Posts Filed Under Netherlands

Hey, Mothers: It’s not you, it’s America.

by Janelle Hanchett

Alright, we have a new rule.

Setting aside the question of whether or not I am the person on earth who sets new rules for the entire population of American mothers, I hereby declare that we shall not, under any circumstances, engage in criticisms of “choice” without taking into account the fact that America hates people.

Not to be dramatic.

But it loves us fighting with one another about individual decision making.

You see, I moved to The Netherlands. Most of you know this. I have been permanently and irrevocably ruined. I will never see the USA in the same way–and I didn’t see it in a particularly flattering light in the first place– but I truly, deeply, had no idea how bad average American parents have it.

I don’t think a person can understand it until they’ve left the USA, raised children in pretty much any other developed nation.

From where I’m standing, it’s truly surreal to watch mothers in the States yell at each other about “choices” to be a stay-at-home mom or “working” mom, or to breastfeed or not, “helicopter moms” vs. “free range” moms or anything else we yell at each other about.

Why? Because every single decision we make is defined by the utter lack of social safety and healthcare in the USA.

In other words: it’s not you, it’s America. 


No, I’m not making us all helpless victims of the system. What I’m saying is this: Every single decision we make as parents is almost entirely determined by the resources at our disposal, the structure of our communities, labor laws and rights, pension availability, healthcare, childcare, and the entire concept of work-life balance. Or lack thereof.

Critiques of “parental choices” are irrelevant and misguided if they fail to take into account how little “choice” most Americans have.

Allow me to explain. (When I say the word “guaranteed,” I mean “legally mandated at a national level.”)

Guaranteed paid parental leave allows mothers and fathers to establish a more stable and early role as parents, integrating breastfeeding if desired and allowing for a less stressful newborn period.

Subsidies on childcare for a much wider breadth of people allows many more people to have an actual “choice” in whether or not they work outside the home, or breastfeed, for that matter. Collective bargaining as a norm and robust federal labor laws allow for creative work structures, and things like “daddy days” in the Netherlands, a half day each week when fathers can take a day off work, PAID, to spend time with their kids. For the first eight fucking years of life.

A 36-hour workweek and flexibility within that week allows families to create more customized schedules and for both parents to share the childcare, and to not be financially penalized for it.

Guaranteed paid sick days and care days for both parents at all jobs further helps balance domestic and childcare responsibilities, and removes the stress of one parent always needing to endure the burden of a sick kid, or go to work sick, which means they’re exhausted and worn out at home, or get sicker and sicker until they really can’t work, at all.

Guaranteed paid vacation of 4-6 weeks a year plus an extra paycheck to fund it, plus quarterly child benefits to help you raise kids increases mental health and lowers stress levels of families, not to mention supports a functioning family as a whole.

Universal healthcare and FREE healthcare for children under 18 makes parents less obsessed with safety.

Subsidies and assistance for low-income/minimum wage workers make parents less concerned with their child being the top of the class. Parents are much less concerned about having The Best. Mommy wars and shame are virtually nonexistent. Because it isn’t an existential thing here–parent how you want.

Ever think about how many American parents are helicopter nutbags because they know a skilled labor, minimum-wage job is essentially a fast track to a shit life?

Well-funded schools not based on local tax income means your kid can go to any neighborhood school which gives you more time in the mornings and evenings and gives your children more independence, and removes the frantic need to live in certain neighborhoods so your kids have a chance at getting a decent education so they have a chance of getting scholarships to attend unaffordable universities to attempt to get a job that will pay off their student debt that accrues at 7%.

But we get mad about school choices.

Universal healthcare and robust mental health and addiction treatment programs make the streets safer, which allows kids to be freer, which allows us parents to be freer–not to mention access all of those services themselves.

Universal healthcare means you are not tied to your job for the benefits, for literal survival. So you have more actual freedom of employment. You can leave. You can start over. You can take a break. You don’t have to stay in a job that’s sucking your soul out your ears so your family has healthcare.

