Eleven days in Holland

by Janelle Hanchett

Heyyyy, so we’re in the Netherlands now. I had all these visions of videos and blog posts, recording it all and telling you all in great detail, but as it turned out I was just trying to get through it.

For the week leading up to our departure, I just felt fucking numb. So numb that I wondered if something was wrong with me. I guess the mind/body has a way of protecting us from that which is too massive to comprehend. Intellectually I knew I could just come back, that it was an adventure, that it was a great thing we were lucky to do, but my heart kind of broke anyway and all the unknowns lit fires of anxiety raging, so I mostly sat there staring at suitcases, vaguely throwing shit in the them.

The hardest part was causing pain in the people I love. People in my family don’t really move away from northern California. I chose a college that was close enough that I could still see my parents on regular old days. Not just Christmas. A Friday. Some wintery Tuesday. That’s the way I like it. That’s the way I’ve lived.

But this thing happened to Mac and me a couple of years ago. We went to Spain and France. And we knew we had to come back. We had always wanted to go somewhere, live elsewhere, show our kids something other than America, and when my grandmother was murdered, we lost all delusion of that “someday” will present itself. There is no good time, no reasonable time.

It will never make sense. This isn’t some “follow your bliss” Eat Pray Love bullshit. This is fact.

The time never comes.

And one day you may be eating Chinese food with your family then find yourself ten minutes later taking your last breaths on a linoleum floor. Was that too intense? Sorry. But that was the reality we had to fucking digest and I’m telling you it changes a person.

How the fuck are we going to live a life we can hardly stand (Mac commuted 3-5 hours/day), running circles on some rat wheel, hoping “someday” it will all mellow out and we’ll be happy and free and able to afford insurance without a job that’s sucking our lives dead and dry?

How do you “focus on retirement” as the time when you’re going to do all the things you meant to do when you have indisputable evidence that life is a fleeting motherfucker and you may not make it that long?

Ah, I’m bored of myself. I’m sick of this talk. It’s simply impossible to talk about any of this without sounding like a motivational speaker in some soul-crushing Marriott conference room during a self-improvement weekend retreat in Bakersfield. “Someday never comes, guys! Follow your dreams!”

To which the world responds: “Fuck you, Janelle. I’m just trying to feed my family so fuck right off with your ‘sell everything and go to Europe’ bullshittttttt.”

And I agree.


Anyway on July 6, we found ourselves in the airport. I told my mom we are not doing a goodbye. There will be no goodbye. I told my best friend that, too. Some goodbyes are impossible, pathetic. They hover in the air like a gnat. Irritating, meaningless things.

But it doesn’t matter. At some point you have to walk away. The goodbye forms itself.

It’s strange how things in the mind are dreamy and exciting, but when reality hits, when you’re actually living it, the physical logistics of moving through the world take over, and you’re just trying to check your bags and feed your kids and not lose your five-year-old and get on the fucking plane and not miss the connecting flight in Copenhagen and sleep on the plane (no way in hell) and get the rental car and SIM cards and through customs. It just becomes activities your body is accomplishing. Ain’t that annoying?

Everything and I mean everything becomes REAL. That’s the part on Instagram we don’t get to see.

We had friends who met us at the airport. I don’t know if they’ll ever understand what it meant to us to see their faces.

They held a sign that said “Welcome home.”


But then, that first night in Haarlem, Mac and I walked out of our Airbnb and stood on a little bridge over a canal as the sun was setting over the old town, and we could see the big church that stands in the central square, and I looked at him and said, “Do we live here now?” We both maybe cried a little but in a totally tough guy way.

And that was a moment when it all felt just like I imagined it.

A Dutch man walked by just then, grinned at us, and said something in Dutch. We ended up chatting with him (in English), telling him it was our first night in our new town, that we had just moved here for California, and he was so delighted we felt like he was our very own tiny welcoming committee.

He said, “You’ve come to the most beautiful city in Holland. Time to open champagne, you did it!”

And then, the fucking mayhem began. We had two nights in the Airbnb. The morning after we arrived, still basically hallucinating from exhaustion and jet lag, we got the keys to our house. It was entirely empty. We drove with a friend to Ikea and loaded up on cheap ass mattresses, plates, silverware, cups. Some toilet paper and food from the grocery store. It’s really fucking weird to realize you have NOTHING IN YOUR GODDAMN HOUSE AND THERE ARE SIX OF YOU WHAT DO YOU BUY WHERE DO YOU START?

