AWCA Shines at FAWCO Interim Meeting in The Hague

by AWCA FAWCO Rep Lauren Mescon

It was the most power-packed FAWCO meeting I’ve attended, dense with information and knowledgeable speakers.   — Susan Ailleris

The AWCA contingency, from left to right: Meg Brew, Lauren Mescon, Jennifer van Lent, Barbara Clement, Rhonda Jimenez, Cheryl Steenman-Bash, Julie Lehr, Susan Ailleris, Christine Rigby-Hall and Martha Canning. 

Everywhere you looked or listened at the FAWCO Interim Meeting in The Hague, Amsterdam was in the spotlight.

At the opening session, our club received a FAWCO Rep award, and that was only the beginning. Our incredible group of 10 club members, many of whom were first-timers, made us the club with the second highest number of attendees at the meeting. It was a well-attended meeting that drew women from 42 clubs in 22 countries, ranging in location from Australia to Moscow to India to Colombia. In session after session, AWCA was recognized — verbally and in photos — for our fundraising efforts and our club’s community-building. Our campaigns, Raising Our Hands for Education, Sharing Our Gifts for Good and our Tulip Gala, were offered as examples of best practices to other clubs.

At the final session, an AWCA-nominated club, Safe Spaces, was awarded a development grant for $4,500 to #Reboot Computer Literacy. Many thanks to Sherri Zwail for all her hard work.

Julie and I were "busting our buttons" with pride the entire weekend, and I think I can safely say our president was, too!

Thank you to everyone…we have created a fantastic community at AWCA and it is a model for other clubs in FAWCO.


Note from the editor: Lauren (on right above) didn't include this in her article, but she was recognized for her work as a FAWCO rep. Congratulations, Lauren!

Impressions from AWCA members who attended:

I happily wore my Amsterdam chapter badge — which gave me instant celebrity status, thanks to our FAWCO reps Lauren and Julie. Amsterdam has made quite a mark on FAWCO, raising almost a third of all money raised for the Target Project thus far and bringing new ideas and excitement to the cause. —Rhonda Jimenez

Meg Brew: I learned about all of the resources and connections we can make, for things for my family like guidance for colleges and US tax reforms, and for our club, financial tips, and Thirsty Thursdays for a pub night in Haarlem!

It was great meeting so many new interesting women from all over the world. Every time I sat down, I sat by someone new. I really enjoyed hearing about their areas, clubs, families, and travels.

Lauren, Martha, Julie & Susan "hatting fun" with the Alice and Wonderland theme.

Susan Ailleris: It was the most power-packed FAWCO meeting I’ve attended, dense with information and knowledgeable speakers. Things I’m excited about:

  1. FAWCO is officially an NGO and has a seat at the UN table where we have a say, however small, in actual policy formation. A random example? FAWCO’s name, along with those of 94 other NGOs, is on the bottom of a letter drafted by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights supporting continued funding of Planned Parenthood in the US. This would absolutely not be possible to do as a private citizen alone, or even as a club alone, but only as a consolidated voice with other NGOs. I will be joining this team.
  2. Don’t like the FATCA requirements? FAWCO is also our voice in Washington, D.C., where they are working with other groups of overseas Americans to change the definition of one small but very important word - FOREIGN. Your foreign bank accounts are currently defined as accounts outside of the US; imagine how much easier life will be when they are defined as accounts outside of your country of residence. No more reporting your grocery account. And...
  3. I found out: only 4% of the 8 million Americans living outside of the US actually VOTE. Expect to hear me lobbying on this in the near future… oh, yeah, and...
  4. How cool is it that our own Sherrie Zwail and her Safe Spaces charity won a $4,500 development grant? That’s free money, ladies! Does anyone else have a charity they’d like to see supported?

I was proud to rub elbows with our prize-winning reps Lauren and Julie, the relentless Meg Brew (former FAWCO secretary, by the way) who helps us reap the benefits of FAWCO, and with our soon-to-be-president Rhonda Jimenez, who I know learned a lot from other club presidents in attendance. Thanks to all!

