That inevitable itch to leave…and other thoughts and observations on American life.


I’m feeling a restlessness stirring within.

And then it dawns on me: it’s five months to the day since I returned to the States. This is the longest stretch of time that I’ve been back in the States in 10 years. In fact, this is the longest stretch of time (in recent years) that I’ve gone without hopping on an airplane whisking me away to some other country… Only 5 months! Gasp! How will I survive?

It’s long overdue for me to process some of my observations since returning to the ‘Homeland’. I’ve found myself making a mental list of the things that I do and don’t want to pick up as I acclimate to American life. I don’t know if this term exists, and if not, I’m coining the concept of being a Third Culture Adult. I left for Holland in my last year of college – I had only lived at home with my family and in student dorms before moving to another country. I’ve never fully known what adult life looks like in the States.

While children who grow up in a culture foreign to their parents, develop differently than if they had grown up in their own family’s culture, I find that I too have things that have developed differently because I learned how to be an adult in a foreign country. I became a woman in Holland. I learned most of my cooking from Dutch friends, I never had to deal with insurance, owning cars (or owning a home)… dealing with all these grown-up matters is one thing. But another aspect of adjusting is learning the way of engaging with people and the culture surrounding social life!

I often find myself lying in bed remembering moments and pining for my ‘settled life’ in Amsterdam. I knew all the secret bike routes that got me to places in the least amount of time, had frequent spontaneous encounters with people in the city – affirming the feeling of knowing and being known, hosted countless small groups, dinners and parties at our home on the Derde Helmers – and left with a seemingly insurmountable amount of dishes on the counter!… these are flashes of images that represent a life that took years of investment and building up… and now I find myself starting over again (while still not knowing where to plant these roots…)

However, this does not mean that I ever fully became a Dutch adult either! I’m from another, Third Culture kind: the culture of in-betweens – belonging everywhere and nowhere at the same time… It’s a culture full of paradox and longing. Where I can be deeply content, and still wanting more at the same time. Where I’m grieving loss and also happy for the now. Feeling ‘home’ where I’m at, but always longing for a home elsewhere… finding home most present in a deep relating to others who also find themselves belonging to the Third Culture.

So here’s my un-exhaustive list of ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’ts’ – none of which I hope will be personally offending to anyone if you do happen to do one of these things… I just have some habits that I picked up while in Holland that I don’t want to let go of…

Be friendly! American’s have a way of friendliness and public niceness that feels so welcoming… I’m loving talking to people while standing in the check-out line…

Enjoy the space – I find myself in a bedroom double the size of any space I’ve slept in for the last decade… It was a little overwhelming at first – but I’m loving the SPACE, the large BATHTUB, the WALK-IN-CLOSET!!! (My first real closet in years!!!) I feel so spoiled.

Listen to NPR in the car – One benefit to lots of driving time is listening to great programs on NPR! Here and Now /BBC News/This American Life/Tedx RadioHour/ WorldCafe Music, etc., etc. NPR feels like my lifeline to the rest of the world.

Increase your English vocabulary! – While living among second-language speakers for years, I know that I intentionally changed the way I speak to be better understood. Now I can speak freely/without thinking and also without straining to understand… there is a certain freedom that comes with engaging with other native speakers. However, I know I’m also forever enriched because of learning the Dutch language and picking up bits-and-pieces of German, Swahili, and other random languages along the way.

Geek-out at the Library! – I’m LOVING the unlimited amount of resources available to me at the public library. I can rent every movie I’ve missed in the last years for free, borrow and renew books for weeks on end in every category imaginable. I discovering new things about myself: like how much I love reading about the Brain! I’m truly a nerd at heart.

Thrift every day of the year! – Ok, maybe not every day… but in Holland there were only certain days that allowed for mega-thrifting. Special weekends at Ijhallen in Amsterdam, for example, and of course the most amazing day of the year: Queen’s Day! But here I can find amazing thrifting always readily available at the local Salvation Army and hooray for Garage Sale season starting already! I should seriously find a way to make treasure hunting a part of my day job.


Don’t stop practicing proper table manners! Using both my fork and knife at the same time has become a learned European manner of eating that I find not only extremely effective but also more efficient, clean and proper. I don’t know why we as Americans learned to eat the way that we do (i.e. Fork in right hand, set down fork, pick up knife, switch fork to left hand, cut meat, set down knife, switch fork back to right hand…) but I don’t want to go back to it.

Don’t stop walking! If an opportunity comes to go for a walk (or bike for that matter) – take it. If I’m within 10-20 minutes walking from where I need to be: DON’T DRIVE. Be counter-cultural: don’t drive everywhere and anywhere and ALL the time!

