There’s a smart and funny title for this.

I made a huge mistake a few weeks ago.

Boaz and I were in line at an arepa restaurant with my sister Bryn; the only people between us and the register were a man and woman, standing sort of to the side. When we asked if they were in line they told us they weren’t, they were waiting for friends.

“We’ll be your friends!” said Boaz and everyone laughed.

The man laughed an especially genuine really nice laugh, and he lowered the menu he’d been looking at, and said “I’m sure there’s something really smart and funny to say right now, but I don’t know what it is so I’m just going to smile.”

I wish I’d gotten a note from him that gave me permission to respond that way in any situation.

“Brooke is sure there is something really smart and funny to say right now, but she doesn’t know what it is so she’s just going to smile,” the note would say. The man seemed distinguished and nice, and it seemed like maybe he was a doctor.

A note like that can go a long way. My mom’s cousin is a doctor, and once wrote me a note that got me out of gym class a few times in fifth grade. I used the note the week we were climbing ropes, and to this day my arms are still about as strong as two broken stretched-out rubber bands.

Now every day I wish I had a signed note that I could quietly draw out and present to people. I would have had the note laminated by now, and I’d keep it in the pocket of my jacket. One of the pockets is missing a button, and until I sew on a new on, things in that pocket are super accessible.

The future is cloudy

We don’t need to speak Dutch to live in Amsterdam, but doesn’t it seem fun to try? In the last week I’ve used every free Dutch lesson on the internet.

One free Dutch lesson is Duolingo, an app that spends a long time teaching you how to say that different groups of people are eating tasty oil and reading newspapers.

One free Dutch lesson is a YouTube channel that claims to be the “fastest, easiest and most fun way to learn Dutch.” I don’t think it’s the fastest or the easiest, but I guess I can’t say for sure. What I can say for sure is it’s not the most fun. I can think of a thousand more fun ways to learn Dutch. Becoming Dutch royalty overnight, starring in a Dutch film, spending a year trapped at a Dutch amusement park, opening a Dutch souvenir store with George Clooney. In fact, in the amount of time it would take me to list all the more fun ways to learn Dutch, a more productive person could have become near-fluent in Dutch.

The most fun free lesson I’ve found so far is a podcast called Laura Speaks Dutch, created by a really nice Dutch man in 2006 for his American then-girlfriend, Laura.

Bvenner walks you through the basics, so right now I know how to fly into the Schillpol airport, greet someone, tell them I’m doing decent, and ask where the bar is and order two glasses of wine and four cups of coffee. I’m really hoping the next episode tells me how to ask for a bathroom, because we’re going to need one pretty desperately at that point.

Laura is from San Diego, so I’ve memorized how to tell people that I’m from San Diego, and how to tell people that “it’s a bit cloudy” there.

“It’s a bit cloudy” is my favorite thing I’ve learned so far, because it seems impressive, and has some cool throat clearing sounds, and because it can be said almost every day and in almost any situation. I’m not always meeting new people, I’m not always thirsty for four cups of coffee, but I learned how to say “it’s a bit cloudy” a week and a half ago and it’s been useful every single day so far.


Image:Berndnaut Smilde

A pleasure of how we can move you.

Last week I got set up with three different Dutch moving companies who want to help facilitate our move. It’s nice but it’s complicated.

It’s complicated because they each need to pick an American moving company to partner with and pick up our stuff, and two of them have set me up with moving companies in Seattle instead of Portland. I don’t want to make fun of them, because Seattle is only three hours from Portland and in the last week alone I’ve told people I can make afternoon trips from Amsterdam to visit them in Italy, Munich, and Ireland. Seattle is pretty close if you don’t zoom in on the map too much, and these Dutch moving companies aren’t big on zooming.

It’s also complicated because everyone wants to come take a look at our storage unit, which is half an hour from our apartment, and several hours from Seattle.

And it’s complicated because one Dutch moving company has a representative named Brenner or something, who calls every few nights at one in the morning Portland time, and leaves very polite messages that I don’t hear until after their office is closed.

I called Blennen back this morning at 6:30am my time, about a week after I should have called him. Bmennev’s English was flawless. He asked how I was and I asked how he was.

“Well quite bad, because I’ve been trying to contact you and you don’t return my calls.” Bvennel said.

I don’t think I get to pick moving companies, but I like Bnellek’s no-nonsense attitude and I hope he gets the job. And I hope he picks an American moving company in my time zone.

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Image: Tom Gauld

But what’s your exact address.


I met a celebrity at a bookstore last week and was determined to remember the conversation forever. Me and a very cool celebrity, both of us there at the bookstore. What a moment to be able to re-live later!

She shook my hand and she started talking to me and all of this is real, I promise.

“I love this bookstore,” she told me, and I told her I loved it too. We have so much in common! And I told her, out loud, that I live just a few blocks away. But silently I repeated “Oh my goodness I’m so excited to meet you” over and over again.

“Where do you live?” she asked.

Where do you live is one of my least favorite conversation questions. Not because I live somewhere secret or complicated or embarrassing, although all three are sort of true, but mostly I hate the question because it’s the most boring possible conversation topic and people ask every day.

Maybe I’m being unreasonable, but I don’t want people asking me anything at a party where the answer could also be an answer that would advance me to the next round of a geography bee.

“Really, just a few blocks from here,” I said.

“But what’s your exact address.” she said, quickly switching from someone who I’ve admired for years and whose books I’ve re-read and re-highlighted, to someone who needs my exact address, either for a form or for a way to fill time at a bad party while we drink room-temperature drinks and discreetly check our phones..

And I told her, out loud, my exact address. But silently I started thinking about other things: how I would navigate the bookstore if gravity were reversed and I had to crawl on the ceiling, how long it had been since I’d had tacos, what name I would choose if I had to go into witness protection.

And she told me her exact address, and it was not far from my address. And I’m writing this conversation down because obviously it didn’t end up exciting enough to remember forever without help.

Image: Lindsay Beyerstein