Dano, Melissa, Kennedy, Ethan, Erin, Abigail, and Emily

Dano, Melissa, Kennedy, Ethan, Erin, Abigail, and Emily

27 October 2011

Happy Birthday, Emily!

Happy Birthday, Emily! After a year of chiding (and rightfully deserved) we have finally taken a family photo and added Emily to our family blog…on her birthday, no less.

We celebrated with our good friends, the Sterris, who gave Emily this wonderfully soft, over-sized pooch.
Emily’s first cake was my first attempt at homemade fondant. I have loved decorating the kids’ birthday cakes over the past several years and look forward to experimenting more with this new medium that has been so intimidating to me. She seemed to love the little ghost and the little candy corn cake Kennedy made for her. Unfortunately we didn’t get a picture of it. (very cute!)
We think she was thinking, “Buttercream! Where have you been all my life?!”
Emily definitely makes our home brighter. From the beginning, she has been our “Sunshine.” She is a delightful baby who has easily learned to roll with the crazy schedule this family leads. She is officially classified as a walker, as in up on two legs. (We’ve confused Abby with this, as my sister’s married name is Walker. “She’s not a Walker! She’s a Lister!”) She loves to walk and push her little baby stroller, sometimes with a passenger, sometimes without.
As a one year old, some of the things she loves are:

*Her baby doll and blanket (the pink one with flowers; NOT the pink one with sheep)
*Talking about everything (wa-dubba-dubba, idda bidda, yudda yudda, and a lot of other serious conversational sounds)

*Jewelry (if you’ve got a necklace on, please consider sharing)
*Bananas (Mom loves Oxy Carpet Spray)
*Singing in the car (I think my Hilary Weeks is rubbing off)

*11:30 (we get to pick up Abby from pre-school…wishes it was her school)
*Hanging out with Abby when she’s home (I can see in her eyes that she truly believes she has the best big sisters ever!)

*3:30 (pick up rest of kids…loves, loves! seeing them again)
*Riding around on her little push car and rocking in the boat
*Reading books by herself or with mom or dad or one of the kids

*Talking to the animals during our drives, especially the sheep (she has a very cute “baaa baaa” and is working on “mmmooooo”)
*Playing peek-a-boo around the corners of walls or doors

Not much bothers this little one, but she is completely offended if you try to wipe her nose or put tights on her (as opposed to socks, they are very difficult to take off!)

Ethan was looking at her the other day and I could hear a sigh when he told us, “It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole year since she was born. It went so fast!”

Tell me about it. So will the next ten…

10 October 2011

Tale of an Odyssey

Whoever has said moving is easy has never truly moved. They’ve not lost boxes in a move. They’ve not had furniture damaged in a move. They’ve not had to learn how to cook or shop in a new place. They’ve not been frustrated by language barriers that hinder progress. They have not had to try to attain new resident status or identification. They have not had to establish themselves in a new health care system. They’ve not had to transition children between schools. Moving is exciting and thrilling, and filled with wonderfully irreplaceable opportunities. Easy - it is not.

As we sorted through boxes and unpacked we discovered that a box “fell off the truck” somewhere between here and Saudi containing and Euro pillow and King pillow that goes with our bedding ensemble. Erin has superbly rearranged the bedding to make it balanced and somewhat symmetric (she knows her mom all too well), but deep down I still know the set is incomplete and I’m frustrated.

In Jeddah as the packers were packing up our things, Dano decided it would be better to send our desktop computer and hard drive via FedEx to arrive at the offices here in The Netherlands within two weeks and not sit in a shipping container for a couple months with risk of being damaged. It never arrived and has fallen into FedEx’s black hole of untraceable boxes. Our entire family is disappointed by this (well, Emily doesn’t seem too bothered) as we occasionally recall things that were on that computer. FedEx doesn’t seem to think it’s their responsibility and is not willing to replace the computer at its full value. Where’s the accountability in that? I really want to tell them, “Then don’t replace it. Simply find it!” We have not ruled out a quick trip to Paris to scavenge their warehouse (the last known whereabouts) to find it ourselves.

Our printer, purchased in Saudi, moved to Holland, loaded with ink cartridges purchased here, won’t work. As it turns out, HP printers are regional specific regarding their ink cartridges. We have to have someone reformat our printer to accept ink cartridges anywhere outside of Saudi Arabia. As Dano says, HP is a global company. Then act like a global company and make your products consumer-friendly for your global customers.

Then there’s our beautiful Odyssey. This was not meant to be a post about a Greek war or tribute to Homer. This is about a Honda purchased February 7th in Ohio. I saw it for the first time in person when I was back in March. The car salesman had delivered it to our home and parked it in our garage. We knew we wanted to pay the extra money to ship a car rather than buy a ridiculously expensive one here that would fit our brood. Dano looked into all the requirements for importing a vehicle. One of them was you must own the vehicle for six months. This was no problem as we’d paid for it in full on February 7th and would be moving to The Netherlands the beginning of August. It would be close but we should be fine. Dano arranged for the shipping and we shipped it from Seattle in July while we were visiting my parents.

