The real Holland

When I moved to the Netherlands all those years ago, we lived in a beach town on the North Sea. Back when we lived there, it was one of the few villages where the stores were allowed to open on Sundays, so folks flocked there in the weekends, especially those when the sun made a rare appearance. And anytime the mercury nudged up into the seventies, the beaches were packed, with Dutch and foreigners alike.

The street where we lived was a couple of miles from the beach, and a world away from the tourists. Every single person who lived on our street was Dutch, and their families had lived and worked in the village for generations. A hotel owner, a butcher, a handful of farmers. I was the only foreigner, and believe me: everybody knew it.

Especially me.

I lived there for about five minutes before I decided that becoming Dutch was my number-one goal. Not just learning the language, but sucking up the slang and the accent and the culture until I was felt and sounded like one of them. I understood my neighbors within a couple of months. I felt competent in about six. By the end of the first year, Dutch people stopped answering me in English and assumed I was one of them.

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 8.17.45 AMThings in Amsterdam are different. Walk down any street here, and you’ll hear more foreign than Dutch, not just from the tourists but from expats, and I’ve yet to meet one who speaks decent Dutch. Why bother? Everyone here, from the old lady selling flowers to the guy driving the tram to the kids playing on the streets, speaks English and German and French and if you’re lucky a passible Spanish and Italian. My point? If I had only lived here, in Amsterdam instead of in that tiny village on the North Sea, I wouldn’t be half as Dutch. I’d be just any other American expat.

Saying you’ve seen Holland when you’ve only visited Amsterdam is kind of like saying you’ve seen America after a few days in New York City. As awesome as Amsterdam is, it’s not the real Holland. The real Holland is a tiny village surrounded by farms or fields of tulips for as far as the eye can see, where English is something you hear on TV, and not from the people living in the house next door. I am who I am because I’ve experienced them both.

Writing Exercise: 5 Words into Fiction

There’s a writer’s exercise I believe to be great fun (pretty sure I’ve shared about it here before). I highly recommend!

You’re given five random words by someone, anyone, and must fuse them together to create a vignette or flash fiction piece. It’s a challenging way to get the creative juices flowing, and it can be really satisfying to see what you come up with… even when it’s almost too contrived, as my example below seems when I reread it.

Some years back I was given the words binge, crow, foray, refract, and wile. (I can’t remember now who’d dealt them to me.)

 

Her hair, beautiful and harsh, is the color of a crow. This is by careful choice, and she has it dyed once a month, every third Tuesday. She loves the mystique of the hue, the way it refracts the light as a wile, almost like there’s some blue to it.

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Image courtesy of khunaspix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Noah would have adored it, and so of course this is why. It is for him.

It was a month after he disappeared that she first had it colored. His foray into nothingness, hers into vanity. Because it is the single binge she’s found that stills the hurt, quiets the shame. Eating didn’t do it; she felt empty. Not drinking; she felt a waste of herself. And sleeping with Noah’s best friend, Mart, only buried guilt in her stomach and in her dreams.

So it is also for her, the hair and the rest, with the primping and pampering and perfection. It all says she is significant and strong and courageous, that she is and will be okay.

When she looks in the mirror to see what Noah left behind, she is satisfied by what she sees and she tells herself, You will be okay.

 

If there’s one thing I like about this little piece, it’s that the character comes through so strongly. I like her found sense of empowerment, that she has a thing—a simple thing – proving that, really, it comes down to decision and perspective—that affirms her status of being okay.

Now, so many years after writing this, a wholly different person than I was then, I relate to her. I appreciate her resolve, and that she herself has claimed the way it will be.

Do you want to try? Leave a comment below and I’ll give you five words.

Movie Review: The Judge

Hubby and I recently watched the Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall movie, The Judge (2014). You can watch the trailer here. We both loved it, and as a writer, I loved the layers represented in this drama about a father/son relationship gone bad. From the very beginning, the viewer knows the relationship went sour sometime in the cornpast, but instead of telling us exactly why, the film leads us along, dispelling our initial assumptions in ways that leave us guessing—guessing until the very end.

I hate to admit that growing up I wasn’t much of a reader. I was addicted to movies and television, too busy to sit still long enough to finish a book. My love of reading didn’t develop until adulthood, but once it did, I never looked back. Nowadays, I spend way more time reading and very little time watching TV and movies. Every once in a while, I watch a movie that rekindles my first love. The Judge was a great movie, and for those interested in writing craft, it serves as a case study for grounding viewers in the present and not giving too much of a story away too fast.

