Monthly Archives: March 2014

Goodbye to outer wear

I know that spring tends to be a pretty great season anywhere. Especially when you can get out from under the blahs of winter and look forward to daylight. This weekend we went to Daylight Savings Time so I’ll do the math for you. Time difference between here and Seattle, 9 hours. Chicago 7 hours, Charlotte 6 hours. What I like most right now is that the weather is just so pleasant that you are good with a tshirt. No more coats! It is one less thing to fuss with on the bike or to worry about leaving behind on a train.
Yesterday I was in Brussels. I failed to my homework and discovered the hard way that Brussels in the French part of Belgium and they don’t really like to speak Dutch. It is not entirely uncommon for them to refuse. Which is ironic because Belgium has two official languages and one of them is Flemish (Dutch). My high school French was not taking me very far. But anyway, the parts I explored were lovely. Like Antwerp, the architecture leans more to the ornate and neo-classical. They do seem to have difficulty measuring things. On the square that is known as the Great Market, there is this fabulously gorgeous building that is asymmetrical. Apparently, during the building of it, they failed to notice that they centered neither the main entryway or the tower above it. When you face the building, you feel like something is off but you can’t put your finger on it. I thought I needed my glasses, I felt like my vision was vaguely distorted. But it was the building and not me. A modern example is that they are renovating their tram system and the new trams they bought after an extended debate about the five different kinds won’t fit the tracks so they are having to tear out the tracks and replace them. The existing track measurement wasn’t a criteria for which of the trams would be chosen. That seems like a pretty critical measurement.
I thoroughly enjoyed a great Ethiopian lunch, some divine chocolate and seeing the Manneke Pis statue. Luckily, Barbara speaks enough French that we got around very well. And we finished it off with a glass of wine in a secret garden café hidden behind one of the museums next to the royal palace. And from there, it was back to the train since I had to get home to feed the boys after their long day at the beach with Renee.
When it comes to chocolate, the Belgians seriously know what they are doing. I am humbled and amazed by how such a tiny square can taste so fabulous.
Tonight I went to the movies. One of my coworkers told me about the Cineville Pas. For 19 euros a month, you can go to as many movies as you like in the theaters that are affiliated with Cineville. It works in Amsterdam, the Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht. They are independent theatres so I can’t use it at the AMC equivalent which is fine by me. The theaters are cool! And since a movie is 9.5 euros per person, it is a great deal! I had to get in another movie this month and I saw “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. I quite liked it. It was entertaining and it was in English! And of course, I was able to get there via bike and back. With this weather, being on the bike is kind of like a mini holiday.
Tomorrow, I go to Gouda for work. Wednesday I go to the Hague and Thursday to Utrecht. Friday, I will go to the office which means I will be trying the bike commute again. This time, I know where I am going and I won’t end up by the KLM Maintenance hangars!
I know it is just barely April but I am looking forward to August. I am trying to think of what kinds of things I will do on my vacation. August is the vacation month around here so I will go with the flow. Last August I was waiting to be interviewed for the job and getting impatient that no one was available. A good friend said to me “Just think, next August, you’ll be doing the same thing, being on vacation”. That did sort of help with the impatience. I have 5 weeks a year plus the national holidays. I’ll take a week to go to Chicago at the end of April but that still leaves me with four. What to do with that kind of time? A cottage in France, a trip to Denmark and Sweden? Greece, Malta, Portugal? So many choices! I have some time to think about it though 🙂
I hope you are experiencing spring too!

Back to normaal

With the extra A as the Dutch say it. The Nuclear Security Summit is over and all the major traffic routes are operational. Which was a good thing because this afternoon I had to go Den Haag for a customer meeting. Their location is directly across from the US Embassy which was probably not a good place to try to get near during the Summit. From my understanding, most of the center of Den Haag was closed off. However, by this afternoon, we were in good shape.

Tomorrow it is off to Houten, outside of Utrecht. We have approximately 100 of our customers coming to talk about modern software development. I know, that is a topic that you are jumping out of your chairs with enthusiasm to discuss! Well, for this crowd it will be. Having gotten five different meetings out of today’s dress pants, I feel like I can finally send them to the dry cleaners. Tomorrow I will have to wear something different since I was at the office twice today and I can’t get away with it again!

