One month, one week and one day

It has been an intensely busy season in our lives. I kept meaning to sit down and write up a post, but it seemed like something was always pulling me away. Now I’m holed up at my cabin and finally have a moment to breathe!

In the past one month, one week and one day (this post was supposed to talk about the past month, and then I got sidetracked yet again with blogging):

We ran the Blenheim Palace half marathon in Woodstock, England. It was our slowest half marathon to date, but the course was stunning, the sun was shining and we got to check England off our list of countries we’ve run a half marathon on. The race was pretty stressful at the start, thanks to delayed public transportation and our late arrival at the course!

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We packed up and moved from England to The Netherlands. We agreed that it was, without a doubt, our worst day of travel ever–shrieking babies, excess baggage fees, my credit card got frozen, Joost’s debit card got frozen, delayed flight, broken suitcase, missed train… and the icing on the cake: pulling up at Joost’s family’s front door at 1 am, only to find out that the cab driver didn’t take credit cards. We had to turn around, go back into town and find an ATM. Overall, it took us 20 hours door-to-door. For the record, it’s about 250 miles in a straight shot from where we started to where we ended. Next time, I’ll swim/walk, thank you!

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We ran the Amsterdam Marathon. This was our first full marathon and the months of training paid off; we finished! It was a long day, but one that we will never forget–except for miles 16-22. I seem to have blocked most of those from my memory. To be honest, I’m not sure if I would recommend this marathon. With the exception of a couple kilometers on each end, we didn’t actually get to run in the city itself. There’s not a lot of crowd support and the race organizers seemed to be overwhelmed with how many runners they had this year. No matter what, though, WE RAN A MARATHON!

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We played tour guide for my parents, who flew into Holland for a long weekend. We saw the Rijksmusem, which recently reopened after an extensive, 10 year renovation. It was gorgeous, but very crowded. Be prepared to stand in a lot of long lines. They had a beautiful library, in addition to the famous Night Watch and the very strange coffin made to look like a vagina (entitled ‘Womb tomb’). I’m not going to pretend to understand that one. We also walked around Amsterdam, toured the inside of a private windmill and had our engagement party!

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Joost’s parents hosted a wonderful engagement party for us in Holland while we were there. About 80 of Joost’s friends and family were able to attend, which was such a blessing, as many of them will not be able to fly to America for our wedding in May. It was fun catching up with friends and meeting new people, even though I can’t pronounce about half of their Dutch names. I had been a little worried how my parents would fit into Holland, but my fears were unwarranted; I had obviously forgotten that my dad is capable of making conversation with a blank wall and my mom is nearly just as social! The party was held in a little restaurant, decorated by pictures of us from around the world that Joost’s parents had surprised us with by blowing up and hanging. The food was incredible. There was a legit cornucopia on the buffet table. Need I say more?

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We celebrated our three year anniversary with a night out in Amsterdam. Man, meeting in Australia feels like forever ago! We went for a run around Vondelpark, checked out the real estate and then had an amazing dinner at a restaurant called Fondue Fondue. It was, in case you hadn’t yet guessed, a fondue restaurant. Highly recommend.

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We said goodbye. I swear, if I had a penny for every tear I’ve shed at the Amsterdam airport, I’d be a bajillionaire. Joost and I are back to being in a long distance relationship until his visa paperwork clears. We’re hoping that he’ll be able to come to America at the end of March or beginning of April. We are both suffering from the severe re-acquisition of what I call the ‘LDR humpback,’ which is permanently and painfully slouched shoulders resulting from leaning over a computer screen or phone screen for so long. Ah, nothing like dating a pixelated face a few thousand miles away. Luckily, he’ll be in the US for Christmas and then we’ll only have three more months of long distance to go.

Joost took the GRE, a standardized test required for PhD applications in the US. He scored within the range of all the universities he’s applying to and I am so, so proud of him! Ironically, as a non-native English speaker who is almost done with his masters degree in applied mathematics, he scored higher on the verbal section than the math section. Go figure.

I moved back home to America. After ten months abroad, everything seems very large and very loud and very fast-paced. I’ve been home for a bit over a week now and still cannot bring myself to unpack.

