Keukenhof: Tiptoe through the tulips, and daffodils, and hyacinths…

by Danielle Tomich, AWCA member

If you’re lucky enough to live in Holland, with the world-famous Keukenhof Gardens in your back yard, you’d have to be some sort of April’s fool not to visit at some point during the season. Here’s some information to help you plan your own tiptoe trip.

What’s up, buttercup? Is it all just hype? No. Consistently listed among the most beautiful gardens in the world, the Keukenhof is a must-see for anyone who enjoys flowers, gardens or convening with nature. Granted, the gardeners leave little to nature: these lush, manicured gardens are artfully designed by people who know what they’re doing. Graced with dozens of varieties of hyacinths, daffodils, and tulips that bloom at different times, the garden changes throughout the season. In fact, it changes each year: At the end of the season all the bulbs are removed and the beds are replanted with different varieties and designs.

More than gardens. The garden naturally has beautiful ponds, bridges, and water features, but it also includes children’s play areas, a windmill, great views of the tulip fields, sculptures, boat rides through its small canals, places to eat and, of course, gift shops. An unexpected delight in 2016 was an area of garden pots and decorations done in Dutch tile mosaics. And don’t miss the flower shows in the pavilions. Not your ordinary state-fair fare, these flower-based art displays are professionally done with great care and creativity.

When to visit. The gardens are open daily March 22 to May 13 from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Whenever possible, visit on a weekday, preferably mid-week, either first thing in the morning or toward closing time. Check the schedules for the flower shows (in the pavilions), as they may influence your choice of dates.

Early in the season, before most of the tulips have come up, a heavenly fragrance floats like a mist through the gardens: the hyacinths are in their prime. They bloom in violet, pink, blue, white and every hue in-between, and they are often mixed in a bed-bouquet with an equally astonishing array of daffodils and early-bird tulips. If you’re lucky, the cherry trees will be spreading their pink lace canopy. But perhaps the best reason to visit early is to avoid the massive crowds. In its 69th year, the garden is expecting one million visitors this season.

If you go later, you’ll see the most tulips, both in the gardens and in the fields viewable from the vista spots. Timing is tricky (from year-to-year the peak varies), but the last week of April is a good bet. You can check out what’s blooming weekly on the garden’s Facebook page; they update the bloom status every Wednesday.

Rain is a good possibility no matter when you plan to go, but keep in mind that the soft light on those cloudy days will make the colors pop in your photos.

Bike the fields. For a completely different experience, pedal around the fields on a bike from Rent-a-Bike van Dam, located in the parking lot of the gardens near the main entrance. From March 22 to May 13, they are open from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Not surprisingly, the strategy for beating the bike rental crowd is the same as for the gardens: go mid-week, early or late in the day. Or, take your bike with you on the train. More information on biking near the Keukenhof can be found on

Getting there. There is no direct public transportation from Amsterdam to Keukenhof; shuttle buses run from Schiphol, Haarlem, and Leiden. Combination tickets for the bus and the garden are available on On peak days, such as Easter and weekends, get there very early to avoid long queues. Other public transport options can be found on Driving is convenient, but parking can also get very competitive during peak times, so get there early. A taxi will set you back about €100 (one-way) for up to four people. It wouldn’t be Holland if the most convenient and affordable option wasn’t to bike. It will take about 2 hours each way from Amsterdam, so consider taking your bike on the train and biking from Leiden or Haarlem. Parking your fiets at Keukenhof is free.

Beating the crowds. Skip-the-line tickets might be a good idea during peak times. They are available from websites such as Get Your Guide.

The final bloom: Bloemencorso (Flower Parade). The annual parade makes its flower-strewn way from Sassenheim to Haarlem twice: in an illuminated evening parade at 9:15 p.m. on Friday, April 20 in Noordwijkerhout and a day-long parade on Saturday, April 21 as the floats travel from Noordwijk and arrive in Haarlem at about 9:30 p.m. On Sunday, April 22, floats will be on view at the Gedempte Oude Gracht in Haarlem. Tickets for grandstand seats and more information is available on the parade website.

Whichever way suits you and your family or visitors, just get to these world-class gardens. And don’t forget your camera!

Time Travel? No, Just a Book Club in France.

by Allison Ochs
Photo by Les Anderson on Unsplash

As I sat at the Jardin Publique in Bordeaux, I overheard a mom talking about a book club. A month later another mom at a ballet class spoke about the same book club. My French was getting better, and I decided what better way to improve my French than to join a book club? I did what any American would do, "Hi, I just heard you talking. I am Carli's mom, and I am trying to improve my French. Would you have room for one more at your book club?"