(Tell me again how the USA is the country of freedom, though.)

Affordable university means you are not strapped forever by student loans. It means you don’t have to panic about how to fund your kid’s education. It means you don’t have to work three jobs to pay for it all.

If you have a burnout, also known as extreme stress to the point that you’re unable to work–also known as “the way most Americans live,” or if you have a chronic illness making work impossible, you can take a year or two off, paid at at least 70%, then go back to work. By law, employers must pay this amount for 2 years, and again, this is a minimum. If complications from pregnancy arise, you’re paid at 100% of your salary.

You have the capacity to take care of yourself so you can take care of your fucking family.

Universal pensions means there are many, many more grandparents around to help their kids raise their grandkids. Do you ever think about that? Think about how many old folks work basically until death in the USA. Think about how many families take in their elderly or sick parents or family members because there’s nowhere else for them to go and nobody to care for them. What if that were relieved? What if that were covered?

Can you imagine the difference it makes to KNOW your chronically ill, mentally ill, or elderly parent or loved one is CARED FOR and you don’t have to personally guarantee they don’t die alone in a Lazy Boy armchair or your living room?

This is truly just the surface, friends. Off the top of my head.


So no, we don’t even get to scream at each other for falling apart in the USA as parents, for crumbling under stress, for messy houses or yelling too much. Working and middle-class American parents are thrown scraps, chucked into a society that doesn’t give a shit about them, then told if it isn’t working, they simply need to try harder.

Unless you’re rich, in the USA you’re set up to fail then blamed for it, and every conversation is reduced on both sides to identity politics and shit-slinging us vs. them. What a way to smash class solidarity, no?

It’s stunning to watch from here, and I’m fascinated by my own past participation in it. I understood it was more complex than simply “individual choice,” but I did not understand how much easier all of it would be, how vastly different all of it would be, if America treated basic human rights as actual rights instead of privileges.

I also did not understand the role of “culture wars” in all this and the way political parties form themselves around cultural issues precisely because it distracts us from the systemic problems materially affecting our lives.

As long as we’re angry at each other, we won’t get mad enough to be like the French, or English, or Russians, or the Dutch, who ate their aristocratic leader in 1672. I am not recommending that. What I’m saying is, people get mad when they’re tired of being fucked by the oligarchy, and then, sometimes, they revolt.


And as long as we’re mad at each other, we aren’t mad at them.

I know what some of you are thinking: You live in a commie country. You pay 85% taxes. (I read that literally a few days ago).

I pay the same tax rate I paid in the USA and California (around 24%).

Nobody gets ahead in those socialist countries. Lol. The Netherlands is a fucking tax haven. It’s regulated capitalism. Their healthcare system is a blend of public and private. I buy private insurance; if I want to pay more, I can have more services covered. But the basic package, and the cost of that package, and what it covers, is dictated by the government each year as opposed to for-profit insurance companies with a vested interest in me NOT getting healthcare.

This is worth repeating: The Netherlands is a tax haven, not some socialist utopia. It has some of the greatest inequality between rich and poor in the world. The difference? They raised the bottom, folks.

That’s it.

They don’t make these choices out of some bleeding heart niceness. The Dutch are fiercely pragmatic, science-driven (a lot of atheists and agnostics here), and measured. They make these societal decisions because they have the best outcomes for the society as a whole.

No worries, you can be an obscenely rich asshole here, too.

The only difference is that here the state has said, “You know what, the rich can be filthy rich and WAY richer than the bottom but the bottom can ALSO have a decent fucking quality of life.” A basic standard of living.

In America they say the rich get it all and the rest get nothing and sorry, there’s no other way it can be.

But there is. And until we stop blaming one another for the shit show of parenting in America, they’ll keep winning.


I didn’t even get into the difference for kids.


Writers: I have a memoir workshop coming up. I promise I’ll be less mad than I am in this post. 


