The universe gives a birthday present

Birthday sparkles at Moeders.

I wrote about being taught the phrase "en 'shallah" when I was in Egypt, but I didn't expand on how valuable the idea "if God wills it" would become in the weeks after I returned back to Amsterdam from holiday.

While I was away, there were several layoffs made in the company, much to everyone's surprise. Long story short, when I returned to the office, I was told that I was being let go as well. Though I worked very, very hard this last year, the job I was doing was a casualty of client changes. There is no way that anyone working in advertising can possibly believe that their job is ever safe with all the variables that come into play in this industry, but it was sad news.

"Guitar Hero," I will miss you most of all!

Fortunately, Tom was hired by a Dutch company when we were in Paris, so he can sponsor me and we can stay in Amsterdam. I don't know what I am going to do yet, but I have some ideas that are kicking around. There is no hurry to find a new job, so I want to make certain that I give this decision the attention it deserves.

Freddie Mercury showing off his Queen's Day crown before we left the office.

Friday was my last day at the office, followed by my birthday on Sunday and tomorrow is Tom's first day at his new office, so there are plenty of changes and celebrations afoot. I found a spot for my Freddie Mercury doll in the apartment (whew!) and was feted in grand style by my friends. And tomorrow Rabito and I will hang out together and figure out our routine.

Matthew and Maureen gave me a set of "Gnarly Teeth," which livens up a dinner like nothing else. How great to have friends willing to ass out in public for the silliness of it all.

My first goal of unemployment will be perfecting the basic crepe. Tom gave me a beautiful pan, but my first foray into crepe-making yielded lumpy batter and alien shapes, so I am going to spend an entire day trying out different recipes and combinations. Tom will come home from work and I will force-feed him 20 crepes while demanding to know every small detail of his day. Or maybe a better idea will be an impromptu afterwork party for my friends where they just stop by and pick up some crepes on their way home. That sounds better. And less crazy.

There is nothing but opportunity waiting for us around the corner, but so much freedom can be a little daunting, especially when work has been the defining aspect to my time here. It will be a different Amsterdam once spring arrives and I will actually get to enjoy it, en 'shallah.


Paris - in pictures

After my return from Egypt, I said farewell to Allison and hopped a train for Paris with Tom and Rabito. We had a lovely time, made all the better by the parental bonus, as my mom and dad were in the city for a few days before leaving on a tour through Italy. I will let the captions tell the story of the trip.

Rabito was a wonder dog on this trip. He slept in our laps on the four hour train ride, walked all over the city with us, sat calmly under restaurant tables and charmed the French ladies with his white boots.

My beautiful mom, at her birthday lunch at the fabulous Le Hangar.

Tom in front of the Louvre. I love this picture.

The waiter said, "Large beer." Tom thought, "What can the French know about large beers? I am from the land of large beers, surely I know better!" Hello hubris? This is beer calling. Je suis très grand.

Bito on the metro.

Tom getting a job and looking suave.

Mom, dad and Tom in the metro tunnel.

Beautiful sky. Beautiful city.



Allison and I were given a beautiful gift on our last day in Egypt. The man who had sold us the snorkel trip with Red Sea Aqua Center on the first beach day would stop by to chat every subsequent day we were there. Kimo was very interested in why an American would live in Europe and was interesting to speak with him about being Egyptian surrounded by tourists on all-inclusive sun holidays. His wife is an Austrian Catholic, which interested Allison, since her boyfriend is Saudi and living in Michigan as his sister's chaperon. Lots of good chats.

Anyway. On our last day, Kimo said, "If you learn one Arabic phrase, it should be this: 'En 'shallah,' which means "If God wills it." You will hear us say this very often in conversation -- whenever we wish or want something to happen, we say this phrase."

Allison and I looked at each other and repeated the phrase to each other. It is indeed the perfect mantra to chant when flying from sun and laughter and sea back to reality and the unknown future. It will be the gift of that trip and I send all my gratitude back to Kimo for sharing it with us.

We managed to stay on the plane all the way to its final destination in Amsterdam that night, which seemed like an accomplishment. Allison was shocked by the inconsideration of the Dutch --- standing in a group in the aisle, talking very loudly about nothing while people all around them are trying to sleep (the flight left at 10:30pm and landed at 3:30am), pushing their way into lines, being generally as they are. My boys greeted me at home with a welcome home sign on the door and lots of tail wagging. What a week -- next year again, but for longer. My only hope is I will have a traveling companion as wonderful, funny, adventurous, smart and entertaining as Allison.

En 'shallah.


Red Sea fishes

After almost a week away from Egypt, my memories are starting to blur together. I will try to capture the last days of our holiday before moving into the next phase of my time off work - ma famille à Paris.