The boys go to the beach on Sunday with Renee and their doggy friends. She takes a group to the beach every couple of months or so. And I am going to Brussels, to catch up with an old colleague from Seattle years ago. She moved to Paris to get her masters from the Sorbonne and then ended up working in Brussels.  I am looking forward to taking the train down and spending the day hanging out with Barbara and seeing the differences between Belgium and the Netherlands.

I have something even more exciting to share. Tonight I found out that Boy George is going to be in the Netherlands a week from Monday. OF course I bought a ticket! He’s performing in Tilburg, which is by Vught and the nuns. Culture Club’s “Colour by Numbers” was the first cassette tape I ever owned. I was 9. I have been a Boy George fan ever since. When we were living in New York, Lawyerella and I went to see “Taboo” on Broadway which was the biography of Culture Club. Boy George was in it but not as himself and I think it only ran a week. That’s the closest I have ever been to seeing him live. That is about to change. I am so Excited!!!

I remember having all of these enormous Boy George posters in my room. And one time, I was smarting off to my mom and I just pushed her beyond her limits and she tore my posters down. That was declaration of war. I wanted to look like Boy George. All my friends were into Duran Duran but they were just too pretty and normal looking for me. I was already a weirdo 🙂 You might get why my mom would sometimes say that she hoped I would have kids just like me… of course, the steady streak of non conformist that each of us has comes from my mom. We didn’t always disagree about music. I remember her also telling me that “the Ramones were like the Beatles of my generation” and she could understand why I liked them so much. She was also the only mom who would drive me and my friends to Ramones concerts and wait for hours for us to be done. And to really get into the spirit of things, she would have made signs on poster board for the windows of the VW vanagon saying “Ramones or Bust” “Follow me to the Ramones” etc. In other words, my mom was hella cool. I just didn’t get it until I got a lot smarter, past my 20th birthday.

That’s who George is named after, Boy George. Henry is named after Henry Rollins. You could say that they are named after the two men that I admire most and who shaped my attitudes. I think it would be really cool to have dinner with both of them at the same table. Unlikely to happen in my life but cool all the same.

Back from the border

The Nuclear Security Summit is going on here this week so there’s police presence everywhere and many routes are being changed or closed off entirely. Of course, this is the weekend that I chose to go Bad Nieuweschans, right on the border with Germany. It was utterly uneventful for me since I am generally pretty law abiding. It was unusual though to see so many police. Living here, I rarely notice the police. I guess that is a good thing.

I left Friday afternoon around 2pm and stopped in Marum on the way up north. Marum sits right over the border between the provinces of Friesland and Groningen. Groningen is a province. And there is Groningen, the large city in the north. There’s a university there as well. It is generally a city of really smart people doing cool things with alternative power, ethics, etc. It was peaceful as always in Marum in the church yard. I stopped there for a long time to talk to mom and to deadhead the flowers from last time. Every time I have made the journey to Marum, before Mom passed, we were always in rental car or someone else’s car. This time it was Astrid parked between the trees along side the road. The car that my mom and I spent so many miles in was now what takes me to visit her.

Outside the graveyard itself, the municipality has built a rose garden overlooking the graveyard. Right now it looks very precisely aligned but as things start to grow and bloom, it will surely be a lovely spot. I took a picture from the top of the garden since it is higher than the graveyard. In the Netherlands, it might just qualify as a mountain!

Bad Nieuweschans is a small town. And I mean small like one store, one regular bar or krug, one more upscale bar and houses. The two claims to fame are the mineral springs and the fact during the 80 years war, it was one of the five bastions that held the northern provinces out of Spain’s hands. You can still see a fraction of the original wall and the deep canals that were dug to keep the North safe. I am paraphrasing Dutch history but originally the Netherlands was double the size. During the war with Spain, the lower seven provinces (what is now Belgium) sided with the Spanish instead of fighting for their independence with the upper provinces.

I very much enjoyed soaking myself in the mineral waters. It made me think of mom and I had some really good chuckles when the naked German bathers came walking through the sauna areas and out into what is called Bathrobe Park (meaning that you are supposed to wear a bathrobe there). Despite the signs that indicate the necessity of bathrobes, the Germans bathers remain defiantly anti-bathrobe. Ironic because one of the big differences between the Dutch and the Germans is that Germans have a big belief in hierarchy and following the rules. The Dutch don’t spend any time on hierarchy and believe the rules are generally good but as an individual they don’t need them. I think this captures my mom’s mindset pretty well.