APRIL 6 – MAY 11, 2023

Thursdays at 10am PST/1pm EST

A six-week online workshop for the person ready to write a memoir, or the one with a shitty draft abandoned in a desk drawer. We will discuss everything from narrative arc to dialogue to writing about other people in a way that won’t make them hate you. This workshop involves weekly direct feedback on your writing and offers tiered support, including a whole-manuscript review.

24 Comments | Posted in Netherlands, politics | March 17, 2023

Anyone else failing to find their way back into the world?

by Janelle Hanchett

I think I’ve forgotten how to be in the world. I am not special. I did not experience some uniquely bad pandemic experience, but I suppose the conditions are a bit unique in that I moved to a new country 6 months before it started. 

I was just coming out of the complete and total numb-fog of wandering around a strange place and wondering how the fuck to buy baking powder  when the pandemic began. I was just beginning to feel a little ground beneath my feet when we were all sent home to our bread making and toilet-paper hoarding, and, somehow, Tiger King. 

I had no friends. I have no family here. I was living in a house in a more suburban area (read: boring to the depths of my soul). And it was cold, as usual. And my eldest child was in America. 

I put on my pajamas and caved into myself. 

For two years I’ve existed in this country that feels like a snow globe: Beautiful to look at, wholly removed from my reality. Something I can look at, hold in my hands, appreciate for what it is, but remains eternally closed off from me. I sure as shit can’t join it.

I hear a lot of expats and immigrants talk about this in The Netherlands. How they never feel a part of the country, whether or not they Speak Dutch, whether or not their spouse is Dutch, whether or not they have a job here. 

I could speculate for 9 hours on why that may be but I don’t see the point. It is what it is. I am not alone in feeling this. But goddamn it makes it worse, I think, to have moved just before or in the middle of the pandemic. I say this not to have difficulty Olympics—I decidedly LOSE—but rather as a point of hope. As in, perhaps it will get better. Maybe I will one day walk out of my house and sit in a favorite spot that feels like mine. 

And yet I wonder if we can all to some extent relate to the feeling of having been reset in an irrevocable way. Like it all blew the fuck up and you can take away the masks and social distancing and mandatory testing but you can’t bring back the way it was. Do we even want it back?

I am not one of the people who feels afraid to “return to normal” and I am definitely not a person who wants to wear an N95 for the rest of my life. No, I do not believe it is an invasion of my deep personal liberty. No, I do not want to wear them forever. Yes, I like human life better without masks, social distancing, QR codes and 750 pages of forms to travel one country to my right.

But what’s fucking with me isn’t any of that. It’s this feeling that I can’t access whatever it was I had before. Like I’ve gone so far inward at this point, pulled so deeply into a life of moving from my bedroom to the kitchen to the office to the couch to the kitchen to the bedroom just to do it all again the next day that I—like it? 


Or maybe I do. 

I get lonely. Really fucking lonely. And bored. I want a life and friends and places to go and favorite cafes and theater and music. I want to get excited about something. It isn’t just the depression I was fighting. 

It’s some sense that I’ve lost touch entirely with the life I had built and decided was meaningful. The routines and ways of being that brought purpose to my daily life. I’ve been stripped down to me and not much else and I can’t seem to find a path back to you. 

To the world. To community. 

It’s a dark place in my mind sometimes. Every time I walk into the light of this world—the weird, vibrant life around me—a bit of that darkness is illuminated. I don’t feel particularly healthy. I feel contracted and suffocating. 

But I don’t want to take a step out of this house either. It lost its appeal somehow. 

I survived the loneliness by moving straight into the solitude. That wasn’t my idea. My best friend told me to do that. I’ve read more books than I have in years. Written more words (although not on the blog). But I’ve also played more stupid games on my phone than ever before, stared at too many walls, concentrated in ten minute intervals. Life has demanded I learn to look inward for what I need. When I do, I’m not sure I like what I find. 

