Posts Tagged ‘Home


Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

John Lennon wall, tag done while I was thereI’ve learned something this week that I am sure to carry with me – something that I hope will ceaselessly paint the way I see my life, past and present, with weightless color and light.

On Sunday evening I sat on cool stone high above the Prague rooftops between two new friends with whom I felt completely at ease, completely at home. I’d known both them and the city for a mere two days, but climbing in the cab that night to leave felt as though I were a sour berry getting plucked from the stem too soon. Sitting there in the park above Prague – the sun setting behind the buildings and the cold coiling around us like ribbon – I allowed myself to seep in a warm, blurry contentment. Perhaps, I thought, this fuzzy and loose sort of bliss is simply a result of having gotten only two hours of sleep. But as the colors of the city – pinks, pale grays and creams, the turquoise of old copper, and the coral orange of rooftops – darkened with the setting sun, I knew it wasn’t only exhaustion.

I let my tired body sink into the window seat of the plane and my mind flipped with fondness through images from the weekend – fighting through Christmas crowds in Old Town Square, walking over empty Charles Bridge at 3:00 in the morning, laughing to the point of tears, dancing to the point of exhaustion, sucking flaming shots of absinthe and who knows what else through straws. So many happy new things to remember, yet from this point I immediately jumped to earlier memories, first to my new family and friends in Amsterdam, then to Italy one year ago, to college rowing, to my sister and brother, to my childhood home. I recalled nothing with contempt – only pure affection and gratitude.

I talked to my sister online the following day, and though I really couldn’t wait to tell her about the amazing time I had in Prague, some unexpected urge prompted me first to tell her that I miss her, but I told her this with only love and excitement, not bogging it down with heavy need and homesickness. I am happy to begin noticing a change in myself. As I commit one exhilarating new experience after another to my memory this year, as I grow more and more comfortable, more at home, more happy in Europe, I can see my love for my previous life and home begin to change, begin to lift up.

This love no longer stands in defiance against what I am now trying to do, no longer sits like a rock in my chest reminding me of how happy I once was in a different place. Instead of a weight that I carry with me, it will now raise me gently up to the new things I come to – push me like a guiding hand or lift me like wings to find clarity, color and beauty in each new step I take.

When you no longer need your previous life to feel content and comfortable, no longer view home with a sickness but simply with an undiluted love – that is when you’ll truly appreciate it. I will always wish to be able to blink and be at home again when I need to, if only just for a moment, but there is no reason that has to hold me back or change the way I see new places. I have long clung to a bitter scorn and resentment at the fact that time forces us to move on before we’re ready, before we’ve had enough – and it will probably be years before I ever truly release that. But I am finally starting to learn that the happier you allow yourself to be somewhere else, the more fondly you think of everywhere that you’ve been before.


Just a Nice Day

by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd

Yesterday was a great day. It was the kind of day that makes me feel nothing but contentment—no, bliss—with my decision to come to Europe. Nothing really special happened, it was just a nice day in my new life abroad. After taking the boys to daycare I came home and got dressed to meet my new friend Eva for lunch. She works in restoration and conservation of ceramics and glass for the Rijksmuseum (national museum) in Amsterdam, and I got to have lunch in the fancy building where she makes her magic – she, and dozens of other creative individuals who spend their time making beautiful, centuries-old art even more beautiful than it was when they found it.

After lunch I used my museumkaart (an annual pass that allows entry into about 20 museums year-round) to pop into the Rijksmuseum and see the new and very hyped-up exhibit by Damien Hirst. It’s basically a platinum mold of a human skull that is completely covered in diamonds. It’s called “For the Love of God” because that’s what his mother said when he told her what he was going to do. The skull is dazzling, to be sure, but it’s more a business venture than a work of art—and a successful one at that.

Once I checked that off my list, I rode over to the American Book Center to buy a birthday gift for Marijke – the mother at the house and now like a cherished big sister to me—and peruse the used books. Happy with selecting a good gift, I then treated myself to a kopje koffie and an amazing date tart in one of my favorite cafes on Utrechtsestraat. Settled in by the window—the taste of grainy brown sugar in my mouth—it was all so pleasant that I couldn’t even concentrate on my book, but instead just sat there and melted into my delicious, colorful and oh-so-European surroundings.

On the way home I stopped at the flower stand on the corner to buy some birthday bloemen, then went to get the boys. We got home and made a lovely construction-paper card for Mama with markers, crayons and stickers before eating leftover lasagna for dinner. After this it was off to my Dutch language class. There’d been spatters of rain in the afternoon, but now the night was clear and cool. I coasted over the little bridge on the Amstel river—lit with white lights as it is every night—and looking at the many city lights reflected on the black, peaceful surface of the water, I couldn’t really believe that this is my routine. This is now the everyday.

