Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Whirlwind Trip Home to the USA

Every year we come home to the US and every year I say that I won't over schedule.  Every year I totally fail in this capacity and as a result, by the time we leave I can barely keep my eyes open from exhaustion.  It's always worth it though.  It always feels so good to be back home.  And this year feels even better. For some reason, despite my inability to under-schedule myself, I'm not feeling so manic or overwhelmed with all that needs to be done and people to see.  I think I just finally know, it will all get done.  And if it doesn't... well, it doesn't.  Perhaps life in Barcelona rubbed off on me after all.

We made it home directly from our cruise vacation which made for an incredibly long day when you added in getting off the boat by 7 (which meant up around 5:30AM), then a 2 hour bus ride to the airport, 3 hours wait in the airport before our flight and then the 2 flights themselves.  But the cruise was yet another distraction to the disarray of our lives right now.  It was so nice being away for 2 weeks that it made us forget about the sadness of leaving Barcelona.  And now, being home in the US, it just reinforces those feelings of distraction and right now, distraction is good.  We're going to have so much going on in August and September that we might as well enjoy some good times while we can.

Since we were home for 5 weeks which is a lot of stuff to cover, I'll keep this short but sweet - a snapshot of our time.
  • I made 3 trips to NY - two of them were to Brooklyn for the boys, one to Albany for me to visit my two best college friends.  Unfortunately I wasn't so great about taking pictures of the three trips.

Liam and his friend, Henry... picked up right where they left off!
  • We spent some time in our neighborhood with our friends, though never enough time and we still missed a bunch of people.  There are times when it feels like we never left and other times when I feel like we are on the outside looking in.
Liam has become quite the swimmer (and jumper) this year!

Aidan and his BFF Nate

Double cannonball

All the boys - Aidan, Nate, Aaron and Liam

Liam, Aidan, Nate, Aaron

Aidan and Lindsey - this is what happens every single year - they won't even stand next to each other til the very end of the trip - this was day 1.  I think they are secretly in love ;)

The gang...
  • I got to visit with some of my Barcelona peeps that live stateside again (though sadly did not get to visit everyone).
  • I went through our storage unit with the help of my mom and dad and packed up things that were going to storage and those that were coming to Amsterdam (now I question where all of that is going to go!).
Josh's fishy pants... sadly they did not make it on the trip to the Netherlands

The shipping container - brought right to the house (last time it was a moving truck and they made the change over to the container).

Only a little bit of what I had to go through...

My 16' POD that had to be sorted through... good times.
  • We met up with various members of family for dinners, bbqs and to just hang out.
BBQ at Kyle and Kelly's which included a visit from the ice cream truck!!!

Some of the crew at Kyle an Kelly's

Liam and his new buddy Mike at Uncle Richard and Aunt Janice's house

All American treat - s'mores

Liam about to go on the slide for the first time - take a good look at his face (he loved it in the end).

Will he end up in the pool??  

Liam and his buddy Duke

Aunt Janice, me, Liam, Aidan, Meghan, Sarah and Uncle Richard
  • I had brunch with a bunch of my sorority sisters thanks to Tonia's coordination - many of them I hadn't seen in years!
After brunch trip back to Babson for a picture in front of our tower.

Tonia, Kate and myself
  • The kids went to summer camp in Maine for 3 weeks - more on that in another entry.
The boys as they arrived at Camp Wekeela - the same camp Josh went to as a kid.
  • The kids each spent time with Josh's parents on the Cape (while the other was in NY) plus our time driving to and from Maine (you can tell when you don't get enough time in with those you want when you have to count driving time together as quality time).
Aidan and Granny

Aidan and Papa - I didn't get any pictures of them with Liam :(
  • We spent time with my parents - more than we usually get (though as with my in-laws, it's never enough) and just enjoyed our mellow time with them.  
Nana, Aidan, Papa and Liam
  • We spent a lot of time at Target, much to Aidan's delight (he asked to go at 4:15AM the first morning and I had to explain to him that even in the US, regular stores are not open that early.)
  • Spent an ungodly amount of time at the Apple store trying to get my computer fixed.  I think if I hadn't spent so much time there I could have seen every single person on my list.  
  • I got to spend a bunch of time with my BFF - including going to the Red Sox / Yankees game (admittedly we left in the 5th inning out of boredom but since the tix were free we felt ok about doing that.  
As with each year, I find myself fine tuning my list - trying to spend more time with those I "want" to and less with those that I "have" to spend time with.  But even with that fine tuning, I still find that I don't get nearly enough time as I'd like with those people and then there are people I'm not able to see at all which means at least 2 years between visits.  Thank goodness for Skype (I'm terrible with it though), Facebook and VOIP for me to be able to stay in touch.

However, after 5 weeks of being on the go constantly, exhaustion has caught up and the desire for us to be back together as a cohesive family unit and so it's time for us to head back to Europe.  We're ready but can't wait to come back again next year!!

Besos,
Julie


Monday, August 18, 2014

Josh Moves In!!

