Our mom of the week, Caroline, invited me to her house for coffee. She was raised by a Colombian mother, so it was an invitation I absolutely had to accept. The smell of freshly baked something good hit me when I stepped in the hallway of her lovely home. Her children, Isabella (3) and Jack (8 months) were playing in the living room under a skylight while she prepared their treats – and mine.
I had asked to meet with Caroline after her husband, also named Jack, wrote a post on his Facebook page about her. Lately he has had tremendous success with his work and evidently felt he needed to dedicate credit to his wife, who he poetically called his unsung hero. This stuck with me and I started to think about our unsung mother heroes, who selflessly put so many things in their lives on hold for the benefit of their families. Now I was going to talk to one. I asked Caroline to clarify this terminology to me. Anyone who has had the pleasure of having a conversation with her, knows her soft, angelic voice when she replied. “Every family has unsung heroes, not only the mother, but the working father or partner as well. It’s very easy to take each other for granted in some respects. When you go through day to day life, you sometimes need to take a pause, sit down and see what the other person does. Everyone’s special, but no one is more special than the other.”
Caroline was born in San Francisco, but she has no memories of her time in California. Her current home base in the United States is in Colorado, where her parents live and what served as a place to call home while living and traveling the world as a child. Caroline’s own international upbringing is, however, much different than what her own children are experiencing. “As a third culture kid I loved and enjoyed the experience of traveling and seeing the world. Life was one big adventure and in many ways the nomadic lifestyle suited my family. But as with everything there are cons too. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that perhaps a bit more stability would have grounded me more!” Caroline went to four different high schools and because of this constant change, she became very good at making friends quickly, but keeping friendships was something she only learned later in life. She hopes her own children, rather than being “expats”, can integrate into the community and have Delft be home long term where they can cultivate lifelong friendships.
Having lived on four different continents, five different countries and in countless cities from Cartagena, Colombia, to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Caroline met her husband while studying in New Orleans. Life took them through Chicago to Delft, where the married couple arrived in 2011. Caroline had never visited the Netherlands before moving across the Atlantic, but they took a risk, packed up and went. Moving to the Netherlands was interesting in other aspects, too. Caroline’s maiden name is Dutch, but from her father’s side she’s more Norwegian. Her Dutch side of the family moved over to US from Aalten, near Enschede, sometime between 1860-1870. It is a classic case: poor immigrants wanted opportunities, got on a boat in Rotterdam and ended up in Wisconsin where the landscape is flatland and cows.
Fresh in Delft while Jack was studying full time, Caroline had to wait for months for her residency permit to be processed so she could work in The Netherlands. The same week she started her job in Rotterdam, she found out she was pregnant with her eldest, Isabella. Caroline had always intended on being a working mom, but after her daughter was born, Caroline had a tough time with it, something she thinks all moms experience to a varying degree. “I would pump my milk, leave before she would wake up in the morning and come home, put her to bed and that was it. I felt there was no real life balance. I quit my job when Isabella was eight months old and decided to put my career on hold and stay at home with the kids full-time. It’s hard being a stay-at-home mom and it’s hard being a working mom. They are just hard in different ways; sacrifices are made regardless. The path I’m on now gives me the luxury of being with the kids in this pivotal point in their lives, but once they are at school, I can start taking time back for myself. When you’re a stay at home mom, you’re a mom 24/7, so it’s hard to carve out time for yourself.”
When Caroline chose to stay at home, she realized she didn’t have any friends with children. Her parents and husband encouraged her to find people to socialize, especially for Isabella’s sake. That’s when Caroline found the Delft MaMa playgroup. “The first time I went, I was so nervous. Isabella was fantastic, she went off and starting doing her own thing. Afterwards I wondered why I was so scared. Isn’t that life, take a risk! I just hope that someone new who moves to this town without a ready support system reads this interview and is inspired to take that first step; there is such a wonderful, supportive community at large ready to help. It takes a village to raise a child and Delft MaMa and the close friends I made through this wonderful network became my village. It takes time to build a community around you but it’s well worth the effort; not only for the parents but for the children as well. Before I felt I was driving blind, especially without close family around to help guide me but when I discovered Delft MaMa it made a world of a difference. They have been indispensable.”
Caroline seems content in her current environment. She’s interacting with her gorgeous children so effortlessly and being a topnotch hostess as well. I get a piece of heaven on my plate, a slice of an American coffee cake with pecans. Funnily it has no coffee in it, but it’s meant to be accompanied by coffee. There’s a moment of silence when we eat cake and I’m wondering what the future holds for Caroline and for her family. She says ideally her husband’s company will do really well and they can let the kids grow up in the Netherlands. She loves being an American, but she wants to continue raising her children in Delft. Caroline wishes she didn’t feel that way, but having seen the world, has come to understand that there’s a variety of ways of living and the one that meets her family’s needs has been found in Delft. “Moving to The Netherlands was the best decision we ever made as a family; the lifestyle, the work-life balance, the friendships; it’s been five years running and we hope to have many more years of living here to come”.
Caroline’s happy she is getting the opportunity to spend so much time with her children when they are small. However, on the back of her mind she has started to carve out plans for the future as well. Once the children are a few years older, her dream is to start a home rental business that caters to families. She’s calculating the risks of it, but already has her family’s support for it. When her husband was starting his business, Caroline encouraged him tremendously. “You only have one life to live. Life is filled with taking risks and chances. Some people don’t take those risks and and life is less richer for it. I’m glad my husband and I can support each other in fulfilling our goals and ambitions,” she says.
To me, Caroline seems insightful, very smart and loving, and on the back of my mind I know for sure she’s carved out to do anything she puts her mind onto. I decide to take a chance and ask for her coffee cake recipe. It surely is risky, as it might mean I’ll bake nothing else in the future. In all honesty it was that good.
Caroline’s pecan coffee cake
Butter a 8×10 casserole dish and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
For the crumb combine 1/3 cup white sugar, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1.5 cups chopped salted pecans, 3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, and one teaspoon cinnamon. Combine and set to the side.
For the batter combine 1/2 cup unsalted softened butter, 1 cup white sugar, 2 large eggs, 1.5 tsp vanilla, 1 cup creme fraiche, 1 7/8 cup of flour (almost 2 cups but not quite), 1/2 tsp salt, 3/4 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp baking powder.
In a bowl whisk dry ingredients together then stir in the wet ingredients. Add half of the batter to the buttered dish, sprinkle half of the crumb, then add remaining batter on top (use an offset spatula to do this – makes it much easier), then add remaining crumb to the top. Bake for 30 mins or so or until cake tester comes out clean. Let it cool for at least 10 minutes and enjoy warm with a hot cup of coffee. Enjoy!