Are they going to tell us how to reenter? Are they going to instruct us how to get back out there the way they told us how to survive “covid brain” at home? Will there be helpful guides for what the fuck to do as we watch our kids race into the world without a thought, and we miss them a little, feel a little left behind, as the mother on the couch again. Or the office. Or some place we’ve never been at all? 

They took it all away after telling us for generations what life was about, what it all meant. Those of us who survived got a glimpse of those lies, the fragility of that house of cards. 

Moving from a pandemic straight into war.

What is the point, truly, of reentry. Is there even anything out there I need? Why build it all back up again? 

I don’t have anything particularly helpful to say. Sometimes it’s better not to try. If anything, I’m grateful that our delusions were smashed, that maybe we see what they offered was a thin invention that offered distraction, a lot of money for billionaires, and something to do until there’s nothing to do. 

Yesterday my kids and the neighborhood kids spent all afternoon preparing a funeral for a dead bird they found in the little community playground. They dug a grave and placed stones around it. Made a cross from sticks. Gathered flowers for the grave. Invited all the parents out. They sang some songs, offered eulogies, the tweens too dramatic and silly. One boy played his guitar. At the end, one of the dads said, “cake and coffee!”, which is an after-funeral Dutch tradition, I guess. 

He was joking but I had just made a cake. I went inside to get it. We passed it around and ate around the grave of the buried bird. I thought about Ukraine, these children, their children, the little bird in the ground. 

I’m glad it got what it deserved, a tiny world around it, caring that it died. Honoring a life we wouldn’t have noticed at all if we hadn’t stopped for a second, looked around, thought about the way it flew.


Beautiful snow globe bike world I’m so grateful for! Now just to find where I belong–or accept that I don’t.


Writers & Artists: 

I am leading two incredible writing retreats in July.

I realize this is a strange thing to write after the post you just read. And yet, something I know more than anything else: We keep living as long as we can, and, in the words of Toni Morrison, “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language.”

And of course, you don’t have to come to a writing retreat in Spain to do that. But, if you can, well.

“When Artists Get to Work” is July 3-9, 2022 and blends a traditional artist residency with the workshops and discussion of a retreat. There will be five incredible artists & writers in residence there and it’s open to writers and artists of any genre (and of course, those who do both!). It will take place in a 15th-century farmhouse in Lleida, Spain. (4 of 8 spots left)

“Craft Enables Art” is July 13-19, 2022 and is designed for writers. We’re going to a 10th-century castle in the Girona region of Spain. This is my more traditional annual retreat focusing on craft, process, and the creation of a sustainable writing practice. (4 of 12 spots left)

Tomorrow, March 15, and 10:30am PST/ 1:30pm EST, I’m holding a Zoom chat/ informational meeting about the retreats. If you’re interested in learning more, concerned about passports, travel, refunds in the case of disaster, or just what we do there all day and the vibe of these events, join us. Here’s a Facebook event link.

Or email me for Zoom info.



18 Comments | Posted in Netherlands, Uncategorized, writing | March 13, 2022

Shit we put into a shipping container and moved across an ocean

by Janelle Hanchett

So, our shipping container finally arrived – three months after we did. That’s been fun.

Beyond the obvious excitement of opening the front door of an empty rental with six carry-on bags, four suitcases the size of a small nation, four kids, and absolutely nothing in the actual house beyond a strange smell emanating from the kitchen sink, we enjoyed nine trips to Ikea in three days to purchase furniture in boxes. Have you ever tried putting together Ikea furniture while jet-lagged?

Mac has. He didn’t seem to love it.

Since Uber Eats exists, my first thought was “beds.” So we bought twelve – or maybe it was four – of the cheapest Ikea mattresses available: 2-inches of stacked cardboard they refer to as “foam.”

Of course, the idea was that the shipping container would arrive when we did, or within a month or so, but it got hung up in Australia or some shit. Or maybe we didn’t do the paperwork in time. Hard to tell.