I said yes to a dress! My first week at home was crammed with doctors appointments and wedding dress boutique appointments. We went to three shops and I tried on probably 25+ dresses before I found one, but I love it and can’t wait to wear it. I never thought I’d be the kind of gal who gets excited about poufy white dresses, but apparently all things are possible. My grandma was able to accompany my mom and me to the last appointment, and the fun girls day ended with champagne for all of us!

The holiday season is going to be busy for both of us. Joost is finishing and presenting his Masters thesis at the start of December. I’m working holiday retail at the mall (PSA: BE NICE TO MALL EMPLOYEES!), which is sure to keep me busy, although most likely on the brink of insanity. The Europe/America time difference is much harder for us than the Europe/Australia time difference was, so we’re trying hard to squeeze in Skype dates when possible, but it’s definitely been a challenge having to re-tether ourselves to technology. If we don’t get around to updating soon, we wish all the Americans a happy Thanksgiving, all the Dutchies a happy Sinterklaas (say hi to the black slaves for me) and everyone a happy holiday season!

A Look Back

It’s hard to believe, but as of today, we only have one week left in England. The past six months have gone by so quickly. Oh, who am I kidding? The past year has gone by so quickly!

It feels like just yesterday that I was sitting in front of a computer screen in Australia and Joost was sitting in front of a computer screen in the Netherlands and we were discussing the possibility of traveling and being on the move for a year. At the time, we laughed, thinking that surely, surely it was impossible. Visas and finances and jobs and timing–it was too much. But somehow, everything came together, and in the past 12 months, we’ve lived in New York, Minnesota, Tanzania and England. We’ve taken trips to Missouri, an impromptu vacation to Memphis (thanks Sandy), Holland, Zanzibar and Scotland. We got engaged. We traveled; we ate; we loved; we ran; we challenged; we saw; we met; we learned; we adventured. It has been one of the most interesting, wonderful years of both of our lives.

It’s hard to write a recap of the past year. So much has happened–I could fill books with our experiences (oh hey, maybe I should get on that). So, we decided to go list form for this post. Joost’s up first.

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6 Words to describe the year: 

Unconditionally. Gezellig. Adventurous. Mouthwatering. Heartwarming.

5 Favorite memories: 

The overwhelming experience of Times Square on a Saturday night. Hiking the upstate New York mountains during fall and taking a nap at the summit. Giving and receiving happiness while opening the school library in Tanzania. Proposing to Katie in Christchurch Meadows, Oxford, and promising to spend the rest of my life with her. Eating Katie’s delicious meals!

4 Greatest struggles:

Being away from friends and family. Adapting to the pace of life in Tanzania, and saying goodbye to the kids. Tying all the financial ends together–spare change jars for the win. Trying to avoid a perpetual hunchback at my work desk.

3 Greatest achievements:

Working towards my career in mathematics. Running the Kilimanjaro half marathon. Creating a happy home and life in general for me and Katie in the UK.

2 Favorite places: 

Comfy chair on our balcony in Tanzania, overlooking Kilimanjaro.

Our kitchen in England, where Katie’s cooking magic happens.

1 Thing you’ve learned:

In marrying Katie, I’m a lucky man.

KATIE

6 Words to describe the year:

Blessing. Seek. Love. Change. Awe. Gratitude.

5 Favorite memories:

I can’t believe that I included this, because it’s so hard! I’m cheating a little completely and including multiple favorite memories from some of the places we were.

New York: Times Square. Discovering the Highline. Roommate dinner nights. Hiking in upstate New York during fall (gorgeous). Lion King on Broadway. Wafels & dinges food truck. Passenger concert. Apple picking.

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Tanzania: Opening the library. Singing Rihanna songs with the girls. Seeing our kids kick butt at the running races. Coloring for hours. Laughing as the kids patted their full, distended bellies after pilau day. The Kilimanjaro half marathon. Long runs on dirt roads alongside fields of sunflowers, small villages and baboons. Date nights in town. Avocados the size of my head. Cooking for the staff. Giving kids books. Trips to the markets with Teddy and Inno. Running with Jordan. Hanging out with Adam and Terry and the Stella Maris staff. Going to a party with a bunch of other expats and volunteers in the area, sitting on the roof under a brilliantly starry sky with a beer in hand while someone played guitar and being overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude.