After exploring the town, I found myself on the terrace of the small bar. I sat down for a cup of tea and to read the local paper. That was at approximately noon. I didn’t leave until ten hours later. I was swept up into the crowd of regulars and proceeded to spend ten hours trying to understand the Groningen accent, catching up on all the local history and generally being given a hard time. It was great! I really enjoyed myself. The people were so much fun. Groningers have a reputation for being very stern and standoffish, kind of cold. They are much more reserved than people from this end of the Netherlands. But that only lasts until they get to know you. I learned a lot about farming. For example, there are lots of ponies here. Ponies don’t seem to have a very practical purpose and there are more ponies than kids’ birthday parties that want to hire them, I am sure. Well, I learned the reason why – not to eat them (though they do in Belgium) but because they keep the fields manageable. You can either mow them with big combines or you can keep ponies. And ponies are seen as a much nicer option.

In turn, they offered me a place to play my first concert. I promised that I will come back when I can play at least four songs on my banjo. The owner told me that they would let me go on stage late, when everyone was pretty drunk so the audience wouldn’t notice the same four songs. We all exchanged contact information and the next time I am north of Marum, I will certainly stop in. The best part is that it was such a mix of people and everyone was just accepted for who they are. From the guy with no teeth to the local tycoon and everyone in between. And they made me feel welcome. I wouldn’t trade living in Amsterdam for Bad Nieuweschans but I would definitely visit there again.

Sunday I spent the last day of my mini break soaking again in the springs. Before I left to head south, I stopped back in the krug to say good bye which resulted in two more coffees and then two hours later, I was finally on the road. It stopped raining long enough for me to stop at Marum again and bring the new plants and pot them. And I didn’t stage them first 🙂

The boys are doing fine. I don’t think they missed me at all. George had have a bath yesterday because apparently he rolled in something unbelievably disgusting in the park with Renee. He smells deliciously like dog shampoo and that’s all I really want to know about that experience!

The next couple of days I will be working from home since the NSS is still going on. While the office is technically open, they recommend not coming in since getting there can be problematic. Okay by me since I have good coffee and in the afternoons, I can work from the yard.

I learned some new patterns for my banjo at my lesson last week. At one point, I was playing and my teacher was playing the guitar and I kind of yelled “Oh my god, we are making music”. Which was kind of funny. I was clearly overwhelmed by the possibility 😉

Anyway, time to make dinner for the dynamic duo.

Survived the bike commute

Sitting on a terrace, enjoying the super weather and a well earned glass of wine. Beatrix and I made the commute to work today, 23 miles round trip to the office. Can’t say I will do it every day but on warm weather days, it is lovely. A long ride through the Amsterdamse Bos and then along the outskirts of the runway. The key is to follow the flight path. Good thing that tomorrow I am going north to Groningen to spend the weekend in the mineral springs. Back to my wine and people watching 🙂