Lauren Mescon (left) with Amanda Lane of Hope Beyond Displacement

Rhonda Jimenez: What’s down the rabbit hole? The Alice in Wonderland theme for the Saturday evening gala perfectly suited how I felt as I entered the world of FAWCO. Yes, it is a whole world — with women from Marrakech to Moscow. I felt awkward that first moment I entered but quickly found a perfect fit just like Alice did. I happily wore my Amsterdam chapter badge — which gave me instant celebrity status, thanks to our FAWCO reps Lauren and Julie. Amsterdam has made quite a mark on FAWCO, raising almost a third of all money raised for the Target Project thus far and bringing new ideas and excitement to the cause. I learned so much attending the seminars taught by brilliant, eager women wanting to make a change in the world. It was so inspiring — I filled a notebook with ideas for our club. My final impression was how vast a resource we have in FAWCO: a friend in every port, a colleague to ask a favor or question, a mentor to support you, a teacher to educate us, a sister to challenge our perspective and, most of all, a girlfriend to share this amazing experience with.

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

by Danielle Tomich

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.

Photo: Les Anderson on Unsplash

by Allison Ochs, M.S.W
Edit Change Management

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!

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!

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.


From Lisa Kuller

My words will not do justice to my friend, Catherine – a woman I so admired, respected and felt so blessed to have in my life. I may never fully be able to describe the hole in my heart – the piece that is missing now that she’s gone. And yet, I feel so full – of all the memories we made, stories we shared, experiences we embarked upon. She gave me so much, and I will always be grateful to her for that.

Catherine was an incredibly special person – one who brought great joy, intellect, laughter and love to our world, our community, her extended family and friends, and most especially, to me. Catherine was my constant companion in Amsterdam. I first heard the word “ping” from her, and a typical day was generally filled with “ping me on your way to Marqt,” “ping me from the Manège. I’ll meet you for tea,” “ping me when you’re ready to walk in Vondelpark….” No matter how mundane the day was, Catherine was available to meet for a walk, an errand, a tea, a lunch. These quiet moments together made up the fabric of my days, as her life and mine were seamlessly woven together. Often, our days extended to raucous and laughter-filled evenings out (some too blurry to remember!), Thanksgivings, New Years and birthday celebrations with our families and friends.

Among all of the memories, a highlight will always be our two weeks together exploring Tamil Nadu, India, and building homes for families on the AWCA Habitat for Humanity India trip. This was one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences of my life – not to mention that we must have set an all-time record for the most nonstop laughter among girlfriends! The bond we all formed on that trip continues to be strong, warm and lasting.

Catherine would go above and beyond to connect and be fully present for her family, friends and acquaintances. She placed the highest value on relationships and connection – I know few people who have given so much of themselves to others with no expectations in return. When we were together, she always made me feel so important, so appreciated, so cherished. And often, when we were apart, she would send messages and emails that reminded me in subtle ways how much she cared. She was forever making connections – “Oh, you’re going there? Well then I have to put you in touch with so-and-so.” She made the introduction every time. She was astute at noting a friend’s likes and interests and poof! you’d open up your mail to a lovely, little surprise. She listened, she remembered, and she connected. I often wondered how her brain kept so many facts so tidily organized, catalogued and available for recall. She remembered minute details mentioned in passing – truly a gift.

Her strength, energy and drive always astounded me and caused me to push myself to be a better, more focused, caring person. Catherine was a woman of action. She listened attentively to opinions and thoughts presented by others and did not hesitate to share hers. You mentioned a task or a desire or simply wondered aloud, and in no time, she was on it! She forged ahead. This characteristic perhaps most defined how she approached her illness – she did the required treatments with no-fuss and then forged ahead, living her life to the fullest every step of the way.

Most of all, though, Catherine was a devoted and wonderful mother who had such passion for her son. When speaking of him, the pride and joy truly radiated from every pore of her being. She worked tirelessly to set and model a solid moral foundation and work ethic for him – instilling in him a commitment to family, community, service and excellence. He will carry her legacy forward with pride.

Catherine’s friendship was a great blessing in my life, and I will miss her dearly. May she rest in peace, and may we remember her in light and love.

Lisa Kuller

From Isabelle Cajfinger

Catherine was a discreet friend who always thought about how she could help others.

Catherine knew I had a love for Trader Joe’s, so every time she went to the U.S., she would be back with a new bag/new design from that store. When I went to L.A., she thought ahead of time, always solving possible situations I may encounter and there she loaned me the biggest, yet lightest duffle bag to fold in my luggage as she was sure I’d need it on the way back to Amsterdam, and of course, I did need it.

