Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It's been awhile

What has prompted my return to the blog? Well, someone I admire very much and that is unfortunately something I do not say often enough. Last week I had the pleasure of listening to and shaking the hand of Arianna Huffington. A winner. Someone who against the odds, moved to a foreign country with no money, studied hard enough to enter Cambridge and after a few ups and downs just sold her blog idea to AOL for more than 350M. Yes, I admire her for that and more. She speaks on behalf of the individual in all of us. She shows you through her life and her choices that anyone can succeed with perseverance, intelligence, and humour. She spoke at a conference I was at and it was not the greatest speech you ever heard, but it was true and heartfelt. I went up to her after the conference and let her know that she had fans everywhere, pointing to my badge, showing where I currently work, and that some of us are trying very hard to lead and make a difference where it is hardest to do so, where it matters.
She looked at me, then the badge, then smiled and said, "Write about it." I was a little taken aback and merely said that if I could find a way to do so without my company firing me, I would and with that I left her to the throngs.
I thought about that for awhile. We have been here in Texas for exactly 2 years now. 1 year longer than we wanted and thought we would last. It has not been all bad, but the continuous contentious atmosphere that I must work and live in daily has not allowed us to make many friends.
It has been good for some things though. Liam has come into himself. His grades are excellent, he was elected class treasurer for next year and he is learning exactly what his future frenemies are all about. What better way to hone your political skills than to live amongst them? Angus has friends galore and sleepovers weekly. If we can just settle him into sports, that's the next piece of the puzzle. Jeroen has metamorphosed into an F level Information Architect with some serious muscle. I have met some great people and changed their lives, I hope, for the better. When I really think about me though, I cannot say I have evolved at all beyond the normal physical route that is. Grayer, stouter; yes. Smarter, different? No. I feel like I have been stuck for two years moving nowhere fast. The job is just that and the company commands no loyalty from me or others. It's hard working day to day without true interest, not that I recommend it, it's not really that fun and you have to have a very thick skin.
I guess we will call this the blog that restarts some passion in me...since it's really a blog about nothing. Seinfeldish in its substance. However; if this gets me started again 'ranting' as my friend Jorrit once told me, then at least I will have found an outlet for my apathy. Let's hope.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2010 - the year of truth, justice and my way

5 months. 5 months. That is how long it has been since my last entry. Various reasons have attributed to this, but mainly my new job is to blame. Blame being perhaps an imperfect word.

In my pursuit of doing the best I possibly can do for the largess my company sees fit to pay me, although many around me deem my paycheck normal, I, who have lived
successfully one year, granted long ago, on only $4000 a year, like to keep things in perspective. Therefore, I have been dedicating myself 9 hours a day, 5 days a week to nothing but day in day out, cubicle work. While I enjoy helping others and take umbrage in the fact that what I do is a service that makes quite a difference in the world, especially when it involves services for safety software systems for refineries in the US, I feel quite warm knowing I did my best and it will positively effect hundreds perhaps thousands of lives. That makes it worthwhile. Mostly though, I spend my days explaining process to the hundreds of lost souls (myself included) that continue to be dazed by changing and challenging issues, some technical, some human contrived. As would be expected, the human contrived processes and changes thereof are the most complex to understand and therefore explain.

For the rest of the time, I have been doing my damn best to aid my family in acclimating to this truly if not godforsaken, then let us say intelligence forsaken place some call Texas, but I like to lovingly refer to as Texass.

Don't know why really, it just fits.

It's been cold here lately, but not as cold as where we were this past Xmas.

My boys are doing well, excepting my biggest boy. He's homesick. After 3 1/2 years in the U.S., we treated ourselves to a fabulous 2 1/2 week, all expenses paid (by us) vacation back to The Netherlands. We stayed for free (paid for by my best of best friends, Angela) at her apartment, while she luxuriated on the Rio riviera costa del Brazil.
Upon our arrival snow, and it would stay with us almost the whole time. Yes, it was gray. Yes, it was cold, fiercely so at times. Yes, it was home. Yes, the people bumped into you at every turn and never said excuse me. Yes, people cut in front of you on Christmas eve and never blinked. Yes, our family & friends were met, one and all, and everyone of them swore it was as if we had never left. We travelled often on the train, opting for not renting a car since parking in Europe, period, is never fun. Yes, it was pricey, but it was also calming. No rushing. Everything in it's time. I miss that. Hubby misses that. The kids even miss that.