Don’t use paper plates/plastic cups if you don’t have to… There is a funny cultural phenomenon that I’ve noticed when groups gather together for eating. Out come the paper plates and plastic cups (not that this never happened in Holland, however…) but it doesn’t make any ecological sense to me to make more trash just because you don’t want to do more dishes (even though you have a dishwasher to do them for you and you have more than enough dishes sitting in the cupboards to accommodate all the guests!)… rant over.

Don’t accumulate too much stuff – this is in direct correlation/contradiction to some of the ‘Do’s’ on my list. I think because American’s have so much space and abundance of access to cheap goods, stuff is acquired in great heaps very quickly (not to mention that America’s economy thrives on people buying things – thus the vast number of tantalizing SALES!) I’ve also noticed a trend since returning that people buy bigger houses just because they don’t have space to fit all their stuff! I know I will have to be really intentional about this (and I confess I have already failed to some extent) but the Dutch showed me a way of simple and resourceful living that I want to emulate here in the States.

Don’t stop traveling! I’m beginning to understand why living in America creates a great gap between other countries. The threshold to visit foreign lands is greater to overcome purely because of how ginormous this country is, in and of itself. It generally takes me minimum 30 minutes to drive and meet up with good friends in Denver (in comparison to a 15 minute bike ride in Amsterdam)… let alone fly 2 – 3 hours to get to another State. Traveling in America alone takes TIME. And MONEY. It’s way more expensive to fly in the States than in Europe. But I don’t want this to stop me from getting out and experiencing more of the world…

Don’t stop being honest about what you think and feel – While I’ve had my share of Dutch bluntness that has left me feeling hurt and in tears, I’ve come to greatly appreciate the value of honesty and speaking directly about what you’re actually thinking. There is a certain tiptoeing-beat-around-the-bush way of communicating in America that leaves me wanting for more REALNESS. I also get quickly impatient because relationships don’t go deep enough, quickly enough… this kind of surface-friendliness can drive me nuts! However, this might also be unrelated to Dutch culture, but more relating to the depth of community which I experienced at Amsterdam50! Miss you all dearly!

In the meantime, as I continue to repatriate to the States (while still and always longing for that other home elsewhere) I’m thankful for (somewhat) smaller and greener grocery stores like Sprouts and having random encounters with people that I know there! :)

Anticipating Joy

At the close of February, I want to share two of my favorite love birds with the world: My brother and sister-in-love (as we so affectionately call one another) are having a baby in just a month’s time!! I am so excited to finally become an auntie! And as an added bonus, I was happy to have an excuse to take some maternity photos with them as I’m wanting to grow in portraiture.

These two were incredibly easy and fun to take pictures with – not only because they are so photogenic (personally I think they’re a gorgeous couple – and I’m not biased…!) but they also have a lot of experience with taking photos themselves.  Thankfully, they were willing to go along with my experimentations! You can check out my sister-in-love’s beautiful work as Heartflip Photography here.

I am delighted to share these pictures – and look forward to experiencing the joy of meeting my new baby n…

Two more weeks till the baby’s due date: surprises to come!

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Meet Paul and Elisabeth

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Meet my brother, Paul.

He’s suave. He’s débonnaire. He’s a great actor – really he’s just a big goofball with a big heart.

He has Down’s Syndrome. Which to many would mean a ‘less than’ normal kind of life, but to me it’s always been ‘greater than’ normal –

the extra chromosome adds an extra dose of sweetness, character, joy, cuddliness and lots of extra laughter…

There’s a lot that I could say about how great Paul is – but I guess I’ll just say that I couldn’t imagine a life without him and being home is affording me a lot of extra time around him which I am enjoying so much!

Last Spring I had the chance to take photos before he and his girlfriend (no joke) went out for their Prom night. These two are a.d.o.r.a.b.l.e.n.e.s.s. personified. They call each other ‘babe’ and ‘hon’ … and I get to see Paul’s caring, gentlemanly side…

Elisabeth, on the other hand, is ALL girl. She loves getting dressed up and doting around in her fancy clothes – all the while, she’s all smiles. She loves being adored and being told that she’s beautiful (like every girl I know…) and laughs at all of Paul’s jokes…

These photos give just a little glimpse into their crazy fun personalities! 

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Just a couple nights ago, I had the chance to attend their 5 year anniversary Rotary Club banquet. Paul and Elisabeth, along with 40 some young adults with varying disabilities meet together and volunteer for different community needs projects. I absolutely love the concept that they’ve created: while often these people are viewed as the ones needing the help, this organization believes that they also have something to offer and give to others. Just like the rest of us… we all want to meaningfully contribute to the world around us. 

And being around these kids for just one night will prove that they have more than enough to give – their joy and laughter is contagious… you can’t help but laugh along, and maybe shed a few tears of joy too… everything becomes stinking hilarious to them… I love that they don’t take life too seriously!

There was a talent show as part of the banquet’s entertainment… and Paul and Elisabeth did a duet together – singing ‘Let it Go’ from the movie Frozen! HEARTWRENCHING!! They stole the show that night!