Birthday, bike accident and a banjo

Let me get the important things out of the way first. Today is the birthday of the Move Goddess. Hip Hip Hoera, Happy Birthday and many more! I keep track of birthdays in the Dutch fashion – a birthday calendar that hangs in the guest toilet. An important piece of birthday calendar etiquette is if you are looking through the calendar, as everyone does, and you don’t see your name – you should absolutely not add it. It is considered completely beyond the pale. On your birthday, you are expected to bring pastries for your colleagues. And a sign of acceptance in the workplace is when you are added to the official birthday list. I am a little more flexible. If you come to visit and don’t see your name on my birthday calendar, tell me and I will give you a pen to add yourself.
I caused a bike accident today. Beatrix and I fell down a small slope and into the street, right into the bike lane. And we landed on a ten year old girl who might possibly need years of therapy later. I had just stopped my bike in front of Sjoerd because we getting ready to park and go banjo hunting and I went straight past over balance to no balance. In the midst of this debacle, a woman stopped in front of us and proceeded to tell me how stupid I was in Dutch. Right, like I plan these kinds of things! I apologized repeatedly and wanted to make sure the little girl was okay. Her parents didn’t chew me out which surprised me. They weren’t happy about the experience but they just handled it. Sjoerd and her dad fixed the handle bars with an allen wrench from the coffee shop (where they don’t serve coffee, just weed) and I handed over my speculaas cookies that I had picked up earlier from the bakery to give the little girl. She’ll have a hell of story to tell at school, that she got knocked off her bike by a crazy American woman.
I’ve had this fear of causing a bike accident. Now I have, so I suppose that is behind me too. I have noticed since this afternoon, I am a lot more wobbly on my bike again. I thought I was doing pretty well. Kind of like I thought I could communicate in Dutch pretty well – before I went to the nuns!
And then on to the real purpose of my bike journey today, to get my banjo. Despite weird things that seem to happen to me when I am around my cousin, I figured we should keep going since I needed a musician to listen to the different banjos with me. Of course, the first thing I said to Sjoerd when we sat down to coffee after the bike accident and before the first music store was “I need your help picking out the right banjo. Because I am not going to be like you and have more than one banjo.” Sjoerd plays bass guitar and he currently has 8 of them. Right, so sensible of me. Of course, by the time we get to the third floor of the first music store where the banjos are hidden away, I am seriously contemplating needing two banjos. One open back one for the sound it gives and one solid back one. See, I told you, weird things happen to me when Sjoerd is around 🙂 However, we left the first music store without either banjo.
We went to the second music store, which I had already scouted out earlier this morning before meeting Eliza and her friend for brunch. The music store has been there since 17something. They have a room upstairs with all the string instruments where you are allowed to play. I think we were up there for an hour going back and forth between the banjos. I ended up choosing the one I had my eye on this morning. It is a solid back and quite heavy. It is the most versatile sound wise and it has a very clear sound. And I left there with a banjo in a backpack. This evening, I was practicing. I am pretty sure the neighbors will eventually get sick of hearing the same things over and over. It sounds so much better than my catalog banjo.
When I got home, without further bike incidents, the boys and I went for a long walk in Beatrix Park since they needed to run and I needed to clear my head. Walking was safer. We had a good time. The park was pretty empty and George and Henry had a great time playing King of the Hill on top of the wooden stage. George almost took a swim but pulled himself back in the nick of time. Perhaps I will one day give an open air concert on the stage with the boys as my back up band – the Hound Dogs.
After we got home, I couldn’t put it off anymore. I had to clean house. In honor of Move Goddess, of course. I couldn’t really celebrate her birthday by making a mess or adding to my clutter collection. Because I have a newly clean kitchen, I decided no cooking for me tonight. I got back on the bike and rode to De Pijp for falafel from Sonny’s. The best part about Sonny’s is that it is completely vegetarian, so I don’t have to look at racks of gyro meat or shoarma while I am waiting for my falafel. And their falafel is very good. And my kitchen remains clean!
Yesterday, Moortje needed to go to the vet to have a check on his neck. We went on the bike which wasn’t good for either one of us. His carrier doesn’t quite fit in the basket so I was super worried about hitting a bump and having him go flying out and shattering against the pavement. It didn’t happen, of course. We went to the vet and back in 20 minutes and that included him seeing the vet. His neck looks good and the hair will eventually grow back.
This morning George wasn’t feeling good so we went out twice so he could eat some grass. It still didn’t help all the way but by tonight he was back to normal and eating again. I tell you, never a dull moment around this joint. As I am typing, they are curled up next to me doing what they do best, snore.
Yesterday, I met the person who used to do the job I am doing now. We were all at the opening of a partner’s facility and I came face to face with my predecessor. It is hard to say who it was more awkward for. He didn’t leave his position by choice. All things considered, it went as well as could be expected and I left early so as not to make the situation any more awkward since most people assume it was his choice to leave. It is a small country and our paths will cross again since we’re in the same field. I did have some interesting conversations with other people about developing competencies across technologies and disciplines. Of course, I tried to have these in Dutch so I am not sure I made any sense at all…
Ah, guess what? There is now a plastic recycling bin at the end of our block near the RAI. Woohoo! Normally I take them over to De Pijp but we have graduated to our very own. This awesome because I go right past it when I cycle to the train station and can easily drop off a bag of recyclables. It is the small stuff that makes me happy, clearly.
I thought about Mom a lot today. When we were walking in the park and Henry was standing amidst the daffodils. It was easy to think of her practicing with her camera to get the perfect shot and telling him to stand still. And when I was practicing with the banjo tonight and how I don’t think it was as bad as it could have been, not like learning the trumpet. And how she would have given that woman who stopped to tell me how stupid I was what for and then some. Mom was always our biggest advocate. She was fearless when it came to defending someone who was important to her. That is a gift that she gave each of us. I know that I learned to be an advocate from her example. I could also imagine her asking all kinds of questions in the music stores, she was always curious about things.