But what we really miss the most is the walking. Steps away, the grocer, the baker, & I swear to god, the candlestick maker. The post office, the bank, the train station, restaurants etc... all within walking distance. All in all, we probably walked an average of 3-4 miles every day while we were there and it was wonderful. To be outside, in the cold, amongst the crowds, surrounded by ancient 500 year old buildings and grey skies. I guess the moral of this particular story is that homesickness is contagious and I have caught a bit of it myself.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The great health care debacle

One of the things I cannot fathom about American's is this innate fear of taxes. It's like the last 250 years never happened?! God forbid someone takes our guns, our shopping malls or our Big Gulps (2 liter cups filled with cola!) away, but god had better be looking out for anyone who hints at raising taxes. I bring this up because the main debate now { besides the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor for Supreme Court Justice (I am for this, and any woman who is not, is mentally ill, in my very humble opinion!)} is the health care debate.

Health care in the US sucks. Everyone admits to this but they blame the insurance companies. The insurance companies blame the pharmaceutical companies and the pharmaceutical companies are rich enough to not have to say anything. They know a good thing when they see it and they know they will always be necessary. Especially to the Americans. The fat, non-exercising Americans. The Americans who blame everyone for everything but take no responsibility for themselves. These Americans, and the last guestimate has it at about 35% of 281M people, these Americans will keep the pharmaceutical companies & the insurance companies rich forever. Don't get me wrong here, there is a movement I am noticing within the health care profession to change this behavior. I myself, heard my new doctor during my first ever physical (I am exceedingly healthy by the way!), yelling at a patient to tell his wife that she doesn't need the screening Dr. Phil recommends, she needs to eat less and walk more! Hurrah! I loved him at that moment.

Getting back to these Americans, who undoubtedly still think the Red Threat is still real, they espouse the ideal that if health care is made available to all and 'reformed' that means more taxes for them. Yes, it probably does. They say that it means socialized medicine. Oh no, the "S" word. I hate to tell them, but after 3 years here and 14 years in Europe, guess what. Socialized medicine is already here. HMO's abound. Most company policies require a general physician to 'refer' to a specialist, exactly what the European systems have. Generic drugs are pushed in place of name brands. Again, socialized. Come out from the cupboards, silly people, in reality not much will change...except...

When you go to the emergency room and see only illegal aliens surrounding you, you will be able to rest in the knowledge that you will no longer have to pay $1500 for a visit ($300-500) out of your own pocket, because you have a valid social security number and give your real name and address. Why? Because everyone will pay the same basic rate. Everyone.

Insurance companies will no longer be allowed to monopolize and cartel together pricing as they have been doing for years. I bought insurance in for companies in the The Netherlands and I know they all know what each other does and bids. What a joke to think they don't. They do and they use it. With a 'social' health plan, they will now be regulated, out in the open, and unable to create crazy matrices that no one but the most skilled bridge players could possibly understand to confuse consumers. They will have guidelines and they will have to play ball or they will lose the game. I like this. This is American. Looking out for the little man and screw the insurance companies.

Lastly, with health reform comes the comforting knowledge that everyone will receive at least basic health care. No longer will single mothers and fathers, kids and especially, the elderly giving up one meal a day so they can stay on their diabetes medication. That's the most important cause of all. Everyone still asks me if I want to go back to Europe and my answer is still unequivocally yes. If for nothing else, for the health safety net that saved my son's life 14 years ago and continues to be better than anything American has yet to offer.

Having said that, my bonus next year will be spent on some land near Seattle. I seem to have left a piece of my heart back there and I intend to see it once in awhile.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The best laid plans of mice and me...

Well, just sit right back and you'll hear a tale. A tale of a faithful trip. That started in Seattletown and ended in Texas.