But I think another highlight that I will always remember is the ‘Best DJ of the Year’ Award that went to a young man in a wheelchair who loves to tell jokes and make everyone laugh… I’m not sure what his condition is, but obviously he can’t dance when he goes to the Prom nights. Instead, he’s DJing the music and keeping the party going… It’s so beautiful to see someone like him turning his limitations around, and instead of pouting around about not being able to dance, he goes and does something else with all of his heart! It’s such an inspiration… and this is something that I think a lot of us could learn how to do better…

I love these two and they bring a lot of extra delight to life.


a magical exploration through the Veluwe heide

Over the last 10+ years I’ve done a crappy job of sharing my photos with the world. I’ve always loved taking pictures… I can’t even remember when I started… I have vague memories of experimenting with my Dad’s SLR when I was just a girl. I’ve gone through the full gamut of cameras over the years: starting with analog and slowly moving up to a fancy Canon 5D. But my organizational skills (or lack thereof) and my disdain of spending hours behind my computer have caused me to have a major #photographersfail when it comes to doing the dirty post-production work of editing, posting photos to the web and all the other little details that come with actually making something of my photography.

I’m determined that 2015 is going to change that.

I’m going to start posting my photos – at least once a week. I want the world to see the way I’ve seen the world through all the travels and mini-photo-adventures with friends… I hope this will become something much more in the coming months – I’ve been given too much over the years to not do something with these photos and resources at my disposal… Although I much prefer snapping away at beauty and capturing the moment – I’m excited to see what the discipline of order and the diligent effort of sharing my photos will bring down the road.

Thus, I begin with this post:

We had a glorious fall in Holland… After predictably short summers, we usually brace ourselves for the rain and cloudy days but this last year was an unexpected gift: unusually warm and sunny weather… On one of these days, my dear friend/fellow-nature-lover/explorer and I decided to go on a bike ride through Holland’s national forest the Hoge Veluwe. I don’t even know how to translate this into English, as I’ve never seen anything like this before in the States: the Heide was in full bloom. In late August/early September, the generally brownish shrub turns a brilliant purple color. It’s incredible. Suddenly, Holland’s rather neutral sand-soiled landscape is transformed into a magical fairytale land, as if we’ve entered another world far far away…

Sonja and I decided to make the most of it and did a photoshoot throughout the magical-purple-land… Hence the stair-off-into-the-distance-poses and… believe it or not, we’re not typically supermodels… but we did have some fun pretending…

(please forgive me for my poor and unoriginal copyright/watermark… I hope to develop this more in the weeks to come…I just don’t want internet thieves to steal my work in the meantime – and a thank you goes out to Sonja for being silly with me and your excellent assistance in taking some great shots! )

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Top 40 moments//memories of 2014 as taken from my iphone

Confessional: I think I reached an all time low a couple nights ago (and I’m only halfway joking…) I’ve been back in America for a little over a month, and as an excuse for being incredibly behind on American pop culture, I spent a couple hours watching Taylor Swift music videos because she’s been referenced so much since I’ve been back… Before two nights ago, I couldn’t have told you if I had ever heard any of her songs before… ! Ack…who am I becoming?!!! I decided to do something more productive with my time, thus this post: A sort of year-in-review not as seen on Facebook, but (mostly) through my iphone4 camera (still going strong!). My trusty phone has been with me almost everywhere, in the everyday moments of life, so I felt like it was a more telling reflection of my year.
Ok, but in all seriousness – the last month has been rather slow paced for me but I’m slowly getting my strength back – And after looking back on my photos from this year, now I know why I needed this: My year has been crazy. C.R.A.Z.Y.
I moved countries – twice. It’s been a year of tumultuous change, movement, and heartache. While I’ve traveled to some pretty amazing places this year – I also cried like crazy on multiple occasions. Life has taken turns that I didn’t expect. Expectations – hopes – dreams, have all been let down – crushed – and let go of… As I sorted through my photos from this last year, I chose a lot of moments where I remembered beauty instead of grief. But often, the two are intimately tied together: In fact, it was the beauty – from nature, music, art, and meaningful connection to God and other people that brought healing in the midst of my grief.
While my life might seem pretty adventurous (and I won’t deny that!) it’s also been filled with disappointment too. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that I’m incredibly grateful for all that 2014 has brought and looking over these photos reminded me of all the incredibly good gifts from a good Father.
These photos are not necessarily the most beautiful – many are unedited and while some were instagram posts this last year – many have  never been seen. While a lot of these photos don’t include people, I could have included so, so many photos of different people who touched my life in some way over this year. I was met by such incredible kindness and grace along the way – 2014 also brought many new friendships and kindred spirits along my path and I look forward to see where these connections and experiences take me next in 2015! Happy New Year World!
Note: As you scroll down, pause over a picture to read a little note about each photo.



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