After 9 days in Southern England, we flew to the Netherlands, officially completing our round-trip ticket which had begun back in October when we repatriated to the US (I’ll explain that one later). It was a delight to return to people and places that we had grown to love over our four years there. It was so very comfortable to insert ourselves back into the community and culture for a very short period of time. The kids especially had an absolute ball, seeing old friends and teachers, and enjoying the freedom that comes from biking, and knowing your surroundings and neighbors.
1. Biking culture of the Netherlands
2. Scattering kids across the community
3. Renewing friendships
4. Public Transporation in the Netherlands
5. Eating out at favorite neighborhood restaurants
6. Escape room Date night
7. Church youth group activities
8. A very favorable Shell policy on repatriation transportation
9. More acute recognition of the loss of an employer (Shell)
10. Our nuclear family unit temporarily dissolved.
(Click below right to read more . . . . . . . )
1. Biking culture of the Netherlands – Once we rolled into town, one of our first priorities was to round up some bikes for us to use. It is simply a joyful thing to do in the Netherlands, to head out on a bike, on a dedicated bike path, expertly paved and marked, with specific bike lane stoplights, riding alongside other bikers, heading out into roundabouts and intersections where cars naturally slow down and stop for the bikers big and small, who have the right of way in most situations. It is comfortable and safe and healthy and fun. The biking experience in the Netherlands is not replicated anywhere else in the world, and I quickly remembered how much I missed it.
2. Scattering kids across the community – Since October, our little family unit has lived pretty close to one another. There were a few friends in Dallas, but no one the kids knew well enough, outside of family, to have playdates or sleepovers with. Plus, independent traveling for kids just isn't an option in the DFW metroplex. In Guatemala, the kids had the freedom to come and go by walking, but our community circle mainly involved getting together as complete families (which we loved!). While traveling, we are really close-knit, depending on each other, and staying close together as we navigate the new countries and languages. So, since October, we have rarely been out of each other's sights for about 8 months. Then, magically, when we hit Dutch soil, the kids were back in a place where they had 4 years or more worth of friends, they had independent biking skills, and they vanished, like raindrops sinking into the soil. They had either set up playdates and sleepovers and school visits before we got there, or they set them up immediately upon arrival. It was fun and satisfying to see them back in their social and independent element, which is impossible to provide while we’re on the road travelling.
3. Renewing friendships – There were so many people we were able to see and do things with. Some of these friends we first met in Brunei, almost 11 years ago. We had lunches with friends from work, dinner with friends from church, trips to the park and ice cream shop, and many scattered visits with dear friends in between. We saw beloved teachers that developed wonderful relationships with us and with our children over their 4 years at the American School fo The Hague. Anna was able to go to Prom, surrounded by friends who she had years of shared memories with. It was incredibly comfortable being back and feeling so quickly at "home".
4. Public Transporation in the Netherlands – It is so easy to get around here. With buses and trains, which come on time, and take you anywhere in the country, a car really isn’t necessary. Yes, it takes a good deal longer on the train . . . . but we had time. We did have the benefit of borrowing our host’s car quite a few times, but when we didn’t, and it was too far to bike, we simply hopped on the bus. Tera and I took the bus and tram to the temple for a Thursday morning session. I took the bus and train to the airport to pick up the rental car. Anna joined her friend on a bus to Leiden for a shopping afternoon. Tera and I took the train to Amsterdam for a date night. It is so unlike any place that we've lived in the USA.
5. Eating delicious European food – Our top places to return to were 1) Luciano’s ice cream parlor in central Wassenaar (we went 4 or 5 times) . . . 2) Garden's Mediterranean Eatery, for the best chicken durum doner wraps on the planet . . . . 3) Eleni's Greek Restaurant, which Tera and I took many a date to in our former Dutch living days. 4) Beachfront restaurants and cafe's. 5) Me Gusta for Tera's favorite salad topped with bacon-wrapped goat cheese. Plus, just being back and surrounded by delicious European food: Gouda cheese, Dutch appeltaart, pofferetjes, stroopwafels, Tony's and other Belgian chocolates, fresh baked artisan breads, quiches, etc. The food was just as good and memorable a year later.