A few months ago I promised you pages regarding the differences separating Europe from the United States of America. Well, nothing can be more different than the sheer vastness of this country. The distance that we traveled, 2300 miles or 3700 kilometers for my European friends, in a mere 8 days, raises eyebrows but not here. For a land where more than 70% of all gainfully employed individuals still have and/or take less than 2 weeks vacation per year, this is normal. For us, it was tiring at best, necessary at worst. I will not turn this into a travelguide...boring!...but will try to highlight here some of the other differences we came upon on the road. Most of California is home to nothing but desert, prisons, and agriculture. It would be Spain if there was any culture, but there isn't. Los Angeles continues to be an over-exhorbitant pool of humanity, but since my last visit in 1997, I am pleased to report that the 'cess' in front of the 'pool' may now be left off. It's still random and a place without a true identity, but it's not greasy anymore, at least not to me. I could never live there, but after this trip, I kind of understand why some do. Kind of. Especially since I have now discovered family there. First cousins. Chad & Dean. Sons of Al & Barbara Restum; Al being the brother of my biological father, Willie Restum, whom I never met. I never regretted that decision but since meeting Al in 2006 in D.C., have wanted very much to meet my cousins. I don't have any on my mothers side. 2nd cousins, yes, but not first. Chad & Dean don't have any other firsts but me either. It was an intense and altogether monumental occasion for me. I hope the start of a wonderful relationship with them and their families, whom I also felt immediately at home with (thank you Justine & Alexis!!!) We even joked about being jarabs (jewish arabs) and I learned why I have been addicted to Hummus since the age of 10. It's in the blood.

Legoland, Carlsbad, California is run with exactly the same amount of nonchalance that I expect from Legoland, Denmark. That was surprising. The service was there, but it was late or not in a hurry. Could be the Hispanic influence here, which brings up another point. God bless the Hispanics. When I look at the western European people en masse here in America, I can only be thankful that the immense blending of Hispanic blood with the Anglo-saxon blood here will save humanity as we know it. The people in San Diego are Hisposaxon, I suppose. They are healthy, multi-lingual, attractive and interesting. Growing up in Las Vegas in the 70's, I still remember being taught that a good American asked any Mexican looking individual to show their green card. I am not making this up. Probably the reason I became a Republican at 18, after such an indoctrination, who can blame me? It was my generation's McCarthyism.

What we learned on this trip and here in Houston as well, is that we all need to be thankful for the mixing of the cultures. I truly believe that it will be the saving grace of this country and will hopefully obliterate the intolerant fundamentalist idiotic right that has taken over the Republican party once and for all. At least, I'm going to throw myself on this bandwagon and carry the tune as loudly and as far as I can. America is now more than ever a true melting pot and we are liking it. For the first time in years, this trip has opened my eyes to an America I thought long dead. One where people talk to each other on the streets about everything. Where conversation lives between old and young on corners everywhere while waiting for lights or in the line at the supermarket. I saw two perfectly coifed larger black women today with ice creams, and we joked for a few minutes about it as if we had been best friends forever. I love that. It makes me feel alive and I love sharing that feeling. I stood in line at Legoland and met a wonderful woman who after 10 minutes of talking, found out she lived 20 minutes from our new home in Texas and we exchanged cards. I will definitely be calling them. I have already been shown my realtor's new grandbaby's pictures and purchased 3 bouquets of flowers for those at work whom I feel have gone above and beyond the standard procedure for helping out a new hire. This openness of communication, I have always missed in Holland. Many times I have tried to start conversations, all over, only to be politely but decisively rebuffed. The dutch do not get it. The English, neither. Belgiums and south, yes, but the Americans, definitely, especially in the South. Oh, glory be, that's where we are. Maybe this will all turn out well, after all?

Before I go, I should get factual about something. The last blog was all about our new house. Well, scratch it all. Short but sweet, the story is as follows. The lenders in the US will indeed loan only the asking price/appraisal value of the house, so since that house needed new flooring and a pool still, I found another house that had both already done. Yes, pricier by $50K but no problem for the lender. I saw the house the day I flew back to Seattle and my awesome Realtor had the contract ready and waiting. House visit: 12p.m.. Contract signed: 1p.m.. Trip to Airport 3p.m.. Contract signed by Seller: 4p.m.. Cancellation contract signed and faxed to first house seller 5p.m.. Airplane boarded to Seattle 6p.m. It was a crazy day. Suffice it to say, we have signed for a gorgeous house, with pool and wood floors in my first choice neighbourhood. What more can I ask? Instead of pictures, I have included the link for the virtual tour. Enjoy and book your flight. We're hoping to be in there by the end of July...


Saturday, June 6, 2009

First week in Houston

June 6, 2009. One week later. The time flew by, literally. I know I promised in the beginning that this journal of mine would be a comparison between America and Europe. I think we need to add Texas. It will now be a comparison between America, Europe, & Texas. I have come to learn in just the short time I have been here, that Texas is indeed, not quite America. Definitely not Europe. Wait, stop. Before this all takes on a cynical or even negative vibe, let me end it. I have been thusfar, extremely & happily surprised by Texas, or at least Katy in general. I should say Houston, but since I have been existing on the edges of the city and mainly circling the Katy suburb in my efforts to find a house for the last week, while full-time working of course, I do not yet dare say anything about Houston. That will come next.

