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We are so sad it’s our last day here! The heat wave is back and we’re in such a beautiful groove with the boys. Our little house is small and simple, with a canal right out front that Bas can throw rocks into endlessly, where we see bunny rabbits and baby ducks, the boys can run right over to the most epic green lawn with a big trampoline, teeter totter, swings and slides, and we’re right next to sand dunes and a forest leading to the beach. The beauty of simplicity. So yummy.

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We also had a great time visiting Muidorslot, an incredible castle surrounded in water! It was used as a fortress in the 1600s. So enchanting.

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And this church in Gouda was simply exquisite! We were all mesmerized by the organ music that plays from 12-1pm every day (we were lucky to hear 15 min. of it!!), so magical with the copper floors and stained glass windows with God coming out of the sky and huge pillars.IMG_3928IMG_3859Teaching the boys about praying, and Jules was very impressed by God coming out of the stained glass windows aboveIMG_3819IMG_3774IMG_3751

IMG_3674IMG_3688IMG_3651IMG_3711We also took a ride on the Van Kesteren’s Bakfiets – the traditional bikes all the families use here to transport their kids around. You’ll see mamas in high heels biking 2-5 kids around at once just cruising through traffic! I rode one and it’s so fun and easy (the lack of hills helps!).

IMG_3385IMG_3347We loved the family reunion where 40 of Erol’s Dutch family members gathered to meet the youngest generation! So many wonderful friends and family here…

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I truly love this country. The only thing I have a hard time with is the prevalence of the meat and dairy industry. It’s not easy being a vegetarian and eating out here – so much meat. Yes, cheese production has a rich cultural and historical importance here. But sometimes traditions need to change when they’re causing big problems, like in this case, global climate change! You’d think it’s all friendly family farms driving from Noordwijk to Amsterdam to Haarlem and Gouda and Delft, with so many cows and sheep everywhere, but it turns out there are indeed factory farms here. And Dutch milk products are very popular in China, so even as milk consumption decreases here, much of it will go to export.

If you look a little closer past the happy cows on pasture, you’ll notice that many of them have utters so full and engorged that they can barely move. I’ve spent many days here with a very heavy heart after seeing so many cows in this state. Being a lactating mother myself, I can’t imagine the pain those poor mama cows must be in with utters 10x bigger than what size they should be. The dairy industry is cruel and entirely obsolete with all the innovations in food science today. Nut milk alternatives not only taste better, but they are better for human health and the environment!

As my friend Thomas King, Executive Director of Food Frontiers, so articulately explains:

Earlier this week I met a group of calves while being filmed at a farm in Holland. They were so sweet and gentle, most just wanted affection. Many were only 48 hours old and tried desperately to suckle on my hand in lieu of their mother’s udders. 

Ten minutes later a truck pulled up, and they were loaded in and sent to slaughter. The farmer told me that 70-80% of them will end up as trash, and the rest will have their small bodies carved up and served as veal. This is dairy farming in 2017. 

These babies are the by-product of milk production. Their mothers – who are valued solely for their ability to lactate – are impregnated so frequently they give birth every year, which keeps them at maximum “production”. Their offspring are removed within 24hrs, which causes significant stress and grief, and these mothers typically undergo 5–6 cycles of birth and loss before they’re considered “spent” by the industry and are killed. 

No matter the region and no matter the farm, these same practices occur routinely around the world – even on small country properties like this one in the Netherlands, where animal welfare standards are considered the highest in the world. There are always surpluses of unwanted calves in dairy production, particularly males, as they have no purpose in an industry that exploits the female reproductive system. In Australia, over 400,000 of these unwanted babies are born and slaughtered every year.

In my short time with them, I did what I could to give these little ones some love and attention with head rubs and chin scratches, hoping that they could experience some pleasure during their brutally short lives. I think it’s clear, however, that they shouldn’t be there in the first place – and I believe any sane, compassionate person would agree with that. 

Luckily, each of us has a powerful tool to prevent this unnecessary cruelty: our food choices. It’s never been easier to choose kindness over cruelty with the abundance of delicious dairy-free options now available (http://bit.ly/1rhpDb9), which will only continue to grow. 

This coming week, if you usually choose dairy, try a plant-based option instead. Order your morning latte with Bonsoy; pick up some insanely delicious Over the Moo caramel coconut ice cream; or try Vitasoy’s Oat Milk on your cereal. 

These options are also better for the climate, and they’re better for our health according to major peer-reviewed studies (by Harvard and others), which have debunked time and time again the myth that dairy is necessary and beneficial to human health. 

If nothing else, do it for this little man, ‘number 18’, and the millions of other hidden victims like him who deserve so much better.

