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Adventures in Holland

Every time I see my Oma again, I burst into tears.  I steel myself before. I tell myself to be brave. I tell myself to be strong, none of it works.  I see her and I melt. It is just love.  It is my guilt at being so far. It is my sadness at how she has changed.  And it is my fear it is the last time.

My Oma will be 99 this December. An incredible age.  My cousin and I marveled at all the things she has seen in her lifetime.  We find it hard to imagine there will ever be another age where life changed so rapidly, so completely, as the last century.  I feel so blessed I spent so much time with my Oma as a child.  I am the oldest grandchild, maybe because of that our bond is incredibly strong.  We spent hours together playing cards, me always losing (I only discovered she’s a big cheater-head well into my 20′s), shopping, cooking, talking. I miss that now, though at the same time I am so thankful.

She has changed with age, she looks very different, I struggle to see her in the person she is now.  But her blue eyes are just as piercing, just as full of love & pride & joy as always.  And sometimes I see her shine through, like when I burst into tears, she frowned at me, then nodded at my kids sitting still, almost frozen, wondering what to do with their mommy.  It helped me to get myself back together, to turn my attention to them, and explain my tears are of love.

Always when I visit, she is retreated inside herself until I pick up Dane and sit him on her lap.  She immediately grabs on, holds him tight, and just sinks away for a moment in his sweet little boy smell, his warm skin and his amazing personality.  This time I had my camera ready.  I wanted more than anything to capture that moment.  That moment where she is really here.  In the moment.  My Oma.


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One of the best parts of any visit up to Holland is visiting with family.  This time we stayed with my cousin Leny, in Schin op Geul, right outside of Valkenburg.  Anyone lucky enough to visit Holland, I highly recommend a trip to the “south” to see the beautiful rolling hills, farm country, Maastricht, cathedrals & castles.  And to try the region specialty: vlaai.

Vlaai is a type of pie.  A very big pie, unlike any you’ve ever tasted. The pastry is not sweet, almost bread-like, and the filling ranges from fruit (I love apricot!) to a rice-pudding that needs to be tasted to truly appreciate.  When I was a child my Opa baked our vlaai’s in his wood-burning clay oven.  My father remembers the clay getting old, and dust getting in the vlaai’s. I just remember how much I loved them and how perfect they made Sundays.

On Sundays, after church, we’d walk into my grandparents living room and the big table was lined with vlaai’s.  Back then I only really loved apple  vlaai, but as the years went by I learned to love reistevlaai, cherry vlaai, my-now-favorite apricot vlaai and my Opa’s famous-recipe kruimelvlaai.  Kruimelvlaai can be described as a vanilla pudding pie, with a crumb topping.  But it is like nothing American I’ve ever tasted.  I’m suddenly craving vlaai.  Sigh.

My cousin Leny & her husband Hans run a small bakery outside of Valkenburg.  Hans makes his own vlaai’s, including a kruimelvlaai based on my Opa’s recipe.  Not only can you buy them fresh in the shop, but he delivers to the restaurants & hotels in the Valkenburg area.  My kids love going to Leny’s.  Cole just likes to come and eat.  In the last couple of years Hans has started baking mini-vlaai’s (still big, almost the size of US pie). Cole loves to walk over to the bakery, grab a mini vlaai, and eat it all by himself.  His favorite is cherry.

Tess likes to help.  She’s too young at 12 to officially help, but every time we visit she spends some time following Hans around till he gives her a small chore or two.  This time she helped bake the rolls (the onion cheese are to die for!) and finish up the strawberry mini vlaai’s.  Strawberry vlaai’s are crust, pudding, and then whole, sweet, delicious strawberries glazed, and then double-crusted with nuts.  Tess started with topping the vlaai’s with strawberries.  Then she learned how to glaze, and finally she progressed to finishing the crust with nuts.

I cannot believe how big & grown-up she looks working in the bakery, with her apron almost triple-wrapped around her.  She can’t wait till the summer she is 14 and she can finally, really, truly work in the bakery.

I’m not done and so far it’s only in Dutch, though I’m working on an English-version as well, but I’ve got a small website up for Leny & Hans.  If you are ever in Holland, stop by Bie d’r Bekker.  Tell them Toiny sent you.

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As you open this newsletter, I’m in my VW bus driving my dad to France.  I know, I know, poor me.  But I’m dreading it all the same.  This past week has been such an incredible whirlwind, I think life always is, but this week has been extra whirlwind-y.

It started with one of those phone calls, ones no one likes to get. My uncle (Kees, age 82) had passed unexpectedly from a massive stroke.  82 is not normally unexpected, but Oom Kees was very active in mind & body.  As Dane said at the funeral, looking at his photo,

“He looks so young.  Why did he die?”  Regardless of age, death is a loss and I miss him.  He will always be in my heart, he was a kind, gentle man.  The kind of uncle always willing to stop & play, to read a story, to climb the cherry tree out back with us.  He was the uncle who explained the tough stuff, who answered endless questions about life, and death.  He was the uncle I needed last Friday to answer all of Dane’s questions.

The phone call was hard.  The drive up to Holland was long (Dave was out of town, and it was just me & the younger kids).  The funeral was beautiful, and sad.  Seeing so many of my family members in one spot was a wonderful, treasured bonus.  My dad flew out from North Carolina, and then drove home with me and the kids on Sunday.  When he leaves tomorrow to visit my sister in France, my house will have a very empty spot.  Having him here, staying just down the hall, even for only three nights, makes it feel like home.  I’m going to hate driving back without him.

His visit is much shorter this time, partially because it wasn’t planned, and partially because my mother is having a birthday next week.  Celebrating a birthday alone is no fun.  How I wish we could all fly back with my dad and surprise her!  Thankfully we did spend a wonderful day in Maastricht shopping for her birthday.  She’s getting a fantabulous statue of Saint Servatius, patron Saint of the city of Maastricht.  I got a clock!

I got a wonderful, kitsch-extraordinaire, faux French clock that says “Rue d’Antoinette” on it. I’m in love.  I don’t care it’s faux, I care it says “Antoinette” and fits perfectly on my wall.  And my dad bought it for my birthday (in September LOL).  And that Cole got stuck lugging it through Maastricht for most of the day in exchange for a pair of real, Dutch, yellow, wooden clogs.  Clogs he wore down the streets of Maastricht, while busloads of tourists snapped his photo. Saturday was a perfect day.


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by Toiny Westberry 16 January 2013
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My Oma

by Toiny Westberry 14 November 2012
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Met Oma

by Toiny Westberry 14 April 2012
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