 

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Zanzibar: SCUBA diving. Eating fresh seafood on the beach. Sunsets.

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Europe: Edinburgh half marathon. Long runs along the Thames. Ben’s Cookies. Visits from friends and family. Joost proposing. 20 miler in Lake District. Roadtripping in Ronald’s adorable classic mini cooper. Joost surprising me with a bike. Date nights. Cooking for Joost.

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4 Greatest struggles: 

Visas. It seems like we are in a constant state of waiting for visa approvals to be processed!

Navigating cultural differences in response to our engagement.

Finances. I will be pleased when we are both allowed to work in the same country! One intern salary is pretty tough for two people to live off of in England.

Isolation. Being on the move can be lonely; it can also make it hard to relate to friends from home and vice versa. We have also been living in a very small, very isolated, very weird, not particularly friendly town here in England, which made it difficult to make friends. I am an extrovert, so all this alone time has been a challenge!

3 Greatest achievements:

Running races around the world and sticking with training for the Amsterdam marathon.

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Designing, painting and opening the library in Tanzania. Those of you who have been reading our blog for a while may remember the glacial pace at which things moved in Moshi, so finishing it felt amazing.

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Learning how to cook and teaching myself (and Joost) about food. People who have known me for years are pretty shocked to know that I can actually do more than just boil water in a kitchen now! I’ve filleted entire trout on our kitchen counter, baked bagels from scratch and acquired a hefty stash of herbs and spices. I have to be honest–I’m pretty chuffed with myself! I never thought I’d see the day that I had both the skills and ingredients on hand to whip up freshly baked honey lavender bread (topped with goat cheese, lemon curd and a sprig of fresh rosemary) or make turkey sloppy joes from scratch, loaded with veggies and spices. We made a conscious effort to eat as much fresh, local, in season food as possible, which was difficult on our budget, but attainable thanks to how many free hours I had to price compare between different grocery stores and find coupons. Grocery shopping involved careful counting, hours devoted to wandering the aisles finding the cheapest, healthiest ingredients and constantly having to google, “what do British people call _________” Almost everything we ate here was made from scratch by yours truly, including pasta sauces, salad dressings and dips. We avoided salt and preservatives as much as possible. I think we can both agree that this is the healthiest and best we’ve ever eaten!

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2 favorite places: 

Bottom of the Indian Ocean while we were SCUBA diving in Zanzibar.

Anywhere I’m with Joost. It sounds cheesy, but after 22 months of being in a long distance relationship, and knowing that we’re gearing up to go back to an LDR while we wait for Joost’s USA visa paperwork to be processed, waking up to his 3D, HD face is incredible.

1 Thing you’ve learned:

We are so blessed to have the privilege of having a place in this beautiful world, filled with beautiful, quirky, imaginative, inspiring people.

A Week of Travel

As usual, our blog is a few weeks behind our life. We had a busy couple weeks there with friends visiting and SEEING OUR PARENTS! Both sets of parents flew into London–mine from Minneapolis; Joost’s from Amsterdam–a couple weeks ago so they could meet in person. I think everyone was a little nervous that the cultural, personality or language differences could be a problem, but we ended up having a great time. We spent a lot of time talking wedding shop (for future reference: planning a wedding via email and Whatsapp is a pain in the heinie), drinking coffee and walking around. We had just under two days together and then Joost’s parents flew back to Holland and my parents stayed for a week of traveling through the UK. It was so nice to spend time with family, especially since our social interaction with other people is pretty limited here! We also really appreciated getting to travel on a more generous budget than we’re used to😉 You may recall that the last place we stayed in was our cozy room of 14 people in Scotland. Before that, it was our budget hut in Zanzibar that gave me bedbugs and left me sobbing in the middle of the stifling room at 3 in the morning…