She knew I was looking for a store in Lech where my cashmere plaids could be displayed: she brought back from her trip there the whole book of the region's stores, the relevant yellow pages copied, and filed! How many friends would do that?

Catherine was always ready to laugh and connect people — who would, of course, become my friends after I’d met them!

Each time I asked for us to get together, Catherine would say with a big smile: “You say you are in town, but you are always away!” Now she is “away,” but will always be in my heart and be part of me.

From Sherrie Zwail Enderman

"Gracious" is the word I think of when I think of Catherine.

Catherine Hewins was a gentle, loving, sincere, funny and warm woman.

I first met Catherine on my Habitat for Humanity trip to India four years ago. Although we were in a group setting, there were plenty of times we spent one-on-one, getting to know each other.

During the trip, she shared her health situation with me and I was taken aback by her courage and strength and determination. She was strong and only focused on the work to be done there, helping others in need.

One of my best takeaways from the trip was my new friendship with such a special person as Catherine. She will be greatly missed but never forgotten.

Ask Allison: I’m Bored.

Dear Allison,

I'm bored. I know I will be going back, so I don't want a full-time job in my career field. I'd like to work part-time or get involved in a project or venture —something new. How can I re-invent myself while I'm here?

—Bored in Amsterdam

Dear Bored in Amsterdam,

I understand what you're going through. After the first excitement, visits to museums and trips, your days might get long. I don't know what you did or what you want to do, but regardless, these pointers apply to everyone:

  • Find something you are passionate about and create your job. That way you can make it part-time and be in power of what you do.
  • If you don't know what your passion is, start a project with someone; it may lead to another project or job.
  • Volunteer. It's a great way to try new things and possibly discover a talent or passion. The AWCA and schools have a lot of opportunities for volunteering.
  • Take a class or workshop in something you've never had time for, such as painting, photography, art history, language (see Learn Dutch, below), cooking, dancing — whatever!
  • Look for a part-time job. There are plenty out there. If you don't know what you want to do, start attending professional workshops and seminars, dabbling in new things.
  • Start talking about it, so people know you are looking. Ask advice and invite others who have re-invented themselves for a coffee. Ask them how they are doing and how they did it.
  • Learn Dutch. Practice everywhere you go and don't give up. Once you speak Dutch, other possibilities will open up and finding a job might be easier. It will always look good on your CV.

When you hear yourself thinking, "Hey, I could do that," you know you're getting warm. Start exploring the possibilities. Remember that failing is part of re-inventing. You might have to try a few things along the way before you find the right fit. Believe me, I know; I have reinvented myself more than once.

Try not to worry about the money. If you've been out of the workforce for awhile, or you are starting in a new field, you'll need to ease back in. If you're thinking, "I'm not getting paid what I'm worth," stop. It's never a waste to try new things. Eventually, you may earn money, but if not, ask yourself if it matters. The real reward during your time here is growth. And that always looks good on your CV.

It's never too late to learn something or start a new career. Just get going.

Good luck, Bored in Amsterdam. You are not alone.

Beyond Germany: Five Must-Visit Christmas Markets 

Kleber Square, Strasbourg, France

by Jennifer van Lent

Everyone knows about the legendary German Christmas markets - glühwein and feuerzangenbowle, the Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas store, bratwurst and currywurst stalls. For my family, Christmas isn't the same without visiting Bonn, Cologne or one of the many German markets located within driving distance of the Amsterdam area.

However, over the years, we have started to travel further afield during the holiday season, and we have discovered some amazing locations outside of Germany which help us get into the holiday spirit. I hope you find inspiration for a future trip and enjoy the mini-tour of — drumroll, please— my top five places to visit during the Christmas season.

