When did I stop referring to trips back to California as going “home”? Was it when I realised my son has spent half his life outside his (first) passport country? The day we bought a house across the sea? Little by little on walk after walk over miles and kilometres of foreign roads? I think the first inkling of the feeling must have begun long before all that, when the plane touched down in Istanbul half my life ago, and I realised how much bigger the world was than I had ever imagined.
Last week my husband and I submitted our resignations from the Mormon church. It was the final step in a journey of several years. As soon as we clicked the final button to make it official, I felt a familiar, quiet peace in my soul; it's a feeling I was taught as a Mormon to recognise as confirmation that a decision was right and true. Like I said, there are pieces of my Mormon past that will always belong to me. But if I could go back and tell my young Mormon self one thing, it would be that her life would turn out better than she could ever imagine.
Dear Loved Ones Near and Far,
I confess that one of the main reasons I write this Christmas letter is not so much to let you know what we are doing as to find out what you are doing. Sometimes I fantasize about what it would be like to grow up and live my whole life in the same little village. And then I watch a moody European crime drama awash in small town secrets and decide I don’t so much mind my itinerant city life. But I do miss being able to see all the people who mean something to me and be a part of your in-person lives.
So, back to Iceland. Because when I think of it in my head now, it’s this idyllic place that belongs somewhere alongside halfway remembered books I read as a child and have always wanted to find again. Maybe I need another vacation.
The place we did our photoshoot happened to be near the Golden Circle, which is a route containing some of the main tourist attractions in Iceland, so we decided to pop in and see them, since we were in the neighbourhood.
Stop one on the Golden Circle was a waterfall that stands out even in a country full of spectacular waterfalls. Gulfoss is a gigantic waterfall by any measure, and the gloriously sunny day made it glitter with rainbows.
For our first full day in Iceland, we decided to see some waterfalls and go hiking, and I think that’s pretty much the best and most beautiful thing to do in Iceland. There must literally be thousands of waterfalls in this country, of all sizes and shapes, each one more beautiful than the last. It’s a feast for the eyes and the soul.
There’s one major waterfall just ten minutes from where we’re staying, so we decided to start there.
This is Hraunfossar, which means “lava waterfall”, because it comes down off a lava field.
It’s not that easy to find the perfect photographer for your romantic Iceland photoshoot if you don’t live in Iceland. Fortunately, you don’t have to. Because we already have! If you are in need of a photographer in Iceland, I highly, highly recommend Gunnar Jónatansson. Not only is he a talented photographer, but he and his wife Rósa took us on a fantastic tour of some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. And if you’re wondering why the quality of photos on my blog has suddenly improved so drastically, it’s because all the photos in this post are courtesy of Gunnar.
We took a 21:30 flight, so by the time we arrived in Iceland and were shuttled to the place where we were picking up our rental car, it was well past midnight and I was tired and somewhat questioning the wisdom of leaving after work on a Friday. Then our shuttle driver announced that the Northern Lights were outside, and did anyone want to see them. Of COURSE the entire building full of new arrivals in Iceland wanted to see them. We all trooped outside and improbably, miraculously, there they were.
My in-laws are here visiting, and we wanted to take them somewhere picturesque and typically Dutch. When I heard about Giethoorn, the pretty little village with canals instead of streets, I knew it would be perfect. Especially since we were also planning to go up north to visit Groningen, so it was right on the way. We're trying to do some more exploring and get to know this tiny country we call home.
Giethoorn is another corner of the Netherlands that somehow recalls the Shire to mind.
We rented a boat, as one does. They happened to be out of the basic metal boats, so we were forced to get an amply sized one with cushioning. Which in retrospect was totally worth the extra €15 anyway.
Here's our skipper and our mini skipper, at the wheel.
The place is unbelievably quaint and photogenic.
House after immaculate house surrounded by flowers.
The houses themselves are quite colourful as well, with many of them sporting the typical brightly painted shutters.
And of course, since the "streets" are actually canals, instead of cars they have boats.
The waterways are periodically crossed by wooden bridges.
We stopped near one of these bridges to find a shop to buy fresh bread for a boating picnic.
Tony, bless his heart, followed directions and ended up walking all the way back to the boat dock for bread. But meanwhile we discovered a cheese shop with tasty samples.
Right next door was a mineral store full of all sorts of treasures.
It was almost like a small museum, complete with impressive fossils.
Axa and Raj took the opportunity to find a surprise gift for Grammy.
Next to the town is a wetlands nature preserve with a miniature lake.
Here's a closeup of that traditional boat someone is sailing off in the distance.
There's some cute farmland. Even the horses were miniatures.
We also found a little treehouse.
At only a couple of hours by train from Amsterdam (and less by car) Giethoorn is a perfect day out if you want some delightful and unique countryside. We definitely enjoyed our time there!
Dutch education is neatly divided into primary school (ages 4-12) and secondary school (ages 12-18). So there’s no in-between. The kids basically go to high school at age 12.
Now, I’m not usually one of those moms lamenting that they can’t just stay little.
But I admit that this whole school thing sort of threw me for a loop, hitting as it did (not uncoincidentally) squarely simultaneously with puberty. Yesterday she was a little girl. And today she’s a grown up young woman going off to high school in a couple of months.
Several months ago my kids’ school started offering free Dutch lessons to parents. I jumped at the chance, not only to help reinforce to my kids that learning the language is important, but because I actually do want to learn Dutch. Juf Ricky, who teaches the lessons, also teaches the kids Dutch as a second language. She’s not only a great teacher, but also a really nice person. Today she took us on a tour of her hometown, Gouda.
Yes. Gouda, as in the cheese. What a delightful little town! We all met up at the Amstel train station and took the train there together. It’s about 45 minutes by train.