Sharene and Harrison’s Update from Amsterdam
What an epic and challenging year on many levels—and for many the most historic and imposing year in their lives. For the two of us, it has been a reminder that the last 60+ years have been—for the most part—wonderful. We have remarked more than once how grateful we are to have grown up and been educated in the ’50s and ’60s; to have had the career opportunities afforded to us in the ’70s and ’80s; to have been part of the Internet explosion of the ’90s; and to have lived together in beautiful places including San Francisco, Hawaii, and Amsterdam. We are also thankful to have good health and to live in the Netherlands as we go into our older years.
|The coronavirus certainly has been a global disaster, but if we look carefully we recognize that positive things have also happened this year. We have had the opportunity to reflect on our lives, what they mean, and what’s really important. Some of you have been able to spend more time with your family. Many people became more active in politics or with charities or other good works. There was some hopeful progress on racial and gender equity. On another positive note, the American elections had the highest voter turnout in over a century and they were free and fair with no signs of significant foreign influence. Not all of our preferred candidates won, but the most important ones did and that’s reason for hope.
Some of us have taken up hobbies or projects we’ve been putting off. After seven years in our Amsterdam home, Harrison finally unpacked his boxes and completely redecorated his office! When you spend so much of your life in one place, as many of us do these days, it’s nice to have comfortable, functional, and attractive surroundings there.
We miss the days when we could hug and shake hands, and even the Dutch custom of three kisses when you greet each other seems so far away now. We barely noticed many of our little social customs but we miss them now that they’re gone.
We have been together as a couple for 34 years, and we’ve been sending out a holiday letter for most of those years, recapping friends who have come to stay with us, dinner parties, interesting travel (including Sharene’s annual “Girls Trips” and Harrison’s annual birthday trip), and visits with our Swiss family. (The letters since 2001 are available on this website.) We have wonderful memories of all those events and the people we shared them with, and we have photos that help make those memories real.
When Sharene takes a photo at one of these events, we often hear, “Will this make it into your Christmas letter?” Sadly, there weren’t many opportunities to ask that question in 2020; it was a slow year for “Christmas letter events.” We did manage to see a few of those dear to us, although there were many more we hoped to see but couldn’t.
We flew to Florida in early March. The plan was to go on our first-ever cruise, a Caribbean “theme cruise” chartered by Garrison Keillor of A Prairie Home Companion. We had been fans for over 30 years, and since the entire ship was only for him, APHC performers, and people like us who adore him and the show, we thought this might be the perfect sun break for us. Our timing could not have been worse! We arrived on a Monday with the cruise company saying the ship would definitely sail. We enjoyed a visit with Harrison’s cousin Phil on Tuesday. On Wednesday everything changed: Trump announced his travel ban, the cruise was canceled, and airlines started canceling flights. We headed back to the Orlando airport on Thursday and managed to get seats on the last direct flight from Orlando to Amsterdam Thursday night, arriving Friday morning after only four days away, lucky to make it home before travel became almost impossible.
We were a bit like deer in the headlights by late March. All the restrictions took effect, we were glued to the news, and yes, toilet paper was a precious commodity here, too. But we ordered our groceries online and were thankful that we didn’t have to reinvent work life—one of the many benefits of being retired. And in the Netherlands it remained possible to go outside for a walk, run, or bike ride, so it has been easier to stay healthy.
(Note: most of the photos below have both a caption and a longer description. Depending on whether you are reading this on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, you may see all the captions immediately, or you might have to roll your mouse over a photo to see the caption and/or description. Clicking or tapping on any photo should bring up a full-size photo or a slide show with arrows to move between photos.)
We have friends who had to figure out how to work from home, including our neighbors in the three apartments above us, so we came up with something we could do to help. We started our Soup For Friends program, Soep Voor Vrienden (SVV) in Dutch. Each week throughout April and May we prepared and delivered soup, bread, and a goodie to a group of friends. It felt good to help out in a small way, and at one point we were up to 17 people! When the weather got better, the infection rate came back down, the cafes opened back up, and we stopped. But our friends said they appreciated not having to think about dinner once a week during those first difficult months.
On the Oudegracht
|Because the Covid-19 numbers dropped to near zero during the summer, we managed a few trips within the Netherlands. The first was a 4-day drive yourself boating holiday on the canals and rivers of central Holland. We reserved a small houseboat from Le Boat, but the company upgraded us twice and we wound up with an 11.9-meter (39-foot), 3-bed, 3-bath yacht! Our dear friends Regina and Uwe from Berlin joined us. The peak moment of the trip was a magical early morning ride down the narrow Oudegracht canal in the middle of an almost perfectly still Utrecht. Captain Harrison drove the boat under the 16 Oudegracht bridges, with a center clearance of only about 25 cm (10 inches) above the 2.75-meter (9-foot) boat!|
|Another trip took us to Terschelling, one of the Wadden Islands off the Netherlands coast, with three of our closest friends. We rented a large house and biked every day, played games, read books, and even had a barbecue one night. A fun getaway with fresh air, a charming island, and good company.
Sharene and few girlfriends also took an overnight bike trip (led by Monica!) to celebrate Charlene’s birthday. They had great weather, wonderful rural scenery complete with windmills and canals, and they topped it off with a special dinner.
The year has been manageable for us and a reminder of the importance of simple pleasures that we used to take for granted. Like many of you, we now have a collection of masks, we have socially distanced, we have stayed in more, socialized less, sent out funny videos, we have Zoomed, Skyped, FaceTimed and WhatsApped regularly with friends and family around the world. Harrison even had two online reunions, one for his Stanford Business School class and one for his high school in Minnesota. Connecting creatively and regularly has been an upside to this very odd year.
Living in Europe is a constant reminder that things could be much worse. Seventy-five years ago Nazis were dragging away Jews to concentration camps, war planes were bombing cities near our home, people were eating tulip bulbs to keep from starving and burning furniture to keep from freezing, loved ones lost contact for many years and sometimes forever. So although 2020 has been unsettling and uncomfortable, we are always aware that our lives are extraordinarily luxurious compared with much of even recent human history.
Now we are on to 2021, with hope that the world will begin to heal from corona and perhaps in other ways as well. We send you our wishes for a positive, healthy year. We thank you for being in our lives, for the laughs and interesting conversations we have shared. Who we are today is a sum total of those we have invited into our hearts.
We hope to see you very soon and give you a big hug. Be careful, stay safe.
Harrison and Sharene