Coffee. That shit’s obvious.

I went to Ikea five times in three days. Going to Ikea was my new hobby.


But we have a table now, and a TV and a couch. We have a couple of lamps. Mattresses on the floor. Hoping to get our shipping container in six weeks or so.

So, do we like it here? Well, yes. It’s gorgeous and laid back and there are moments when we look at each other and say, “Do we really live here?” Moments in cafes, drinking lattes and hot chocolate under some old ass church. Cobblestone and gelato and those wonderful cafes in old European squares, with all the people facing out so they can watch the passers-by. That was my dream. That was what I missed from Spain.

We live across the street from a beautiful park. Everybody rides bikes with no helmets, and the cheese is spectacular. We don’t have a car so we ride busses and trains and bikes. I find myself sitting at bus stops now with my kids, chatting and waiting. Our refrigerator is the barely bigger than a hotel fridge, and the grocery store is .5 miles away and we have no car, so I walk, almost every day, a mile to get food. It’s a different pace of life.

We are fifteen minutes from Amsterdam, three hours on a fast train to Paris. It is a dream.

But there are moments, moments when a strange loneliness washes over me. It feels ice cold, bone-deep loneliness and a touch of unrest, anxiety. This isn’t my home.

And I think again of my parents, my friends, of California redwoods and the thick fog of Santa Cruz. I wanted to come here to build a new home, to look around at a new world and try something outside what I know. This is my home now, and I’ll find my way, but everything has a cost. Those moments of strange loneliness remind me things are never simple. We don’t just cut off our lives, our people, and walk away. We remain tied, inextricably, as if it were all just one mile away. You just leave a part of yourself over there and walk along to some new place. They both become you. But only one wraps you in the history of your life, your place.

I am right where I’m meant to be, that I know, but the pieces of my life have been thrown into the clouds. I’m waiting for them to fall into something I recognize.

In the meantime, I’m letting this whole thing teach me. That is, after all, what I’m seeking, isn’t it?


I’m telling you the fucking cafes.

The park across the street from our house.

Seriously Haarlem is gross

Our living room. I can’t believe we actually pulled this shit off. Or have so far.

BTW, I write more off-the-cuff daily (or mostly daily) updates on Instagram and Facebook, but mostly Instagram. So if you’re interested in following along, that’s where to do it. I am going to try to write more often on the blog, but it’s a different kind of writing. 


Hey, so I’m still here talking about my book. People are reading it and still sending me pretty wonderful messages. If you haven’t checked it out yet, THERE IS STILL TIME.

28 Comments | Posted in Netherlands | July 18, 2019
  • Suz

    This is stunningly powerful. Thanks for sharing this, and all your journeys, with us.

  • Marta

    I know exactly how you feel, having that dream and following it but leaving “home”.
    But let me tell you just how screwed you are. You’ll never feel whole again, wherever you are, because now you’ll have a home and friends and a part of you, in two entirely different places. Eventually that may make you richer inside, yada yada, but it’s mostly quite weird. You may also find, when you return to visit, that you no longer recognize yourself in the people and places you left behind. And you’ll see it all growing older and also moving without you. It’s all just weird, man, but also beautiful.
    You are fucking brave. Wishing you all the luck and beauty in your new home.
    Come visit Portugal!!! You can email me for any tips – heck, you guys can even fit in my in laws’ home in Alentejo! 😀

    • Nova

      This. It’s totally true that you’ll never be the same ‘you’ and you won’t ever quite feel home in the same way as before. The personal growth is immense. It’s all so worth it! ❤️

  • deborah Rhea

    So I’m really choking now and tears are blurring my vision. I know some of what you have been feeling, and it makes me lonesome for what I left in Spain. And makes me think back on my arrival there and feeling lonesome for what I had left behind in California. It doesn’t stop, just gets a little easier with time, I guess…or that’s what they say.