The day has finally come.  I don't think any of us thought that it would ever actually happen.  But it has.  We are in our new house.  Ok, we are sort of in our new house.  More than partially but not 100% if that makes any sense.

Our movers came on August 5th to take the US portion of our shipment.  We don't expect it to be delivered until sometime mid September (hopefully not later than that).  As we sold many things before we left Barcelona, we will have a partially furnished house for a few weeks.  In the scheme of things and the chaos of the last 9 months, really small potatoes here.

But with all the back and forth with the realtors and waiting with baited breath on whether or not we would get this house, as of Thursday Josh has now got the keys and is in our house.  The first night he stayed in a hotel because the movers wouldn't actually get there until Friday (and he got the keys, cable and internet on Thursday) but now that the movers have come, we are officially in our new place.

However, this is us and it's not without debacle that we are in the house (more to come on that) as apparently we shipped so many boxes, Josh said that they wouldn't all fit in the house and so he had to have the movers put some in the shed.  While only 200 square feet smaller than our last place, when you have it all packed into large boxes, it is amazing how much space things can take up.

So Josh has been plugging away at getting things set up for when we arrive.  He's been told to focus on only the kitchen and finding the bedding, but I suspect he's been up to more.  It could spell disaster but you never know.  But we are getting closer to "normal" again...

We arrive in just 2 days!

Besos,
Julie

Friday, August 15, 2014

Panic

So you know how yesterday I was feeling pretty good about this move?  Just one day ago?  That all the travel has proven to be a great distraction from the imminent move?  Well I'm throwing that out the window. And that might not be the only thing I throw up... I mean out. Yup full on panic mode.

Why you ask?  It's a simple, stupid thing really but enough to throw me into a tailspin. The kids and I arrive Sunday. They start school Monday. Josh and I were going to spend the day getting me acclimated. He's now planning to work. Throwing me to the wolves. And I'm not dealing well with it. 

The realistic side of me says - What's the problem?  You have a GPS and can get around. You will spend most of the day unpacking anyways. But the emotional side is saying. It's day 1 and you are on your own... Now... Go!!!

I suppose I can't complain as I'm totally throwing the kids in without any warm up beforehand, so why shouldn't I?  Well, because I know it's going to be hard and they have no idea!!  Though Aidan told me today he's feeling pretty good about it right now.

But the harsh reality is starting to hit.  WE ARE MOVING TO AMSTERDAM!  There is no going back, only forward.  There are going to be obstacles ahead, a lot of them, some big, some small, but there are going to be there.  Just like they were in Barcelona.  And I'm exhausted.  Emotionally exhausted from it all.  It has been a long 10 months.  So long.  And I'm just trying to pull strength from somewhere to get through those beginning days.  Maybe it will all surprise me and we will settle in quickly - that would make me incredibly happy.  But I need to be prepared for it to not be quite that simple because the reality is, it probably won't be.

I'm trying to think positively.  I'm trying to just be like a bead of water and go with the flow of it all. I'm exhausted from our 7 weeks from when we left Barcelona.  Two weeks on the cruise and a whirlwind 5 weeks at home in the US - I can barely keep my eyes open.  So part of me is relieved to be heading out soon so that maybe I can get back to a normal sleep routine ;)

It's hard to believe that in less than 2 days we will be starting our new lives (yet again) in the Netherlands.  It all feels very surreal at this point.  It has been a long time coming and I'm glad we are finally there.  We are all looking forward to getting settled as well.

36 hours and counting....

Besos,
Julie

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Home Stretch

Only a few more days to go before the kids and I start our lives in the Netherlands (Josh having been there since November is already pretty acclimated).  As I mentioned before, I think us going on vacation straight from leaving Barcelona has been a good thing. With a whirlwind 6 weeks so far between the cruise and being home here in the US, there hasn't been a lot of time to stress out about what we are getting ourselves into.

Though reality is starting to hit.  Today I recognized that while I suspect that life will be a bit easier in the Netherlands than it was in Spain, that does not mean it will be easy.  Things as simple as signing up to the kids' portal page for school which was all in Dutch (thank you google translate) to us trying to get a car - it's like starting back at square one again like Spain.

But I feel that we have it under control this time.  We are older, wiser and this is not our first time at the rodeo.  While we are fully aware that this is a different country and a different culture, we have an idea of what to expect since we've done this before and we've learned to laugh off the frustrations that come with being an expat.  Ok, we attempt to laugh them off at least!

At the same time, while I know the first months won't be easy, I'm less intimidated by it than I was the first time around.  I'm getting excited about this new adventure but at the same time, afraid to get too excited for fear that things are going to be more difficult than I expected.  When we moved to Spain I was blindsided but just how difficult things were and as a result, I was incredibly depressed for the first several months, wondering what I had gotten myself into and if I would even survive the first year.

The biggest challenge in Spain was the language.  While I had a base of Spanish to start, it wasn't nearly enough.  And in the Netherlands I know absolutely not one word in Dutch (not even how to say hello).  This is a bit daunting despite the fact that most Dutch people also speak English unlike in Spain. It's something we will all be working on though and the hope is that with the majority speaking at least some English, it will be much easier for us to integrate than it was in Spain.