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London

Where to sleep: We stayed at the Dolphin Square Apartments, just a few blocks from the Pimlico underground stop. Joost & I stayed in one apartment, Joost’s parents and my parents each in another. Each one had a slightly different layout. Somehow, Joost and I managed to snag the nicest and biggest unit. Each apartment was equipped with a full kitchen, spacious bathroom and decently sized bedroom. Ours also had a full living room with a desk, two coffee tables and large flat screen tv (after spending most of this year without a tv, we definitely took advantage and stayed up late getting sucked into the X Factor). The customer service leaves a bit to be desired (snippy reception staff who didn’t seem to have much idea what was going on), but the location and facilities were great.

Where to eat: Believe it or not, I actually don’t remember the name of a single place we ate in London. We had amazing Indian food our first night, but Joost’s dad found it and I just followed along. Joost and I had each picked a restaurant to try while we were in London–sushi and Malaysian. Funny story: NEITHER restaurant was open. We trekked our parents around London trying to find these places, only to be greeted with locked doors and dark windows. A+ tour guides, right here.

Where to play: We did the usual touristy things: walked by Big Ben, the London Eye, etc. One of the best things we did all weekend though was seeing Stomp at Ambassador’s Theatre. When I was in 6th grade, our band director showed us a video of Stomp during class–ever since, seeing them live has been on my bucket list! It’s a percussionist’s dream. In short, it’s a group of performers dancing and smashing trash can lids together, flicking cigarette lighters in time and banging on kitchen sinks, inner tubes and shopping trolleys with drumsticks.

Edinburgh

After saying goodbye to Joost’s parents, my parents, Joost and I hopped on a train to Edinburgh, with a quick stop at Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station (unfortunately, Joost’s owl got lost trying to deliver his Hogwarts acceptance letter, so we missed the Hogwarts Express). We lucked out with gorgeous weather and had a fabulous few days eating good food, meeting up with my friend Lisa and actually getting to see the city! Last time Joost and I were in Edinburgh, we were there for the half marathon and we were moving so quickly that we didn’t see much. Just kidding. We were moving pretty slowly, but we only had about 24 hours there!

Where to sleep: We stayed at Hotel Indigo, a funky, eclectic hotel near the heart of the city. Our room was delightfully orange–perfect for hubs-to-be’s Dutch roots. The rain showers are amazing, especially because the bathroom has built in speakers. Imagine my surprise when I was peeing and started hearing male voices coming out of our shower after Joost turned on the tv in the other room. The Aveda toiletries were an added plus. The two complaints I had: our room smelled like a flowery old grandma (although my parents claim theirs smelled fine) and the sound from the hallway carries right under the door.

Where to eat: We had some of our best meals of the trip in Edinburgh. Our favorites: Bellinis and Cosmos (for the ladies) at The Dome. Sushi at Kanpai, a hole-in-the-wall a bit outside of the main area of town and away from a lot of the tourists. Freshly squeezed lemonade at the Black Medicine Cafe. Thai food at Dusit–but beware, they aren’t joking when they say something’s spicy. My king prawns and scallops left me in a sweaty puddle by the end of the meal.

Where to play: We lucked out and had great weather in Edinburgh, which meant we got to spend a lot of time outdoors. We took a hop-on/hop-off bus tour with MacTours, which did a great job teaching us some of the history of Edinburgh. I actually conked out partway through (I was tired!), but everyone else assures me it was a great tour. We visited the Edinburgh Castle–no trip to Edinburgh is complete without a quick look around. My favorite part of our time in Edinburgh was our hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat. It takes a couple hours start to finish, but the views of the water and city are breathtaking once you get to the top. It requires a moderate level of fitness–the hills were alive with the sound of us all panting. Bring a jacket–it’s cold at the top, even on a sunny day!

Lake District (Keswick)

Where to sleep: We loved our B&B in Keswick! Howe Keld is clean, close to the lake and–the best part–makes a conscious effort to serve food and products that are local, sustainable and fair trade. The owners are friendly and accommodating, the wifi is unlimited and free and there is a great library in the main living room with tour guide books and maps.