We obtained our residence status here in The Netherlands on August 12th, still six months after purchasing our van (and five days). Our van arrived the first week of September. Yea! We were ready and anxious. Then Dano received word that it did not meet the import regulations and we’d be charged the import duty taxes. The Dutch consider ownership to take place once you have registration. In the US, we consider ownership to take place once monetary transaction has been exchanged. For us, that would be February 7th. In the US, title and registration aren’t always immediate. Ours apparently were completed on February 22nd…not six months before our Dutch residency. Therein lies our problem. They’re contending we didn’t own it for six months before importing it (though it didn’t even arrive until September). The penalty: import taxes of 40% of the cost of the vehicle.

Dano and I discussed the worst-case scenario: They deny our petition and we have to pay around $16000 to get our van! That thought was really hard for me to swallow. Then another statement came informing Dano the taxes would be based on the value of the vehicle here, not what we paid. In other words, the value of a Honda Odyssey here is around $115,000 making our taxes due amount to $46,000 to collect our van...double what we paid. I was just upset when he told me this. What kind of skewed system were we working with who wasn’t understanding our situation and being so petty about dates? Clearly on paper, we owned the car six months prior to moving here!

Dano and I have discussed our next worst-case scenarios. They make me too sad and frustrated right now to write. (None of which include any of our children missing a portion of college.)

There are some days when it makes me feel badly for our nearly-new, quite-loved van sitting in a warehouse all alone waiting to be claimed. I know it’s just an inanimate object but somehow, cars become part of our family. I don’t know if anyone else ever feels this way. Sometimes I am certain I hear it calling out to me from far away in Rotterdam….Melissa….Melissa…come and get me!

Hopefully there will be an addendum in the next week or two with a happy ending. Who ever said moving was easy?

02 October 2011

Exciting Opportunities

It’s always fun to have a few treats thrown into a week as opposed to, what my mom would call, snafoos. This week one of these wonderful opportunities was having a special visitor at our school. Kennedy and Ethan were able to participate in a small assembly where Marvin Hamlisch, the incredible, renowned composer spoke and performed several of his great works. They were thoroughly impressed. Ethan was even one of the students selected to ask a question. He was giving a concert in The Hague and staying with some friends whose children attend the school. It was quickly arranged for him to spend a short time talking with a group of students. What an amazing opportunity!! I was quite jealous! I wanted to get Emily and Abigail up from their naps so I could go but thought that could potentially be more of a distraction.

Ethan is enjoying playing on a soccer team again as he made the middle school’s U12 soccer team. They traveled to Hamburg last week. Dano took Erin and Abby to cheer him on whilst Kennedy stayed home to work on loads of homework and help me unpack, a task that is seeming quite daunting this time around. I was sad we weren’t able to go. I think it’s the last time I’ll let Dano zip on over to Germany without me, though. I heard a few too many times how much he loved driving on the autobahn! How easy the trip was because of the autobahn. How it would be so great to have a Porsche to drive on the autobahn. I think when we visit Germany, I’ll be doing the driving and Dano can do the sightseeing.

This week Ethan played against an international school in Waterloo, Belgium. Everytime I think of Waterloo, Belgium, ABBA pops unwittingly into my head and won’t leave! (Waterloo…I was defeated, you won the war. Waterloo…Promise to love you forever more… Now you try to get it out of your head!) Dano was in the States doing my shopping…er… at Greif board meetings this week so I would need to make the drive on my own. Surprisingly I didn’t give it much thought. We grabbed the passports but didn’t even need them crossing the border from The Netherlands into Belgium. Going between EU countries is like crossing statelines. Very simple. Though later when I was speaking on two separate occasions to Dutch people and mentioned our trip to Belgium, they guffawed at our trip and couldn’t imagine driving farther than Rotterdam (45 minutes away) to watch a sports game. Had I mentioned Dano drove to Hamburg to watch a game, they would have thought he was insane!

It was a beautiful drive of two hours. We watched a great soccer match against St. John’s International School. It was such a beautiful day and we were so close to the Waterloo battle site that we decided to take a tour.

I'm not sure why they have a statue of Napolean and not Wellington. Maybe because the Duke has his own small museum on the property. Perhaps this is also why this statue is located in the parking lot across the street from the Waterloo museum.

I didn’t realize I knew so little about the Battle of Waterloo. Okay, yes I did. But now I’m back on the historical track and so are the kids. We all thoroughly enjoyed our two-hour stopover at the local museum. Waterloo is considered one of the greatest battles in European history, marking the end of the French Empire and Napolean’s final defeat. Had they won, we may be working and living in France right now and attempting to learn French rather than Dutch.

We watched two movies, both in French (one of the two official languages in Belgium). Fortunately there were English subtitles. As they were fast and a little technical, I read them to Erin and hoped no one else minded the English narration loudly whispered (with great vivacity, mind you) in the back. We then proceeded outside and hiked Butte de Lion’s 226 steps to the monument erected to the memory of the battle. The kids were also quite pleased to find what had to be a Buckeye tree just before the path.

The lion atop the hill symbolizes peace which caused me and Kennedy to wonder if that’s why many European currencies and crests have a lion on them.
From the hilltop we had a panoramic view of Waterloo’s battlefield and tried to envision what it was like nearly two hundred years ago. So great was the impact of this great victory here in Waterloo that now 124 towns or sites bear the name of Waterloo. Maybe there's one near you! (Many others bear the name of Wellington, leader of the British forces at Waterloo.)
The kids stood under the monument in which is etched the final day of the battle, June 18, 1815.

Although I debated stopping since Dano wouldn’t be able to enjoy it with us, I’m so glad we took the exciting opportunity. We all loved it!