So take an evening and give it a whirl. Call it research. Call it a treat. You can thank me later. :)

photo credit: movie night! via photopin (license)

When the Prom Isn’t About the Dance

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Sun News

Let’s face it, high school proms have been less about the actual dancing for years–maybe even decades.  Instead they’re all about the glitzy dresses (one school is actually making girls submit a photo of their dress beforehand just to ensure their appropriateness), crowded limo rides and after-party shenanigans.  But one aspect of the prom experience is relatively new and, in my opinion (I know the haters are gonna hate here) has relegated the actual prom to even more of an after thought.  I’m talking about the Promposal.  (I’m pretty sure this word evolved from the Facebook lexicon, but I’m stealing it here.)

What is up with all these elaborate Promposals?  Whatever happened to the girl who sits next to you in Chemistry telling you that so and so is going to ask you to the prom and you either give a thumbs up or a gag me, no way, thumbs down?  I can tell you what happened.  Mothers with too much time on their hands, social media and Pinterest.  (I told you the haters were going to come after me!)  Seriously, what teenage guy thinks of cordoning off a driveway with crime tape, drawing a chalk outline of a body and holding a poster that reads:  I’ll just die if you don’t go to prom with me?  In my day, that would so NOT be the guy I went to prom with.

We had two brave teenage boys ride into the estrogen charged barn this spring to leave notes on girl’s horses asking them to prom.  Was it cute?  Yes, it was.  But seriously, how are they going to make a boring old dance live up to the hype of such a thoughtful Promposal?

boomboxMy personal favorite this year (because I LOVED the movie) was a kid re-enacting John Cusack’s boom box scene from Say Anything.  The movie is older than any of the kids doing the asking, however, which probably explains why it resonated with the moms.  (Are you seeing my point?)

Worst Promposal I ever heard of:  The boy who showed up to ask a girl to prom with bouquet of flowers and–wait for it–a puppy.  Let me repeat.  A. Puppy.  Note to all the boys out there:  DO NOT show up to my house bringing a puppy for my daughter. EVER.  Now, if you want to show up with a 17-hand equitation horse, we’ll talk.

So what do you think of the Promposal?  Am I just over-reacting?  Have you heard of any cute ones?  Or crazy ones?

Fluffiest Carrot Cake EVER

Looking for the perfect dessert this Easter? This carrot cake differs from most in that it’s light, fluffy and kid-friendly—from the making to the eating! Not only can they help by harvesting and shredding the carrots, they’ll love to decorate this spring treat (bunnies, anyone?).

light and fluffy slice

While this recipe calls for cream cheese frosting, a bit tangy for some youngsters, it would also be great with a creamy white/vanilla frosting, too.

Fluffiest Carrot Cake

2 cups self-rising flour

2 tsp cinnamon

1 ½ cups vegetable oil

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

3 cups freshly grated carrots

½ cup raisins (optional)

½ cup walnuts, finely chopped (optional)

pre-made fondant for decorations

Preheat oven to 350°F. 

Grease or butter 9 x 13 or 2 8-inch round pans. In a large bowl, combine oil, eggs and sugar and beat well. In a separate bowl, combine flour and cinnamon and mix together until creamy smooth. Add dry ingredients to wet and blend well. Fold in grated carrots, followed by any optional items of your liking!

Pour batter into pan and bake for about 35-45 minutes or until knife inserted into center comes out clean. Serve with cream cheese frosting (even plain, this cake is so good).

Approximately 1 large or 2 8-inch cakes.

 bunny cake

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz. cream cheese, refrigerated

2 TBSP unsalted butter, softened (at room temperature)

1 ½ – 2 cups powdered sugar (depending on how thick you like your frosting!)

1 tsp vanilla extract

dash of grated orange zest (optional)

Combine cream cheese, butter and vanilla extract in blender until well-blended and smooth. Add sugar gradually, 1/2 cup at a time, beating until blended. Stop when you have reached your desired consistency. For stiffer frosting, use more sugar. For creamy frosting, use less. Stir in optional flavorings at end. Spread (or drizzle) frosting over cake and enjoy!

You can purchase packages of pre-made fondant at most major craft stores (Joann’s Fabrics, Michael’s…) and forming your figures is easy. We used a tube of green cake decorating color for the greens on our carrots—for a more feathery effect. Don’t forget the pre-made flowers and sprinkles—talk about EASY! You’ll have a stylin’ cake in no time!

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For more great recipes, be sure to mark your calendar and join my 4th Annual Authors in Bloom Blog Hop where authors and bloggers share their favorite recipes and gardening tips plus offering a host of GREAT prizes, including a brand new ereader of your choice (up to $200 value). Fun begins April 8th-April 17th.

Happy Spring!

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