Where to eat: Actually, the best meals we had were the breakfasts at the B&B. The restaurants we ate at were decent, but it was hard to compare after our time in Edinburgh. The breakfasts came with homemade granola, yogurt, fresh fruit, freshly baked banana bread and croissants and a main course–just in case you hadn’t gotten enough yet! Keswick has plenty of restaurants and pubs to offer, but be sure to book ahead! We didn’t realize that almost all of the restaurants required bookings and by the time we called, most of the good ones were fully booked.

Where to play: The lake(s). We arrived right after the tourist season, so most of the boat tours were closed, but we heard about a sunset boat cruise that sounded pretty fabulous. Joost and I spent most of our time here running. We ran our first ever 20 miler and couldn’t have asked for a more scenic route. We ran around the lake twice and almost the entire time was spent with me saying, “OH MY GOD LOOK AT THAT WATERFALL! LOOK A DEER! AHHH LOOK AT THAT COOL TREE! OH MY GOD ISN’T THIS AMAZING? ISN’T THE AIR SO CLEAN?! THAT BRIDGE IS SO PRETTY! THE WATER IS SO CLEAR! MAN THAT SUNRISE WAS GORGEOUS. DON’T YOU JUST LOVE RUNNING!!! I LOOOOOVE RUNNNINNNGG!!” Mile 19 was filled with me saying, “OH MY GOD JUST LEAVE ME HERE TO DIE. I HATE RUNNING. WHYYYY?!” The trail was a bit steeper and rougher than had been advertised–easy enough to walk, but more challenging when you’re on mile 14 or 15 of a long run. The town of Keswick is an adventure-junkie’s heaven; it’s filled with outdoor shops selling everything from waders to rock climbing shoes to down sleeping bags. My mom practically had to drag my dad away.

Stratford-Upon-Avon

Where to sleep: NOT at the Mercure Stratford upon Avon Shakespeare Hotel. Again, we willingly paid money earlier this year to stay in a bedbug infested hut in Zanzibar–and even still, that might’ve been more bang for our buck than this place. It was surprising, as it got decent reviews on Trip Advisor. However, apparently half of the hotel has been redone, so it’s important to specify you want to stay in the new part. We didn’t know this, so we were in the back by the garbage dumps. Our windows were cracked (seriously), the mattresses were so old that you sank into the middle as soon as you sat down and when Joost sat down in the armchair, a huge plume of dust flew up. No.

Where to eat: We really only had time for one meal here, but our quick bite to eat at Bamboodle Noodles was excellent. The manager was extremely accommodating (and made a pitch for a good review on Trip Advisor) and the modern vibe was refreshing, as the rest of the town is, well… old. The shredded duck rice paper rolls with plum sauce are delish.

Where to play: We visited Shakespeare’s birthplace (sort of–we stood outside the building) and grave (we actually went into the church), of course. We also snagged last minute tickets to ‘All’s Well That End’s Well’ by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It. Was. Fabulous. Even for non-Shakespeare fans (or fans who don’t speak English as their native language… ahem…), the performers did such a great job that it was easy to understand what was going on–and the screens with the dialogue helped as well.

Our last day together was spent in Oxford and Abingdon grocery shopping (thanks again mom & dad!), eating Ben’s cookies (duh) and Jamie Oliver’s tiramisu with old next door neighbors from our hometown, who are in London for a few months. A rainbow popped up towards the end of the day, and it was the perfect way to end our trip!

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The Dirty T Word

This past weekend, we added to our Dutch visitor list! Three lovely gentlemen flew in from Amsterdam for a quick tour through Oxford and London. Job, Huib and Alexander (half Yank!) arrived on Saturday arvo. We took them on a scenic tour of our exciting town (it took all of about seven minutes) and then I cooked them their first ever taste of homemade Sloppy Joe’s!

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After dinner, we headed to our local pub, where we had the most culturally enlightening and entertaining conversation I’ve had in quite a while. I learned how to curse like a Dutchman!

In Dutch culture, words like f*ck and c*nt are perfectly acceptable. I know, right. Casually dropping the f-bomb is a habit of Joost’s that I was quick to nix. Because they’re English words, they hold very little meaning when interspersed into Dutch conversations.