I'd be foolish to think that there won't be some adjustments, I think I'm just better prepared for them. The biggest concern I have at the moment, despite the language barrier, new culture, etc, is the weather. I know that seems kind of silly.  Being a New Englander, I should be used to crappy weather.  But Amsterdam takes crappy to a whole new level.  Not to mention that in the almost 5 years we were in Barcelona, we had acclimated to 300 days a year of sunshine and winters around 50-55F.  To go to gray, cold weather for much of the year, well, that's going to be a tough one for me.  And I'm honestly a bit scared of that.  I have heard that this is one of the toughest parts of the acclimation process there and I'm not surprised.

In the meantime, as we wait to get there, Josh and I are working out as many details as we can.  He's already secured his BSN (social security) number and arranged to get cable and internet at our house. Tomorrow he signs on our house and starts the moving in process.  The movers are arriving on Friday and he will do some unpacking on Saturday and we arrive on Sunday.  He's also been in charge of getting the car (this is a whole other entry that he's going to have to write as it was very different than what we've done in the US which was also different than in Barcelona).  We are working with the movers to handle customs forms, something we didn't have to do in Barcelona since it was all taken care of on our behalf.  We are getting things ready for the kids to start school on Monday (seriously no rest for the weary as we arrive on Sunday afternoon).  And there are tons of other behind the scenes details that are too many to list but that we are constantly working on in order to make the process of our arrival as seamless as possible and to be able to jump right into our lives and start trying to integrate ourselves.

As far as integration, my hope is that we will do much better than we did in Spain.  With the language barrier we found it hard to fully integrate ourselves into society and as a result I don't think we fully utilized not just the resources that were likely available to us, but also experiencing more of the culture, making more local friends, etc.  We are hoping that will not be the case int he Netherlands, but we shall see.

Regardless of the unknown, we are getting excited.  I don't know if it's the idea of a new adventure that is exciting us or having some semblance of normalcy for the first time in 9 months that is doing it but no matter the reason, I feel that we are ready to take on this new challenge in our lives.  Only a few more days and counting til I can say we are there!!

Besos,
Julie

Monday, August 11, 2014

Another Side of Sweden - Gotland Island (Visby)

From the city streets and canals of Stockholm to quiet island life.  Established around 900AD, Visby, Sweden is located on Gotland Island, a few hours boat ride south of Stockholm.  That was our last stop of the cruise before it was time to head back to England.

Visby is known as a vacation destination for locals.  However, it is also known to have the best preserved medieval city in Scandinavia.  I had thought that when we arrived to Visby that it would be like the Vineyard; way overpopulated, tons of cars and noise and filled with tourist shops.  That's not to say that it didn't have a few shops but it was not nearly as touristy as I expected.  Ok, it had tourists. Just not an overflow of them.

We did ice cream for breakfast since it was right near us when we got off the ship's tender :)  The kids loved that!

Over 180 flavors of ice cream!!! 

After "breakfast" we saw one of those little touristy trains.  I know, I know - how cheesy!! But in a small town, we figured we could get an overview and then wander which is exactly what we did.  The train took us all around the outside of the medieval city but also along the waterside.  The beauty of the train, unlike when you do a bus, is that there are open sides which makes for better picture taking.






The wall to the medieval city is thought to have been built around the 12th century.




Ruin of St. Catherine's Church






When we were done with the train, we headed towards the medieval city.  Along the way we saw a group doing some kind of dance class - fascinated we stopped to watch.  It sounded and looked like some kind of African dance.  Whatever it was, it was some serious cardio exercise.  Not to mention interesting to watch and a pleasure to listen to.



Dancers on the green

Cute little pond in front of the medieval city


Yet another animal "pole"!  This one, a ram!


The town itself was on a bit of a hill and the roads were cobblestone.  So it made it a bit tricky working out way up.  I was really pleasantly surprised that the shops all appeared to be local and not some cookie cutter chain.  And really, there weren't all that many shops.  It really felt low key.

Walking down some of the walled city streets

Ruin of St. Drotten's Church






Totally did not expect to see the old Ford Fairlaine as we were walking around Visby!



I love doors and flowers

More pretty flowers

Another shot of St. Drotten's Church



You wouldn't know it by looking at that cute face, but Aidan was not feeling too great at this moment... poor kid :(

Beautiful stone home on the right




We loved that down by the (cold) water, there were hammocks hung for people to use.  We searched and searched but alas, couldn't find a free one.  But we loved the idea behind it.  A true opportunity to just sit back, relax and enjoy the beauty of nature around you.

Me and my boys by the seafront...

Grass!!!!


Our ship (we had to take a tender to get to the docks)



Have grass, must wrestle...

It's been a great trip but we're ready to get back to reality!  We've got 2 more days at sea and then we're back to England.  The day we arrive in England, we head back to the US for 5 weeks - so wicked excited!!!

Besos,
Julie