My mother, the pot stager

I know what you might be thinking… but I am not talking about that kind of pot. My mom had no idea what pot smelled like until I pointed it out to her one day on the street in Seattle. “That bizarre burning dirt weird smell, that’s pot, Mom”. My mother used to call herself the “kebon” which is a Bahasa Indonesia word for a young man who works in the gardens. She would often tell me that if I didn’t treat her better, she would file a complaint with the Kebon Union against me. These complaints always had to do with the garden. My mom could spend days looking at plants, visualizing combinations in her head. And when she finally committed to buying them, you would think they would get transplanted right away. No way. Then came the next step, the Pot Staging. My mom would arrange the plants in their original containers in their (potential) new pot. And they would have to stay there for at least a week. During that time, she would rearrange them, recombine them, change pots, you name it. Sometimes I would have to threaten to plant them myself before they would exit the Pot Stage. My mom could see what she wanted, she was a great visualizer. However, she was reluctant to commit them to being transplanted until she knew they were going to blend together exactly as she wanted. And yeah, she made beautiful arrangements. Eventually.

Her pots and various remnants of those arrangements are mostly in Lawyerella’s yard. I couldn’t bear to throw them out and I couldn’t bring myself to empty the pots and ship them so I filled the Vanagon full before it went to Cedric and “staged” them at Lawyerella’s.

Today I went to Intratuin after my long customer meeting. And I went a little crazy. I needed some hanging planters to hang from the walls and plants to go in them. Of course, I also needed dirt and some garden tools and an outdoor basket for the boys so they can work on their tans. And most importantly, I needed outdoor cushions for the big benches so I can have my office outside in the good weather. Tonight, after my last set of conference calls, I went to work with a vengeance. I planted all my plants, no staging, straight to done mode. While I was in efficiency mode, I could hear my mom telling me that combination wasn’t big enough for the planter and I should add some more plants and let it sit for a few days. But once I got started, I couldn’t stop. It is kind of fear thing, I just have to keep going. If I stop and think about the plants not being in the right combination, I wouldn’t do it at all. In honor of my mom, I also planted some lupines, which she loved. I have the seeds that she saved from her favorites, but I am waiting to plant those when I am somewhere more permanently.

I was completely overstimulated in the Intratuin. I could have bought another cart full. But I reminded myself that I couldn’t get it all back here in one run. And I didn’t even look at the indoor plants, just forced myself to walk on through. Pretty much every plant I bought is either blue, purple or orange or some combination thereof. Tomorrow I will clean up the hydrangeas by the front door and see if I can’t bring them back to life a little. I missed my mom in the Intratuin. Especially since everybody seemed to be there with somebody. I had coffee in the middle of my trek in their café. If my mom had been with me, well, we’d probably still be there.


Changing seasons and perspectives

If you had told me a year ago that I would be riding my bike with heels and my grown up going to customers clothing on, I would have looked at you as if you were visiting from another planet. Well, that’s what happened today. I had a customer meeting outside of Rotterdam and that means that I have to dress in something other than yoga pants and well-loved t-shirts. I had to be there at 930 and the traffic jams between here and Rotterdam can be legendary so I opted for the train. I could have gone with the safe route, taking the bus to the train. I have been watching women bike through Amsterdam with shoes that are completely impractical for anything other than looking at, let alone riding a bike. I figured if they can do it, so can I. And I arrived no less wrinkled or crumpled than I would have been going via car.

Tomorrow I have another customer meeting but in Aalsmeer this time.Sadly, it is not very transit friendly so I will have to drive. I will, of course, recycle my grown up clothes and wear them again since it will be a different group of people I will be meeting with. Ever practical.