The look on their faces was of utter shock. "This is an exclusive group. I am not sure we could accept you. I will ask." Gwendoline didn't get back to me. I didn't give up. "What about that book club? What book are you reading?"

A few weeks later I heard I could come if I promised not to take the discussion outside of the group. They decided having an American perspective could bring an exciting twist to their club.Their focus was classic French literature... Balzac, Camus, Gide, Victor Hugo and much more. I had four weeks to prepare for my evening and inhale one of these classics. In French of course.

I was nervous on that first night. I arrived and was told not to ring the bell but rather to tap on a window. It opened, and I was told to climb in. Not waking the children was a priority, so in I climbed with the rest of the women. Once in the kitchen, the wine started flowing. Six women were putting the last touches on the dinner, always a four-course meal with a beautifully set table. We then sat, discussed and ate. Within about one hour the first personal links to the book came out; struggles, illness, affairs, missed chances. These ladies were not best friends, they were well educated and from wealthy backgrounds, and once a month they let their guard down in this group. Everything was shared. When the cigarettes came out of the Louis Vuitton bags, you knew it was going to get even more serious. I felt like I had been transported back to an era long gone.

At first, I worried I was spying on the French bourgeoisie as if I were an intruder, but then I realized they had included me, they wanted me there, they trusted me. I won't share their stories, but I will say I was educated on just how different and yet beautiful cultures can be. It was one of my great successes in France. Thank you, ladies, I will never forget you, your lovely homes and lavish dinners and your sometimes scandalous stories.

Women’s Human Rights in Rwanda Revisited

Story and photo by Lauren Mescon, FAWCO rep


In 2014, the FAWCO HR Team sponsored the first Strength of a Woman tour to Rwanda to learn about advancements in women's human rights in the country. Team member Lauren Mescon recently visited Rwanda and shares her experiences. While Rwanda has unquestionably made significant strides under President Paul Kagame's leadership, some accuse him of suppression of human rights to quell opposition and remain in power, and many Rwandan women remain marginalized. This article does not seek to reconcile these conflicts but rather to simply share Lauren's observations from her visit.

I was reading "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families" by Philip Gourevitch as I headed to Rwanda last summer. The book was written in the aftermath of the genocide, which occurred during 100 days in 1994 when it is estimated that more than 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus were killed. The causes of the genocide are complex, stemming from the colonial system and an unnatural categorization of people based on their looks. I visited Rwanda to see the gorillas, but arriving 23 years after the genocide and three days before the national election opened my eyes to issues that, as Westerners, we only glimpse as filtered by the media.

The experience was nothing short of remarkable.

After the U.S. elections, witnessing Rwanda's election made me think of the campaigns from when I was a child: red, white and blue banners flying, live speeches and people excited about the opportunity to vote for their favorite candidate — not resigned to voting for the person they least dislike. From the capital, Kigali, to the remotest village with a single community center, there were campaigns, and banners, and kids with fliers, and street, bike and barrel decorations, all for incumbent President Paul Kagame and his party. Many critics question the "landslide" win of Kagame, saying it was impossible. My observations and interaction with local people indicated that it was possible; they seem to have a leader who puts them first and whom they believe in.

Which takes me to why Kagame is there in the first place: most of us were distant sideliners to the Rwandan genocide. Even today when I mention my trip, I get incredulous looks and questions about a vacation in Rwanda. After WWII and the horrendous genocide perpetrated on the Jewish people by the Nazis, the UN created a formal genocide policy, including a definition of the term and a requirement that all participating countries treat genocide as an international crime and take steps to stop it. Despite this policy, the world literally stood by and watched, as within a matter of weeks, up to one million people were exterminated. The world's indifference led Rwanda to a leader, Paul Kagame, who believes that Africa must look after Africa. Kagame led the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the military organization that ended the genocide. He closed "refugee" camps where génocidaires continued to perpetrate their crimes, led his country through the reconciliation process, and leads it in his third term as president.

While the UN International Criminal Court set up a tribunal for Rwanda in Tanzania to try the ringleaders of the genocide, Kagame and the government decided to use Gacaca courts. These courts correspond to traditional, village-based courts, where village elders and their communities gather for problem solving. Following the Gacaca process, the genocide suspects were taken to the villages where they allegedly committed their crimes to be confronted directly by their accusers. The trials were overseen by local people respected for their integrity and were designed for both accountability and healing. As expected, there was criticism of this process, but, with a country entirely decimated, prisons overflowing and the urgency to move the country forward, these Gacaca courts tried two million people as compared to the UN's trial of 62.