Oh c*nt, I can’t find my keys!, your boss will say.

F*ck, did you see that today?, a mother might ask her children at the dinner table.

Apparently, dumb girls are referred to as skipping c*nts.

So I asked the boys, “obviously cursing in English isn’t a problem, but are there any super offensive Dutch curse words?”

Cancer!

Plague!

Typhoid!

Cholera!

Tuberculosis!

Polio!

I kid you not.

The Dutch have taken illnesses and diseases, many of which are no longer in existence, or are only found in the developing world, and turned them into dirty, vulgar terms.

CHOLERAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA, one might wail after stubbing their toe.

Do you have polio?!, you would ask a lazy bum.

Plague face is somewhat synonymous with calling someone an a-hole.

But the mother of all insults, something that you could never say in public or be forgiven for, is calling someone a cancer sufferer.

I guess we can all agree that cancer is a universal f*cking b*tch.

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The next day, we went into Oxford and went punting again! Alexander was quite the skilled driver and successfully navigated us through the river and away from the trees (more than I can say for my own punting skills). Huib decided to feed the ducks leftover peanut butter sandwiches as we puttered along, and before we knew it, we had an entire flock of ducks eagerly eyeing our boat. Both the ducks and Huib got bolder until finally, a little ducking was ‘accidentally’ lured straight onto Job’s lap. It’s a bit hard to see, but we managed to snap a shot of Huib throwing the duck back into the water, while Job attempted to avoid the pile of poop the duck left us in panic.

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We ended the wonderful day with a quick nap in the sunshine and dinner back at the local pub.

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It was a great weekend and my cheeks are only just starting to recover from all the laughing we did!

Jumping in Pockets of Sunlight

Some family friends from Australia were passing through London this past weekend, so Joost and I headed into the big city to meet up with them! I’ve known them since… forever, really, as our parents have been friends before any of us kids were around. We’ve traveled to/around Hawaii, Minnesota, Whistler and Kangaroo Island together, so it was fun to be able to add London to our list. It is amazing how friends who live 10000 miles away from your home can make you feel homesick, as you reminisce about eating Swedish meatballs at Christmas in Minnesota, playing the ‘penis’ game (a mature and intellectual game played by teenagers around the world, where you take turns saying ‘penis’ in escalating decibel levels until someone gets too embarrassed to continue) while on a penguin tour in Australia and that time your littlest brother gave a rousing speech on the Pilgrims coming to America. Even though we only see each other every few years, we really have grown up together.

Joost and I started the day by waking up early and taking a bus to Oxford and then a train into London, where we met Alice and Annabel for a delicious brunch. Can we just take a minute to revel in how glorious it was to be back in civilization, where brunch exists?! Seriously. Glorious.

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After spending time catching up on the past three years or so of our lives over lattes, we ventured out to see some of the big sights. Even though we’ve now lived in England for four months (!), Joost has never seen London. I know. It’s just been too expensive/time consuming to get in yet, so of course we had to show him all the classic tourist destinations! We went to Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. The weather couldn’t quite make up its mind, but we had fun frolicking in the pockets of sunlight when they appeared through the clouds.

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We split up for a bit in the afternoon so that the girls could get some shopping done before heading back to Australia. Joost and I wandered up and down Oxford Street (don’t worry, we found Ben’s cookies!) and through Hyde Park. We stumbled upon the Speakers’ Corner, a section of the park devoted to people having lively debates and protesting just about everything you can imagine. Our favorite was a black woman handing out fliers and wearing a sign in a campaign to ‘Save the Blondes!’

Later, we met up with Alice, Annabel and Susan for drinks and dinner at an adorable little wine bar. Susan grilled Joost on his life before giving him the Auntie Susan stamp of approval!🙂 It was such a great day, getting out of our little town and spending time with good friends.

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The Dutch Invasion

Believe it or not, life has been pretty busy around here! Between wedding planning, trying to figure out visas, Joost studying for the GRE and starting the application process for PhDs, and my training for the Amsterdam Marathon, we have also been invaded this summer–by Dutchies!

