Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Holland in the Spring is Spectacular

I recently found myself with a couple of free days and decided it was time for another little adventure. I was torn between exploring somewhere new or returning to Holland to visit a dear friend and see the famous tulips - I chose Holland, and am very glad that I did. It was a sunny weekend full of delicious food, good conversations, and beautiful things.

We went to this quaint fishing village on the harbor where they still have beautiful, old wooden fishing boats. There was an open-air market, and it was here that I got to have my first hot and fresh stroopwafle, which was delicious! I picked up some fresh red currants as we strolled through the market, and that afternoon made a pear-currant pie.


The next day we arrived at the Kuekenhof Gardens bright and early. The flowers were far above and beyond anything I had imagined. Having lived in the Skagit Valley for many years, I have seen my fair share of tulip fields, but these display gardens were truly amazing. They were filled with every color and shape imaginable and the theme of the gardens this year is Van Gogh. We saw so much beauty in the three hours we walked through the gardens, and yet there was still much more to see. However, the crowds were growing thicker by the minute, so we headed off to the seashore for the afternoon.

They say that we are either a mountain person or an ocean person - I'm not sure why we have to choose one or the other, but I have long contended that I am a mountain person, and yet, there is something about being in the presence of the ocean that is empowering and freeing. I think that the mountains will always be "home" for me, but the ocean lures me into a state of relaxation that offers true rest, and my soul opens up to new possibilities. And thus, my first visit to the North Sea was a very pleasant surprise. A bonus to an already delightful day.

This trip helped me reconcile with a part of who I am... for as long as I can remember I have preferred my world to be neat and orderly (you can ask my family about this). In general, I think this is a good character trait; however, over the years this has been ridiculed by some and exploited by others. As a reaction to this, I have tried to hide and deny this character trait, only to have it become distorted into some unhealthy control issues when I am struggling to find order in the midst of chaos. However, little-by-little I have been rediscovering the beauty and strength of this character trait. This was affirmed for me when I was wondering why I like Holland so much, and I realized that the country is neat and orderly, clean and tidy. This place was reflecting back to me part of who I am. This year abroad I am learning that I can survive amidst chaos and live in the midst of messiness, but I thrive in the presence of orderliness and natural beauty.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Love at First Sight!

As I was preparing to move to France, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I looked at the map and read a few websites, but everything was such a whirlwind, I didn't have much time for research. I tried not to have too many expectations, but one of the images I had was of me riding a bike around a little French village, and that image was something like this picture that a friend sent me several years ago. She took this in Sequim, WA, but it always made me think of the lavender fields in the south of France.

Check out As Eye See It for more of her photos
Spring has finally started to arrive here and I've been getting the itch to be on a bike. A colleague recommended the website "Leboncoin" - the French Craigslist, and so I started looking for bikes. Now mind you, I've never actually bought or sold anything on Craigslist because I've always thought it was too much of a hassle, too uncertain, and honestly... I was a little intimidated by the whole process. However, now that I'm living in a foreign country, somehow I have become bold and brave in a whole new way.

I found a bike that I liked and it was in my price range, and so I decided I'd contact the seller. I chose to send an email, because talking on the phone in French is just hard. Several days went by and I didn't hear anything, so I assumed either my email didn't make sense or they had already sold the bike. However, much to my surprise, I received an email asking me to call to make arrangements for me to see the bike. Eeekk! Now I had to actually talk on the phone. While learning French, I have relied heavily on body language, situational cues and my general intuition to help decipher what's being said. When you're talking on the phone, you don't get any of this, it's all in the language. So before I could chicken out, I called and talked with the woman who had advertised the bike. It went fairly well and we made arrangements for me to see the bike the next day at her mother's house. I was so excited at the prospect of getting a bike, I looked up all of the vocabulary for the various bike parts and then set off for the rendezvous. I was greeted by this delightful French woman who invited me in for tea, showed me pictures of her daughters and told me stories about her grandkids. Eventually we made it to the garage and..... it was love at first sight!

It was exactly what I had hoped for; however, as I took it for a test ride, I discovered that the back tire was flat. She was so apologetic, she insisted that I leave the bike there and she would get the tire fixed. I returned the next day and not only had she fixed the tire, but she reduced the price AND gave me a lock! I rode home with a huge grin on my face and wings on my soul.

Not only did I get a great bike, but I had this empowering experience of completing the entire transaction in French, all by myself - emails, phone calls, texts, and the in-person negotiations, along with afternoon tea and an invite to return for dinner!
I'm thinking a basket for my baguettes and picnic supplies will make this the perfect bike for the rest of my time in France.