Rwanda has also made big strides towards gender equality — almost 64% of parliamentarians are now women. Gender equality is enshrined in the constitution, requiring 30% of parliament to be women, which has enabled women in the country to make economic advances. A Ministry for Gender and Family Promotion, a gender monitoring office, a commitment to gender-based budgeting, and in recent years, a strong emphasis on fighting gender-based violence, have led to increased gender equity. Women now have the same rights to inherit land as men. Girls are equally as likely to attend school as boys, and there is a Girls Education Policy and Implementation Plan in place.

Everywhere we went we saw activity, from the largest cities to the smallest villages: women walking up the mountains, carrying babies on their backs and items on their heads; men and boys with bicycles loaded with sticks or plastic jugs of banana beer. The country is spotless. On the last Saturday morning of each month, everyone aged 18 to 65 participates in a clean-up day, called Umuganda (community work). Everyone must participate, even at the highest levels of government. Each community determines the needs to be addressed that day. Each month there is also a sports day when everyone runs or walks or bikes and ends up in the community center together. Critics from afar love to find fault, and Rwanda is no different. But I can tell you that I found it one of the most uplifting and hopeful experiences of my travels. The people were some of the most gracious, warm and enterprising I have ever met.

The sights and sounds of Rwanda are not to be missed. It’s a country I hope you will visit and support. It is a country that offers examples not only for Africa but for the world: lessons learned when the world closed its eyes to the genocide and the countries complicit in its perpetration; the swift process of justice employed by the country; conservation efforts in the mountains; community days; the burgeoning tourist trade and the feeling of hope that this country, with a majority population of women and children, emanates in everything it does. Rwanda is a country to visit for the genocide museum, the people, the mountains, the gorillas; a country to watch, as it has one of the fastest growing economies in Africa; a country to emulate when it comes to women and gender equality. The government seeks to transform Rwanda from a low-income, agriculture-based economy to a knowledge-based, service-oriented economy with a middle-income status by 2020. My money is on them!

Dating A Man From Another Country

Photo by Everton Vila on Unsplash

by Allison Ochs

"Should we go get some dinner?" My heart was pounding when he said this.  I was an 18-year-old freshman at university, and this charming, handsome German man was asking me on a date — or so I thought.

He had told me he wanted to go to a real burger joint, better yet a drive-in. "I can show you," I chirped, and so it was planned. He was 25 and had been in the States for three months at the time; his English was still sketchy and I don't think he realized he was asking me out.

The diner was bustling with people, we talked, flirted (or at least I thought so) and had an amazing deep conversation about life. I was mesmerized.

A waitress chewing gum plopped the bill in front of him, "Here's your bill, tell me when you're ready." He picked it up slowly, looked and it and then at me. I just smiled without moving, thinking nothing of the bill.

He then proceeded to pay with a scowl. I couldn't figure out why as thoughts were racing through my head, "What was wrong? Had I offended him? Was it the waitress?" It didn't take long for me to find out. "Where I am from the bill is split. You obviously think I should pay for you, but I don't think so. I cannot afford this, and I don't want you to think you owe me something."

I felt awkward as another long conversation unfolded; it was to be one of many. Now 30 years later, we still have these discussions from time to time. Yes, he is now my husband, and I guess it was a date after all. Sometimes he says with his adorable accent, "You know I am not from Mars." He isn't, but it can feel like we’re from different planets, especially as we have moved and had to navigate other cultures together. It's no wonder I love the song “Fly Me to the Moon;” I feel like he has.

FAWCO Corner – February 1, 2018

by your FAWCO Reps, Lauren Mescon & Julie Lehr

Interim Meeting - March 23-25 in The Hague

The FAWCO Interim Meeting, to be held in The Hague March 23-25, is full.  If you would like to be put on the waiting list, please email the registrar.

Every year since 1995, FAWCO members around the world have lent their creative sewing talents to the FAWCO Friendship Quilt. This year’s Butterfly quilt will be raffled at the FAWCO Interim Meeting to raise money for the foundation's programs and charitable causes. You don't need to be present to win — get your raffle tickets from your FAWCO reps.

Quilt to be raffled at the Interim Meeting

Goodie Bags: Your reps tend to have a habit of not saying no. This time they said yes to preparing the goodie bags for the Interim Meeting. With a total of 160 anticipated attendees, they are now scratching their heads as to what to put into those bags — with no budget. That said, if you have any wonderful suggestions or connections to typical Dutch items, like stroopwafels, gin, cheese, chocolate, tulips, windmills (☺) or anything else you can think of, please let us know, as we would hate to just offer an empty bag!