We feel so fortunate that the Netherlands is just a stone’s throw away and makes visiting quite easy [sidenote: I think it’s a stones throw away; Europeans might beg to differ–it’s funny how your perception of distance changes when you’ve lived in a big country!!]. We’ve been busy hosting guests for the past month. I feel like I’ve spent most of my time either cleaning to get ready for a guest or cleaning up after a guest! Three weekends ago, Sipke and Lisanne came to visit; two weekends ago, Ronald came to visit; this past weekend, Toni was here!

Sipke and Lisanne spent a long weekend with us before embarking on a two week camping trip in England. We visited Blenheim palace again, where we had a picnic, trekked around the estate, and went inside a tree, a butterfly house and a giant maze. Sipke and Joost had an unfair advantage, as they were both tall enough to see over all the hedges! We also spent a day in Oxford showing them the university and eating Jamie Oliver’s tiramisu [<–if you’re ever in Oxford, this is a MUST!, says Joost, the tiramisu connoisseur].

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The following weekend, Ronald, an even taller Dutchie, came to visit after a week of roadtripping through England. We spent a day in Oxford, notable because the boys walked both to AND from the city–they walked almost a full marathon that day (me, being the lazy marathon trainer that I am only ran about 10 miles). The most fun we had, though, was when we packed into Ronald’s classic mini Cooper [how.cute.is.this.car.] and drove through the English countryside to see the Cotswolds, a quintessentially British set of towns. I feared for the safety of the boys’ heads, as the towns seem to be built with only 5-foot-tall residents and visitors in mind. It felt a little like being in Disneyworld, where everything is kid-sized! Perfect for me, though.

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Last weekend, Toni (OUR NEWLY APPOINTED BEST MAN!🙂 ) flew in for a quick, 36 hour visit before he leaves for a round-the-world trip next month. Of course, we had to show him the best of all things Oxford.

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He was ever so kind to sponsor an activity that Joost and I have observed since we moved here: punting. Basically, you sit in a long wooden boat while someone stands on the back and pushes you down the river with a long pole. The crew members made it look easy. Every time Joost and I saw punters in the river, we would remark how romantic it seemed. NOPE. It is so much harder than it looks!

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The stages of punting:

YAY! Let’s climb aboard!

The seats are wet. Now my butt’s soaking.

Toni, are you pushing? Oh, you are. Are we moving?

THAT’S A TREE! WE’RE RUNNING INTO A TREE! I now have part of a tree in my hair.

Aaaaaand it’s raining. Do you think our boat will sink if it starts raining harder?

Careful when we go under the bridge. CAREFUL OF YOUR HEAD! WATCH THE POLE! YOUR HEAD! Maybe we should just ditch the pole and pull ourselves along the trees.

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The best part was during one particularly narrow stretch of river, when 6 or 7 other boats all found themselves wedged in, trying to maneuver around each other. There were a lot of yelled apologies and warnings not to take each other’s eyes out with the poles. Toni and I just sat in the boat cracking up while Joost was left to weave in and around them.

Despite the weather and my inability to successfully punt without running into anything and everything on the river, it was great. I highly recommend it, especially if it’s sunny–although if you want to stay dry and on course, I might advise hiring a chauffeur!

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We ended the day with a beer, a burger and yet another trip to Jamie Oliver’s restaurant for a well-earned tiramisu. By the time we finished our bike ride back home (8.5 miles), I was dry heaving bacon aioli and orange zest fumes.

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We’ve got two weekends free before the Dutch Invasion continues; Alexander and Job will be here for a weekend and then the following weekend, both my parents and Joost’s parents arrive in London!

A proposal!

Some big news in our life: We’re engaged!

On Saturday, Joost proposed and I said YES!

We had planned on a picnic in Oxford—the weather gods finally decided to shine down on us and grace us with sunshine. We packed up the essentials for any good picnic: a baguette, brie and wine and biked to Oxford. I must admit, I felt quite European with a baguette sticking out of the basket on the front of my bike!

