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I have decided I am now 90% German.  Living here for five years, it’s just seeped into my being. I blame osmosis.  We finally went on vacation-vacation last week.  For one week.  I totally get why Germans take such long vacations (Germans have on average 34 paid vacation days).  It took me till Sunday to really feel relaxed.

Because I needed a new passport.  Because Schiphol (airport by Amsterdam) offered the quickest turnaround.  We went to Holland again.  This time up to North Holland, at the north end of the small island of Texel.  There was some protest that it was Holland again.  There was some protest that there were boats involved, the only way to get onto Texel.  I was stubborn. We went. And while there is no passport, we had a fabulous family-bonding week.

I have more memories I love than I can fit in this space.  Since I am sharing our family photo, I am also sharing that memory.  One of my goals was to take lots & lots of photo’s. Not just of us, but also of my beautiful country.  Lighthouses, animals, countryside, sunsets.  Dave had gifted me my first tripod & I was beyond excited to try it out!

Our third day, late in the day, we finally had some time to go take my new toy for a test drive.  We drove the couple of kilometers to the lighthouse and excitedly pushed our way out of the van & to the beach. I couldn’t wait to get some stunning sunset shots!

Um.  The beach. Was. Long.  Wide?  The sand went on for miles. Not just to my left & right, but straight ahead to the ocean.  We had parked just over the dunes, and when we crossed the last one to finally see the ocean, we all stopped in our tracks.  Low tide on Texel is not the same as low tide in California.  The end of the sand, and the beginning of the sea, was literally on the horizon.

At first we slowly walked towards the ocean, me stopping occasionally for photo’s, the kids stopping frequently for shells.  As it slowly dawned on me that we weren’t really getting an closer, that the beach was not meters wide, but kilometers wide, we sped up our pace.  Now I was getting anxious I’d miss the sunset!  Out of breath, with the sun touching the water, we finally reached the edge a good 45 minutes after leaving the van.

I quickly set up my tripod, bossed my family into group photo position, and then ran to get in the shot!  I need a remote. It is on my list for my birthday next month.

27AUG14

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A couple of weeks (months?) ago I read, on the front page of our local paper, that the Schäferbier was brewed, bottled & ready for the Schäferlauf.  Now, Schäfer = sheep.  Bier is obvious & lauf = walk.  I quickly deduced that the sheep beer was ready for the sheep walk, but what was a sheep walk?  And why was this beer special?

I spent the next hour reading the full article, coming away none the wiser.  My German comprehension is not quite at newspaper-level.  Not even local paper-level.  So I asked around, and my best understanding was that this village has sheep, once a year they march them down the street, and then they celebrate said-marching with a special once-a-year beer.  I was hooked, and I marked it on my calendar.

When my cousin called and wanted to visit, right on Schäferlauf weekend, I panicked briefly.  My cousin is 7 months pregnant, Schäferbier cannot be too high on her list of things to try.  Thankfully she also has a 1-year-old daughter.  Sheep rank very high on her list of things to try.  It took five minutes to decide on her trip, and then three weeks of waiting for them to get here.

Waiting for something fun to happen always takes soooooooooooo long, but now last weekend is already over and my cousin, aunt and the baby are back in Holland.  I miss them.  We had a fabulous weekend filled with hysterical laughing, sharing memories, a little beer and zero sheep.

That’s right.  Schäferlauf weekend was without sheep.  It was not a lack of trying on our part, we drove out to Wildberg not once, but twice!  Wildberg is gorgeous.  Nestle in a lush, green valley on the Nagold river in the middle of the Schwarzwald, Wildberg is filled with charm, fachwerk houses, a stunning kloster, friendly people… but no sheep.

We saw cows, horses, donkeys, all kinds of birds, ducks, deer, camels, zebra’s (baby zebra!) but no sheep. In the end, the invisible sheep really didn’t matter. Now all my aunt or cousin has to say is “Schaap!” (Dutch for sheep) and we are all doubled over in laughter.

Only I cannot find sheep at a sheep festival.

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There is sunshine and light and laughter in every one of my days.  Even my dark days.  On the days when life has me down, things are not going my way, when I just need to cry. There are always my kids (and sometimes other peoples kids) and they always manage to put a smile on my face, even when my face does not want to smile.

Sunday was a very dark day.  You know when you answer the phone, and the other person says “hello” and you hear it?  In just that one word, you hear it.  I had that phone call on Sunday.  My mother called me, and I was expecting her call, even the news, and I heard the heartbreak in her voice with just that one word. Hello.

I never said Hello back.  I only asked what was wrong, knowing what was wrong, and she told me her sister had died.  I have been expecting this call.  My Tante Lia has valiantly fought breast cancer for 20 years and her body is done.  She is in hospice, and from what I hear making the most of her last days, so I was expecting this call. It is only after several minutes of crying that I realized it was not Lia, it was her sister Marianna.

Tante Marianne, the strong one, the rock, ever practical, rarely serious, funny, loving and suddenly, inexplicably gone.  I’m crying now.  I cried Sunday.  I didn’t expect it, it blew me away. I actually dropped to my knees and just cried hard and loud with my mom on the phone, thousands of miles away.

Her heart just stopped, the autopsy was yesterday but I don’t know the answer why.  My mom is on a plane, flying from North Carolina to Amsterdam even now.  My sister is flying up later this afternoon from France, with my beautiful niece & nephew.  I will drive up tomorrow with just Dane.  I can’t take all my kids out of school again.

I am dreading Friday.  Then it will be real. It will be a final goodbye to a woman who gave me so much joy, so much laughter, when I was young and later too, when I truly got her dry sense of humor, in a completely different way.  At the same time I am looking forward to seeing my mom, my sister, my Oma, my family.  I just so wish Marianne would be there too.  Really, really there.

Sunday my mom and I didn’t talk much, we just cried.  Over the last couple of days I called her frequently just to check in, to see how see she is, to plan our part for Friday, to cement travel plans.  In the middle of one of our more serious talks, Dane screamed for help.  The ‘Help’ that is like that ‘Hello’.  The Help where I know I needed to move.

I found Dane at the dining room table, panic on his face, both index fingers firmly lodged in a secret, stolen-from-Cole, soda can. Both. Index. Fingers. Why?!?!?!  I briefly panicked too, half-yelled in my mom’s ear (she was still on the phone, it’s a bummer it wasn’t Skype) and she just… laughed.  For the first time in two days, she laughed.  Because this is what kids do: they remind us of life, and happiness and joy.

Dane’s fingers were rescued with a little soap, patience, and minor cuts.  My mom and I had our hearts lightened just a little, and I knew what photo I wanted to share today.  This photo is taken around 1950, it is my mom and most of her siblings (Lia, the youngest, wasn’t born yet).  I can look at their faces and see the trouble & mischief they are going to get into that day.  I know so many of the stories from my mom, my aunts & uncles, and my Oma.  This is how I remember them, even though I only know them as adults, and it makes me smile.

1950

Ton, Hans, Kitty, Annelies (my mother), Marianne & Marjo

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