365 Dagen Later

The cling wrap was nearly melted to the pink styrofoam tray filled with the dozen freshly baked cinnamon rolls and the price, written on the cling wrap in marker, was smearing from the warmth. Uncle Joe’s Grand Marquee was barely in park as my sisters unloaded out of the car and raced to grab their favorite Adirondack rocking chair on the front porch. The coffee was done percolating, the waves crashing up against the rocks, and the wind blowing from the west. We were on our annual month-long stay at the cabin in the Upper Peninsula and just returned from our early morning ritual, a trip the IGA with Uncle Joe. Typically, Dad and Uncle Jerry would be taking the poles down to the boat, however, the westward wind meant fishing would be delayed. I’m not sure how long it had been, but when Megan came back to grab the cinnamon rolls it was clear she was annoyed with me.

There I was. Sitting in the middle of the backseat with my nose in a book. Something everyone used to comment on.

I’m not sure why, but I still remember the book, Whatever Happened to Janie by Caroline B Cooney. This book… Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, A Wrinkle in Time, Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Giver, To Kill a Mockingbird, Ann Frank, Walk Two Moons, Flowers in the Attic, Tuesday’s with Morrie...

I remember reading each of these books. I absolutely loved them.

I may not be able to tell you the characters in each of them, the author, or possibly even the plot, but each of them will forever be meaningful to me.

These titles feel like I should have read each of them a hundred times, I mean 20 some years later I can still rattle them off. That’s not the case. In fact, I read these books only once.

What if I reread them and hated them? It would crush me. Yes, I can barely tell you anything about these books, but they must have been something I needed at the exact time I read them. To reread them and ruin these nominal memories is terrifying to me.

If you have nothing better to do, you’re reading this post on July 10th, 2020. It’s been exactly one year since we returned back to Reno, NV from our 10-month long Adventure in Amsterdam.

I remember deleting my iPhone photos and packing all the empty camera cards I own. Questioning if this would be enough space. As I open the photos on my phone today, I have 8,060…yep, that’s not counting the several 100 others in Dropbox.

1,000s of pictures captured so many incredible memories of our 10 months abroad… and very few have been opened up since our return. Several months passed with the My Goals section of my daily planner being filled in with Amsterdam photo book. The hardcopy of Adventures in Amsterdam carries a similar fear as those childhood books from the U.P.

I hate moving a goal from one week to the next, never making any progress on it. Unfortunately, this book became one of those, so one week it just dropped off. It never made it to the next week and my goal vanished.

It’s been a few days anticipating putting words to a page. Constructing this post in my mind and then deleting it all. Questioning if anyone will even read it. I decided it doesn’t matter…

We moved our bedroom around this weekend to better accommodate our second home office…thanks Covid-19. I’m now sitting at a white desk facing a wall, working on two monitors, listening to two sound machines replicate the sound of moving water as our kids struggle to nap.

I don’t experience Deja Vu often, but it just happened. I can vividly picture the nude lady who used to hang above our Dutch desk, beside me the accordion windows open…allowing the ripples of the canal to lap over one another as the boats passed by.

My Dutch workspace tucked back in the corner

Most nap times were spent at that desk. Grappling with the next blog post or the unfinished paragraph in the book yet to be completed.

Returning from Amsterdam was exciting, that is after the 26 hours of travel…getting stuck in Dallas due to a staffing issue, and then a lightning storm.

Coop being a champ, sleeping on the floor of the plane from AMS to DFW
26 hours later we landed in Reno…Coop didn’t hit his breaking point until baggage claim

I felt claustrophobic for the first few weeks. Driving my car, something I desired every time it rained in Amsterdam, now felt like I was fighting a perpetual rat race. Summer construction, ugh why did it take so long to get across town and why do I need to go to 5 stores to get everything I need?

As with most things in life, we adjusted. Pre-ordering groceries, backfilling our freezer in the garage, living social interaction to social interaction, and forgetting the joy the morning park plays brought to Cooper. Afternoon Borrel, who has time for that? It was back to up and at’em and out the door.

98 days after moving back to Reno, we welcomed Josephine Marie Van Dellen to our family. She wanted to make her presence known initially, kicking off life with more waking hours than either Andy or I had ever experienced. Luckily for us, she is the happiest and most independent baby. Completing our family with each and every roll. I always tell her that her rolls are memories of all the delicious coffees and cakes Cooper and I exposed her to in Amsterdam!

Josephine Marie Van Dellen: 8 months

Sadly, Amsterdam quickly felt like the blink of an eye or maybe a vacation rather than nearly a year of our life. Andy and I always talk about the elements we want to keep alive and the values acquired that we want to instill in our family. Lots of conversing prereturn and less intentionality post-return.