It’s funny, I think people may look at us from the outside and think “Wow, that Mac and Janelle, they must really have some shit figured out, moving to Europe and all.” Not that we’ve ever given any indication of such a thing, but rather because it SEEMS like it would be a requirement for relocating to another country. Like you can’t just throw that shit together all haphazardly, because it’s so complicated. Surely you’d have to figure out how to do it for it to work at all.

But what isn’t immediately obvious, perhaps, is that there are two ways to “figure out how to do it.” You can do extensive research, ask people who’ve done it, consult professionals, make notes, and formulate a plan that addresses the particulars of your situation in attempt to avoid unexpected problems.

Or, you can google shit and hope for the best.

You can intend to do all those adult planning things but end up reading twenty-seven posts by standard humans on Facebook discussing the “expat experience” in this particular arena, ending up more confused than before since nobody can agree on anything except Dutch doctors only prescribe aspirin.

So, you call your friend Alexis in Amsterdam and just do what she says because she seems to have her shit together. Or, you just pick an option at random because you’re out of time. Of course we had a lawyer who helped us with the actual immigration paperwork because FUCKING OBVIOUSLY. Know thyself.

Anyway, Mac and I slept on a double Ikea “mattress” on the floor for three full months. My hip would hit the ground if I slept on my side. Getting up to pee in the middle of the night was EXTRA SUPER COOL since I had spinal surgery in March and my left leg is still partially numb. In other words, it’s no trouble at all to get up off the floor with a stiff back and weak, unbalanced leg.

Thank you for giving me a moment to whine about my life in Europe.

Here’s a picture of the Dutch movers hoisting our mattress through a window of our house since it’s impossible to move up the steep, winding, Dutch death stairs. Those fucking movers were so badass. They carried our boxes and furniture UP THOSE STAIRS over and over again for an hour. One of the dudes was wearing Tevas. With socks. How the fuck are you 65 years old moving dressers up death stairs in Tevas with socks?

The Dutch are tough as hell.

Oh, but can I tell you what it felt like to get in bed that first night? Clean sheets. Off the ground. Blankets. My pillow. Off the ground. It even still smelled like home. Well, my old home.

I don’t want to say “the joy pretty much ended there,” but the joy pretty much ended there.

You see, there’s a point in every move job when nobody gives a flying fuck anymore what’s being placed in each box. Half-empty Kleenex box? Yes, pack that. Random metal stick? Could be important. Book nobody’s read in twenty years or ever? Don’t care. Stop asking me.

random metal stick

Empty trash cans. The trash itself. Half-used sponges. Marbles. Four pennies. Lego man heads. One single Christmas tree bulb. Stained dish towels. Just fucking pack it.

life is meaningless

My MA diploma, 12k papers, kid art, random cords, Ibuprofen, tiny turtle!


You open boxes like this and you just want to jump off a bridge. Why can’t I do anything that MAKES SENSE? 

When packing, it’s not that we think we need this crap, or even that we want it. It’s that the line between trash and “worth moving” eventually gets real thin because the goal is no longer “pack in an organized, helpful way,” but simply “get me the fuck out of this house before I boil to death in the cauldron of my own consumerism.”

Or maybe we’re just tired.

Nobody starts out like this. We start out methodically getting rid of things, lots of things, grouping items we definitely need in well-labeled boxes reflecting a particular area of the house. It all seems hopeful. We’ve really turned a corner this time. Adult packing!

We ask ourselves, “Does this bring me joy?” and no, no we do not yell I HAVE KIDS YOU DICKHEAD NOTHING IN THIS HOUSE BRINGS ME JOY, but rather, we make deep, mindful decisions about whether or not we need the vase we bought from a dread-locked hippie at a 1998 Lake Tahoe art fair.