Step back in time in Matera, Italy  

Many of you might be asking, "what and where is Matera"? While Matera in Basilicata (and I'll add Lecce, in Puglia) aren't the first cities that spring to mind for a Christmas location, I have included this UNESCO World Heritage Site as a must-visit due to the incredible Living Nativity Matera Edition presentation in the ancient Sasso district of Matera. Hosted by the city of Matera during December, over 400 volunteers re-enact the Nativity story in a setting which evokes ancient Bethlehem. It is an amazing and surreal experience to walk through the sassi (stone houses) of the ancient city. Christmas markets are located around town and also in towns across the region (ie. Lecce in Puglia). My husband and I stayed at the wonderful Locanda di San Martino in the Sasso Barisano. You need at least four days to visit and explore this hidden treasure of Italy. The easiest way to get there is to fly to either Bari or Brindisi and rent a car to drive an hour to Matera. This is a Christmas experience you will never forget.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus - and he's in Helsinki

Helsinki is an off-the-beaten-path location for traveling at Christmas. With various markets - including a big Christmas market - located throughout the city, it is the only place where I have actually visited an outdoor fur market. Which - if you think about it - is logical in Finland. Add snow and cold, beautiful harbors and majestic buildings which mirror the architecture of classic St Petersburg, Russia and you have a perfect December holiday destination. The bonus when I visited in December: I actually did meet Santa Claus as he and Mrs. Claus arrived at the airport and were greeted by local television crews. My favorite place to stay is the Hilton Helsinki Strand.

Fun for Kids: Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

London is a great city to visit any time of year, but at Christmas, one highlight for children from two to 92 is Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. It has it all in one location: ice skating, an ice bar (adults only!), attractions, beer tents, a Christmas circus....the list goes on. Once you have tired of the Hyde Park crowds (yes, it is crowded!), there are 101 other Christmas markets and holiday activities to keep you busy in the City of Dickens.

It's better in Budapest

Budapest is one of the must-visit cities for millennials right now, and during the holiday season, you can see why it is top of the list. The Christmas Market on Vorosmarty Square (the main square) has its own unique Hungarian feel - fabulous handmade items and local crafts, great holiday delicacies, concerts, light shows, performances and more. The city is decked with holiday charm, dining is amazing (and often surprisingly affordable) and - if you are lucky - you might be able to soak in one of the famous outdoor spas under falling snow. It is an easy weekend destination: my favorite hotel is the Boscolo Budapest, but you can find a host of locations at any price range.

Seasonal serenity in Strasbourg 

Strasbourg at Christmas is high on my "Christmas market x-factor" list for many reasons:

  • the markets continue to Dec 30 (German Christmas markets usually end on the 23rd);
  • It's an easy drive or train ride (via a connection in either Cologne or Paris); and
  • with Strasbourg hosting its first Christmas market in the 12th century, it is one of the oldest, ongoing Christmas market towns in Europe

....and of course, the food and wine are just SO great!

Explore over 300 chalets and 20+ markets across the city. Every year, there is a "guest country" market which highlights its unique holiday traditions: this year, the host country is Iceland. Our family loved staying at the funky, half-timbered Hotel de L'Europe.

The Complaint Club

by Allison Ochs, Social Worker (M.S.W.), Coach
When I put my kids in the local schools in Europe, there was one thing looming over me that I loved to complain about: lunch! My mom used to joke, "I do dinner and breakfast, but I don't do lunch." I grew up hearing this and took on her mantra. I remember my meals at school, the smell of the overfilled cafeteria, the peanut butter finger desserts, giggling with my friends, running to recess, exchanging food, learning to be social. I was just horrified that my kids would not have this experience.

I spent years whining and complaining to family and with friends about having to pick them up, cook for them and drop them back at school. I stood with other foreign mothers in the parking lot complaining at pick-up and drop-off. We dreamed of a cafeteria. Then one eventually opened in our village. I just about threw a party, but was promptly told, "You can only sign your kids up two days of the week; those are our rules."  I threw another little fit. Oh, how I wanted to have the day to myself.

A few years ago we put our two youngest into an international school. Do you know what I miss most about their old school? The lunches at home! The crazy thing is I spent all this time fighting against the culture, complaining about it I didn't even realize I was loving it. During the lunch break, we talked, cuddled, worked on homework and had downtime. Sometimes the kids invited friends over, and I got to know their friends.

Sometimes you don't realize how good something is until you don't have it. Complaining in a foreign country just becomes second nature — something we do. I hear it all the time and am guilty of hanging out with girlfriends and doing just that. I try not to complain, to embrace the moment and I think I have gotten better over all the years. But I am human, and living in a foreign country has its moments — both the good and the bad. Just think, the thing you hate the most might just become the thing you'll miss when you leave. On a side note, I think the complaint club exists all over the world; it's best to identify it and realize when you are taking part.