In true fashion, March 2020 rolled in like a lion. Cooper turned two and then Covid hit. Transforming all our lives in what felt like 24 hours. We suddenly found ourselves back in the life we had in Amsterdam…living in near isolation with the now four of us.

Cooper’s 2nd birthday

As we navigate the rollercoaster of social distancing, working from home, no daycare, and summer travel being put on hold, we continue to seek the silver linings in similarities to life in Amsterdam. Take a look:

  • Starting our mornings slowly and prioritizing family breakfasts.
  • Lots of walks and bike rides less focused on the destination of the walk and more focused on connecting with each other and making observations with the kiddos.
Clearly all the biking rubbed off on Coop
  • Writing off entire days just to honor our personal needs.
  • Taking true lunch breaks and soaking up some sun while doing so.
  • Afternoon Borrels consisting of cocktails and coffees.
  • Staying up late to write and work on passion projects.
  • Unlocking the previously locked cabinets so the kids can explore.
  • Creating the park in our front yard and finding joy laughing with Cooper and Josie.
Andy building Cooper and Josie their own climbing wall

These may seem simple. What we learned in Amsterdam, when done daily, they become a part of your values. You quickly realize back in the US, we live to work. Life is so much more enjoyable when we follow the European mindset and work to live.

The week before we moved back, Patagonia went above and beyond to express their gratitude to Andy. As we sat for one of our final Borrels with Herve, a coworker, we were commenting about all the send off’s, they were giving us being too much. I’ll never forget the conversation …Herve, in his stern French accent, said, “Nothing is too much when you care.”

For years Andy and I talked about quitting our jobs and moving to Europe. Fortunately, this experience allowed our dream to become a reality. Patagonia is the culprit that allowed me to take the risk I’d been dreaming of… becoming an independent consultant.

Ironically, this summer Andy was furloughed by Patagonia. That in and of itself has raised a lot of reflections, emotions, and questions. Within a week Ryan, Andy’s boss in Amsterdam called to check in on us. After hanging up the phone Andy and I were both awestruck that Ryan had referred to Josie as Josie. Regardless of if he’d written it down from her birth announcement, or remembered it, his call showed Andy and our family were important.

Raakhee and Arjen, my Amsterdam partners in crime continue to What’s App us, send packages, and call. My girlfriends and I, here, frequently text how we’d love to catch up but are waiting for “enough time.” Raakhee on the other hand, calls me from the toilet. Why? Because regardless of how and when it happens, our connection is important. I’m trying to “be more Raakhee.”

Forever grateful for these two, Raakhee and Arjen

I miss Hema and their insanely adorable children’s clothes. Patrick’s fresh flowers. Cafes. European Travel. Loading my bike up with more groceries than safe. Stopping for gelato on the way to mail a letter. Wasted mornings watching the trains and boats go by. Biking in the pouring rain. Interrupting Andy at work and finding ourselves still at the office an hour later as they pass the kiddos around and make coffees. The simple joy of pressing the elevator button. Warm bread loaves and 25 cent croissants. Staying up too late drinking and playing Rummy. The simplicity of hanging our laundry up to dry just to watch Cooper pull it down a million times. The clerk at Odin who tried to teach me a new Dutch word every week. The falafel guys, their endless samples, and peek-a-boo games with Cooper. Our cheese man. The “mini-van” (aka my bike)…

Completing the Amsterdam Adventure photobook feels fearful for all the “what’s gone” emotions that will come up. With each daily flashback, I’m working on following Dr. Suess’s advice “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Amsterdam was the biggest risk our family has taken, so far. Without it, so many amazing memories and family values wouldn’t be dancing around in our minds and causing us to second guess “What are we doing?”

While there are many uncertainties at this time, and we often feel unsettled between wanting to be in Reno or back in Amsterdam, we often smile because it happened.

3 thoughts on “365 Dagen Later

  1. My dear Mandi, Andy, Cooper and Josie… I miss you every day!!! You were all a massive part in Arjen’s first months of life and he remembers Cooper so well with a big smile on his face! Nosey is here as a reminder of you guys daily and he can’t start the morning without a hug and kiss to him! I loved each and every one of our adventures from pumpkin hunting to tunfun got chocolate days and ofcourse all the play dates in the park! It was so so easy just to rock up at each other’s place, hang and not realise that the entire day had passed!

    You guys left a massive void in our lives when you went but in agreement with you, I smile because it happened! And I smile even more knowing it can easily happen again at some point!

    Sorry for the toilet phone calls haha!

    Feel truly honoured that Arjen and I made it in this beautiful blog… Amsterdam and the Ramaiyas miss you guys bucket loads xxx

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