Katy, however, is our suburb of choice. 10 miles from work. 10 miles from the biggest park I have seen in quite some time, the George HW Bush State Park, and my family's future home. Yes, as many of you are now aware, I am manic in my pursuit of anything. Once bitten, never shy. Oh no, all the more reason to get back on that horse and FLY! Nothing gets me going more than a challenge. Except perhaps 2 or 3 challenges all at the same time. Try to talk to me then! Oh, right, most of you have, sorry about those times, truly. After one week here, and looking at over 17 houses in 5 days, including 2 bids, I have a house. My family will NOT be sleeping under the bridge or panhandling along the freeway. This has concerned me, needless to say, to the point of only getting about 4 hours of sleep a night. By Thursday, I looked hellish, to say the least. Last night, however, I slept like a rose, for 8 hours straight. It was glorious.

Anyway, here's my new home. As long as the loan closes within the next 3 weeks, it will be ours by July 15th.

It has 4 bedrooms, 2 1/2 bathrooms and a ginormous backyard. It's on a cul-de-sac and every other house has children. All this for 190K euro. What a life. It does not yet have a pool, but plenty of room to build our own. It needs some loving on the inside, all new flooring; must get rid of that beautiful light blue carpet circa 1993 that's begging to be put out of it's misery and we get a new fridge. Not bad. Plenty of room for all of you to come visit. What's that? You won't come to the hottest place on earth if there's no pool. Well, what if I were to tell you that we have 8 community pools. That's right, 8. Including this beach pool which the powers of Cinco Ranch (our development area) deigned to make in order to ensure that we have everything we ever wanted, including a beach...in the middle of a lake. Whatever. Now that's America Goddamn it. A house like this in Holland would cost 4 times as much and forget the pools. Do they have outside pools still? There is one in Ijmuiden, so I guess they are around. I have to say I am more amused by it than anything else, but I will be utilizing the 'Beach' Pool, so I guess I support it as well, right? Anywho...no excuses, you're all coming to visit. End of discussion. Start booking the flights. It's 95/33 degrees here everyday, so what more incentive do you want?

Work has been great so far, not that I've done much, but what a training! My new colleagues are wonderful and very professional. They all keep saying that I am fitting in just fine, and I must admit I didn't expect anything less, really. Thank god I really like people, right? Wait a second...Uhhhhh, sorry about that, just had to scratch one of the 4 new bug bites I received today on my feet. They love my feet and legs. Crazy. I cannot wait until my blood desugarizes enough so that they go somewhere else. Where was I, oh yes, work. There is a bit of the US vs them (UK) mentality going on and hopefully as a lost american european, I will be able to soothe the relationship somewhat. Wednesday I leave to go back to Seattle and get the boys. I have missed them but definitely did the right thing in coming down here the first 2 weeks alone. I would never have been able to achieve as much as I have with them here too.

Looking forward to the trip very much. Hopefully, I will have time to update along the road. Jeroen actually mentioned. trying to Twitter. Boy, is that lost on me. I'm on it, but I have yet to use it. Seems so superfluous and silly, really.

Oh, before I go, let me share the best part of my week. I walked over to the beautiful new fitness center my work sponsors and the girl (not above 25) looked at me when I asked for information, and said, well you won't need a physical assessment since you're obviously not over 40....I am still smiling.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My first day of not working. It feels great. I have taken the boys to school, done the dishes (by hand), packed two suitcases for the trip to Houston, cleared the storage room downstairs and it's 9.45a.m. What do people do with themselves when they retire? I think I'll volunteer with Greenpeace again and sail the South Pacific this time. Hopefully, that's still a ways away though.

The picture I have added here is Harrison Lake in Canada. I spent a wonderful girls weekend away with 3 super colleagues & (I hope still) good friends from Weyerhaeuser. Why do I say "I hope still" good friends? Well, I am going to fast forward for a moment to explain. Yesterday the boys and I biked 6 miles down to the Chittendon Locks in Ballard. Same old locks, but they have been around since 1907 and were actually quite impressive. Water up, water down. hundreds of boats waiting to go in and go out, since it was actually above 75 degrees yesterday, that's 22 celsius for my european friends. Anyway, all four of us started to cross over the passenger bridge to the other side when one of the dockside Captains yelled to clear the bridge. I was in the front and not quite halfway across. I immediately turned around and said c'mon, we'd better hurry!
I then proceeded to jog across. When I reached the other side and the alarm signal started to go off to clear the pedestrian traffic, I turned for Angus and saw that Jeroen had brought them back to the other side. When I asked Jeroen later why he didn't continue on, he said he didn't think he'd make it. That never even entered my mind. I knew I would; simple as that. Time for a quiet epiphany I thought. Life is not usually easy for me. I am the overachiever trying so hard to please a world of folk who, for the most part, are not. I get that. I accept it. The problem in my life has always been getting others to accept this.