On Monday Alison and I went snorkeling with the Red Sea Aqua Center. We met at their boats right by the resort and headed out around 8:30. For some reason, I have never snorkeled in nice weather, and this day was no exception. It was cloudy and windy, and while it was still shorts weather, it wasn't bask in the bright sun weather. We went to four places to see different fish in different snorkeling conditions -- the first was from Paradise Island, where you walk into the sea and directly into a fairly beaten up reef. The only snorkeling experience I had previously was in Hawaii where the message, "Don't touch the coral! You'll kill it!!" is repeated loudly and often. Here, there are so many tourists from so many places and the ecological aspect of tourism hasn't really sunk in yet, so it took some effort to get out beyond the damage caused by people and see the good fish. Fortunately our guide took a liking to me and led me out to the far reef where I saw a puffer fish (shaped like a box with rounded corners, not unlike many Russians), a giant clam (Rock Lobster!!), a stone fish, a clown fish and many, many other cool fishes.

The Napoleon Fish

The second, third and fourth stops weren't beaches, but spots to jump directly from the boat. We saw a Napoleon fish on the second stop -- it must have been at least three feet long and its lips are huge! The colors of the fish were amazing and the water was crystal clear so visibility was great. At the third stop one of the other guides brought me over to see the Morey eel coming up from the rocky bottom. Huge. Scary. So cool. By the third stop I was free diving down as far as I could along the sides of the reef. I was able to focus on smaller fish this way and look at the patterns created by different sizes and colors of fish all swimming together. Under water paradise -- no apologies for how cheesy that sounds because it really was.

The fourth stop involved jellyfish that were pink and about 6 - 8 inches long. One brushed my neck and caused little prickles on my skin - which didn't hurt as much as freak me out. I can handle swimming with creatures that have eyes and teeth, but give me a eyeless blob and I get out of the water faster than Roy Scheider.

My preference for free diving over snorkeling on top of the reef makes me think that scuba diving may be for me, so I've set it as a goal to get certified before going back to Egypt next year. Spending a day swimming amidst beautiful fish in the Red Sea (hello again Moses!) was special for me. More than once I gave thanks for my life and the crazy bundle of circumstances and choices that got me in that ocean at that moment.



When we last left our travelers, they were journeying across the Arabian Desert in a tour bus convoy on their way to Luxor. At Qina, the topography changed dramatically from dry dust to green fields, as the convoy turned left and traveled through the Nile River Valley, along the canal that runs parallel to the river. As the buses pass through villages, all bridges are closed and oncoming traffic must stop, which adds to the whole surreal aspect to the trip and provides some excellent photo opportunities. The largest crop in this part of the valley is sugar cane, which we saw piled on donkey carts, while the robed cart driver waited on the bridge for the tourists to go by. Lot of livestock and houses along the canal -- one dead cow floating in the water -- and lots of life happening there too. Twas cool and reminded me in a strange way of Chama, New Mexico and the people I met there during my two visits for holy week.

Our first stop in Luxor were the Karnak Temples, where I was gobsmacked by the enormity of the buildings, as well as how well preserved the hieroglyphics are. They are so clear and the colors are still in evidence in many places, which surprised me too. These temples are 4000 years old! I can't keep my hair colored for six weeks! Owl figures (hurrah!) are carved into the walls ("M" in hieroglyph), as well as other birds that are instantly recognizable. One part of the temples had some sections devoted to different kinds of birds and other sections devoted to different kinds of plants. These were the original locations of these carvings -- they weren't moved close together later -- so I imagine that this little area was the Audubon book of its time. I really can't do it justice in words. Seeing the huge statues and obelisks and everything else there baking in the sun was fairly amazing. Much different than seeing the same Egyptian treasures in one of many northern museums.

After Karnak Temples we drove through Luxor, which gave us a good view of "real" life; albeit one that depends heavily on tourists. We stopped for lunch and then went on to the Valley of the Kings, a valley in Thebes where the tombs of approximately 63 kings and nobles from the 16th through the 11th century BC are located. We saw two tombs and, again, I was amazed at how detailed the work is and the beauty of the colors. And I loved watching the Russian guy get his camera taken away after he took a photo in one of the tombs, which is a HUGE no-no.

I didn't take this photo inside the tomb, but found it on the website of someone who doesn't follow travel rules. Bad man! Bad!

We then drove to the Temple of Queen Hatchepsut after leaving the Valley of the Kings. This temple, unlike the Karnak temples, is built on three terrace levels directly into the hillside.
Each level is connected with ramps, and from the top-most level you get an amazing view of the valley. It is beautiful and surprising to see such vibrant green in patches of irrigated land amidst the brown of the desert.

There was some driving after this visit, which culminated in a 30 minute boat ride on the Nile as the sun was setting. How cool is that? The boats were small and bright and there was so much to see. After the heat of the day (it was Africa hot, after all), it was lovely to be on the water, even fairly polluted water. And then it was back on the bus for the convoy back to Hurghada.

It was a tiring day that ended at 11:30. There was so much to take in and I look forward to posting some photos to help explain the trip. Well worth while! Tomorrow: snorkeling in the Red Sea. I saw this:


Egypt days 3 and part of 4

Day three of the Egypt adventure brought more hours baking on the beach and by the pool. We went to a nicer place to eat (still included, but there were several hoops to jump through before we were allowed to partake). Kofta kebabs grilled over charcoal, giant spoonfuls of hummus AND baklava for dessert? Couscous, fish AND delicious cucumber and tomato salad with yogurt? Oh yes. We gorged ourselves.