George had a seizure today on his outing with Kate. It was short. I suspect it is because he has not been taking his medication as regularly as he should. Often I find the pills elsewhere in the house, where he has spit them out. Even if I hide them in his yoghurt or in a piece of sweet potato. This is a new batch of his regular medicine so I wonder if the coating has some sort of flavor? I have to get his prescription filled at the human pharmacy since they don’t use zonasomide here for dogs. How can a dog who is so naughty sometimes be so cute? Of course, as I am typing this, the devilish duo are curled up next to each other, performing a small dog snoring symphony.

Moortje’s bandage is off. I made the decision to cut it off on Sunday because he was so irritated by it that he was scratching himself all over the rest of his neck and wounding himself further. And after I cut it off, the next morning I found clumps of cat hair all over the house and he was sporting a strange bald pattern on his neck. It looks like the big wound is healing much better though. We go back to the vet on Friday for a check.

The Games Jam 4 Diversity this weekend was lots of fun.It was really impressive and inspiring to see so many talented people united on the idea of making computer games for audiences other than white males between 16-24. There were some very cool ideas and some were already prototyped into working demos. All the creative energy gave me a good jolt of appreciation for living in this city. It was held in the Amnesty International building here on the Keizersgracht so you couldn’t help but feel uplifted.

Most afternoons, I have been working outside at the big weather beaten wooden table in my yard. I like it a lot but on my list of things to get is a cushion for the bench. I have a list of things to get when I finally make it to one of those big yard stores outside the city. I also want to make a small frame to grow grass for George. Maybe 2×2 or so, big enough for him to graze from when he has an upset stomach. I won’t really be planting vegetables this year but I would like a couple of pots of cherry tomatoes.

When I was riding back to the house on Saturday, avoiding the tourists and catching speed on the downward slope of the bridges across the canals, with my basket full of daffodils, fresh bread and tomatoes from the farmer’s market, I was amazed that this is my life now. I live in this city. It struck me again of how fortunate I am to be here. I miss my mom something fierce. That doesn’t let up. At the same time, I have a pretty amazing quality of life. Now if I could just convince you to visit 🙂

My Crock Pot arrived today. I found an eggplant purple one in Germany. I really wanted it to make super hearty winter soups but the weather has changed. However, I am sure I will crave chili again soon and make up a batch. Or bring it to a potluck. Or as they call it here a Dutch party.

Be well, be warm and be secure in knowing that I miss you and am grateful for the friendship you bring to my life.

So many good things

The weather has changed to sunny! Around the city, the cafes are putting out their outdoor seating, people are wearing lighter weight scarves and the sound of industrious people doing their yard maintenance is everywhere. Tonight my neighbor to the left was busy trying to take down tree in his yard. I am not sure why.I know he had a lot of ropes attached to a tree that was probably only 7 feet tall. Perhaps he wants to put in something else.
This morning I got to the train station via Beatrix instead of the bus! Wow, what a wake up experience that was, almost better than Nespresso. It only took about 7 minutes to get from home to the station. Until the rains come again, I am definitely biking to the train station. My goal in the near term future is to be able to ride my bike to the office. I have to figure out the route first. I am quite sure it is possible. There tend to be bike paths everywhere. I got a very useful piece of advice about riding the bike today. It was RELAX. The more relaxed I am on the bike, the less wobbly I will be. I hadn’t thought about this until it was mentioned and then I realized I ride my bike all clenched muscles, as if I am holding the bike up by sheer force of will.
Tomorrow I am volunteering at a Games Jam 4 Diversity – the idea being that video games could use a lot more diversity in their content, characters and audiences. It should be an interesting event and I am, of course, getting there via Beatrix.
Wednesday, Joanne came down to the big city and took me to lunch at Sla (Dutch for Salad). As if that wasn’t tasty enough, then we wandered through Albert Cuyp street market looking at everything and buying nothing. There seems to be a tendency in my family of endless store browsing. Just ask people who knew my mom about her Fred Meyer browsing hourS. I’ve got it too, but I contain it relatively well. I passed it on to my kiddo by association if not blood and Joanne has definitely got it. Which makes her the perfect companion for these kind of moments. We did find a patch of sunlight with an empty bench to have a good coffee. I am looking forward to the next time, I think we will have to browse the flower market next time.
I have a new to me phone. One of my coworkers traded with me for my old school model. This means I now have a much better camera and one that can take pictures at night. And this means that when her partner breaks his phone – apparently he is phone dangerous, she has a super sturdy one to give him instead.
I got my library card today. It was exciting. Now I can check out books that are suited to my Dutch reading level. So, I have a children’s illustrated dictionary for 7 and up and two volumes of “Stoute Hendrik” which is the translation from the British series “Horrid Henry”. If you have never read these, they are great! I am supposed to be reading them to get a sense of sentence structure, etc. But truthfully, I read them more to see what that kid is going to do next. He’s impossible. You can only check out 8 items at a time though. And there’s a limit to request 10 items a year to be sent to your branch. So, for those of you Seattle Public Library patrons with the unlimited privileges, be grateful 🙂
I also went to the original Dr. Fish today. Those little fish do a great job but next time I will have to sit there longer than 20 minutes. It felt very strange at first but soon I was so soothed by the sounds of the water, I almost fell asleep in the chair. The only reason I stayed awake is I didn’t want to jostle or squish the fish by accidently letting my feet hit the bottom of the tub. It was cool to do it and I can definitely scratch it off my list of things to have done. But I don’t see myself going every week.
I found a new home for my banjo. It is going to a friend of a Renee’s cousin who runs a program for kids who want to make music and can’t afford instruments. It went today so that will be good. I feel good about it because I will be going to the music store to get a banjo that I can properly work with and practice on for years to come. You are looking forward to that, aren’t you? Don’t deny it.
Anyway, it has been a pretty busy week and will be a busy weekend. I have a lot of good things to be thankful for this week.