  • sabrina

    So beautiful and so true. I left the States over 12 years ago to live around the world. I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything but I still, even after all these years, get caught up sometimes as tears wash over me when I think of my home, my country, and I feel such a strong pull back there. There is a cost……but I pay it for the adventure, in all its messiness.

  • Colleen

    The Dutch are so wonderful, they’ll make you feel like you’re home in no time. Good luck in your new adventure! It’s so exciting!

  • Peggy McCloskey

    Congratulations! You are living my dream.

  • Kate

    Same. It’s weird. I love my life in England and six years have gone by so fast. I’ve never been happier in my daily routine, but still heartbreakingly sad when I think how far away my family is. There’s no easy answer, it will always be hard. But I know I’m doing what’s best for me and my spouse and my kid. Keep going, be strong. You can always go home but eventually you’ll find you don’t want to.

  • Marzia

    Dear Janelle,
    I moved to the Netherlands from Italy 4.5 years ago. We moved here precisely for the same reasons you did: running away from a Country that is turning to fascism and because we were wasting our time, youth and talent with crappy jobs in a mega crappy atmosphere.
    Going away from Italy has been the most excruciating experience I have been through. I cried every day the month before leaving. I felt betrayed, I felt I had been chased away. In the end my husband said what it turned out being absolutely true: to go away from “home” (Italy in our story, California for you) is the only way we have to HAVE a place to call home. If we stay here, we are going to hate this place, and in the end we won’t have home at home. There will be no home whatsoever.
    It was true. And I am telling you know because I know exactly what you feel.
    You are very brave! We moved here because we were still childless (now we have a 2 y.o.), there is no way we had moved here with 4! You’re great.
    If you need tips/tricks/translation – speaking of, salted butter “is gezout boter”, the softener for washing machine is “wasverzachter” – my instagram is @lemargheritine.
    Hugs from AMSTERDAM

  • Leslie Glenn

    I totally get that numb experience when shit is totally changing. I can’t even picture doing all that but I would LOVE to do it. So many excuses why we shouldn’t though. I am so excited for you all and am just loving reading about it and it’s especially awesome because I know how real it all is. Thanks for keeping us updated 🙂

  • Sue Fontaine

    First of all congratulations! Secondly, LOVE your writing. Just ordered your book. I think you are smart, very brave and living your dream (hopefully). Your strength, courage and amazing humor inspire me. Keep those updates coming!
    All the best,

  • Tracy

    My eyes stun with tears reading this. I found you years ago when my soul was lost and bound up in an old split level raising tiny kids on barely anything. To watch you take flight with your family is so beautiful…and it costs, of course it does…anything worth anything always does. We’ve taken flight too in a different way and I am just glad to be kind of on this journey watching you guys. So much love.

  • Tarah

    moved to tears again. I have always wanted to live overseas. Thank you for sharing your journey and giving insight to the true feelings that would come with such great change.

  • taryn

    Ah, my dream. You went and did the thing. One day I’ll wave to you in the grocery store. Can’t wait to read more of your adventures.

  • Cheney

    So happy for you! Don’t worry about sounding like a motivational speaker, your actions speak a lot louder than words!

  • Claire

    Good luck, Janelle ! The first few months can be so disorienting. Nothing smells right! X

  • Jrmoviestar

    Your adventurous spirit is admirable! Just think of your readers as your home…we are right there with you ???? best wishes on your new home ❤️

  • Ilja

    The adventure and life changing views is all in the emi/immigrating. Doesn’t matter from where to where. I moved from Holland to a Caribbean island and experienced the same ‘it’s so laid back here’ feeling. Sort of concluding now it apparently takes a giant move to allow ourselves to live in the now! I just could have stayed in Holland if I would have know how to relax myself 😉

  • Sherry

    I hope you’re writing all of this down because it’s going to make a great sequel to your book and I cannot wait!

    I stand here in awe of your bravery and jealous as fuck. ????

  • Natalie Richardson

    I lived in London for 5 years, I absolutely hated the first year and it took me some time to realize that I felt alone, scared and homesick. I spent the majority of my life trying to escape my home and when I did, I desperately missed it. I missed how dysfunctional and familiar it all was. It took me one trip back home to realize that London was my home and that place that I was familiar with, was just that, familiar, but not my home. I then spent the most glorious 4 years in London, traveling and living my life. I never wanted to leave but unfortunately the political climate changed and it was made very difficult to renew my visa, I felt like I was ready for a change. At the time, I thought going back the US was the changed I wanted but I didn’t feel it in my heart. I moved back to California and regretted my decision.
    It will take some adjustment and time but hopefully you will also come to love Holland and never leave.
    Best to you and your family! Its very inspiring!