Let's go back to the weekend. 4 very smart and more or less successful women. 4 very different women with me being, and this is not usual for me, the most liberal and least conservative of the bunch. I realized this weekend that many little things I take for granted, shouldn't be. I also realized, yet again, that people are so very complex, yet products of their environment. I believe strongly that people who travel are also more open for conflict and other views of life; this was also validated this weekend. I have always wondered how people can be so sure of themselves and so certain of their views when they lead secular lives? I try to understand that, but have come to acknowledge and I think accept that those are not the people I can be around. I just don't get it. The problem now comes in. I have also learned that it is very possible and in my case highly probable to care very much for such people. Feelings have no basis in fact and that is absolute.

A discussion arose this weekend concerning the church and how this last year as parishioner's at Liam & Angus's school has absolutely convinced Jeroen of his Atheism. I must admit that the few times I went, I also felt a fake, just by sitting there.

Where do we draw the line? Almost everyone we have met this past year was fantastic. They almost all believe exclusively that Jesus is their savior and that the Church is a good thing. How is it possible that I am able to have drinks, barbecues, auctions, etc... with them and enjoy myself when I completely disavow everything they believe in? How are they able to do the same with a non-congregational Jew who still is not sure that her traditional jewish values hold water?

Christian: I have Jesus in my heart. I'm sorry to hear that. I can't help you but I believe they're working on a cure. Christian: No, I don't need to be cured, I have come to save you. Ahh... That bad eh. It may be terminal then. Christian: Do you believe in God? Nope. I've been clean for 15 years. Now if only I could get rid of all my other addictions.

Is it truly hypocritical or is it something new that globalization has brought along, enabling us all to work & live together more in harmony? Should it be like this? I think the mormons are killing this country. I don't think believing in an Alien creator and not drinking coke gives them a leg up. However, there is no denying that you or I have yet to meet a mormon on Welfare and I dare say not many of the homeless are of that sect. That could be because they kill them off behind the closed doors of their temples that we common non-mormon folk are not allowed into...who would know, right? Who would care actually? I mean one Mitt Romney is enough, right?

Anyway, I do not mean to sound callous, but wait a second, maybe I do? That's my conundrum this week for sure. When have I said enough and when do I need to say it all?

Next Monday, I start my new job and like any good soldier I will start out not quite as heated as usual, taking in the lay of the land before I start trying to change the world...again. I guess as long as I do not give up actually trying to change the world, to better the world as much as I can, I will be happy. I only hope I do not alienate too many people along the way...or do I actually hope that at all?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Yeeha, Texas here we come! (Shouldn't someone call and warn them?)

I have been dropping hints here and there and for many of you this is no surprise.
Yes, the saga continues and we are moving on to the next State having already seen 20 in 3 years. It seems that there is a certain Energy company (largest UK company!) that believes I am exactly what they need in order to make a profound difference in their IT procurement department.
I am starting to get very excited and can only hope that I live up to their ideals. Actually, I am looking forward to the next part of my career and thankfully have a family that accede to my schedule and share my sense of adventure. Goodbye Seattle. We'll miss you so very much and all the wonderful friends we've made, but now at least our new friends stuck behind in indeed the gloomiest and rainiest city in the world!!, will have another warm weather destination for cheap vacations!!
We are, of course, a little worried about how we are all going to fit in down there, but then again, with 5 million people, someone somewhere should be like us, right? My only fervent hope and desire is that this time, we manage to stay put for awhile. 4 moves in 4 years across half the world, well, even I am ready for a few years off.
We will be traveling to Houston, our new home, in June via California, Las Vegas, New Mexico and Texas. We will meet new family, see old friends and finally go to Legoland (at Angus's bequest!). We will have a house with a pool, I will be working long hours and traveling often. The boys will NOT develop an accent, and we will retain our liberal socio-economic beliefs. For the rest, the ball is in the air and we're open to anything.
Smile for us and remember the Alamo!