reunite with European spouses. At first, tracking down the Single Status Form was a bit of a headache because no such legal document actually exists in the United States. Each state has its own rules, and–here’s a shocker–Kentucky’s are remarkably difficult to track down. There was no information about a Single Status Form on the County Clerk’s website (and, depending on who you’re asking, the form is also called “Certificate of No Impediment,” “Certificate of Non-Marriage,” “Certificate of No Record of Marriage…”), but when I called to inquire, they knew immediately what I was talking about, and Trenton and I were able to get everything we needed on the spot in about 10 minutes.

As far as feelings go, I’m still bizarrely detached from it all. Everyone around me–Trenton included–gets these wide eyes and high-pitched voices and can’t get over how EXCITED they are. And I guess I am excited too, but there’s something in my brain that’s holding me back from full-on thrilled. I just keep working through the organizational pieces–selling shit, making phone calls, setting up appointments, canceling services–and I haven’t allowed myself to fantasize about what it’s going to be like. This isn’t the first time I’ve exhibited some Vulcan traits and, not to get all heavy on you, I attribute a lot of it to being a child of an alcoholic.

Adult Children of Alcoholics, or ACOA, (as we refer to ourselves) are known for being neurotic worrywarts, and for not allowing ourselves to get carried away with fantasy. Especially if the fantastical future we’re thinking of is coming through the efforts of someone else. In this case, Trenton is taking me to a magical fairyland that everyone promises is going to defy my wildest dreams. The ACOA in me throws up these thick barriers of coping and my brain refuses to let me get my hopes up. No matter how many books I sell, airplane tickets I buy, or translated legal documents I sign my name to, I can’t fully accept or get excited about the fact that I’m moving to Amsterdam (probably) until I’m actually there. Being disappointed, let down, or having your expectations unmet is the bread and butter of the life of a child of an alcoholic. We live for and kill ourselves over that shit. It’s fucked up, I know.

The worst part about this defense mechanism of detachment is that I can’t help but think I’m missing stuff. For the past several months, it’s felt like I’m watching my life from a distance, as an impartial third party witness, not actually involved. I stand a few feet away, watching myself say and do things that look like the things someone moving to Amsterdam would say and do. But I’m not really completely there. Here. It’s more than a little disturbing and I’m hopeful that I can shake it. It is getting better (it’s been two years since Trenton and I first started talking about this as a possibility) and as we get closer to the move date (Sept 13 probably!!), maybe it will start to sink in. I think being in the woods for 7 hours of hiking might help a little too.

If I make it out of my transformative Bernheim day alive, I’ll report back tomorrow!