Should You Raise Your Kids the Dutch Way?

by Allison Ochs, M.S.W. 

Edit Change Management 

Good morning, Amsterdam!

Of all the cities I've lived in, Amsterdam is the most expat-friendly. Therefore, I understand why so many expats want to follow the “Dutch way” of raising kids without thinking about what that means.

I was asked this week as a social worker and parent coach what I noticed and what my advice would be…

1. If you're coming from the U.S., your kids will not be used to the freedom the Dutch teens have. Don't rush into thinking you understand what it involves to be a “Dutch” teen because your kids have not had years of training walking and biking to school, going out, and learning their limits in this culture. Take care to talk to locals and take it step by step, giving freedom slowly; otherwise, your kids might spin out of control, be lost in what is right or wrong or get into trouble.

2. Although this experience might have moments that seem like the most fabulous party for you and your husband — almost as if you were revisiting your youth or on your second honeymoon — your kids need you. Staying in with them on a weekend evening, doing activities together, experiencing it with them is part of it. I know I sound boring but believe me: they do.

3. You and your kids will change through this adventure; it is unavoidable. Talk to them about what you are feeling, how your opinions are changing, what's shocking you and listen to their stories. It’s important to be on this journey with them, not parallel to them. Don't be shocked if they start changing their views on bigger issues such as politics, homosexuality, sexuality, drinking, and drugs.

Every family will have their own variation of norms, and there is a vast spectrum of right. You must find the and rules that fit best for your family. If you're in this together as a family, it will be a fuller expat experience. The stories you'll have, the laughs, the struggles, the friends you'll make will stay with you for life. Your family will become stronger and closer than you can imagine. So wake up every morning and embrace the day with a stretch and a loud, "Good morning, Amsterdam! What surprises and adventures will you bring me today?”

A Postcard from Back Home

by June Vine

Three weeks ago, hard to believe, we marked four years back home after five years in the Netherlands. Expat life, as brilliant and intoxicating as it was, has begun to recede further into the corners of my memory, like when you can no longer remember the name of that college boyfriend who seemed so right for you at the time but just a tad not enough to walk the path of life with. So, I began to wander mentally back through those years a bit tentatively, like Little Red Riding Hood through the woods in search of Grandma's house: what might I rediscover along the way?

Back in those days when we were expats, days that seem farther and farther away with each passing day, on an August evening like tonight I would have been doing one of the following: 1) Sitting alone downstairs back in our dreary Amstelveen rental, wide awake from jet lag at 2 a.m., thinking of what needed to be done before school started and listening to the snoring from above, pouty that my husband could sleep so soundly when I couldn't; 2) at Logan Airport, about to board that 9 p.m. overnight non-stop back that would set us down at Schiphol at 6:30 a.m. in time to pick up some milk and bread from Albert Heijn, make some toast and coffee, and then hit the sack even though we said we wouldn't until night, and missing my parents already; or 3) in some department or grocery store buying the last few American items we believed we couldn't live without for the next year and wondering how many suitcases we'd need.

Those last days of August, years ago, were our routine, but only fun in hindsight: carrying home bags and bags containing every last package of Oreos on the shelf or trying to fit 12 pairs of variously sized extra-wide light-up Sketchers into a suitcase without breaking the 50-pound limit. But there was a feeling of anticipation and eagerness then, because those last hours of August were spent in preparation for the next year of expat life, which, for us, spanned the beginning of school when everyone from everywhere reunited to drop our kids off and then drink coffee, until the next set of goodbyes and departure for home visit, and all the newness that awaited us when we would again return. Every fall, a "new" life coping with the pesky emotion-monopolizing absence of the dear friends who had moved away and around whom routines had formed, meeting new people — some of whom might become even more dear eventually, but not immediately — and the steady unconscious process of metamorphosing into an even more different person from the one who had left home at the beginning of the assignment, as well as the reunions with others who were similarly metamorphosing without realizing it. Those last few days of August seemed to me to feel like what I imagine a locust might feel every time it sheds the current shell and emerges anew. Exhausting, but stimulating at the same time. It was a giddy feeling.