Another trip to the Vet

This time for Moortje. He’s had this small wound on his neck that won’t heal.Of course, the fact that he often scratches there doesn’t help either. After waiting a couple of weeks for it to heal up, today we went to the vet. You may remember from an earlier post that here you are expected to be much more hands on at the vet. Today was no exception. I held him while the vet used cauterizing wand to seal it closed and then we bandaged him up. That smelled. He did pretty well, he really is an unflappable cat. He is now sporting a red bandage around his neck, rather like a bandanna. It gives him a vaguely cowboy style look. We go back in ten days to make sure the wound has healed. The thought was that it was a fat deposit that had burst open under the skin, hence the BBQ tool.
I went to yoga tonight, on the bike. My lights are apparently pedal operated so that is pretty handy. It was a little scary riding at night simply because I still have to pay attention to everything, only now it is dark. Oh yeah, and I had a beer with Renee after yoga. I suppose we should have gone for a herbal tea or something but this is Amsterdam. It was a really good yoga class, very mindful and intense. And it was held in the old part of a Catholic nursing home that used to be called Catharina Huis. So it was full of old wood and leaded windows.
Banjo lessons. What can I say? Well, for starters I have to get a new banjo because mine is crap. When I heard the difference in the sound between the teacher’s banjo and mine, I knew I had no choice. I think the best way I can describe how I hear banjo music is that I see light. I realize that sentence doesn’t make any concrete sense so let me make it worse. When I watched him play, the feeling I got was that I was seeing all kinds of bright lights coming off the strings. The sound is so clear. I am definitely going to take it up. Between now and my next lesson, I have to get a proper banjo.
Which leads me to the story of how I got this one. When we first moved into the big house, a deluge of catalogs came in the mail. You know, the “Surely we can sucker you into a purchase now that you have moved” campaign. Mom and I would go through the catalogs. I went a little crazy with the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog or however you spell it. In addition to ordering elf moccasins for my mom and a full sized body pillow that would actually cradle you, I also ordered a banjo. I figured that for a while we would be spending a lot of time at home until Mom got better and maybe I could learn the banjo. Rule number 1, never order a musical instrument from a catalog. When the stuff came, I was ready to learn banjo and serenade Mom with all of my attempts. She was horror struck and told me that if I wanted her to die instantly, just start playing that banjo – she didn’t think it was fair that I would torture her that way. So, the banjo stayed in the closet because in reality, I had too many other things to do. I think maybe Mom was remembering the tortuous flute practice I had in fourth grade or the recorder the year before that. Either way, she wasn’t really convinced that I had a musical talent. And to be clear, I am sure I don’t have one either, but I do know how to practice.
As I was sitting with Paul, the banjo teacher, I thought how much fun my mom would have had with this experience. I could hear her telling him not to bother since I was completely non-musical. I could also see her enjoying the show. And best of all, the clarity of the sound and how much it resembles light. Even though banjo definitely is more the soundtrack to the paternal side of my DNA, I think my mom would appreciate it. And it is a little bit odd, not a very common instrument here in Amsterdam. And I know my mom would have liked Paul! So, we’ll see how it goes and maybe, just maybe, I will end up using my banjo to send messages to Mom.