Regional Meetings

Region 6 in Bern will meet on May 25 and 26 hosted by AWC of Bern. For more information, contact

Opportunities for Involvement on a Global Scale

Like AWCA, FAWCO is made up of volunteers. If you want to get more involved, join one of the teams!

The Education Team, led by co-chairs Arandeep Degun and Carol-Lyn McKelvey, seeks to Increase Awareness of Global Issues in Education. Their emphasis is on global citizenship, literacy, equal access, and access to and initiatives in continuing education after high school, with special attention to UNESCO's involvement in global education. Don't miss their monthly Education Bulletin.

The Human Rights Team, led by Therese Hartwell, covers the topics of economic and political empowerment for women, ending violence against women, and women in peace and conflict. They regularly feature an article highlighting the link between education and human rights in their Human Rights Bulletin.

The Health Team, led by Blandina Steinhauslin and Linda Harvan, is new and will provide information about women's health and aging, and will also introduce practical tips and resources to care for ourselves and our family members.

The UN Liaison Team is active with FAWCO UN reps engaged in awareness raising and advocacy in New York, Geneva, Vienna and Athens, and holding leadership positions on NGO Committees on the Status of Women, Human Rights and Migration. Education is a theme throughout much of their work. Learn more!

Board Corner – Feb. 1, 2018


January 29, 2018

EB Members Present: Beth van Amerongen, Martha Canning, Kristin DeLong, Audrey Mezas and Christine Rigby-Hall

Guests: Rhonda Jimenez (Youth Programs) and Lauren Mescon (Parliamentarian and FAWCO Rep)

A. Approval of the Minutes - minutes of the previous meeting were approved.

B. Member Report - Kristin. We currently have 263 members.

C. Officer Reports

I. Vice President - Christine

  1. GM’s - For the February meeting the social time will be shortened due to Catherine’s memorial. Vendors have been informed. Last month the Andaz allowed us to use our old menu, per our request. We are expecting they will do so again this month.
  2. 2018-2019 Executive Board - The nominating committee requested we rename the new “VP Fundraising and External Relations” position. Kristin moved we change the title to “VP External Communications and Relations”. The motion was seconded by Audrey. The motion passed unanimously.
  3. 2018-2019 meeting location update - Christine shared the current quotes for meeting locations. A top venue verbally agreed to our €8,000 budget; however, they have not yet given us a formal contract.
  4. June Luncheon update - The luncheon will be June 4 at the Veranda. Options for the meal were discussed. It was agreed we would like three courses with a welcome drink as we had last year

II. VP Programs - Audrey

  1. 2018 Scholarship - Beth Massa has accepted the position for the 2018/2019 year. This year’s scholarship amount has not yet been determined. We will once again be using outside readers and need to come up with a way to properly thank them, such as a gift certificate or some other token gift to show our appreciation. Once again, there will be two categories, so the high school students are not competing with college students. There was discussion over the requirements for the application. Audrey will review the current policy and bring a proposal to the board, should she deem any changes are necessary.
  2. Youth Programs - Rhonda Jimenez. We have several companies potentially interested in providing internships for our students. They range from one-day opportunities to longer-term options.

III. VP Membership - Kristin

  1. Many of our Associate members are listed as full members on our website. Kristin plans to update their status for those cases in which we know for certain the member is an Associate.

D. Chairwomen/Committee Reports

  • Gala - Kristin: The Tulip Gala will be Saturday, March 10 at the Hyatt. It will be a sit-down dinner with a DJ. There is space for 128 people. The ticket price is still being finalized. It will include a welcome drink, full dinner, Dutch bar with the meal, cash bar for the duration of the party (10:30 onwards), a DJ throughout dinner and dancing until midnight. There will be a silent auction benefiting the FAWCO Target Project. If we have any big auctions items, they might be offered in a live auction. We are also having a magician for entertainment. Kristin will be sharing the solicitation letter with the board, for contacting potential donors.
  • Nominating Committee - Lauren: The nominating committee has been working hard to come up with the slate of candidates for the 2018-19 Executive Board. The slate will be officially presented to the board in February for approval.
  • FAWCO - Lauren:
  1. Interim Meeting - March 23-25 in the Hague. Registration is full. Lauren and Julie are doing the goodie bags.
  2. AWCA will be featured in the inspiring women section of the next newsletter.

E. New Business

  • Catherine's memorial - Martha. Approximately 35 members have responded that they will be attending the memorial. The family’s primary goal is to let AWCA members honor Catherine. We know of 3 family members attending and will save spaces for them. It will begin in our meeting room, followed by a reception.