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The future is plant-based!

xoxo,

Ashley

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Oh my goodness, we are having such a dreamy adventure so far – our first little European family vacation! How blessed we are. As I write this, warm winds are blowing outside off the North Sea in this small beach town called Noordwijk, it’s 10pm and still completely light out. It appears that we have a pattern of bringing California heat waves with us to Holland – they had the hottest day of the year this week, on the summer solstice, just two days after we arrived. The last time Erol and I were here in June 2010, it was the hottest week of weather they had had all year. But the massive thunder and lightning storm yesterday definitely blew in a cooler front, we shall see how the next couple of weeks bode.

 

The flight here was pretty great all things considered – Jules slept the entire way in the middle seat and Bas sort of slept most of the time on me (cozy for him, rough for mama). It was nice to jump right into the new time as we arrived around 12pm and kept the kids up until 8pm when we all crashed hard (and the kids slept til 10:30am the next morning, yeehaw! I think the homeopathics and calm powder helped). Our only rough patch of the trip so far was the day we landed: first KLM lost 2/3 of our bags, then on 2 hours of sleep we managed to find the rental car booth only to find out that they would not rent us a car as my license had expired and I still didn’t have the renewed card. And then whoops, Erol forgot his credit card, so we were shit out of luck. Somehow an angel always shows up during our travels though when we are in need, and of course mid crisis a new woman took over the shift and hooked us up no problem! Hallelujah. Feeling like we just got a get out of jail free card, we then proceeded to get pulled over by a police man on the final stretch to our home. That whole signaling in the roundabout thing. So to complete the stretch of hilarious mishaps, he followed us all the way home on our tail (which made the already exhausted Erol feel like he was, indeed, drunk driving).

Sleeping until 10:30am our first morning here was heavenly – I can’t remember a single morning except the first time we returned from Hawaii with Jules where I got up before the kids, after going back to sleep three times leisurely. Our little huisje (house) is so cozy. It’s called Bungalowpark Puik en Duin and everyone is so so nice. They have a huge grassy play yard for the kids next door with a big trampoline, teeter totters, swings, bars, etc. and we’re surrounded in the most picturesque fields of purple and yellow and white and pink flowers, sheep, horses, cows, vibrant green crops, and sand dunes and nature trails through forest right to the North Sea. The sand is so white and fine, and there are thousands of blue mussel shells scattered along the water’s edge. The kids are in heaven playing in the pools of water 20 feet before the north sea’s waters calmly lap the beach.

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After getting a new outfit for the boys (thanks, KLM, they literally only had the dirty plane clothes) we visited our dear friends the van Kesteren’s in the neighboring town Voorhout, the town where Erol’s mama Henny was born and raised.

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Jules and Bas played with the other kids in the heavenly back yard – Niek and Marjan have 3 daughters and 10 grand kids between the ages of 15 months and 17. We stayed with them our last trip. Their home is so full of vibrant colors, we love them!

We also paid a visit to Hein and Nell, Erol’s uncle and aunt. The boys loved all their pig toys and visiting the cows.

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We also spent a day in Leiden – a mini Amsterdam – it was just so so beautiful and we had the most amazing morning at a quintessential European coffee shop in a gorgeous cobblestone plaza drinking coffees, hot cocoas, fresh bread and fresh squeezed orange juice.

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Erol’s aunt Marjorie took us to an incredible outdoor market place along the canal where we bought incredible, fresh Muhumarra, pesto, olives, macadamia nuts, and aged gouda. I could spend hours in those open marketplaces along the water! Then we bought too much at the organic “biologique” grocery store and somehow carried it all and the two kids back to the car a mile away 🙂 It was worth it – the fresh pasta with Muhumarra sauce was orgasmic.

Our first day in Amsterdam was a huge highlight! We found two different organic health food shops, the kids devoured their first smoothie in a week, I savored every drop of my cold-pressed green juice, and Erol had 3 different coffees and a chocolate croissant 🙂 We cruised around the Museumplein, had so much fun taking pictures and window shopping, and loved all the sweet musicians. And then we met up with Erol’s cousins Yves and Charlotte and spent the day seeing the spectacular city by water. What a treat! Yves owns the boat and he and Jules were the captain steering us all day long. Such kind people!

IMG_2098IMG_2084IMG_2020IMG_2179IMG_2158IMG_2134IMG_2024IMG_2023IMG_1998IMG_1996IMG_1989IMG_1981IMG_1953IMG_1725Today we go to Erol’s uncle’s, Oma Teo’s, in Woubrugge and go on another day-long boat ride from Woubrugge to Leiden. Unfortunately our heat wave is over, but that won’t stop us from all the beautiful adventuring! Jules has said every day of the trip that he wants to live here, good think he has a Dutch passport and can go to university here for free if he so chooses 🙂

After 24 hours of travel, we’re back in the magical sf bay in the erol star loft! Feels good to be home, drinking my first vita-mix blueberry kale flax smoothie in a month, feeling sooo grateful for this amazing, blessed life we live. I’m moving into Erol’s loft for the time being, while my Castro room continues to be subletted through July and possibly August. After almost a year in the Castro, I’m looking for a new home that is cheaper and quieter, exciting!