Two weeks later we’re writing “Kitchen tools & Clothes” on a box.

we all hit the KITCHEN TOOLS & CLOTHES phase at some point

As one traverses the closets and corners of the house for days on end, the will dissolves. Nay, it is beaten out of us by the external representation of our vapid capitalist souls, until we give up fighting and simply repeat the sins of our past. “Just pack it” you scream into the cold, dead night. Yes, pack the remote paired with nothing and that gallon Ziploc bag of unknown cords and the boots with a broken zipper I bought in 2000 that I will surely fix any day now.

An entire junk drawer dumped in a box. A 900-gallon plastic crate of Legos. Fuck it, you think, fondly reflecting on the days when you cared. Fuck it all.

A stuffed animal, tea, two single shoes, my book, 12k receipts AND A FUCKING PIG MASK? Look, I don’t make the rules.

Yes, yes, these are the things we placed onto a shipping container to move from California to the Netherlands, via Australia, apparently.

But none of this really demonstrates the level of fuck-it-all Mac and I reached, for I recently opened a box called “Mac’s bedside table,” and found this: A book he was reading with my underwear stuck in them as a bookmark.

At some point, my husband lifted a book with underwear stuck in it and said to himself “Yep, that’s going in. Just like this.”

So yeah, times are bleak, that’s for sure, but somewhere, there’s a person packing bell hooks and panties into a shipping container.

The human will prevails.


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

We leave in ten days. Still don’t know how.

by Janelle Hanchett


“Honey, I’ve been with you 18 years and this doesn’t even rank in the top ten.”

I guess he has a point, but dude. This is fucking nuts. We just got a place to rent in the Netherlands. As in, yesterday. So the day before yesterday, we were thinking we may have to delay our arrival date. That woulda sucked.

Look, I know people do complex things, but selling all your shit and moving to another country with kids really has a lot of moving parts. Who woulda thought?

Schools, housing, bank accounts, immigration application, cell phones, health insurance, drivers’ licenses, tax implications, shipping your shit overseas, getting to the actual other country, figuring out what to bring, getting from the airport to the town, getting the keys to the house, and then, once you arrive, remembering it’s an empty house because it takes 8 more weeks for your shit to arrive.

Sooooooo we arrive in Amsterdam July 6 with our four kids. We rented a VAN because that’s all we fit in, and we’ll drive to a hotel in Haarlem for 2 nights. The next day, we’ll get the keys to our house, and then we’ll head to Ikea to buy a sofa bed and beds for the kids, and pray to god they can be delivered that day so we have somewhere to sleep. DOES THIS STRIKE ANYBODY ELSE AS A SHIT PLAN?

Whose idea was this?


It’s funny how things change when you’re in the middle of them. They seem to get, well, super real.

A few times a day, I ask myself or Mac: “What the fuck are we DOING?” He laughs.

Are we really doing this?

Is this actually going to work?

If this works it will be a fucking miracle.

You know that feeling when you’ve been thinking and packing for a family vacation – and packing and thinking more – and you finally load into the car, throw it in reverse and know you’ve forgotten shit but you just can’t care anymore, so you just hope it isn’t anything tragic?

Yeah, I feel like that, only if I DO forget something, it could be a massive fucking problem. Like, I’m on the wrong continent to fix it. That kind of problem.

I’ve surrendered. I’m at the point now where I’m saying “Okay, we have birth certificates, passports, immigration paperwork. FUCK ALL THE REST.”

I suspect this also a shit plan.


The hardest part of this move, however, is not the moving parts. It’s hurting people I love, which is really happening a lot lately. Goodbyes, real goodbyes. Grandparents with a voice that cracks as they ask Arlo to write them letters.

“Where will you stay?” asks Grandma.

“Right here,” George says, patting Grandma’s heart.

Tell me you can watch that without bawling.

That’s a really shitty thing, isn’t it? When you know something is right for you, for your family, so right that you just couldn’t shake it for years, no matter how hard you tried, no matter how many times you told yourself “You can’t do it.” “It’s too hard.” “It’s irresponsible.”  “It will hurt your family.”