I rode home from class under the black, empty and sparkling sky with Charlotte, a French girl I sit next to. We had a few laughs and made plans to go out for dinner the next night where her boyfriend works as a chef. I got to the house and heaved myself up the 5 flights of stairs to my bedroom, stopping on the way to have one of those nice talks with Marijke that always lasts longer than we both plan and always keeps us up past our bedtimes.

Up too late but for once not really concerned about it, I flopped into bed and took a deep breath. I was just about to open up my book when I noticed—out the top window of the pointy, angular roof of the house, the only window in my room that always remains uncovered—the moon, almost round and commanding the sky. It was as though it had placed itself there, in my window, on purpose.

Perhaps it was the rhythmic pumping of blood through my body, or maybe the rise and fall, rise and fall of my lungs as I lay in bed and let my breathing slow, but I could have sworn that the moon itself was pulsing, throbbing, breathing. The white glow on which it floated swelled and shrunk and swelled again, offering in complete and pure loyalty to light the sky with every incandescent fleck of its being. Here was promise of the most fundamental kind.

Then, out of nowhere, a single thick cloud moved mechanically across the rectangular window—like a stagehand was holding it out of sight and dragging it through the set for a special lighting effect. The moon’s light dimmed, shrunk off, choked, and I thought “Oh my god, this is a sign.”

But the cloud moved on as quickly as it had come, and the block of sky I saw out my window was once again still and clear, and the moon once again bright. And I realized—as I’ve been learning more and more—that with many things in life, luckily for us, this is just how it happens.


A Good Cry

our view from the front window.

Bricks, bikes and houseboats: our view from the front window.

Last week was a bit rough for me. I’d just spent six days with a friend from home who was passing through on a month-long Europe tour. We hung out in Amsterdam and then spent a weekend in Munich (more on that later), and then I headed back here on a hellish train trip that deserves a post all its own. My friend’s presence was such a powerful reminder of home and family that taking my leave of him was almost like leaving home for a second time. Usually, being with him means my family is also nearby, and when they weren’t and I found myself instead waiting outside a random train station in the cold with a small group of strangers at 2:00 in the morning, it felt like a rather harsh contrast.

But I made it back safely to Amsterdam to begin another week of au pair-ing on a mere two or three hours of sleep. I wasn’t back in Livermore, but I was at my new home with my new family, and that had to do. Fortunately, my mother and I finally managed to have a good and much-needed video chat; it was the first time I’d spoken to her since I arrived in Holland two weeks before. I told her everything, including the trouble I’ve had cooking for a family when I’d barely managed to cook more than pasta or scrambled eggs for myself in the past. I asked her to send me a couple of the easy, healthy and reliable family recipes that she used when we were young, a few that she knew I could handle.

Several days later an email graced my inbox, subject: “Recipes and Skype.” Beautiful words to a girl far away from home. Attached were five old recipes from my mother’s personal recipe box, neatly written on white 4″x6″ index cards in faded pencil and scanned into the computer. I opened up “Trout Meuniere” and was delighted to see her familiar script, always consistent, a combination of cursive and print that is tight and efficient yet not without its own curl and whimsy.”Dredge fish in flour,” she wrote. “Melt 2T butter in large skillet. Add fish, saute over moderate heat till golden…”

I sat at my Dutch family’s computer and stared out the window at the yellow and green leaves churning in the wind, the tiny circles on the gray surface of the canal as the rain drops fell. And although the view was completely foreign, I felt as though I were looking at my mother’s index-card recipe on our kitchen counter at home, dancing with my bare feet on the linoleum and whining about setting the dinner table as she stood singing over the stove.

I hear crying from the boys’ room. They’ve woken from their naps, so we all head downstairs. It had turned into a rather hectic week at the house, with me and both boys having come down with a vicious cold. My life was suddenly a muddle of snot, headaches, and abrupt and formidable crying fits. Alex, the 3-year-old, had exceptional trouble getting up from his nap. His cold had gotten the better of him, and he cried and rubbed his eyes and wanted only to be on my lap. We sat together on the big chair by the front window, looking at the bicycles go by on the street outside. His face buried in my neck as the tears slowed, I rubbed his back and spoke calmly to him. “It’s OK, Al. A cuddle always helps,” I told him. “A cuddle always helps.”

Then, with these words, I started crying out of nowhere. Before this, the abrupt and formidable crying fits had been reserved for the boys. But it came on strong and relentless. I sat there holding Alex as he breathed quietly, curling his fingers through my hair, and it became newly and sharply apparent that this year I will be doing the mothering, and that video chats with home will be the closest I get to any of the same from my own family.

I can dance barefoot on my kitchen floor in Amsterdam as I try to cook fish – fresh from the market down the street – that will feed a couple of tiny mouths and, if I’m doing anything right, hopefully keep them smiling. The important thing to remember is that, like your mother’s index-card recipes, home can be taken with you wherever you go. And if it seems too far away, a nice cuddle with a 3-year-old always helps. Along with a good cry.

"Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!" -Henry James, The Art of Fiction
December 2018
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