What are the odds?

For those of you who don't know, about five years ago I was a contestant on "Wheel of Fortune." And for those of you who don't get that reference, "WoF" is a popular, long-running game show in the US where contestants spin a wheel and attempt to solve a word puzzle by guessing letters. It was a successful adventure, all told. Though I wasn't the big winner, I did win enough money to pay off my car and I won a trip up the California coast on the back of a Harley Davidson. That was cool.

What made me think of this little nugget in the Katie chronicles? I was pondering the idea of luck. I say I am lucky all the time, and I am. Lucky to live in Europe, where I don't have to live with the conservative majority on the US Supreme Court, lucky to work in a place where I can thrive, lucky to know such creative and funny people, lucky that I come from a family of fighters, lucky that my boyfriend reads more than I do but is nice enough to let me tag more books on goodreads (because it is the nerdiest competition ever), and lucky to be aware that I am lucky.

But there is a strange poignancy to luck too. Tonight, as I stopped at a red light, I looked on the light post and saw a sticker that said "Bitterzoet" with a horrid logo accompanying the word. And I know enough Dutch to know that means, "Bittersweet," and I connected enough dots to think, "Jeff had a company called "Bittersuite" and he would HATE that logo." And I smiled because I am lucky enough to have gathered experiences that make me react to that stupid, random sticker when most people would ride right past. Sometimes the things I tend to bury are the things that bring meaning. And if you are open, you see meaning everywhere.

This summer is my 20 year high school reunion. I did a Google search, found the web site for the event and was amazed at how happy I was to see photos and read updates from people I knew then -- to be honest, I have far more memories of people in middle school than high school and I am lucky (there it is again) that most people who have posted updates are people I knew from those earlier years. Ten years ago I was so defensive and afraid to go to the reunion for some reason. I honestly can't remember why, but I was a million forms of brittle then. Now? Not so much. I wish I could go back for it because I realize that these people - these hundreds of people (big class) -- have a strange finite period of time in absolute common with me and I have to believe that they have lost some of the defensive bullshit just like I did. It would be great to just sit and ask for details. To see photos of children, to congratulate success, commiserate about failure and to talk about new beginnings. I don't care if I knew them in high school or not!

We are all lucky. We all defy the odds in some way. Maybe getting through the defensive bad times and emerging grateful on the other side is what luck is all about. That and knowing when to buy a vowel.


Happy Birthday Cancer!

HSF goes formal this month. Enjoy, my moonchild friends!


Oh the glamour of it all.

When I tell people in the US that I ride my bike to work every day, they ask the inevitable question, "Even when it rains?" I say yes, even when it rains and launch into the detailed description of my giant poncho and matching rain pants that keep me dry on wet days. And the description ends with the following anecdote: "I arrive at the office dripping water off my rubber suit and think to myself, 'I used to be glamorous.' " And while true, I do say that every time, I am usually also smiling and feeling really tough at the same time. Maybe it isn't glamorous, but it is cool to ride through and shake your fist at the elements -- only not literally because all that rain makes for some slippery roads.

Back to the utilitarian garb. It was surprising to be stopped as I walked out of the office the other day sporting the poncho and bare legs (the beauty of humidity). A woman was on her bike, waiting for someone to come out of the building and called, "Lady!" after I passed her. I turned around (expecting to be told I had dropped something or asked if I could give her a euro), and she said, "That jacket is really cool. Where did you get it?" My jaw dropped so far that I could barely get out, "Hema."

I am accustomed to getting complements on my shoes, but never expected a complement on a poncho that is so big you could fit a pony underneath. Goes to show that you never know where goodness will come from.

And on another, less rubber, more natural, note, here is a photo of my back garden before I ripped it apart last week. I looked for gnomes when I was in there, but the wily creatures hid from me. I left the giant plant/weed alone so I could keep staring at the rad flowers it makes.


Katie Holmes = Bobtabulous!

Love the haircut. Love the dress. Love the shoes.

Hooters McGhee looks like she rummaged through the clearance rack at Forever 21 in a fit of depressed lunch hour shopping in comparison.

But back to Katie. Perhaps I love her whole look right now because she reminds me of my friend Lisa.
Lisa has all the style and cuteness but she also has charisma AND the ability to glide across the floor holding three champagne glasses AND a husband who only believes in aliens as a source of entertainment, "Battlestar Gallactica" way, not in a religious leader sort of way. But I digress. Lisa = original Bobtastic lady.

And speaking of digression, it is nice to see that Tom and David have the same shoes. Do you think they picked them out together?


A year recap, in alphabetical order

I tried to come up with some clever way to mark my year anniversary. And, falling short of clever, I thought this was good enough. Enjoy, and if you have any suggestions for missing letters, I would love to hear them.

Albert Cuyp Market:
My local spot for vegetables and other assorted sundries. Crowded with humanity each Saturday and the source for the best feta-stuffed peppers in the world.

Barrie's Weekly Music List: I discovered two of my favorite albums of the year through my colleague Barrie and his weekly list of musical gems. The editorial that accompanies the songs features great writing, even if I don't understand many of his cultural references. Apparently my knowledge of British pop culture is limited to the Gallagher brothers and Baby Spice. Who the heck is Jordan???

Colette: The boutique of cool in Paris that Jonna took me to. All good yo.


Eerste jan van der Heijdenstraat: my street. I depended on the phonetic spelling for about a month after moving here.