We tried to dodge it. We tried to not go. But it because like a fire in our guts, this all-consuming thing that raged harder the longer we tried not to extinguish it, until we couldn’t take in anymore. We knew we had to go. And yet, in doing so, we are harming others. We are taking grandkids away. It feels unnecessary sometimes, ridiculous.

It feels so fucking self-centered. Funny how a thing can feel like all those things and still be right.


People have been asking me why we’re moving. They seem to want a clearly defined REASON. People assume we have a job change. That’s not it.

I want to answer the question, “Why are you going?” with the words, “Just for life, mostly.” To live, pretty much.  But that doesn’t go over well. Confuses people more.

And yet, that’s kind of all I can say. First of all, I spent a year in Spain from 1999-2000 and always, and I mean always, wanted to return to Europe. I didn’t return because I had Ava.

That dream went into hiding, mostly, poking its head up occasionally. Mac had the same dream, though he’d never lived there.

Why have we had that dream? Because we want to experience something else. Because we want our kids to experience something else. Another way of living, breathing, thinking, speaking.

We just felt like we wanted to DO SOMETHING. Try something new. Check out what it’s like to not live here.

And for the last few years, we found ourselves simply existing with no end in sight. We worked all the damn time to barely survive. Barely cover our bills. Barely keep from drowning. Is there another way to do life? Are we allowed to try? Could we just do it?

We started looking at retirement as the time when life was going to get easier, when we’ll live freer. And then we started thinking about how sad and risky that is, because who the hell knows if we’ll get to live that long?

We began thinking about our deathbeds, about how we’ll feel if we never tried doing a thing that lived in our guts and souls as the path for our families.

Look, maybe this is just a midlife crisis. Let’s not rule that out.

Y’all. We were feeling dead and just wanted to fucking do something. Is that enough reason?


And I’ll be real frank with you all right now:

I am extremely nervous about where our country is headed. I am not at all convinced we can defeat Trump and his authoritarian regime. We elected a democratic House and they aren’t doing shit. Congress is our last line of defense and they are cowering. They are cowards. The disgust I feel.

So yes, we’re getting the fuck outta here to see if it gets better in America so we can come back. I hesitate saying this because, well, let’s just say not everyone in my family is politically aligned, but also because I’m a white middle class woman. I ain’t even the person they’re coming for. Yet.

But yeah, we want out. That’s it. Period. We want out.

I feel ambivalence about this: Indescribable relief to get the fuck outta here, and deep guilt for getting the fuck outta here. A friend said, “We need people out of here, to remind us of other ways of living.” Yes. But I think of people who want to leave and can’t. Fuck. There’s no right way. There are no answers. I am deeply grateful. I don’t know. This is all so complicated.

But I can promise you I’ll keep writing and I’ll keep voting and I will keep fighting these fucking fascists with my words. I hope getting distance from America will allow me to understand her better, see her more clearly.

I realized while sitting at the foot of the Grand Tetons, staring up at those snowy peaks, the sun cutting through the trees – my beautiful, wild, scrappy country – I fucking love her. And that’s why my heart is broken.

If I hated America, I wouldn’t care about her being brutalized like this. And yet, I’m saying goodbye anyway. For now, at least.

God, nothing is simple, is it?

Here we go.

somehow my overall mood don’t even know how exactly


A relevant excerpt from my book

“Sometimes I would imagine myself on my deathbed, looking back on my life, and I would feel – I mean really feel – that this life is all we get. These years, one shot, ninety years if we’re lucky. And I’d grow so terrified of just not doing anything that l would grow almost frantic.

And yes, standing among those other mothers, I was searching for meaning, even when nobody was looking – for connection, purpose, color – some taste of recklessness in a neighborhood of neutral tones. I’ve always been looking for Barcelona.”


28 Comments | Posted in Netherlands | June 25, 2019