Board Corner – Jan. 1, 2017


December 12, 2017

EB Members Present: Beth van Amerongen, Martha Canning, Kristin DeLong, Robin Ford, and Christine Rigby-Hall

Guests: Phyllis Larkin and Danielle Tomich

I. Guest Topic: Phyllis Larkin, Public Relations

    1. Phyllis shared that she recently met with our Web Coordinator, Alicia Puig, and they will be updating the club website in the coming months.
    2. Phyllis has been reaching out to American companies, such as Mary Kay and Tesla. Many companies earmark money to sponsor nonprofit organizations. She would like to see us obtain sponsorships at a level that would include benefits such as funding for memberships. She will pull together a proposal to present to the board at a future meeting.
    3. Phyllis would like us to have a larger presence with companies such as Expatica and iAmsterdam. She will look into the cost of doing this and will put together a proposal for a PR budget taking this into account.
    4. Phyllis asked what we can do for consulate women memberships. She would like us to consider discounts for military and government personnel.

Beth made a motion to create a new membership level of half-price for US Military and Government personnel. Robin seconded the motion. The motion passed unanimously.

II. Approval of the Minutes of the previous meeting - the minutes of the last meeting were approved.

III. Approval of New Associate Members/Member Report - Kristin. We currently have 257 members. (71 are new members this year.) There are no associate members to approve this month.

IV. Officer Reports


  1. Treasurer - Robin. Our current accounts total €63,535. Approximately €4,400 is scholarship. Our current Andaz spending is €2088.
  2. Vice President - Christine
    1. Andaz meeting update - Christine and Audrey met with the Andaz to discuss our issues. We are awaiting a new lunch proposal from them. They will give us a proposal for next year by February at the latest
    2. 2018-2019 meeting location update - Christine updated us on the current status of searching for venues. Lee Ford will be assisting her in investigating possibilities. It was discussed that the At Night Meetings do not necessarily have to be at the same place, since they do not require the vendor space and fewer people attend.
    3. June Luncheon - The Veranda has put a hold on June 4th for us.
    4. Changes to board duties and org chart - Christine evaluated all the board positions prior to presenting them to the Nominating Committee. She shared a description of all positions with the proposed changes, including reorganizing reporting relationships, renaming VP Programs to VP Philanthropy, recombining VP Internal Communications and Secretary, and adding a new VP (Fundraising and External Relations). Kristin made a motion to approve the new board structure as presented. Christine seconded the motion. The motion passed unanimously.
    5. Nominating Committee / Elections update - The committee has been formed and met. They requested the Executive Board to make brief videos to help promote their jobs.

C. VP Programs - Audrey has been communicating with the Hyatt concerning the gala. Kristin is chairing the committee and currently has 7 members on the committee. It was discussed that the tentative date of February 3rd is possibly too soon. Kristin will get with Audrey and the committee to come up with a new date.

D. VP Communications/Secretary - Beth

  1. Next Advisory Board Meeting - It was agreed that we should invite everyone on the org chart to the next meeting and then ask for agenda items. Beth will then organize the agenda to include times. It will be scheduled at the end of March. Tentative dates are either March 26th or 28th. Beth will contact the Schreierstoren to see if the room we used last year is available.
  2. The next board meeting will be Jan. 29, 2018, at 11 a.m. at Beth van Amerongen’s home.

Ask Allison: Bad Days Abroad


When I first moved to Europe some 28 years ago, I struggled. I was young, hip, and daring and chose this step myself.  Yet I found myself making cultural faux-pas, struggling with the language and being ultimately homesick.

On a great day, I would sit in a café with a friend, sipping my drink, feeling intrepid — I owned the world and was proud of all of my adventures. Then, out of the blue, I would stumble on a silly challenge that would throw me:

  • a postal worker who scolded me
  • a shop owner who asks me, "How can you stand being American with your President?" (As if I have a personal impact on Washington D.C.)
  • a doctor who lectures me on how his health care system is the best, and I should be happy he is not giving me the medicine I am begging him for to relieve my symptoms

Any of these things could and have sent me into a fury. Whenever this happens, all I want to do is go home.

My trick all of these years is... I do just that; I go home. Okay so my home is down the block, but I shut the curtains, call a girlfriend or my Mom and just pretend I am in my bedroom somewhere else. I find a good book and take the day or evening off from my life abroad. It’s my own little virtual reality.

The saying “my home is my castle” has taken on a new meaning. My home is not only my castle — it is my haven.