Spring Forward, Look Back

Spring is a time of hope, when promises unfold and the world is fresh and green. It’s also the time when I reflect on life-changing milestones and special memories.

Every April, I celebrate the evening that I reluctantly attended a barn dance outside Lawrence, Kansas and met my future husband. I also remember the time, four years later (to the day) when he defended his thesis and we prepared for our move to the Netherlands (the next day!). An overwhelming cascade of memories mark the flight to Holland, arriving in that unfamiliar village that would become home, and meeting a friend who would instantly become family. I also think of young daughters searching excitedly for brightly colored Easter eggs hidden among the daffodils or scattered throughout the house.

It was quiet this year, and a college visit took the place of the traditional Easter egg hunt.

My friend sent photos of her home – a beautiful farm in Holland, ready for friends and family sharing a festive holiday brunch.

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The Art of the Hospitality and the Holiday Home

After my last post, you know that my friend Els is a creative person, gifted at the art of hospitality.  I couldn’t resist posting a couple of pictures of her home, decorated for the holiday and ready for guests.  Lovely!

Easter Table

Ready for Guests

An Easter To Remember

Lovely Gnomys from Annekebouke

Lovely gifts: Gnomys by Annekebouke

Today I remember an unusual Easter, 21 years ago, in a Dutch village far away.

We were young and living the grad student family life in Lawrence, Kansas, with a 2-year-old daughter and another baby on the way.  My husband’s studies were nearing an end and he accepted a job offer – in the Netherlands.  I had traveled out of the country only once, and the thought of an international move was daunting.

We were heading to the unknown and this was pre-internet, so my resources consisted of a few books about Holland at the local library.  A Dutch acquaintance offered to introduce me to a “relative of a relative” who happened to live near the town where my husband’s office was located.  I wrote a letter introducing myself and asked questions about midwives, housing and a few other concerns and sent it air mail to Holland.

A few weeks later, the phone rang.

It was Els.

She had located a midwife and made an appointment, found all of the information I needed regarding housing and answered my other questions.  “I noticed that you arrive the day before Easter.  I always have a brunch and will come by to pick you up at 9:00.  Ok?”

At 9:00 on Easter morning, Els arrived in her van and transported us to her home.  The entire day was a bit of a blur, with an Easter egg hunt in the garden, a wonderful breakfast with extended family (and very welcome strong Dutch coffee) followed in the afternoon by a boat tour around the canals of Leiden.  We didn’t leave until bed time and by the end of the day, we were exhausted.  But Els understood jet lag and although I could barely keep my eyes open I thanked her later!

She also understood moving to another country, and we discovered that we lived not so far away from each other in the U.S. for a few years.  She understood raising a family with lots of creativity and limited means and donated furniture when she realized we had left almost everything behind.  Els adopted us like her own family from the moment we met.

This morning we had a quiet brunch with just the three of us at home.  Els had a houseful of visitors, decorating with her usual creative flair and hiding the eggs carefully in the garden for the little ones to discover.  We’re far apart but I was there in spirit, remembering a wonderful Easter so long ago.

Festive Weekend: Lunar New Year and Mardi Gras!

Lunar New Year

You may remember my pitiful post last month about my non-existent social life.  I’m happy to say that with some initiative and a positive attitude, life has improved and this weekend I enjoyed two celebrations in one day!

Saturday started with the Lunar New Year at the Chinese Community Center, an annual celebration featuring dance, music, food and cultural traditions from the many Asian communities in Houston.  This year is the Year of the Snake, and in addition to the familiar booths and activities we sampled tea and admired the bikes that the Chinese Motorcycle Club had on display.

Lunar New YearLater I spent a wonderful Mardi Gras evening eating crawfish etouffee and spending quality “girl time” with my fun-loving friend and two new friends.  It was great to listen to music, tell stories, laugh hysterically and just have fun.

Mardi Gras Festivities

In another city on another continent, my daughter donned costume and mask and she and friends joined crowds in the streets for Carnival festivities.  Today I saw the photos (love Facebook and digital photography) and could imagine the excitement she felt as she took part in this celebration for the first time.

New Year, new moon and spring is in the air.  Join the celebration!

Holy Cow! I forgot to get a social life!

besties

A friend moved to a new city recently, and we discussed the importance of getting a social life – in the real life, physical world sense.  And it suddenly occurred to me that I think I’ve lost mine and I’m not exactly sure how to get it back again.

Like many, I work remotely with interaction consisting of e-mails, phone and conference calls.  I do have nice short chats on Facebook or blogs, but these are fleeting and limited.  My extended family is a diaspora scattered across the country, and my children presently live on three continents.  Work takes up most of my waking hours and the time that’s left is spent with family.  As the nest slowly empties I think it might be worthwhile to rediscover the art and pleasure of friendship.

As I often do with life’s great puzzles, I turned to Google for help and searched for “how to get a social life.”

One article gave a rundown beginning with “1.  Find some potential friends” and suggested that I start with work or school.  Strike one.

Another started with the real basics:  “Stand up straight, smile an authentic smile, avoid looking cold and unapproachable, and take care of your hygiene.”  Now we’re getting somewhere!  I can do this!  But I have a feeling that if I do all of the above at my local mall, shoppers will nervously avoid me like the kiosk vendors selling styling products.

eHow.com was more helpful, and right up my alley.  I appreciate a practical approach.  “1.  Work out in a gym.  2.  Participate in a class.  3.  Join a new church.  4.  Be social with co-workers.  5.  Go to the library.”  Actually, I question #5.  Libraries tend to be very quiet and solitary places, and the last time someone approached me in the stacks….  Oh, that’s another story and we won’t get into the details on this post.

One article had a simple suggestion that actually seemed like a pretty good place to start.  “Believe you’re worthy.”

So it sounds fairly simple to me.  Adjust the attitude, believe you’re worthy, get out and do something interesting and just start interacting with others.

What are your best tips for getting a social life?

(*and no, that’s not me and my besties in the photo above.)

Around the World in 50 Plates: An International Culinary Challenge!

Inspired by a suggestion from my brother-in-law Alejandro as well as a significant upcoming birthday, I am setting out to discover world cuisine one recipe at a time and invite you to come along!  More than willing to get out of my comfort zone, I’m featuring new discoveries along with old favorites.  And I’m challenging you to inspire and help shape the journey!

A fond memory also helped to inspire this project.  Our wedding took place at a friend’s converted one-room schoolhouse and a simple ceremony was followed by a big party.  Instead of requesting the usual expensive gifts, we asked our international friends and family to bring a dish from their homeland.  The result was a truly  memorable meal, prepared and shared with love.

International Food Festival

Vegetarian Food Festival

Twenty four years later, I’m inviting you to join a similar international feast.  Each week I will post a recipe or two from one country and would welcome any suggestions for countries to visit and/or recipes to try.  I’ll also feature guest bloggers to share a recipe or tell a story of a special time, dish or place.  Although it’s easier to stick to readily-available ingredients, your suggestions may prompt a culinary treasure hunt to track down something exotic.  That’s ok, too!  An active collaborator, I look forward to exploring your suggestions and requests and sharing inspiration.

At this point, we’re planning the itinerary, with a list of 50 countries.  The places may be special spots already visited, somewhere on the list of future destinations, your home country or a place that is close to your heart.  Next will come the menu for this memorable, many-course celebration.

Here are the rules:

  • 50 distinct countries
  • 1 recipe or meal from each country
  • Preferably vegetarian
  • Can be a food or beverage
  • Open to all!

Join this international culinary blogfest!  Where shall I go?  What shall I cook?  Feel free to leave your suggestions below.