Another Sunny Day

It was another sunny day here. The boys and I enjoyed a nice walk in the park. The boat owners are out now, bailing their boats out. Surely that is a sign that spring is on the way. There was even someone fishing. I am curious to know what kind of fish live in the canals. The crocuses are all blooming in the park. The daffodils are slowly making their way out as well. Overhead in the trees, the birds are building very large nests. There is a bird here that is almost the size of a swan but I think it is some kind of duck. Anyway, it can fly and it apparently makes it’s nest at the top of trees. It also has a brown head unlike the geese. If you have never been up close to a swan, they are really big birds.
After the boys had their daily investigative journey, I decided that I would make a trip out to the suburbs on Beatrix. I received a toaster for my house warming and I really want a toaster oven – or as they call them here “mini ovens”. The closest store I could exchange it at today, since most are closed on Sunday, was in Buitenveldert. So, after loading up Beatrix with the recycling, the toaster, the landlord’s mail (to drop off at his parents) and with a good coating of sunblock – off I went. This was the first time that I had to navigate some very busy intersections. And I nearly got run over by a speeding BMW. Of course, if you have to be in an accident, better to be hit by a good looking car I suppose. Anyway, I screeched to a halt and he careened wildly around honking his horn. I finished crossing the street, taking a very deep breath and reminding myself that at least that fear was out of the way now and since it had happened, I could just move forward. I also made the mental note that I should avoid that particular intersection in the future and use the shortcut through the park which is much more bicycle friendly.
I have been relying on Ms. Nokia to get me from point A to B. However, she gives me directions like a car, there’s no bike mode. Sometimes, the directions take me out of the way because you can’t go everywhere here with a car. I am learning to navigate without Ms. Nokia so I can save some blocks and avoid dangerous intersections. And since I will be biking to the train now, instead of taking the bus, it helps to know how to get there without going the long way through the intersection at Beethovenstaat and Stadion Plein.
Beatrix and I made it to the ‘burbs of Buitenveldert without further incident. Sadly, they did not have my desired mini-oven in stock so I’ll make another trip out there next week to pick it up when it comes in. While going through the exchange, I had a nice cup of Nespresso from the Nespresso demo lady. They have a new line of coffeemakers and she was showing them off.
Coming back into the city, I wanted to stop for some lunch but my first two choices didn’t have any bike parking available that I could fit Beatrix into. With her two dog basket upfront, she doesn’t fit very well. I need the last space on bike rack and those are hard to come by. So, we journeyed further to De Pijp to Bagels n Beans. I sat outside and enjoyed a bagel and tea. I also couldn’t find any end place to lock up Beatrix so I had to lock her up solo and that meant I needed to sit within vision range. I think soccer season started today because there was a lot of cheering coming from the bar next door and I think they were cheering for Ajax, if the amount of red clothing was anything to go by.
On the way home, I stopped for some tulips and got some amazing dark purple ones called Black Jack. I had never seen that color before. I made it home without further incident, until I got to the front door. Apparently, I wasn’t paying attention and while trying to park Beatrix I knocked over the bike already on the post and then Beatrix went crashing to the ground as well. Made me glad to realize that it didn’t happen yesterday when I had the bottle of olive oil in the basket. Anyway, after trying that all again and hoping the owner of the bike didn’t hear me do it, I was glad to be home.
I just bought myself a ticket to Tom Jones on the 21st of June. I will go and sing along loudly, even though he really doesn’t need my help. I remember my mom being shocked when she discovered that I liked Tom Jones. Of course, she did too. I am not sure which of us was a worse singer but we certainly gave it our best effort, especially when it came to “Delilah”.
Speaking of torturing my mom with music, tomorrow is my first banjo lesson. I will tell that story another day.