  • Ursula

    Longtime blog fan over here in Germany and so impressed with your courage to move the family to the Netherlands! Read in your FB page that you’ve come down with a cold, so sorry. As you are exploring Germany right now, go to a pharmacy (Apotheke, easily recognized by a large A symbol on the storefront) and ask for Wick Daymed or Wick MediNait – should equal Dayquil and Nyquil. However, I usually resort to phytodrugs (plant based but not homeopathic). I recommend ‘Sinupret Extract’ for head colds – in combination with Ibuprofen or other pain med of your choice, pharmacist can probably provide the one you like to use based on main ingredient. Get well and do enjoy the castles! I am so impressed with your courage (and I know all about the feeling of being in torn into two, lived in the States for 7 years, then returned to Germany, my heart will always be in two places, even in the age of Trump). Have fun exploring, Ursula

  • Just me

    I’ve been following you for…years. I read my husband your latest post and he said “that woman sounds like she knows her shit, how refreshing is that”? and I said “yup, she’s made me feel normal when my life “as Mum” felt like it was flailing and failing. She’s real and brilliant. And hilarious.

    I should be in Holland next year to meet a friend – I say this in the most non-stalkerish way possible, that I will be looking out for you , J!
    Enjoy enjoy – can’t wait to hear more about your latest life-stop

  • Tabitha

    I am watching you jealously. You are so much braver then my family and I are. We are on the California hamster wheel. Sacramento, not bay area. But still. And it sucks. It feels we are always drowning. And dreaming of “one day.” But family is here. And we are not brave like you. So for now we will live through you and dream about what if. Please don’t stop writing, even if it’s just instagram.

  • Jenn

    When my kids were 3 & 5 my husband walked in the door and said “my company wants to send me to Wales – what do you think?”

    It wasn’t even Cardiff – it was a 1300 person village 50 minutes from Cardiff and 3 hours driving to London.

    It was one of the hardest experiences of my life at first (supreme introvert). It was also one of the best.

    Life slowed down. We traveled more. We ate dinners together. Granted, I might have taken months to figure out the difference between “biological” and “non biological “ detergents (ok I lie, I still don’t know the fucking difference) and I DID GO OUT AND BUY AN “American” refrigerator, which, incidentally, is about the same width as that under counter fridge, but 6 foot tall. European sizing is frustrating (heads up – a European large is an American medium). But those are small things.

    You will laugh at the bumps. My 15yo still keeps up with UK friends via IG and Snapchat, and my daughter via WhatsApp. Enjoy every minute of every first you’ll have. It’s an incredible opportunity and your kids are old enough to remember it.

  • Farrell

    I love how honest you are here, with the move – the god and the bad. I’m fascinated by this “experiment” and am always looking forward to your next entry. Your living room is adorable and the town looks quite lovely! Keep writing!

  • Debbi

    So many things that I recognise in your words, in this post and all the others I’ve only just discovered. The tone of your writing is brilliant and really quite extraordinary.
    Moving so far away is a constant exercise in calculation. Is it still better here? Is it still worth it despite all the things I will miss? I’ve never thought it wasn’t, never wanted to move back (from NZ to my original home in the UK which is literally as far as you can go around the world!). But I accept that I will continue to do that same calculation perhaps forever. It can help you notice your life, and be grateful for things you might have taken for granted, even while you feel all the other weirdness. Good luck, although you’ve found IKEA and the supermarket so you’ve pretty much nailed it already!

  • Anna Marie

    I just saw this post. I did this 14 years ago…left the States and moved to the UK. I wanted a house in the English countryside, and I did it! Best decision in my life. Haarlem is one of the prettiest Dutch towns out there. Congratulations on your move!

  • Irena

    Your words moved me to tears. You’re such an honest and amazing writer. I’m a European living far from home, and the moments of icy-cold loneliness are very well known to me. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) they never really go away.