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When we arrived, the town was packed with tourists and school groups. It was a bit reminiscent of walking around and being jostled through Times Square in NYC—just with much, much older buildings. We wandered to Christchurch Meadows, laid out a couple of towels and enjoyed the food and sunshine.

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Joost had been acting a bit strangely all morning, but to be quite honest, I just thought he was really hungry. Anyone who knows Joost can attest to the fact that a hungry Joost is a weird, distracted Joost. The longer we sat in the park, the faster and more Joost talked about trivial things. Finally, he pulled himself up so he was sitting facing me and said, “I have a little something for you.

In my head, I was shouting, “OMG! IT’S GOING TO BE A RING! THIS IS IT!”

…and he pulled out tickets to Despicable Me 2.

I’ll be honest, I was pretty excited for the tickets, but they weren’t nearly as sparkly as the something I had been hoping for!

Joost laughed and informed me that he had been checking his watch all morning because he wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the movie. I tried not to look too disappointed, but it must not have worked, because he said, “oh, and I have something else for you too!”

In my head, I shouted (again), “OMG FOR REAL THIS TIME! THIS IS IT!”

…and he pulled out an engraved wooden plaque. It had all of the continents listed and the races we’ve run so far. He told me that he thought running was something that’s brought us closer together and the metaphor for running through life together was something special: it’s taught us teamwork, how to stay by each other’s sides through tough times and how to set and achieve goals together.

It was a lovely gift, but definitely not what I had been expecting! Then he told me to turn it over. “Marry Me” was engraved on the back. When I looked back at Joost, he was on one knee with a gorgeous, sparkly present!

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We had to laugh. The woman at the engraving store in our small town in Oxfordshire had misspelled Antarctica and forgotten to put a question mark after “Marry Me,” so Joost apologized for sounding like a demanding Dutchman and reiterated that it was a choice. Ha, I still laugh thinking about it. The flaws make me love it even more, just because it’s so funny.

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Of course I said, “yes!” and tried really hard to get my eyeballs to stop sweating. We didn’t have much time, as we had to bring the ring back to the jewelry store (it was too big and has to be resized, so I only had it for about an hour before it got shipped off!) and make it to the movie! By the way, Despicable Me 2 is hilarious. It’s even better when you enjoy it with beer, wine and a proposal.🙂

Now, here’s a little secret: we have been wedding planning for weeks! We’ve talked about it a lot and are both so, so excited to get married, but we do have a couple extra considerations to take into account: our marriage involves immigration attorneys, a physical exam for Joost to make sure he’s not bringing any foreign diseases into the US and interviews at the US embassy. Joost can come into the US on a fiancé visa, but has to be married within 90 days of landing on US soil. So, we wanted to get married ASAP so that we wouldn’t have to go back to being long distance again, but then we realized that none of our friends would be able to make it without enough prior notice. We’re inviting friends from five continents, so we wanted to be able to give them enough of a heads up so that they could start saving their pennies!

We wanted everything ready to go when we became “officially” engaged so that we could tell our friends a date right away. So, we booked our venues a couple weeks ago. We’ll be getting married at a winery near my cabin at the end of May next year! We also have had our Save the Dates sitting on our desk for the last week.

It’s been quite strange ‘secretly’ planning a wedding. We only told our families and a few of our closest friends. I am extremely lucky to have a mom that’s a rockstar at event planning and has good taste! She’s been helping look at venues, find vendors, etc back in Minnesota, as it’s been a little difficult doing it from England. It’s not how I ever imagined planning a wedding would be, but I suppose nothing about our cross-cultural, international relationship was how I imagined dating would be!

As of right now, we’ll head back to the Netherlands mid-October. At the beginning of November, I’ll head back to the states, which means I will once again be dating a pixilated, 2D, head of Joost. Sometime in March, Joost will come over to the US. At the start of April, he’ll find out whether he was accepted into any PhD programs (he’s currently looking in Chicago, Minnesota, California and Colorado). In May, we’ll get married and then we’ll move to wherever Joost gets in!

It’s all quite chaotic, but we are SO so excited and can’t wait!!

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