Fietsen: to cycle. One of the smartest things I did when I moved was buy a bike right away and start riding. I quickly got used to the unique Amsterdam method of sharing the road (this is the same method used when buying anything at the markets or getting on a tram); "Pretend you are the only one on the planet and accomplish your objective with focus and determination." It's funny how you can survey a four-way intersection for other bikes, cars and pedestrians while not making direct eye contact with any of them. And I love ringing my bell at clueless tourists who stop and stand still in the middle of the street. Some of them jump really high!

The Greenhouse: I am not much of a smoker, but there is something strangely satisfying about sitting under a photo of red-eyed Jon Bon Jovi and on a plushy velvet sofa when enjoying the rare evening at a coffeeshop. This sort of decadence was made for Paris circa 1928. Except for the JBJ. He's more Jersey 1988.

Hobbemakade Canal: the canal closest to my apartment. Each morning I check on the swimming baby ducks on my way to work and grin like a crazy woman.

Ij: Pronounced EYE -- the body of water you cross via ferry to reach the monthly flea market in the North. Fabulous 15 minute trip with bargains on the other side.


Kroller-Muller Museum: I have written about this museum located in the middle of a Dutch national park many times, as it is my most favorite place. It gave me Barbara Hepworth and Theo van Doesburg and happy sunny afternoons riding around on white bikes with my friends.

Light: Never have I lived in a place where I stop and exclaim about the quality of the sunlight so often. Amazingly beautiful and constantly changing.


North American Sports Network: I pay extra cable fees for the opportunity to watch baseball and football games play live late at night. Falling asleep while watching the Superbowl at 1am with my head resting on Tom's lap is a lovely memory.


Pate of the Week: Available at the local supermarket chain. I have been exposed to the most delicious varieties of pate this year. Favorite meal is still pate, fresh bread, steamed green beans and a glass of white wine. Or three glasses.

Queen's Day: Biggest one-day garage sale in the world and everyone wears orange. How could I not love it?

Roadbump Blog: My sister's journey through breast cancer -- from diagnosis through treatment. So brave and so well written.

Schipol Airport: Because with rare exceptions, every time I have been there I have been greeting people I love, leaving for an adventure or just returning from one. And there is an H&M there!

Trains: As anti-social as it might sound, I love riding the trains and listening to random songs on my iPod. On my first train trip of the year, I heard Dave Brubeck playing in time with spinning windmills on my way to Brussels. On my last train trip of the year, I heard Arcade Fire singing about black mirrors in French on my way to Paris.


Visiting: Brussels, Prague, Barcelona, Sevilla, Cologne, Antwerp, Florence, Paris, plus three visits to New York City and two to Portland. And I wish I had done more.

Work: Both at Wieden+Kennedy and in the darker moment of solitude. I am so grateful that I didn't give up on this place or on myself. And I thought very seriously about doing both.


Zwart Pete: The holiday season was made all the more surreal by the surprise appearance of Zwart Pete(s), the assistant(s) to Sinterklaas. Two black-faced, androgynous characters in large hoop earrings and pantaloons arrive to take naughty children back with them to Spain. I was biking home late at night in early December and passed two Zwart Petes standing silently by the side of the road, holding large beers. One of the strangest and coolest moments I experienced here in the crazy place called the 'Dam.


Homeward bound -- back the other way

I made it back to the Dam safe and sound. The flights were uneventful and I managed to sleep over the Atlantic. My apartment greeted me fondly, the monster plant in the backyard grew to about 8 feet tall and made Queen Anne's Lace-type blossoms while I was gone and I desperately need to unpack from New York before even trying to unpack from this one.

I am so very glad that I went to Portland last week. I was able to sit and listen to my sister describe what she has endured since the cancer diagnosis and I got to try and shave her head with a razor on Monday night. She is plugging along and doing great, though I can't imagine the discomfort that she has to live with all the time. I briefly saw my parents and spent a few nice hours with my brother's family as well -- all good.

Let me say that Xander Bolt Helfrey is about the cutest baby of all time. Stacy seems so happy and I am way confident that he will be the kid with the greatest onesies in the neighborhood.

I saw my friends from W+K and enjoyed the lovefest that is that office. Some of the funniest, most talented, nicest people in the world.

There was also tax paying, which was overdue and hanging over my head for a long time. Closing that door was brilliant.

And speaking of brilliance, my friends! My amazing friends! Such beauty there.

Beauty is here too, as I realized when I came back yesterday afternoon. Come visit!


Homeward bound

Off to Portland tomorrow for a fast week's visit. I am eager to see my sister, family and friends. It feels different this time, as the tone in my head of the Christmas visit was very, "Katie returns home triumphant. All hail Katie," at least in retrospect. This time I am going back to check in and to help where I can -- to see the people I love and briefly wade in their changing rivers of life. Oh puke! That sentence was so cheesy. But true.

And since I am on the over the top analogy train, here is another, brought to you by my friend Marco: we all have a mental junk drawer where we shove the things we don't want to see right now. Like any other junk drawer, it fills up after a while. Occasionally we need to sort through it and dispose of the outdated post-it notes and twisted paper clips. But the big things -- the things that sometimes keep the drawer from opening all the way -- have to be eventually put away where they belong.

Isn't that lovely? I hope that I can sort out my junk drawer on this trip -- that I can clear away the bits and bobs and put some of the big things away where they belong. Then I can come back home and enjoy the wonders of an Amsterdam summer.