Today we went to Luxor, which meant getting on a bus at 5:40am. I had heard that all buses travel in a caravan across the desert, but I was not prepared for the seriousness of it. When I thought of a "convoy" I pulled the imaginary semi-truck horn and thought of the novelty song from the 70s (when CB radio was king), but after today, I will think of 50+ tour buses gathering in a secured gravel lot 60 kilometers from Hurghada and leaving together with armed police at the front, at the back and in two cars that patrol the middle. Lots of machine guns.

The drive through the desert took a few hours and was highly surreal, made all the more surreal by the Myers Elementary School 4th grade curriculum in 1978. While other children learned about ancient Egyptians, our hippified teachers thought we should spend the year learning about the Bedouins, Egypt's desert nomads. I get that we were in an "experimental" school, what with the open plan classrooms and reading and math "pods", and I even tip my hat to the idea that kids should learn about nomads and such, but spending a year's worth of social studies hours on the Bedouins seemed like overkill.

That is until we made our only WC and coffee stop about an hour into the convoy trip. Enterprising Bedouins were waiting for us with camels, donkeys, goats and little girls, all decorated in bright colors, for a manufactured photo op. There was that moment of thinking, "I shouldn't support this - it is essentially begging." And then that moment was beaten down with the realization, "That may possibly be the most pretentious thought ever!" Because it isn't begging, but taking advantage of an opportunity, and I know, thanks to the overabundance of Bedouin lessons, that opportunity didn't come often to desert. More to come later - temples, Nile river, my love of hot weather, snorkeling in the Red Sea, bartering and the perfume debacle along with other assorted gems. Must sleep now.


Rolling with the Ruskies

Hurghada, Egypt: day 2
Checklist of things seen today at resort filled with 80 percent Russians:
- Mesh top on round man
- Plethora of sparkle on every possible piece of clothing
- Men who look suspiciously like Putin
- Teenage girls who look suspiciously like Ivanka Trump
- Leopard print banana hammock highlighting a very pink and fairly large bum
- Grandma in floor length paisley caftan and babushka. I almost rolled her for the outfit
- young son of banana hammock with Kagol hat, gold chain and shoulder tattoo. He was maybe 7 years old.

The best people watching ever! Food good. Hotel good. Company beyond fabulous. Sun present and accounted for. I swam in the Red Sea today and thought of Moses. All is good.


Traveling to Egypt - a primer of sorts

Greetings from Hurghada, where Allison, my intrepid friend from Michigan, and I are spending the next five days. It was a long day, filled with adventures, and a few lessons learned. In the spirit of sharing equals caring, here is my list of memorable moments.

1. The airport in Amsterdam now boasts several Starbucks. Those among you who are disdainful of the homogenization of the global culture can pretty much suck balls right now because my first Dutch-made Chai Tea Latte was freaking delicious. Sorry for the crass language mom.

2. When booking a package tour in a non-English speaking country, be prepared to not hear English spoken on your journey. This is especially true if you are on a charter flight, as we were. Transavia is a Dutch airline, but surely all instructions are given in English as well as Dutch, right? Nee, danke u wel

I managed to muddle through the ordering of the prosecco and Pringles without too much problem, and was feeling fairly cocky about my comprehensive abilities when the plane landed and some people disembarked.

3. When half the plane is staying in their seats (keep in mind that these are Dutch people staying in their seats - a people not famous for orderly mass exits), AND all announcements are made in a (still) unfamiliar language, it is a good idea to ask a flight attendant what is going on instead of joining the group and exiting the aircraft.

4. When the man looking at your itinerary in the airport says, "You got off the plane too soon. This is Marsa Alan, not Hurghada," I recommend reacting like Allison did: "You're kidding, right?" That made everybody laugh! And no, they weren't kidding. Who knew the plane made multiple stops? Clearly not the non-Dutch speaking kids!

5. Get a ride back to the plane in a beat up pick-up with a very nice airport employee. Talk about a walk of shame down the aisle! All those stoic faces staring at us and our former seats were taken by people who were not about to give them back so we had to pass everyone before we found two seats together in the back. We did play the self-mocking card as we ran the gauntlet and I think a few people actually smiled. Once we sat, the stewardess very nicely said, "Now that the two passengers who got off in the wrong place have got back on the plane, we can take off." But we didn't know she said that until Allison noticed that people were pointing and laughing at us and asked for a translation. Because her derision was in Dutch. Well played tulip girl. Well played.

6. We got off the plane at the next stop - Hurghada and followed the sheep through all the necessary steps to get our visas, get stamped, get money, get luggage, get to the correct hotel shuttle, tip the guys who handle the bags (we should have brought handfuls of 50 euro cent coins for tipping) before arriving at the Hotel Aladdin (pronounced "aladeen." It seems great - an all-inclusive paradise of food, drinks, shisha bars, cushy lounge chairs, beach, pools and 80+ degrees. We are here and already having a fab (and memorable) time.