6. Escape room Date night – 4 years ago, our good friend Brooks and Norty Turner took Tera and I and another wonderful couple Karen and Brian Carl to our very first escape room in Amsterdam, Logic Locks. Since then, Tera and I have done another 20 or so rooms all around the world. For our return to Wassenaar this time, I booked an escape room with Brooks and Norty, again with Logic Locks, to a newly designed room to complete the circle. It was a fun night, in a totally immersive room, with theatrical effects dialed up to a notch that we hadn’t seen in any room before.
7. Church youth group activities – We've had quite a fun history with the youth of the Wassenaar ward, since I had been young men’s leader for 3 of the 4 years that I was there. We reconnected in multiple activities while we were there, and Anna and Tyler slipped right back in with their friends. They sang with the Youth in sacrament meeting on the Sunday that we attended church (who needs practice beforehand?), we attended a Bishop’s youth evening, and we did baptisms at The Hague Temple on Wednesday before joining them with a service project outside. I love each and every one of those kids, and I was so glad to see them again, and for Anna and Tyler to be amongst them again.
8. A very favorable Shell policy on repatriation transportation – I mentioned that we travelled back to Amsterdam to complete our round-trip ticket. The reason we had this long-term ticket was because of an option that Shell gave us when we repatriated. We could have taken one-way business class tickets for each member of the family, to fly from Amsterdam to Houston, when we returned home. Alternatively, Shell offered a percentage of the business class fare to reimburse us for our own method of transportation, for us to decide as we saw fit to best suit our family how to get "home". Tera got creative with google flights “multiple destination” option. For the cost that Shell allowed us, she was able to get round trip tickets with the flight path of Amsterdam – Houston - Dallas – Hawaii (to kick off our 2018 Gap Year) – Dallas – London – Amsterdam. The tickets started in October 2017 and ended on May 8th, 2018. Thus our planned return to Europe.
9. More acute recognition of the loss of an employer (Shell) – Since leaving Shell in December of 2017, I hadn’t been exposed to former work life in any way. I didn’t see any colleagues, or pass by an old work building, so I wasn't reminded of what I had left behind. Upon returning to Wassenaar however, I sent an email to some former colleagues in Den Haag, organizing a work lunch with them. On Tuesday, I hopped on my bike, remembering fondly my former 20-minute bike commute to work, and rode down to the office where my professional life used to dwell. As I sat in the lobby waiting to be picked up and ushered past the security, I watched all the Shell employees pass by, with ID badges, and work folders, and jobs, and pressing conversations. I recognized the tribe that they all belonged to, and which I no longer did. I thought about the support Shell gave to each of these families, in terms of salary, and health insurance, and general security, and I missed it. Of course I recognize that the decision was mine, and I’m certainly not complaining at all. Nor do I have any regrets. But I’m acknowledging in a way that I hadn’t felt before the real sense of belonging and protection that working for a multi-national corporation gave us. I spent 15 entirely positive years with the company, and they treated me very fairly and very well. Adieu, Shell. I miss you.
10. Our nuclear family unit temporarily dissolved
This is Tera jumping in here . . . . I know - this was also a highlight. But only because the scattering was temporary. After having just said goodbye to Emily and Nathan not even 2 weeks earlier, I was still adjusting to the dynamic of only 4 kids at "home". And then, to go all at once to zero kids at "home" - well, I'm certainly not ready for that to be permanent, yet. I LOVE the independence and the friends that the kids have in the Netherlands. However, I was secretly counting down the days until we could be together as a family again. To cook together and have regular family dinners together again. To hear everyone's highs and lows before bedtime. To pray together and discuss scriptures and other topics together. To support each other's goals. To share learnings and interests and experiences and play and sing and laugh together. To create and reinforce family rituals and traditions. To be a present part of each of my children's lives, and to have time for that every day. That is so much more difficult to do when juggling community-related opportunities and friends and activities. So, for this year, fantastic community opportunities and activities and friends are what has become our amazing vacations from the "real life" we are creating together as a family. Our real life, our every day, is traveling the world together. Spending time together. For this year, that's what defines our "normal" days.
Plan? What plan?
Our first Gap Year was a fabulous "2017-2018 School Year" of travel: from the Netherlands to Jordan to Texas to Hawaii to Mexico to Central America to London and back to the Netherlands. Our "2018 Summer Vacation" took us all around Western Europe, back to the USA on a transatlantic cruise, a road trip through New York and into Canada, and ending up in Utah. We have now kicked off the "2018-2019 School year" with a trip to Asia. Follow along with us on our visits to new places, as well as revisiting some of our favorite places from our time living there. It's going to be great!!