Today, I’m four years into what is a different sort of metamorphosis from expat to ... what? A regular American Joe? (No, just kidding. There is no such thing and, if there were, it would be unattainable for many of us.) Anyway, I haven't figured out that part quite yet as I've yet to break out of my locust shell. As I mentally journey back in time, I now feel, perhaps for the first time, that sense of relief when one can look back and no longer yearn so longingly for the past, but rather look back and enjoy the good memories from the comfort, groundedness, and forward movement of the present. It is kind of like that feeling you get the first time you walk right past the diaper aisle in Target and realize not only do you NOT have to go down that aisle, but you see, for the first time, an aisle you never noticed before. Surprise, at first. Liberating. Exhilarating. Haha! Not only will my red plastic buggy NOT contain a single package of Pampers, it will instead contain a bunch of stuff I never knew I needed but now desperately do because it is so darned cute! Haha! Not only am I NOT buying twelve pairs of Sketchers, I'm not the least bit sad about it. Sounds nuts. Who waxes nostalgic about buying twelve pairs of extra-wide light-up Sketchers? Repats. The first Target-sans-diaper experience. The first re-pat-sans-wistfulness experience. Rites of passage.

We human beings are plastic. I don't mean artificial. I mean we adapt, we change shape. On the outside from too much sneaking of those Oreos that were supposed to be for the kids. On the inside from experiences and relationships. But, not all of us adapt as fast as we might expect. Meanwhile, just like viruses have left behind little bits of their DNA littered among the DNA of all of our ancestors until we ended up with some soup of it all, so do our own experiences leave little bits of their DNA that remain and travel with us. No matter how hard we try, we can't shake that stuff. We can rearrange it. We can try to push it down to the bottom of the drawer under the sweaters like a teenager does her birth control pills Mom doesn't know about, which every now and then annoyingly migrate back up to the surface. Over five years, while this American was an expat in the Netherlands, inside became some amalgamation of bits of experience-DNA from relationships and experiences and impressions. It's all there, hidden somewhere in the sweater drawer.

When I began to write tonight, I wondered. Of course, I miss it. Of course, I'm nostalgic. Of course, I envy you ... you with your fietspads and your lunch concerts at the Concertgebouw and your idyllic afternoons in the Amstelpark. But, it makes me happy to think of you enjoying these things. I hope you enjoy these and much much more as thoroughly as we did.

As for me, this late August evening the sensory receptors in my skin luxuriate in the 100°F soft convection-oven breeze (yes, I know you know it's °F and not °C, but these days I am habituated to this clarification thanks to my huisarts’s assistant who is also responsible for my body of Dutch medical vocabulary), the nearly scalding breeze of the strikingly beautiful American Mojave Desert. The vistas take my breath away the same way the sunlight glinting on the Amstel did years ago. I feel the coldness of an American-style icy Stella slide down my throat, parched from an afternoon of indoor skydiving (where else?), while listening to the sound of my kids splashing in the fountains of the pool. The shiny strip lights up into a carnival rainbow beyond the palm trees. I know that I will be going back from these scrubby Joshua trees silhouetted against the dusky sky and the sculptural rock formations and this gaudy city in my country — where I am not an expat — to the other vastly different end of the very same country that is gradually, at long last, just beginning to feel somewhat like home. To the same house: my own house. To my garden in progress. To our neighborhood shops. To the same townspeople and neighbors and one or two friends. As the same person I was before I got here. Continuity.

What could I say, from this far out, that would be relatable or at the very least mildly interesting to you? But, American women in Amsterdam, we share some of that experience-DNA, something from here, something from the Netherlands, something from the changes, the jet lag, the icy-cold beer or the room-temperature beer, the herring (you have eaten it, haven't you?). If you've never indoor-skydived, I recommend you get some of that experience-DNA, too! Some of you are new to the Netherlands. Some of you are longtimers over there. And, for me, the Netherlands is now part of my history. I'm on this side of that experience, adapting to a new-old home in an old-but-different country.

When we go on vacation, we write postcards about what we see and experience. This is a postcard from the land of repatriation, four years out. I hope whatever experience-DNA we share makes it relatable or at least interesting. Wishing all of you a wonderful year ahead!