Dutch all the way baby...

The last week in Holland was amazing! We went on a full day canal boat ride with Erol’s aunt Marjorie and adorable cousins, Char & her brother Eve.

We just cruised along through miles of canals, through Leiden and many small, traditional, adorable Dutch towns, farmlands, and tranquil countryside. Swans, ducks, geese, birds of all sorts singing, sheeps and their precious sheepy babies, fat cows, pigs, chickens, horses, llamas, kitties everywhere….so nice. Especially I liked the ripe, super gnar gnar smell of fresh poop clouds along the water – truly the smell of Holland and a special treat! In Leiden we stopped at a marketplace along the water and bought some delicious cheese & I bought some very nice Dutch fabric for my mama to complement the very gorgeous Italian fabric that I got. Another day we boated through the canals leaving from Kaag with his aunt and uncle Nelly and Hain, and we pulled the boat off on a grassy island for a lovely picnic. But his aunt pressured me to take a bite of some nasty meat-filled quiche that supposedly didn’t have meat in it. Gross! Experiencing Holland by boat is a mUsT!! Such wonderful tastes, smells, and perspectives this way of travel! It’s especially amazing and unbelievable that the brilliant predecessors managed to elevate the canals above the farmland – wow. Will be interesting to see what happens with climate change and rising water levels.

The following day we had the brilliant idea of taking the scooter into Amsterdam, which is some 35 km. But the scooter is pretty old and maxes out at 40 km/hr so we bumbled along pretty slowly, and we didn’t know the fastest route so we ended up winding through an excess of country roades and canals. We stopped under a highway overpass when it started raining. Who would have thought?! A week of hot, gorgeous weather, but the one day we scooter to Amsterdam it rains and is cold. But that passed and we continued on. At one point, despite the cold and craziness of taking a 3.5 hour scooter ride into the city when it could have taken 20 min. in our nice European rental car that sat at the Van Kesteren’s, I felt so high on life with the wind blowing through my hair, a huge grin on my face, reggae blasting from the ipod headphones we shared, crossing bridge after bridge over canals, and enjoying that sweet taste of exhilarating freedom that accompanies wild and pure adventure.

After hours of blissful Amsterdam explorations and some tasty Indonesian food with Floris along the magical sunlit canal, we grumbled about the scooter ride home but decided that it was the best choice to head home while it was still light out. So we did Scooter country road trekk Part II from 9:30pm til 12 midnight.

Erol was our bug and wind shield, bless his heart

We saved an hour on the way home without rain and with a little better navigating luck. We must have asked at least a dozen people throughout the day how to get here or there, and we got many entertaining answers. By the time we got home, we were so incredibly exhausted and wind blown. It was so hilarious though, the bugs on the way home were so bad, Erol was riding with his sunglasses on, but as it was getting dark, the battle was between him driving in sunglass darkness and scootering through poop piles or getting bug missiles in his eyeballs. I definitely had fun on the back, laughing the whole way at the situation, feeling bad that he was shielding me from all the wind, bugs, and cold.

Another hi-light from last week was cooking a big feast with Erol for the Van Kesteren’s! We made coconut rice with fresh mango, chicken and veggie skewers with Marian’s amazing peanut sauce, huge arugula salad, and patat frites (french fries) with fresh fig, strawberry, bananas & dark chocolate with cream for dessert. Lekkers!! We sat in the garden drinking wine until 11pm when it started to get dark. The balmy, humid evenings of the Holland heat wave were fantastic. It was an abrupt return last night to the dark, cold bay at 9pm!

I found it very interesting that Dutch people don’t believe in “doggy bags,” or saving leftovers. I found it almost offensive, the whole idea of wasting food when there are so many hungry people in the world. The Van Kesteren’s thought it was disgusting that Erol and I were constantly saving leftovers for the following day. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, maybe it’s a philosophy related to fresh food and good health, but considering that Niek Van Kesteren doesn’t eat anything green or fresh that’s not meat or starch, I’m not sure about that.

Go Oranje

Friday, our last day in Holland, we watched the second Dutch World Cup match in Holland, and again they won! They beat Brazil in an incredible feat and now they’re going on to the Semi Finals!! I had orange eye lashes, orange lipstick, orange cake, orange chips, an orange hat, and all the kids were blowing their orange blow horns in the streets with every goal. What a treat to be in Holland for the World Cup!! Amsterdam went OFF that night! We sat in an outside cafe drinking iced coffee as everyone was sweating balls that day with the intense heat, watching the excitement grow with the sea of orange writhing in the streets, all the car and scooter horns blowing constantly, and copious amounts of beer getting consumed. GO ORANJE!!!

Just found out tomorrow is a holiday! Yay no work til Tuesday!! Today is Summer BBQ at Erol’s with all his best friends who are in town, my sis and her baby (yay!) and some of my amigas too! LOVING THIS LIFE.